No one ever said that a composer's life would be easy.
Back in 1976-77, James Hopkins was hard at work writing his Symphony No. 5 for Antal Dorati and the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington. But as bad luck would have it, Dorati left the orchestra later in 1977 for Detroit, and the promised performance at the Kennedy Center never took place.
As a result, the symphony lay fallow until Friday night, when fellow USC faculty member Daniel Lewis and the USC Symphony Orchestra presented its belated premiere at Bovard Auditorium.
The good news is that Hopkins' jilted symphony turns out to be a likable, compact, cunningly orchestrated piece of work. Cast in three movements, the symphony swims about in swirling, colorful chromatic currents, laced with imaginative linear streaks and ominous deep pedal notes from the organ (deftly played by Daniel Kerr).
There is only a vague sense at best that the music is going anywhere; Hopkins seems content to seduce his audience with drifting, cinematic tone painting. Yet the piece works well on that level, never wearing out its welcome throughout its 22 1/2-minute length.
In the first half, Lewis guided his skilled student orchestra through a stylish, unified, dynamically observant performance of Rossini's Overture to "Il Turco in Italia," with a remarkably steady solo from principal horn Jeanette Spurgers in the mini-horn-concerto opening. Lewis also provided supportive shade and light in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 for pianist Chara Iacovidou, who despite a lack of fire in her work, brandished a fluid, bubbling, clearly etched technique that seemed to give both hands equal weight.