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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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