OVERNIGHT REVIEW: “Amahl and the Night Visitors” retains charms at the Pasadena Playhouse

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors

December 10, 2011 at the Pasadena Playhouse

Next performances: Today at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tomorrow at 2
p.m. and 7 p.m.

Information: www.operaposse.com

 

57152-Amahl photo.jpg

Suzanna Guzmn stars
as the Mother and Caleb Glickman as Amahl in Opera Posse’s production of “Amahl
and the Night Visitors” (image from last year); the opera is playing this
weekend at the Pasadena Playhouse.

______________________

 

Sixty years ago NBC Television did something that, in
retrospect, seems quite radical: it telecast a one-act opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, written by
Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti specifically for that Christmas
Eve telecast. In addition to being shown on NBC for many years (see the first Hemidemisemiquaver note below for more
history), the opera has been staged by many companies, schools, churches and
other entitles during the past six decades.

 

However, genuinely inspired productions are hard to come by.
Last year, in what would turn out to be its last production before going
bankrupt, Intimate Opera Pasadena staged Amahl
with remarkable fidelity to Menotti’s original opera, prefaced it with
actor Malcolm McDowell reading Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and presented it in the intimate
confines of the historic Pasadena Playhouse, which is a just-right venue for
this chamber opera.

 

Many of the people involved in last year’s production have
come together in a new venture entitled Opera Posse to re-stage that production
this weekend (most are donating their services in an effort to help this new
company get off the ground and establish Amahl
as a new Pasadens tradition). 
And it’s a pleasure to report that that this revival has lost none of
the charm of last year’s offering.

 

John Iacovelli’s sets are filled with rich, imaginative
details, beginning with the opening scene: a tall window with falling snow in
front of which McDowell sits and reads Thomas’ tale about Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day in long-ago Wales with a rich brogue and impressive shadings.
Only an obnoxiously placed light in the window marred the effect.

 

That set morphs seamlessly into the simple, poor home of
Amahl and his mother on Christmas Eve. The open roof allows for views of the
Bethlehem star, which moves across the sky as the story of hope and wonder
unfolds (Amahl means “hope” in Arabic). The one act is filled with “unabashed
whimsicality,” as director Stephanie Vlahos notes in the program. She does an
effective job of accentuating those qualities by telling the story without
resorting to unnecessary gimmicks, aided by Kate Bergh’s costumes, Jared A.
Sayeg’s lighting scheme, and Conny Mathot’s choreography.

 

Suzanna Guzmn’s portrayal of the Mother is a model of
understated professionalism; she catches the mother’s frustration with the
tall-tale-telling Amahl and the pathos of her struggles to provide a home, food
and heat for her and her child. Caleb Glickman is appropriately impish as the
lame shepherd boy.

 

As is often the cast, The Three Kings — Greg Fedderly as the
somewhat deaf Kaspar, Hector Vsquez as Balthazar, and LeRoy Villanueva as the
stately Melchior — come close to stealing the show. Benito Galindo is the Page
and the exuberant dancers are Stephanie Hullar, Csa Grant and Jarrod Tyler.

 

Jeffrey Bernstein returns to conduct the 18-piece orchestra
and he kept things moving along smartly. Members of Bernstein’s Pasadena Master
Chorale, as the chorus, got off to a somewhat ragged start but rallied nicely
at the end.

 

In an era when glitz and high-tech threaten to obliterate
the purposes of Christmas, Amahl and the
Night Visitors
reminds us of the meaning behind the seemingly simple tale:
hope and faith. Even on a VERY busy weekend filled with many concerts and other
events, it’s worth revisiting those values with this production.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

  For the
inaugural telecast, Amahl was seen on
35 NBC affiliates coast to coast, the largest network hookup for an opera
broadcast to that date. An estimated five million people saw the live
broadcast, the largest audience ever to see a televised opera. The first two
telecasts were in black and white; thereafter, it was telecast in color.
Wikipedia offers more background HERE.

 

Since Bernstein has a Pasadena Master Chorale concert this
evening, Alan Mautner will conduct the 8 p.m. concert. Previous reports had
mentioned Jorge Mester and Rachael Worby taking the helm but both were forced
to drop out.

_______________________

 

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

UPDATE: 1/2-price tickets available for “Amahl and the Night Visitors; Worby to conduct Saturday night

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Goldstar.com is offering half-price tickets for this weekend’s Opera Posse performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors, being performed at the Pasadena Playhouse. MORE

Moreover, although you would know it from Opera Posse’s Web site, an article by Richard S. Ginell on the Los Angeles Times Web site says that Rachael Worby — former Pasadena Pops music director now heading up her new venture entitled Muse-ique — will conduct Saturday night’s performance. Jeffrey Bernstein, who is leading the other performances, has a Pasadena Master Chorale concert on Saturday night.  Read Rich’s article HERE.
_______________________

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on December 8, 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). This weekend offers a plethora of opportunities, so
there’s more than five listed.

______________________

 

Tonight and
tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Thomas Wilkins, conductor

The Getty Museum has spearheaded a major collection of
events under the umbrella of “Pacific Standard Time” and these concerts are the L.A. Phil’s contribution. Wilkins, who
is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, leads a program of
music ranging from Eric Wolfgang Korngold to John Williams. Zull Bailey will be
the soloist in Korngold’s Cello Concerto (which was featured in the Bette Davis
film, Deception). This is a rare
opportunity to hear movie music played in the wonderful Disney Hall acoustics. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Pasadena Playhouse

Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Opera Posse picks up from the now-shuttered Intimate Opera
Pasadena in presenting this familiar one-act opera, written by Gian Carlo
Menotti in 1951 for NBC television. Last year’s presentation was one of the
season’s highlights and this year’s production features most of the artists who
brought it to life, including Director Stephanie Vlahos and set designer John
Iacovelli. The cast includes noted mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmn as the mother
and Caleb Glickman in the title role. As was the case last year, actor Malcolm
McDowell will intro the opera by reading Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Michelle J. Mills’ article in last
week’s Star-News is HERE. Concert Info: www.operaposse.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Alex Theater (Glendale); Sunday at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

Kahane returns to the LACO podium to lead a program that
includes music by Ravel, Respighi and Thomas Ades. Cellist Ralph Kirshbaum will
be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations
on a Rococo Theme.
This is the first of two major appearances by Kirshbaum
this season; he will also be on a Los Angeles Philharmonic program March 15
playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto as part of the Piatagorsky International
Cello Festival (LINK). LACO info: www.laco.org

 

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

Boston Symphony
Orchestra; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

The famed BSO makes its first Los Angeles appearance in 20
years bringing a program of music by John Harbison, Ravel and Brahms. Gil
Shaham will be the soloist in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. It’s also a chance to
take the measure of Morlot, who took over the season as music director of the
Seattle Symphony from retiring Gerard Schwarz and may be a candidate to succeed
James Levine as the BSO’s music director. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Handel’s Messiah

There are several opportunities this season to partake of
this ultra-familiar but still beloved oratorio that tells the story of the life
of Jesus Christ. A (not complete) list includes:

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena

Angeles Chorale and Da Capo Players Chamber Orchestra,
conducted by Donald Neuen. Info: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Sunday at 3 p.m. at
Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale; Christian Knapp,
conducting. Info: www.pacificsymphony.org

 

Monday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master Chorale “Messiah Sing-Along.” If you’ve never done one of these, it’s a
fantastic way to experience this famous work. The audience joins with the
Master Chorale in the choruses — or you can just listen and be surrounded by
sound. Bring your own score or buy one for $10. Info: www.lamc.org

 

Tuesday and
Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Philharmonia Baroque and Philharmonia Chorale; Nicholas
McGegan, conductor. Info: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

66th
annual Candlelight and Carols Concert

All of the church’s choirs participate in this annual event,
which also features plenty of audience caroling. The featured work on the
program is Veni Emmanuel by local
composer Elizabeth Ann Sellers, with the Kirk Choir and Friends of Music
Orchestra conducted by Timothy Howard. (Full disclosure: I sing in two of the
choirs participating.) Information: www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Gerard Schwarz and The Colburn Orchestra at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

The Colburn Orchestra;
Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Takemitsu: From me
flows what you call Time;
Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Saturday, December 4, 2011 Ambassador Auditorium

______________________

 

When Gerard Schwarz was music director of the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra from 1978-1986, he regularly led that ensemble in Pasadena’s
Ambassador Auditorium. Saturday night he returned “home” to lead The Colburn in
a program that concluded with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

 

Mahler’s fifth will tax even the finest professional
orchestra, so to some it might have seemed foolhardy to have it tackled by a
conservatory ensemble. However, The Colburn Orchestra — the flagship ensemble
of the school that is the West Coast equivalent of New York City’s Julliard
School — is no ordinary student band as it demonstrated anew Saturday. The
musicians handled all of Schwarz’s somewhat disjointed ideas about this sprawling
work with aplomb and played their collective hearts out for their guest
conductor.

 

The 107 musicians onstage also taxed the resources of
Ambassador’s stage. With the entire brass section arrayed across the entire top
back row, the poor percussionists were treated like second cousins; the timpani
was buried in front of the brass on the left and the balance of the percussion
was tucked away on the right-hand side. The string basses were so tight against
the left-hand wall that Schwarz had to enter from the right-hand door.

 

Schwarz — who earlier this year completed a 26-year-tenure
as music director of the Seattle Symphony — had the violins seated left and
right and the cellos and violas inside of them. Conducting with a score, he led
a heavily nuanced account of the symphony that often veered into fussiness. His
fast sections, particularly in the first two movements, sped along briskly but
he turned the slow sections into sensuous, sometimes overly torpid meanderings.
The result was an episodic reading with little of the sweeping, long lines that
make Mahler distinctive.

 

Joseph Brown got things off to a splendid start with his
trumpet solos; they were a harbinger of things to come as the entire brass
section covered itself in glory throughout the performance. Schwarz brought
Principal Horn Johanna Yarbrough directly in front of him for her
third-movement solos (ask not why — the brass were heard clearly all night from
their top row perch). Although Yarbrough appeared somewhat uncomfortable,
especially during the long stretches when she wasn’t playing, she played her
lines with great sensitivity. The strings produced a lean, taut sound and the
wind sections were also noteworthy throughout the performance.

 

Many conductors would make Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (which
ran 66 minutes long Saturday) the sole piece on the program (when Gustavo
Dudamel conducts his Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela on Jan. 26
at Walt Disney Concert, Mahler’s fifth will stand alone). However, The Colburn
Orchestra elected to preface it with Toru Takemitsu’s quirky meditation From me flows what you call Time, which
featured the percussion group Smoke and
Mirrors
as soloist.

 

Not only is this 25-minute piece that features nine
connected movements quirky, the setup mandated by the Takemitsu is even
stranger. He gave precise instructions for the performers’ attire (white shirts
with colored sashes and black slacks), manner and staging (after the first
section, a flute solo played by Francesca Camuglia, the players sneak in during
the second section). On either side of the stage were different-colored ribbons
rising from the instruments to the ceiling, meant to simulate Tibetan Buddhist
prayer flags.

 

The five ensemble members — Joe Beribok, Edward Hong,
Katalin La Favre, Derek Tywoniuk and Wai Wah Ivan Wan — all study with Jack van
Geem at The Colburn School, and even those in the audience who get no joy out
of the East-West music melange from Japan’s most famous classical composer
could appreciate the musicality and dexterous movements of the soloists, who
were arrayed in front of and behind the orchestra.

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

As is usually the case, orchestra members wrote the
explanatory music notes for the program — in this case, Oboist Briana Lehman
for the Takemitsu and violinist/pianist Bora Kim for the Mahler. It’s too bad
they didn’t include the instrumentation, particularly for the Takemitsu piece.

At intermission the Smoke
and Mirrors
members changed back into formal dress and played the symphony.

Considering that patrons were asked to show up at 6:45
p.m. to assure orderly seating, the entire evening ran more than three hours in
a very warm hall. On the other hand, as Pastor Gwen Gibson noted in her brief
welcome, some people were undoubtedly glad to be in a hall with lights and
heating working, as many in the area continue without power due to Wednesday
night’s windstorms.

Prior to the performance, Colburn President and CEO Sel
Kardan came onstage to recognize and thank Mark Fabulich, the orchestra’s
manager and librarian, who is moving across Grand Avenue from The Colburn
School to assume a similar position with Los Angeles Opera. People like
Fabulich are among the unsung heroes of arts organizations, and Kardan read a
letter from The Colburn Orchestra’s Music Director Yehuda Gilad thanking him
not for his work but for his wise counsel.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Choral music dominates the holiday season

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.

 

Choral music always dominates the holiday season and this
year is no different. The next two weeks will bring a plethora of choral
concerts (most, but not all, with a holiday theme) — the problem will be
deciding which ones to attend. Consider this week’s schedule, for example:

 

The Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus

Today and Dec. 11,
both at 7 p.m.

at Pasadena
Presbyterian Church

This world-renowned ensemble, led by Artistic Director Anne
Tomlinson and based in Pasadena, offers its annual midwinter programs. The
Concert Choir (the group’s flagship chorus), Intermediate Choir and Chamber
Singers perform this evening. The Concert Choir, Apprentice Choir and Young
Men’s Ensemble will sing next week. Info:
www.lachildrenschorus.org

Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Friday at at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

at Pasadena Playhouse

Opera Posse picks up from Intimate Opera Pasadena in
presenting this familiar one-act opera written by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1951
for NBC television. Last year’s presentation was one of the season’s highlights
and this year’s production features most of the artists who brought it to life
last December, including Director Stephanie Vlahos and set designer John
Iacovelli. The cast includes noted mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmn as the mother
and Caleb Glickman in the title role. As was the case last year, actor Malcolm
McDowell will intro the opera by reading Dylan Thomas’  A
Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Michelle J. Mills’ article in last week’s Star-News is HERE. Concert Info: www.operaposse.com

 

Next Saturday offers the mother of all schedule clashes,
including three concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena churches within
walking distance of each other:

The Pasadena Master Chorale sings its “Home for the
Holidays” concert at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Info: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

The Angeles Chorale and Da Capo Players Chamber Orchestra
present Handel’s “Messiah” at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena; Info: www.angeleschorale.org

The 66th annual Candlelight and Carols concert
(a free event) is at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. Info: www.ppc.net

 

Another offering on Saturday is Masters of Harmony, fresh
off of its eighth consecutive gold medal in the Barbershop Harmony Society
International Competition. Fortunately for those wanting to attend one of the
evening events above, Masters of Harmony will perform at 2 p.m. at Ambassador
Auditorium in Pasadena (there’s another performance at 7:30 p.m.). Info: www.mastersofharmony.org

 

Further updates will be in “Five Spot” each Thursday and in
other posts.

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Los Angeles Philharmonic premiere Shostakovich’s “Orango”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Shostakovich: Prelude to Orango;
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43

Friday, December 2, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tonight at 8; tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

The “sine qua non” of Ben & Jerry’s, the wildly popular
ice cream company based in Waterbury, Vermont, is known as the “Vermonster.” A
bucket contains 20 scoops of ice cream, a fudge brownie, four bananas, three
cookies, four toppings, four ladles of hot fudge, whipped cream and
marshmallows. Believe it or not, many people actually try to eat the whole
thing! That’s what I felt I had done after last night’s Los Angeles
Philharmonic concert. At least 110 minutes of Shostakovich didn’t come with the
“Vermonster’s” 14,000 calories and 500 grams of fat.

 

The impetus for this weekend’s gorge is the world premiere
of the Prologue to Orango, which
Shostakovich wrote in a few days midway between composing his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District in
1932. To get a detailed account of the story, click HERE. The short version is
that the prologue was to have preceded three acts of this political-satire
about a half-human, half-ape, but the only thing Shostakovich finished was a
piano-vocal score of the prologue, and that lay undiscovered in the Glinka
Museum in Moscow until it was discovered by Dr. Olga Digonskaya in 2004.

 

Irina Shostakovich, the composer’s widow (who was in the
audience last night), commissioned British composer-writer Gerard McBurney to
orchestrate the Prologue’s sketches. The L.A. Phil, Esa-Pekka Salonen — its
former music director and now conductor laureate — and director Peter Sellars
eagerly signed on to present the first performances this weekend.

 

McBurney actually had more to work with than just the
piano-vocal score. Pressed for time, Shostakovich used the overture and the
ending to his ballet The Bolt to open
and close the Prologue and also included snippets from some of his other
compositions. “That,” said McBurney in the preconcert lecture, “provided a
template for the rest.” McBurney (who curates an ongoing series entitled
“Beyond the Score” for the Chicago Symphony) explained that he immersed himself
in every note that Shostakovich wrote during the 1930s time frame, especially
Shostakovich’s 12 music-theater scores. “What I hope,” he said, “is that this
is an approximation of what Shostakovich would have written.”

 

“Approximation” is a reasonable description. What McBurney
delivered is a mostly loud, mostly furious account of what Shostakovich might
have envisioned for his political satire (including what McBurney termed “an
outrageous parody of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4″). What it lacked was the
dark, sardonic wit that showed up later in the evening during the fourth
symphony. Nevertheless, while it was only an approximation of Shostakovich, it
was madcap — and marvelous — McBurney.

 

Last night’s production (for which Ben Zamora supplied
atmospheric lighting) used 10 soloists (four of whom come from the 24 singers
of the Los Angeles Master Chorale). Sellars planted the soloists throughout
Disney Hall (Jordan Bisch, whose booming basso was the first voice heard, began
in the Orchestra East seats) and those involved both sang and acted their roles
with power and exuberance (only one was overpowered by the gigantic orchestra.
Ryan McKinny served as The Entertainer (envision Joel Grey in Cabaret) and did a fine job of playing
to all four sides of the hall. Eugene Brancovenau was Orango, Michael Fabiano
was the zoologist, and Yulia von Doren was Susanna.

 

Sellars, being Sellars, wasn’t
content to let the music and performers stand on their own; the same thing
happened with the premiere of El Nino, John
Adams’ nativity opera. For Orango, Sellars
leapt at the concept of political satire like a wolf devouring a lamb chop,
projecting a dizzyingly rapid series of still images that juxtaposed “Occupy”
protesters, B-1 bombers, U.S. military and Pentagon personnel, tract houses
atomic bomb blasts, etc. — over and over and over again. If the idea was to get
you eventually to mostly ignore the images and concentrate on the music, I
suppose it was successful. Otherwise, I felt like I had undergone sensory
overload at the end of the 45 minutes.

 

Ironically, the most affecting
imagery came in the quietest moments: the black and white video images of a
ballerina performing while the orchestra played a “Dance of Peace.” The
Prologue’s ending seemed to arrive so suddenly as to leave the audience
befuddled, but the applause for all concerned was almost as deafening as the
music.

 

Salonen conducted the piece with
slashing flair and the orchestra — which revels in Shostakovich’s music –
played the Prologue superbly, treating it as if the piece was an old friend,
rather than something they were performing for the first time.

 

This is one of those works that needs to be seen and heard
several times to fully appreciate. In his program note, McBurney concluded by
calling the Prologue “a ghost from a lost era, the work of a young composer of
the utmost energy and brilliance, not yet cast down by history, ill-health, and
politics. …” It’s also a premiere that might not have happened without the
unique combination of McBurney, Salonen, Sellars and the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and for that, we should all be grateful.

 

According to Sellars, it was Salonen who elected to pair Orango with Shostakovich’s Symphony No.
4, and in many respects that decision made eminent sense. (To cite one example,
both pieces are in the key of C — major for Orango,
minor for the symphony.) However, the fourth is one of the thorniest of
Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies, not least because of its construction: two
movements of nearly half an hour each surrounding a 10-minute middle section.
The composer also employed the largest orchestra for any of his symphonies: 20
woodwinds, 17 brass, two harps, celesta, double timpani, along with a plethora
of percussion instruments and full strings.

 

Shostakovich was writing the symphony in 1935 when he fell
afoul of the Soviet authorities over Lady
Macbeth of the Mtensk District
and withdrew the symphony on the eve of its
first performance in Leningrad. It would take 25 years for its first
performance (on Dec. 30, 1961 by the Moscow
Philharmonic Orchestra
led by Kyrill Kondrashin).
Although one of the work’s ardent early champions was Otto Klemperer, then LAPO
music director, the symphony didn’t make it to Los Angeles until 1989 when
Andr Previn conducted it.

 

Salonen conducted the piece last night with an insightful
sense of its overall architecture, bringing out all of the brooding, sardonic
nature was lacking in Orango. As it
had during Orango, the orchestra
played splendidly, tossing off the treacherous rhythmic sections of the first
and last movements as if they were child’s play. Among the soloists, Principal
Bassoonist Whitney Crocket stood out. At the conclusion, Salonen looked
ecstatic and exhausted. Ditto for this listener.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

The preconcert lecture (with Digonskaya, McBurney, Sellars
and Laurel E. Fay, author of Shostakovich:
A Life
and the Symphony No. 4 program note) was informative but — like Orango — delivered what was almost a
surfeit of information. Sellars’ passion for the music in both pieces was
riveting.

A couple of items not in the program notes came out in the
lecture. Dr. Digonskaya said that when she stumbled across the manuscript
(which is 13 large sheets of paper crammed full of small notations), there were
no identifying marks as to its composer. However, she knew Shostakovich’s
handwriting and, by analyzing the paper and ink, knew that it was something
from the 1930s. Thus began what she and McBurney termed a detective story
worthy of Sherlock Holmes or an archaeological search.

The Phil printed the text translations in the program in
addition to the projected supertitles. Ask not why.

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on Dec. 1, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Sorry this post is late. We’ve been without power all day
due to the fierce winds in Southern California (I’m posting this from my local
McDonald’s).

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events (six this week)
that peak my interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission
(or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tomorrow and Saturday
at 8 p.m.;  Sunday at 2 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Shostakovich

Frankly, it’s a little hard to assess what this concert will
bring — that’s one of the joys of live performances. The headline event on the
program is the world premiere of the Prologue to Orango by Shostakovich but how significant that will be is up in
the air. Asking one composer (in this case, Gerard McBurney) to complete another’s
work is always problematical (Mahler’s 10th symphony is one famous
example) but that’s what has happened here.

 

The Phil describes this work thusly: “Orango is an unfinished satirical opera
by Shostakovich, sketched [in 1932] while he was writing Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
He and his librettists conceived ‘a political lampoon against the bourgeois
press,’ concerning a human-ape hybrid. Of the projected Prologue and three
acts, only the 40-minute Prologue was completed, in piano vocal score, which
was just discovered in 2006.”  Read
the complete program note HERE.

  

The Prologue includes parts for 10 soloists and the Los
Angeles Master Chorale. It is being staged by Peter Sellars with lighting by
Ben Zamora. McBurney will offer a preconcert lecture an hour before each
program.  A Los Angeles Times article
on the piece is HERE.

 

The second half of the program will be Shostakovich’s
Symphony No. 4, which was composed just a few years after Orango. This was the symphony that was not played for 25 years
after it was written, a consequence of the composer’s run-in with Soviet
authorities over Lady Macbeth of the
Mtsensk District.
Laurel E. Fay’s program note says that one of the two
conductors who were eager to conduct the symphony was Otto Klemperer, who at
the time was the L.A. Phil’s music director. Whether the symphony would have
been played in L.A. isn’t spelled out; ultimately the LAPO premiere would not
take place until 1989 under the baton of Andr Previn. (Read the full program
note HERE).

 

By the way, expect this program to last a bit longer than a
normal concert. The Prologue to Orango
is 40 minutes long and the symphony, one of Shostakovich’s longest, takes an
hour. The orchestration for the symphony (2 piccolos, 4 flutes, 4 oboes (4th =
English horn), 4 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 8 horns, 4
trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, 2 timpani, percussion (bass drum, castanets,
cymbals, orchestra bells, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, xylophone), 2 harps,
celesta, and strings) is the largest of Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. Information: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 2 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master
Chorale’s “Holiday Wonders: Festival of Carols”

Grant Gershon leads 62 members of the Master Chorale in a
program of carols and John Rutter’s Gloria
accompanied by John West on the Disney Hall Organ. The program repeats Dec. 10
at 2 p.m. Information: www.lamc.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena

Pasadena Symphony
Holiday Program

Grant Cooper, artistic director and conductor of the West
Virginia Symphony, will conduct the PSO, vocalist Lisa Vroman, the Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus, Donald Brinegar Singers and L.A. Bronze (a handbell
ensemble) in an eclectic program of holiday music. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at First Presbyterian Church, Santa Monica

Jacaranda presents
Anonymous 4

This world-renowned female vocal ensemble, celebrating its
25th anniversary, specializes in Medieval and Renaissance music but
this program features the first section of an evening-length work, The Wood and the Vine, by David Lang,
who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his composition, The Little Match Girl Passion. The evening will also include
selections from the ensemble’s CDs. Brian
in “Out West Arts” has one of his informative “Ten Questions” posts with the
ensemble’s Susan Hellauer HERE. Concert
info:
www.jacarandamusic.org

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” programs …

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn Orchestra
plays Mahler’s Symphony No. 5

Be forewarned: the free tickets are listed as “add to wait
list” on the school’s Web site and the VIP tickets are sold out. Nonetheless,
the concert is worth mentioning because whenever a student orchestra — even one
as good as Colburn — tackles Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, it counts as both an
event and a challenge.

 

Guest Conductor Gerard Schwarz leads the ensemble in
Mahler’s fifth and Takemitsu’s From Me
Flows What You Call Time,
with a local percussion ensemble, Smoke and
Mirrors, as soloists in the Takemitsu piece. For Schwarz, it’s something of a
homecoming. Prior to becoming music director of the Seattle Symphony (from
which he retired earlier this year), Schwarz held a similar position with the
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which used to perform in Ambassador during
Schwarz’s tenure. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

  

Monday at 7:45 p.m.
at Pasadena Neighborhood Church

Los Angeles Chapter
of American Guild of Organists Holiday program

Organists Andrea Anderson and Nancy Ruczynski perform on the
church’s historic Bozeman organ, while Dr. Timothy Howard leads The Pasadena
Singers in holiday music from around the world (full disclosure: I sing with
The Pasadena Singers, so — as the late, great Molly Ivins was wont to say, take
the recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt). Information: www.laago.org

_______________________

 

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