OVERNIGHT REVIEW: California Philharmonic opens at L.A. County Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

California
Philharmonic; Victor Vener, conductor; The Fab Four, soloists

Beethoven and The
Beatles: Men Who Changes Music Forever

Saturday, June 25, 2011 Los Angeles County Arboretum

Next concert: Today at 2 p.m., Walt Disney Concert Hall

Info: www.calphil.org

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At first glance, Beethoven and The Beatles might seem like
an odd combination for a concert. Not for Victor Vener, music director of the
California Philharmonic, who revels in such crossover programs. As Vener told a
large audience last night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, these were — as
his subtitle said — men who changed music forever.

 

Beethoven — the Egmont
Overture
and Symphony No. 5 — occupied the first half of the program. The
overture was somewhat ragged, which, as it turned out, was a precursor to what
was to come in the symphony. Moreover there was nothing in the program, nor did
Vener say anything from the stage, as to why this was an example of the way
Beethoven changed music.

 

Vener did answer that question in setting up Beethoven’s 5th.
The conductor has spent decades studying this work and it showed. Vener’s
tempos were very close to the composer’s own markings, he reduced the orchestra
to approximately the size Beethoven had in mind, and allowed Principal Oboist
Francisco Castillo to interpolate a nifty brief cadenza midway through the
first movement (a practice that would have been quite common in the composer’s
time).

 

Unfortunately when some in the audience applauded at the end
of the first movement, Vener turned around and proceeded to tell them it was
quite all right to do so and offered examples of Mahler and Shostakovich to
buttress his belief. Perhaps this was reverse psychology because it seemed to
have the reverse effect at the end of the second movement as would-be applauders
seemed intimated.

 

Moreover, the orchestra appeared to be thrown off by the
interruptions. The first three movements were taken at quite brisk tempos but
each movement got progressively more ragged. To compound matters, the sound
engineers seemed to make the musicians sound quite raw, even from 2/3 of the
way back in the venue. The microphones seemed to be right on top of the
instruments, which meant that what came out had almost no blend at all. No
doubt, things will be considerably improved this afternoon at Disney Hall.

 

After one round of tepid applause, Vener came onstage to
announce the news that the Cal Phil will move next season to the Santa Anita
Racetrack (LINK). The news of permanent restrooms (as opposed to porta-potties)
at the new facility got more applause than Beethoven.

 

After intermission, Vener introduced The Beatles music by
noting that the group was the first to employ a large symphony orchestra in the
recording studio, which may not be the most noteworthy accomplishment of the
Liverpool quartet but provided good justification for what ensued.

 

The Fab Four — a group that approximates the look and sound of
The Beatles — joined the orchestra for 50 minutes of mostly mellow nostalgia.
Since the group had played many of The Beatles’ best-known hits when it
appeared at the Cal Phil two years ago, this performance had some lesser-known
songs along with a few mega-hits.

 

After a somewhat slow start, the audience got into the flow
as the group donned psychedelic costumes moved into I Am the Walrus, and things picked up steam from then. A
performance of Penny Lane showed off
the considerable talents of Principal Trumpeter David Washburn on the baroque
piccolo trumpet, while renditions of All
You Need is Love
, Imagine and the
lone encore, Hey Jude, had the
audience singing along and waving all sorts of light sources from batons to
cell phones. A good time was had by most.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

The evening began not with The Star Spangled Banner but with America. Nice choice, IMHO.

Wonder of wonders, there were no preconcert speeches.
However, there were two verbal announcements during the evening and a flyer
about an upcoming appearance by The Fab Four on July 29 in Pasadena, a concert that
is being presented by a Pasadena Entertainment, which is owned by Andr Vener,
the composer’s son. The company was also listed as the concert sponsor.

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

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