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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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