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Robert D. Thomas/Class Act
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor
Bach: Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Saturday at 2 p.m. (note the unusual start time)
Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. Preconcert lecture with Grant Gershon and Alan Chapman one hour before each performance
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 1st St. and Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Tickets: $29-$129 (student rush seats may be available at the box office two hours before performance)
Information: www.lamc.org

MC4Web

Forty-nine years almost to the day (Jan. 27, 1965) from when Roger Wagner stepped onto a podium in the newly minted Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to conduct Los Angeles Master Chorale in its inaugural concert, a performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass, the Chorale will celebrate that first concert with a performance of Bach’s masterpiece on Saturday afternoon and next Sunday evening in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Grant Gershon, who became the Chorale’s fourth music director in 2001, will lead 115 singers including 12 soloists (all Chorale members) plus a symphonic orchestra in what turned out to be one of the final pieces that Bach completed, a work considered to be a pinnacle of choral music. The Mass contains music that Bach had composed over a quarter-century, although most of it was revised for the final work. The B-Minor Mass was never performed in totality during Bach's lifetime; the first documented complete performance took place in 1859.

The performance marks the Chorale coming full circle from when famed conductor Roger Wagner founded the chorus in 1964. Wagner — who had created his own small group, the Roger Wagner Chorale, in 1945 — formed the Los Angeles Master Chorale as one of three resident groups of the Music Center of Los Angeles. For the first 39 years, it performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Since the completion of Walt Disney Concert Hall 11 years ago, the LAMC has joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as resident groups at that iconic hall.

In addition to presenting history’s major choral works, the Master Chorale has commissioned 39 and premiered 88 new works, of which 57 were world premieres. The Master Chorale has half-dozen of its own CDs, most notably the first CD of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. The group will be featured on an upcoming CD of John Adams’ oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, scheduled to be released March 10 by Deutsche Grammophon. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Master Chorale and soloists in this live recording at Disney Hall.

Next weekend’s concerts are among the 14 programs on the Master Chorale’s 50th anniversary season, along with its extensive work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The weekend will include a gala celebration entitled “Golden on Grand,” which will take place at 6 p.m. in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall of the Pavilion. Tickets for that event are $650 per person. Information: www.lamc.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

5 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.
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Pasadena Symphony; Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Umi Garrett, pianist
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Concert preview with Nicholas McGegan one hour before each performance.
Ambassador Auditorium; 131 South St. John Ave., Pasadena
Tickets: $35-$105.
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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As Christmas and the holiday season fade into pleasant memories, the classical music season begins to ramp up again for what will be a busy 2014.

• The Pasadena Symphony resumes its season next Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium. Nicholas McGegan begins his tenure as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor by leading a program of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with 13-year-old Umi Garrett as soloist.

McGegan, who turns 64 three days after these concerts, has built an illustrious career leading ensembles that perform baroque and older music on period instruments. Since 1985, he has been artistic director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco. However in recent years he has expanded his repertoire to include conducting music from later eras. Two years, he made his Pasadena Symphony debut leading Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”). Last season he and the orchestra played Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

Last year, the PSO announced that McGegan would join its new music director, David Lockington, and Principal Pops Conductor Michael Feinstein, in leading the orchestra’s musical future (LINK). McGegan expects to conduct two classical concerts a year in the next two seasons (Lockington will lead the other three). They make a potent trio for PSO audiences.

Garrett will be making her PSO concert debut in Saturday’s concerts. She appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at age 8 and last year won first prizes in several competitions, including the 13th Osaka International Music Competition in Japan. She has also won top prizes in two different competitions bearing Chopin’s name, one in Budapest and the other in Hartford, CT (it should be noted that neither are the more prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition, which since 1927 has been held approximately every five years in Warsaw, Poland).

• The Pasadena Master Chorale continues a recent tradition as it joins forces with Los Angeles Daiku and the city of Naruto, Japan, to present a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 next Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre in Little Toyko (244. S. San Pedro St. in downtown Los Angeles). Jeffrey Bernstein will lead the PMC and LA Daiku, orchestra and soloists, along with singers from Japan who will travel to Pasadena to join this performance. Performances of Beethoven’s 9th are a staple around New Year’s in Japan. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

BTW: if you are into comparisons, guest conductor Kazem Abdullah will lead the Pasadena Symphony and Pasadena Singers in performances of Beethoven’s 9th on Feb. 15 at Ambassador Auditorium. The concert will also include a performance of Morten Lauridsen’s Midwinter Songs. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

• The Los Angeles Philharmonic returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday evenings and next Sunday afternoon. Christoph Eschenbach, music director Washington D.C.’s National Symphony, will lead Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto, with Christian Tetzlaf as soloist.

The following weekend (Jan. 17-19), young English conductor Robin Ticcati returns to lead the Phil in music by Ligeti, Schumann and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, with Emmanuel Ax as soloist. The concerts are part of what’s being termed as Ax’s “Brahms Project.” Friday is a “Casual Friday” concert to Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 will be omitted.

Information: www.laphil.com

In case you are wondering, Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to the LAPO podium on Feb. 21 as the Phil and Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra perform “TchaikovskyFest,” a 10-day long orgy of Tchaikovsky symphonies, concertos and other music. Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

6 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Recently I posted (HERE) two diametrically opposed reviews of a performance of Der Rosenkavalier by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Here's a LINK to a lengthy but fascinating set of reviews and comments about a recent presentation of La Traviata at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Click on the thread to the reply from Neil Steinberg to see the lengthy series of comments.

For what it's worth, I thought similar comments could have applied to this week's NBC telecast of The Sound of Music, as well.

7 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.

Few things better symbolize the Christmas season than music and this year brings an unusually rich assortment of concerts and recitals, beginning with the world-renowned Los Angeles Children’s Chorus presents its midwinter concerts Dec. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. On Saturday, LACC’s Concert and Apprentice Choirs and its Young Men’s Ensemble will perform; the following evening, it’s the Concert and Intermediate Choirs and the Chamber Singers. Info: www.lachildrenschorus.org

The LACC also appears in several other concerts this season, including four performances of the orchestral score for The Nutcracker played by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Dec. 12-15 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. This is the first time that Dudamel has conducted the Phil in December concerts.

For those looking for something other than holiday music, the Phil has two offerings. Next weekend (Thursday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon), Rafael Frubeck de Burgos returns to the Phil podium with two symphonies by Haydn and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Dudamel will lead the Phil in four concerts (Dec. 19-22) that will feature Yuja Wang as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Stravinsky’s score for the ballet Petrushka and Blow bright, a world premiere by Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason, are also on the program. Info on the Phil programs above: www.laphil.com

As usual, the Los Angeles Master Chorale will have an ultra-busy holiday season at Disney Hall beginning on Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. with its “Festival of Carols, with 115 singers and organ performing traditional holiday works. This program repeats Dec. 14 at 2 p.m., but as you will see below that’s a really jam-packed day so you might want to consider the first program instead. Info: www.lamc.org

Other LAMC holiday programs are
• “Rejoice! Ceremony of Carols” on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., when Music Director Grant Gershon leads a program of music by Respighi, Vaughan Williams and Stephen Paulus, along with Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, performed as part of the Southland’s “Britten 100/LA” tribute to the centennial of Britten’s birth. Info: www.lamc.org
• Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 15 and 22 at 7 p.m. Gershon leads 48 singers, soloists and a chamber orchestra in this most familiar of Christmas oratorios. Info: www.lamc.org
• “Messiah Sing-Along” on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Grab your score (or buy one at the door) and join with the Master Chorale and other audience members in singing Handel’s memorable score. Info: www.lamc.org

As noted above, Dec. 14 will be one of those jam-packed evenings that cause concertgoers indigestion because they have so much from which to choose. In addition to the Master Chorale’s “Festival of Carols” listed above, consider:
• The Pasadena Symphony’s Holiday concerts on Dec. 14 at 4 and 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper leads the program that will also feature vocalist Lisa Vroman, members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, and the handbell choir, LA Bronze. Info: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
• The Pasadena Master Chorale will offer its Christmas concert of Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Info: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org
Pasadena Presbyterian Church will present the 69th annual rendition of its free-admission “Candlelight and Carols” program at 7:30 p.m. The concert will feature the church’s six choirs, two organists and an instrumental ensemble, and will include plenty of audience caroling. The featured work will be On Christmas Night by English composer Bob Chilcott. Info: www.ppcmusic.org
Angeles Chorale will present “Divine Joy: a Christmas Celebration in Music” at 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena. Artistic Director John Sutton will conduct the program, which will feature the first part of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Info: www.angeleschorale.org

One organization that chose not to join the Dec. 14 clog is Pasadena Pro Musica, which continues its 50th season the following afternoon at 4 p.m. in Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church. Artistic Director Stephen Grimm leads a program of music by Benjamin Britten and Tomas Luis de Victoria. Info: www.pasadenapromusica.org

In addition to what’s listed above, Disney Hall offers a number of varied holiday programs; my favorite would be “A Chanticleer Christmas,” which features the renowned San Francisco-based all-male a cappella choral ensemble. Info: www.laphil.com

And this list doesn’t include the ongoing Los Angeles Opera’s ongoing production of Verdi’s Falstaff, which concludes its run today at 7 p.m., nor the company’s presentation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which runs through Dec. 15. My preview story on The Magic Flute is HERE and a followup article is HERE. Info the operas: www.laopera.org
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

7 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Although the New York Times works hard to attract readers in Southern California, its arts critics rarely venture beyond the confines of the East Coast. Thus, it was notable that Music Critic Zachary Woolfe made the trip west for Los Angeles Opera’s presentation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which opened last Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Read his review HERE.

What made the review notable was that Woolfe's focus was to laud the company for reacting quickly (in opera-world terms) after CEO Christopher Koelsch went to Berlin to see Komische Oper’s new, radical production of Mozart’s famous work (read my preview story HERE). After returning to L.A., Kolsche persuaded colleagues Plácido Domingo and James Conlon that LAO should substitute the Komische Opera production for the originally announced revival of LAO’s 20-year-old production by Sir Peter Hall and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe.

As Wolfe wrote: “The Los Angeles Opera’s late switch — this new ‘Flute’ was not officially announced until June — should be a positive example for the opera world, where artistic choices can be encased in amber up to five years in advance. Companies should be eagerly looking for new singers and stagings that can be presented in a matter of months rather than years. (O.K., I’d accept maybe a year or two.) This new 'Flute' shows that the results can be worth the rush and risk.”

Although I haven't seen the LAO production, to judge from the critics the decision to change was more than worth the risk. Jim Farber’s review in the Los Angeles News Group papers (which include my papers listed above) is HERE. Mark Swed’s review in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. Timothy Mangan’s review in the Orange County Register is HERE.

What Woolfe didn’t say in his article was that Magic Flute was the first of two “last-minute” changes to the LA Opera 2013-2014 schedule. Six months after the season had been unveiled the company announced that it would add semi-staged concert performances of Andre Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire on May 18, 21 and 24, 2014. That omission was somewhat ironic, since Michael Cooper reported the story in the NY Times on Sept. 4.

Renée Fleming will reprise her starring role as Blanche DuBois from the original San Francisco Opera production. Patrick Summers will lead the LA Opera Orchestra. The production will be the semi-staged version that played at Carnegie Hall in New York City and at Lyric Opera Chicago. DETAILS.

Speaking of Mr. Woolfe, he posted quite an interesting article after attending nine — NINE! — performances of Bellini’s Norma at the Metropolitan Opera this fall. His premise was to evaluate how the Met sounds from nine different seat locations. Read the article HERE. Lisa Hirsch, in her “Iron Tongue of Midnight” Blog HERE, suggested he should have seen the Met’s production of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten instead. To each his (or her) own.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

7 months ago | |
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Concert-goers occasionally ask critics, “Were you and I at the same concert (opera, etc.)?” Here’s the latest version: two reviews of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Der Rosenkavailer.
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim in the New York Times
Martin Bernheimer in London’s Financial Times

7 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

One question I often am asked is, “What can I get a classical music lover for Christmas?” My answer always begins with tickets, because seeing a concert (recital, opera, whatever) live is still the best way to enjoy it.

Just in time for the holiday gift-giving season comes this offer from the Pasadena Symphony: on Monday, Dec. 2 — for that day only — you can get 65% off of the price of any remaining single tickets for the balance of the 2013-2014 season at Ambassador Auditorium.

To take advantage of this offer, visit www.PasadenaSymphony-POPS.org, select the concerts you want, and use discount code 6CMON5 when checking out to get 65% off ticket prices. The sale ends at Midnight on Monday.

All concerts are at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the dates listed below:
• January 11 — Nicholas McGegan, the orchestra’s new principal guest conductor, conducts Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with 13-year-old Umi Garrett as soloist. DETAILS
• February 15 — Kazem Abdullah leads Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Morten Lauridsen’s Midwinter Songs. DETAILS
• March 29 — Andrew Grams conducts music by Bolcom, Bruch and Schuman. DETAILS
• May 10 — Jahja Ling, music director of the San Diego Symphony, conducts Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Israeli-born pianist Shai Wossner as soloist. DETAILS

For details and information, call 626/793-7172.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

7 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

If you weren’t able to attend the performances of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem Sunday in Orange County or Monday in Walt Disney Concert Hall, KUSC (91.5 FM in Los Angeles and www.kusc.org) will air the L.A. performance on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Details: www.kusc.org

James Conlon conducted The Colburn Orchestra, members of the USC-Thornton Symphony, three soloists and more than 400 choristers ranging from local universities to the Los Angeles Children's Chorus in the performances.

Links to my preview story and my review are HERE and HERE.

BTW: A Caltech link has the complete text HERE so you can follow it. Although the diction was exemplary during the Disney Hall performance, being able to read Wilfed Owen’s gripping poetry would definitely be a plus.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

7 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Have you ever thought ... what the world would be like without music? ... We would all be humans and life would go on, but it would be much more difficult to mourn our losses and celebrate our loves. God gave us music, I think, so that we would have some hint of what She is like. God sings to our hearts with music, telling us of love about which we would know much less if it were not for music.

— Andrew Greeley, “Star Bright”


Thanksgiving is a schizophrenic time from my perspective as a classical music columnist. On one hand, I like to list things for which Southern California classical music lovers should be grateful. However, it's also a time to look forward to the holiday season, because for many people, Christmas comes alive through its music. But before we dive into the holiday music season, let us give thanks.

Many things remain constant year after year — music is, after all, a universal and, in some ways, a timeless art. Unfortunately, not every constant is a positive. Once again this year, we need to give special thanks for music educators in schools, conservatories and churches who struggle to keep the music candle shining in a society that increasingly finds it hard to believe that art is an indispensable part of the educational process.

Moreover, let us remember parents who know the value of music and the arts and who work hard to find the extra income necessary to give their children a music education. I believe there is a direct correlation between the decline in music education and society's increase in violence. May we come to our senses before it is too late.

There are so many others — musicians, conductors, administrators, volunteers, patrons, audiences and others — who come together to enrich our lives through concerts, recitals, opera productions and other events. Many are unsung, working tirelessly behind the scenes. We need to remember, support and give thanks to all of them, especially at this of the year.

The best way of saying thanks is, of course, to attend concerts and, fortunately, there will be plenty of musical cheer offered during the holiday season, some of which I will list in my column on Sunday. Take the time in your busy lives to make music part of lives. And, to paraphrase songwriter Henry Smith, take time to give thanks with a grateful heart.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

7 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Benjamin Britten: War Requiem
The Colburn Orchestra and members of the USC-Thornton Symphony; James Conlon, conductor

Tamara Wilson, soprano, Joseph Kaiser, tenor, Phillip Addis, baritone
USC Thornton Chamber Singers (Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, conductor)
USC Thornton Concert Choir (Dr. Christian Grases, conductor)
Bob Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir from CSU-Long Beach (Dr. Jonathan Talberg, director)
CSU-Fullerton University Singers (Dr. Robert Istad, conductor)
Chapman University Singers (Dr. Stephen Coker, director)
Los Angeles Children's Chorus (Anne Tomlinson, artistic director)
New Zealand Youth Choir (David Squire, music director)
November 25, 2013 at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles.
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Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem is one of the monuments of choral literature. It stands with the Requiems of Mozart, Brahms and Verdi and alongside other choral masterpieces such as Handel’s Messiah.

But there’s a catch. Britten’s magnum opus is so rarely performed that its emotional impact seems outsized when compared with the others on this list. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt but it certainly lessens the effect of these better-known pieces.

At last night’s preconcert lecture immediately preceding a stunning performance of War Requiem at Walt Disney Concert Hall, when Conductor James Conlon asked how many people would be hearing the piece for the first time, nearly every hand was raised. Imagine how staggered you would feel if you were hearing, for example, Verdi’s Requiem or Handel’s Messiah for the first time.

Thus it’s truly amazing that this rare performance of War Requiem, was sung and played not by the Los Angeles Philharmonic or one of our other professional ensembles but by about 400 instrumentalists and choristers, all college age or younger, along with three soloists. What could have been a train wreck was instead a vibrant, cohesive unified front, all under the steady hands and baton of Conlon, who somehow managed to sandwich this concert and last Sunday’s performance in Costa Mesa between conducting Verdi’s Falstaff and Mozart’s The Magic Flute for Los Angeles Opera.

The two local War Requiem concerts took place just days after the 100th anniversary of Britten’s birth; the 50th anniversary of President John K. Kennedy’s assassination added to the emotional nature of the evening.

How Britten, a pacifist, came to write War Requiem is reasonably well known (you can read some of the details in my preview story HERE). The basics are that he was commissioned to write a piece of his choosing for the dedication of the new St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry, England. The premiere took place on May 30, 1962.

Part of Britten’s genius in writing War Requiem was that he melded the traditional Roman Catholic Requiem Mass text with gritty poetry written by Wilfred Owen during World War I. (Ironically, Owen died on Nov. 4, 1918, exactly one week — almost to the hour — before the signing of the Armistice that ended the war; he was awarded a posthumous Military Cross). As a preface to War Requiem, Britten quoted Owen: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do is warn.” That’s just a sample of the emotional impact of the poems.

Another aspect of the work’s greatness is how Britten deployed his forces. The adult choral forces (182 voices, if everyone listed in the printed program actually sang) join with the soprano soloist to sing the traditional Requiem text, accompanied by a full-sized orchestra. A children’s chorus, accompanied by an organist, adds a potent angelic element at key points, sung last night from the top rear balcony. Tenor and baritone soloists, simulating a German and English soldier, sing Owen’s poetry, accompanied by an ensemble of 13 instruments.

In some performances, the male soloists and chamber orchestra are separated from the main body and led by a second conductor (indeed, that’s how the premiere performance was played; Britten conducted the smaller contingent while Meredith Davies led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra).

However, Conlon chose to conduct the entire performance by himself, placing the chamber ensemble directly in front of him with the larger orchestra behind them. The male soloists — tenor Joseph Kaiser and baritone Phillip Addis — flanked the conductor’s podium, while soprano Tamara Wilson sat in the middle of the front row of choristers on the choral benches. Conlon led some portions using a baton; for many of the choral sections, he laid down the stick and conducted with expressive hands.

The choral forces delivered a beautiful tone and were amazingly precise throughout the 84 minutes, but particularly in the extended fugal writing in the “Dies Irae” sections . The combined children’s choruses floated gorgeous sound with precise diction from their “heavenly” location in Disney Hall.

Soprano Tamara Wilson, symbolizing a Russian soldier, poured out rich opulent sounds that carried even over the combined choral and orchestral forces. Her melding with the chorus in the “Lacrimosa” was a highlight of the evening.

Tenor Joseph Kaiser, singing music written for Britten’s life partner, Peter Pears, delivered that bright tone so favored by English composers and Kaiser’s diction so precise that the projected supertitles were not needed. Baritone Phillip Addis’s voice turned gravely in the lower registers but he was emotionally strong in delivering some of Owen’s most poignant lines.

The Colburn Orchestra and members of the USC-Thornton Symphony played splendidly, especially given the fact that, according to one story, only Concertmaster Jeffrey Myers had ever played the work before. The 13-member ensemble (the same number that Britten used to accompany his three chamber operas) passed Britten’s melodies from hand to hand, as it were, while offering sympathetic accompaniment to Kaiser and Addis.

All forces eventually join in the final movement, “Libera Me,” in which Kaiser and Addis sang Owen’s “Strange Meeting,” a commentary on companionship between enemies after one has killed the other, interspersed with the final words of the Mass. Two bells — C and F-sharp — continue to toll as they have throughout the piece and the chorus finally dies away in a mysterious vapor. The capacity audience sat spellbound, silent for 20 seconds, before erupting in wave after wave of standing ovations for the performers — and, one thinks, also for the piece. Conlon appeared to be spent emotionally; for most of the audience, the feeling was the same.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Conlon’s typically erudite preconcert lecture was particularly helpful in showing the influences of Verdi, Berlioz and Mozart on Britten’s writing.
• The organist last night was Christoph Bull, head of the organ department at UCLA, a nice — if somewhat ironic — touch to counterbalance the presence of the USC-Thornton Symphony and two USC choirs.
• In honor of the Britten centennial, Decca has released a newly remastered version of the original recording of War Requiem, featuring the three singers who Britten intended to sing the premiere: Galina Vishnevskaya (Russian soprano), Peter Pears (English tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (German baritone). Because of international tensions, Vishnevskaya didn’t sing at the premiere (English soprano Heather Harper stepped in) but Vishnevskaya did perform in the original recording. The new version include a CD of War Requiem, , a Blu-Ray Audio format, which allows the recording to be heard at 24-bit, and a CD featuring Britten in rehearsal at the sessions in January 1963, which was produced by the legendary John Culshaw.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

7 months ago | |
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