Because of Andre Previn's unusual route to the top in the music world -- via the film studios of Hollywood -- he reversed things and developed star caliber before he became the altogether distinguished conductor he is today.
And more because of the former than the latter, tonight's television special, "Mr. Previn Comes to Town," provides a diverting hour (Channel 32 tonight at 9 and Channel 26 Monday at 10).
The program celebrates the Oct. 10 debut of Previn as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- an ironic return home for him and a highly promising partnership for the organization that had been polished to such interpretive refinement by Carlo Maria Giulini.
But the show is not a recorded concert. In fact the only musical moment more than a snippet is the concluding movement of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, which ended the debut concert and also ends this program.
The show, instead, is a sort of travelogue-documentary of Previn's activities during the three months leading up to the introductory concert.
And it might have been intolerably hokey -- as well as a brazen example of "Previn and the Philharmonic" marketing -- were it not for the winning presence of the star himself.
Previn has always been good on the tube. His emceeing of one of the "Live From Lincoln Center" events last year was particularly appealing. Whatever the setting, Previn emerges graceful, articulate and amusing.
At a question-and-answer session before some Philharmonic subscribers in Los Angeles, someone asks him if he enjoys his work. He replies: "Well, if I didn't I could certainly find easier ways to make a living," and then after a pause adds, "The only people who can afford to be in the music business and not like it anymore are the critics." Really, now, Mr. Previn.
The first fairly substantial segment in the show catches him during the summer, rehearsing the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna's Grosser Musikvereinssaal. It includes extensive shots of this great, gilded 19th-century building, which is not only an acoustical miracle but possibly the most beautiful concert hall in the world.
Then the show follows Previn to England, where he and pianist Emmanuel Ax are recording the Beethoven concertos with Previn's other orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic.
Then comes the Los Angeles footage -- with tape of rehearsals, planning sessions, press conferences and even a visit to Disneyland by the conductor and his 2-year-old son, Lukas.
The Prokofiev movement gives high hopes for the Philharmonic under Previn -- brisk, extremely well articulated and tonally lovely, except for one sour clarinet note.
And finally, the behind-the-scenes shots of an interview with Previn on the "Today" show solve a profound mystery that has nothing to do with Previn: What is the configuration of the "Today" show sets? Answer: The news desk is on the left, Willard does the weather in the middle and Jane is sitting in the conversation chamber on the right.