(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Rachael Worby, Jessye Norman and “Musique” make stunning debut at Caltech

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Since Rachael Worby began conducting New York Philharmonic Young
People’s Concerts decades ago in Carnegie Hall, she has envisioned what
occurred last night when her new ensemble, Muse-ique, made a stunning debut in
what proved to be an inspired location: a lawn south of Caltech’s Beckman
Auditorium known (because of its trees) The Olive Garden. Now comes the hard
part: making future programs meet the exalted standard from last night’s
inaugural concert.

 

Just about every aspect of the evening proved to be
inspired, beginning with the locale. The lawn — essentially an outdoor version
of the traditional concert hall “shoebox” design enclosed on three sides by
Caltech buildings including Beckman Auditorium behind the stage — proved to be
a great sound chamber. With at least three sets of sound engineers working
their dials and computers, this proved to be one of the finest acoustical
evenings I’ve ever heard outdoors in Southern California.

 

Two large banners (one with the “Muse-ique” name and the
other listing sponsors) were subtly lit with incandescent red hues. Four
flat-screen 50″ television monitors provided visual help for about 1,000
patrons, who were seated in round tables of six.

 

The event (don’t call it a concert, is a Worby mantra) was
quintessential Rachael, the sort of “out-of the box” programming style she tried,
with some success, to institute during her 11-year tenure as music director of
the Pasadena Pops. She describes the concept as a “mash up geared to the iPod
generation,” which (for those who don’t live with such devices) translates as
two dozen short selections, the longest of which may have been the eight-minute
opening arrangement of America the
Beautiful,
which began with a limpid oboe solo and concluded with a stylish
choral arrangement of the song’s first two verses sung sensitively by members of the Pasadena Master Chorale.

 

The 36-piece orchestra — which included many musicians who
had worked with Worby at the Pops — was in fine form throughout the evening.
The musicians were dressed somewhat casually (another hallmark of the Muse-ique
style) with the men in sport coats, some without ties, and most of the women in
simple black dresses. Unlike the normal symphony orchestra, the Muse-ique
musicians stood on risers atop a stage throughout the program, which lasted 1:48
without an intermission (longer than the 90 minutes originally forecast).

 

Nobody was complaining, or leaving because the soloist,
soprano Jessye Norman, was in superb form. Within six weeks of turning age 66,
Norman remains a force of nature; only Plcido Domingo, who is still going strong
at age 70, exceeds her combination of quality and longevity. Moreover, Norman
has reinvented herself in the 15 years, transitioning from opera diva (she no
longer performs opera onstage) to concert singer; she has performed American
songs not only in the U.S. but also throughout Europe and China to great
acclaim.

 

Last night, she made a diva-like entrance, emerging from the
olive trees while she sang Somewhere
from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story
with operatic power and emotion. She remain seated on stage for much of the
rest of her singing, which included selections by George Gershwin (including Summertime from Porgy and Bess) and Duke Ellington in the first half of the
evening.

 

Worby’s “mashup” programming concept had music ranging from
J.S. Bach to Theolonius Monk (featuring Donald Foster’s superb clarinet solos
in ‘Round Midnight), and on to Air and Simple Gifts, the work that John
Williams wrote for Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration, performed last night
by Violinist Roger Wilkie, cellist Kim Scholes, Foster and pianist Alan
Steinberger (unlike what occurred in D.C., no lip-synching was required in the
balmy Southern California evening).

 

The program included world premieres by Ben Lear (Boxer) and Peter Knell (a splashy,
jazzy homage to Caltech entitled Charged
Particles)
along with a lush piece by Steinberger entitled The Land of Make Believe, which (so
Worby informed us) was inspired by a visit to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch.
Included in the evening was Caltech professor and scientist Julia Greer, who
rapped (well, sort of) on her specialty of nanomechanics while playing Bach’s
Partita No. 2 on the piano.

 

Interwoven throughout the evening were several themes that
tied things together winsomely and Worby was, as usual, exemplary in her brief
but insightful repartee.

 

To conclude the evening, Worby called on Angela Bassett, who
read Maya Angelou’s poem, I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings,
with high drama as a lead-in to Norman singing three a
cappella spirituals. Of course, no evening is complete for Worby without one final
surprise: last night, talk-show host Tavis Smiley came onstage to gush over
Norman, who then brought tears to many eyes as she encored with Amazing Grace to close out a memorable
evening.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

The inventively printed program, a collection of thick pages
held together in one corner by a screw, included a cheeky take on the standard
request: “Please make sure to turn off your cell phone, or you will be forever
shunned by civilized society.”

The obnoxious helicopters that have plagued Hollywood Bowl
and the Pasadena Pops concerts this summer managed to find their way over
Caltech several times last night.

Muse-ique has scheduled three fall programs:

– a free 6 p.m. concert of American music on the steps
Pasadena’s Civic Hall on Sept. 11.

– On Oct. 3 at 6 p.m., Ellis Hall, a multi-instrumentalist
and former lead singer for the Tower of Power, will join Worby and an ensemble
in a program of music from Motown, Gershwin and Ellington.

– The final program, Nov. 7 at 6 p.m., will find the Doric
String Quartet performing a new work by Peter Knell while sitting on piles of
paper and a printing press at Pasadena’s Castle Press.

______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Wondering as I Wander

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.

 

“I wonder as I wander …” John Jacob Niles’ poignant
Christmas carol is very much on my mind because by the time you read this
column my wife and I will be wandering around Northern California and wondering
about the following:

 

DOES PASADENA NEED
ANOTHER ORCHESTRA?

Obviously Rachael Worby and many of her supporters think so.
The ebullient maestra’s latest venture, Muse-ique, makes its debut Saturday
night at 7:30 p.m. on a lawn outside of Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium. Soprano
Jessye Norman will be the soloist in a program of music by Gershwin, Ellington
and Bernstein. As at all Worby concerts, she’ll engage the audience with her
unique raconteur style and there will be some unpredictable moments, as well.

 

In many ways, Worby has been preparing for this moment all
her professional life, including the 10 years that she served as music director
of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra. When Worby arrived in Pasadena from West
Virginia, she introduced her idea of making each program an “event,” rather
than merely a concert. “We got a lot accomplished,” says Worby looking back on
that decade. “The difference is that Muse-ique is starting from the ground up.
That’s why the words ‘symphony,’ ‘philharmonic’ or even ‘orchestra’ aren’t in
our name. We’re not just trying to move outside the box; we’re out to smash the
box.”

 

So, expect something quite different from the standard pops
concert. For one thing, the program will run 90 minutes without an
intermission. And, while this first concert — er, event — will feature an
ensemble approximating the size of a standard orchestra, programs in the future
will be much different in terms of ensemble size and location. Will the “Muse-ique”
concept catch on? Only time will tell.

 

Information:
626/539-7085; muse-ique.com

 

IS THERE LIFE AFTER
THE PHILHARMONIC?

There certainly is for associate conductors, as the first
week of August at Hollywood Bowl will demonstrate. On Aug. 2, Lionel Bringuier
on mount the Bowl the podium for his final concert after a four-year stint as
the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s associate conductor. The 24-year-old French
maestro will lead a somewhat ironic program of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto
No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. The irony? It was with Tchaikovsky’s
fifth that Gustavo Dudamel made his LAPO debut in 2005 at the Bowl. Yuja Wang,
a 24-year-old Chinese firebrand, will be the soloist in the famous “Rach 3.”

 

Information:
www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

Two nights later, Joana Carneiro — who preceded Bringuier as
the Phil’s associate conductor — will lead her former orchestra in a program
that concludes with two clarinet concertos and Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite. Kari Krikku will be the soloist in the
Clarinet Concerto by his fellow Finn, Magnus Lindberg, Paul Meyer will take
solo honors for Copland’s better-known work in the genre. Since 2009, Carneiro
has been music director of the Berkeley (CA) Symphony, where she replaced Kent
Nagano.

 

Information: 323/850-2000;
www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

DOES OPERA HAVE TO BE
GIGANTIC (AND EXPENSIVE)?

Not if you are Intimate Opera Pasadena, which concludes a
three-week summer workshop series by presenting Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Pasadena’s
First Baptist Church.

 

Emerging artists from several local universities have been
working with IOP Artistic Director Stephanie Vlahos on both productions.
Tickets for the evening performances are $20 (cash or check only; no credit
cards).

 

There are also matinee performances of Trial by Jury on Saturday at noon and 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 each
with children ages 12 and younger getting in free, thanks to a subsidy from the
Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts.

 

Information: 909/240-2230;
www.intimateopera.net

_______________________

 

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

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

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

There are many significant classical music events happening
this weekend throughout the Southland.

______________________

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Hollywood Bowl

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Dudamel concludes his two-week stint at the Bowl with an
unusual program: music by Johann Strauss, Jr. bookending works by Enescu, Liszt
and Bruch. Pinchas Zukerman is the soloist in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1.
The program has changed from what was originally announced, with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 replacing dances
by Richard and Johann Strauss.

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. on The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl

Pasadena Pops
Orchestra; Marvin Hamlisch, conductor

Hamlisch begins his tenure with a program entitled,
appropriately enough, “Marvin Does Marvin,” which will feature music from his
award-winning scores. The 67-year-old Hamlisch is one of just 12 people to have
won Oscars (three of them, in fact), Emmys (four), Grammys (four) and a Tony
Award and is one of just two to have swept those four categories plus earned a
Pulitzer Prize (the other is Richard Rodgers). Click HERE for my column in last
Sunday’s papers.

Info:
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Los Angeles County Arboretum

Sunday at 2 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

California
Philharmonic; Victor Vener, conductor

Using the theme “Dancing Under the Stars,” Vener mixes music
from West Side Story and dances from
Glenn Miller and Queen with Ravel’s Bolero
and Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2.

Info: www.calphil.org

 

Saturday and Sunday
at 7:30 p.m. at The Huntington Library

Southwest Chamber
Music

The Pasadena-based ensemble continues its survey of Mozart’s
Quintets with the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 518, and String Quintet
No. 3, K. 516. Music by Lei Liang and Yu Nhat Tan complete the bill.

Info: www.swmusic.org

 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Hollywood Bowl

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Vasily Peterenko, conductor

The 35-year-old Russian conductor leads the Phil in Dvorak’s
Carnival Overture and Sibelius’
Symphony No. 2. Alexander Gavrylyuk, a 27-year-old Ukranian pianist who won the
3rd Horowitz competition at the age of 16, returns to the Bowl to
solo in a Horowitz specialty: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

_______________________

 

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

 

 

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Puccini’s “Turandot” at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Puccini: Turandot

Sunday, July 17, 2011 Hollywood Bowl

Next concert: Tuesday, July 19; Dudamel and LAPO: All Mozart

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

______________________

 

Throughout the first half of its 90-year-history, Hollywood
Bowl regularly produced a number of significant opera evenings and in the past
two years, Gustavo Dudamel has done his best to revive that tradition. Last
season it was with Bizet’s Carmen (my
review is HERE). Last night it was Puccini’s final opera, Turandot.

Whenever an opera company stages Turnadot, the tendency is to mount a grandiose affair with massive
sets and lavish costumes (for a prime example, Google “Met Turandot” and take a
gander at the photos from Franco Zeffirelli’s over-the-top production).

 

None of that was possible — nor, as it turned out, necessary
– at the Bowl last night. The “set” was a platform behind and above the Los
Angeles Master Chorale. There were no costumes; the women wore long gowns and
the men donned white dinner jackets (which had a disastrous effect on the
supertitles — see Hemidemisemiquavers below
for details) — with one notable exception: Dudamel wore a black dress shirt
with black pants.

 

The most impressive part of the staging was the effective atmospheric
lighting, although the red and blue combination shining on the Bowl’s iconic
curves did remind me somewhat of the the Looney
Tunes
cartoon titles. The blue backdrop with the moon projected on the back
wall made for highly effective visuals on the big screens once the sky darkened
at about the second act.

 

All of this served to put the evening’s focus on the music
and the musicians, which in this opera is right where it belongs. What the Bowl
could offer was a full-size orchestra on stage stage (including a “banda”
positioned stage left), not in an orchestra pit, two major choruses (also in
full view) and a first-rate cast.

 

For starters, The Los Angeles Philharmonic played
splendidly; this early in the season the musicians are in top-notch form.
Dudamel conducted a sweeping, galvanizing performance of Puccini’s final opera,
once again seeming to revel in the great outdoors.

 

The stars, however, were the singers and, in particular, the
Los Angeles Master Chorale (which listed 79 singers in the program) and 38
singers from the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. The latter produced creamy,
elegant sounds and crisp diction in its moments in the spotlight. The Master
Chorale — especially the men — sang magnificently both in the mightiest
sections and during introspective moments, as well. With 200 musicians on
stage, the finales to all three acts were spine tingling.

 

Ironically, given that Princess Turandot is the opera’s
protagonist, she doesn’t have the lion’s share of the singing, but soprano
Christine Brewer (the only soloist to use a score) made the most of her
opportunities. She was also the one soloist not dressed in white, at least in
the second act when wore a black dress with red wrap as she dueled with Calaf
in the riddle contest that is at the heart of the story.

 

In that second act, Brewer was positioned on that platform
behind the chorus (along with her father, the Emperor — sung by L.A. Opera
veteran Greg Fedderly). With tenor Frank Porretta as Calaf in front of the
orchestra, the spatial separation made for interesting theater although
Porretta had to swivel around to look at and listen to Brewer, then turn around
to sing; the effect was somewhat odd but not, in the end, disastrously
distracting.

 

Whether it was the amplification (which was exemplary
throughout the evening) or that she wasn’t warmed up, Brewer seemed tight,
almost harsh during several moments in the second-act riddle contest. However
during the third act, when she was downstage with Porretta (and wearing a white
dress with silver cape), her voice seemed much warmer yet ironically, also in
full, glorious bloom in her highest notes.

 

Porretta (a late substitution for Francesco Hong, who had to
bow out with laryngitis) has sung the role of Calaf many times in his young
career. He also took time to either warm up or adjust to singing in the
cavernous Bowl spaces, but he sang with increasingly ringing tones as the
evening progressed and delivered his famous third-act aria, Nessum dorma, with great fervor.

 

In some ways, the vocal star of the evening was
Korean-American soprano Hei-Kyung Hong as the slave girl, Li. In both her
first-act aria, Non piangere, Li, and
her final aria, Tu, che di gel sei cinta,
Hong’s voice soared gloriously and she sang with great emotion, although final
scene was the one significant staging gaffe; instead of killing herself with a
dagger (as called for in the libretto), she and Timur (Alexander Vinogradov) slowly
walked off the stage.

 

Daniel Montenegro, Beau Gibson and, especially, Timothy Mix
blended well as Pang, Pong and Ping. Craig Verm sang the role of the Mandarin.

 

Not every opera works in what is basically a concert setting
but last year’s Carmen and this Turandot argued persuasively for this
long-standing Bowl tradition. One reason that Turandot works in the Bowl is that it really has very little
action. The same is true for large portions of Wagner’s Ring cycle; given a stellar cast, one could easily envision the
third act of Die Walkure, for
example, being performed in the Bowl on a pleasant summer evening with Dudamel
conducting and Brewer singing the role of Brnnhilde. Ah, to dream …

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

About the supertitles: not too many years ago if you
wanted to project supertitles, you put the type (usually white) in a black box
or at least one with a solid-color background (you might have a shade of the
color but it was solid). Then along came programs like Adobe Photoshop and
Quark Xpress that allowed designers to introduce opacity into boxes so that you
could see through the box to what was behind. And did designers ever fall in
love with that concept! (I published a magazine for 26 years and plead guilty
to opacity overkill.).  The problem
is that you always have to think about what’s actually behind the box;
when it’s a white dinner jacket, the type absolutely disappears. I’ll cut the
graphic folks a little slack since they probably never got a chance to rehearse
this at night but I hope someone puts a big red note in the files for the next
time a similar scenario occurs.

Last night’s attendance was 9,254. Whether that was a
result of “carmaggedon” fears (ironic, since the 405 freeway reopened nearly
eight hours before the concert began), the crowd was 25% below the 12,831 who
came to Carmen last season.

Downbeat was at 7:32 p.m. (for a 7:30 announced start
time). Although it was undoubtedly an attempt to minimize union overtime,
starting on time is a policy I wish all arts organizations would more
vigorously enforce.

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on July 14, 2011

 

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

With all three major San Gabriel Valley groups on hiatus
this week and with the closure of the 405 Freeway (aka "Carmageddon") making
trips to the west side of L.A. seem like suicide, the spotlight focuses on
Hollywood Bowl this weekend, not least because you can get there relatively
easily via Metro's Red Line subway.

 

However -- especially if you're not used to using this option
-- allow extra time to make the shuttle transfer due to traffic around the Bowl.
Also, be advised that there's a new shuttle location at the Hollywood/Highland
stop. From the station, make a right into the Hollywood/Highland complex and
follow the signs -- the new stop is down a corridor from Lids on the second
floor. You can also get off at the Universal City station and walk south under
the 101 freeway bridge and west on Ventura Blvd. to reach the Park and Ride
lot.

 

Onward ...

______________________

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.,
Saturday at Hollywood Bowl

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Lang Lang, pianist

This concert duplicates last Tuesday's program (Borodin: Polovtsian Dances, Prokofiev: Piano
Concerto No. 3, Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures
at an Exhibition);
one hopes the sound system and video-camera work will be
better. (My review is HERE). Lang Lang's ability to fly through the Prokofiev's
pyrotechnical sections is, in a word, amazing, and -- as noted in the review --
Dudamel and the Phil are in top form. Info:
www.hollywoodbowl.com

Friday and Saturday
at 8:30 p.m. at Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl;
Thomas Wilkins, conductor, Sarah McLachian, vocalist

The Canadian Grammy Award-winning vocalist makes her Bowl
debut in this weekend's concerts, which will feature songs from her new album, Laws of Illusion. Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
at Hollywood Bowl (note earlier start time)

Puccini's Turandot; Los Angeles Philharmonic;
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Soprano Christine Brewer sings the title role in Puccini's
final opera. Dudamel's work with Bizet's Carmen
last summer was exciting, which gives hope for the opening event in the "Sunday
Sunset Concert" series. Note the 7:30 p.m. start time and be sure to allow
plenty of time to get to your seat. Info:
www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Hollywood Bowl

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Gil Shaham, violinist

Dudamel's second week at the bowl is an all-Mozart program,
opening with the overture to The
Abduction from the Seraglio
and concluding with the Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter). Shaham continues the
overture's Turkish theme as soloist in the Violin Concerto No. 5 (often called Turkish). Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

_______________________

 

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

 

 

(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Gustavo Dudamel, Lang Lang and L.A. Phil open Hollywood Bowl’s classical season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Lang Lang, piano

Borodin: Polovtsian
Dances;
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 No. 3 in C major, Op. 26;
Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an
Exhibition

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 Hollywood Bowl

Next concert: Thursday (same program)

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

NOTE: The revision is to correct the start time of Sunday’s program to 7:30 p.m.

______________________

 

Gustavo Dudamel and Lang Lang are two of the biggest names
in classical music these days and 9,513 people came last night to Hollywood
Bowl to see them perform together for the first time. That seems like a lot of
folks — and given that the concert repeats tomorrow night perhaps it is — but
it’s barely half the Bowl’s capacity. Some reasons for that are will be
discussed in a future post but those who showed up got a quintessential Lang
Lang show, courtesy of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto.

 

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Los
Angeles Philharmonic’s annual summer sojourn in the venerable Cahuenga Pass
amphitheatre. Although the negatives of Bowl concerts remain — e.g., rolling
wine bottles, aerial intruders, patrons walking to and fro incessantly — those
who make the trip continue to feel that visceral thrill that comes from a live
performance.

 

It helps that these days the Phil has a music director who
genuinely embraces the egalitarian nature of playing outdoors before large
crowds. Dudamel first conducted the L.A. Phil at the Bowl in 2005 and led his
inaugural concert as LAPO music director there in 2009. Last season, he was on
the podium for three concerts during a week and will lead four programs over
five nights in a two-week span this season. Not since Zubin Mehta has the Phil
enjoyed a music director who seems to embrace all of the Bowl’s potential (as
well to seemingly ignore its problems).

 

Dudamel and Lang got no help last night from the electronic
technical crew. Whether it was the damp air or the fact that this was the first
classical concert of the season, the overwrought and tubby amplification was highly
distorted and the camera work was mediocre to the max. One can only hope that
things improve significantly for tomorrow night’s repeat concert.

 

In many ways, this was a typical performance from the
pianist, who turned age 29 last month: hands roaring at warp speed through
manic, pile-driving octaves in a manner that defies description, interspersed
with occasional dreamy, introspective moments. There were times when the
pianist seemed totally in his own world, often staring out into the black outdoor
void; at other moments he was playful and animated in his facial gestures and
actions. Whether he’s toning down the histrionics or I’ve just gotten used to
him, none of this shtick seemed as off-putting
as it once was. Somehow last night it seemed appropriate for a facility with
the name “Hollywood” in its title.

 

Dudamel and the Phil offered vigorous accompaniment in the
concerto. Michelle Zukovsky got things off splendidly with her winsome clarinet
solo and also engaged in a witty musical dialogue with the pianist during the
first movement. The blazing final sections of the first and last movement brought
forth predictable eruptions of applause. Incredibly after the final
suicide-speed final section, Lang-squared was able to deliver a wispy, dreamy,
exquisite rendition of Liszt’s Consolation
No. 3
as an encore.

 

The concert opened with Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances that began with sensitive solos by Principal Oboe
Ariana Ghez and English horn principal Carolyn Hove in the first statement of
the Strangers in Paradise theme and
concluded in a colorful blaze of fury.

 

After intermission, Dudamel and the Phil unveiled an
interesting rendition of the Mussorgsky/Ravel version of Pictures at an Exhibition. You may not have liked everything in
Dudamel’s concept, but to these ears he made a persuasive case for this very
familiar work. Principal Trumpet Donald Green and the brass section got things
off with a noble Promenade, saxophonist
James Rotter made the most of his solos in Il
vecchio castello,
the Catacombs
were eerily spooky, and The Great Gate of
Kiev
finished things in majestic fashion.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Probably figuring that it wasn’t worth the effort in a
concert with both Lang Lang and Dudamel, management didn’t make the usual
announcement about no cameras or cell phones.

If, like me, you ride the Metro Red Line to the Bowl, be
advised that there’s a new shuttle location at the Hollywood/Highland stop.
From the station, make a right into the Hollywood/Highland complex and follow
the signs — the new stop is down a corridor from Lids on the second floor. You
can also get off at the Universal City station and walk south under the 101
freeway bridge and west on Ventura Blvd. to reach the Park and Ride lot.

Given the doomsday predictions about freeway traffic
throughout the region because of this weekend’s “Carmageddon” (i.e., the
closure of the 405 Freeway), this might be a good time to consider taking the
Red Line to the Bowl for this weekend’s concerts (rides on the Red Line and Orange are free this coming weekend but not on the other lines). Get info at www.metro.net. However you are planning on getting to the Bowl, allow plenty of extra time and remember that Sunday night’s performance of Puccini’s Turandot begins at 7 p.m.

_______________________

 

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

REVIEW: Giulini in America: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last September Deutsche Grammophon released a compact disc
set entitled Giulini in America: the Los
Angeles Philharmonic,
a compilation of nearly all of the DGG recordings
that the revered Italian maestro made when he was music director of the L.A.
Phil from 1978-1984 (my review is HERE).

53624-Giulini 7-11 Cover.jpg

This month comes what might be called a prequel to those
recordings: Giulini in America: Chicago
Symphony Orchestra
(DGG 00289 477 0628), a survey of the conductor’s DGG
recordings with that great Midwestern ensemble in the 1970s. (There’s another
set, from EMI Classics, entitled The
Chicago Recordings,
that documents that label’s work with Guilini and the
CSO but IMHO this new DGG set has significantly better reproductive qualities).

 

This new DGG/Chicago boxed set has five CDs (the LAPO box
has six) and, at $23.66 on Amazon (slightly less than the LAPO box, which has
dropped down to $26.07), it’s a great bargain, considering the superlative
sound documented in three recording cycles: April 1976 in Chicago’s Medinah
Temple and April 1977 and March 1978 in the CSO’s Orchestra Hall.

 

It’s worth noting that the three box sets do not duplicate
each other in terms of the music offered,. This DGG set contains an essay by
Bernard Jacobson, who was music critic at the Chicago Daily News during Giulini’s tenure with the CSO.

 

Here’s how the CSO DGG discs were formatted:

 

CD 1

*SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D 417 Tragic

*DVORK: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op.95 From the New World

CD 2

*SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944 The Great

*PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 in D major, op. 25 Symphonie classique

CD 3

*DVORK: Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op.88

*MUSSORGSKY/RAVEL: Pictures
at an Exhibition

CD 4

MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 (Movements I-III)

CD 5

MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 (Movement IV)

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D 759 Unfinished

*BRITTEN: Serenade for
Tenor, Horn and Strings,
op. 31

Robert Tear, tenor / Dale Clevenger, horn

 

* Restored to the
catalogue

 

As you can see, many of these pieces have been out of print
for several years, so this set offers significant historical value. Moreover,
unlike the EMI Classics box each piece on the DGG recordings does not carry
over onto two discs except for Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, which was a necessity
because of that work’s length.

 

Whether you had the pleasure of watching Giulini conduct in
Los Angeles or just wonder why veteran critics such as me get misty-eyed at
those remembrances, this new set offers myriad clues as to the nature of the
man who was LAPO music director from 1978-1984.

 

Giulini’s approach to music was spiritual; he didn’t conduct
works to which he wasn’t totally committed but when he led something, it was
always an almost mystical experience. He had a very limited repertoire; the “newest”
piece in this collection is Britten’s Serenade
for Tenor, Horn and Strings,
which dates from 1943 and features poignant
efforts from Tenor Robert Tear and Dale Clevenger on horn. The rest span exactly
a century, from Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 (1816) to Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, composed 100 years
later.

 

In this DGG box, you’re aware of Giulini’s reverence for
music in all of the pieces he recorded primarily because of two things: (a) his
tempos are almost always luxriant — those who grew frustrated with him would
call them tepid — and (b) the sound he produced from the CSO was unfailingly
mellow, especially in the brass sections.

 

Three examples: (1) If you’re used to hearing Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony whipped along with
breakneck speed, this CSO recording may seem almost pedestrian, but the inner
textures that emerge are quite special. (2) There’s a wonderful gentleness to
Giulini’s way of leading Dvorak’s Symphony Nos. 8 and 9 that isn’t often
emphasized by conductors these days. (3) No one has more poignantly captured Mahler’s
sense of impending doom as he wrote his Symphony No. 9, particularly in the
final movement (the recording won Giulini the last of his seven Grammy awards, three
of which were with the CSO).

 

If you don’t know the Giulini backstory, it’s worth
recalling. He was born on May 9, 1914 (he died on June 14, 2005). He studied
both violin and viola and, at age 18, won an audition to become the last-desk
violist of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia orchestra, which at the
time was considered Italy’s most significant ensemble. There he played under
such legendary conductors as Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwangler and Fritz
Reiner, along with composer/conductors Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky.

 

In 1940, Giulini won a conducting competition but World War
II intervened. Although a pacifist, Giulini served in the Italian army but
eventually went into hiding for nine months rather than serve with the Nazi
army. On July 16, 1944, Giulini came out of hiding to lead the Accademia
orchestra in the first concert after the Mussolini government had fallen.

 

In 1950, Giulini led his first opera and it was there that
he made a growing reputation in Europe. He first conducted in the United States
at the age of 41 with the Chicago Symphony in 1955 at the invitation of the
CSO’s then-music director Fritz Reiner.

 

For decades, Giulini conducted rarely in the U.S. outside of
Chicago. He became the CSO’s principal guest conductor in 1969 and held that
position through 1972. He maintained a strong CSO presence until Ernest
Fleischmann, the L.A. Philharmonic’s executive director (later executive vice
president and managing director) lured Giulini west in 1978. It was one of
Fleischmann’s great coups to convince Giulini to come to Los Angeles (where he
replaced Zubin Mehta), 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. “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.”

 

That love affair shines through beautifully on these new
recordings.

_______________________

 

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

NEWS AND LINKS: Masters of Harmony wins eighth consecutive gold medal in International Barbershop Harmony Society contest

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Masters of Harmony the Santa Fe Springs-based men’s
barbershop chorus, won its eighth consecutive gold medal in the 73rd
International Barbershop Harmony Society Chorus Competition on July 8 in Kansas
City, but it wasn’t easy. Under the direction of Mark Hale, MOH finished just five
points ahead of Great Northern Union of Hilltop, Minn.

 

MOH won its first gold medal in 1990 and repeated in 1993,
1996, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2008 (winning choruses have to lay out for three
years before competing again). It’s also the only chorus to have win
consecutive titles under three different directors. Eight in a row is the
longest current streak; Vocal Majority, the Dallas, Tex.-based chorus, had won
nine consecutive contests before it lost in 2009 to Ambassadors of Harmony.

 

For the Barbershop Harmony Society Web site, click HERE.

For the Masters of Harmony Web site, click HERE.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Marvin Hamlisch to debut as Pasadena Pops principal conductor July 23

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.

 

The 15-month-long remake of the Pasadena Symphony and Pasadena
Pops reaches its next chapter on July 23 when Marvin Hamlisch leads his first
concert as principal conductor of the Pops on The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose
Bowl, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

 

The program — entitled, appropriately enough, “Marvin does
Marvin” — will spotlight the legendary career of the 67-year-old Hamlish, who
is one of just 12 people to have won Oscars (three of them, in fact), Emmys
(four), Grammys (four) and a Tony Award and is one of just two to have swept those
four categories plus earned a Pulitzer Prize (the other is Richard Rodgers).

 

The Way We Were is
definitely not the theme song of the PSO and the Pops at this moment. The orchestras’
saga (perhaps epoch would be a better description) began in March, 2010, when
the PSO announced that it would move from its long-time home, the Pasadena
Civic Auditorium, into the smaller and more acoustically friendly Ambassador
Auditorium.

 

Two months later, the PSO parted company with Music Director
Jorge Mester after a 25-year tenure. Last summer, the Pops moved from Descanso
Gardens in La Canada to its current location next to the famed Arroyo Seco
saucer, but at the end of the season, Rachael Worby, who had served as the Pops
music director for 10 years, stepped down from that post.

 

In October, the Symphony moved into its new home with James
DePreist, in the role of music advisor, leading the first of five concerts with
guest conductors on the podium. And this spring the Pops announced that it
would negotiate a contract to move to the Los Angeles County Arboretum for the
2012 summer season.

 

In the midst of all of this upheaval, the Pasadena Symphony
Association (parent of both ensembles) has been navigating its way through a
financial crisis that nearly drove it onto the shoals of disaster. “We finished
on a high note this past spring,” says CEO Paul Zdunek. “The audience kept
climbing little by little each concert at Ambassador and the last concert had
the highest attendance. I take that as a very positive sign that people liked
what they are hearing.”

 

Into this maelstrom steps Hamlisch, who is best known for
his movie scores (e.g., The Way We Were
and The Sting) and an iconic Broadway
musical, A Chorus Line, for which he won
both a Tony and a Pulitzer.

 

What you might not know is that for the past two decades,
Hamlisch has built an increasingly busy career as a pops orchestra conductor.
He began this new phase of his life 17 years ago as principal pops conductor of
the Pittsburgh Symphony and now also holds that title with the Milwaukee,
Dallas, Seattle and San Diego Symphonies.

 

Hamlisch’s three Pasadena Pops programs this summer will
focus on his legendary career (the other programs are “Marvin Does Broadway” on
Aug. 6 and “Marvin Does Movies” on Aug. 27). “This season I just wanted to give
people a sense of who I am and what I like to do,” he explains. “If things go
well, next year we’ll widen the breadth and bring in more soloists.”

 

The July 23 program will feature vocalist Mark McVey, best
known for performing the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables
on Broadway and on tour (he won the Helen
Hayes Award for Outstanding Actor
for the touring role). McVey will be part
of a program that
will include such well-known Hamlisch hits as The Way We Were, Ice Castles, The
Entertainer, They’re Playing Our Song, A Chorus Line
and The Sting.

 

Expect a good deal of repartee because Hamlisch enjoys
bantering with the audience from the stage. Moreover, Hamlisch’s programs are
exclusively pops oriented. “I love pops concerts,” he says “They’re a show,
true entertainment.”

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on July 7, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

With summer now in
full swing. I’ll resume my Five Spot postings. Each Thursday morning, I list
five upcoming events that peak my interest. Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8 p.m. at Hollywood Bowl

West Side Story. Los Angeles Philharmonic; David Newman, conductor

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the movie
version of this iconic Broadway musical. In this unusual presentation, the Phil
will play Bernstein’s great score while a digitally remastered version of the
vocals, dialogue and everything else are shown on a screen above the stage.
Click HERE for more on this program. Info:
www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

Saturday at 5 and 8
p.m.; Sunday at 3 and 7 p.m. at The Avalon Hollywood

“Totally! Our 80s
Show.” Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles; Andres Cladera, conductor

The Gay Men’s Chorus reaches back to its roots with a show
featuring music from the 1980s and choreography from Ray Leeper. All of this
takes place in an historic nightclub that was the site of The Beatles first
West Coast appearance in 1964. Info: www.gmcla.org

 

Saturday and Sunday
at 7:30 p.m. at The Huntington Library, San Marino

Southwest Chamber
Music’s Summer Music Festival

The Pasadena-based group opens its 18th season at
The Huntington with the first two String Quintets by Mozart and Alexandra du
Bois’ Chanson d’orange for Two Violins. You
can pack a picnic or pre-order from The Huntington’s dining room. Info: www.swmusic.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at the Los Angeles County Arboretum

Andrew Lloyd Webber Meets Puccini. California Philharmonic; Victor
Vener, conductor

Vener and his orchestra are joined by vocalists James
Barbour, Christopher Bengochea and Sandra Rubalcava and the Cal Phil chorus in
music from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, La
Boheme, Tosca, Gianni Schicchi
and Turandot
and Webber’s Phantom of the Opera,
Sunset Boulevard, Evita, Aspects of Love, Cats
and Jesus Christ Superstar. Info:
www.caphil.org

 

Tuesday and
Thursday at 8 p.m. at Hollywood Bowl

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Lang Lang, pianist

The Phil opens the 90th classical season at the
Bowl with duplicate concerts on Tuesday and Thursday. The program is Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, the Mussorgsky-Ravel
edition of Pictures at an Exhibition,
and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Lang Lang as soloist. Dudamel and
Lang Lang on the same program? The mind boggles at the possibilities. Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

_______________________

 

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