Lucas Richman took the podium for the first time as new assistant conductor of the Pacific Symphony on Friday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. The results were reason for only cautious optimism.
Admittedly, Richman, 24, had a number of strikes against him. The orchestra had just come off two straight days of subscription concerts and, doubtless, rehearsal time available to him must have been limited. The players, who had sounded rough under founding music director Keith Clark on Wednesday, still sounded coarse and had problems in precision.
Also, Richman was not accustomed to the lively Segerstrom Hall acoustics and tended to misjudge dynamic inflections. Loud accents often overwhelmed.
And Richman was, after all, making his first local conducting appearance, with the strain in nerves that that engenders. In this case, he was assigned a secondary role, acting as a kind of opening act for the headliner--pop singer Maureen McGovern. (In true star fashion, McGovern appeared only after intermission and brought her own conductor, Jeffrey Harris. She is not reviewed here.)
Richman had limited opportunities--three short works--to show his interpretive and professional skills. Still, the young conductor gave few indications of explosive talent. This did not appear to be a young Michael Tilson Thomas.
Richman’s conducting style was contained, circular, mostly dependent on right-hand gestures with occasional assistance from the left. He planted his feet solidly and held his body steady, except for slight dips and occasional half-swoop. No flamboyance here.
He may only have been warming up with two works by Gershwin. He gave the “Cuban Overture” a steady, unrevealing and unenlightening reading that lacked drive, bite, abandon and joie de vivre. The composer’s Lullaby for String Quartet, arranged for string orchestra, suffered from sloppy string articulation.
Richman held his own and made his best impression in the most complex music of the three, the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” He maintained clear and watchful control over the composer’s felicitous scoring and never let the music flag.