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Review: Guest conductor fails to ignite Philharmonic liftoff

Keep looking. That’s my firm advice to the Las Vegas Philharmonic after guest conductor (and music director candidate) David Lockington gave thoroughly dispiriting accounts of music from three centuries during the ensemble’s May 4 show at The Smith Center. Although tidiness seemed Lockington’s Job 1, the Philharmonic ensemble was frequently suspect. His interpretations — if they could be called such — reminded one of the antiseptic ministrations of the departed David Itkin. The Philharmonic can’t want more of that, surely? Oh God, no!

Mozart’s 31st Symphony, aka “Paris,” played with a too-large string body, vanished under a thick smear of violins and celli. This massive Panzer corps obliterated the small brass and woodwind detachments, although the bassoons fought valiant rearguard actions. Lockington’s dozy reading (particularly the much-too-slow Andantino) foretold a recurring problem: a tendency to treat repetitive buildups blankly.

At the climax of Wagner’s “Prelude and Love-Death,” from the opera Tristan und Isolde, what are meant as climactic string pulsations became aimless windmilling: The wheels spun but the car remained in neutral. Surging passions became bucolic strolls. Climaxes were achieved prematurely, leaving Lockington nowhere higher to go.

The same could be said of Holst’s The Planets, an uneventful drive by the astrological portents of seven celestial bodies. Warlike “Mars” plodded dutifully, lead-footed “Mercury” could scarcely scamper, “Saturn” was a dreary trudge. Lockington resisted the amorous allure of “Venus” and the bacchanalia of “Jupiter” alike. The Planets also mercilessly exposed the Philharmonic’s weakest division: its punchless, subpar brass section. Add strained and out-of-tune singing by the Las Vegas Master Singers’ women, in “Pluto,” and the Phiharmonic season ended almost literally off-key.

The Planets was accompanied by cheesy, computer-generated tours of the solar system, a singularly disassociative spectacle. Some planets orbited so interminably one longed for the Death Star to swoop in and obliterate them. (It was Star Wars Day, after all.) Is this what concerts are to become? Pictures with music? If so, we’ve gone over to the dark side.