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.

Twitter Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>