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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

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.

11 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.

11 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.

11 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 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.

11 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.

11 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.

What is the role of a critic? Does he or she even have a role? Does anyone care?

Judging from responses to my review of the California Philharmonic concert on Aug. 10, the answer to that last question is, “Yes.” Those responses have prompted me to share, as I do every few years, some of the rationales and responsibilities of a music critic, a subject that seems timely as we gear up for another very full indoor music season.

In some ways, it’s easier to say what a music critic is not. A critic is not a journalist, at least if your definition is: “A journalist collects, writes, and distributes news and other information.” One reader questioned whether my recent review was a good example of “objective journalism.” If, in fact, such a thing exists (that term may well be an oxymoron), then the answer is “no.”

There is a vast difference between my role as a journalist and as a critic. When I write preview pieces, news items or features for the paper or my Blogs, I do so as a journalist. Our papers devote a great deal of our small space to upcoming arts performances and I do even more in my Blog (although my full-time+ job has limited my Blog postings lately). We try our best to best and wish we had more space and person power to cover the arts more extensively.

A journalist reporting on a particular concert might write, “The [blank] orchestra performed last night at [blank locale]. [Blank] conducted and [blank] was the soloist. The program was [blank].” These are four of the basic “Ws” we learned in journalism school, but rarely would that be news since most of it was available in advance of the concert.

The one item that might be newsworthy would be the attendance but even that number makes little sense without context and, at any rate, is open to conjecture. If I say that x,xxx people attended, you might well ask two questions: “How does that compare to the event by xxx?” or “how many people does the facility hold?”

If I write that 8,000 people attended a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert at Hollywood Bowl where the capacity is about 17,500, that means the Bowl was less than half-filled. On the other hand (as LA Phil management is always quick to point out) that one concert drew more people than would attend three or four concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Is the glass half-empty or overflowing?

When I write as a critic, I wear a much different hat. My responsibility is to present accurately my feelings about what I saw and heard in a particular concert, offering both good points and weak points. That's the role — the only role— of a critic. Moreover, it’s a review of one concert; if I had, for example, attended the Cal Phil concert in Disney Hall on Aug. 11, I would have had a different opinion.

That last word is the key. A critic’s role is to write critically about a performance — to give an opinion — but he or she isn’t alone in this regard. I believe that everyone who attends a performance is a critic; even saying "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" as performance is a critical opinion, however minimalist. Thus when one of my responders wrote, “This reviewer got it right,” what he was saying is that he disagrees with my assessment but liked the other one, not that one or the other is “right.” The word “right” is not applicable, unless there are factual errors.

What I hope is that when someone reads my review of a concert they attended, they might think about what THEY heard and saw and either validate their first opinion, change it somewhat, or do neither. Any reaction is okay. That, I submit, is one of the principal functions of a critic.

Another point raised by a responder that when my review is the only one, people who didn’t attend the concert might take that review too seriously because they can’t or haven’t read any others. I’m sorry but that isn’t something that I can correct. Occasionally there are multiple reviews of concerts but in this era of diminishing newspapers, the facts of life are that you may only read one in print. The good news is that, thanks to the Internet, you can often find multiple reviews online if you’re willing to search for them. Don’t take any one review as gospel; treat each as one person’s opinion.

Two other things to note about music critics, both related. As a general rule, today’s critics have adopted a much gentler tone than those of previous generations. When Martin Bernheimer left the Los Angeles Times in 1986 after 31 years as its classical music critic and moved to New York City and when Alan Rich passed away in 2010, the Southland lost the last two of the genre of curmudgeonly critics. For the most part, today’s critics (including myself), for better or worse, seem to have neither the desire (nor, in my case, the talent) to pick up that baton).

Another point to note: when an artist performs, what occurred disappears into the ether of memory. A critic’s words, on the other hand, remain immortalized — for better or worse — perhaps for eternity (certainly in the Internet age). Considering the following reviews of works now considered among the greatest ever written:

“While we are enjoying the delight of so much science and melody and eagerly anticipating its continuance, on a sudden, like the fleeting pleasures of life or the spirited young adventurer who would fly from ease and comfort of home to the inhospitable shores of New Zealand or Lake Ontario, we are snatched away from such eloquent music to crude, wild and extraneous harmonies … The chorus that immediately follows is in many places exceedingly imposing and effective, but then there is so much of it, so many sudden pauses and odd and almost ludicrous passages for the horn and bassoon, so much rambling and vociferous execution given to the violins and stringed instruments, without any decisive effect or definite meaning … “(there’s more but I’m tired of typing; suffice to say that this ranks as one of the longest sentences ever written).

“xxx seemed to us [note the plural pronoun — the style of Kings and Popes] as hard and as uninspired as upon its former hearing. It is mathematical music evolving with difficulty from an unimaginative brain … The noisy, ungraceful, confusing and unattractive example of dry pedantry before the masterpieces of Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Gade or even the reckless and every-fluent Rolf? Absurd!”

The first, you may have guessed, was a review of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which was published in The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review of London in 1825, a year after the work’s premiere. The second was a review of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 published in the Boston Advertiser on January 24, 1878.
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BTW: if you’re interested, these two reviews are contained in a marvelous book, Lexicon of Musical Invective, by musicologist, composer, author and critic Nicolas Slonimsky. Among other things you will learn that many Boston critics detested the music of Brahms. The book is a great read for any classical music lover and a must for any professional critic. It’s available from Vroman’s or online booksellers.

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

11 months ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
The changes are the principal trumpet and the fact that Mr. Pezzone's "Rhapsody in Blue" cadenzas were an addition to, not a substitute for Gershwin's cadenzas, as originally stated.
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California Philharmonic; Victor Vener, conductor
“Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin”
Saturday, August 11 • Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia
Next performances: today at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.calphil.org
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Rodgers and Hammerstein and George Gershwin wrote some of history’s greatest music and combining the two always guarantees boffo box office, so it’s no surprise that a good-sized crowd came to Santa Anita Racetrack’s performance area on a balmy evening last night to hear Victor Vener, the California Philharmonic and three soloists perform some of the best-loved tunes from these three 20th century musical giants.

Unlike most Cal Phil concerts, Vener limited his commentary particularly in the post-intermission portion of the concert, and left the wandering spotlights on singers Kim Huber and James Barbour, each of whom displayed rich, powerful voices as they sang “greatest hits” from The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, The Sound of Music, and Oklahoma.

The singing was almost all loud and — except for the last line of People Will Say We’re in Love and the encore, the title song from Oklahoma, Barbour and Huber sang independently; it would have been nice to have them sing another duet or two. Barbour’s rendition of the Soliloquy from Carousel and Huber’s My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music were among the evening highlights. Vener and the Cal Phil accompanied everything with gusto.

Prior to intermission, Vener and the orchestra opened with The Carousel Waltz and then offered a straightforward performance of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, both of which were marred by smudgy openings and a couple of rough transitions.

They were then joined by pianist Bryan Pezzone for a somewhat overwrought performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which was notable for two cadenzas that Pezzone added to Gershwin’s own work. This seems to have become prevalent in recent performances that I’ve heard of this well-worn piece. I’m not sure it’s a positive trend, but Pezzone’s cadenzas were mildly interesting and not overly long (the second used strains of Summertime). His playing of Gershwin’s actual music had several rough passages but overall caught the piece’s jazzy nature. Principal Clarinet Michael Arnold got the performance off to a great start with his bluesy opening measures.

Vener did a good job introducing both pieces. His analysis of An American in Paris as a “symphony” with four connected movements, with demonstrations from the orchestra (in particular, Principal Trumpet Bob Feller), was an excellent way to get people to listen to the work with new ears.
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Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Blessedly there were no announcements at the concert’s opening and Vener opened with God Bless America instead of The Star Spangled Banner. Except for the somewhat lethargic tempo of God Bless America, this seemed to be a popular decision.
• Pezzone improved on themes by Led Zepplin and Gershwin (I Got Rhythm) as an encore to Rhapsody in Blue. Judging by the tepid applause, it was unnecessary.
• The sound system was quite good; from my table it was loud but that’s necessary to carry to the back sections of the 4,000 or so who attended.
• On the other hand, the camera work was atrocious and the flittering geometric images on the inside of the shell (some of which may have represented birds) and the other light effects were distracting and often silly in their implementation. The changing shell lights also played havoc with the camera skin tones.
• In between People Will Say We’re in Love and the title song from Oklahoma, Vener inserted a march tune as an encore. Ask not why on an evening devoted to R&H&G.
• My wife loved the racetrack’s permanent bathrooms (as opposed to porta-potties).]

Not so hemi-demi-semi:
Having concerts at both Santa Anita Racetrack and the Los Angeles County Arboretum (the Pasadena Pops) makes for traffic jams exiting both events. Moreover, the City of Arcadia won’t be nominated for the “Best Welcoming City” award for their lack of traffic control around the area. The Arcadia PD did have someone directing traffic for those exiting the Cal Phil concert but certainly could have used some help at the point where the Cal Phil folks get onto Baldwin Ave. prior to heading to the freeway. The signage ranges from poor to non-existent and, considering that you get onto Baldwin Ave. in a different location than you got off, anyone unfamiliar with the setup can easily get disoriented. The PD did have have a car with an officer who flagged down a motorist who got confused figuring out the lanes for east and west leading to the 210. That, I suppose, makes money for the PD but surely left a bad taste in the mouth of one concertgoer. I left thinking, “I wish that officer had been directing traffic instead.”
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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
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California Philharmonic: Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin
Saturday, August 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia
Sunday, August 11 at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Information: www.calphil.org

Pasadena Pops: Classical Mystery Tour
Saturday, August 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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There’s an interesting synergy between the two local orchestra concerts taking place tomorrow night in Arcadia: the Cal Phil at Santa Anita Racetrack and the Pasadena Pops at the L.A. County Arboretum.

The Cal Phil concert features music by George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Pops concert (entitled “Classical Mystery Tour”) features music of The Beatles, with four mop-top singers who simulate the famous English quartet. I have no idea what “Classical Mystery Tour” means but it’s obviously a popular show with one or two bookings each month during this year and next throughout the country.

The synergy is the timing. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last musical, The Sound of Music, debuted on Broadway in 1959 and the movie version was released in 1965. The Beatles came together in 1960 in Liverpool and made their U.S. debut in 1964 when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Subsequent tours brought them to Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965.

Although the musical styles of R&H and The Beatles were dramatically different, they were hugely influential in their own eras and, as evidenced by these concerts and others this summer, remain so today.

Just so, the music and musical influence of George Gershwin remains significant today. Thus, Music Director Victor Vener’s decision to pair Gershwin with R&H makes a lot of sense both from a musicology and box office point of view.

The Cal Phil concert will open with Gershwin’s An American in Paris and will continue with Rhapsody in Blue, with well-known Southern California pianist Bryan Pezzone as soloist. Broadway soloists Kim Huber and James Barbour will join Vener and the Cal Phil for music from Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel and The Sound of Music.
BTW: if both concerts intrigue you, you can catch the Pasadena Pops at the Arboretum on Saturday and Cal Phil Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, with a preconcert lecture by Vener at 1 p.m.
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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
This article was first published today in the above papers.

Hollywood Bowl occupies a significant place in the life of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For nearly a century, concerts have been ongoing in the venerable Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre, which has undergone major facility renovations throughout that time.

The Bowl is a Southern California tradition and an iconic symbol of Los Angeles. Moreover, revenue from the outdoor season gives the orchestra the financial flexibility to keep moving forward as one of the world’s most progressive ensembles.

Some of the Phil’s music directors have barely tolerated performing at the Bowl, but Gustavo Dudamel — the ensemble’s 11th and current leader — is decidedly different. The Bowl was where Dudamel made his U.S. debut on Sept. 13, 2005 and where four years later, he first conducted the Phil as its music director in a free, eclectic concert that concluded with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

He speaks often and lovingly about making music for large masses of people under the stars at the Bowl and each summer he has returned to conduct there. Moreover, he has revived a tradition of opera at the Bowl that is nearly as old as the facility itself. His first concert this season next Sunday will be a performance of Verdi’s Aida, a logical choice since 2013 is the bicentennial of the Italian composer’s birth.

Kiev native Liudmyla Monastyrska will sing the title role, aided by a strong supporting cast including Jose de León as Radames, Eric Owens as Amonasro and Michelle DeYoung as Amneris. The Los Angeles Master Chorale will supply the important choral sections.

The concerts on Aug. 13 and 15 will be performances of Verdi’s Requiem, with Dudamel leading the Phil and Master Chorale, along with soloists Julianna Di Giacomo, soprano, Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano, Vittorio Grigolo, tenor, and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, bass.

The Aug. 16 and 17 concerts represent another Bowl tradition: the annual “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts. Begun nearly a half-century ago, these were where the Phil’s management discovered the lucrative draw that fireworks concerts represent. Few, if any, groups do pyrotechnics choreographed to music better than the Phil and its technical team, now headed by Paul Souza.

However, the “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” tradition seems to be struggling a bit. True, the program will conclude, as always, with the 1812 Overture, aided by the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps, and Pacific Crest, marching bands. However, as of last Thursday, the balance of the program had not been announced and the conductor, Robert Moody, is a relatively young (46), relatively unknown (at least on this coast) maestro. On the other hand, that’s what we all thought about a young Venezuelan conductor named Gustavo Dudamel when he made his Bowl debut nearly eight years ago.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com

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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
This article was first published today in the above papers.

No genre dominates summer music programs quite like movie music. Nearly every presenting organization uses film scores as the basis for at least one of its summer programs; in the case of Hollywood Bowl, music from motion pictures shows up several times this season.

So it’s no surprise that Saturday night’s concert by Muse-ique at Caltech’s Beckman Mall would use this venerable format, but trust conductor Rachael Worby to come up with something beyond the ordinary for her concept, which she describes as “one of Muse-ique’s most ambitious curatorial adventures to date.”

Many of the composers will be familiar but the selections will not. For example, John Williams will be represented not by music from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T. but with the Love Theme from Heidi — no, not the famous version with Shirley Temple that was released in 1937, when Williams was age 5, but a film made for TV in 1968, a year after Williams received his first Oscar nomination for scoring Valley of the Dolls.

Williams and many others trace their inspiration to Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s in part to score motion pictures. Saturday’s Muse-ique program will feature cellist Matt Haimovitz as soloist in Korngold’s Concerto in C, which was used in the 1946 movie Deception. Haimovitz will solo Saturday in the world premiere of Sleepwalking, a work with images by Peter Golub, composer and director of the Sundance Film Festival.

Other soloists for the evening will include Wendie Mallick (Hot in Cleveland), who will narrate what’s termed as a “humorous new presentation” of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which was included in last year’s movie Moonrise Kingdom. This also gives Worby a chance to salute the upcoming centennial of Britten’s birthday, which takes place Nov. 22, 2013.

Information: www.muse-ique.com

Speaking of centennials, 2013 marks the 100th year of the debut of the score that Igor Stravinsky wrote for the ballet The Rite of Spring, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic offers yet another performance of this iconic piece on Tuesday night at Hollywood Bowl. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos will lead the LAPO; the program also includes Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with Augustin Hadelich as soloist.

The venerable Spanish conductor returns Thursday for a program that includes Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome by Respighi and Liszt’s Les Preludes and Totentanz, with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist a work that translates as Dance With Death.

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

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