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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.
The revision is the concerto Donald Foster is playing with the Pasadena Symphony.

Most conductors gravitate to composers with whom they develop a special affinity. In my hearing, examples would include Zubin Mehta with Anton Bruckner, Carlo Maria Giulini with Giuseppe Verdi, André Previn with Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Esa-Pekka Salonen with Witold Lutoslawski.

In some cases, the tie is so strong that the conductor becomes pigeon-holed into a particular composer or era of music. One of those seemed to be Nicholas McGegan, the British-born harpsichordist and conductor who has been one of the major players in the fields of baroque and other early music, chiefly as music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

However, in recent years McGegan has broadened his repertoire and the Pasadena Symphony has been one of the happy beneficiaries of that decision. Last year, McGegan made his PSO debut leading a concert that concluded with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica).

On Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., McGegan will take an even bigger repertoire step, leading the PSO in program that concludes with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The program opens with Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, with the orchestra’s long-time principal clarinetist, Donald Foster, as soloist.

The fourth is one of Mahler’s shortest symphonies (lasting about an hour) and is the most lyrical. The final movement features a soprano soloist (in this case, Russian Yulia Van Doren) singing texts from the poem Das himmlische Leben, a portion of Das Knaben Wunderhorn that Mahler also used in one of his great song cycles.

Even without the McGegan backstory, this concert would be worth attending for the pleasure of hearing Foster as soloist in the Mozart Concerto, one of the pinnacles of the clarinet repertoire. Foster is principal clarinet of both the Pasadena Symphony and Santa Barbara Symphony and has been played on soundtracks for hundreds of film and television scores and commercials.

BTW: McGegan will also be the featured speaker at a dinner/conversation at Noor’s Restaurant in Pasadena on Tuesday beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m.

Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Details of the 2013 Hollywood Bowl season have been announced and “predictability” is the operating word. The 10-week classical season contains the usual assortment of popular symphonies and concertos, although there is the West Coast premiere of a new work by Adam Schoenberg (no relation to the famed composer Arnold Schoenberg although, ironically, he does teach at UCLA in the Schoenberg Music Building).

The opening classical event on July 9 will see Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

Music Director Gustavo Dudame will lead just one week this summer with only two programs, both of which pay homage to the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth: a concert performance of Aida on Aug. 11 and performances of Verdi’s Requiem on Aug. 13 and 15.

Other guest conductors beside MTT include McGegan, who will conduct programs on , Bramwell Tovey, Rafael Frubeck de Burgos, Bernard Labadie, James Gaffigan, Leon Bottstein, David Afkham, John Williams and Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Among the soloists will be pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Paul Lewis, Hélène Grimaud, and Katie and Marielle Labèque; and violinists Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Jennifer Koh, Augustin Haedelich, LAPO Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour.

In one of the more intriguing programs, the Los Angeles-based dance group Diavolo will complete their triptych of works created especially for the Hollywood Bowl with Fluid Infinities, set to the music of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3.

The entire 92nd season (67 performances), runs from June 22 through Sept. 22. Season tickets are now on sale; single-ticket sales begin in early May. Information: 323/850-2000; 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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It's not always cool to write about your friends but I make an exception here. Chapman University has announced that its new Conservatory of Music will be named in honor of the school's dean and long-time choral conductor William Hall, along with the two principal donors, Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco. Timothy Mangan has the story in today's Orange County Register HERE.

For decades, Hall directed his own William Hall Chorale and then the Orange County Master Chorale. He also led church choirs in Arcadia and Pasadena. He was an early local advocate for Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, leading his WHC on one of the first recordings of the work. In recent years, Hall has focused his life on being dean of Chapman's College of Performing Arts. It's nice that the honor is coming while Hall is still alive.

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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.

The revision is a change of soloists for the L.A. Master Chorale concert.

If you’re a lover of choral music — and, in particular, of Requiems, the musical setting of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead — then next weekend will have you in seventh heaven. Two of the landmark Requiem settings will be the centerpieces of local concerts; fortunately both the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Los Angeles Master Chorale each scheduled two performances so you can hear both groups, if you’re over a mind to do so.

Nioted Bach specialist Helmuth Rilling will conduct LACO, the USC Thornton Chamber Singers, and soloists Stacey Tappan, soprano; Callista Hoffman, alto; Nicholas Phan, tenor; and Michael Dean, bass in performances of Mozart’s Requiem on Saturday at 8 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and next Sunday at 7 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The programs opens with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39; a preconcert talk will be held an hour before each performance.

Mozart died as he was writing what became his Requiem; both the death and the work itself remain shrouded in mystery. The composer actually completed only the first movement (“Kyrie”) of the Requiem before he died, although he left vocal parts for two other sections along with fragments of the orchestral accompaniments. Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Mozart’s assistant, completed the work in 1792, and while this is the version usually performed, Rilling and LACO will use an intriguing 1960s version by noted Mozart specialist Robert D. Levin, instead.

Information: 213.622-7001; www.laco.org

Meanwhile, Grant Gershon and his Los Angeles Master Chorale will pair Brahms’ A German Requiem with the West Coast premiere of Peter Lieberson’s The World in Flower Saturday at 2 p.m. and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall. A preconcert talk will be held one hour in advance of each program.

The Lieberson work on the theme of tolerance was written for the New York Philharmonic and was to have been sung in 2006 with his wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, as one of the soloists. She was too ill to perform (and later died) and the work was belatedly premiered in 2009 (the composer orchestrated the final version while in hospital battling lymphoma).

Soloists for The World in Flower will be mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor and baritone Brian Mulligan; Mulligan will be joined by soprano Hayden Eberhart, a LAMC member. She replaces Yulia Van Doren, who is ill. Information: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org

For a complete change of pace from choral music, check out the Modern Brass Quintet in a free concert on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. The ensemble’s five members are among the Southland’s premiere brass instrumentalists; they’ve played hundreds of movie scores and all play in orchestras across the region, including the Pasadena Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera. The concert celebrates 20 years for MBQ as the church’s Ensemble-in-Residence.

The program will feature music by Jan and J.S. Bach, Aaron Copland, Alec Wilder, Witold Lutoslawski. There will also be world premieres by Anne McGinty and MBQ trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom.

Information: 626/793-2191; www.ppcmusic.org
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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 this article was first published today in the above papers.

Upward trends are usually a good thing and so it is with Los Angeles Opera, which announced its 2013-2014 on Wednesday. It’s a season that shows modest growth from recent years, features major works by Britten and Verdi, and the Los Angeles premiere of the iconic Philip Glass/Robert Glass collaboration, Einstein on the Beach.

Next season will offer seven productions (42 performances) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, plus four offerings in other locales, including two in Orange County. That’s a modest increase from this season of six productions (37 performances) and two “Off Grand” performances, one of which was in Orange County. It’s still a long way from the 2006-2007 season that featured 10 productions with 75 performances, but the upward trend is worth noting.

Music Director James Conlon will conduct four of the seven productions. Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director, will conduct four performances of Bizet’s Carmen to open the season (Information: www.laopera.com) and will also add yet another baritone role to his repertoire, Athhanaél, in Massanet’s Thais, which will be a company premiere to conclude the season. (Information: www.laopera.com)

Among the highlights:
Einstein on the Beach will play three performances in October at the Pavilion, the final North American stop on the production’s international tour. Co-sponsored by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, the legendary 1976 opera will feature the Philip Glass Ensemble, Lucinda Childs Dance Company, and violinist Jennifer Koh. Information: www.laopera.com

Billy Budd will be the climax of a county-wide celebration of the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth (Nov. 22, 1913). The project, “Britten 100/L.A. Celebration,” will feature performances by dozens of local groups. Billy Budd will feature Liam Bonner in the title role, joined by Richard Croft, Samuel Ramey and others. Conlon will conduct; the Francesco Zambello production was last seen in L.A. in 2000. Information: www.laopera.com

Other composers celebrating significant birthdays are Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner.

Verdi’s bicentennial will be honored with a revival of Falstaff, which was originally a co-production between the Los Angeles Philharmonic (with Carlo Maria Giulini conducting), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (London), and the Teatro Comunale (Florence). Information: www.laopera.com

There will be no Wagner offering next season, although LAO will present The Flying Dutchman this season beginning March 9. Information: www.laopera.com

Other offerings next season are Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

The “Off Grand” performances include the world premiere of Jonah and the Whale, a community opera with music by Alexander Prior and lyrics by Velina Hasu Houston to be performed at the downtown Roman Catholic cathedral.

Season tickets are now available. Information: 213/972-8001; www.laopera.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
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Pasadena Symphony; Tito Muñoz, conductor
Boyer “Apollo” from Three Olympians
Sibelius Violin Concerto; Caroline Goulding, violinist
Brahms Symphony No. 1
Saturday, January 12, 2012 • Ambassador Auditorium
Next concerts: February 9 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Some concerts are straightforward: a single theme or simply a collection of pieces. By contrast, Saturday afternoon’s concert by the Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium (which was repeated that evening) had a surfeit of threads that wove an enjoyable program.

Perhaps the most significant occurrence was the return of conductor Tito Muñoz to the PSO podium. Now age 29, Muñoz made a strong impression two years ago in his PSO debut during the orchestra’s first season without a music director, and he’s one of three conductors who have been invited back from appearances in the two past seasons.

As was the case before, Muñoz conducted confidently and authoritatively and the orchestra musicians responded with top-flight playing in all three of the afternoon’s selections, including Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, which concluded the program. Muñoz shaped phrases in this ultra-familiar work subtly, kept a sense of urgency throughout the piece, and finished with a somewhat supercharged chorale finale that included a sly grin and a baton flourish near the end. It was a performance mature beyond his years.

Even younger was the afternoon’s soloist, Caroline Goulding, who extended a tradition established by former music director Jorge Mester of discovering young, talented violinists (that list that includes Midori, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Robert McDuffie, among others). Now age 20 but already winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Grammy nomination, Goulding’s local debut calling card was the Sibelius Violin Concerto.

She produced a lovely tone on a circa 1720 Stradivarius and clearly possesses a formidable technique. Although many in the audience were thrilled with her performance, I found her penchant for frequently pushing and pulling the texture of this work to be disconcerting. Muñoz conducted carefully, perhaps trying to make up for Goulding’s meanderings, and the orchestra delivered a rich accompaniment.

The program opened with “Apollo” a section from Three Olympians, written in 2000 for a conductors’ class by Peter Boyer, who this season became the PSO’s Composer-in-Residence .

The title refers not to athletes but to the residents of Mt. Olympus in ancient Greece and the six-minute piece for large string orchestra is classical in its makeup. Muñoz and Co. played it lushly and Boyer was on hand to share in the applause. Will this piece be a precursor to his Symphony No. 1, which Boyer is scheduled to conduct when the PSO debuts it in the season’s final concert on April 27? Stay tuned; Boyer said he’s about 2/3 finished with the new work.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• The third of the repeat conductors, Nicholas McGegan, the next concert on Feb. 9. The program will be Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, with Russian soprano Yulia Van Doren as soloist, and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, with the PSO’s principal clarinetist, Donald Foster, as soloist.
• Goulding was dressed in a stunning, fiery red gown for her performance. Her Strad is known as the “General Kyd.”
• When introducing the concert, Pasadena Symphony CEO Paul Zdunek noted that Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 was performed on Ambassador Auditorium’s inaugural program in April 1974; Carlo Maria Giulini conducted the Vienna Symphony in that concert.
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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.

As we close the books on an eventful 2012 in terms of classical music (and, of course, other areas), several important issues in our favorite genre will play themselves out in 2013. Here are three that I’ll be watching:

PASADENA POPS LEADERSHIP CHANGE
Last summer, the Pops moved into a new home at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and then was staggered by the untimely death of its iconic music director Marvin Hamlisch on Aug. 6. The orchestra moved quickly, naming another major musical figure, Michael Feinstein, to replace Hamlisch as the orchestra’s principal pops conductor. This represents a gamble as Feinstein — best known for his work in what he calls the “Great American Songbook” — has never formally conducted a symphony orchestra before. Thus, how this all unfolds will be closely watched.

One other thing to watch will be how well the Pops fares going head to head with the Cal Phil at nearby Santa Anita Racetrack and with Muse-ique (Rachael Worby’s ensemble) at Caltech. Last year, the Pops and Cal Phil didn’t play on the same days; this summer their concert dates conflict three times, including June 29 when all three groups perform on the same night.

LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC’S SPRING SCHEDULE
In 2012, the LAPO’s “Mahler Project” dominated the news early on. The orchestra followed with a striking, albeit controversial, production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. This spring (May 17, 19, 25 and 25) at Walt Disney Concert Hall comes the second installment in the Phil’s Mozart/DaPonte Trilogy with The Marriage of Figaro, featuring sets designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel and costumes by couturier Azzedine Alaïa. Gustavo Dudamel will conduct.

Two months prior (March 7, 8 and 10), Dudamel will lead his orchestra, soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in the initial fully staged performances of John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, to be directed by Peter Sellars. It will be interesting to see what, if any, musical changes Adams makes to his powerful, complex score and how Sellars’ concept affects audiences’ reaction to it.

After its introduction locally, Dudamel and the Phil will take the production on the road for a tour that includes stops in New York City, London and Paris.

2013: A MAJOR ANNIVERSARY YEAR
Next year marks the bicentennial of the births of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi and the centennial of the birth of Benjamin Britten. How will local companies celebrate these three landmarks? So far, the only thing announced officially is Los Angeles Opera’s production of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, which is scheduled to open March 9 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and continue with five more performances.

Thus, part of the intrigue in 2013 will be answered as 2013-2014 seasons are unveiled early next year and we see what else will be performed from these three musical giants.
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(c) Copyright 2012, 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

Micheal Lee Smith, tenor; Mark Robson, fortepiano
Schubert: Winterreise (Winter Journeys)
Saturday, Dec, 29; 7:30 p.m. • Pasadena Presbyterian Church
Free admission (freewill offering); free parking; mobility-impaired accessible
Information: www.ppcmusic.org

Micheal Smith 4 Web You may have vaguely heard the word “fortepiano” but odds are you’ve never heard one played. The fortepiano was the predecessor of the current piano. It was invented around 1700 and was used through the early 19th century. It was the instrument for which Haydn, Mozart, and the early Beethoven wrote their piano music.

Schubert was another composer who wrote for the fortepiano and he used it for his dramatic song cycle Winterreise in 1827. When tenor Micheal Lee Smith (pictured) sings this 24-part work tomorrow night at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, he will collaborate with one of Southern California’s premiere keyboard artists, Mark Robson, who will play an 1820s Broadwood fortepiano. (Smith, whose training includes a stint in Graz, Austria, is a rising young tenor star in the local operatic firmament).

Consequently tomorrow night you’ll hear Winterreise in a style much as Schubert might have envisioned it (discounting the fact that it’s being performed in a 750-seat, striking, neogothic sanctuary instead of a home or salon).

The recital — part of the church's "Friends of Music" recital series — is free (a freewill offering will be taken). For more information, click HERE and then download the press release.
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(c) Copyright 2012, 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 this article was first published today in the above papers.

As the Thanksgiving holiday draws to a close today, there are many reasons to give thanks, but near the top of my list is that we’re nearing the Christmas season, which for music lovers offers incredible gifts day after day. Nothing says Christmas quite like music, from the corniest jingle to the multiple renditions of Handel’s Messiah. Here’s a look at some (but by no means all) of the early holiday offerings in the next couple of weeks:

• Buoyed by a sold-out house last year, the Pasadena Symphony presents a reprise of its “Holiday Candlelight” concert on Saturday at 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper returns to conduct and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Donald Brinegar Chorus, LA Bronze handbell ensemble and vocalist Lisa Vroman will join the orchestra in this festive program. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

• December will be a busy month for the Pasadena-based LA. Children’s Chorus, as the world-renowned organization holds its midwinter concerts at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. The Concert Choir, Apprentice Choir and Chamber Singers will sing on Dec. 9, while the Concert Choir, Intermediate Choir and Young Men’s Ensemble will perform on Dec. 16. Both concerts begin at 7 p.m. Information: www.lachildrenschorus.org

• Pasadena Presbyterian Church presents the 68th rendition of its “Candlelight and Carols” concert on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. This free-admission concert will feature plenty of audience caroling. The program of secular and sacred music will include performances by Kirk Choir, Trinity Choir, Van Etten Handbell Choir, Pasadena Singers, Rainbow Choir and Carol Choir.

The choral music will be accompanied by harp and brass ensemble, along with Meaghan Smith and Timothy Howard on the church’s Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. Howard will conduct the Kirk Choir, accompanied by harpist Leslie-Rose Hembriker as it sings Seven Joys of Christmas, a unique blending of traditional carols written in 1964 by American composer Kirke Mechem.

Information: www.ppcmusic.org

• Many groups tackle Handel’s Messiah each Christmas season, which is kind of ironic since only the first third of the oratorio deals with Jesus’ birth (the remaining two-thirds covers Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection).

Musica Angelica, one of the world’s premiere period-instrument ensembles, will offer a change of pace this year when it presents four of the six cantatas that make up Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Performances are Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. at the AT&T Center (just east of Staples Center) and Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Santa Monica. Music Director Martin Haselböck leads the Concord Ensemble and four soloists in these concerts. Haselböck has an interesting commentary on this program on Musica Angelica’s Web site HERE.

Information: www.musicaangelica.org

• If you feel like you’re going to be overloaded on holiday music, consider, instead, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Music Director Jeffrey Kahane will lead his ensemble in Dvorak’s Serenade for Winds, Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite (using the 1944 version written for just 13 musicians), and John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony. The evening will conclude with Kahane as soloist and conducting Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue from the keyboard, using the original 1924 jazz band version.

Information: www.laco.org
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(c) Copyright 2012, 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 this article was first published today in the above papers.

Three major events are on tap during the next fortnight, beginning with Los Angeles Opera’s presentation of one of the all-time favorite potboilers: Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. This will be the first of six performances running through Dec. 9.

Butterfly was one of the first productions mounted by LA Opera, debuting in 1986 with Leona Mitchell in the title role. Later productions included one of Robert Wilson’s semi-radical takes on the famous work, which was based on a play by David Belasco.

Instead of reviving the Wilson production, LA Opera has elected to import one from Lyric Opera, Chicago directed by Ron Daniels (who directed LAO’s Il Postino) with sets and costume designs by Michael Yeargan (this is his sixth LAO production).

Ukranian soprano Oksanna Dyka (who made her LAO debut as Tatiana in the 2011 production of Eugene Onegin) will head a powerhouse cast, performing the title role of Cio-Cio-San. Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor, will lead the orchestra.

Information: 213/972-8001; www.laopera.com

• Next weekend will be a busy one for Gershon. On Sunday at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, he will lead 40 singers of his Los Angeles Master Chorale along with Musica Angelica and four soloists in a performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, perhaps the most significant musical work written before the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. The use of Musica Angelica, one of the world’s premiere period-instrument ensembles, will undoubtedly add to the flavor of the performance.

Information: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org

Speaking of Monteverdi, the choir of that name and Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique, both led by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, will perform back-to-back Beethoven concerts Nov. 19 and 20 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Hall. The Monday concert will be Missa Solemnis. Tuesday combines Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage with Symphony No. 9.

The name “Révolutionaire” in the orchestra’s title name was well chosen when the group was founded in 1989. Gardiner’s brisk tempos and historically informed musical concepts, while not totally revolutionary, placed them at the pinnacle of this sort of performance practice. If you haven’t heard this group, it’s worth a trip to Costa Mesa.

The Orange County Philharmonic Society, which is presenting the ensembles, is so confident you’ll like the performance of Beethoven’s 9th that it’s offering a money-back guarantee if you don’t. The catch is that tickets have to be returned to the OCPS box office, which is located in Irvine.

Dean Corey, OCPS president and artistic director, will deliver preconcert lectures an hour before each performance.

Information: (949) 553-2422; www.philharmonicsociety.org

• Last week I wrote (LINK — at bottom of column) about the upcoming local appearances of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, conducted by former Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. Marcia Adair has a profile on the Finnish maestro in today’s Los Angeles Times HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2012, 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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Pasadena Symphony; Edwin Outwater, conductor
Huanzhi: Spring Festival Overture;
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Rueibin Chen, soloist;
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4
Saturday, November 3, 2012 • Ambassador Auditorium
Next concert: Dec. 1, 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Outwater-11-3-12The Pasadena Symphony is in its third year without a permanent music director and one of the consequences has been a steady parade of relatively young, mostly unknown conductors who have nonetheless helped the orchestra continue its customary high level of quality playing. Case in point Saturday was 41-year-old Edwin Outwater (right), who returned to his native Southern California and led the second series of concerts in the PSO’s 80th season yesterday at Ambassador Auditorium.

Born in Santa Monica, Outwater graduated cum laude in 1993 from Harvard with a degree in English and earned a Masters degree at UC Santa Barbara. He was resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony from 2001-2006, where he worked under Michael Tilson Thomas and served simultaneously as music director of the San Francisco Youth Symphony.

He’s in his sixth year as music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in Ontario, Canada (about 100 miles west of Toronto) and, based on yesterday afternoon’s concert, he’s clearly been honing his craft.

One aspect of Outwater’s podium style that sets him apart from most conductors is that he conducts without a baton. In his preconcert lecture, Outwater explained that he dispensed with a stick because he enjoys the expressive freedom that comes from using his hands primarily to conduct.

That was particularly noticeable during Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which concluded the afternoon. Outwater used his left hand, in particular, to shape phrases, sculpt dynamics, and emphasize a myriad of details throughout the performance; he reminded me of how Gustavo Dudamel employs his left hand in a similar manner.

Outwater’s overall conducting style is compact and he uses small, meaningful gestures to achieve results. He emphasized the dance aspects of this familiar work and the orchestra responded with a first-rate performance.

The combination of Chinese-Austrian pianist Rueibin Chen and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (along with a Chinese overture and the Tchaikovsky symphony) appeared to provide a box-office boost and Chen did not disappoint in his latest appearance with the orchestra, although his concept of the well-known 18th variation seemed curiously disjointed. Both Chen and Outwater offered interesting dynamic shadings throughout the “concerto.”

The symbolic curtain raiser was the Spring Festival Overture by Li Huanzhi, one of the best-known Chinese orchestral works. In his preconcert lecture, Outwater said he came across what he called “this ditty” during his San Francisco Symphony stint when he was called on to lead Chinese New Year’s concerts. The five-minute overture mixes Western movie music with Chinese flavoring; Outwater and the orchestra gave it a sparkling reading.
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(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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