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Music Reviews : Kenneth Kiesler Conducts Long Beach Symphony

Halfway through its music-directorless 1988-89 season, the Long Beach Symphony sounds--sounded Saturday night, at least--like an orchestra just holding on. In Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center, it played decently enough, but without the brio or self-confidence of its better days. One wants to pat it on the back and say, “Courage. Help is on the way.”

Such reassurance probably would be unrealistic, however. Help may not be on the way. The short parade of five guest conductors being auditioned this season may or may not turn into a longer quest for a permanent director; or, if one of these five is chosen for the post, he or she may not be able to restore the ensemble’s former glories.

Kenneth Kiesler, who conducted on Saturday, seems promising. He led a Stucky/Mendelssohn/Shostakovich program with authority and clear rapport with the orchestra. The group played gamely and attentively.

The utmost in conviction or derring-do did not emerge from the collaboration of conductor and ensemble in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Kiesler paced the work carefully, allowed no fallback of continuity or energy, yet failed to utilize the ability of the work to soar. What one heard was admirable, not hair-raising.

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Similarly, the West Coast premiere performance of Steven Stucky’s brief “Transparent Things” displayed compositional good will and a wide orchestral palette, but no great urgency or compelling statement. Stucky, who this season is composer-in-residence at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, here deals in colors, effects, noisy climax and moody retreat. The reading seemed smoothly accomplished.

Joseph Kalichstein took the solo spotlight in Mendelssohn’s G-minor Piano Concerto and used his opportunities efficiently, showing himself long on keyboard marksmanship if short on musical projection. The well-worn concerto needs more than accuracy; it needs an advocate, one who will justify its old-fashioned rhetoric and endlessly running arpeggios. Kalichstein proved willing but ultimately unconvincing.


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