NEWS AND LINKS: LA Opera offers new ticket deal for “Albert Herring”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Give LA Opera an “A” for effort when it comes to drumming up
interest for its upcoming production of Albert
Herring
by Benjamin Britten, which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion.

 

The company is offering tickets at $25 for those who have
already purchased tickets for the production or are going to do so. The offer
aimed at encouraging patron to invite someone who has never attended an opera
before (“opera virgins,” in LAO parlance, a play on the title character).

 

The offer — which runs for three days only (Wednesday
through Friday) is good for five of the six performances (Feb. 25, March 3,
March 8, March 14 and March 17), but not for the March 11 performance.
Tickets can be purchased at the box office, online, or via phone
(213/972-8001). There’s a limit of two $25 tickets per order and you can’t cash
in previously bought tickets to take advantage of the offer.

 

Why “opera virgins”? Albert
Herring
is about a country village trying to crown a May queen and needing
a virgin to qualify. Turns out the only virgin in the village is a meek mama’s
boy named Albert Herring, who will have a night he won’t forget (to quote the
LAO publicity). Tenor Alek Shrader makes his company debut in the title role
and James Conlon conducts the production, which comes by way of Santa Fe Opera.

 

Get details on the ticket offer HERE. Opera information: www.laopera.com

_______________________

 

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Britten vs. Bach Saturday night

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.

 

Next year will mark the centennial of the birth of English
composer Benjamin Britten, and Los Angeles Opera will get a jump on the
celebrations when it unveils a new production (well, new to L.A., at any rate)
of Britten’s chamber opera Albert Herring
on Saturday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

 

Albert Herring is running in tandem with Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, which plays this afternoon
at 7 p.m. continues with five other performances through March 4 (LINK). This
is a production well worth seeing; my review is HERE.

 

Tenor Alek Shrader will make his LAO debut singing the title
role in Albert Herring; the part was
originally written in 1947 for the great tenor (and Britten’s partner) Peter
Pears. Albert Herring was the second
of three “chamber operas,” so called because each production is on a much
smaller scale than “grand opera.” (Britten’s other two chamber operas were The Rape of Lucretia and The Turn of the Screw.)

 

LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct Albert Herring; he’s also leading Simon Boccanegra. The production
originated at Santa Fe Opera and the opera is sung in English with English
supertitles. In addition to opening night, performances will be staged March 3,
8 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and March 11 and 17 at 2 p.m.

 

Tickets range from $20 to $270, with discounts for seniors
and students. Goldstar.com was offering steep discounts for all performances
but that offer expired in between the time I wrote this column and today when
it was printed.

 

David Mermelstein has an informative article in the Los Angeles Times about Albert Herring HERE. Opera information:
www.losangelesopera.com.

 

Running right up against Albert
Herring
is the latest installment in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s
“Discover” series at Ambassador Auditorium. For the past several years, Music
Director Jeffrey Kahane has picked a single piece to first discuss and then
perform. The choice Saturday night at 8 p.m. is one of the landmarks of choral
repertoire: Bach’s Magnificat, with a
text drawn from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

 

Joining Kahane and LACO are The University of Southern California
Thornton Chamber Singers, directed by Jo-Michael Scheibe; and five soloists:
Charlotte Dobbs, soprano, Zanaida Robles, soprano, Janelle DeStefano, mezzo
soprano, Ben Bliss, tenor, and Daniel Armstrong, baritone.

 

Information: www.laco.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony;
Rossen Milanov, conductor

Borodin: Polovtsian
Dances
from Prince Igor;

Saint-Sans: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian); Esther Keel, pianist

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade,
Op. 35

Friday, February 18, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next concert: March 31, 2012, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

______________________

 

Although most people wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of
it, there’s something to be said for a concert comprised entirely of late 19th-century
romantic music (the three pieces on the program were written within eight years
of each other), especially when it’s played as well as what transpired last
night in the Pasadena Symphony Concert before a large crowd at Ambassador
Auditorium.

 

Rossen Milanov became the latest in a long train of guest
conductors to mount the PSO podium during the past two seasons and he made an
impressive local debut. Now age 47, the Sofia, Bulgaria native comes with impressive
credentials. In 2010 he became music director of the Princeton (NJ) Symphony
Orchestra where he is, by most accounts, doing splendid work. Before that he
spent 11 years as the associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and
artistic director of that ensemble during its summer outdoor seasons.

 

Tall and slim, Milanov cuts an impressive figure on the
podium and his conducting style is enthusiastic and demonstrative with the same
sort of infectious grin that shows up on a certain curly haired conductor who
plies his trade in downtown Los Angeles. Now, that conductor (Gustavo Dudamel)
often displays plenty of exuberance on the podium, but whereas I have almost
never seen the Venezuelan use a gesture that didn’t make musical sense,
Milanov’s swooping arms and hands and overly fussy attention to details occasionally — albeit not very often — seemed
to get in the way of the music, particularly in the concluding work on the
program, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

 

Considering that Rimsky-Korsakov’s tone poem is based on the
fabled tales found in 1001 Nights, it’s
hard to kvetch about a performance being episodic, but by the time we got to
the last note I felt as if we had heard all one thousand and one tales, not
just four of them.

 

Part of that problem lies with the composer; Rimsky-Korsakov
gave virtually every principal a solo turn and it’s understandable that Milanov
would want to luxuriate in the sound, given the luscious Ambassador Auditorium
acoustics and how superbly the Pasadena Symphony played throughout the
performance.

 

At the top of the list of principals was concertmaster Aimee
Kreston, who spun Scheherazade’s tales seductively and sweetly, but she
certainly wasn’t alone. The list of solo stars would certainly include Trevor
Handy, cello; Donald Foster, clarinet; Rong-Huey Lin, oboe; David Shostac,
flute; Katherine Oliver, bassoon; Marissa Benedict, trumpet (indeed, the entire
brass section), Teag Reeves, horn, and, perhaps most notably, Allison Allport,
harp.

 

The evening’s other debutante, 26-year-old Esther Keel, also
proved to be special as soloist in Saint-Sans Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian). Presumably the piece was
chosen because it sort of fit into the theme of Middle Eastern/Asian-tinged
music, but it proved to be a perfect vehicle for Keel, who now teachers at The
Colburn School when she’s not performing on the concert stage.

 

Considering what we heard last night, her teaching gigs may
have to be curtailed. Playing a Steinway piano, Keel displayed pristine runs
and trills along with powerhouse octaves throughout the performance. More
importantly, she brought sensitive musicality and a very individual take on
this not-often performed piece. Although I was delighted to hear her perform
this concerto (my favorite of the five), I eagerly look forward to hearing her
again in something slightly more mainstream.

 

Keel’s concept of the concerto wasn’t easy for the conductor
and Millanov did an excellent job of both following Keel and shaping the
accompaniment sensitively, while the orchestra gets kudos for being right on
top of where Millanov and Keel were heading — it wasn’t as easy as it may have
looked.

 

The evening opened with a somewhat raucous performance of
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. Oboist
Lin got things off gloriously with the “Strangers in Paradise” theme and Foster
added his usual winsome touch on clarinet, but Millanov drove the final four
dances forward relentlessly; a little breathing room would have been nice.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Prior to the concert, the Women’s Committee presented the
Pasadena Symphony Association with a check for $100,000, proceeds from funds
raised at the 44th annual Holiday
Look-in Tour
last December. Gloria Turner, who chaired the event, made the
presentation to PSA President Melinda Shea and CEO Paul Jan Zdunek.

For the record: Scheherazade
was written in 1888, Borodin’s Polovtsian
Dances
were written in 1890, and the concerto dates from 1896. Saint-Sans
wrote the concerto while on a trip to Luxor, Egypt but did not append the
nickname.

The PSO’s season continues on March 31 when Nicholas
McGegan leads a program of that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). Nareh Arghamanyan will be the
soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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HEADS UP: Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony tonight in Costa Mesa

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Although this weekend is ultra-full, one of the concerts
that I missed in my “Five Spot” post yesterday (LINK) was an oversight. The
Chicago Symphony Orchestra comes to the Rene and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
tonight for the first of three Southern California concerts (next week, the CSO
is in Palm Desert and San Diego).

 

Riccardo Muti, now in his second year as the CSO’s music
director, brings an interesting program, especially considering that it’s for a
tour: Honegger’s: Pacific 231 (Mouvement
symphonique No. 1)
, a piece based on railroads; Alternative Energy, a new work by Mason Bates, the CSO’s
Composer-in Residence; and Franck’s Symphony in D minor, which used to be
played often but has in the past couple of decades has slipped into obscurity.

 

Timothy Mangan on his Blog Classical Life (LINK) and CK Dexter Haven in All is Yar (LINK) have posted this week on the CSO’s visit to the
Southland. Concert information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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STORY AND LINKS: On the road with the L.A. Phil in Venezuela

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

NOTE:  I have reordered the posts by date (I think), separated them by media outlet, and added a new post from Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times) this afternoon.

Although the name “El Sistema,” the landmark music program that nurtured Gustavo Dudamel, now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has become increasingly well known around the world, most of the stories have focued on Dudamel and the programs that organizations such as the L.A. Phil are launching in the U.S. to emulate the Venezuelan system.

 

With the Phil in Caracas this week for a repeat of its
“Mahler Project” cycle from last month in Los Angeles, both Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times and Daniel J. Wakin of
the New York Times are in Venezuela
providing reports not only on the concerts but mostly on the local aspects of
“El Sistema” and its impact on the hundreds of thousands of students who are
part of the program.”

 

Following are the stories published so far:


(Los Angeles Times):

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil start things in Caracas

Caracas
diary: A sweet Mahler’s Fourth and Dudamel-mania

Meeting the Youngest Musicians of El Sistema

Even Dudamel is wowed by huge Mahler rehearsal

L.A. Phil musicians get to know
the Venezuelans

Dudamel, Abreu and a multitude of young musicians

(New York Times):

Mahler Is O.K., but Gustavo, He’s Amazing

In Caracas, doubling up the orchestra

Fighting Poverty, Armed with Violins

A musical exchange in Venezuela:
El Sistema performs for the L.A. Philharmonic

(Associated Press):

Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic make waves in Caracas
(Sacramento Bee via AP)

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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