A Tale of Two Symphonies

Daniel Cariaga is The Times' music writer

On the symphonic front, there's good news and bad news. At the end of February, the shut-down San Diego Symphony was finally being resuscitated, but the Glendale Symphony had to be put on life support.

The San Diego Symphony announced on Feb. 28 its first concert in two months, set for March 15. The orchestra had closed its doors in the face of a $3-million-plus deficit, but a month-and-a-half-long scramble behind those closed doors resulted in a new financial plan, new donations and an agreement with musicians to forgo some $250,000 in contracted wages in order to salvage the 1995-96 season.

At about the same time, the Glendale Symphony--much smaller potatoes but a local fixture now in its eighth decade--shortened its season from six to five concerts in the face of a $1,500 deficit.

"We [the board of directors] wouldn't have started the year if we thought we couldn't finish it," said Leigh Trenham, the administrative director of the Glendale Symphony Assn. The orchestra was operating with a $477,000 budget, as it had for 1994-95. "We had broken even in 1994-95 and expected to do so again," Trenham said.

What happened?

First, according to Trenham, donations and subscriptions were down as the season began. Then "after the Christmas concert, we began to see that individual-concert tickets were also down."

A number of factors may tell the story: "For one thing, we don't have the large donors we once had. Then, too, the demographics of the community have changed. We now have some of the same patrons we always had, but they are older, their ranks are shrinking, and individually they give less money now than they did before."

The orchestra downsized to help deal with its money troubles, and went to one of its major supporters, the city of Glendale, for help. On Feb. 27, the city voted to advance to the orchestra its expected 1997 grant of $25,000, contingent on the raising the rest of the cost of one more concert, $40,000, now scheduled for April 27.

After that, said Paul Kinney, president of the Glendale Symphony board of directors, "we will be faced with a task of regrouping. We need now to do the soul searching necessary to discover what form our mission--to support the active cultural life of the community--should take."

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FINE TUNING: The 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which takes place next year in Fort Worth, will be played according to some new rules, says Richard Rodzinski, executive director of the Van Cliburn Foundation, which sponsors the quadrennial event. For the first time, the preliminary judging will be done by a traveling jury in six cities in Europe and the United States, and there will be a slightly different spin put on the competition's final results, which will be announced after a series of performances in May and June.

As it has in the past, the foundation staff will screen all applicants, according to repertory and recommendations, to come up with an initial field of 150 invited competitors. For the 1993 event, the invitees were videotaped, and the tapes were used to arrive at the next cut. The filming, Rodzinski says, turned out to be "much more complicated than it needed to be."

In the new procedure, four screening judges will hear all 150 invitees, live, in Utrecht, the Netherlands; Milan, Italy; Moscow; New York; Chicago or Fort Worth early in the year.

The traveling jury will hone the field to about 35 pianists, who will then travel to Texas to begin the climactic portion of the competition on May 25, 1997.

The mechanics at this stage will work pretty much as they have since Van Cliburn inaugurated the event in 1962, just four years after he took top prize at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

In the first round, the contestants each give a recital, after which the field is narrowed to 12. Then, each of the 12 must perform a second solo recital, a required piece (this year, Rodzinski says, it will be a brand-new work, "not to exceed 12 minutes in length," by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer William Bolcom) and one of four chamber works with the Tokyo String Quartet.

After this round, the six finalists are named, and they each go on to play two final concertos, one with the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra and one with the Forth Worth Symphony, after which the winners will be determined.

The other first for the 1997 competition concerns the ranking of the finalists. In the past, they have been assigned first to sixth place. Next year, only the top three finalists will be ranked.

"Those rankings were more negative than positive," says Rodzinski, acknowledging that, as some have pointed out, in most competition years the six finalists "are in a class of equals."

As before, all six finalists will be awarded performance engagements, debut appearances, management services, concert tours and cash. The first-prize winner will take home $20,000; the second- and third-prize winners will receive $15,000 and $10,000, respectively; each of the other three will be awarded $5,000.

No matter what methods are used to narrow the field, Rodzinski says, one key element of the search will stay the same: "In every musical competition, worldwide, there is the cream. Sometimes that is a heavy layer of artistic superiority; sometimes it is a very thin layer.

"In some years, we have three or four top-level talents. But for the cream of the cream--that we see, perhaps, only once in every two decades."

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BREIFLY: Lou Harrison has been rediscovered by the San Francisco Symphony. Two of the California composer's works were featured in San Francisco Symphony programs in September and October; another, Harrison's Organ Concerto, appears on Michael Tilson Thomas' American Festival scheduled in June. And last month in the city by the bay, Tilson Thomas revived Harrison's Canticle No. 3 (1941), a work the 78-year-old composer says was written during his "Mexican period." . . . Called "The World's Largest Organ Recital," and to be performed April 14 in hundreds of churches, synagogues, cathedrals and concert halls, a nationwide event will link 245 locations and more than 500 organists from the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The event will resound simultaneously at 3 p.m. (PDT) with the familiar music of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor; the subsequent program will offer different music at each venue. The sponsor of the event is the American Guild of Organists, celebrating in 1996 its centenary. (For information: (212) 870-2310). . . Corinne Chapelle, 18, a student at USC, has won first place in the Julius Stulberg Auditions Inc. of Kalamazoo, Mich. Violinist Chapelle takes home a cash award of $3,000 and will appear as soloist with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony in May.

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