Cleaning out the inbox, checking out other Blogs, etc.

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

ON THE SMALL SCREEN

Orchestral music gets a healthy dose of television
prime-time exposure during the next week with three major programs scheduled on
some local public broadcast stations. They’ll also be streamed on the Web after
the telecasts.

 

At 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, PBSSoCal (formerly KOCE), will
telecast the “Live from Lincoln Center” New York Philharmonic New Year’s Eve
concert, which features music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein under
the baton of Music Director Alan Gilbert. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be
the soloist in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in
Blue
and Concerto in F. The orchestra will also play Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Information: www.pbs.org

 

BTW: Thibaudet will join with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
at Walt Disney Concert Hall on January 5, 6, 7 and 8 as soloist in Liszt’s
Piano Concerto No. 2. Former LAPO Associate Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya will
also lead Dvorak’s Hussite Overture
and Saint-Sans’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). There’s
an interesting tie, as John Henken writes in his program note for the symphony.
Saint-Sans dedicated the piece (which, in addition to its organ part, is
scored for piano four-hands) to Liszt, who died in 1886, the year the symphony
was composed. Information: www.laphil.com

 

On January 1 at 6 p.m., PBSSoCal will air the “Great Performances”
telecast of the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Concert. Mariss Jansons
will lead the orchestra in the city’s famed Musikverein with a frothy program
of music by the Strausses (Johann, Johann Sr. and Edward), Tchaikovsky and
others. Julie Andrews will be the host. Information
(with the complete program listing):
www.pbs.org

 

PBSSoCal comes back on January 6 at 9 p.m. with a “Great
Performances” telecast of the L.A. Phil’s gala concert that opened the
2011-2012 Disney Hall season last September. The program is all-Gershwin: An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue, with jazz legend
Herbie Hancock as the soloist. The TV schedule says that the program will also
include one of the two improvisations on Gershwin tunes (Someone to Watch Over Me) that Hancock performed in September.
Apparently the one-hour telecast will not include the Cuban Overture that opened the gala or the other improv (Embraceable You) that Hancock played
that night. Information: www.pbs.org

  

Following the concert telecast, PBSSoCal will repeat an
interview between Tavis Smiley and Dudamel.

 

DUDAMEL ON VINYL?

Norman Lebrecht is reporting on his Blog, Slipped Disc, (LINK) that Gustavo
Dudamel’s next recording on the Deutsche Grammophon label will be a vinyl
pressing, scheduled for release in May, of the Venezuelan maestro conducting
the Vienna Philharmonic as it plays Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish. It should also be noted that
neither DGG nor Dudamel have officially commented on the subject (at least that
I can find).

 

In Lebrecht’s comment section, there are predictably joyous
reactions from those who love vinyl recordings as opposed to CDs, although as
some responders point out there are questions as to the recording format to be
used. I wonder (a) are there enough vinyl lovers in the world to make this
commercially viable or will be there also be CD and iTunes versions available;
(b) how many people can really tell the difference in recording formats; and
(c) if they can, will they be willing to invest in the high-quality equipment
necessary to make the difference audible? (My answers are “I doubt it,”
“relatively few,” and “I can’t afford it.”). Stay tuned … so to speak.

 

The thing that interested me about this recording is that
the Scottish Symphony will (if you
judge by the cover Lebrecht posted) be the only piece on the LP. When Dudamel
and the L.A. Phil played it last October, the symphony clocked in at about 40
minutes, which seems pretty short for a record.

 

ANNE MIDGETTE

Anne is the Washington
Post’s
classical music critic and her Blog, The Classical Beat, is one of my favorite reads. However, her last
Blog post was Nov. 1 and I wondered whether that newspaper had joined the list of publications to deep-six their classical
music reviews or whether she was ill. Neither, fortunately, is the case. She’s
on maternity leave and will be back on the “beat” in mid-January. Good for her
and for us, too.

 

WYNTON MARSALIS

This isn’t exactly news — CBS News released it on Dec. 15 –
but I’m not on its distribution list so I just caught up with it via a post on
Peter Dobrin’s Blog (LINK). Trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis has been
named Cultural Correspondent for CBS News, appearing on CBS This Morning and CBS
Sunday Morning.
His first CBS News gig will be on Monday, Jan. 16 (natch) –
the day that the nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. A link
to the media release is HERE.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Look ahead to 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last week I looked back at some of the memorable events of
2011 (LINK). Today I look forward, and “bulging” is the most appropriate word I
can think of when describing the classical music calendar in the first quarter
of 2012 (I won’t even attempt to list everything that I think is important for
all of next year). Among the major programs scheduled in the next few months
are:

 

ORCHESTRA

The Mahler Project

The Los Angeles Philharmonic kicks off its nearly month-long
survey of Gustav Mahler’s music in mid-January. Gustavo Dudamel will lead two
of the orchestra he heads — the L.A. Phil and Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra
of Venezuela — in 17 performances from January 13 through February 4 at Walt
Disney Concert Hall and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The sweeping
enterprise will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of
the great Austrian composer-conductor Gustav Mahler (which actually took place
on May 18, 1911).

 

Dudamel (who turns age 31 on Jan. 26) will lead every
performance. The Bolivrs will play four of the symphonies, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic will play four, and the two ensembles will combine and join with
more 800 choristers and eight soloists for the Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 4 at the
Shrine Auditorium, one of the few times in history when that work’s subtitle, “Symphony
of a Thousand,” will be fact as
opposed to appellation.

 

Following the Los Angeles concerts, the entire cycle will be
performed again in Caracas, Venezuela; the Feb. 18 performance of “Symphony of
a Thousand” will be telecast live from the Venezuelan capital at 2 p.m. (PST)
in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada (LINK). “Mahler Project” information: www.laphil.com

 

Andrew Shulman
doubles down with PSO and LACO

Shulman is principal cellist of the Pasadena Symphony
Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. On Jan. 13 he will appear as
soloist with the PSO at Ambassador Auditorium playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
The following weekend (Jan. 20 and 21), he will conduct LACO in a program that
will include former Colburn School student Nigel Armstrong as soloist in
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 (Armstrong won fourth place in last June’s
Tchaikovsky Violin Competition.

PSO information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

LACO information: www.laco.org

 

The Colburn Orchestra

This top-notch student ensemble wraps up its season at
Ambassador Auditorium with concerts on Feb. 4 and March 3. The latter will be
led by Bramwell Tovey, music director of the Vancouver and principal guest
conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl for the past three
summers. The Colburn Orchestra’s free concerts go through their ticket
allotments quickly so now is the time to log on and secure your seats (you
print the tickets when you make the reservation).

Information: www.colburnschool.edu

OPERA

San Diego Opera

San Diego Opera grabs the spotlight beginning Feb. 18 when
it presents the West Coast debut of Moby
Dick
by Jake Heggie (best known, until now, for his opera Dead Man Walking). This production got
mostly rave reviews when it debuted at Dallas Opera in May 2010 (LINK with
reviews) and the San Diego production includes Canadian tenor Ben Heppner
reprising his title role performance in San Diego. SD Opera Resident Conductor
Karen Keltner will conduct. It’s sung in English with supertitles. The company
will also present a production of Richard Strauss’ Salome beginning Jan. 28, with Lise Lindstrom in the title role. Information: www.sdopera.com

 

Los Angeles Opera

February will be a busy opera month. Los Angeles Opera
resumes its 2011-2012 season with productions of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra beginning Feb. 11 in the first of seven
performances and Britten’s Albert
Herring,
which opens Feb. 25 and continues with five performances in March.
LA Opera Music Director James Conlon will conduct both operas.

 

Simon Boccanegra
is significant because Plcido Domingo is in the title role, a part that was
written for a baritone (Domingo, of course, has spent nearly all of his career
as a tenor, although he now appears to be more comfortable in lower ranges).
This production originated at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Albert Herring is
the latest in a string of Benjamin Britten operas that the company is
presenting in a lead-up to the composer’s birth centennial in 2013. Although
LAO mounted Albert Herring early in
the company’s history, this production originated at Santa Fe Opera. Alek
Shrader makes his LAO debut in the title role. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Long Beach Opera

This intrepid company explores the world of the tango with a
production of Maria de Buenos Aires,
composed by Astor Piazzolla to a libretto by poet Hoarcio Ferrer. Sung in
Spanish with English supertitles, it plays Jan. 29 and Feb. 4 at the Warner
Theater in San Pedro. Information: www.longbeachoperea.com

IN MOVIE THEATERS

On the big screen, the Metropolitan Opera continues its High
Definition telecasts into movie theaters with three screenings in January and
February, including its new production of Wagner’s Gtterdmerung on Feb. 11. Information:
www.metopereafamily.org

 

CHORAL MUSIC

Although choral music concerts occur frequently, the
three-week span from March 17-April 6 has an unusually large number of notable
events.

 

Chorale Bel Canto will
sing Bach’s Mass in B Minor on March 17 at Whittier College as the major event
in the 75th annual Whittier Bach Festival. Stephen Gothold conducts
the CBC (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year),
soloists and orchestra in this monument of choral literature. Information: www.choralebelcanto.org

 

Angeles Chorale
will celebrate what conductor John Sutton calls “America’s most significant
musical story — gospel and jazz; the stories of our lives; and musical depictions
of the human experience” on March 24 at First United Methodist Church,
Pasadena. The featured work will be Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Los Angeles Master
Chorale,
which will present a concert of Bruckner and Stravinsky on Feb.
12, returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 31 and April 1 for a
performance of Bach’s St. John Passion. Grant
Gershon conducts both programs; the Bach features the area’s foremost
period-instrument ensemble, Musica Angelica. Information: www.lamc.org

 

As an added note:
my weekly “Five Spot” posts will return on Jan. 5. Each week, I list five notable
concerts for the upcoming weekend including, ideally, one that is either free
admission or very low cost. Have a safe and happy new year.

_______________________

 

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

NEWS AND LINKS: San Diego renews Civic Organist’s contract

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

For those of us who are organ lovers, the following New York Times article was a very nice
post-Christmas present (LINK).

 

An article earlier in the year in the San Diego Union-Tribune (LINK) noted
that “[Organist Carol] Williams’ current contract pays her $555 for each of her
weekly Sunday-afternoon concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa
Park, for a total of $286,000 over 10 years. She is also obligated to play
three civic events a year for free. In addition to her contract with the city,
Williams is paid $35,798 a year by the Spreckels Organ Society, where she is
the artistic director. The society also covers her health benefits.”

 

According to the NYT, the city provides $13,400 per year in
addition to Williams’ salary (she’s the first woman to hold the position of
Civic Organist); the $42,000 from the city represents less than 17% of the
annual $250,000 budget for the weekly Sunday concerts and a Monday night summer
series. Members of the Spreckels Organ Society collect $30,000 and the balance
comes from grants and outside donations.

 

BTW: If you’ve never heard one of the outdoor organ concerts
in Balboa Park, you should put it on your to-do list when you’re next in San
Diego. They’re really quite impressive and it’s a great way to spend an hour or
so on a Sunday afternoon.

_______________________

 

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

PROGRAM ALERT: Met’s “Magic Flute” to be telecast tonight in theaters; “Hansel and Gretel” plays tomorrow night

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Tonight is an “encore performance” of the Metropolitan
Opera’s HD telecast of Mozart’s The Magic
Flute
to be shown at 6:30 p.m. (PST) in a handful of theaters throughout
Southern California. The title is correct; the 1 hour long program is sung in
English using a sparkling production designed by Julie Taymor (creator of The Lion King musical).

 

Tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, another wonderful
production that, among other things, includes Philip Landridge as the Witch in
one of his final appearances (he died a couple of months after this production
first aired in December 2009).

 

Details, including lists of the theaters showing each
program (not all theaters are showing both), are HERE. They’re both worth
seeing.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Looking back on 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

With Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday church services
coming on the weekend this year, I’m going to post my “End of the Year Wrap-up”
column today so I don’t forget to do so. I hope all of you will find time to
attend a service, listen to the annual Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols
from King’s College Cambridge (locally on KUSC,
91-5 FM, at 7 a.m. Saturday), and have a blessed and joyous Christmas.

 

Looking back on the classical music year 2011 brought a
fascinating flood of remembrances. I discovered that (counting this column) I
have posted 236 times during the year on subjects as diverse as the genre. Some
of these posts also appeared in the above newspapers but — newsprint space
being what it is — obviously this Blog gives you much more. Following are some
of the significant occurrences of 2011, listed in sort-of-alphabetical order.

 

AMBASSADOR AUDITORIUM

The Pasadena hall with great acoustics will never approach
the number of events it hosted when it was built in 1974 but HRock Church
(which now owns the auditorium) has made it available to a number of performing
groups, including the Pasadena Symphony, Colburn Orchestra and, for one concert
a year, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

 

ANNIVERSARIES

Grant Gershon celebrated his 10th anniversary as
music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale last season. This fall Jeffrey
Kahane began his 15th season as music director of the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra. Both men — and both organizations — are among the reasons
why the Southern California music scene is so vibrant.

 

NIGEL ARMSTRONG and
NAREK HAKHNAZARAYAN

Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, a 22-year-old Armenian who in
January played the Dvorak Concerto with the Pasadena Symphony, won the gold
medal in the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition in June. Meanwhile,
Nigel Armstrong, a 21-year-old graduate of The Colburn School, won fourth place
in the violin portion of the competition. Earlier, Armstrong — who studied with
Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School — won an award for his performance of Stomp by American composer John
Corigliano.

 

BTW: Armstrong (who is now a grad student at The Curtis
Institute in Philadelphia) will return to Los Angeles to perform with the Los
Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Jan. 21 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and Jan. 22 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall (LINK).

 

AWARDS

Los Angeles Philharmonic Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka
Salonen won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. The work
was premiered in April 2009 with Salonen conducting the L.A. Phil and soloist
Leila Josefowicz (who grew up in Los Angeles and, like Nigel Armstrong, studied
with Ronald Lipsett at The Colburn School).

 

The award also spotlighted the Phil as America’s premiere
orchestra for commissioning and performing new music, another legacy of
Salonen’s 18-year-tenure as LAPO music director. The Phil is the only orchestra
to have commissioned and premiered two Grawemeyer Award compositions (Peter
Lieberson’s Neruda Songs in
2005 was the other) and Salonen is the only conductor to have led the first
performances of two winning scores (Neruda
Songs
and his own concerto).

 

Martin Haselbck, music director of Musica Angelica — the top-notch
Los Angeles-based period instrument ensemble — won a Grand Prix International
du Disque award for a recording he made with his other ensemble, the Vienna
Academy Orchestra, entitled The Sound of
Weimar: Franz Liszt; The Complete Works for Orchestra, Vol. 1.

 

CLASHING PROGRAMS

Each
year often brings one or two pieces that seemingly everyone wants to present,
and this year was no exception. There were four performances of Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No. 5 within a 16-day span in October (and two more to come next
month). Fortunately, several of the performances (Gustavo Dudamel with the L.A.
Phil, Yuja Wang) rose to exalted levels. Runner-up in this category was to
multiple performances of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (at least four in
four months) and an unusually large number of performances of Handel’s
Messiah in December.

 

DEATHS

Although the death of Steve Jobs on Oct. 5 dominated the
year’s obituaries, bringing to an untimely end the career of a man whose
inventions such as iTunes and iPod revolutionized the music industry, there
were other notable passings in our field, as well, including:

Daniel Catn died unexpectedly on April 8 at the age of
62. Although he composed many works, Catn was riding high after his opera Il Postino (The Postman) received its
world premiere in September 2010 by Los Angeles Opera.

Peter Lieberson (April 23), whose compositions included Neruda Songs, which (as noted above) was
premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005. The
soloist for whom the Grawemeyer Award-winning piece was written was Lorraine
Hunt Lieberson, the composer’s wife, who died the following year.

Sidney Harth (Feb. 16) was concertmaster of the Los
Angeles Philharmonic during the Carlo Maria Giulini era in the 1980s. He later
became a conductor, most notably with the Jerusalem Symphony.

Kurt Sanderling (Sept. 17) was a beloved guest conductor
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the 1980s and 1990s.

 

One other note: Salonen and Pierre Boulez returned to Los
Angeles on March 29 for a poignant tribute concert to the life and legacy of
Ernest Flesichmann, the orchestra’s longtime managing director who died in June
2010. It was a concert that Fleischmann would have loved, both for its
innovative programming and the quality of the performances.

 

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL

Now that the hoopla surrounding the now-30-year-old
Venezuelan’s debut as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director has subsided
somewhat, we’re watching this remarkable conducting talent mature as each year
passes. Although the Phil’s “Brahms Unbound” cycle devolved to “Brahms Unbound”
as illness, death and tardiness conspired to eliminate most of the new
compositions originally scheduled for the five-week-long “festival,” Dudamel
and the Phil delivered some superb performances of Brahms and newer works, as
well. Next month comes an even bigger challenge: The Mahler Project (more on
that next week and in January).

 

LOS ANGELES OPERA

Two years after presenting Wagner’s Ring cycle, LA Opera has put together a string of very successful
productions, including Verdi’s Rigoletto,
Rossini’s The Turk in Italy and
Britten’s The Turn of the Screw
earlier this year and then Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Onegin.
Gounod’s Romo et Juliette and,
in particular, Mozart’s Cos Fan Tutte
to open the current season.

 

Although it occurred in 2010, the world premiere of Daniel
Catn’s Il Postino (The Postman) continued
to resonate this year, in part because of the untimely death of the composer
and also because PBS’s “Great Performances” series telecast the world-premiere
production earlier this month.

 

LA PHIL LIVE

The jury is still out as to whether live telecasts of
orchestra concerts will attain the same level of popularity as the Metropolitan
Opera’s HD telecasts, but Dudamel and the Phil offered persuasively for the new
format in four concerts during 2011. The interviews and rehearsal footage are
worth the price of admission.

 

The one telecast that really stood out for me was the
concert that melded readings from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Tempest and Romeo
and Juliet
with music that Tchaikovsky wrote inspired by each play. The
actors performing the sketches were much easier to follow on the telecast as
opposed to being in Disney Hall. For the first concert of the current season,
Dudamel did a surprisingly good job acting as both host and conductor. The next
telecast is Feb. 18, a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 live from
Caracas, Venezuela.

 

MUSE-IQUE

A year after stepping down as music director of the Pasadena
Pops Orchestra, Rachael Worby returned with her life-long dream of a group that
would provide innovative and flexible programs. The opening event was an
orchestra concert on the lawn adjacent to Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium that
featured soprano Jessye Norman as the soloist. Both the locale and the program
proved to be quite special. Two small-ensemble programs followed in the fall.
Stay tuned in 2012.

 

THE OUTDOOR CONCERT
VENUE BATTLE

Springtime erupted when the Los Angeles County Arboretum
announced that it had selected the Pasadena Pops to replace the California
Philharmonic at the Arcadia venue beginning summer 2012. After much angst and
anger, the Cal Phil then decided to move slightly east to a venue that might –
if early projections actually come to pass — prove to be a more congenial home:
Santa Anita Racetrack.

 

Hollywood Bowl provided its usual solid set of programs, a
handful of which were noteworthy. Gustavo Dudamel concerted three concerts to
open the Bowl’s classical season, notable perhaps for the fact that less people
showed up than appeared the previous year. The Internet hoopla over Yuja Wang’s
“little orange dress” overshadowed her breathtaking performance of
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3; when she appeared at Disney Hall this
fall, she was dressed less flamboyantly and everyone could focus on her
extraordinary talent as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. As one
person summed up at the Disney Hall concert I attended, “She’s more than a
dress.”

 

PASADENA SYMPHONY AND
POPS

Now into its second season without a music director and,
seemingly, satisfied with that situation, the PSO welcomed a series of lively,
young guest conductors — including Tito Muoz, George Stelluto and Mei-Ann Chen
– to its new home, Ambassador Auditorium. Stelluto and the PSO also unveiled
one of the genuine “finds” of the season: a Kanun concerto by Khachatur
Avetisyan, played with sparkle and grace by Karine Hovhannisyan.

 

Meanwhile, as the Pops prepared to move to the Arboretum
this fall (see above), it welcomed a new principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch,
who proved to be a master at the pops-concert genre.

 

VALLEY PERFORMING
ARTS CENTER

At long last, the San Fernando Valley has a major performing
arts center located on the campus of Cal State Northridge. The hall is visually
attractive and acoustically solid, as was demonstrated by the appearance of
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia.
Now comes the hard part: finding and successfully marketing high-quality
performances.

 

Several other cities also opened new halls, including the
Soka University in Aliso Viejo, the New World Center in Miami Beach (complete
with a stunning outdoor video wall), and Maison
Symphonique de Montreal
in that Canadian city.

 

Next week: looking ahead at 2012.

_______________________

 

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

Around Town/Music: Give the gift of music!

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Usually about this time of the year people ask me what gifts
they should get for their classical music-loving friends. While there are
plenty of books and recordings that are available, my No. 1 suggestion each
year is the gift of music through tickets. There are three reasons for this
idea.

 

First, nearly all of us have no need for more “stuff,” no
matter how important those books, recordings, ties, shirts or other things
might be. That doesn’t mean that if someone gives me an iPad for Christmas this
year I’ll turn it down, but my world really won’t come to an end if I don’t
have one.

 

Second, nearly all of us need to put more music into our
lives. I don’t mean the music itself, important as that is. Rather, I mean the
sheer pleasure of attending a concert (opera, recital, play, etc.) in person.
Attending creates a three-hour (or more) break in a busy schedule,; it’s a
chance to sit back and just absorb sheer beauty and revel in the experience of
simply being without staring at a
computer screen, answering a phone or meeting for some reason. Despite the fact
that I retired from my professional career three years ago, my days seem to be
as busy as they ever were. Attending concerts offers me a much-need respite
from that whirlwind.

 

That’s one reason I love the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 11
a.m. Friday morning concerts — they’re a break in my daily routine. Years ago,
I felt like the orchestra sometimes didn’t play as well for these concerts as
for evening programs but that seems to have changed. Another advantage is that
it’s easier to take the Metro to morning/afternoon concerts than it is to
evening events. For me, it’s Red Line to Pershing Square station, Angels Flight
up the hill, and a pleasant stroll on a sun-swept day across the Watercourt
Plaza, past MOCA and Colburn and into Disney Hall. We don’t stroll enough in
our busy lives.

 

My third reason for giving tickets is that all arts
organizations need our support. Even though ticket sales don’t cover all the
costs, ticket revenue is a significant part of every group’s income stream.
Moreover, as a performer I know that playing before a full house (or at least
fuller) is a lot more fun and stimulating than looking out and seeing empty
seats.

 

So give the gift of tickets this year. One of the nice parts
of this idea is that tickets come in all price ranges, from free on up.
However, please remember that if you’re going to give a gift to a free concert
– and there are excellent no-admission concerts nearly ever week, as my weekly
“Five Spot” posts inform you — no concert is truly free; there are always costs
involved, so donations of any size are always welcome and encouraged by
presenting groups.

 

How do you give tickets? One way is to decide on a program
ahead of time, buy the tickets and give them. Another is giving the cash value
of the tickets with a note as to the reason for the monetary gift. The L.A.
Phil even offers a gift card (LINK), if that’s more preferable to cold cash.

 

Oh, and by the way, give yourself tickets this year, as
well.

 

Merry Christmas to you all! Thanks for being loyal readers.

_______________________

 

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

SAME-DAY REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic all-Mozart 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; Bernard Labadie, conductor

Mozart: Chaconne
from Idomeneo ballet music; Piano
Concerto No. 27, K. 595 (Benedetto Lupo, pianist); Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)

Friday, December 16 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

If you’re fed up with holiday shopping, Jingle Bell Rock and fake reindeer in this increasingly
commercialized season, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is offering a perfect
antidote in Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend (and if you need more holiday
music, the Phil is presenting organist David Higgs tonight at 8 p.m. in Disney
Hall — see the hemidemisemiquaver
note below — along with few other holiday programs).

 

This morning in the first of three concerts, Qubec native
and resident Bernard Labadie led an all-Mozart program that was notable for the
orchestra’s splendid playing, Labadie’s exuberant conducting, and a sensitive
solo turn by pianist Benedetto Lupo. Of course, you couldn’t totally escape the
holiday spirit; fake stars are hanging from the Disney Hall ceiling to remind
you what month it is.

 

The 48-year-old Labadie, founder and music director of Les
Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Qubec, is known as a Mozart specialist and
it was easy to see why from this program. His conducting style is exuberantly
engaging, he has plenty to say about the three works on the program (two of
which are ultra-familiar) and he had a chamber-sized orchestra (less than 50
players) executing with precision and panache — that’s just fine from my
perspective.

 

Labadie seated the orchestra somewhat unusually. The violins
were divided left and right but the basses were back right and the violas were
center left, with the cellos bunched in the middle and several rows deep, which
had the effect of moving the wind section (there are no clarinets in the three
pieces) farther back onstage. The effect was to accentuate the strings a little
more than usual but the different look was interesting to my eyes.

 

The program opened with the morning’s rarity: Chaconne from the ballet music from
Mozart’s opera, Ideomeo, using an
ending that Labadie prepared to make it a stand-alone piece. The performance
alternated between sprightly and elegant, elements that would recur in the
other two pieces on the program. Labadie apparently likes to emphasize dynamic
contrasts in his Mozart and this Chaconne
(which, as Dennis Bade noted in an excellent program, note isn’t really a Chaconne) had plenty of those.

 

Both the Piano Concertos, K. 595 and the Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) were begun in 1788, but while
the symphony — Mozart’s last — was completed in a whirlwind (along with Nos. 39
and 40), the piano concerto (commonly listed as No. 27) took three years to
finish. It was his final piano concerto, although not his final concerto (the
Clarinet Concerto would come later) and it’s more contemplative than many of
Mozart’s piano concerti.

 

Lupo invested a sense of calm in his performance, using
great care to achieve elegance throughout the three movements. Labadie also was
deeply involved with the accompaniment, shaping phrases with detail throughout
the performance, and the orchestra responded lovingly. There was a sublime
moment in the second movement when a line played by Principal Oboe Ariana Ghez
emerged delicately from the orchestral fiber and seemed to hang forever in the
air — it was pure magic.

 

After intermission, Labadie and Co. offered a robust reading
of the Jupiter Symphony, notable for
rhythmic precision and the many dynamic contrasts of which Labadie is obviously
fond. Principal Flute David Buck added sparkle with many of his lines. Overall,
it was a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to a fine concert on a crystal-clear
December day — quite a contrast to the dramatic thunder and lightning storm of
the previous afternoon.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

On Friday morning, the musicians dress down a little (not “Casual
Friday” style, but the men wear dark suits and ties). Labadie took the
opportunity to wear a white shirt with no tie at all; comfort obviously
prevailed (good for him).

Tonight’s organ concert has plenty of holiday music but
Higgs will play the Finale from Vierne’s Symphony No. 1, Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H, and a
splashy arrangement of Joy to the World
by local organist/composer Craig Phillips (organist/music director at All
Saints Church, Beverly Hills). Among other things, Hill will sing the Alleluia from Mozart’s Exsultate Jubileo and Adolphe Adam’s O Holy Night. Information:
www.laphil.com

The Mozart programs are the final LAPO concerts for 2011.
The orchestra returns Jan. 5, 6, 7 and 8 when former LAPO Associate Conductor
Miguel Harth-Bedoya leads Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 (Organ) and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Jean-Yves Thibaudet
as soloist. Information: www.laphil.com

The orchestra’s “Mahler Project” begins Jan. 13 with
Symphony No. 4 and Songs of a Wayfarer. Information:
www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on December 15, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events that pique my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). Because of the holidays, this will be my last “Five Spot”
post until January 4, although I do plan on posting columns and other items
over the next three weeks.

 

Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

A Chanticleer
Christmas

The San Francisco-based, all-male chorus makes what has
become an annual visit to Disney Hall. This is one of those must-see concerts,
particularly if you’ve never seen this group. Information: www.laphil.com

Tomorrow at 11 a.m.,
Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Bernard Labadie, conductor

The Qubec native, who is founding director of Les Violons
du Roy and La Chapelle du Qubec, is considered a Mozart specialist so his
all-Mozart program this weekend with the L.A. Phil plays to his strength. It
includes Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) and
Piano Concerto No. 27, K. 595, with Benedetto Lupo as soloist. These were the
last symphony and last piano concerto that Mozart wrote. David Mermelstein had
a profile of Labadie in yesterday’s Los
Angeles Times
(LINK). Information: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Alex Theatre, Glendale

Gay Men’s Chorus of
Los Angeles holiday program

The 200-voice chorus will perform an eclectic program of
music under the banner of “Naughty and Nice,” led by its new artistic director,
E. Jason Armstrong, and feature Melissa Manchester as soloist. Information: www.gmcla.org

  

Sunday at 4 p.m. at
Neighborhood Church, Pasadena

Pasadena Pro Musica:
Christmas Madrigal Music

Music Director Stephen Grimm leads his chorus in a program
of music from the Renaissance. Information:
www.pasadenapromusica.org

 

Note: I would
have listed the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s performance of Handel’s Messiah on Sunday at Disney Hall but the
LAMC Web site says it’s sold out (although a cancellation list is available).

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

It isn’t this weekend and it isn’t a program in the strict
sense, but on December 24, set your alarm clock for 7 a.m. (West Coast time)
for the worldwide broadcast of A Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols
live from King’s College, Cambridge, England
(locally, it’s on KUSC 91.5-FM and www.kusc.org).  Begun in 1918 and first broadcast 10 years later, this
traditional service features scripture readings, carols and choir anthems that
tell the story of Jesus from creation to his birth. Since 1982, the service has
featured a commissioned carol; this year, it’s Christmas Eve, with words by Christina Rossetti and music by young
British composer Tansy Davies (here’s a LINK to the news release about the new
piece).

 

You can get voluminous details about the service, including
its history, HERE. You can also download the service booklet as a .pdf file but
be forewarned: it’s 50 pages long! The entire service takes about 90 minutes
and it’s one of my holiday traditions (a visit to the service itself has long
been on my “bucket list”).

_______________________

 

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

NEWS AND LINK: James Levine cancels Metropolitan Opera conducting assignments through 2012-2013

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

The Metropolitan Opera’s convoluted music director situation
became a little clearer Friday — or did it? The Met announced that its
long-time music director, James Levine, will not conduct again at the famed New
York City opera at least until the 2013-14 season as he recovers from a serious
fall, the latest in a series of health setbacks for the 68-year-old Levine who
has been at the Met’s helm since 1976.

 

In a statement attached to the Met’s media release (LINK),
Levine said, “I do not want to risk having to withdraw from performances after
the [2012-2013] season has been announced and tickets sold. With that in mind,
I have reluctantly decided not to schedule performances until I am certain I
can fulfill such obligations. The Met’s 2012-13 season needs to be finalized,
and the best conductors available must be contracted now. As my condition
improves, I feel confident I will be ready to conduct again soon, but I cannot
risk a premature announcement.”

 

Fabio Luisi, the Met’s principal conductor, will take over
all of Levine’s remaining assignments for the current season except for
performances of Siegfried on May 9
and Gtterdmerung on May 12.
Conductors for those performances and for a concert by the Met Orchestra on May
20 at Carnegie Hall will be announced shortly.

 

“As Levine continues his recovery,” the Met release says,
“it is anticipated that he will gradually resumes his other duties as Music
Director including coaching and planning, and artistic leadership of the
Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.”

 

Is that enough for a music director? Apparently the Met
thinks so in the case of Levine. It seems obvious that the company doesn’t feel
comfortable enough with Luisi to make him the permanent music director and
letting Levine assume some sort of “laureate” relationship. Is Luisi  – who seems to have done well in his
conducting assignments — merely caretaker while the Met searches for a
long-term solution?

 

Perhaps Levine will fully recover, although based on the
announced timetable, he will be age 70 when he conducts again. Last Friday’s
announcement seems to bring short-term clarity without answering any long-term
questions.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Our “Messiah” cup overfloweth

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first
published today in the above papers.

 

If, as noted last week, choral music is one of the enduring
symbols of the holiday season, many people would consider Handel’s Messiah to be pinnacle of that genre,
and we’re in the midst of a Messiah
cornucopia throughout Southern California.

 

The most unique way of experiencing Handel’s 1742 oratorio
is by singing it, and Monday night at Disney Hall the Los Angeles Master
Chorale offers you the opportunity to do just that with its annual “Messiah
Sing-Along.” No experience necessary; just buy a ticket, show up and sing –or
you can just listen and be surrounded by sound. Bring your own score or buy one
for $10. Information: 213/972-7282;
www.lamc.org

 

For a complete change of pace, Nicholas McGegan will conduct
his Philharmonic Baroque and Philharmonia Chorale on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8
p.m. in Disney Hall. Presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, these concerts
will be closer to what most people would consider “authentic” performances of Messiah, although Handel heard his
famous oratorio (created in just 24 days with the assistance of librettist
Charles Jennens) performed by a wide variety of sizes and types of performing
ensembles. Information:
323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

 

Finally next Sunday at 7 p.m., Grant Gershon completes the Messiah Disney Hall troika when he
conducts 48 singers of his L.A. Master Chorale, soloists (from the Chorale) and
a chamber orchestra in a full-length (three hours) performance of Messiah. Information: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org

 

Two other Disney Hall holiday programs are worth noting.
Chanticleer, the San Francisco-based, all-male ensemble, returns to the hall on
Thursday at 8 — a must-see for choral lovers — and organist David Higgs plays
his annual recital on the Disney Hall pipe organ, assisted by soprano Shana
Blake Hill, who has performed many times with the Pasadena Symphony. The latter
program will also include audience caroling.

 

If you’re absolutely fed up with holiday music (or even if
you’re not), Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie will lead the L.A. Phil on
Friday morning (11 a.m.), Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon in an
all-Mozart program that concludes with the composer’s final symphony, No. 41
“(Jupiter”). Benedetto Lupo will be the soloist in Mozart’s final piano
concerto, No. 27, K. 595. This program is right in the wheelhouse of Labadie,
who is a Baroque and Classical specialist; he is founder and music director of
Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Qubec in his native province. Information: 323/850-2000;
www.laphil.com

______________________

 

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