(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



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

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

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


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
finished things in majestic fashion.




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

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REVIEW: Giulini in America: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


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

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


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


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



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

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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


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.

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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

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


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.

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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



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:


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:


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.



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