OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Philharmonic gala concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor, Herbie Hancock, piano

Gershwin: Cuban
Overture, Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Walt Disney
Concert Hall

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

Blue and gold were the dominant colors at Walt Disney
Concert Hall last night. No, UCLA wasn’t playing. Blue was everywhere (even the
usual red carpet was blue last night), an obvious reference to the final work
in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s season-opening gala concert: George
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The gold
came courtesy of the performance standards from the orchestra, Music Director
Gustavo Dudamel, and legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, the evening’s
soloist.

 

In many ways, it was your standard LAPO gala. A packed house
was on hand, many dressed in formal finery. It was a late-arriving throng; more
than half struggled to wander to their seats well after the appointed 7 p.m.
start time (the downbeat came at 7:18 p.m.). TV cameras and still photogs recorded
entrances of the rich and famous. The WNET NY camera crew was on hand to record
the concert for a later PBS Great
Performances
telecast to the U.S. and Europe. Grand Ave. was closed off
(creating the usual traffic jam), this time with a faux-brick covered tent for
the post-concert party. The tent entrance was marked with a nifty art-decco
sign that also served as the logo for the dressed up, blue-colored program. The
concert ended with the now-obligatory shower of shiny blue and silver mylar
accented by strobe lights.

 

Fortunately (since the concert ran about 1:20 with no
intermission) there were no preconcert speeches, although Dudamel did chat a
little between pieces, saying little worthwhile but doing so with his charming
smile and accented English. The music was the focal point (especially for
non-party goers), which was as it should be.

 

All three of the Gershwin works on the formal program are
standard outdoor (e.g., Hollywood Bowl) pieces and it was a pleasure to hear
them indoors in the marvelous Disney Hall acoustic.

 

Dudamel and Co. opened with a saucy, sultry performance of
the Cuban Overture, a piece Gershwin
wrote in 1932 following a visit to Havana. As it did all night, the
Philharmonic played with razor-sharp precision and several of the soloists –
Ariana Ghez, oboe, Michelle Zukovsky, clarinet, Thomas Hooten, trumpet (see the
note in Hemidemisemiquavers below) – and the entire string section were
exemplary. Dudamel ignored Gershwin instructions, written on title page, that
the four Cuban instruments — claves, maracas, guiro and bongos — should be
placed in front of the conductor’s stand but they were heard anyway.

 

Most conductors would place Rhapsody in Blue following the overture and end with An American in Paris (which, indeed, was
how the Web site listed the order) but Dudamel elected to reverse the order because
of Hancock’s appearance.

 

Gershwin considered An
American in Paris
to be (quoting the program note by Eric Blomberg) “a tone
poem for orchestra — a musical portrait of an American visitor to the City of
Light.” Although sketches of the work were written in the early 1920s, the flavor
of the piece resulted from of an extended vacation by Gershwin and his family
to Paris in 1928. Gershwin was age 30 at the time of the visit and Dudamel’s
concept of An American in Paris is of
a young man, full of life, striding briskly, not strolling, down the streets of
Paris.

 

The work is clearly in Dudamel’s wheelhouse (as baseball
players like to say about a perfectly placed pitch).  He bobbed, weaved, bounced and danced his way through the
saucy segments and invested the other moments with a grandiloquent style; the
whole thing should look great on television. Once again principals shone: in
this case, Hooten, James Miller, trombone, Norman Pearson, tuba, the four
saxophonists and Concertmaster Martin Chalifour.

 

That left center stage to Hancock, who at age 71 still can
tinkle the ivories with panache and has extended his contract as the orchestra’s
Creative Chair for Jazz through the 2012-2013 season. He began by freely
improvising on two Gershwin songs, Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over
Me.
Unfortunately, his wistful mood was somewhat sabotaged by coughs, sneezes
and other assorted noises from the audience, some of whom may not realize how “live”
Disney Hall is.

 

When it comes to Rhapsody
in Blue,
Hancock and Dudamel had widely divergent opinions on tempi, but the whole was infinitely greater
than the sum of the parts, noteworthy as those individual contributions were.
After Zukovsky got things swinging with her saucy, sensuous opening clarinet lick,
Dudamel raced the orchestra along through most of the early orchestral
sections, only to broaden out in the final climactic moments. Kudos,
especially, to trumpeter James Wilt for his sultry sounds.

 

Hancock, meanwhile (who used a score), showed plenty of
chops while accompanying the orchestra. When not constrained by Dudamel’s
tempi, he delivered the solo portions with an improvisatory feel, even when he
was playing Gershwin’s notes, an impish grin every once in awhile saying, in
effect, to the audience, “Isn’t this cool?” It was all of that and the audience
erupted in an instantaneous standing ovation at the conclusion, with Dudamel –
always the gentleman — ceding most of the glory to Hancock, who beamed and
waved to everyone on all sides of the hall.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Hancock told the crowd that this was the first time he had
played with a symphony orchestra, forgetting that his bio says he played a
Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony at age 11 (to be fair, that was
60 years ago). He’s scheduled to play “Rhapsody
in Blue”
with the Calgary Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony and Oregon
Symphony next month.

Australian Andrew Bain has become the Phil’s new principal
horn. He has held similar positions with the Melbourne and Queensland Symphony
Orchestras.

Daniel Rothmuller is serving as the orchestra’s Associate
Principal Cellist Emeritus while Peter Stumpf is on leave teaching at Indiana
University’s Jacobs School of Music. CK Dexter Haven in his Blog, “All is Yar,”
has much to say and speculate about this (LINK).

Thomas Hooten (principal trumpet of the Atlanta Symphony) is
on board as guest principal trumpet for the opening concerts and will play on
the upcoming tour to San Francisco while the Phil’s principal, Donald Green, is
on sabbatical. Hooten was the first recipient of the ASO’s Mabel Dorn Reeder
Honorary Chair, a five-year award according to an article by Howard Posner on
the Atlanta “Journal & Constitution” Web
site (LINK).

The L.A. Phil’s 2011-2012 subscription season opens this
weekend with an all-orchestral (i.e., no soloist) concert that includes Adams’ Tromba Iontana (a four-minute-long
fanfare), the U.S. premiere of Rituales Amerindios by Argentinean
composer Esteban Benzecry, and Berlioz’s Symphonie
Fantastique.
Asadour Santourian, artistic advisor and administrator of Aspen Music
Festival and School, will deliver a preconcert lecture an hour before each
concert. Information and dates are at the top of this review.

If you’re not already on the email list, now is a good
time to sign up for “Fast Notes,” which are emailed from the orchestra a few
days before each event. “Fast Notes” are a quick overview of the upcoming
concert with links to program notes and other information. Even if you’re not
going to attend a particular concert, they’re worth reading. Sign up at:
www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Music Director Jeffrey Kahane open new season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor; Wiek Hijmans, electric guitar

Mozart: Magic Flute
Overture; Osvaldo Golijov: Sidereus; Derek
Bermel: Ritornello (for electric
guitar and orchestra); Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 Royce Hall (UCLA)

Next concerts: Oct. 15 (Alex Theater, Glendale) and 16
(Royce Hall)

Information: www.laco.org

______________________

 

55422-Kahane.jpg

It seems like it was only yesterday when a young, curly
haired pianist/conductor became the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s fifth music
director, but Jeffrey Kahane (pictured right) — with a little less of the curly
hair and a lot more experience — began his 15th season as LACO
leader with concerts this weekend at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and UCLA’s Royce
Hall. Before Sunday’s performance, Principal Oboist Alan Vogel, speaking on
behalf of the orchestra, praised Kahane’s musical and personal qualities and
said, “This is the ‘Golden Age’ of LACO.”

 

The qualities that make d LACO one of the nation’s finest chamber
ensembles and Kahane’s penchant for building eclectic programs were both on
display Sunday night. He led a superbly played evening bookended by two of
classical music’s benchmarks that surrounded the west coast premiere of two
contemporary pieces. All four works were gems, played splendidly.

 

The program began with not one but two overtures: a
crackling, sparkling, precise reading of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, followed by
Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Sidereus.

 

The latter was a complicated commission for Golijov because
it came from 35 orchestras of different sizes who asked for an overture-like
piece to honor Henry Fogel, former president and CEO of the League of American
Orchestras. The title refers to a 1610 treatise, Sidereus Nuncis, by the astronomer Galileo and records his early
observations of Jupiter, our moon and stars through his telescope.

 

According to Christine Lee Gengaro’s program note, Golijov
said the opening should be “ominous, massive, suspended in time and space.”
That’s exactly how it sounded, in part because Kahane emphasized the deep
sonorities by seating the trombones and tuba stage right, just behind the
violins and close to the front of the stage. It was an unusual seating plan but
one cannily gauged for this piece, which turned out to be engrossing in both
its construction and sonic effects; one could easily imagine this overture
being used in some future deep-space-themed movie.

 

The other premiere was Ritornello
(for electric guitar and orchestra) by Derek Bermel, who is completing his
three-year stint as LACO’s composer-in-residence. Wieck Hijmans journeyed from
the Netherlands to play the work, the eighth time in five months that he’s
played the 14-minute piece. It begins with a catchy little cadenza that sounds
as if Andres Segovia had been exhumed to play an amplified guitar. That’s the
first of three cadenzas — the final one allows Hijmans to exercise his heavy
metal, rock and roll proclivities to interesting, albeit somewhat weird effect –
and the work ends as quietly as it began with the same catchy tune that harkens
back to the Baroque era. Hijmans was scintillating as the soloist; Kahane and
the orchestra accompanied skillfully.

 

After intermission, Kahane was the soloist and conducted
from the keyboard in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, a work that he has
played often with LACO — the first time was in 1989, eight years before he
became the orchestra’s music director. 
Since then he has played and conducted the piece three times and led
Andr Watts in another performance.

 

As far as I’m concerned, Kahane — who celebrated his 55th
birthday two weeks ago — can play and conduct this work as often as he wants if
he and LACO can match last night’s scintillating performance. Kahane’s
crystalline tone focused on clarity and he maked the piano an integral part of
the ensemble, which responded last night with perfectly couched chemistry (so
together are Kahane and his colleagues that he appeared not to be conducting at
all at the beginning of the second movement, sitting motionless as if in
meditation). The cadenzas (written by Beethoven) and the ultra-fast third
movement gave Kahane plenty of chances to demonstrate his virtuosity but what
impressed me the most was the entire sense of a community making music.

 

As if to emphasize that collegial spirit, Kahane encored not
with a solo piece but with the Adagio
Assai
movement of Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto; he and his colleagues
gave it a sensitive, elegant reading. As Alan Vogel said at the concert’s
beginning, this is, indeed, a golden age for LACO.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

One of the pleasures of attending a concert are the
erudite program notes and the material contained in the printed booklet, which
includes the orchestration, estimated duration and LACO’s performance history
with each of the pieces. Other ensembles would do well to emulate what I could
consider to be an important part of attending a concert.

Although I wasn’t able to attend because I was traveling
from the Rio Hondo Symphony concert (LINK) to Royce Hall, another plus to LACO
concerts Beethoven — in this case, the Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) – is also on the agenda for the Oct. 15 and 16 concerts.
This was one of the symphonies with which Kahane sought to broaden the
audience’s understanding of what a “chamber orchestra” could play (i.e., not
just small, Baroque works). The program also includes Canadian soprano Karina
Gauvin as soloist Britten’s Les
Illuminations,
Op. 18, and Now sleeps
the crimson petal.

 

_______________________

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Rio Hondo Symphony opens 79th season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Rio Hondo Symphony; Kimo
Furumoto, conductor; Alison Edwards, piano

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)

Rossini: William Tell Overture;
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 Vic Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High
School)

Next concert: Oct. 30

Information: www.riohondosymphony.org

______________________

 

When Kimo Furumoto was named music director of the Rio Hondo
Symphony three years ago and announced “The Beethoven Project” — wherein the
orchestra would play all nine of the composer’s symphonies, one a year — it
seemed obvious that this year would be the first real test. Although the first
two symphonies are not easy to play, the Symphony No. 3 is one of the monuments
of symphonic literature, a 50-minute work that can challenge the best ensembles.

 

Thus it’s no surprise that at yesterday’s concert — the
opening event in the RHS’s 79th season — the community orchestra
gave a valiant, albeit troubled effort of the mighty Eroica. Fortunately, the balance of the concert proved to be more
satisfying for the large crowd that showed up at Whittier High School’s Vic
Lopez Auditorium.

 

Whether Furumoto helped his orchestra or the audience by
scheduling the symphony as the program’s opening work is debatable. The players
were certainly freshest at that point and given that they seemed to tire
noticeably in the final two movements, that was probably foremost in the
conductor mind but it made for an unusual alignment. Furthermore, Furumoto
elected to talk briefly before each of the first three movements, thus
hampering the work’s continuity and flow.

 

On the podium, Furumoto was very fussy in his gestures and
took the first movement at a brisk clip. There was little grandeur in “Funeral
March” second movement and the final two movements plodded inexorably to the
end. The orchestra had moments when they played nicely and others where they
seemed overmatched by Beethoven — not the first orchestra to suffer that fate.

 

After intermission, Furumoto came on stage wearing a white
hat, black mask and red bandana, all of which brought a big laugh from the
audience. The reason, of course, was Rossini’s William Tell Overture, whose final section includes the theme music
for the long-ago radio and television show The
Lone Ranger.
I found it interesting that neither the printed program nor
Furumoto actually explained the allusion; given the average age of the audience
perhaps no one figured it was necessary but there was a big laugh of
recognition when Trumpeter Chris Price launched into the famous theme, which
seemed to indicate that not everyone understood the joke.

 

If the William Tell overture
shows up at all these days, it’s usually outdoors, so it was nice of Furumoto
to program it in a hall with at least somewhat reasonable acoustics. Aside from
the fact that many of the themes beyond The
Long Ranger
were staples of American television cartoons in the 1950s — the
overture’s lack of play is regrettable because it’s actually an inventive piece
that spotlights many of the orchestra’s principals. Kudos to Price, Cellist
Carolyn Litchfield, the wind principals — Laura Stone, oboe, Laurel
Myers-McKenzie, flute, Anne Young, clarinet, and Eric Johnson, bassoon — and
the brass section for shining in the performance.

 

Putting the Eroica
at the beginning of the program meant that the finale was Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, which ended up making a satisfying conclusion (the
concerto also took note of the composer’s bicentennial, which takes place on
Oct. 22). The concert’s theme was “Heroes” and Furumoto took the time to note
that Liszt’s heroic gesture was to give up his fabled concert career to become
a teacher. Furumoto then asked the teachers in the audience to stand and be
recognized as modern-day heroes (the number of those who stood was impressive)
– a nice touch.

 

Alison Edwards (who, like the conductor, teaches at Cal
State Fullerton) was the soloist. She luxuriated in the poetic portions and, some
smudges aside, was impressive in the bravura sections, as well. Furumoto did
his best to follow her willful tempo shifts (which wasn’t easy). The orchestra
accompanied with gusto.

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: The Colburn Orchestra opens season at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

The Colburn
Orchestra; Yehuda Gilad, conductor; Francisca da Pasquale, violin

Berlioz: Roman
Carnival Overture,
Dvorak: Violin Concerto

Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures
at an Exhibition

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 Ambassador Auditorium

Next concert: Oct. 22

Information: www.colburnschool.edu

______________________

 

Although experience and maturity count for much in the
classical music world, there’s also something to be said for youthful
exuberance, especially when its married to the kind of exceptional talent that
permeates the student body at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles.

 

Colburn is the west coast equivalent of The Juilliard School
in New York City or the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and the school’s
flagship ensemble, The Colburn Orchestra, opened its 2011-2012 season last
night in impressive fashion before a full house at Ambassador Auditorium.
Although approximately 30 percent of the orchestra turns over annually and
school has been in session only a few weeks, Music Director Yehuda Gilad had
his young charges playing with precision, power and musicality throughout the
program.

 

Gilad and Co. opened with a performance of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture that was
sumptuous and spirited, depending on the composer’s wishes. As they did all
evening, the string sections produced deep, sonorous tones in the welcoming
Ambassador Auditorium acoustic and English horn principal John Winstead got
things rolling with his plaintive solo lines.

 

Choosing Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a good way
to show off any orchestra’s virtuosity and The Colburn Orchestra has that in
abundance. Gilad led a sensitive, highly individual performance of this
familiar work, emphasizing silences effectively and letting his principals and
sections shine. That list includes Trumpeter Joseph Brown, Tubist Spencer
Brown, the entire brass section and the full woodwind contingent.

 

Gilad had some distinctive ideas with regard to tempos. Bydlo (the oxcart) was something of a turbocharged
vehicle and Baba Yaga (The Hut on Fowl’s
Legs)
also raced forward, but the latter led to a majestic rendition of The Great Gate of Kiev that concluded
the evening gloriously.

 

Prior to intermission, 20-year-old Francesca dePasquale, a
senior in the Bachelor of Music program at The Colburn Conservatory, delivered
a polished reading of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. DePasquale (a student of Robert
Lipsett at Colburn) displayed a silvery tone and impressive technique
throughout the performance, although her tone turned edgy occasionally in the
final movement. She played the middle-movement theme with great sweetness and
danced her way impressively through the final movement’s lighter moments. She
also smiled more during the final movement dispelling the mood of her grimaces
in the previous movements. The winner of last year’s Irving M. Klein String
Competition in San Francisco, dePasquale (who is serving this year as one of
the orchestra’s concertmasters) is clearly a talent to watch in the future.

 

Gilad and the orchestra offered sympathetic accompaniment to
dePasquale, and the audience — which obviously included fellow students, parents
and other Colburn supporters — responded exuberantly, as it did for all three
pieces.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

One of the finer advantages of attending Colburn Orchestra
concerts are the comprehensive and erudite music notes written by Colburn
students — in this case, violist Matthew Cohen, violinist and pianist Bora Kim,
and oboist Titus Underwood, all of whom played in the orchestra.

DePasquale clearly comes from a musical family; among the
people she lists in her bio as mentors are four people with the last name of
dePasquale.

Given that the 1,400 free tickets for last night’s concert
were distributed a week before the concert, you might want to sign up now to
make sure you don’t get shut out for the Oct. 22 concert. Click HERE for
details.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the
birth of Richard D. Colburn, the school’s founder and namesake.

_______________________

 

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

PREVIEW: Gustavo Dudamel and Gothenburg Symphony play music by Bruckner, Nielsen and Sibelius

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

55408-Dudamel Cover.jpg

Gustavo
Dudamel/Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

Nielsen: Symphonies No. 4 (The Inextinguishable) and 5

Bruckner: Symphony No. 9

3 CD Boxed Set 0289 477 9449 3

Walt Disney Concert Hall price: $42.98;

Amazon.com price: $25.95

Information: www.deutschegrammophon.com

______________________

 

As Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic prepare
to open their 2011-2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall season next week (LINK), Deutsche
Grammophon (DGG) has released a fascinating new three-CD box set of Dudamel
conducting one of his other ensembles, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra of
Sweden. The symphonies were recorded live in the GSO’s home, the Konserthuset
in Gothenburg (Sweden’s second-largest city), in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

 

There are several ironies in the fire with this new
recording. For one thing, Dudamel has not yet conducted any of these pieces with
the L.A. Phil although one can only presume they’ll show up in future seasons.
As such, this recording acts as a fascinating preview of things to come.
Another irony has Dudamel leading works that one might have associated more
with his L.A. predecessor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, although the latter had to work
hard to overcome a youth resistance to the music of Sibelius.

 

Then, of course, there’s the notion that Dudamel, a
Venezuelan, is conducting Nordic symphonies, which is sort of the Swedish
version of carrying coals to Newcastle. The Gothenburg Symphony, which was
founded in 1905, has a lengthy history with the music of Jean Sibelius and Carl
Nielsen, some of which is outlined in an essay included with the box set. The
GSO first played Sibelius’ second symphony in 1907, just a few years after the
symphony’s first performances. The composer eventually conducted the piece
three times with the ensemble. Nielsen conducted the first GSO performances of
his Symphony No. 4 in 1918, two years after its premiere. He conducted his
fifth symphony with the orchestra four years later.

 

For those who have watched and heard Dudamel in action, it’s
easy to close your eyes and picture all of the familiar musical gestures that
he brings to a concert performance, e.g., the way he shapes the ends of
phrases, the lilting dances and the manner in which he builds long crescendos
of sound (this shows up particularly in the ends of both Nielsen symphonies and
the Adagio in Bruckner’s 9th), the
way the GSO strings dig into certain phrases.

 

There’s much to recommend in these recordings, particularly
if you don’t have them in your current collection. The GSO may not quite match
up in all respects to the world’s greatest orchestras but it’s a formidable
ensemble that has developed a rich relationship with Dudamel, who in turn has
discovered a real affinity for the music of three composers. Moreover, during
the next decades Dudamel’s take on these compositions is sure to mature with more
study and performances. Thus, this is a recording worth having if for no other
reason than as a historical record that will allow listeners to compare
Dudamel’s artistic growth over the years.

_______________________

 

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

PREVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic to open 2011-2012 season with gala concert Tuesday

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Herbie Hancock, piano

Gershwin: Cuban
Overture, Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris

Tuesday, Sept. 27; 7 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall

Information: www.laphil.com

 

55388-Dudamel:Hancock.jpg

Gustavo Dudamel (L) will conduct the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and Herbie Hancock will be the soloist in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue during Tuesday night’s
gala concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

______________________

 

Many major American symphony orchestras open their seasons
with splashy gala concerts. Tickets are pricer than normal since the event
usually raises money for a good cause (in this case the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s musicians pension fund and educational programs). Attire is
dressier than normal, even in laid back Los Angeles. Grand Avenue will be
closed off for a post-concert party (which accounts for the 7 p.m. concert
time).

 

Often these types of concerts are frothy affairs in terms of
music but, as with most everything else he does, Gustavo Dudamel doesn’t follow
standard conventions for his galas. Two years ago in his first Walt Disney Hall
concert as LAPO music director, Dudamel and Co. opened with Mahler’s Symphony
No. 1 and the world premiere of John Adams’ City
Noir.
Last year’s gala brought Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez to the
Disney Hall stage for a scintillating collection of opera arias and songs, while
“the Dude” and his orchestra danced their way through several overtures and
Latin American numbers (although I’m still waiting for a performance of
Rossini’s William Tell Overture that
got dumped at the last minute).

 

For Gala No. 3 Tuesday night, Dudamel has planned a program
that seems like it belongs up the freeway at Hollywood Bowl. That, of course,
is one of its charms: the opportunity to hear George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris played indoors in
Disney Hall’s marvelous, natural (i.e., unamplified) acoustics with no wine
bottles or circling helicopters to spoil the music.

 

However, the most intriguing part of the program is the
soloist for Rhapsody in Blue: 71-year-old jazz legend Herbie Hancock. It will be
interesting to hear (a) whether Hancock plays the concerto “straight” or with
improvisatory twists and (b) what, if anything, extra he’ll do as encores on
Tuesday evening.

 

Hancock’s fame comes from his work in electronic and
acoustic jazz, along with Rhythm and Blues (his official bio is HERE). In 2010,
he was appointed the LAPO’s Creative Chair for Jazz, but it’s worth noting that
he was a child prodigy who performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago
Symphony at the age of 11.

In addition to his Disney Hall performance, Hancock will
also play Rhapsody in Blue with the
Calgary Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony and Oregon Symphony next month.

 

The L.A. Phil’s 2011-2012 subscription season opens Sept.
30, Oct. 1 and 2 with an all-orchestral (i.e., no soloist) concert that
includes Adams’ Tromba Iontana (a
four-minute-long fanfare), the U.S.
premiere of Rituales Amerindios by
Argentinean composer Esteban Benzecry, and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

 

Benzecry wrote Rituales
Amerindios (Amerindian Rituals)
in 2008 on a commission from the Gothenburg
Symphony Orchestra and dedicated it to Dudamel, who first performed it with his
Swedish band in 2010. It’s a 25-minute piece in three movements: I. Ehcatl (Azteca wind god) II. Chaac (Maya water god) III. Illapa (Incan
thunderclap god).

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Opera

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin

Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: Sept. 25 and Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. Oct. 1 and
6 at 7:30 p.m.

Information: www.laopera.com

55381-OneginPhoto.jpg

 

Dalibor Jenis (Onegin) and Oksana Dyka (Tatiana) are the
leads in Los Angeles Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, now playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (Photo
by Robert Millard)

______________________

 

Most people in Los Angeles know the music of Pyotr Ilyich
Tchaikovsky through his fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies, his first piano
concerto, violin concerto and, to a lesser extent, his ballet music. The reason
they don’t know him as an opera composer is simple: in its first quarter century,
Los Angeles Opera mounted just one opera by the Russian composer, The Queen of Spades, five years ago.

 

Now, to begin its 26th season, the company has
added another Tchaikovsky opera to its canon with an often riveting production
of Eugene Onegin, which — when
combined with its sparkling presentation of Mozart’s Cos fan tutte (LINK) — makes for a compelling a one-two punch during
the next three weeks at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

 

It’s beginning to sound like a broken record (for those old
enough to know what that phrase means) but, once again, this production’s
strength begins with Music Director James Conlon and his Los Angeles Opera
Orchestra. Conlon — who seemingly has never met a genre he doesn’t relish — was
in peak form last night, leading a performance that reveled in Tchaikovsky’s
luxuriant music while keeping things moving forward, and the orchestra produced
sumptuous sounds throughout the evening. The LA Opera Chorus (61 strong, the
same number as the orchestra), generated mighty masses of sound most of the
time.

 

Most of the cast is unknown to Los Angeles but Conlon and
General Director Plcido Domingo continue to be able to uncover strong singers
(presumably at less-than-star prices) for crucial roles. Slovakian baritone
Dalibor Jenis, in his company debut, sang the title character with soaring
power that improved throughout the evening. Ukranian soprano Oksana Dyka, who
is making her American opera debut in the role of Tatiana, looked and sounded
radiant both in the first-act letter scene and also in the climactic moments. As
Lensky, Russian Vsevolod Grivnov’s tenor voice tended toward steely,
occasionally nasal tones but his second-act farewell scene was moving.

 

Three LA Opera alumni nearly stole the show in supporting
roles: Ronnita Nicole Miller as Filipieyna; James Creswell as Prince Gremin;
and Keith Jameson as Monsieur Triquet. Others in the cast included Ekaterina
Semenchuk as Olga Larina and Margaret Thompson as Madame Larina.

 

As is the case with Cos,
this production comes from overseas, in this case courtesy of Royal Opera
House, Covent Garden and the Finnish National Opera of Helsinki. Director
Stephen Pimlott created the original production in 2006, a year before he
died. These performances are being directed by Francesca Gilspan, who led last
year’s LAO production of The Turn of the
Screw.
In Onegin, she resorted
much of the time to standard stock-opera poses that helped project sound into
the Pavilion but occasionally left something to be desired in terms of dramatic
tension.

 

The sets and costumes by Anthony McDonald range from
puzzling to functional to dazzling; the most puzzling were the paintings on the
scrims that precede each of the scenes (including an opening painting of a nude
young man). However, the sets were effective creating spatial separation that
(from an orchestra seat) made the cast seem far away when that’s appropriate.
Peter Mumford’s sensitive lighting was a real plus throughout the evening.

 

Finnish dancer Ulrika Halberg took over choreography duties
from Linda Dobell, who died in 2009. Halberg had a lot to do because there are
five separate dance scenes in Onegin. Among
other things, she managed to create a very passable ice-skating scene in the
third act (don’t ask me how it was done but it looked realistic from an
orchestra seat). The second set made for a somewhat cramped ball scene, which
had the effect of making the waltzing seem somewhat stilted.

 

Fortunately for all concerned, Tchaikovsky’s music shines
through gloriously during much of the 3:05 that this performance consumed. The
composer worried about his ability to translate Alexander Pushkin’s novel but
the music has all of the heart-on-the-sleeve emotion that characterizes
Tchaikovsky’s more famous works, and this production lets that shine through.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

For a change, James Conlon’s preconcert lecture is just
that: all lecture and no musical excerpts. Some of the lecture is contained in
the article in the printed program; there’s also a longer version online HERE.
There are also articles online by James Kincaid and Leeann Davis Alspaugh.

Perhaps they were obvious to other people, but I would
have found it helpful for someone to explain (a) what the scrim paintings were
and (b) why they were chosen.

If you’re an Andrew Greeley fan, Monsieur Triquett’s witty
couplets for Tatiana in the second act play a pivotal point in Greeley’s
charming little Christmas book, Star
Bright.

_______________________

 

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

PREVIEW: Colburn Orchestra opens season Saturday at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first published today in Pasadena Scene magazine.

______________________

 

The Colburn
Orchestra; Yehuda Gilad, music director and conductor

Saturday,
September 24, 7:30 p.m.

Ambassador
Auditorium, 300 W. Green St, Pasadena

Free
admission (tickets are required; download from Web site– or call 213/621-1050)

NOTE: As of today,
the orchestra had announced a sellout although a standby line will be
available on the Web site.

Information:
www.colburnschool.edu

______________________

 

After
years of wandering from one home to another, The Colburn Orchestra will play
all five free concerts of its upcoming season in the acoustically friendly
confines of Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium.

 

55350-Gilad-Web.jpg

Music
Director Yehuda Gilad (pictured right), who founded the orchestra when Colburn’s
Conservatory of Music was formed in 2003, will lead the opening concert on
Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m. with a program that includes Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, the
Mussorsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition
and Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, with Colburn student Francesca dePasquale, winner
of the 24th Irving M. Klein String Competition in 2010, as soloist.

 

The
Colburn Conservatory is the West Coast equivalent to such prestigious East
Coast institutions as The Juilliard School in New York City and Curtis Institute
of Music in Philadelphia.  As many
as 100 students, ages 17-26, play in the orchestra with approximately 30
percent of the ensemble turning over each year.

 

“It’s
a fascinating dynamic and each year is different,” says Gilad, also a fine
clarinetist who teaches at both The Colburn School and the University of
Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. “All the students all come in
with fine technical ability — they can all play the notes and play in tune. My
job is to find ways to meld them into a cohesive, beautiful whole, to mold them
rather than changing them.”

 

Even
the orchestra’s principals (i.e., first-chair players) change from year to
year. “We hold auditions every year and my staff and I then choose a leadership
pool to help guide the entire ensemble,” explains Gilad, who was born and
raised on a kibbutz in Israel. “Some principals are new; others remain from
previous years. The ones who have been here before know what sort of color and
timbre I want and they help the others. For example, this year, we’ll have
different wind principals for every concert, which does present a unique set of
challenges.”

 

55351-Tovey-Web.jpg

Gilad
will lead three of the five concerts, including programs on Oct. 22 and Feb. 4,
2012. Gerard Schwarz, who recently completed a 25-year tenure as music director
of the Seattle Symphony, will conduct on Dec. 3. Bramwell Tovey (pictured right), music director
of the Vancouver Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl, will lead the season’s final concert on March
3.

 

“I
love having two or three guest conductors a year,” says Gilad. “They bring a
different flavor, another point of view to the orchestra and that provides
great experience for the students who, after all, will experience just that
sort of thing routinely when they move on to professional orchestras.”

 

One
of the issues that Gilad won’t face this year is adjusting to five different
halls. The Colburn School’s main performing space, Zipper Hall (which is
located across the street from Walt Disney Concert Hall) is an excellent locale
for chamber music but neither the size of the stage nor the hall’s capacity are
appropriate for orchestral concerts.

 

“It
would be wonderful to have our own hall on campus where we could both practice
and rehearse all the time,” says Gilad. “However, Ambassador Auditorium is a
wonderful hall and I always look forward to working there. Each hall has a
completely different sound and it always takes a while to adjust. My staff and
I have to listen very closely to get the right balances and quality of sound;
eventually we find what we want. As the season goes on, we’ll come to think of
Ambassador as home — there’s a real sense of excitement and expectation for all
of us. We’ll be up to it — I know I am!

_______________________

 

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

PREVIEW: Electric guitar (yes, you read that right) to be featured at Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra opening concerts

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor, Wiek Hijmans, electric guitar

Mozart: Magic Flute Overture;
Osvaldo Golijov: Sidereus (West Coast
premiere); Derek Bermel: Ritornello for electric guitar and orchestra (West
Coast premiere); Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major

Saturday, September 24, 8 p.m. Alex Theatre, Glendale

Sunday, September 25, 7 p.m. Royce Hall, UCLA

Preconcert lectures one hour before each program.

Information: www.laco.org

 

55303-Wiejmans-ocean.jpg

Electric Guitarist
Wiek Hijmans will be the soloist in this weekend’s season-opening concerts by
the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (details above). Photo credit: Tom Weerheijm

________________________

 

Beethoven and The Beatles? Well, The Fab Four won’t be appearing at this weekend’s Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra concerts — the opening programs in the ensemble’s 43rd
season — but one of the featured works on the program will certain channel the
boys from Liverpool … and the concert will conclude with one of Beethoven’s most
sublime piano concertos.

 

Jeffrey Kahane will begin his 15th season as
LACO’s music director with an eclectic program that seems wildly exotic but, in
fact, is tightly knit by tradition. Kahane will open and close with two
cornerstones of classical music: Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, in
which Kahane will both be soloist and conduct from the keyboard.

 

In between will come two West Coast premieres: Sidereus, an overture-like work by
Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov that was premiered a year ago by the Memphis
Symphony, and — most intriguingly — Ritornello
for Electric Guitar and Orchestra
by LACO Composer-in-Residence Derek Bermel.
Dutch musician Wiek Hijmans, for whom the latter piece was written, will be the
soloist.

 

Don’t be put off by the solo instrument, says Hijmans. “Ritornello [Encyclopedia Britannica calls
the title 'a recurrent musical section that alternates with different episodes
of contrasting material'] is written in a very classical form,” he explains, “with
very beautiful and even catchy material. Audiences come away whistling the
tunes.”

 

For both the composer and soloist, electric guitars were
seminal influences in their musical upbringing. “As a teenager,” writes Bermel (who,
like Hijmans, was born in 1967), “I was an avid fan of the prog-rock band “King
Crimson” in its second incarnation, which featured the great electric guitar
duo Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew. When I set out to write this concerto, their
mesmerizing contrapuntal textures came to mind. As the piece evolved, the
material seemed connected to the Baroque concerto
grosso,
both in style and form exemplified by composers
such as Corelli and
Vivaldi.”

 

As with many concerto
grosso
works, Bimel has left spaces in the 14-minute piece for
improvisation. “Knowing
that Wiek Hijmans is a
formidable improviser,” says Bimel, “I left room
for him to explore further musical possibilities, separating the ritornello sections with ‘French
Overture’ interludes (exemplified by composers such as Lully), the second one
overlaid with a thrash-metal (Metallica, Slayer, et al.) solo that likewise
evokes the Baroque aesthetic in its mannered, epic style.”

 

If
that all sounds a bit formidable, relax, says Hijmans. “The cadenzas are a very
old form, and they give me the chance for me to meld classical and electric
guitar sounds,” he explains. “Moreover, each time I play the piece it’s a
different experience. I develop the cadenza in concert, as it were, feeding off
of each audience and each hall; I can’t tell you now exactly what it will sound
like. Things like the size of the hall and the reaction of the audience make a
difference.”

 

Hijmans has been able to grow into the work, which was
premiered May 21 by David Allen Miller and the Albany [NY} uSymphony Orchestra.
A month later came the European premiere with the Netherlands Jeugdorkest
(Youth String Orchestra) in Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw concert hall. “I’ve
played the piece five times with the Netherlands YSO,” says Hijmans. “It’s
quite exceptional that a new piece for orchestra has been played eight times in
five months.”

 

The 44-year-old Hijmans has been working to this moment for
most of his life. His parents were trained in classical music. “However,” he
says with a chuckle, “I grew up listening to The Beatles (which my sister
introduced into our house). I was totally psyched by their music and from a
very early age, I felt the urge to merge Western classical music sounds with
rock music.”

 

Although Hijmans lived in what he termed “quite a boring
town in southwest Holland,” he did attend new music festivals that featured
composers such as Morton Feldman and John Cage. Hijmans played percussion in
the school orchestra and electric guitar and experimented with the improvisational
sounds and styles of jazz

 

He eventually went on to the Sweelinck Conservatory of
Amsterdam because, as he wryly notes, “there was no rock academy where I could
study.” He studied genres such as Palestrina counterpoint along with classical
guitar, where a progressive teacher allowed him to use his electric guitar
during lessons. During that time, he and several students formed improvisatory
ensembles that performed music ranging from Stockhausen to rock.

 

Hijmans eventually won a Fullbright Scholarship to study
with David Starbio at the Manhattan School of Music. One of the members of the
Fullbright jury was Bermel and the two struck up a friendship that is reflected
in this new concerto.

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera opens sparkling production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Opera

Mozart: Cos Fan Tutte

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: Sept. 22, 24 and Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Oct.
2 and 8 at 2 p.m.

Information: www.laopera.com

______________________

 

Last February when Los Angeles Opera mounted a sparkling
production of Rossini’s The Turk in
Italy,
who knew that it would be the beginning of an “opera buffa”
revolution at the nation’s fourth-largest opera company? Judging from the top-notch
presentation of Mozart’s Cos Fan Tutte, which
opened yesterday afternoon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LAO may have found
its true calling as it begins its second quarter-century of operation.

 

Presenting top-quality “opera buffa” (“comic opera”) isn’t as
easy as it might appear. Great “opera buffa” requires wit, style and a total
commitment by everyone in the company to make this genre work. Among other
things, the entire cast must be strong and blend together expertly; even one
miscast role can doom a production. In addition, the orchestra and conductor
must be able — and willing — to master this unique musical style, sometimes (as
was the case yesterday) a day after playing a totally different kind of music (in
this case, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, which
opened its local run Saturday night).

 

Fortunately, James Conlon (beginning his sixth season as
LAO’s music director) has built the LAO Orchestra into a first-rate ensemble
and they set the bar very high yesterday. Conlon’s pacing was graceful when the
score called for that (often) and full of brio when those moments occurred. The
orchestra, which numbered just 46, was in top form throughout the afternoon, a
noteworthy feat particularly when you realize that Cos began less than 16 hours after Eugene Onegin ended Saturday night.

 

Cos is the last
in a trilogy of operas that Mozart wrote in collaboration with librettist
Lorenzo da Ponte. It’s the least performed of the three (the others are The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni). Unlike the first two,
which focus on the foibles of men, Cos offers
its take on the behavior of women (although the men don’t exactly emerge in
glory, either).

 

With LAO continuing in its cost-containment mode, the
company imported this production, created in 2006 by Nicholas Hytner, from England’s
Glyndenbourne Festival Opera; that same company also was the source of last
year’s The Turn of the Screw by
Benjamin Britten. One advantage of using borrowed productions is that other
companies get to produce the occasional flops, while we get to pick and choose
the successes. This was one of the latter.

 

Like the Britten opera, this Cos used a clean, yet elegant, unit set that used sliding walls to
shift the action between inside rooms, terraces and gardens located (in this
case) presumably in Naples. Ashley Dean, making his U.S. debut, directed
deftly, aided by two more U.S. first-timers, Vicki Mortimer (costumes) and Andrew
May (lighting).

 

The sextet of singers — four of them making their company
debuts — looked appropriately young, sang beautifully, and acted their roles in
this “battle of the sexes” story with saucy panache. Polish-born soprano
Aleksandra Kurzak handled the wide range of Fiordigi with seeming ease and
brought real pathos to her moving arias in both acts. Romanian mezzo Ruxandra
Donose was a somewhat lower-key Dorabella. Albanian tenor Saimir Pirugu sang
with gleaming, sweet tones, while Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
portayed Gugliemo with appropriate amounts of power. Another Italian, Lorenzo
Regazzo, was effective as the scheming Don Alfonso and Roxana Constantinescu
nearly stole the show with her wicked portrayal of the maid, Despina.

 

LAO last presented Cos
a dozen years ago. One hopes it won’t be another 12 before it returns. In the
meantime, grab a ticket for one of the remaining five presentations and prepare
to be thoroughly delighted.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

As usual, James Conlon (with his ever-present iPod)
delivers an erudite preconcert lecture an hour before each performance. Among
other things, Conlon pointed out that the opera’s title is Cosi fan tutte with an e at the end of the last word
because tutte is feminine gender in
Italian (tutti with an I would
have denoted men or everyone). Conlon’s lecture was particularly helpful for
those who never seen Cos before,
with lots of good information, a deft plot synopsis, and an intriguing question
at the end.

There are several articles worth reading ahead of time on
the LAO Web site HERE (they’re also in the printed program).

The production runs abut 3:35 with one 25-minute
intermission.

_______________________

 

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