If summer comes, can fall be far behind?
If that seems precipitous, consider the Utah Symphony. This week as they begin their summer series (with concerts Friday at 8 p.m. in Symphony Hall and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Deer Valley) they are barely two months beyond their 1987-88 subscription season and only a little more than that away from 1988-89. This, then, is the way station, and perhaps as good a time as any to sum up the achievements of the year it will be rounding out.What kind of year was it? Initially, of course, a year of financial distress, the board seeing fit to open the season by disclosing a near-$1-million deficit for 1986-87. That was laid primarily to an unexpected shortfall in contributions over the preceding 12 months, a situation board chairman Jon M. Huntsman vowed to correct. Sure enough, by the time he stepped down earlier this month contributions for 1987-88 were estimated at $1.7 million - still not enough to keep the orchestra from dipping into its endowment fund, but up 38 percent over '86-87.
How that curve will maintain itself under his successor, Deedee Corradini, only time will tell. Even before her appointment, however, Corradini had demonstrated the kind of hands-on approach to the vice chairmanship that many predict will return the board to a Wendell J. Ashton brand of leadership - i.e., with the power largely centralized - if not the same level of fund-raising.
Since she was also reportedly music director Joseph Silverstein's choice, it is tempting to say once again that the preceding year saw him further solidify his position with the orchestra, artistically and administratively. Except that what seemed vague rumblings of discontent among the players toward the end of last season have become even more pronounced in this.
Rest assured Silverstein still has his fan club, that sizable cadre of musicians in and out of the orchestra for whom he can do no wrong. At the same time, there appears to be a growing number of those for whom he can do no right, at least once he exchanges his violin for a baton.
More and more one hears complaints that rehearsals tend to be exercises in condescension and/or just plain uninspiring. ("That's the way you used to play it?" the conductor is reported as saying in the midst of a Mahler rehearsal. "Well, now we're going to do it the right way.") Others fault a programming bent that, in their view, offers too much Mozart and Schubert at the expense of pieces "an orchestra can really sink its teeth into - things like `Heldenleben' and `Zarathustra.' "
It's true that in recent years some of the splashier pieces have been shelved even after having been announced. That's what happened to "The Planets" and, last March, "The Rite of Spring." In each instance the reason given was the expense of the additional players each would require.
On the other hand I don't see how anyone can seriously maintain this last season was devoid of large-scale works, not with a Mahler Fifth, an Elgar Second and a Beethoven Ninth on the menu, not to mention "Belshazzar's Feast" (admittedly not with Silverstein - and without the extra brass).
Nor were the '87-88 programs lacking in adventure. Far from it, given the inclusion of pieces by William Kraft (which the orchestra is scheduled to record), William Schuman, John Harbison, Ned Rorem and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, as well as the Nielsen Flute Concerto and Bloch Viola Suite. Granted, not all the above were resounding successes (although determining which were and which weren't has already provoked some discussion). The average was high enough, though, that even the weakest provided some welcome variation in what was otherwise a more-or-less standard Utah Symphony diet.
For myself, I rather liked Silverstein's Mahler Fifth, which had a depth of texture and technical expertise one wishes Maurice Abravanel had had available to him when he was trotting these symphonies out with some regularlity (an exception: the "Resurrection" Symphony, which I never heard him do in anything less than first-class fashion).
I also liked his "Eroica," "Pastorale" and Beethoven Ninth symphonies, Schumann and Elgar Seconds (to which I felt he brought even more than he had the Elgar First), but most of all his superlative "Mathis der Maler," without question one of the finest things he has given us. Nor would I have wanted to be without his Dvorak Violin Concerto, in which his mastery as a soloist was again unobtrusively evident.
Among the guests the standouts for my money were pianists Malcolm Frager, David Buechner (a stunning Liszt "Totentanz") and Andre Watts; violinists Ida Levin and Jaime Laredo; cellists Nathaniel Rosen and - wonderful to say - Lynn Harrell; and for once nearly all the guest conductors, newcomers Andrew Litton and Paul Polivnik making a particularly strong impression. Nor did associate conductor Christopher Wilkins let down his end of things, although one might argue that his gifts were even more apparent in the chamber programs.
So how to account for a higher level of discontent among the players? Well, it's only fair to note that even Abravanel was not universally venerated by the musicians he presided over for 32 seasons, especially toward the end. Almost anything can lose some of its luster, given enough time. And, for what it's worth, at least two of last season's supposedly exiting principals (officially on a year's leave of absence) have decided to return, clarinetist Christie Lundquist and tuba player Gary Ofenloch.
Then, too, maybe it's the contract talks - yes, it's that time again - which always seem to increase the pressure, especially in an economically depressed period. But if you think the pressure is high now, wait till you hear who will be facing each other across the negotiating table this year. Would you believe former Utah Gov. Scott M. Matheson for the musicians and, for management, his immediate predecessor, Calvin L. Rampton?
For the first time, that's one string of bargaining sessions I almost think I'd like to sit in on.