The beat goes on at the Pasadena Symphony as the venerable orchestra continues to search for a new music director, evidently in no particular hurry since the post became vacant in May 2010. The New York City-born Tito Munoz, 29, is one of the contenders; apparently management and the players liked what they saw in 2011 and invited him back for a second look Saturday at Ambassador Auditorium.
Last time, Munoz was impressively expressive in Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”; this time he again did his best work of the afternoon in the large-scale post-intermission offering, Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. His beat was clear and strong, his conception thick in texture yet mobile, moving along with solid rhythm and a good sense of how the crucial climaxes should be shaped.
In the Sibelius Violin Concerto, guest violinist Caroline Goulding had the talent and technique to surmount whatever Sibelius threw in her path. What her performance lacked was focus; the piece emerged in fragments, with little sense of the overarching lines within each movement. Munoz projected some of the dark color of the orchestral part but couldn’t get any intensity or momentum going – in particular, the thrumming rhythm that animates the third movement was weak.
The sole venture outside the basic repertoire was short yet appealing – Pasadena Symphony's composer-in-residence Peter Boyer’s “Apollo” from his suite, “Three Olympians.” Like Stravinsky’s “Apollo,” Boyer’s is scored for a string orchestra – and also like Stravinsky, Boyer goes for a neoclassical sound that is bracing, lyrical and never overloaded with sweeteners.
Conventional wisdom says that you shouldn’t leave an orchestra in the ever-changing hands of guest conductors for very long. Yet from what I could hear, aside from an early entrance here or a questionable bit of intonation there, the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra has kept its game together since Jorge Mester departed.