Whether the Denver Symphony is now dead, merely moribund, or in a coma from which it might return to an active life next season is anyone's guess.

The Denver dilemma, however, faces numerous American orchestras, and one of the symphony's problems is currently of national concern.It involves the choice of a conductor and the expectations that he or she can be expected to meet when - or if - the show goes on again in Denver's handsome 11-year-old Boettcher Auditorium.

Before discussing this matter, a brief summary of the situation here:

The Denver Symphony, long the victim of financial worries and woes, started its current season two weeks late when a shortfall of $1 million caused its board to contemplate bankruptcy last September.

A save-the-symphony drive proved to be just another of the Band-Aid solutions to financial problems that have plagued the organization for the past decade. Now a further $1-million hole in the pocket has brought about the cancellation of all remaining events of the symphony's 1988-89 season.

Whether the orchestra gets back on its unstable feet next fall is a matter of urgent concern, not only for instrumentalists now drawing unemployment, but to that all-too-small group of symphony supporters who really regret the fate of the orchestra.

What is of more universal interest is the problem that the symphony faces in seeking a conductor to replace Philippe Entremont, who resigned three months ago in mid-contract because of the difficulties here. (In March Entremont also decided to absent himself from the orchestra's final set of subscription concerts when he was not assured sufficient payment to cover his air fare from Paris to Denver.)

An advisory committee, appointed by Mayor Federico Pena in the midst of the fall crisis, stressed in its recommendations that Denver must have a conductor who resides in the community and plays an active part in its life both inside and out of the concert hall.

A fine idea, said many, but is it realistic? After all, they had watched the orchestra reach a new peak of excellence under Entremont, who - although titular music director of the symphony - maintained residences in Paris and Vienna. Last year the orchestra had two recordings on the Billboard list throughout the winter: a program of French favorites conducted by Entremont and a Gershwin disc led by Newton Wayland. For the latter release, Gershwin's own piano-role solo was recycled for the jazz-band orchestration of "Rhapsody in Blue."

The much greater Chicago Symphony thrives, after all, under the leadership of George Solti, who lives in London, and the conductors of most major American orchestras are Europeans who spend only limited weeks of the year here in the provinces.

Others maintain that there are qualified American conductors well suited to the needs of Denver.

The validity of this view if brought home by a press release from the Colorado Springs Symphony, where a two-year search has led to the appointment of Christopher Wilkins as music director and conductor.

Wilkins, currently associate conductor of the Utah Symphony, lists credentials so impressive that one must ask why he's not settling in Denver.

In brief: Wilkins, Boston-born in 1957, holds degrees from Harvard and from Yale where he was trained by Otto-Werner Mueller, who now heads conducting programs both at Juilliard and Curtis. A fellowship took him to Berlin's Academy of Music for further study.

Wilkins was an Exxon conducting assistant with the Oregon Symphony and a conducting fellow at Tanglewood, where he worked with his current superior Joseph Silverstein.

He has conducted major orchestras - the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony among them - and he assisted Christoph von Dohnani in productions of "The Merry Widow" and "The Magic Flute" with the Cleveland Orchestra.

With the Utah Symphony, Wilkins has led recordings of the Tchaikovsky and Dvorak Violin Concertos, and Nonesuch will soon release his performance of William Kraft's "Of Ceremonies, Pageants and Celebrations."

Not bad for a 31-year-old.

And good as Wilkins must be, he is only one of a growing crop of talented young Americans who have been superbly trained for work on the podium.

Why then does Wilkins go to the solid but decidedly minor Colorado Springs Symphony and not to Denver?

Some of the answers are obvious.

Only the very biggest names can sell out Denver Symphony concerts. A February solo benefit recital by Pincas Zukerman, for example, found the hall a third empty - and Zeus only knows how many of the occupied seats had been papered.

It's painful to admit it, but Denver still lives in an age of innocence that makes an accent a desirable accessory in a conductor. Italy's mediocre Gaetano Delugo enthralled the city for seven years by asking repeatedly, "How you say???"

The press release from Colorado Springs, it should be evident, has something to tell the board of the Denver Symphony - if only they are willing to listen.