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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
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.

As the classical music season moves into high gear, a few concerts stand out over the next couple of weeks.

• Jeffrey Kahane conducts the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in the second concert of its orchestral series on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall. The orchestra is using Ambassador, once its long-time home, while Glendale’s Alex Theatre undergoes renovation.

The concerts feature the U.S. premiere of the chamber-orchestra version of Do You Dream in Color? by Bruce Adolphe, who among other things taught Kahane at The Juilliard School in New York City. The text comes from four poems written by blind mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, who will be the soloist for the premiere.

Also on the program are Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, part of the Southern California celebration of the centennial of Britten’s birth, and Haydn’s Cello Concerto, with French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras as soloist.

Information: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

• The 10-year-anniversary celebration of Walt Disney Concert Hall would not be complete without an appearance by former Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. Although many people were instrumental in getting the hall built, Salonen provided a key measure of inspiration because his travels in Europe had given him with examples how a great hall (e.g., Berlin’s Philharmonie) could enhance an orchestra.

Salonen conducted the first notes in the new hall 10 years ago. He retired as Phil music director in 2009 but returns as the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate to lead the ensemble in quintessential Salonen programs this week and next.

This Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, the program includes Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and Debussy’s Nocturnes, along with the world premiere of Magnus Lindbergh’s Cello Concerto, featuring Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen as soloist. The women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale sing in Nocturnes.

Information: www.laphil.com

On Oct. 23, Salonen and the Phil open the “Green Umbrella” series with the world premiere of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels. Zappa (founder of the band “The Mothers of Invention”) originally wrote 200 Motels. for a 1971 British film of that name. However in 1970, according to the Phil, “Zappa had collaborated with Zubin Mehta and the LA Phil for a concert that formed the basis of his magnum opus. Next weekend’s performances will be the first complete realization of Zappa’s musical vision.”

BTW: The Phil’s Web site notes that “mature language and content” as well as strobe lights will be used in this performance. According to an article by Sanchez Manning in London’s The Independent, (LINK) after the movie was released, a concert scheduled at London’s Royal Albert Hall was canceled because a representative of the venue found some of the lyrics obscene. In 1975, Zappa lost a lawsuit against the hall for breach of contract. Reportedly after the judge heard Penis Dimension (a portion of the score) he responded, “Have I got to listen to this?” Presumably most listeners in 2013 will be less offended, but the caveat is worth noting.

Concert Information: www.laphil.com

The concerts on Oct. 25, 26 and 27 pair Salonen’s own Violin Concerto with Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5. Leila Josefowicz, for whom the work was written, returns to appear as soloist. Although the Phil’s program notes for the concerto list this as a world premiere, this is a “cut and paste” typo (something with which I am all too familiar). In fact, the premiere was in 2009.

Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

• One other Disney Hall concert worth mentioning takes place tonight when organist Hector Olivera opens the Phil’s Organ Series with a recital at 7:30 p.m. His program includes several familiar pieces — Bach’s St. Anne Prelude and Fugue, Franck’s second chorale and Leon Boëllman’s Suite Gothique — along with others less well known. The recital will end with one of Olivera’s improvisations on a theme submitted from the audience. If you’ve never heard the Disney Hall organ before (or even if you have), this recital should be on your “must hear” list.

Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

9 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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Hartford Symphony; Carolyn Kuan, conductor
Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; Edward Clark, organist, Connecticut Youth Symphony (Daniel D’Addio, music director)
Harrison: Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra; Wu Man, soloist
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”); Edward Clark, organist
Friday, October 11, 2013 • Mortenson Hall at The Bushnell; Hartford
Next performances: Tonight at 8 p.m.
Information: www.hartfordsymphony.org
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KuanWhen Music Director Carolyn Kuan (right) and officials at the Hartford Symphony planned the opening concerts of its 70th anniversary season, they tried to pack a lot of elements into the programs. Nonetheless, Kuan and a cast of hundreds managed to pull things off successfully for the most part.

Since the concerts were played in Mortenson Hall at The Bushnell, rather than the much smaller Belding Theater, the orchestra took the opportunity to spotlight the hall’s Austin Organ, which was built in 1929 and installed when the hall opened a year later. The HSO partnered with the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists for what it called “Bachtoberfest,” with dozens of demonstrations, concerts and lectures at churches around the city in the fortnight preceding the concerts. One can only hope that the Los Angeles Philharmonic will consider a similar strategy next year when it celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Walt Disney Concert Hall organ.

At 4 manuals and 102 stops, the Bushnell organ is good sized, although not gigantic; it’s smaller than the Disney Hall instrument and, considering that Mortenson Hall is quite a big larger than Disney, lacks the presence of the Los Angeles instrument. Nonetheless, it’s an important instrument by one of America’s oldest and most important organ builders, which is located in Hartford, so the evening’s focus made eminent sense.

Choosing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, was an obvious, if predictable choice, but Kuan at least changed things up a bit. Edward Clark, the HSO’s long-time organist, opened the evening playing the toccata as a solo. The HSO and the Connecticut Youth Symphony then combined forces to join Clark in Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement of the fugue made popular in Walt Disney’s 1940 movie, Fantasia (the choice was also a subtle promo for the screening of Fantasia at The Bushnell on Oct. 26, with the HSO playing the music live). The orchestras and Clark alternated portions of the fugue until they amalgated for the grand finale at the end.

It’s never easy to keep 150+ musicians on the same page but Kuan — who cuts an energetic presence on the podium — was successful for the most part. Clark added a few flourishes to Bach’s familiar opening measures although, in my experience, Austin Organs aren’t designed to sound like German Baroque instruments. As an unannounced encore, Kuan and the two orchestras gave a spirited account of Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla Overture.

After intermission, Kuan, Clark and the HSO delivered a solid performance of Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”). Heard from a center balcony seat, Mortenson Hall accentuated the lush sound of the orchestra’s strings, and the brass players were quite prominent during their shining moments. However, possibly because Kuan had the entire orchestra seated on the stage floor (as opposed to risers), the wind sections disappeared into a sonic haze for much of the performance.

Kuan opened the performance deliberately but soon had things humming along with a brisk sense of urgency. Clark conveyed a proper sense of mystery to open the second section and his C Major chord to fourth section burst forth with grandeur; by the end, he and the orchestra were playing with full-throated glory.

If neither the Bach nor the Saint-Saëns were adventurous programming choices, Kuan made up for it by inserting Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra in between the two warhorses. Wu Man, Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year, was the soloist playing a piece that Harrison had written for her in 1977, but that was only part of the story.

Last June, Man was carrying her 17-year-old pipa (an ancient Chinese lute-like instrument with a long neck and four silk strings that she holds on her lap when performing) on a US Airways flight when a flight attendant accidentally broke it. After the instrument was declared irreparable, the airline paid for Man to fly back and forth to Bejing to have a new instrument made by the same master who made her old model (read a New York Times story HERE).

Last night’s concerts were Man’s first with her new pipa. Although Man said in the article that, “It [the new pipa] definitely has potential, but it will take a couple of years to get my own music out of it,” she’s probably the only one who could tell. Her playing was both dexterous and delicate, she got sympathetic support from Kuan and the HSO strings in the rhythmically challenging work, and the audience ate it all up. After a generous ovation, Man responded with a flashy encore, which brought forth even louder applause.
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Hemidemisemiquavers (thoughts from an outsider):
• The printed program had no information on the organ (!).
• There was also no preconcert lecture, which was too bad because the Harrison concerto could have benefitted from some explanation.
• No information on Mortenson Hall, either, which seems a pity since the larger-than-usual crowd undoubtedly included people who had never been inside (the size of the crowd was undoubtedly swelled by parents, grandparents and other relatives of the kids).

The inside of the hall has a stunning art deco effort. When I first looked at it I was reminded of Radio City Music Hall (minus the latter’s garish red décor). Turns out that both buildings were designed by the same architectural firm: Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray (Radio City was opened in 1932 two years after The Bushnell). According to Wikipedia, “Drama, the largest hand-painted ceiling mural of its type in the United States, is suspended from the Hall's roof by numerous metal supports. Painted by Barry Faulkner, the painting cost $50,000 to create in 1929.”
• Although the orchestra’s Web site indicates there that senior rush and student tickets are available, it gives no price for either. The cheapest tickets I could find six weeks in advance of the concert were balcony seats at $38.50 each (plus internet service charges). There were only a modest number of folks sitting in the balcony, although the Web site says that balcony tickets for tonight’s concert are nearly sold out. The vexing issue of pricing tickets in a way that keeps the organization in the black but opens doors for newcomers and lower-income folks is obviously an issue in Hartford as it is in most other cities.
• Parking was free in adjacent government lots, a far cry from Los Angeles where the government parking structures are money-makers for the county.
• Most of the “Masterworks” series of concerts are held in the 900-seat Belding Theater and are spread out over four days (Thursday through Sunday). Former music directors Michael Lankester and Edward Cummings are returning to lead concerts in this 70th anniversary season and violin soloist Peter Wingrad is the son of another former music director, Arthur Wingrad.
• Kuan has some interesting programming choices throughout the season. Among the most intriguing: Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”) with Mozart’s Requiem.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

9 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 Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Lieberson/Knussen: Shing Kham (Pedro Carneiro, percussion); Schubert Symphony No. 4
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Yefim Bronfman, piano)
Last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Next performances: Tonight at 8; tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com
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For most orchestras, first subscription concerts are a major event, complete with the high hopes attendant with the opening of a new season. In some cities — e.g., Chicago, New York and Los Angeles — the luster is dimmed a bit by an opening gala concert but not completely. Usually the galas are light-hearted affairs designed to lure major donors with easy-listening music and a party afterwards. The heavyweight fare comes with the first subscription concerts, which in L.A. usually includes a blockbuster piece to close the concert and, often, a premiere.

Although last Monday’s L.A. Phil gala was an unusually serious program for such an event, this weekend’s opening subscription concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall follow the familiar pattern. Gustavo Dudamel, beginning his fifth season as the Phil’s music director, offered a program that concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, performed with equal parts musicality and ferocity by Yefim Bronfman, Dudamel and his brilliantly playing band.

There was, however, a touch of nostalgia to the world premiere of Shing Kham, the final piece written by Peter Lieberson before he passed away in 2011 at the age of 64 from complications of lymphoma. What was going to be a three-movement, 25-minute percussion concerto written for Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro became instead an unfinished single movement of about 10 minutes that was later “realized” by English composer Oliver Knussen partly from Lieberson’s sketches and partly from Knusses’s and Carneiro’s best guess as to how Lieberson would have finished the movement.

You might expect a product to be a mishmash, but actually the result was a somewhat episodic set of mini-movements that was, nonetheless, fascinating from start to finish. There were measures of driving intensity, interspersed with jazzy sections, lyrical moments and a final flourish that sounded like vintage Leonard Bernstein.

As is often the case with a percussion concerto, watching Carneiro maneuver around an array of instruments was part of the attraction. The list included a marimba, snare drum, 12 tom toms (six of which were wood), bass drum, four suspended cymbals and a triangle — the last was the only instrument that Carneiro brought with him from Portugal; he also brought the two dozen or so mallets that he used in the performance, often holding two in each hand. The array was lined up to the right of the podium.

The work also called for some heavy-duty work from six percussionists in the orchestra, so another part of the interest came from the interplay between Carneiro and the orchestra (in the program note, Carneiro said, “Every step of the way I need to connect with every single player in the orchestra.”) The stylish performance received a respectful semi-standing ovation from the Friday-night crowd.

After intermission came the blockbuster. Many pianists come determined to show all of their formidable technique in Tchaikovsky’s famous work. Bronfman, instead, chose to probe the work’s musicality first; in the process, of course, he also displayed plenty of musical chops but that’s not surprising for those who have heard him play during the past quarter-century.

Given that I’ve heard this concerto played live at least 50 times and who knows many times in recordings of various formats, I was surprised and pleased how involved I became last night.

This was a big-boned performance both by Bronfman and the orchestra (this is, after all, Tchaikovsky, not Mozart). Bronfman probably missed a note or two somewhere but not so as you would notice. Dudamel had the trumpets and trombones on the top tier with nobody on the level below them, so they were ultra-bold but not strident in their opening measures and beyond. Dudamel, who conducted without a score, shaped phrases expertly; the buildup to the descending octaves that herald the first cadenza, for example, was gripping. That subtle phrasing meant that the “attack” chords, particularly in the first and second movements, really jumped out.

The second movement unfolded without haste, even in the second section. Bronfman studied with Rudolf Serkin at The Curtis Institute and in this performance was channeling Serkin’s elegant playing. The third movement was fast but not perilously so, until the final climactic measures when all hell broke loose from everyone.

I don’t think I’ve every heard this concerto conclude when a standing ovation didn’t occur but for once, this one was eminently deserved. After several curtain calls came an encore. Many pianists would offer something delicate or playful as a contrast to the concerto; not “Fima,” as he is known to many; he alternately powered through and toyed with what someone in the audience said later was a Paganini Caprice.

Before intermission, Dudamel and Co. offered an elegant, refined, albeit large-scaled performance of Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor. This was one of a torrent of works that Schubert wrote during the years 1815 and 1816 when he was still a teenager; he later appended the moniker “Tragic” to the title. According to Brian Newbould, Schubert’s output during those months included more than 20,000 bars of music, more than half of which was for orchestra including nine church works a symphony, and about 140 songs.

The long first movement last night (it takes up about 40% of the piece) and the second movement, with its wonderfully Schubertian song tune, featured luxuriant strings interplaying with the winds; I was again reminded how well Disney Hall allows inner voices to be heard. The third movement, with what Lucinda Carver noted in her preconcert lecture is a meter similar to Beethoven’s fourth symphony, allowed Dudamel a chance to dance but he never overdid it. The final movement was a blaze of majestic glory.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Bronfman was either exhibiting a dry sense of humor or twitting Carver in the preconcert lecture. Carver, who is a well-known pianist, conductor and teacher, characterized Bronfman’s sound as unique and asked how he did it. “With my hands,” he deadpanned. Later she described a report that Tchaikovsky made changes to the concerto after Nikolai Rubinstein originally excoriated it. When Carver asked Bronfman what changes were made, he said, “Nothing important.”
• Carneiro said that he almost never travels with instruments because they’re too hard to ship. He does bring his mallets but other than that, he assembles instruments from the place he is going to perform. He did bring a small triangle to Los Angeles because he thought Lieberson would have particularly liked the sound.
• The Phil rearranged the play order at the last minute (the original called for the Schubert first, followed by Shing Kam. The array of solo instruments was probably easier to take down than set up and the changeover took only about five minutes, although one of the stage crew nearly knocked over the snare drum before adroitly catching it on the way down.
• I’m not sure whether Bronfman played the encore Thursday night (Mark Swed’s review in the L.A. Times today doesn’t indicate — I was hoping to get a confirmation of the title, which Bronfman did not identify).
• The program note on Shing Kam is HERE.
• This program is part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Details on upcoming concerts are HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

9 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.

Disney Hall

Since it opened 10 year ago, Walt Disney Concert Hall has become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and one of the world’s great concert halls.
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Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
• Free Concert with YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles)

Today at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall, with simulcast in Grand Park
Information: www.laphil.com
• Gala Opening Concert
Tomorrow at 7 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
• First week of Subscription Concerts
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
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Hard as it is to believe, this month begins the 10th anniversary season of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Where has a decade gone? What was once a long-held dream by a handful of Los Angeles Philharmonic administrators, musicians and supporters finally emerged on Oct. 24, 2003 to become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and an acoustically marvelous new home for an orchestra just beginning to realize its potential.

Not everyone loves the hall, of course. Its “billowing sails” exterior isn’t to everyone’s taste and the goal of making a 2,200-seat concert hall as intimate as possible means that some seats and aisles are a mite cramped. (Christopher Hawthorne, in a laudatory Los Angeles Times article (LINK), described the seats as “upholstered in an almost-garish floral pattern that dares you to dislike it.”) Moreover, the hall still doesn’t project amplified spoken words well.

However those, I submit, are quibbles. When you hear the orchestra (or the Los Angeles Master Chorale) in the hall, the transparency, blend and power of sounds are simply amazing. I have been lucky enough to hear concerts in many of the world’s best-known and greatest venues (those two descriptions are not necessarily interchangeable), including Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein, and I can still remember how stunned I was to hear the sound in Disney Hall for the first time. That feeling has never left me and the sound is excellent from all parts of the house (to which I can attest from personal experience).

The L.A. Times has produced an extensive retrospective on Disney Hall in the run-up to this week’s opening concerts, with Hawthorne, Music Critic Mark Swed and more than a dozen others writing about the history and importance of the hall and other informative tidbits. The articles are definitely worth your time; read them HERE. The Phil also has an extensive section on the hall’s anniversary HERE and Rob Lowman has an article in the papers of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group (which includes the Pasadena Star-News) HERE

Never one to turn down a marketing opportunity, the Philharmonic is, of course, going all out with its season-long “Celebrat10n”, turning the “io” into “10” on a logo appearing seemingly everywhere throughout Los Angeles. A number of concerts, lectures and other events are directly tied to the celebration and to the future of the hall and Grand Ave. (including a panel discussion with architect Frank Gehry, LA Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda and others on Oct. 2 — INFO). Details on the Disney Hall celebration events (aka “Inside Out”) are HERE.

The party begins this afternoon at 4 p.m. with a free concert pairing the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s goal of bringing music to under-served neighborhoods, a project similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel).

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Arturo Márquez), while legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia will be among the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St. MAP

Dudamel-9-29-13Dudamel will also conduct tomorrow night’s gala opening concert, an unusually serious program for a gala, but a fascinating one. The evening opens with John Cage’s 4’33”, a famous (or infamous, from your perspective) piece in which a musician or combinations of musicians sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds. The idea is for the listener to absorb the sounds surrounding him or her at that moment (at least, I think that’s the idea; I’m not a big John Cage fan).

After the Cage piece comes the “Prelude” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. The concept that from out of the silence will come this solo cello work seems breathtakingly beautiful to me. Moreover, it hearkens back to that opening night nearly 10 years ago when the first sounds heard by the public in the hall were of Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour playing Bach from the organ loft (will the Phil put Yo-Yo and his cello in the organ loft? Stay tuned — sorry, couldn’t resist).

The Bach prelude will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Ma as soloist, a four-minute piece by Thomas Adès, the third movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, and the final movement from Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”). That, as I noted, will be a rich, full evening, especially for a gala with a party awaiting afterwards.

The subscription season opens with four concerts beginning Thursday night. Dudamel will lead a program that begins with Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 and continues with the world premiere of Shing Kam, a 10-minute work for percussion and orchestra that was begun by Peter Lieberson in 2010.

The piece, commissioned by several organizations including the L.A. Phil, came about because a request by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro. Lieberson died in April 2011 with only the first movement of what had been envisioned as a three-movement work in any sort of shape to complete, a task that fell to noted British composer Oliver Knussen. Carneiro will be the soloist this weekend. Read the Phil’s music note HERE for more details.

The second half of the weekend programs will be Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist.

The entire first month of the Phil season celebrates Disney Hall. Dudamel and Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes continue their survey of the five Beethoven piano concerti with performances of the Nos. 2 and 4 on Oct. 10 and 11 and the fourth concerto on Oct. 12 and 13 paired with the U.S. premiere of The Last Days of Socrates by Australian composer Brett Dean. Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens Overture opens all four concerts.

Salonen-WebFormer LAPO Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen takes the helm for the next two weeks, a particularly appropriate gesture since Salonen was one of the driving forces behind the conception and creation of Disney Hall.

On Oct. 18, 19 and 20, Salonen will lead the Phil in Debussy’s Nocturnes, Bartok’s Music for Strings, Celesta and Percussion and the world premiere of a new piece for cello and orchestra by Magnus Lindberg. The following weekend, Salonen and the Phil will pair Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 with Salonen’s own Violin Concerto, one of the most important pieces in his growing repertoire. In between (on Oct. 23), Salonen will lead the Phil and L.A. Master Chorale in the world premiere of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels as the opening concert in the Phil’s acclaimed “Green Umbrella” series, another element in the Phil’s history that Salonen was instrumental in building.

Exactly why this piece is dubbed a “world premiere” is not clear. Zappa (founder of the band “The Mothers of Invention”) originally wrote 200 Motels for a 1971 British film of that name and a soundtrack album was subsequently. Presumably (details have yet to come) the piece being played at the “Green Umbrella” is a new reconstruction or reworking of the original score by Zappa, who died in 1993 of prostate cancer just days shy of his 43rd birthday.

BTW: The Phil’s Web site notes that “mature language and content” as well as strobe lights will be used in this performance. According to an article by Sanchez Manning in London’s The Independent, (LINK) after the movie was released, a concert scheduled at London’s Royal Albert Hall was canceled because a representative of the venue found some of the lyrics obscene. In 1975, Zappa lost a lawsuit against the hall for breach of contract. Reportedly after the judge heard Penis Dimension (a portion of the score) he responded, “Have I got to listen to this?” Presumably most listeners in 2013 will be less offended, but the caveat is worth noting.

Also on the Disney hall celebration schedule are a recitals by organist Hector Olivera Oct. 13, Bach recitals by pianist András Schiff Oct. 9 and 16, and a panel discussion with Salonen and Gehry on Oct. 15 on the creative synergy and architecture, moderated by Nicolai Ouroussoff, formerly the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

• For a calendar of the entire 2013-2014 LAPO season, click HERE.
• The L.A. Phil Web site can be linked HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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

The following items come the hundreds of emails that land in my inbox each week … along with material from other Blogs and stories.

• CALIFORNIA PHILHARMONIC FOUNDATION DECLARES BANKRUPTCY; ORCHESTRA TO BE OWNED AND RUN BY FOR-PROFIT COMPANY
The Cal Phil has struggled financially for several years, so the CalPhil Foundation has declared bankruptcy. The orchestra will now be owned and run by Pasadena Entertainment, a local, for-profit company headed by André Vener, who has been President and CEO of the Foundation for 10 years and is the son of Music Director Victor Vener.

Among the highlights of the announcement:
• Pasadena Entertainment has paid all back wages owed to the musicians and a new collective bargaining agreement has been signed. Presumably all other debts incurred by the orchestra will be handled through the CalPhil Foundation bankruptcy.
• The 2014 season has been set, with outdoor concerts continuing at Santa Anita Racetrack and the indoor season taking place at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
• According to the release “close to 20,000 people” attended the five “Festival on the Green” concerts at Santa Anita this past summer and “10,000 fans” attended the five “sold out” Disney Hall concerts.

(The complete media release is at the bottom of this post.)

• PASADENA SYMPHONY AND POPS TO PRESENT FREE “MUSIC UNDER THE STARS” CONCERT OCT. 5 AT PASADENA CITY HALL PLAZA
Larry Blank will conduct the orchestra in this annual concert with soloists Susan Egan, Vicki Lewis and David Burnham and the JPL Chorus singing. The free program begins at 7:30 p.m. DETAILS

• CARL ST.CLAIR TO HEAD COSTA RICAN ORCHESTRA FOR ONE YEAR
Carl St.Clair, music director of the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa for 25 years, will become music director of the National Symphony of Costa Rica for one year beginning in 2014. He will continue with his Pacific Symphony post. Read the Los Angeles Times story HERE.

• THREE NAMED DUDAMEL FELLOWS FOR 2013-2014
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has named the latest class of young conductors who will work with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and the orchestra during the upcoming season: David Cohen, Ben Gernon and Antonio Méndez. DETAILS

• JAMES LEVINE RETURNS TO CONDUCTING DUTIES AT THE METROPOLITAN OPERA
Many of us thought that the day would never come given the serious of Maestro Levine’s health issues, but by the press accounts his return as conductor of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte was triumphant.
New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)
Financial Times (Martin Bernheimer)
Los Angeles Times (James C. Taylor)
Washington Post (Anne Midgette)

• FASTNOTES: A great L.A. Phil tradition continues
I got the first edition of “FastNotes” for the upcoming season in my inbox this week and once again I highly recommend them to any classical music lover. “FastNotes” are an email glimpse at each upcoming concert with an overview of the program, notes about each of the composers, links to ticket purchasing options, and links to the programs notes and excerpts of the pieces to be played (or, as is the case this week, when a piece is a premiere, excerpts from the composer’s other works — there may be a fee for the excepts). You can sign up for this through the Phil’s E-Newsletter section HERE. Even if you’re not going to attend a concert, I find them very informative.

(From the post above, here’s the complete Cal Phil media release)

CALIFORNIA PHILHARMONIC ENDS 2013 SUMMER SEASON ON A HIGH NOTE;
SANTA ANITA RACE TRACK AND WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL SET FOR EXCITING 2014 SUMMER SEASON

Local 47 Musicians Union Issues Statement Of Support As California Philharmonic Moves Forward With New Ownership And Operations Under Pasadena Entertainment


Pasadena - With the dynamic conclusion of California Philharmonic’s 2013 summer season comes exciting news for the world class orchestra. And, as it begins the next phase of its legacy, now owned and operated by Pasadena Entertainment, California Philharmonic is moving full steam ahead with the announcement that both of its summer homes, iconic venues Santa Anita Race Track and Walt Disney Concert Hall, are on board for 2014 and beyond.

“It’s been our pleasure to work with Pasadena Entertainment since 2009,” says Sharon Stewart, Director of Scheduling and Events for the Music Center of Los Angeles County. “We look forward to working with them in future summers, and to another successful summer classical music series.”

Pasadena Entertainment has served as the production and marketing firm for the California Philharmonic and its concert series for the past four years.

“We value the professionalism of Pasadena Entertainment as part of our marketing and production team,” said Pete Siberell, Director of Special Projects for Los Angeles Turf Club. “Teaming up with California Philharmonic has been a great opportunity to develop Santa Anita Race Track as a premier concert venue.”

And the close to 20,000 people who attended California Philharmonic’s 2013 Festival on the Green at Santa Anita Race Track couldn’t agree more. Equally enthusiastic, are the 10,000 fans who filled last season’s sold out concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall and showed their appreciation of the revered orchestra with an unprecedented five standing ovations during the final performance of the season.

The transition of California Philharmonic to Pasadena Entertainment from the non-profit CalPhil Foundation began earlier this year. CalPhil Foundation (not the California Philharmonic), will phase out through bankruptcy.

Under its new organization, all past and present professional obligations with California Philharmonic musicians have been met. A new collective bargaining agreement has been set and California Philharmonic is moving forward with the Musicians Union and its members in good standing.

"AFM, Local 47 is pleased to announce that all back wages owed to California Philharmonic musicians for services rendered have been paid,” comments John Acosta, Vice President of Local 47. “Pasadena Entertainment has stepped up to take on the proud tradition of California Philharmonic, providing summer concerts in Los Angeles County. Local 47 and its new partner Pasadena Entertainment look forward to a long and successful relationship!"

The musicians echo the excitement for the future of California Philharmonic along with the Union, the orchestra’s ever-growing loyal fan base and the venues.

“Maestro Vener and California Philharmonic create the kind of energy that John Mauceri, Arthur Fiedler and Leonard Bernstein brought to the concert stage,” says Dennis Karmazyn, California Philharmonic’s principal cellist. “California Philharmonic takes the audience on a musical journey.”

Subscriptions and tickets are available for the 2014 summer season.

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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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

Several local organizations that sponsor admission-free concerts are unveiling their seasons during the next couple of weeks. Of course, few — if any — concerts are actually free; expenses are incurred, so whether it’s through a donation envelope, offering plate, sponsorship support or any combination of the three, all who can afford to do so are encouraged to contribute something — every little bit helps.

In chronological order, here is an admittedly incomplete list of the offerings:

• Rio Hondo Symphony; Kimo Furumoto, conducting
Today at 3 p.m. • Vic Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High School), Whittier
Information: www.riohondysymphony.org

Rio Hondo Symphony opens its 81st season of four free-admission concerts this afternoon with an all-Beethoven concert. Music Director Kimo Furumoto, beginning his fifth season, will conduct the Fidelio Overture, Symphony No. 5, and Piano Concerto No. 3, with Ben Hopkins as soloist. Hopkins, a 21-year-old Rochester, NY resident, was the piano winner of the orchestra’s Young Artists’ Competition last January.

• Rudy de Vos, organist
Friday at 7:30 p.m. • Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Pasadena
Information: www.ppcmusic.org

De Vos will open the church’s 2013-2014 Friends of Music season with a program of music by Marcel Languetuit, Charles Tournemire, Louis Vierne, Guy Bovet, César Franck, Maurice Ravel, Edwin Lemare, Joseph Bonnet and Maurice Duruflé.

A native of South Africa (and the son of a Dutch Reformed Pastor), de Vos has been organist and director of music at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland since 2009. A laureate of the prestigious St. Albans International Organ Competition, he has appeared with the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, Artium Symphony, Natal Symphony and the Eastman School Symphony.

In addition to the eight concerts (two choral, three organ, one chamber music, one with vocal soloists and one jazz), the church sponsors its weekly “Music at Noon” series of free concerts every Wednesday from 12:10 to 12:40 p.m.

• Los Angeles Philharmonic and Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA)
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Sunday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall and Grand Park
Information: www.laphil.com

This free concert begins a season-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of Disney Hall (I’ll have more on this in my column next Sunday). Next Sunday’s concert will feature the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. For those not in the know, YOLA is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s project to bring music to under-served neighborhoods, similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Másrquez. Legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia ensemble will be the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St.

• American Youth Symphony • Alex Treger, conductor
Sunday, Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. • Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.aysymphony.org

Traditionally one of the finest ensembles of young orchestral musicians in the nation, the AYS opens its season at 5:30 p.m. by screening the San Francisco Symphony’s “Keeping Score” program on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, led by the SFS’s music director, Michael Tilson Thomas. Then at 7 p.m., Alex Treger leads his young charges in a performance of this famous and familiar work, along with the West Coast premiere of Timo Andres’ Bathtub Shrine and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Alan Steele as soloist.

• Mus/ique: Free for All; Rachael Worby, artistic director
Friday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. • Pasadena Civic Center plaza
Information: muse-ique.com

This free family-oriented program will mash up hip-hop and orchestra in a way that only Rachael Worby can conjure. The concert is being held in conjunction with Pasadena’s “ArtNight,” a citywide celebration of the arts.

• Pasadena Master Chorale; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Altadena Community Church, Altadena
Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

Normally the Pasadena Master Chorale charges for its concerts but the opening program on its fifth season features an interesting challenge. Patrons are invited to hear the all-Britten program and then ante up whatever they think the concert was worth.

The program — which commemorates the centennial of the English composer’s birth on Nov. 22, 1913 — will include Jubilate Deo, Festival Te Deum, Hymn to St. Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb. James Walker, organist/music director at All Saints Church, Pasadena, will accompany the concert on the church’s recently renovated 3-manual, 27-stop pipe organ, which was made by Casavant Brothers, Ltd. of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, one of the best-known organ builders in North America.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

9 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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Conductors4Web

The four conductors who have led the Los Angeles Master Chorale are (l-r) Roger Wagner, John Currie, Paul Salamunovich and John Currie.
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Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor
50th Anniversary Celebration Concert
Sunday, Sept. 22, 7:00 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.lamasterchorale.org
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Arts organizations love numbers ending with zero (or, to a lesser extent, five) or anything that divides evenly into the number 100 because it gives them ready-made opportunities for a celebration. This year, for example, the music world is celebrating the 200th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner and the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth. Locally, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is using its 10th season at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a focal point for its upcoming season — more on that next week.

So it’s no surprise that the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 50th season — which opens Sunday night at Disney Hall — is a very big deal for one of the world’s foremost choral organizations. Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor and artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic, calls the Master Chorale “one of the finest choruses in the world without a doubt.” In his review of John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary at this summer’s Ravinia Festival, Chicago Tribune Music Critic John von Rhein described the Master Chorale as “marvelous” and continued “these inspired choral sections are prime Adams and were beautifully rendered by [LAMC Music Director Grant}Gershon's choristers, who sang magnificently throughout.”

In Sunday’s concert, Gershon, who has headed LAMC since 2001, will lead a program that highlights works sung during his 12-year-tenure and those of his three predecessors as music director: Roger Wagner (1964-1986), John Currie (1986-1991) and Paul Salamunovich (1991-2001). KUSC radio personality Alan Chapman will host the event. A historical exhibition of Chorale memorabilia and photos will be on display in the Disney Hall gallery before the concert. (Click HERE for the media release, which contains the complete program).

Wagner-w-singers4web

Roger Wagner leads singers in a circa 1965 performance in the home of businessman Louis D. Statham, who helped found the Chorale. (Of Note: Statham’s home was later bought by Hugh Heffner and became the Playboy Mansion).
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The upcoming season will include 14 performances of 10 programs plus appearances on four Los Angeles Philharmonic programs. Included are world premieres of pieces by Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Lang, Francisco Nuñez and LAMC Composer-in-Residence Shawn Kirchner, all composed in honor of the 50th anniversary season. All will be performed on the season-ending concert on June 8, 2014. The Chorale has an extensive history of commissioning new works, particularly during Gershon’s tenure.

The 2013-2014 season will include two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, the piece performed at the group’s inaugural concert in 1965; this program will be sung on Jan. 25 and 26, 2014 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, (the Chorale’s home before moving to Disney Hall 10 years ago). The Chorale’s first concert came just 123 days after the Pavilion was opened.

Another major event will be a tribute to acclaimed composer Morten Lauridsen on March 16. Lauridsen, a Hollywood resident and professor of music at the USC Thornton School of Music, was formerly the Chorale’s composer-in-residence. During that tenure, he wrote Lux Aeterna, one of the most significant choral works of the 20th century. The Chorale was nominated for a Grammy for its recording of the piece.

Other works to be sung during the season will be Orff’s Carmina Burana and Verdi’s Te Deum on Nov. 2 and 3; Respighi’s Laud to the Nativity, Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and Stephen Paulus’ Christmas Dances on Sept. 8; Steve Reich’s You Are and David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion on April 6. There will also be two performances of Handel’s Messiah along with the annual Messiah Sing-A-Long in December.

• To read the season-announcement release with program details, click HERE.
• More information, including ticker-purchase details, is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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

The big news that came out of the announcement from the Los Angeles Philharmonic yesterday wasn’t the positive but what might be termed in linguistic terms the double negative.

The orchestra and Professional Musicians, Local 47 (the union that represents the orchestra’s instrumentalists) reached a new four-year agreement effective immediately and two weeks in advance of the opening of the Phil’s 2014 season. The old contract had expired Sunday.

The agreement meant that the two sides avoided the sort of acrimony that has plagued orchestras across the U.S. during the past years, bitterness that has seen strikes at symphony orchestras in San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit, a lengthy bankruptcy battle at the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a now-months-long lockout at the Minnesota Orchestra.

The new agreement calls for salary increases totaling 3.8% over the four years, bringing the annual base pay up to $154,336 in the final year of the contract (according to a Los Angeles Times report HERE, the base in the old contract ended at $148,700). As is the case with most orchestras, many members make far more than the base. The last contract had increased musicians’ salaries 17% over four years.

However, the most intriguing line in the release was the inclusion of a “housing allowance” (undefined and unspecified as to amount), which would help compensate for the relatively modest salary increases. According to the Phil’s release, the new agreement also includes “managing the Association’s healthcare expenses through restructured healthcare plan offerings” and “new contributions to a 403(b)” (the nonprofit equivalent to the more familiar 401(k).

The new contract announcement comes on the heels of a LA Times report (HERE) that detailed significant compensation increases for Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda and a generally robust financial picture for the orchestra, particularly when compared with other arts organizations.

The Phil’s 95th season opens Sept. 29 with a free concert where tickets are already gone but which will be simulcast on the new Grand Park lawn just south of the Music Center. The annual gala concert takes place on Sept. 30 and the first subscription concerts are Oct. 3-6. This season marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Details HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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

With summer seasons for the most part in our rear-view mirror, three major arts organizations will open their 2013-2014 classical music seasons next weekend.

• The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra begins its 45th season Saturday night at 8 in Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Preconcert lectures will take place an hour before each performance.

The program will feature 24-year-old violinist Benjamin Beilman as soloist in Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto. Jeffrey Kahane, beginning his 17th season as LACO’s music director, will also lead the orchestra in music by Beethoven, Kodaly and Lutoslawski. INFO: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org.

Due to a renovation of Glendale’s Alex Theatre, this will be the first of two LACO orchestra series concerts that will be held at Ambassador, which LACO called home during the 1980s and 1990s. The orchestra will also play its annual “Discover Beethoven” concert at Ambassador on Feb. 22, 2014.

• Los Angeles Opera opens its 28th season Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the first of seven performances of Bizet’s Carmen. Other performances are Sept. 26 and 28 and Oct. 1 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.

Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon will perform the title role in all but one of the performances (Belgrade-born Milena Kitic appears on Sept. 28). The opening-night cast includes José Brandon Jovanovich as Don Jose, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Escamillo, and Pretty Yende in her company debut as Micáela. Some performances intersperse other singers so check carefully before you decide on when to attend.

Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director, will conduct four of the performances, including opening night, while Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor will lead the other three. The production originated at Teatro Real in Madrid and has previously been used by LAO in 2004 and 2009. Opening night will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5-FM). INFO: 213/972-8001; www.laopera.com

LA Opera has announced that it will present three semi-staged productions of André Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, May 18, 21 and 24 in the Pavilion. Soprano Renée Flemming will sing the title role; she will be joined by some members of the cast that performed during the work’s debut in San Francisco in 1998. Patrick Summers, now principal conductor at San Francisco Opera, will conduct the three performances here. INFO

Previn, now 84, first made his name composing and arranging in Hollywood, winning Academy Awards in 1958 for scoring Gigi and 1959 for Porgy and Bess and then winning in 1963 for adapting Irma La Douce and 1964 for My Fair Lady. He has also written hundreds of classical and jazz compositions and other works. A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer-Prize winning play, was Previn's first opera (he also wrote Brief Encounters in 2007).

Previn eventually scratched a long-standing itch when he turned to conducting orchestras, including the Houston Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony. In 1985, he succeeded Carlo Maria Giulini as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a position he held until 1989. He also worked extensively with the London Symphony Orchestra and made a number of recordings with the LSO. Although Previn has rarely conducted in Los Angeles since his acrimonious departure as LAPO music director, one could only hope that the Phil would find a way to have him conduct during the May opera cycle, perhaps a concert of his own music.

The semi-staged production of A Streetcar Named Desire played earlier this year at Carnegie Hall and Lyric Opera of Chicago. LAO has an interesting article with Previn and Flemming commenting on the work on its Web site HERE.

A Streetcar Named Desire becomes the third 20th century opera that LAO will present this season. Einstein on the Beach, a landmark 1976 collaboration between director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, will play Oct. 11, 12 and 13 in the Pavilion. INFO Benjamin Britten’s

Billy Budd
will be presented six times, beginning Feb. 22, 2014. INFO Billy Buddis LAO’s major offering in the celebration of the centennial of Britten’s birth (he was born Nov. 22, 1913).

• Los Angeles Master Chorale opens its 50th anniversary season and its 10th as a resident ensemble at Walt Disney Concert Hall next Sunday at 7 p.m. when Grant Gershon leads 115 singers in an eclectic program featuring highlights from the Chorale’s four music directors during its first half-century: Roger Wagner (1964-1986), John Currie (1986-1991), Paul Salamunovich (1991-2001) and Gershon, who took over in 2001. The finale will be a performance of Randall Thompson’s a cappella anthem Alleluia performed by current and former LAMC members. INFO: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org.


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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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

Russell-Feinstein

Vocalist Catherine Russell, conductor Michael Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops lit up the night in an arrangement of Gershwin tunes at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. (Photo by Steve Sabel for the Pasadena Pops)



When the Pasadena Pops hired Michael Feinstein to replace Marvin Hamlisch as its Principal Conductor shortly after Hamlisch died unexpectedly on Aug. 6, 2012, the orchestra was taking quite a gamble. Although Feinstein is a prolific entertainer and musical scholar, he had never conducted an orchestra prior to the Pops’ opening night last June.

To judge by the summer’s results — notably that first concert and Saturday night’s season finale — that gamble has paid off in a jackpot-large way. According to management, attendance at the Los Angeles County Arboretum has been up more than 30 percent and season renewals for next season have increased more than 200 percent. It’s no surprise that the board wasted no time extending Feinstein’s contract through the 2016 season.

Feinstein has worked on the music of George and Ira Gershwin since pianist Oscar Levant introduced Feinstein to Ira in 1977. Since then, Feinstein has been researching, cataloguing and preserving unpublished Gershwin sheet music and rare recordings, including a six-year-sojourn in the Gershwin’s home.

Thus it’s no surprise that last night’s concert, entitled “The Gershwins and Me,” included 20 Gershwin tunes, many of which were performed in arrangements that had not been played before or at least since their premieres.

As has been the case in all Feinstein concerts, his commentary Saturday was erudite, insightful and witty, laced with fascinating factoids drawn from Feinstein’s relationship with the Gershwin family and Hollywood. What was different from the opening concert was how much more comfortable Feinstein seemed on the podium (at least judging from the audience side). His beats were concise, his cutoffs more expert, and he seemed to swing and thoroughly enjoy himself, particularly in the arrangements of four songs that Nelson Riddle made for Ella Fitzgerald.

Catherine Russell was a creamy soloist in that set, which began with Nice Work if You Can Get It and ended with The Man I Love. In the second half of the concert, Tom Wopat emphasized lyrics in a set that opened with Love is Here to Stay and concluded with I Got Plenty of Nuttin, the latter using an arrangement that Riddle wrote for Frank Sinatra.

The JPL Chorus (Donald Brinegar, conductor) offered spritely lyrics to I Got Rhythm and the orchestra delivered lush sounds throughout the evening. Among the instrumental soloists, Aimee Kreston, violin, and Bryan Pezzone, piano, were standouts.

Before the final scheduled number, Feinstein sang a winsome arrangement of They Can’t Take That Away From Me from the piano, which he termed a preview of the 2014 season when Feinstein will conduct and/or sing in four of the five Pops programs beginning June 7, 2014. Judging by the audience’s reaction, that date will be eagerly awaited.
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HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Last night was Feinstein’s 57th birthday; the orchestra and audience serenaded him with Happy Birthday prior to the concert.
• Among the celebrities in the audience, Feinstein introduced before the concert’s end Mark Gershwin and other members of the Gershwin family, Patricia Kelly (widow of dancer-singer-actor-director Gene), Ginny Mancini (widow of composer Henry), singer Debby Boone (also known to us old fogies as daughter of crooner Pat) and actress Betty White, who Feinstein noted is older than Rhapsody in Blue (look it up).
• The camera work was spotty most of the evening. Sometimes they got the correct soloist (albeit a note or two late); at other times they were totally off base, which can be disconcerting for those watching. Directing a concert is an art form in itself.
• The Pops will offer its annual free “Music Under the Stars” concert on Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pasadena City Hall plaza. The orchestra’s resident conductor, Larry Blank, will lead the program. INFO.
• The Pasadena Symphony opens its indoor season on Nov. 2 at 2 and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium when newly appointed Music Director David Lockington will lead a program that will include what CEO Paul Jan Zdunek joked last night will probably be the final performance in 2013 of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (this year marks the centennial of the piece’s Paris debut and seemingly every orchestra in Southern California — and probably the world — has programmed it this year). Fortunately, it remains fresh and provocative each time I hear it. INFO
• Brinegar and the JPL Chorus opened the evening with The Star-Spangled Banner, accompanied by snare drum.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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