A proper tribute to Ernest Fleischmann, departing Los Angeles Philharmonic managing director, would have to enlist the services of that orchestra plus two or three others, a dozen of today’s top symphonic conductors, several days’ worth of music including world premieres and a list of soloists as large as some telephone books. Failing those resources, Hollywood Bowl’s one night’s worth of gala celebration at least suggested the variety of Fleischmann’s contributions to Los Angeles’ cultural life in his 29 years as the area’s busiest and most visible musical honcho — and his stunning success in turning the Bowl into a lively and rewarding musical venue.
Some of the talent choices may have seemed capricious, but there were connections even so. Composer/conductor John Williams noted that it was Fleischmann who first urged him to try his hand at conducting, 20 years ago at the Bowl.
One program entry, Sir William Walton’s “Johannesburg Festival Overture” did not, despite appearances, come out of nowhere; Fleischmann himself — in 1956, as head of the Johannesburg Festival — had commissioned the work.
Violinist Itzhak Perlman, who contributed a clutch of tidbits, had in 1964, as a teenage Juilliard student, been pressed into service when the Fleischmann-managed London Symphony needed an extra soloist for a Carnegie Hall concert.
Elusive diva Kathleen Battle, who sang operatic arias and spirituals, was actually revisiting the stage where Fleischmann had once booked her to join forces with an unknown young conductor named James Levine.
One might, however, have questioned the participation of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the pickup ensemble of studio players that performs the Bowl’s more lightweight repertory, rather than the Philharmonic itself, whose current eminence owes much to Fleischmann’s multifaceted astuteness.
One might also have wondered beforehand at the relevance to the occasion of pop-song-and-piano-man Harry Connick Jr., but would then have had to succumb to the easygoing elegance of his contributions.
A long and varied evening ended with the arrival at the podium of semi-conductor Richard Dreyfuss, to lead (with baton in left hand) Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” to the accompaniment of one of the Bowl’s stunning fireworks displays.
If the Dreyfuss one-shot did not add materially to the list of world-class symphonic maestros discovered under Fleischmann’s Philharmonic hegemony, nobody in the nearly 12,000-strong cheering throng — which included municipal notables Mayor Richard Riordan and Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky alongside showbiz notables Angela Lansbury, Mitzi Gaynor, Melissa Manchester and you-name-’em — seemed to mind.