After eight years at the helm of the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra, Robert Duerr knows his audience. Exhibiting his customary penchant for new music, he gently placed a recent work by Canadian composer Denis Dion between two familiar works by Mozart on Tuesday at Ambassador Auditorium.

Not content with that, the young conductor also gave a pre-performance pep talk, a sort of "this-won't-hurt-too-badly" speech.

All this for a mild, 10-minute piece for strings and (amplified) harpsichord, "Veuillez agreger les sentiments mes plus distincts," heard in its U.S. premiere.

Dion, a doctoral student at USC, has fashioned in his grossly overtitled work an interesting exploration of extended, nearly unchanging orchestral chords--punctuated by the odd glissando or spiccato passage--set against a continually jabbering harpsichord, to be played on keys and strings.

Eric Kinsley proved both nimble of finger and foot as he intently maneuvered around his instrument. Duerr and his charges, too, proved sympathetic to the young (28) composer, on hand to accept the polite applause.

The violin-viola Sinfonia Concertante and the Symphony No. 40 surrounding Dion's piece demonstrated Duerr's Mozart-without-tears approach to these two works. The pace in each instance was decidedly brisk--perhaps too brisk in the Symphony. The Sinfonia Concertante benefitted from the admirable playing of Mayumi Ohira and Roland Kato, both first-desk players with the orchestra. Violinist Ohira, in particular, impressed with vivacious and impeccably controlled playing. Kato made the most of his more minimal duties.

Duerr opened the program with an understated traversal of Stravinsky's Eight Instrumental Miniatures. What the performance lacked in wit it made up in clarity.

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