AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Changes in SGV orchestral landscape

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first published today in the above papers.


To say that it’s been an eventful month for the orchestral
landscape in the San Gabriel Valley would be something of an understatement.


First, the Pasadena Symphony completed its 82nd season — and
its first in Ambassador Auditorium — on a high note, so to speak.


Then came word that the Los Angeles County Arboretum and
Botanic Garden would begin negotiations to bring the Pasadena Pops to the
Arcadia venue beginning in 2012, thus apparently ending the California
Philharmonic stay after a 15-year run.


Finally with a splashy announcement party at the historic
Castle Green, Rachael Worby — who elected not to renew her contract as the Pops’
music director after last summer — announced she would return to the SGV music
scene with a new ensemble, “Musi/que,” opening with a concert on July 30 on a
lawn next to Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium.


That’s a lot of balls in the air and it’s going to be some time
before we know where they all land. Moreover, despite all the offstage intrigue
both the Cal Phil and Pasadena Pops are busy preparing for their upcoming
summer seasons at the Arboretum and The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl,


For both the Pops and Cal Phil, the news from the Arboretum,
announced April 27, was significant. In January, the Arboretum put out what’s
known in business circles as a RFP (Request for Proposal) to orchestras
interested in making the Arcadia their home base beginning in 2012. Only the
Cal Phil and Pasadena Pops responded.


The RFP, according to Arboretum CEO Richard Schulhof, asked
for information and ideas on more than two-dozen areas, ranging from future
programming visions to finances, marketing and management capabilities. The
proposal envisioned one orchestra being selected, not having two or more share
the space.


The ultimate goal, said Schulhof, is to generate additional
revenue for the Arboretum and to serve a wider range of audiences in upcoming
years. No one single element tipped the scales, said Schulhof; rather, it was
the Pops’ overall proposal that won out with the Arboretum’s board of
directors, which made the final decision.


Paul Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, is
excited about the Pops’ 2012 venue. “We see this as an opportunity to partner
with the Arboretum in creating a multi-discipline summer series that will make
this a kind of ‘Hollywood Bowl East’,” says Zdunek. “We’re thinking not just of
our Pops series but also of programs like mariachi music, jazz and
family-oriented programs.”


Next year will mark the Pops third venue in four seasons.
After a lengthy run at Descanso Gardens in La Caada, the orchestra moved to
its Rose Bowl location last season and will continue there this summer.


“Descanso Gardens is a beautiful location but not very
practical for a concert series,” says Zdunek. “The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose
Bowl was much less expensive to set up and, with no trees in the way, energy
from the concert stage flowed over the entire audience. However, it’s a space
wide open to the public, which meant we couldn’t leave the infrastructure up.


“The Arboretum has the best of both of those facilities,” he
continues. “It has a large performing space where we can leave up the stage and
sound system but one that also has the trees and flowers that will create an
ambience. Moreover, with the increased cost of driving to and parking at the
Bowl, we think we can tap into an increasingly large market east of Pasadena,
which was something we identified two years ago in our recovery plan.”


It’s going to take a few years for all of this to shake out.
The Pasadena Pops has to determine whether its relationship with its new
principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch, can develop and whether the ensemble can
grow into its dreams for the Arboretum.


The Cal Phil (which didn’t respond to two requests for an
interview) faces the task of reinventing itself in a new home (in addition to
the Arboretum, the Cal Phil performs in Walt Disney Concert Hall during summer months).


Will the Arboretum’s decision to go for a new tenant
ultimately be forward-looking or foolhardy?


“Musi/que” (as well as the other two entities) will seek to
determine whether there’s inancial backing in this area for three orchestras
and whether the new ensemble will be one of them.


Things won’t be dull, that’s for sure.



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

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