Hollywood Bowl: music and picnics are both art forms

Between the ritual balloon send-off on opening night and fireworks which close the ten weeks, some traditions remain intact at the Hollywood Bowl -- regardless of who's performing onstage.

Picnics served, often with much pomp and circumstance (i.e., one's best china and silver), directly in the boxes on rented tables duly covered by linen tablecloths -- that's one of the traditions.

Or the loyalty angelinos (and their myriad summer visitors) seem to have to this spot where sometimes a picnic may be approached more seriously than the actual concert.

In fact, with the beach available year-round, summer is officially announced in Los Angeles when picnic hampers are packed for the Hollywood Bowl.

An evening at "the Bowl" is, after all, a summer "event."

The 59-year-old institution is the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which plays there through Sept. 14.

While some annual repeats are anticipated by the Bowl's 17,000 audience, Festival '80 has brought a few debuts, plus two major surprises.

Music director Carlo Maria Giulini stated most emphatically when taking over the podium two years ago that he would never conduct outdoors -- "I am a serious musician." Instead, he made his Bowl bow on July 22 with Mozart's "Jupiter" and "Marriage of Figaro," and Verdi's "Four Sacred Pieces" with the Scottish National Orchestra Chorus. He continued with performances of Beethoven's 8th and 9th -- a full but uninspired rendering by the rather flat Philharmonic with the Roger Wagner Chorale on Aug. 1 and 2 -- and an Aug. 21 concert with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal featuring Schubert's Symphony No. 9.

Los Angeles's maestro recently returned in triumph from his first European tour with the orchestra. Meanwhile, regular guests at the Bowl's helm include Simon Rattle, James Conlon, Leonard Slatkin, and former Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta.

On the backstage side, this summer's switch from cylinders to orbs has wrought a major improvement in the huge amphitheater's sound system. Although the music is still amplified, the addition of several fiber-glass white balls hanging over the orchestra much the way the stars hang over the seats hugging the Hollywood hills, was said to be primarily so that the musicians could hear themselves better. But audiences as well seem to reap benefits of acoustical consultant Abe Multzer and bowl architect Frank Gehry.

Other highlights this summer include the addition of a jazz and a virtuoso series. The latter offers two Bowl favorites, Itzhak Perlman and Jean-Pierre Rampal in recital, as well as the Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, conductor on Sept. 14. The other premiere series allows the pop sound of jazz to inundate this classical music bastion on five Wednesday nights. Starting July 16, the jazz series was presenting Chick Corea, a tribute to Charlie Parker, singers such as Mel Torme and Carmen McRae belting forth Gershwin to Mancini, a "piano masters" night featuring Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, and George Shearing, and -- to salute the opening of the Los Angeles Bicentennial on Sept. 10 -- B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and other blues artists.

The Bowl July opener -- broadcast live throughout the US to National Public Radio stations by JUSC-FM with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas discussing Beethoven's 5th at intermission -- presented the US premier of "Phoenix" by Australian composer John Carmichael with James Galway, flute soloist.

In a fairly normal lineup of four concerts each week, debuts by the Russian-Israeli pianist Yefim Bronfman, organist Virgil Fox, violinist Sidney Weiss, russian violinist Gidon Kremer and his pianist wife Elena, and Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff's first West Coast appearance add color to returnees Misha Dichter, John Browning and Seth McCoy.

In additioin, the Bowl continued its three pre-season concerts and a six-week arts festival for children including morning workshops in mime, dance, puppetry, and exposure to the Philharmonic during rehearsals.

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