About 5,000 people turned out to the Glendale High School field Saturday evening, many bringing their kids and picnic baskets, for what has become the annual visit of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra to its home turf.
Glendale has a pretty good professional orchestra, but, in a literal sense, it doesn't really have it. That's because there is no auditorium in the city equal to the stature the Glendale Symphony has acquired in its 65 years.
Consequently, since 1965, the orchestra has performed its paid subscription series in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown, a more elegant venue than the high school football field, no doubt.
The orchestra first came home, so to speak, three years ago to repeat a July Fourth performance it had given at the Hollywood Bowl.
The tradition continued and this summer, local businesses and civic organizations put up the $65,000 it costs to hire the orchestra and conductor so that the people could listen for free.
The Glendale High School field was free and, even if it's no Hollywood Bowl, it proved Saturday to have some assets. For one thing, the setting is one of a great amphitheater framed by the San Rafael Hills, the Verdugo Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains. The man-made curve of an elevated freeway interchange laces through this picture like a balcony balustrade.
Those who brought wine and cold cuts headed for the grass, where they put down their blankets and folding chairs and didn't have to budge later to see the show. The crowd, predominantly in casual home wear, covered about two-thirds of the infield, leaving the south end free for children. They ran about, played Frisbee, danced and ran thunderously up and down the iron bleacher stairs.
The orchestra, in black and white tuxedos, assembled on a wooden stage in the corner of the field under a garish display of colored stage lights.
At 8, Mayor Carl Raggio called up guest conductor Newton Wayland, a kind of peripatetic interpreter of the classical pops repertory. Wayland wore a white tuxedo, but was not at all formal in style.
In between pieces, he extemporized in a clear tenor voice and a coy condescension on the music and its source in America's immigrant strains.
"For all you kids out there, what I am talking about is the fact that nobody out there, nobody doesn't have ancestors who didn't come from another country," he said.
Wayland frequently spoke right to the kids, as in this introduction to Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King:"
"And kids, I remember when I was a kid and I heard that and all I could think about was this big mountain and big caves in the mountain and these little elves and gnomes living in there in the mountain cave way ba-a-ack under the mountain, a real boogie, boogie piece, as you will hear."
At other times, he pleaded with them to be quiet.
"There's some quiet passages," he said of Chabrier's 'Espana.' "So kids, when you hear the quiet passages coming, stop talking, OK, so we can hear 'em."
There was no evidence that the kids were listening at all until later when Wayland admonished them, "Not a peep," and hundreds of little voices answered back, "Peep, peep, peep."
When the sky turned black, the stage lights cast a shadow of Wayland's torso and arms on the school wall, just below the letter "G" and the school's symbol--a stick of dynamite. It danced deliriously during Khachaturian's exciting "Saber Dance."
The field lights came on gradually during the medley of Italian songs, creating the eerie effect of sunrise over the Mediterranean as "Come Back to Sorrento" played.
During intermission, the audience shifted a lot. Friends who had come separately met and joined into large groups.
The second half started with pieces from American jazz. The orchestra sounded at its best overpowering a Count Basie tune, probably because the electronic amplification wasn't great. It was loud enough, but made the music sound about the way music did on those early hi-fis of the 1950s. Anyway, it hardly mattered. This was an easy crowd.
After playing an Irving Berlin song, Wayland led the crowd in singing happy birthday to the composer, who is 100. The audience also joined in an American medley including "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight."
As everyone must know by now, the program ended with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."
Wayland told the kids it was an important piece of music for Americans because its celebration of Russia's victory over Napoleon represents "how people beat back people who try to bully them around."
Instead of cannons, there were two volleys of concussive, white-flashing fireworks during the finale, causing more than a hundred alarmed neighbors to call the police.
I don't think the "1812 Overture" or even "Back to Sorrento" has been so thick with meaning since I first heard them in the dreary hi-fi sound of the '50s, or that so many kids have ever enjoyed a concert so much.