CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : Edinburgh Youth Orchestra Puts Many Elders to Shame

The Edinburgh Youth Orchestra made a splendid impression Saturday night at Symphony Hall, although rather few San Diegans turned out to hear this 101-member ensemble. In the lobby at intermission, a number of Scottish-American gentlemen sported their kilts, but you did not need to have a drop of Scots blood to appreciate the superior musicianship of this orchestra. Although the average age of the players in the ensemble is 16, the youngsters put to shame every university orchestra in the county.

Under the direction of Christopher Adey, the orchestra opened with David Dorward's "Golden City," a modern urban tone poem commissioned by the orchestra for its tour. At times, the contemporary Scottish composer's idiom called to mind Aaron Copland's "Quiet City," but Dorward's eclectic bent alternated angular atonality with his neoclassicism. At one point, members of the orchestra whistled a Scottish playground tune to light string accompaniment, although most of the time Dorward avoided such melodic simplicity. The orchestra gave the new work a sympathetic reading and handled its every challenge with aplomb.

Edward Dusinberre, a 20-year-old British violinist, played Max Bruch's G Minor Violin Concerto with surprising breadth and panache. With his brilliant tone, well-focused and immaculately in tune in every register, he infused this chestnut with a gregarious Romanticism that never stooped to indulgence. From Dusinberre's confident, polished performance, this student at London's Royal College of Music should have a fine solo career ahead of him.

Rachmaninov's sprawling Symphony No. 2 in E Minor made up the concert's second half. Although it is a work that gives every section its moment of glory, it demonstrated that the orchestra's strength is its marvelous string sound. Smooth, sweet-toned and completely integrated, the timbre of the strings displayed the elegance of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. Not a few professional American orchestras could find something to envy in the Edinburgh string sound. There may be more burnished, emotionally effulgent interpretations of the familiar slow movement of Rachmaninov's symphony, but this performance could not be faulted for its graceful and ingratiating sweep.

The fast movements lacked neither brio nor conviction. Woodwind solos were adequate, but the trumpets faltered too many times for mere coincidence. Adey never rushed the tempos, keeping all components thoughtfully balanced. His conducting style was both energetic and meticulous, giving his charges maximum guidance. Their faithful response to his leadership was admirable in every way. This midsummer performance proved an unexpected boon to our typically lightweight musical fare at this time of year.

We know, already. San Diego Opera's Karen Keltner is featured in the current issue of the magazine "Opera News." Keltner's smiling visage and bio are included in a survey of 11 young American opera conductors who are making significant contributions to the art in North America. One of three women included on the list, Keltner and her colleagues were chosen "after consultation with impresarios, critics, agents, composers and other cognoscenti around the country and abroad."

Keltner, who has been with the local company seven years as both music director and associate conductor, has demonstrated her podium skills in a range of operas here. Over the last two seasons, she has conducted Gounod's "Faust" and Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," and in 1986 she conducted the West Coast premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies' contemporary chamber opera "The Lighthouse."

Next season Keltner will conduct San Diego Opera's production of Mozart's "Die Zauberflote." Between her behind-the-scenes work with the company's "Boris Godunov" production for the Soviet arts festival in October and the opening of the local season in January, 1990, Keltner will conduct Donizetti's "Elixir of Love" for Sacramento Opera.

He's here to stay. Damian Bursill-Hall, the San Diego Symphony's first-chair flutist, has decided not to pursue an invitation to play with a British orchestra next season. To local symphony fans, this is good news. With the recent loss of principal cellist Eric Kim and the impending departure of half of the trumpet section, the orchestra can hardly afford to lose another key player.

Bursill-Hall's summer schedule clearly indicates how much this flute virtuoso is in demand. This week he is in Northern California to play in the highly respected, long-running Carmel Bach Festival. From there he travels to Canada to participate in the inaugural season of Vancouver's Whistler Festival under the direction of Dutch conductor Kees Bakels. By mid-August he will be back in San Diego to perform in the La Jolla Chamber Music Society's SummerFest.

Play it again, Dave. Six programs taken from La Jolla's 1988 SummerFest will be broadcast on KPBS-FM starting July 9 at 2 p.m. Classical music disc jockey Dave Arnold will host the series, which will air on six consecutive Sundays. The local FM station recorded all of last year's festival, and, according to Arnold, several individual performances have already been aired on National Public Radio's daily national program "Performance Today."

Organ concertos alfresco. Not even the encyclopedic programming of the Hollywood Bowl can top Monday's offering at Balboa Park's Spreckels Organ. With the International Orchestra of USIU, civic organist Robert Plimpton will play a pair of organ concertos by Haydn and Poulenc. One of the challenges of presenting an organ and orchestra concert outdoors, according to Plimpton, is that of amplification. The thundering Spreckels Organ, of course, needs no amplification, but the microphones that pick up the sound of the orchestra also amplify the sound of the organ. This acoustical fact of life means that our flamboyant civic organist will have to restrain the instrument's volume for the sake of the orchestra. Vita brevis, ars longa!

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