Five-Spot: What caught my eye on April 28, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Each Thursday morning,
I list five events (this week it’s just four — I’m on vacation) that peak my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets).

 

Here’s today’s grouping:

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Friday and Saturday
at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; David Afkham, conductor, Peter Stumpf, cello

These concerts just got a lot more interesting, IMHO.
Originally, the conductor was to have been the 50-year-old Dutch maestro Jaap
van Zweden, who was relatively unknown when he was named music director of the Dallas
Symphony three years ago. However, van Zweden cancelled this week due to
illness and in his place will be 28-year-old David Afkham, who is one of four
Dudamel Conducting Fellows this season. The German-born Afkham isn’t a
neophyte; he is currently assistant conductor of the London Symphony
Orchestra. 

 

Two-thirds of the program remains as originally scheduled:
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia
Concertante,
with the orchestra’s principal cellist, Peter Stumpf, as
soloist. The program will now begin with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture. INFO: www.laphil.com

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at The Broad Stage (Santa Monica) and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Valley Performing
Arts Center (Cal State Northridge)

The Colburn
Orchestra, Yehuda Gilad, conductor; Paul Coletti, violist

The principal large-scale ensemble of The Colburn School
concludes its 2010-2011 season with the West Coast premiere of Los Angeles
composer Paul Chihara’s Viola Concerto (When
Soft Voices Die),
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 and Brahms’ Tragic Overture. The Sunday afternoon concerts offers a second
chance (after last week’s China Philharmonic performance) to hear the new CSUN
performing facility. INFO: www.colburnschool.edu

 

Sunday at 4 p.m. at
Neighborhood Church, Pasadena

Pacific Serenades

This intrepid chamber-music ensemble presents the 101st
world premiere in its 25-year history: Eric Charnofsky’s piano quintet, “5×5,”
with the composer playing the piano part and joined by Roger Wilkie and Miwako
Watanabe, violin; David Walther, viola; and David Speltz, cello. The program
also includes Mozart’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502, with Edith Orloff as
pianist. This program also plays Saturday at 4 p.m. at a private home in Los
Angeles and next Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the UCLA Faculty Center in Westwood.
INFO; www.pacser.org

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program this week …

 

Today at 8 p.m., Saturday
at 1:30 p.m. at Bridges Hall of Music, Pomona College

Pomona College Glee
Club; Donna M. Di Graza, conductor

This 23-member ensemble will sing selections from the 16th
century to the present, including music by Byrd, Palestrina, Durufl, Vaughan Williams
and others. INFO: www.pomona,edu

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

 

 

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NEWS AND LINKS: Composer Peter Lieberson dies at age 64

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

American composer Peter Lieberson, whose 2005 work Neruda Songs was one of the finest pieces
of the last 20 years, died on Saturday at age 64 from complications from
lymphoma. Neruda Songs –with texts
from five poems by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda — was written for the composer’s
wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She sang the premiere with the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen, in May 2005 at Walt Disney
Concert Hall. She followed that up with performances with the Boston Symphony
in the spring of 2006, just months before died on July 3 of that year (at about
the same time that Peter Lieberson was diagnosed with cancer).

When the L.A. Phil played Neruda Songs again last year with Gustavo Dudamel conducting and
Kelley O’Connor as the mezzo-soprano soloist, I wrote: “Peter Lieberson wrote
the five love poems by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda specifically for his wife. It
shows a lot of chutzpah for mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor to sing them now, but
she did so with ravishing beauty and pathos, catching the flavor of each poem
exquisitely. Her rendition of the final poem, “My love, if I die and you don’t
– ” brought tears to more than a few people (including, I suspect, to the
composer who was in the audience and came onstage for a well-deserved ovation).

“One of the things that makes Neruda Songs, special,” I added, “is that Lieberson
interspersed lush, romantic orchestral moments with delicate, softer sections
(the latter mostly when O’Connor sang). Dudamel managed the balances expertly,
caressing the long lines with ardor, and the orchestra played elegantly
throughout. It was, in a word, stunning.

Zachary Woolfe’s obituary in the New York Times is HERE.

Alex Ross has a touching remembrance on his Blog, The Rest is Noise, HERE.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on April 21, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San
Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning,
I list five events (including one next Tuesday) that peak my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission. Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Thursday and Saturday
at 8 p.m. Friday at 11 a.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Juraj Valcuha, conductor,
Yefim Bronfman, piano

Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha, chief conductor of the
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI in Turin, will make his Disney Hall
debut with this program, which includes Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard Symphony No.
1 (Winterdreams) and Bronfman as
soloist in Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. BTW: I find Friday morning to be a delightful
time for a concert. INFO: www.laphil.com

Saturday at 1 p.m. in
local movie theatres

Metropolitan Opera’s “Live
in HD:” Richard Strauss’ Capriccio

Rene Fleming stars in this production that seems (if you
believe Anthony Tommasini in the New York
Times
LINK ) to have designed specifically for her. Andrew Davis, music
director of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, conducts. The prices (around $25) and the
theatre ambience make this a great way to see opera, especially if you’re new
to the genre. INFO: www.metopera.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m. at
California Theatre, San Bernardino

San Bernardino
Symphony; Carlo Ponti, conductor; Marek Spiazewicz, cello

In their final concert of the season, Ponti (the son of film
director Carlo Ponti and actress Sophis Loren) leads the orchestra with a
program in the key of D major: Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Haydn’s Cello
Concerto No. 2, with Spiazewicz as soloist. INFO: www.sanbernardinosymphony.org

Tuesday at 8 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

L.A. Philharmonic
Chamber Music Society

The program includes a complete performance of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale),
which — in the Phil’s words — “is a cautionary fable about the devil, a
soldier, and a fiddle,” written for seven instruments. It will be preceded by
Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8. INFO: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” programs …

 

Friday at 7:30 p.m.,
Pasadena Presbyterian Church

The Kirk Choir,
Pasadena Singers, soloists and Friends of Music Orchestra; Dr. Timothy Howard, conductor

Even if I wasn’t singing in all segments of the program and
giving a preconcert lecture at 7 p.m., I would recommend this concert, but you
can — as the late, great Molly Ivins was wont to say — take my suggestion with
a grain of salt or a pound of salt. In this 14th annual Good Friday Devotional
Concert, the featured works are Faur’s Requiem and Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour un temps de pnitence
(Four Lenten Motets).
The Kirk Choir is augmented by about 25 singers from
the community who rehearse specifically each spring for this performance. Free
admission (a freewill offering will be received). INFO: www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

 

 

 

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Alex Theatre

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena
Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

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Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane,
conductor; John Kimura Parker, piano

John Harbison: Gil accordi pi usati (The Most Often Used
Chords),
Op. 22;

Dvorak: Serenade in
E major for Strings; Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, (Emperor)

Saturday, April 16,
2011 Alex Theatre

Next performance:
Tonight at 7 p.m., Royce Hall (UCLA)

Information:
www.laco.org

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What a treasure the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is! Year
after year, concert after concert, the ensemble — now in its 42nd season –
consistently delivers satisfying, interesting programs in which Music Director
Jeffrey Kahane — now in his 14th season with the ensemble — often finds ways to
mix new music with old.

 

Consider, for
example, last night at the Alex Theatre (to be repeated tonight in Royce Hall).
The concert opened with Kahane conducting John Harbison’s Gil accordi pi usati (The Most Often Used Chords) and it concluded
with Beethoven’s Emperor Piano
Concerto, because, as Kahane remarked, Beethoven found a way to write a
remarkable piece consisting mainly of chords and arpeggios, not dissimilar in
concept to Harbison’s 18-minute piece, which was a LACO commission in 1993.

 

Christof Perick was
the music director who commissioned Harbison to write The Most Often Used Chords six years after the composer won a
Pulitzer Prize for his oratorio, The
Flight into Egypt,
but last night Kahane seemed to make the piece
completely his own.

 

The title comes from
a printed chart of often-used chords that Harbison found in a notebook on a
trip to Italy. The first three movements refer to Baroque musical forms: a
spunky Toccata, followed by a
haunting Varizoni, and a Ciaconna that ends with the harp fading
away wistfully. A sassy Finale
concludes the piece; the orchestra played it all sensitively with rhythmic
precision.

 

While the Harbison
piece was receiving just its second LACO hearing last night, Dvorak’s Serenade
in E Major for strings was being played for the eighth time in the orchestra’s
history (the first airing was in 1970 when Sir Neville Marriner programmed it
during the orchestra’s inaugural season). Last night, the interplay between the
various string sections and the lean tone from the celli and basses helped to
make this a memorable performance. Kahane alternated between using a baton for
the rhythmic inner sections and sculpting the lyrical outer movements with his
hands.

 

The last time Kahane
and LACO tackled Beethoven’s Emperor,
he led the concerto from the keyboard in 2003 at Hollywood Bowl during a week
where he and the orchestra played all five Beethoven concertos.

 

Last night, Kahane
was content to concentrate solely on conducting and Canadian pianist Jon Kimura
Parker (who towers over Kahane physically) was the soloist. I found Parker, who
won the 1984 Leeds International Piano Competition, to be a perplexing soloist.
He was ultra-muscular in the many powerful sections of this majestic concerto
but in the introspective measures he seemed to focus almost exclusively on
playing precise, almost brittle notes in his runs and trills. Most of the
audience loved it; I found it to be like watching an ice sculpture. By
contrast, the accompaniment from Kahane the orchestra had all the sensitivity
that Parker’s playing lacked. To me, it made for a curious combination.

 

In response to the
thunderous ovation, Parker offered his best pile-driver imitation as he flew
through the finale to Beethoven’s Appassionata
Sonata. He and Kahane concluded the evening with a boisterous four-hand
rendition of George Gershwin’s I Got
Rhythm.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Before the first
piece, Kahane announced that the Philadelphia Orchestra apparently is planning
on declaring bankruptcy (LINK) and noted “how fragile orchestras are.” He then
got a big laugh when he noted wryly, “Remember that as you consider your
subscription renewal for next season.”

Using the work “bankruptcy”
in this regard is somewhat misleading to the unknowing patron. Unlike Border’s,
for example, which is closing hundreds of stores, the Philadelphia Orchestra
does not plan any changes to its current or upcoming season. However, Kahane’s
point about the fragility of classical music organizations remains valid, as
LACO well knows from its own history, which nearly included a trip to bankruptcy
court in the 1990s.

The orchestra’s
double bass section included Mary Reed, a 22-year-old Master’s candidate at the
USC Thornton School of Music, who won a competition for the right to play with
the orchestra last night and tonight. She was one of nine nominees who
auditioned last fall in a new mentorship program between LACO and the school.

If you thought you
recognized the Dvorak Serenade, it might be because the main theme from the
first and last movement was played during a Theresienstadt sequence in the
television miniseries War and Remembrance, based on the novel by Herman Wouk.

Kudos to Parker
for announcing his encores clearly (and humorously) before playing. Not
everyone in the audience would have known what they were.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011,
Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUNT TOWN/MUSIC: New CD boxed set honors acclaimed conductor

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.

 

Less than a month before what would have been his 97th
birthday, conductor Carlo Maria Giulini is being honored by EMI Classics with a
boxed set of four compact discs entitled “The Chicago Recordings.” Last year,
DeutscheGrammaphon released a multi-disc set of Giulini’s recordings made when
he was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LINK).

 

This EMI set offers clues as to what made Giulini’s Los
Angeles tenure so memorable and — even though most of recordings have been
available previously — at less than $20 it’s one of the great bargains in
recent classical music recording history.

 

Although Giulini’s reputation in Europe was growing both in
the opera house and on the symphony stage, he made his first appearance in the
United States at the age of 41 with the Chicago Symphony in 1955 at the
invitation of the CSO’s “feared but revered” music director Fritz Reiner (that
description comes from a long essay written in 2004 by John Tolansky included in
the booklet accompanying this new boxed set, a bonus for buyers).

 

Guilini maintained his CSO relationship until he was lured
west in 1978 by Ernest Fleischmann, the L.A. Philharmonic’s executive director
(later executive vice president and managing director). It was one of
Fleischmann’s great coups to convince Giulini to come to Los Angeles, a move
that ultimately proved to be satisfying for Giulini and a major step forward
for the Phil.

 

However, Giulini never lost his love affair for the
Chicagoans. “It was a deep love and friendship,” explained Giulini in 1980, “something
that belongs to my body, my soul and my blood.” Moreover, it was definitely a
two-way street, as Tolansky reports. “In five minutes,” said Victor Aitay,
former CSO concertmaster, “he had an orchestra that loved him … From then
onwards, it was a long-time love affair with him.” Those were sentiments later
echoed by L.A. Phil members, as well.

 

The set includes symphonies by Beethoven (No. 7), Bruckner
(No. 9), Brahms (No. 4) and Mahler (No. 1), along with Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird suite and his 1947 Petrushka suite, and Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette dramatic symphony. The
discs are crammed full, so the Berlioz is on both the first and second disc
while the first movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 is on disc 3 and the other
three movements are on disc 4.

 

Altogether, there’s more than five hours of music in the
set, all of which was recorded in Chicago’s Medinah Temple (a better recording
venue than its home, Orchestra Hall). The recordings date from 1969-1976, a
period during part of which Guilini held the title as principal guest conductor
(Sir Georg Solti was music director at the time).

 

Two of the more intriguing recordings are Mahler’s Symphony
No. 1 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 because Giulini waited until later in his
career before conducting the music of either composer (Guilini was notorious
for his very limited repertory; he conducted only those composers with whom he
could feel an intense emotional connection).

 

His tempos in nearly everything are luxuriant; it is
startling for those who never heard Giulini to compare his tempo of the final
movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 with that of the L.A. Phil’s current
music director, Gustavo Dudamel.

 

Moreover, even though these discs use recordings from a
different time than the current digital era, the famed Chicago brass sound, the
overall sheen of the orchestra and Guilini’s mystical presence are present
throughout each of the works. For those who had the pleasure of hearing and
seeing Giulini conduct or for those who wonder what why he was so revered, this
is a fine sampling. 

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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