“The Six Greatest Ninth Symphonies” proclaims the brochure of the newest American Youth Symphony season, and it would be hard to argue with Music Director Mehli Mehta that the ninth symphonies by Dvorak, Schubert, Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner and Shostakovich are not at the top of the heap. But how does a training orchestra manage to prepare works of this magnitude and difficulty?

“It’s not easy,” said the 77-year old Mehta, who has been music director of the ensemble for the last 21 years, “especially since our only rehearsal time is every Saturday morning, through the year.”

Canny scheduling, however, can produce extra rehearsal time: “Between our March 2nd concert and our next one, on April 27 (when Mahler’s Ninth comes up), for instance,” Mehta said, “we will have eight consecutive Saturdays to prepare the Mahler and Bruckner (scheduled May 25) works.”

“We always have a theme, or a direction,” Mehta said of his programming over these two decades. Two seasons ago, he did a series of fifth symphonies; last season, he scheduled the entire symphonic oeuvre of Johannes Brahms.


Mehta said he never forgets that he is running a training orchestra: “For 90% of our players, they are playing these so-called war horses for the first time.”

Tonight at 8 in Royce Hall at UCLA, Mehta leads Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” with Martin Workman as narrator; the same composer’s Dances from “Rodeo”; Wieniawski’s Second Violin Concerto, with Sherry Kloss the soloist, and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, as down payment on the Ninth Symphony series.

Music by Wagner, Bruch and Tchaikovsky comprise the program of Dec. 22; Schubert’s Ninth occupies the second half of the Jan. 19 concert. Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis will be soloist in Paganini’s D-major Concerto on the 17th annual AYS benefit concert, in the Pavilion of the Music Center, Feb. 16, when Mehta also conducts Beethoven’s Ninth.

Back at Royce Hall on March 2, Mehta has programmed works by George Rooth, Barry Brisk, Leon Levitch and Beethoven. The Ninth Symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner are scheduled April 27 and May 25, respectively. The season ends, with Shostakovich’s Ninth, June 15.


Other soloists during the season include soprano Delcina Stevenson, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Savage, pianist Norman Krieger, violinists Stuart Canin and Sergiu Schwartz, violist Heiichiro Ohyama, cellist Claudio Jaffe and trombonist Eitan Bezalel.

SPEAKING OF ORCHESTRAS: The Santa Monica Symphony notes its 40th anniversary and the 110th birthday of the city next Sunday night at 7 when music director Yehuda Gilad conducts Ives’ “Decoration Day,” Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915" and Brahms’ Second Symphony. Soprano Juliana Gondek will be soloist in the Barber work. . . .

Meanwhile, at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, guest conductor Erich Leinsdorf closes his two-week visit to the orchestra with a Mozart/Ravel program at which pianist Alicia de Larrocha will be soloist. The agenda: the “Haffner” Symphony, K. 385; Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G; Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K. 488, and “La Valse.” Performances are scheduled in the Pavilion of the Music Center at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and in Santa Ana High School Auditorium at 8 p.m. Saturday.

COMPOSERS: Saluting Ernst Krenek’s 85th birthday (Aug. 23), the music department at Pomona College honors the composer with a program of his works, Nov. 25. To be performed: “Basler Massarbeit,” Opus 170 (1960), for two pianos; “Tape and Double” (1970), for two pianos and tape; Sonata for solo viola (1942); excerpts from the operas; Three Merry Marches (1929), and “Static & Ecstatic,” Opus 214 (1972). Among the performers will be pianists Margaret and Karl Kohn, violist Jan Karlin, soprano Gwendolyn Lytle, baritone Elwood Peterson and conductors Graydon Beeks and Peter Jaffe. . . .


Friday through next Sunday, Cal State Dominguez Hills hosts the 13th annual meeting of the Western Region of the American Society of University Composers. Among the composers present will be: Ernst Bacon, William Kraft, George Heussenstamm, Elliott Schwartz. . . . To Oberlin College in Ohio, this week brings the Oberlin Alban Berg Festival, a three-day celebration of the Berg centenary beginning Thursday. Included in the free events are four concerts, a lecture series, a documentary exhibition on Berg’s life, and an art exhibition entitled “The Vienna Secession: Paintings and Drawings.”