(Revised) NEWS AND LINKS: Colburn School student reaches finals of Tchaikovsky Violin Competition

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Nigel Armstrong’s dream is still alive. The 21-year-old
student of Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles today
became one of five violinists to reach the finals of the 14th
Tchaikovsky International Competition held in St. Petersburg, Russia. He and violinist
Eric Silberger are the only Americans left in the four divisions (violin,
piano, cello and voice) of what is one of the oldest and, arguably, the world’s
most prestigious competition.

 

Armstrong also won a special prize (which included 2,000
euros) for his performance of “Stomp,” a piece written for the competition by
American composer John Corigliano. Ironically, the semifinals concluded today
on what would have been the 100th birthday of Richard Colburn, whose
major financial contributions endowed the school named for him (Colburn died in
2004)

 

The final round will take place June 27, 28 and 29. The
violinists will play in the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonia. The piano
finals are in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The cello finals will
be held in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and the vocal finals are in the
Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall in St. Petersburg.

 

The competitors will then have some nervous nights (and, in
the case of the violinists, an airplane trip), as the awards ceremony isn’t
until June 30 in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. The winners will then perform in
the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on July 1 and the Mariinsky Theatre
Concert Hall on July 2.

 

The violin jury — which for the first two rounds has
consisted of Corigliano, American violinist Andrs Crdenes, Martin Engstrom of
Sweden, Boris Kuschnir (Austria/Russia), Barry Shiffman (Canada), Sergei
Stadler (1982 Tchaikovsky winner) and Victor Tretiakov (1966 winner) — will be
augmented in the finals by five big-name artists: Yuri Bashmet (Russia),
Leonidas Kavakos (Greece), Anne-Sophie Mutter (Germany), Maxim Vengerov
(Israel/Russia) and Nikolaj Znaider (Denmark).

 

Armstrong has passed through three rounds to reach the
finals. In the semifinals (called Phase II, Round II in competition lingo),
Armstrong played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, plus the Corigliano piece
(Armstrong will be the soloist in this Mozart concerto Jan. 21-22, 2012 with
the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra — LINK).

 

In the final round, all competitors must play the
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto plus another concerto of their choice (Armstrong
will play the Prokofiev 1st). The 22-year-old Silberger will play the Brahms
Violin Concerto in addition to the Tchaikovsky in the final round.

 

A link to Armstrong’s Tchaikovsky Competition profile page,
which includes the repertoire for all rounds, is HERE.

 

Armstrong, who grew up in Sonoma County and lives in Sonoma ( LACO
Music Director Jeffrey Kahane lives in nearby Santa Rosa), has been building a solid competition resume,
having won a
silver medal in the 2010 Menuhin Competition’s Senior Division, held in Oslo,
Norway, and the First International Violin Competition of Buenos Aires. He is
co-concertmaster of The Colburn Orchestra and concertmaster of the American
Youth Symphony.

 

Armstrong and Silberger are bucking significant history. No American
has won the violin first prize since Elmar Olivera shared the gold medal with
Ilya Grubert 1978, although Jennifer Koh shared second prize in 1994, a year in
which no first prize was awarded (the rules allow for that to happen; it’s
occurred three times in the past in the violin segment and there was no first
prize in the 2007 piano competition). Previous violin gold-medal winners
include Gidon Kremer and Viktoria Mullova.

 

The Tchaikovsky International Competition catapulted to
worldwide fame in 1958 when Van Cliburn, a lanky 23-year-old Texan, won the
inaugural contest. His victory, at the height of the Cold War, garnered Cliburn
instant fame, including a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a cover story
in Time Magazine. Cliburn’s RCA Victor recording of the Tchaikovsky first and
Rachmaninoff third piano concertos (the pieces he played in the final round)
became the first classical album to go platinum. Cliburn is scheduled to be
present for the finals of this year’s piano competition, the first time he’s
been back since winning in 1958.

 

Click HERE for the competition Web site.

For a story in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, click HERE.

 

Photo: Philip Pirolo for The Colburn School

_______________________

 

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

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NEWS AND LINK: Colburn School student reaches semifinals of Tchaikovky Violin Competition

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Nigel Armstrong, a 21-year-old student of Robert Lipsett at
The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, has reached the semifinals of the
14th Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, a quadrennial
event that is one of the oldest and arguably the most prestigious of music
competitions.

 

53098-NigelArmstrong4Web.jpg

Armstrong will compete with seven other violinists tomorrow
and Friday in what the competition calls Round II, Phase II; his fellow
competitors include Eric Silberg of the U.S., three Russians, two from Taiwan,
one from Korea and one from Israel. Three violinists will advance to the final
round, which will take place July 27-29.

 

There are concurrent competitions in violin, piano, cello
and voice. Sara Danshepour is the only American left in the piano portion,
while Matthew Zalkind is the lone remaining American cellist. The first round
of vocal competition will be held Thursday and Friday.

 

Armstrong has been building a solid competition resume,
having won a
silver medal in the 2010 Menuhin Competition’s Senior Division, held in Oslo,
Norway, and the First International Violin Competition of Buenos Aires. He is
co-concertmaster of The Colburn Orchestra and concermaster of the American
Youth Symphony.

 

He is also bucking significant history. No American has won
the violin first prize since Elmar Olivera shared the gold medal with Ilya
Grubert shared first prize in 1978, although Jennifer Koh shared second prize
in 1994, a year in which no first prize was awarded (the rules allow for that
to happen; it’s occurred three times in the past in the violin segment and there
was no first prize in the 2007 piano competition). Previous violin gold-medal winners
include Gidon Kremer and Viktoria Mullova.

 

The Tchaikovsky International Competition catapulted to
worldwide fame in 1958 when Van Cliburn, a lanky 23-year-old Texan, won the
inaugural contest. His victory, at the height of the Cold War, gained Cliburn
instant fame, including a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a cover story
in Time Magazine. His RCA Victor recording of the Tchaikovsky first and
Rachmaninoff third piano concertos (the pieces he played in the final round)
became the first classical album to go platinum. Cliburn is scheduled to be
present for the finals of this year’s competition, the first time he’s been
back since winning in 1958.

 

Click HERE for the competition Web site.

Photo: Philip Pirolo for The Colburn School

_______________________

 

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

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OPINON: On “tarting up” an orchestra schedule

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last week Joshua Kosman, music critic of the San Francisco
Chronicle, posted a thought-provoking column (LINK) that referred to sobering
financial comments coming from David Gockley, general director of San Francisco
Opera.

 

In his column, Kosman drew analogies to the travails
currently plaguing the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Opera and concluded with the following: “There’s no reason to
imagine that anything comparable is in the cards for San Francisco’s future –
both of these crises (NY and Philly), after all, could have been seen coming
from quite a ways off had anyone cared to look. But they are cautionary tales
nevertheless, a reminder that no arts organization is guaranteed survival or
success.”

 

However, in discussing the Philadelphia Orchestra, Kosman
wrote something that really set my teeth on edge. While laying much of the
blame for the orchestra’s travails at the feet of the ensemble’s management,
Kosman wrote: “orchestra management [recently made] the decision to cut subscription
concerts by 15 percent, cancel touring and tart up its musical offerings with
light classics and film scores.” Much as I admire Kosman’s writing, I think
he’s dead wrong on at least three points.

 

There are four ways you can solve a financial crisis, be it
in a family or an organization: raise revenue, cut expenses, declare bankruptcy
or go out of business.  The
Philadelphia Orchestra’s management and board have elected a combination of the
first three.

 

On the revenue side, the orchestra is undertaking
significant fund-raising efforts throughout many segments of its
constituencies. In this, of course, it’s competing with every other arts
organization.

 

On the expense side, among the decisions were, as Kosman
notes, to reduce concerts by 15 percent and cancel touring — perhaps put touring
on hiatus would have been a better choice of words, although the orchestra will
continue to make its annual pilgrimages to Carnegie Hall in New York City.

 

A 15 percent season reduction sound severe but is it? The
orchestra’s 2011-2012 season covers 29 weeks, similar to other major ensembles.
There’s also a three-concert series entitled “Beyond the Score,” which uses
lectures and demonstrations to deconstruct a familiar piece (Jeffrey Kahane,
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra music director, is leading one of these; it’s
similar to what Kahane and LACO do each season at Ambassador Auditorium). Also
on the agenda are four “Family Concerts” on Saturday mornings and three holiday
concerts during December.  Considering that the orchestra isn’t selling out most of its
concerts, the 15 percent reduction in performances may not even be noticed.

 

As to the touring suspension: tours can be valuable for
orchestras. They usually increase the ensemble’s prestige and may lead to
ancillary income from recording sales. Most importantly, tours help the
musicians bond with each other. Tours are also expensive, often egregiously so.
Considering that the orchestra’s music director-designate, Yannick Nzt-Sguin,
doesn’t assume his position full time for a couple more years (and, thus, isn’t
yet available for a tour), suspending the activity makes eminent sense to me.
Moreover, if I were a PO subscriber, I’d want the orchestra’s financial
resources devoted to local concerts, not overseas.

 

Finally, to the Philadelphia Orchestra board’s decision to “tart
up [Kosman's words] its musical offerings with light classics and film scores.”

 

First, from a factual point of view, Kosman is almost
completely wrong when examining the upcoming season. Perhaps Kosman considers George
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue to be a “light
classic”; I don’t but I won’t argue semantics. There is one week with a “film
score”: Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront, although this doesn’t really fit the genre.
Bernstein wrote this 22-minute piece in 1955 as a symphonic piece, using
materials from his 1954 score for Elia Kazan’s landmark movie the year before. Many
orchestras have played it. What would really be bold would be a screening of
the movie with the orchestra playing the film score.

 

Second is the issue of whether including motion picture
music “tarts” up a classical concert. Throughout musical history, composers
have written significant music for non-orchestral purposes; movies in the 20th
and 21st century fill that role. Without wanting to debate the
quality of film music, I notice that Kosman didn’t kvetch about a program that
includes Debussy’s Symphonic Fragments from The
Martyrdom of Saint-Sebastian,
which was incidental music composed in 1911
for a play written by Gabriele d’Annunzio (almost an exact corollary to film
music). Moreover, every orchestra programs opera overtures by Mozart, Rossini,
Wagner, etc. throughout their seasons.

 

What astonishes me is not that a symphonic orchestra would
program film scores indoors but how few do it. I wouldn’t advocate an entire
season of film scores (although a series might be an interesting possibility) but
if a program with movie music entices someone to go to a live concert in a
concert hall, how bad can that be? You build audiences in small, incremental
ways. If movie music isn’t your cup of tea, don’t buy a ticket.

 

As I said, I’m amazed that more orchestras don’t screen entire
films with the orchestra playing the score, although it’s worth noting that the
Los Angeles Philharmonic will show the movie version of West Side Story on July 8 and 9 at Hollywood Bowl with the Phil
playing Bernstein’s iconic score. Synchronizing an orchestra with a movie isn’t
easy but many conductors have done it successfully.

 

Outside the box? Sure — so what?

In its recently completed season the Los Angeles
Philharmonic ventured an innovative program that mixed the words of Shakespeare
(as delivered by actors) with music that Tchaikovsky wrote about three of
Shakespeare’s plays (Hamlet, The Tempets and Romeo and Juliet). Smart concept,
well presented; it worked particularly well in the motion picture telecast in
theaters.

I also remember several years
ago that Michael Tilson Thomas created an evening entitled “The Thomashefskys,”
which featured stories and music from the conductor’s grandparents and their
life in the Yiddish Theatre in the early 20th century (he later
brought it to Los Angeles with the LAPO). It, too, was outside the box and
involved so-called “popular” music of its day. Kosman’s 2005 review (LINK) of
the San Francisco Symphony program was highly laudatory; he certainly didn’t
think the concept “tarted up” the schedule.

_______________________

 

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

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NEWS AND LINKS: L.A. Philharmonic to present Mahler’s 8th at Shrine Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

One of the intriguing question left open from the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s 2011-2012 season announcement was the location for the
performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (which the Phil expects will match the
work’s usual subtitle, Symphony of a
Thousand)
on Feb. 4, 2012. The answer? The Shrine Auditorium.

 

The 8 p.m. concert will be the culmination of the Phil’s “Mahler
Project,” which will see Gustavo Dudamel leading the LAPO and the Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (two of three orchestras he heads) in all nine
of Mahler’s symphonies, the Adagio from
Symphony No. 10, and Songs of a Wayfarer,
beginning Jan. 13, 2012 in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Season tickets are still
on sale. Single-ticket sales ($30-$170) will begin Aug. 21 via credit card
online and via phone (www.laphil.com; 323/850-2000)

 

The Shrine, located on Jefferson Blvd. adjacent to the
University of Southern California, was a logical choice for Mahler’s 8th
for several reasons.

 

Perhaps first and foremost, its stage (194 feet wide and 69
feet deep) is nearly big enough to house the thousand musicians that will be
used in the performance, although Sophie Jefferies, the Phil’s Director of
Public Relations, says the orchestra will need to extend the stage for the
performance. Disney Hall could (maybe) hold the two orchestras but the
choristers would have to be in surrounding seats.

 

In addition to the combined orchestras, Dudamel will lead an
octet of vocal soloists (still TBD) and about 800 choral singers from 15
different ensembles, including several from the San Gabriel Valley: Los Angeles
Master Chorale; L.A. Children’s Chorus; Pacific Chorale; Angel City Chorus;
Angeles Chorale; Choir of All Saints Church, Pasadena; Chorus of the Inner City
Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles; Gay Men’s Chorus; L.A. Chamber Choir; Los
Robles Master Chorale; Pasadena Pro Musica; Pasadena Master Chorale; Philippine
Chamber Singers; Vox Femina; and the National Children’s Chorus.

 

Second, with about 6,300 seats (although Jefferies notes the
stage extension will eat up some of those) the Shrine can hold five times the
number of spectators that could have been accommodated in Disney Hall after
choral musicians filled 800 of WDCH’s 2,250 seats.

 

While the Shrine can’t match Disney Hall’s acoustics, its
sound qualities will undoubtedly prove adequate for this one-shot venture.
Among other things, the Shrine hosted opera productions frequently in the days
before the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was built; my earliest recollection is seeing
the opera “Hansel and Gretel” as an elementary school student in the 1950s. San
Francisco Opera also made regular visits in the 1940s and 1950s.

 

In addition to opera, the long and colorful history of the
auditorium (which was opened in 1926) has seen it play host to several editions
of the Academy Awards and Grammys and the 2006 Miss Universe Pageant. The
Shrine was where, in 1984, Michael Jackson accidentally set his hair on fire
while filming a Pepsi commercial. For 33 years the Shrine stage was home to USC
basketball and the Lakers actually played a few playoff games there when the
nearby Sports Arena (the Lakers’ original home) was unavailable. A Wikipedia
link with other historical information is HERE.

 

The complete L.A. Phil media release is HERE.

_______________________

 

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Pops opens 2011 season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Pasadena Pops
Orchestra; Michael Krajewski, conductor

Saturday, June 18, 2011 The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl

Next concert: July 23; 7:30 p.m.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

______________________

 

On the eve of the City of Pasadena’s 125th
birthday, the Pasadena Pops Orchestra opened its 2011 season last night at The
Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl with a program that joined in the citywide
celebration and proved to be notable for more than the music.

 

Like the California Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl, the
Pops erects large video screens on the sides of the stage. However, rather than
being content with showing just the conductor and orchestra musicians, the Pops
engaged Elliot Forrest, a Peabody Award-winning visual designer, to create
still and video projection montages that accompanied many of the evening’s
pieces. Some of the montages were more successful than others but the concept
was innovative and definitely worth considering for future concerts.

 

Some of the image collections were predictable. To accompany
Carmen Dragon’s Tournament of Roses
March,
Forrest used pictures from familiar Pasadena scenes, including
Caltech, the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade (as an aside, it’s worth noting that
there are other educational institutions in the city than Caltech). Images of
familiar Italian scenes accompanied Robert Wendel’s pastiche of Puccini opera
tunes and God added a glorious sunset to the performance. Dragon’s arrangement of
America the Beautiful was accentuated
by familiar Americana images.

 

Others were more whimsical. Forrest illustrated
Shostakovich’s Festive Overture with
a graphic sequence that had overtones of the opening segment (Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor) from Walt
Disney’s 1940 movie Fantasia. Rockin’ with the Beach Boys used a
series of period images, including covers of the group’s albums.

 

After a tentative beginning, guest conductor Michael
Krajewski — Pops conductor for the Jacksonville, Houston and Atlanta Symphonies
– proved to be a witty raconteur and kept things moving forward smartly on the
podium. The one exception was the final work on the printed program,
Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which
merely plodded.

 

The orchestra’s playing was crisp throughout most of the
evening, although the Tchaikovsky had several ragged moments. Fortunately, the 1812 and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Together, which served as the sole encore, were
accompanied by spiffy fireworks displays that sent everyone home in a properly
festive mood.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

The video-screen quality appears to have improved from
last season. The colors are more lifelike without the annoying bright red hue
that was evident last season.

The concert was preceded by mercifully brief speeches from
Pasadena Symphony Association President Melinda Shea, Chief Executive Officer
Paul Jan Zdunek and the city’s vice-mayor, Margaret McAustin.

Krajewski noted in advance of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances that people would recognize
the first theme (used for the 1950s song Strangers
in Paradise).
The baby boomers in attendance undoubtedly did, but it’s open
to question as whether the youngsters knew what it was).

_______________________

 

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

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