Working with experts is the name of the game in postgraduate courses. Thus, it was entirely fitting that for the final exercises of its 1987 session, the 98 members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra had the opportunity to play Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony under the leadership of Andre Previn in Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night.
Predictably, the aggressively virtuosic, highly accomplished students gave Previn--co-director of the 1987 institute and music director of the Philharmonic--all the brilliance, attentiveness and fervor of which they are capable. No doubt he has received less from professional bands. The aural results, paced and balanced by Previn's long-considered interpretive insights, did honor both to composer and conductor.
All that youthful energy did in some moments produce tensions not built into the score. A penchant for overplaying gave the upper strings an edge of sharpness the opening movement, which should prepare rather than conclude the musical argument of the total work, does not need. And a habit of overstatement in all instrumental choirs seemed to make diffuse the progress of the slow movement.
Most of the time, however, Previn's controlled overview, coolly analytical but effective in its application of color, prevailed and succeeded. The scherzo and finale, appropriately mordant in tone and light--but not vapid--of texture, made all their points intact.
Before intermission at this seasonal finale, Previn and the other Institute co-director, Lukas Foss, appeared as soloists in Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos, and David Alan Miller, who presided over the orchestra in the concerto, also led Foss' "Night Music for John Lennon" (1980).
The keyboard accomplishments of both Previn and Foss, who have long been considered composers and conductors first, and pianists second, are still well known. Neither had any apparent problems dealing with this most exposed of scores; as a team, too, the two players' ease with each other and with the materials at hand seemed assured. They played charmingly. But the amplification of the two Yamaha grands emerged more unnatural-sounding than usual, and with an uncharacteristic (in this setting) tubbiness.
Foss' 14-minute tone-poem, which features electric guitar and solo passages for a brass quintet, seemed as much a paean to the 1960s and '70s as to one of its more visible creative figures; in style, it appears to represent an homage to Leonard Bernstein, through its re-creating the sound and ambiance of "Mass."