OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Cal Phil, The Association at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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California Philharmonic;
Victor Vener, conductor

Sunday, July 15, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performances: July 28 at Santa Anita Racetrack and 29
at Disney Hall

Information: www.calphil.org

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Each of the three orchestras based in the San Gabriel Valley
has its own distinctive personality. In the case of the California
Philharmonic, at least two elements contribute to its identity.

Unlike the Pasadena Pops and Muse-ique, the Cal Phil
performs each of its five concerts in two locales. On alternating Saturdays
during July and August, the Cal Phil plays in its new home in the infield of
Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia. The following day, the group repeats the
programs in Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, making it the
only orchestra locally to regularly perform indoors during the summer months.

Moreover, Music Director Victor Vener continues to mix major
doses of classical music with pops fare in each program. It’s a formula that
has continued to draw loyal audiences, although Sunday’s attendance at Disney
Hall seemed sparser than what I recall from last summer.

The anchor of Sunday’s program was The Association, the
folk-rock band that began in 1965 at Pasadena’s Ice House and has produced
enough hits to sell more than 80 million records in its nearly half-century of
existence.

Some of the original members are still performing, while
others have been replaced, but the sextet offered a winsome reprise of their
distinctive music that featured most of their megahits, including Wendy, Never My Love and Cherish. Several of the songs’ composers
were in the audience.  The group
also paid tribute to the Mommas and the Poppas, with whom it performed 60
times, by singing California Dreamin’.
Vener and the Cal Phil provided discrete accompaniment on half of the numbers.

Vener surrounded the pop group with three classical numbers.
He and the orchestra opened with a solid rendition of Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla Overture taken at a
stately tempo and continued with Richard Strauss’ first tone poem, Don Juan. Overall, the orchestra played
well although Vener failed to find all of the glorious sweep of Strauss’ music.

The major work after intermission was three movements of
Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.
Vener’s pattern is to limit any one classical selection to about 20 minutes,
although with his commentary that length stretches out considerably.

On Sunday, Vener took the time to explain the story behind
the piece and each of the selected movements (The Ball, March to the Scaffold and Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath). This was helpful for those in the
audience hearing for the first time a work that describes the composer’s
drug-induced fantasy. Moreover, considering that the piece is really five
distinct sections as opposed to one interconnected unit, the verbal interludes
did little damage to its overall effect.

Unfortunately this familiar work is played by many
orchestras locally and Vener’s ungainly conducting style looked particularly
lumbering when compared to other maestros. Nonetheless, a good time was had by
most.

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