CLASS ACT: Feinstein with Pasadena Pops, Mirga at the Bowl highlight upcoming week

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Style: "p25+-Ipro"For the past quarter century, Michael Feinstein pictured above has become the leading proponent and curator of “The Great American Songbook,” which is not really a book but rather a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early and mid-20th century.

One of the leading lights of that collection was Frank Sinatra, and Feinstein will join with the Pasadena Pops July 30 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum for what he has termed “The Sinatra Project — Volume 2.” It’s a follow-up to last summer’s sold-out concert of music by the crooner affectionately known as “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”

As was the case last summer, Feinstein will spend the evening singing and talking about Sinatra and his music. It will be an intimate evening as Feinstein’s first-hand knowledge gives him a unique slant on Sinatra. “I have a very different perspective about his musical taste,” explains Feinstein. “Among other things he loved classical music so I’m very careful in combining swing arrangements with great orchestrations of the ballads. Some are vintage charts that have not been heard publicly in many years or ever.”

One of those rarely heard numbers will be Sinatra’s original arrangement of Three Coins in the Fountain, which was cut in half for the 1954 motion picture. “Finding things like that is what makes an evening like this exciting for me,” says Feinstein. Other numbers will include Pennies from Heaven and Young at Heart. Resident Conductor Larry Blank will lead the Pops in this concert.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Mirga_2016_4_WebIn the midst of Gustavo Dudamel’s last weeks at Hollywood Bowl for this summer comes a concert that, for classical music aficionados, is a must-see event as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), one of the sharply rising stars in the musical firmament, conducts her only Bowl concert this summer this coming Tuesday.

A 29-year-old Lithuania native, Gražinytė-Tyla (because her last name is a tongue-twister to pronounce virtually everyone simply calls her “Mirga”) will become the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Associate Conductor this fall. More importantly she has been named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the latest in a long line of youthful conductors to lead that esteemed English ensemble who are now among the world’s conducting elite (e.g., Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons).

At the Bowl Gražinytė-Tyla will lead the L.A. Phil in works by Beethoven and Ravel. Pianist Jean-Yeves Thibaudet and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will join the Phil and six vocal soloists in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.” The evening will open with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and will conclude with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the second suite from Daphnis and Chloe.

Gražinytė-Tyla’s rise with the LAPO has been meteoric. She was a Dudamel Fellow with the orchestra in the 2012-13 season and became the ensemble’s Assistant Conductor in 2014, before being promoted to Associate Conductor for the 2016-17 season.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil, Lang Lang open Hollywood Bowl’s classical season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

It’s been more than a decade since we first encountered conductor Gustavo Dudamel and pianist Lang Lang. Two of the more interesting aspects of hearing them together in concert last night at Hollywood Bowl were (a) how they together would fare as a box-office draw and (b) how they have matured in the past 10 or so years.

They came together in that most ubiquitous of Bowl pieces: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which along with another favorite, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, opened the Bowl’s 10-week classical season.

First the crowd: although no official count was released, the Bowl appeared to be very full, (13,000-14,000?) especially for a Tuesday night. Those who came definitely got their money’s worth!

Perhaps it’s because we’ve gotten used to Lang Lang’s performing antics, but last night was notably light on over-the-top flourishes. Nonetheless it was a performance that had most of the audience spellbound and made us consider carefully what we were hearing, no mean feat for those who have heard this piece hundreds of times.

Dudamel (who conducted without a score) and the Phil held the proceedings together with a sure hand. He took magisterial tempos in the first movement while Lang Lang provided a breathtakingly wide range of dynamics and used the cadenza-like sections to stretch the tempos to (but not beyond) the breaking point. The pianist also appeared to interpolate his own thoughts into the cadenzas, again just enough to make us sit up and ask ourselves, “Did we just hear that?”

By comparison, the second the third movements emerged in relatively straightforward manners, apart from Lang Lang’s lighting-fast tempos in the final sections of each. The finale concluded with a Niagara Falls-like waterfall of thunderous octaves that had Dudamel and the orchestra hanging on for the wild ride. It also produced the predicatable standing ovation from the audience but there were no encores.

After intermission, Dudamel and the Phil offered a rich, luxurious rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Here was a good chance to see the increasingly mature Dudamel, who led tempos that were unhurried and allowed for the orchestra as a whole and the individual section principals to shine with jewel-like luminescence.

Dudamel continues to be a joy to watch on the podium; in fact, there were times when I wished the video screens were split so we could keep a constant eye on the now 35-year old maestro. He conducted without a score; he continues to be economical in his gestures, with almost no superfluous motions; he still takes bows from deep within the ensemble, surrounded by his colleagues; and, most importantly, he continues to radiate a genuine joy in making music.

Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour was radiant in his solos depicting the Arabian princess spinning her tales, but kudos also to (among many) Principal Cellist Robert deMaine, harpist Lou Anne Neill, Associate Principal Oboe Marion Arthur Kuszyk and Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov.

Overall, this was one of the most satisfying performances of this work that I have ever heard and a splendid way to begin the summer Bowl season.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• With flags at half staff, Dudamel and Co. opened the evening with a somber performance of The Star-Spangled Banner.
• Very good camera work for the most part, the sound system was in fine form, especially considering that this was the first classical concert of the season, and there were minimal aerial intrusions. You can’t ask for much more than that at a Bowl concert.
• The video screens included the numbers and titles of each piece’s movements, which was particularly helpful in the dark ambience of the Bowl’s seats.
• Whether it was the stage lighting or just a sign of age, Dudamel appears to now have touches of gray in his hair.
• Tomorrow night and next Tuesday Dudamel and the Phil present a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a work embedded into Dudamel’s DNA. It was with the “Mambo” portion of “WSS” that Dudamel burst onto the scene with his Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at the Lucerne Festival and the London Proms in 2007 (LINK).

The two Bowl West Side Story performances are being billed as “concert performances,” with a cast of 12 soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining with Dudamel and the LAPO. Although some will miss Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking dance sequences, the concert performance will put the emphasis squarely on the music, instead. Solea Pfeiffer, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will portray Maria and Jeremy Jordan, a Tony and Grammy-nominated actor and singer, will sing the role of Tony. A link to Catherine Womack’s Q&A with Pfeiffer in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. (INFO)
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in Concert
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Justin Freer, conductor

Hollywood Bowl
Next concert: “Star Trek” in Concert
Friday (July 8) and Saturday (July 9); Hollywood Bowl
Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
Potter4Web”Harry Potter and the Scorerer’s Stone” was shown on Hollywood Bowl’s big screen and digital monitors last night with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Justin Freer, playing John Williams’ score live before a large audience. (Photo by Nikki Thomas)
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One of the more interesting concert-programming concepts in recent years has been screening full-length motion pictures with the scores played live by orchestras.

The first such venture I can remember was in 1987 when André Previn conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion accompanying Alexander Nevsky, the great 1937 film by Sergei Eisenstein. One of the things that remain memorable about the Previn/LAPO/Alexander Nevsky pairing was how it brought Sergei Prokofiev’s score to life (Previn once remarked that Prokofiev’s music “the greatest film score ever written trapped inside the worst soundtrack ever recorded”).

From that point forward, the Phil realized how significant this sort of programming could be and, since 1997, film screenings with orchestral accompaniment have become an annual occurrence at Hollywood Bowl. This season’s offerings began last night with a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and continue tomorrow and Saturday nights with screenings of Star Trek — The Movie. (The annual “Sing-along” presentation of The Sound of Music last month didn’t include live orchestral accompaniment.)

There’s nothing simple about these sorts of performances. The soundtrack has to be stripped out of the movie print while leaving the dialogue and other sound effects in place. In performance the conductor and orchestra have to match the score to what’s showing on the screen, all — in effect — without aid of a safety net, i.e., you get no “do-overs” as you would have in a film studio.

Last night’s audience of 17,000+ got a demonstration of that issue because the opening had to be re-started. Moreover, the “click track” (the device with which the conductor judges the speed by which to play the score) was audible for a few seconds before a technician realized the error and shut it off. Freer, a Huntington Beach native whose composing credits include movies and numerous film commercials, seemed calm and collected as he steered the musicians expertly through the various machinations.

Technical challenges notwithstanding, the audience loved the evening. They laughed, cheered and/or booed at each main character’s first appearance in the movie, quieted down and got caught up in the gripping elements in the second half, and stayed through the credits to give thunderous ovations to Freer, the LAPO instrumentalists and the uncredited women’s chorus who brought John Williams’ sweeping score to life in a way that a soundtrack simply cannot match.

Given that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first of eight “Potter movies” (all based on the book series by J.K. Rowling) and the large crowd — especially notable for a weeknight — one can only imagine that the next seven installments will show up in future years. Moreover, with Williams’ music having such a luxurious, symphonic style, might one expect to see other movies with Williams scores, including Episodes 4, 5 and 6 of Star Wars, to make it to the Bowl big screen?

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• I may have been the only adult in attendance who has never seen one of the movies or read the books. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and my wife, who is a confirmed “Potter-phile” loved it!
• When it was released in England, the initial segment in the Harry Potter series was entitled Harry Potter and the Professor’s Stone.
• One of the technical challenges of screening a movie at the Bowl in the middle of summer is that the sky didn’t darken enough to see the screen clearly until about 45 minutes into the performance. The evening didn’t end until nearly 11 p.m., which accounted for the 8 p.m. start time, but perhaps showing movies in September makes a lot more sense.
• For one of the few times in recent Bowl memory, the concert began just two minutes late. Consequently, hundreds of people, arrived late.
• The screening was preceded by a fascinating 15-minute feature on Williams and how he scores movies. Unfortunately it was hard to see because of the ambient light (see the first bullet above) and the noise from party-goers. Posting the feature on the Bowl’s Web site would be a nice touch.
• The Bowl opens its classical season on July 12 when Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel leads the Phil in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist in the concerto. (INFO On July 14 and 19, Dudamel, the Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale and a dozen soloists will perform Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in concert. (INFO)
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: (Revised) Dudamel, L.A. Phil open Bowl classical season on July 12

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

NOTE: This column has been revised to include date changes and a link to an article on Solea Pfeiffer.

Dudamel-HB-2016Although Hollywood Bowl has been going strong for several weeks, its 10-week classical music season opens July 12 when Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel (pictured above) leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a blockbuster program pairing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist in the concerto. (INFO)

Unlike most of his music director-predecessors — who, at best, tolerated the Bowl’s outdoor distractions — Dudamel revels in the opportunity to present music to great numbers of people, many of whom may be attending a classical concert for the first time. Beginning with this year’s opening night Dudamel will conduct eight programs during the season, concluding with the “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts on August 5 and 6. (INFO)

The July 14 and 19 programs will see Dudamel leading a work that is embedded in his DNA: Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. It was with the “Mambo” portion of “WSS” that Dudamel burst onto the scene with his Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at the Lucerne Festival and the London Proms in 2007 (LINK).

The two Bowl West Side Story performances are being billed as “concert performances,” with a cast of 12 soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining with Dudamel and the LAPO. Although some will miss Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking dance sequences, the concert performance will put the emphasis squarely on the music, instead. Solea Pfeiffer, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will portray Maria and Jeremy Jordan, a Tony and Grammy-nominated actor and singer, will sing the role of Tony. A link to Catherine Womack’s Q&A with Pfeiffer in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. (INFO)

The July 21 concert features another superstar Chinese pianist, Yuja Wang, in not one but two concertos: Ravel’s Concerto in G and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Dudamel and the Phil will open the evening with Gershwin’s “Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess” and conclude the proceedings with Ravel’s Bolero. (INFO)

The summer’s now-annual opera production will be Puccini’s Tosca on July 24, with Dudamel leading the LAPO, L.A. Master Chorale, L.A. Children’s Chorus and a cast of soloists headed by Santa Monica native Julianna Di Giacomo in the title role. (INFO)

What makes the Bowl classical season important? For many of us, Hollywood Bowl was among our first exposures to classical music. I remember being mesmerized by the gigantic Bowl with its thousands and thousands of seats under a canopy of stars (if they were visible through the smog) and for one of the first times hearing the L.A. Phil playing glorious music live.

Although each year I kvetch about the orchestra’s management not being more aggressive in making more seats in the upper tiers available at lower prices, you can buy seats at $8 and $12 for some concerts, which is cheaper than attending a movie these days. Moreover, the enhanced sound system and gigantic digital monitors make the experience far better than when I was a kid a half century ago. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere.

Information on the entire summer schedule is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: New West Symphony’s Marcelo Lehninger named music director of Grand Rapids (MI) Symphony

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Sometimes the classical world can seem very large. At other times, it’s amazingly small.

Four years ago David Lockington was named music director of the Pasadena Symphony. In taking that position he wound up his 16-year tenure with the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan (he is now that ensemble’s Conductor Laureate).

After a three-year search, the Grand Rapids Symphony has named Lockington’s successor and the orchestra found its man about 45 minutes west of Ambassador Auditorium, the PSO’s home. He is Marcelo Lehninger, who for the past four years has been the music director of the New West Symphony, which plays concerts in Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and Oxnard. The Brazilian-born Lehninger was also first assistant conductor and then associate conductor of the Boston Symphony for several years.

Lehninger is the 14th music director in the 86-year history of the Grand Rapids Symphony, which runs a 40-week season. Beginning with the 2017-18 season, he reportedly will lead a majority of concerts on the GRS’s classical series and will make podium appearances at other symphony series as well.

Just to add a further twist, the Web site “Slipped Disc” lists Lehninger as one of two Brazilian candidates to be the next music director of the New Mexico Philharmonic (LINK). That’s the ensemble born out of the 2011 bankruptcy of the New Mexico Symphony, where Lockington was music director from 1996-2000. Lehninger will conduct the New Mexico Philharmonic in a concert on Dec. 10 that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).

Meanwhile, New West Symphony begins its search for a new music director with guest conductors leading each of the six concerts in the upcoming season, which opens September 30 and October 1 with Tania Miller, the only woman among the six, on the podium (INFO).

Yet to be heard from is the Long Beach Symphony, which has been in a music director-search process for more than three years. The orchestra has released programs and dates for its upcoming season but only three of the six classical concerts have conductors listed.

Ironically, two of the three are connected with the Virginia Symphony. The 2016-2017 season will conclude on June 10 when former LBSO Music Director Joann Falletta returns to Long Beach to lead her former orchestra. Falletta is now music director of both the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony. The LBSO season will open on October 1 when Benjamin Ruffalo, the Virginia Symphony’s resident conductor, leads a program of music by Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Prokofiev.

The third conductor on the LBSO season is Robert Istad, newly appointed artistic director-designate of the Pacific Chorale, who will lead an all-Mozart program that will include the Requiem in D Minor, with the Long Beach Camerata Singers, which Istad also directors, joining the orchestra. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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