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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.

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.

1 year 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.

1 year 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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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.

1 year ago | |
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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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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 if you couldn’t tell from last week’s heat wave, summer is really upon us and our burgeoning music season reflects the seasonal change.

Southwest Chamber Music begins its 20th season in the Loggia of the Huntington Library in San Marino next Saturday and Sunday. The music begins at 7:30 p.m. Preconcert, three-course dinners are available by prior reservation from the Huntington’s Tea Room or you can bring your own picnic and enjoy it on the lawn. As a bonus, sections of the library are open to ticketholders prior to the concert and at intermission.

This weekend’s programs include Hums and Songs of Winnie the Pooh by English composer Oliver Knussen, Stravinsky’s Octet for Winds and Mozart’s Serenade, K. 361. Other programs are July 27 and 28, August 10 and 11 and August 24 and 25. Information: 800/7236-7147; www.swmusic.org

Saturday is one of this summer’s “clash nights.” In addition to Southwest Chamber Music, both the Pasadena Pops and California Philharmonic are performing in their Arcadia locations (thus creating some traffic issues).

Michael Feinstein, the Pasadena Pops’ new principal conductor, returns to the Los Angeles County Arboretum to lead a program celebrating the musical legacy of MGM movies, including Singing in the Rain, Harvey Girls, Gigi, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz and others. Vocalists Christine Ebersole and Ron Raines will join the festivities. Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Meanwhile, the Cal Phil returns to Santa Anita Racetrack on Saturday for one of Music Director Victor Vener’s perennial programming favorites: “Andrew Lloyd Webber Meets Puccini.” Singers Lori Stinson, Christine Campbell and Cedric Berry and the Cal Phil Chorale will join the orchestra for music by two of the world’s best-known composers. The program repeats July 14 at 2 p.m. indoors at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Information: 626/300-8200; www.calphil.org

Although Hollywood Bowl has presented several pops concerts during the last month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic opens its 10-week classical season at the iconic Cahuenga Pass amphitheater Tuesday night. Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, returns home to lead the Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists Kiera Duffy and Sasha Cooke in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

On Thursday, Thomas leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Dubinushka, along with Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, with Gil Shaham as soloist.

Next week, Bramwell Tovey returns to the Bowl stage on July 16 to lead the Phil in a Britten-Elgar-Sibelius program. On July 18, Tovey conducts a program that concludes with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

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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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.

Which to choose? That’s the question confronting classical music fans in the San Gabriel Valley on Saturday, since they get to pick from three concerts, all of which begin at 7:30 p.m. on that evening six days from now.

THE FLAG IS UP FOR CAL PHIL AT SANTA ANITA PARK
The California Philharmonic opens its 17th “Festival on the Green” summer season, and its second at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, when Music Director Victor Vener leads his ensemble in a program entitled “Beatles, Beethoven and Beach Boys.” The concert repeats next Sunday at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, marking Cal Phil’s 10th season at the iconic Frank Gehry-designed facility in downtown Los Angeles.

“The Fab Four — The Ultimate Tribute” will perform a series of Beatles hits, including Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude, Imagine and Penny Lane. The orchestra will chime in with renditions of Beach Boys’ favorites Good Vibrations, I Get Around and California Girls. Vener will also lead his ensemble in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral).

Next weekend’s concerts are the first of five pairs this summer; the others take place at biweekly intervals beginning July 13-14 and concluding August 24-25.

The outdoor concerts take place on the racetrack’s infield concert lawn, which Santa Anita constructed last summer when the Cal Phil relocated its summer series from the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

Information: 626/300-8200; www.calphil.org

MUSE/IQUE RETURNS TO CALTECH FOR SUMMER SERIES
Music of the Beatles will also appear on Muse/ique’s opening event in its 2013 summer season at Caltech’s Beckman Mall but that’s hardly the headline. Artistic Director Rachael Worby, who delights in creating what she calls “mash-up programming,” will also include music by Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Nicolo Paganini and other, but the centerpiece will be an appearance by Grammy Award-winning singer Patti Austin.

One example of Worby’s madcap programming style will have Worby, the orchestra and concertmaster Roger Wilkie playing the second movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2, followed by Austin performing Sam Coslo’s jazz tune, Mr. Paganini.

Austin, who last night was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, will sing tunes from her wide-ranging repertoire. Other selections for the evening will range from classical to pop to jazz and — yes — The Beatles (Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds). Worby will knit everything together with her erudite commentary.

Saturday’s program is the first of three at the outdoor Caltech facility, located in front of Beckman Auditorium with two large concrete buildings that create a unique echo-chamber effect. The other programs will be July 27 and August 17.

Information: 626/539-7085; www.muse-ique.org

BERNADETTE PETERS TO HEADLINE PASADENA POPS CONCERT
For its second concert of the summer, the Pasadena Pops will turn the spotlight on Broadway icon Bernadette Peters at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia. Peters, a two-time Tony-award winning actress most closely identified with the music of Stephen Sondheim, will sing songs from a wide array of Broadway shows, including South Pacific, Into the Woods, Gypsy, Company and A Little Night Music.

Martin Laird, Peters’ music director, will lead the Pops during her sets. Larry Blank, who was recently named the orchestra’s Resident Pops Conductor, will lead the orchestral-only portions for the balance of the evening.

The Pops season continues on July 13, August 10 and Sept. 7. Michael Feinstein, the Pops’ newly named Artistic Director, will lead the July and September concerts.

Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.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
This article was first published today in the above papers.

Every classical music indoor season brings two or three dates when crunches pop up as seemingly every organization decides to schedule an event on that particular day. Summertime has largely escaped these conflicts but this year — specifically Sat., June 29 — will force folks in the San Gabriel Valley to make a choice among three different orchestras.

The California Philharmonic will open its second season at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia on Jan. 29 as Music Director Victor Vener leads his band in a program entitled “Beatles, Beethoven and the Beach Boys.”

On the same date — indeed, at the same time (7:30 p.m.) — a quarter-mile away at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the Pasadena Pops will be playing its second concert of the season with Broadway star Bernadette Peters as the centerpiece. Larry Blank returns to conduct the orchestra.

Finally, on the same day and time at Caltech’s Beckman Mall in Pasadena, Rachael Worby and her ensemble, Muse-ique, will begin its three-concert summer season with a program that features vocalist Patti Austin.

Pasadena Pops management, which announced its season several weeks ago, said that June 29 was the date chosen by Peters. A spokesperson for Muse-ique said, “Clearly each organization draws different audiences,” which sounds somewhat dubious to me but, hey, what does a lowly music critic know? The Cal Phil noted that each of its five concerts during the summer repeat Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. indoors at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Last year the Pops and Cal Phil scheduled their concerts on non-competing weekends but that has changed this year. The two organizations will have programs on July 13. The Pops plays the second of three programs being led by its new principal conductor, Michael Feinstein, this summer, while Cal Phil counters with one of Vener’s favorite programming concepts, “Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Puccini.” On Aug. 10, the Cal Phil’s “Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin” evening will go up against the Pops’ own Beatles-oriented program.

Meanwhile, on July 27, Muse-ique comes up with a program of movie music featuring cellist Matt Haimovitz as soloist, which the Cal Phil offers “Dance Fever.”

One of the potential problems when the Pops and Cal Phil perform on the same night is traffic. Although those attending Cal Phil concerts enter on the northeast side of the park, which is quite a ways from the Arboretum, traffic for both concerts coming from the west exits the 210 Freeway at Baldwin Ave.

Hollywood Bowl has concerts on each of the above weekends but the crossover issue seems less likely based on the Bowl’s programming as none of the Bowl’s programs involves orchestras.

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

1 year ago | |
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By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Pasadena Pops Orchestra; Michael Feinstein, conductor
Saturday, Sept. 1, 2013 • Los Angeles County Arboretum
Next performance: June 29
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Feinstein-White

Michael Feinstein and Lari White perform at last night's concert by the Pasadena Pops at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Photo from Pasadena Pops
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Midway through the Pasadena Pops concert last night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, Michael Feinstein thanked the audience for accompanying him and the orchestra on what he called an “experiment” in pops programming.

The description was spot-on. This was Feinstein’s first concert as the orchestra’s Principal Conductor and his first time conducting a full-sized orchestra. Whatever you thought of his conducting ability, there was no doubting the uniquely fascinating nature of the evening’s program, Of the 19 pieces performed, I can only remember two or three that I had ever heard on an orchestra pops program in my decades of reviewing.

Feinstein played to his numerous strengths. His commentary was, for the most part, erudite and witty and many of the works were pieces he had either exhumed in his archival wanderings or had rarely been played before. Nearly all were from the mid- to late-20th century, an era in which Feinstein has focused in what has become known as the “Great American Songbook.”

As a conductor, Feinstein seemed uncomfortable at times and in his element in others. There were occasional ragged entrances and cutoffs but, for the most part, the orchestra acquitted itself well, especially considering that for many of the players a healthy slice of the program was music they were playing for the first time. Feinstein will undoubtedly get better on the podium; most fledgling conductors cut their teeth on student or community ensembles, not on a stage before several thousand people.

In the first half of the evening vocalist Lari White delivered powerful performances of Jump for Joy and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, both arranged by Nelson Riddle, whose birthday was last night. She then concluded with poignant renditions of Where is it Written? and A Piece of the Sky from the movie Yentl.

Marc Cherry proved to be the evening’s comedic highlight with a rollicking performance of Mrs. Worthington by Noel Coward. Cheyenne Jackson delivered over-wrought performances of I Get Along With You Very Well and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, but was effective in channeling Sam Cooke in A Change is Gonna Come. Jackson noted that Barbara Cook once admonished him to talk less and sing more. He should have heeded her advice.

Feinstein concluded the evening by singing a touching rendition of The Way We Were from the keyboard, a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, who died last August (which is how Feinstein ended up as the Pops leader). Feinstein’s opening concert offered a great deal of promise for what he will bring in the two other programs he will conduct this summer and, perhaps, into the future.
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Hemidemisemiquavers:
• The Pops will appear June 9 at the Ford Amphitheatre (in the Cahuenga Pass, across the 101 Freeway from Hollywood Bowl) with vocalist Mandy Patinkin. The performance is part of the inaugural “Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series” at the Ford (Yaroslavsky’s L.A. County supervisorial district encompasses both the Ford and the Bowl). Info: www.fordtheatres.org
• Last night’s ambience was enhanced greatly by what seemed like hundreds of young volunteers who helped people to their seats and, in particular, provided light on the footpaths leading to the parking lots following the performance.
• Concertmaster Aimee Kreston led a somewhat lugubrious rendition of The Star Spangled Banner from her first-violin chair.
• Feinstein had a lot of fun with the Arboretum’s peacocks, many of whom were in fine voice Saturday night.
• The Pops second concert of the season, on June 29, will center on Broadway star Bernadette Peters. Feinstein will return on July 13 for an evening of music from MGM movies, and will conclude the season on Sept. 7 in an evening of the music of George and Ira Gershwin. In between those two, Martin Herman will lead the orchestra in a program featuring music of the Beatles.
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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.

Pasadena Pops Orchestra; Michael Feinstein, conductor
Sat., June 1; 7:30 p.m. (gates open at 5:30 p.m.)
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Center; 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
Tickets: $20-$100 (children 14 and under: $10)
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Feinstein_5-26-13There’s a lot riding on Saturday night’s concert by the Pasadena Pops Orchestra at the Los Angeles County Aboretum and Botanical Center. It’s the first of five concerts this summer at the Arcadia facility and marks the debut of Michael Feinstein (left) as the Pops’ Principal Conductor.

Feinstein stepped into the role when Marvin Hamlisch died unexpectedly last August. Feinstein is artistic director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana, and since 2010 has been director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.

However, neither of these positions requires him to conduct an orchestra. Although Feinstein has performed with many orchestras throughout the past two decades, this will be his first time in a conductor role. Thus, even though he is a major draw, choosing him to head the Pops ensemble represents a big gamble for the orchestra’s management.

In Saturday’s concert Feinstein will lead with his strength as the program is entitled “Michael Feinstein’s Songbook.” During the past decade, the 56-year-old Columbus, Ohio native has not only performed many songs from what he calls “The Great American Songbook” but has also been instrumental (no pun intended) in preserving legendary music from the early to mid-20th century. To accomplish this, he has used educational programs, Master Classes and, in particular, his Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative. He also serves on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board.

Saturday’s program will include music by Rodgers and Hart, Leonard Bernstein, Leroy Anderson, and Ferde Grofé. Feinstein will also offer a musical tribute to Hamlisch, a legendary composer of Broadway and motion picture scores who was 68 when he died last August. Cheyenne Jackson will be the guest artist for the evening.

Feinstein will lead two other programs during the summer, including music from MGM movies on July 13, and an evening devoted to the music of George and Ira Gershwin to close the season on Sept. 7.

Broadway star Bernadette Peters will be the headliner on June 29 in an evening conducted by Larry Blank and the August 10 concert will focus on music of the Beatles, led by Martin Herman.

This summer marks the second season for the Pops at the Arboretum, following nearly 20 years at Descanso Gardens and two seasons on the lawn outside the Rose Bowl.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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