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Robert D. Thomas/Class Act
Reviews, features, commentary and other information about classical music in Southern California.
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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 story is online today and will run in the print editions of the above newspapers Sunday.
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Los Angeles Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd
Tomorrow, March 5, 8 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. March 2 and 16 at 2 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Tickets: $19-$311. Student and senior rush tickets, subject to availability.
Information: www.laopera.org

Hemmings-Family-2-4Web
Rory, Amelia, Michele and Rupert Hemmings, in front of a portrait of Peter Hemmings, founder of Los Angeles Opera. Photo by Robert Millard
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Although Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd is undeniably a tragedy, there’s also an element of sweetness to the title character whose innocence leads to his demise. However, there’s another element of sweetness to Los Angeles Opera’s production of the opera, which opens tomorrow night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the first of six performances.

If you scroll down the cast list in the printed program, you’ll see listed as the Cabin Boy the name Rory Hemmings. It might ring a bell. Rory is the son of LAO Senior Director of Production Rupert Hemmings and the grandson of Peter Hemmings, who was the company’s founding general director, serving from 1984 to 2000.

That lineage was almost broken before it began. “Dad really didn’t want to hire me,” remembers Rupert, “because he was afraid that people would think it was nepotism. Fortunately, someone else in the company hired me and when the paperwork crossed Dad’s desk, he signed off reluctantly. I had to call him ‘Mr. Hemmings’ in the office but when we got home, we’d have a glass of whiskey and talk about how things were going.”

Rupert left the company in 2000 to become a free-lance producer with major companies around the United States, including Chicago Lyric Opera, New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Florida Grand Opera in Miami. “I did everything you could do in producing opera and was really hands-on in rehearsals,” recalls Rupert, “but it was a pretty hectic lifestyle.”

While in Miami, he met his future wife, Michele, who was in the young artist program at Florida Grand Opera. They married while in Florida and their two children, Rory and Amelia, were born in Miami but when Christopher Koelsch, now L.A. Opera’s chief executive officer, offered Rupert the chance to return in 2007 as LAO’s Senior Director of Production, he signed on willingly.

Rupert spends his days involved in virtually every production decision for the company, including hiring directors, set designers and costume designers. “I love all the elements I am able to touch,” he says. “especially in a good-sized company such as ours.”

Ten-year-old Rory was born after Peter had died but he is beginning to understand the importance his grandfather’s legacy. “When we were upstairs in the company’s offices this week,” recalls Rupert, “Rory looked up and saw a photo of Peter on the wall and said, ‘Hi, Grandpa!”

Rory, a fifth grader at McKinley School in Pasadena, isn’t a music major, although he does play the violin. His favorite subject is chemistry and he’s an avid gymnast. However, last summer he and his sister — perky, nine-year-old Ameila — attended the LAO Opera Camp where he performed in a production of Brundibár and an in-school tour of The Prospector with LAO’s Education and Community Outreach Department.
Rory4Web
When the company was looking for a 10-year-old to play the Cabin Boy in Billy Budd Rory (pictured right, with Richard Craft as Capt. Vere) got the nod. “I started working with my Mom about a month before rehearsals,” he explains. The work paid off; his non-singing role has grown from three lines to five during rehearsals. When not rehearsing his scenes, Rory has enjoyed hanging out with the cast, particularly Liam Bonner, who plays the title role. “We just sit and talk together,” says Rory. “It’s pretty neat.”

While all this is swirling, Mom Michele also juggles a full life. In addition to mothering her family, she is an active mezzo-soprano, singing with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and in choral backup groups for motion pictures. She also teaches at the Pasadena Conservatory of music and privately — “every gig that comes along,” she says with a laugh.

One of those gigs will make L.A. Opera will truly a family affair in March. While Rory and Rupert are finishing up their jobs in Billy Budd, Michele and daughter Amelia will be appearing in the world-premiere LAO production of Jonah and the Whale March 21 and 22 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Since he returned to LA Opera in 2007, Rupert has watched the company weather the challenges of producing its first “Ring” cycle and grow steadily since then. “I loved what Achim Freyer did with his production of the ‘Ring’ and am very proud of our company’s total effort,” says Rupert.

However, the most fun he’s enjoyed has been with LAO’s world-premiere production of Daniel Catán’s Il Postino, which debuted in Los Angeles in September 2010. “Not only was it a wonderful success here in Los Angeles,” recounts Rupert, “but I got to be there when it was produced in Mexico, Daniel’s birth country, and in Chile, which was where Pablo Neruda spent much of his life. It’s also been produced around the world in places such as Vienna and Paris, so that was significant for our company, as well.”

But for the moment, Rory and Rupert are focused on Billy Budd, which adds a final touch of nostalgia for Rupert Hemmings. When this production last played at LAO in 2000, it was Peter’s final production at the helm of the company he founded. That was bittersweet for Rupert, who was the Assistant Director/Assistant Stage Manager for that production. “On the last night, when everyone else was taking their bows,” he remembers wistfully, “I had to push dad out on stage so he could take a final bow. So having Rory onstage for this revival will really be meaningful for me.”
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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

Every music critic has received the occasional “Were you and at the same concert?” letter or email, so I’m happy to report that theater critics apparently can engender the same reaction. The Bridges of Madison County, a musical adaptation of the 1992 tear-jerker bestselling book by Robert Weller, officially opened last night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City. The book adaptation was by Marsha Norman, Jason Robert Brown (Parade) wrote the music, and the show stars Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale.

Broadwayworld.com has a roundup of clips from the reviews HERE. Although there are many similarities, there are some points where I did, indeed, wonder, “Were you folks at the same show?” Remember, dear readers, that a review is one person’s opinion.
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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

My “Around Town/Music” column in the above newspapers listed links to upcoming schedules for Hollywood Bowl, L.A. Opera, the L.A. Phil and Los Angeles Master Chorale. My comments are listed in recent Blog posts (links below). Each post contains a link to the schedule and other information. (NOTE:) My full column for today is HERE.

Hollywood Bowl 2014 summer season
Los Angeles Opera 2014-2015 season
Los Angeles Philharmonic 2014-2015 season
Los Angeles Master Chorale 2014-2015 season (below the Hollywood Bowl blurb)
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.

Several significant events will take place during the next fortnight, headed by Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its production of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, which opens next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the first of six performances running through March 16 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Four performances are in the evening while two are in the afternoon.

LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct this production and will offer one of his typically erudite lectures an hour before each performance. Billy Budd concludes the company’s celebration of the centennial of Britten’s birth on Nov. 22, 2013.

Baritone Liam Bonner performs the title role for the first time, joining with tenor Richard Croft as Captain Vere and bass Greer Grimsley, making his company debut, as John Claggart, whose attraction to Billy is the pivot point of the opera. The production, by Francesca Zambello, originated in Geneva in 2004 and at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1995; it was first seen in L.A. in 2000.
Read my preview story HERE.
John Farrell’s story in the above newspapers is HERE
David Ng’s preview story in the Los Angeles Times is HERE.

Information: www.laopera.com

• The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra presents its annual “Discover” concert at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena Saturday night at 8 p.m. The program this year focuses on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). In the first half of the program, Music Director Jeffrey Kahane will lead the orchestra in a demonstration and discuss this pivotal work in classical music history. The second half will be a complete performance of the symphony.

Information: www.laco.org

• The Los Angeles Philharmonic begins its “TchaikovskyFest” series on Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall with a performance by the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra String Quartet and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Beginning Friday and continuing every night (and some days) except one through March 2, Gustavo Dudamel will lead his two orchestras, the Phil and SBSO, in performances of all six of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies plus other assorted works. Mark Swed has an interview with Gustavo in the Los Angeles Times HERE.

Information: www.laphil.com

• Muse/ique continues its “Uncorked” series with a performance on Feb. 24 at “The Noise Within,” the theatre/performing space located just north of the Gold Line’s Sierra Madre Villa station at the eastern edge of Pasadena.

Music Director Rachael Worby will lead 13 members of her ensemble in Aaron Copland’s original score for the ballet Appalachian Spring. However, in true Worby fashion, that’s just part of the evening. The 70-minute program will also feature Mike Simpson (aka EZ Mike of the Dust Brothers) and fits + starts for electronic music with live cello, a piece commissioned by L.A.’s Hysterica Dance Company from composer Anna Clyne. Kitty McNamee and members of Hysterica Dance Co. will supply choreography for the evening.

Information: www.muse-ique.org

• The 2014 summer schedule for Hollywood Bowl and 2014-2015 season schedules for L.A. Opera, L.A. Phil and Los Angeles Master Chorale have been released. My comments are listed in recent Blog posts (links below). Each post contains a link to the schedule and other information:

Hollywood Bowl 2014 summer season
Los Angeles Opera 2014-2015 season
Los Angeles Philharmonic 2014-2015 season
Los Angeles Master Chorale 2014-2105 season (below the Hollywood Bowl story)
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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Los Angeles Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd
Feb. 22, March 5, 8 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. March 2 and 16 at 2 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Tickets: $19-$311. Student and senior rush tickets, subject to availability.
Information: www.laopera.org

BillyBudd_5_4Web
LA Opera will use Francesca Zambello’s striking production when it presents Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd beginning Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo from Washington National Opera.
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As the clock ticks toward next Saturday, anticipation is beginning to mount as Los Angeles Opera prepares to present Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, the climax of the company’s nearly two-year-long “Britten 100/LA” celebration of the centennial of composer’s birth on November 22, 2013. Staging, lighting, orchestra and cast rehearsals are fusing into what the company hopes will be a seamless whole; dress rehearsals begin Sunday and the Feb. 22 opener will be the first of six presentations of an opera that many people consider Britten’s finest work, although it isn’t as well known as Peter Grimes.

This morning some media members and other guests got a backstage glimpse of the set for the production, which was created by a then-young New York City native named Francesca Zambello. Gary Murphy, LAO’s director of public relations wittily termed the morning “Walking the Plank.” As always, the perspective from the stage is radically different from the seats, although the morning began in the Founders Circle so that we could get front-facing perspective of a set that was still coming together.

This production debuted in Switzerland’s Grand Théâtre de Genève in 1994 and opened the next year at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It played in Los Angeles in 2000 and has become, says Rupert Hemmings, LAO’s senior director of production, “THE iconic production of this opera.” Plácido Domingo, LAO’s general director, believes this is the Zambello’s best work. In fact, it is so popular that there are two versions in existence, one based in London (which LAO is using) and the other housed in Paris.

Despite the fact that the opera is set entirely on a British man-of-warship in 1797, the HMS Indomitable, Zambello specified to set and costume designer Alison Chitty that the production couldn’t include a ship and the sailors couldn’t wear military uniforms.

Instead, Chitty created a raked, triangular wooden plank that stretches the width of the Pavilion stage and comes to a point looming over the orchestra pit to symbolize the ship’s deck (rigging and other paraphernalia in the background add verisimilitude to the effect). The front 2/3 of the plank tilts up sharply to reveal the cabin below where much of the second act takes place; from the seats, the effect resembles a geometric “Jaws-like” shark.

Several of us “rode the plank” as it tilted up and down; others climbed warily down the ultra-steep stairs from the deck to the cabin (with my bad foot, I elected not to risk my neck on that trip — the all-male cast that numbers about 25 clearly has to be in great shape to maneuver on this set; no “Falstaffs” here).

What the audience will see is exactly what Zambello created, although Julia Pevzner is credited as the director. “When a company rents a production, as we are doing with this one,” explained Hemmings, “you are contractually obligated to produce what was originally created. Moreover, if the original director isn’t in charge, he or she has to sign off on the director. This production clearly has Zambello’s imprint.”
Bonner
Zambello — now general and artistic director of the Glimmerglass Festival in England and artistic director of Washington National Opera — has, in fact, been in L.A. for what Hemmings described as a week of “intense” rehearsals. Liam Bonner (right) who is portraying the title character for the first time, remembers Zambello telling him, “You already look like Billy Budd; you don’t have to jump around a lot. Stand still!”

For L.A. Opera Music Director James Conlon, who is conducting Billy Budd for the first time, this production continues a life-long love affair with Britten. “When I was growing up,” Conlon wrote in an Opera News article, “Benjamin Britten was a contemporary composer.” As a high school student, he heard Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, perform two recitals in New York City.

Nonetheless, for Conlon, the complexity of Billy Budd makes it unique. “A universe within the universe,” writes Conlon in the LA Opera program, “it touches upon Britten’s recurrent themes: outrage for the destruction — not just the loss — of innocence; the abdication by civil authorities of their moral authority to the detriment of the weak; and the importance of compassion and its lamentable absence in the affairs of men.”

Written in 1951 and revised nine years later, the opera uses a libretto by E.M. Forster (who write A Passage to India and A Room With a View, among other works) and Eric Crozier from a novella by Herman Melville. “It is the second of three operas, along with Peter Grimes and Death in Venice, that play out in or around the powerful influence of the sea,” notes Conlon. “It is [also] the biggest of his large-scale works.” The orchestra (the largest Britten used in an opera) has more than 70 musicians, the L.A. Opera Chorus numbers 46 and there are 10 boys from the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. Altogether, counting stagehands and lighting folks, more than 200 people will be involved in this production (“not counting ushers and ticket takers,” says Hemmings with a wry smile).

In the title role, Bonner — a 32-year-old Pittsburgh native — steps into the shoes of Southern California native Rod Gilfry who created the part in the London production and played it here 14 years ago. Although new to this role, Bonner has an extensive background in Britten’s music; he played the role of Sid in LAO’s production of Britten’s Albert Herring in 2012.

“Britten does such a wonderful job of writing for the voice,” says Bonner. “What I’ve learned is that to sing his music well I have to be true to myself. The challenges are mainly that you have to be very strict with the rhythms and keep moving forward. There’s always an energy, a current that seems to keep running through the music; it never seems to stops. And yet, there are moments of stillness — in fact, stillness is an important part of the action.”

Although it’s by coincidence given the lengthy schedule times for operas, the revival of this production and the unveiling of an acclaimed 2010 production from Glyndebourne Festival Opera, directed by Michael Grandage, now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, (LINK) are especially timely because of the mounting of Charles Wuorinen’s operatic version of Brokeback Mountain, which opened recently at Teatro Real Madrid. “Without Britten having introduced the issue of homosexuality in Billy Budd,” says Hemmings, ”Brokeback Mountain as an opera doesn’t get written.”

Britten’s homosexuality certainly played a role in the writing of Billy Budd, although how much is open to debate. “The homoerotic aspects are certainly a driving force in this piece,” said Bonner in an interview with Chris Carpenter in Rage Monthly, “but they have more do with Claggart than with Billy. Billy is too innocent and naïve, I think, to even realize the way Claggart is drawn to him … Billy is so real and so sincere in his answers, always.” This morning, Bonner summarized Billy as “an innocent. He cannot see the bad in anything.”

One of the critical elements to the role is that Billy stutters; in fact, the opera’s tragedy revolves around this impediment. “What makes that particularly difficult,” says Bonner, “is that Britten writes the stuttering into the music and no two times are the same. You really have to stay on your toes.” Especially when walking the plank.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• The opera runs about three hours with one intermission. It is sung in English with English supertitles (it will be interesting to see how much those are necessary).
• Conlon will deliver a pre-performance lecture an hour before each performance.
• The are several excellent articles in the “Learn More” tab of the LAO Web site.
• The sets nearly didn’t make to L.A. in time. Bad weather in London and then New York pushed things to nearly the breaking point.
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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

For the past two decades (at least) the Los Angeles Philharmonic has led the world in creating innovative programs for orchestras, but the 2014-2015 schedule at Walt Disney Concert Hall — entitled, appropriately, “Moving Music Forward” and announced officially yesterday — takes that concept into stratospheres never before envisioned, at least in a single season.

The various initiatives are complex enough that they can’t be fully grasped in one reading. Following is my first take on what’s ahead. In addition to the chronological schedule (HERE), you may want to download much of the press kit (HERE) and take some time to study what it contains.

Several sets of programs feature multiple disciplines, including three that combine video with music. LA Phil Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will combine with artist Refik Anadol in a program that incorporates a new video into Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet Nov. 6, 7 and 9. Salonen and the Phil will be joined by three soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The Friday program will inaugurate the Phil’s new “in/Sight” series of music and videos. The other programs include Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis on Jan. 9, to be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (part of a series of events celebrating MTT’s 70th birthday); a staged production of Unsuk Chin’s opera, Alice in Wonderland on Feb. 27 and 28, 2015; and a program featuring music by Steve Mackey and Steve Reich on May 29 and 31. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the last two programs; all four programs will be repeated on days surrounding Friday.

The Romeo and Juliet program will be one of three sets of concerts that Salonen will conduct during the upcoming season. On Oct. 24, 25 and 26, Salonen and organist Olivier Latry will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Disney Hall organ with a program that includes the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Maan varjot (Earth Shadows).

The upcoming season will feature the largest emphasis on the Disney Hall organ since the instrument made its debut in 2004. Dudamel will conduct programs on Nov. 20, 21 and 22 that will feature organist Cameron Carpenter in the long-delayed world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 4 (Organ), originally slated to debut in May 2010, along with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). Carpenter will also play his own arrangement of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2. There will also be five organ recitals during the upcoming season.

Another new Friday series will be “Inside the Music with Brian Lauritzen,” four programs hosted by the KUSC radio personality. Each concert will include a Lauritzen-produced video sent to audience members ahead of time, along with pre- and post-concert discussions with the hosts and artists and an online forum. Dudamel will conduct two of the four programs, one of which will be the organ program noted above.

In his sixth season as the Phil’s music director, Dudamel will conduct 12 subscription programs during the upcoming season, along with the annual Opening Night gala concert, which will feature violinist Itzhak Perlman and the music of John Williams. In December Dudamel will lead a program celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Music Center that will include a performance of Salonen’s Helix, with the music being relayed live into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where it will accompany a world-premiere presentation from LA Dance Project.

Dudamel will also lead the orchestra on an Asian tour in March 2015 that will visit Hong Kong, Bejing, Seoul and Tokyo. The programs will include Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World), Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, and John Adams’ City Noir, which was composed for Dudamel’s inaugural gala program in 2009.

Another new series, “Next on Grand,” is being described as “a recurring festival that converges upon a creative force or cultural element.” Next season’s focus will be on contemporary Americans ranging from “old-timers” such as Phillip Glass, Adams and Reich to relative compositional newcomers such as Bryce Dessner, guitarist for the band, the National, and Chris Cerrone.

As part of this venture, the Phil will collaborate with L.A. Opera in a production of David T. Little’s Dog Days at REDCAT, the black-box theatre inside Disney Hall, and will also produce John Adams’ Available Light at Disney Hall with Frank Gehry designing the sets and Lucinda Childs creating choreography.

Overall the season will have 10 commissioned works, eight world premieres, five U.S. premieres and seven West Coast premieres. Orchestras along with the Phil will be the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas on March 24, 2015 and the Seoul Philharmonic, led by Myun-Whung Chun on April 15, 2015. The “Sounds About Town” series has been bumped back up to three local orchestras: The Colburn Orchestra (led by Sir. Neville Marriner), USC Thornton Symphony, and the American Youth Symphony. There are also numerous other programmatic genres; as noted at the top of this Blog, there’s almost too much to absorb in one reading.
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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

Schedules for 2014-2015 continue to flow in:

• Three different versions of hair are among the highlights of the 93rd Hollywood Bowl season, which was announced Tuesday. The 2014 season begins June 14 and 15 with the 36th annual Playboy Jazz Festivals and spans 15 weeks through September.

Amid a dizzying number of pops, jazz, world music and movie nights, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will have its 10-week-long classical season, which begins July 8 and concludes September 11. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, he of the curly hair, will lead four programs over five evenings, including another segment of his “Americas & Americans” series, an evening entitled “Noche de Cine” that will include a suite from Dudamel’s score to the movie Libertador on July 31.

The other hair-related programs will be a 50th anniversary re-creation of The Beatles appearance at Hollywood Bowl that will take place August 22, 23 and 24, and a production of the 1968 Broadway musical, Hair, on August 1, 2 and 3. Since the listing for Hair includes the words “contains mature subject matter and brief nudity,” one can assumed this will be a virtually complete production.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Phil’s Conductor Laureate, is among the conductors who will lead the Phil. He has programs scheduled on July 15 and 17.

Read the complete schedule HERE.
The entire Hollywood Bowl press kit is HERE.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 51st season will have Music Director Grant Gershon leading 10 concerts (14 performances) in Walt Disney Concert Hall that feature world premieres by Shawn Kirchner and Nack-Kum Paik. Nearly half of the 20 composers represented in the schedule are alive.

One who isn’t alive (literally, at any rate) is Johann Sebastian Bach whose St. Matthew Passion will be featured twice: the Chorale, along with the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, will offer Bach’s version on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, while Tan Dun’s Water Passion after St. Matthew will be sung April 11 and 12, 2015. Dun’s piece was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death in 2000.

Another “Passion” oriented work will open the season on Oct. 19 when the Chorale presents Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light/The Passion of Joan of Arc. Written for chorus, soloists and orchestra, the piece accompanies Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The season announcement also reveals a bit about the upcoming Los Angeles Philharmonic season as the Chorale will sing in performances of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and John Adams’ Harmonium led by Gustavo Dudamel October 9-12; for performances of Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen November 7-9; and in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis to be led by Michael Tilson Thomas January 9-11, 2015.

Details on the Master Chorale season are HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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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Pasadena Symphony, soloists and Donald Brinegar Singers; Kazem Abdullah, conductor
Sat., Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Preconcert lecture one hour ahead of each performance.
Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. St. John Ave.
Tickets: $35-$105. Student and senior rush tickets available
Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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The Pasadena Symphony finishes its 2013-2014 season in a somewhat strange way as three guest conductors mount the Ambassador Auditorium to conduct the PSO during the next four months.

Symphony schedules are typically planned years in advance and the current list was created before David Lockington was named PSO music director and Nicholas McGegan was tapped as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor last year. As fate would have it, that duo led the opening concerts for this season, leaving each of the three remaining guests to lead programs centered on war-horse blockbusters.

On Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Kazem Abdullah will conduct the orchestra and Donald Brinegar Singers in performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, along with two works by noted Southern California composer Morten Lauridsen: Midwinter Songs and Nocturnes. Soloists in the final movement of the Beethoven, “Ode to Joy,” will be Tracy Cox, soprano; Laura Harrison, mezzo-soprano; Casey Candebat, tenor; and Andrew Craig Brown, bass

You would think that in the 21st century it wouldn’t be necessary to note the obvious: Abdullah is one of the few African-American conductors working today. Of course, he had to go to Europe to find a regular job, in this case, Generalmusikdirektor of the City of Aachen, Germany, a post he assumed in 2012. Abdullah, who was born on July 4, 1979 studied, among other places, at USC.

Although many people will come to Ambassador for Beethoven’s 9th, the two pieces by Lauridsen are intriguing. Lauridsen, who lives in Hollywood and has been a professor of music at USC for 40 years, is one of the most important choral composers in the world today. Although best known for his later works, including Lux Aeterna and O Magnum Mysterium, Lauridsen’s unique style was first fully shown off in Midwinter Songs, which is based on a text by English poet Robert Graves. Midwinter Songs was written in 1980 and orchestrated in 1983.

Nocturnes was written in 2005 and is based on texts from poets Rainier Maria Rike, Pablo Neruda and James Agee. A highlight of the piece is Sure on This Shining Night, based on an Agee poem. That piece is also featured in a 2012 documentary on Lauridsen’s life, Shining Night, which will be shown on March 14 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale (INFO). That program is sponsored by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, which will sing a concert of Lauridsen’s music two nights later in Walt Disney Concert Hall (INFO)
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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

Season schedules for 2014-2015 are beginning to filter into email boxes and although the Orange County Philharmonic wasn’t first off the block (that “honor” went to the Long Beach Symphony — INFO),the OCPS announcement is noteworthy because it usually gives a tease of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s upcoming Walt Disney Concert Hall season.

The L.A. Phil and Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will journey to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on Sunday, Nov. 23 for an afternoon concert that will feature what’s being termed the world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s long-delayed Symphony No. 4 “Organ.” The Hartke piece was originally scheduled to debut in May, 2010.

Also on the program are Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (also subtitled “Organ”) and Barber’s Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra. Cameron Carpenter and the Phil’s own keyboard virtuoso, Joanne Pearce Martin, will be the soloists, playing the hall’s William J. Gillespie Concert Organ.

Assuming that this is not, in fact, the world premiere of the Hartke piece — i.e., if we presume that this performance will follow concerts in Disney Hall with the same program — that cycle will give organ lovers a chance to compare the Segerstrom Concert Hall Organ with Disney Hall’s much larger instrument.

The OC organ, a “tracker” or mechanical action organ built by C.B. Fisk, Inc. of Gloucester, Mass., has 4,322 pipes in 75 ranks with 57 stops. It was first played in concert in 2008. Glatter-Götz of Germany built the Disney Hall instrument under the tonal direction and voicing of Manuel Rosales and its first concerts were in 2004. The Disney Hall is much larger than its OC counterpart: 6,125 pipes in 109 ranks with 72 stops. Reflecting its Fisk design concept, the OC organ sounds much brighter than the Disney Hall instrument; its bright metal pipes also provide a much different look from the “overturned French fries” façade in Disney Hall, which was designed by Frank Gehry. The comparisons will be fun and instructive.

The upcoming OCPS schedule could easily have been termed “The British are Coming, The British Are Coming.” The season opens Oct. 11 when Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic in music by Dvorak, Tchaikovsky (Symphony No. 6) along with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist.

Also coming across the pond is the London Symphony Orchestra, led by Michael Tilson Thomas on March 28, in a program including Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, and Gershwin Piano Concerto in F with Yuja Wang as soloist.

As part of a 50th anniversary season tour, the Monteverdi Choir makes appearances at Segerstrom Hall April 24 and 25, 2015 led by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. The first concert is Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and the second is that composer’s L’Orfeo. The English Baroque Soloists accompanies the choir.

Other orchestras on the schedule:
The Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Jirí Belohlávek on Nov. 14, with a program of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony paired with Liszt’s second piano concerto, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist.
The Rotterdam Philharmonic, led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on Feb. 11, 2015 in a meaty program of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, with Hélène Grimaud as soloist.
The Venice Baroque Orchestra on Feb. 28, 2015 playing with Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital.
• The State Symphony of Mexico, commemorating the 40th anniversary of its first U.S. Tour, on March 5, 2015, with Enrique Batiz conducting a program of two works by Manuel Maria Ponce: his Piano Concerto, with Irina Chistiakova as soloist, and Concierto del Sur, with Alfonso Moreno as guitar soloist. Music by Rimsky-Korsokov and Borodin rounds out the evening.

The season also includes recitals and chamber-music concerts, some at Segerstrom Hall and others at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. One of those evenings will be a salute to Carl St.Clair’s 25th anniversary as music director of the Pacific Symphony. Another will performances of the Mark Morris Dance Company’s production of Dido & Aeneas on May 15 and 16.

The complete media release is HERE: www.philharmonicsociety.org

Subscriptions are now on sale (Info: www.philharmonic society.org). Single tickets are scheduled to go on sale this summer.
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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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Long Beach Symphony; Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor
Terrace Theatre, Long Beach
Next concert: March 8
Information: www.lbso.org
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For the past quarter-century the Long Beach Symphony has grown steadily in terms of artistic quality while, apparently, also achieving financial stability. In the process, it has consigned to ancient history a turbulent era that included cancelling most of the 1984-1985 season while the ensemble reorganized following bankruptcy.

In 1989 JoAnn Falletta began an acclaimed 12-year-tenure as the orchestra’s music director before moving on to bigger vistas in Buffalo, New York and Virginia. In 2001 Enrique Arturo Diemecke, a dynamic Mexican conductor, succeeded Falletta and he has continued the orchestra’s growth.

However, last November Diemecke — somewhat suddenly and mysteriously — announced that this current season would be his last. Beyond the original release, neither the orchestra nor Diemecke has said much about the decision. The orchestra has formed a search committee for a new music director and its recently announced 80th anniversary season in 2014-2015 will have each of the six concerts led by a different guest conductor, at least some of whom, presumably, could be candidates succeed Diemecke.

Meanwhile, the orchestra is trying to send Demiecke off with panache (the formal celebration will come in the last concert on May 31). Last night’s concert featured him not only as a conductor but as a composer, since the final work on the program, Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas, features a cadenza for 12 percussionists that Diemecke wrote 15 years when he was conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México.

In another nod to the birth centennial of English composer Benjamin Britten, the concert opened with an exuberant performance of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or, as it is sometimes called, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell. The piece was also the centerpiece of the orchestra’s free education program for youth, which took place during the week prior to the concert.

In the mid-17th century, Purcell composed incidental music to the play Abdelazar (The Moor’s Revenge), and Britten used Purcell’s hornpipe melody as the basis for music that he composed for a 1946 film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra.

Diemecke took the opening theme in a lush, stately manner, and the 13 variations showed off solo instruments and sections of the orchestra. The concluding fugue was brisk and built inexorably to a grand finale. Perhaps more than anything, the piece demonstrated the value of hearing music live, as opposed to via recording. Seeing and hearing the variations passed from one section to another added to the enjoyment.

Post-intermission, Diemecke and the orchestra offered a boisterous performance of La Noche de los Mayas, a piece that began as a score for a 1939 movie filmed in the jungles of the Yucatan and ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico. In 1960, composer-conductor José Yves Limatour created a four-movement suite from the film score and, with Diemecke’s cadenza for the 12 percussionists who highlight the final movement, this is the version played by most ensembles today.

This is one of the few film scores that have made it into mainstream classical programs and it has been played by many Southern California orchestras, despite the resource required both in terms of extra percussionists and the instruments they play, which include a native log-like drum and a conch shell.

Diemecke, who was born in Mexico of German parents, clearly relishes this 36-minute work, and the orchestra rose to the challenge not only in the athletic portions but also in the lyrical moments during the two inner movements. As often happened, the audience sat stunned after the final cadence before erupting into a thunderous standing ovation.

Acting as a sandwich between the Britten and Revueltas pieces was Burleske for piano and orchestra, written when Richard Strauss was just 21 years old. If any orchestra has to program this vulgar, 17-minute piece then it might was well engage someone like pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine as soloist to make it at least endurable or, to most in the audience, enjoyable.

The 33-year-old Moutouzkine, who was born in Russia but completed a Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, has the kind of piston-like fingers that are indispensable in this piece, which program annotators Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn described as “a grand waltz fantasy in the flamboyant style of Franz Liszt.” Actually, the way that Moutouzkine threw himself around the piano bench, one could easily have pictured a reincarnation of Liszt if Moutouzkine had the Hungarian composer’s wild hairstyle. An enthusiastic standing ovation brought forth a jazzy encore that proved to be more of the same. One can only hope that there is more than pyrotechnics to Moutouzkine’s musical makeup.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Diemecke offered short commentary before each half of the program. His thick accent makes it hard for those who aren’t concert regulars to understand him completely, but his infectious enthusiasm comes through clearly as it does on the podium, where he conducts without a baton, depending instead on whirling hands and bouncy athleticism.

The 2014-15 lineup of guest conductors includes
John DeMain, formerly Music Director at Opera Pacific in Orange County who now leads the Madison (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra (Oct. 4);
• Santa Monica native Edwin Outwater, Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Ontario, Canada (Nov. 8);
Bruce Kiesling, assistant conductor of the Pasadena Symphony who is also leading YOLA, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (Jan. 31, 2015;
William Eddins, Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony (March 7, 2015);
Lucas Richman, Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony and Bangor Symphony (April 25, 2015); and
Edward Cumming, former Music Director of the Hartford Symphony (May 30, 2015).

Information: www.lbso.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

8 months ago | |
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