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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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