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S.D. Orchestra Feels Lack of Music Director

A year ago there was no San Diego Symphony. Symphony Hall had been dark for an entire season because of the management’s lockout of the players, and prospects for the orchestra’s resurrection were slight. When the symphony actually opened its 1987-88 season last fall, there was a fair amount of apprehension from the players , as well as from the public.

As the return season draws to a close--next week’s pair of concerts is the grand finale--the players’ morale is surprisingly high, tinged with guarded optimism about the future.

“Things are better than they’ve been in the last four years,” said trumpeter Mark Bedell.

Bass player Gregory Berton agreed: “Everyone feels that the organization is being well run,” he stated.

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Like other symphony members, first horn player John Lorge was simply glad to have completed a full season.

After a year’s hiatus, “it was physically and emotionally taxing to play the season,” Lorge said. “It was tough rebuilding, getting back the quality we had before the lockout.”

The recurring dissenting theme to this positive assessment, however, is the lack of a music director and the impediment to the orchestra’s musical growth that a different conductor every week brings.

“It’s good to see that the orchestra could still make music with all of the guest conductors, but obviously we need a music director,” said Bedell.

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Berton added, “We’d like to get away from all these guest conductors as soon as possible, but now it’s a fact of life.”

Although symphony management announced Thursday that noted cellist Lynn Harrell will become the orchestra’s new music adviser, his musical counsel will not fill the lacuna of a music director whose regular work on the podium would build and shape the musical ensemble. Symphony executive director Wesley Brustad has said that a decision about a new music director will be made by April, 1989.

(The Harrell announcement had not been made when the Times talked to orchestra members on Wednesday.)

Players heaped praise on Brustad for his managerial style and his openness in communicating with the players.

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“With Brustad, things are 1000% better than before,” said Berton.

“I think now the musicians are not alienated from management,” Bedell said, “and there is more of a family kind of feeling between us.”

“The executive director meets with us on a regular basis,” Berton said. “The staff is courteous and polite to us--they seem to realize that the players make the music, and that’s why we are all here: for the music.”

Violist Gary Syroid contrasted Brustad’s treatment of the players as intelligent performers with what was seen as the demeaning and distant manner of his predecessor, Richard Bass.

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“Bass treated us as mere entities, people who make noise, not music.”

If management has changed its style to better the musician’s lot, instrumentalists have not merely returned to playing their notes while letting the staff worry about community relations. According to Berton, players are taking a more active role in symphony operations. “One musician now serves on each standing board committee, including those of marketing and long-range planning,” Berton said.

Bassist Jonathan Green said the previous lockout had its positive fallout.

“A lot of us now understand how difficult it is to market an orchestra after putting on our own concerts,” Green said.

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