AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Summertime is winding down

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first
published today in the above papers.


Summer seasons are winding down and by the time of my next
column, fall/winter/spring (i.e., indoor) seasons will be upon us. However,
there are still a couple of outdoor events worth noting.


The Pasadena Pops
concludes its first season at the Los Angeles County Arboretum on Sept. 8 when
Larry Blank leads the orchestra in an evening centered on the music of George
Gershwin. Pianist Kevin Cole will be the soloist in Gershwin’s iconic Rhapsody in Blue. Blank was a long-time
collaborator with the late Marvin Hamlisch, including stints as music director
for Hamlisch’s musicals They’re Playing
Our Song
and A Chorus Line. Information:


The Pops has announced that next’s summer’s schedule will
increase from four concerts to five. Newly named Principal Conductor Michael
Feinstein will lead three of those programs. Information:


The final weeks of the Hollywood Bowl season have several significant guest conductors on
the podium. On Tuesday and Thursday, Spanish maestro Rafael Frubeck de Burgos
leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic L.A. Master Chorale, L.A. Children’s Chorus
and three soloists in performances of Orff’s Carmina Burana. The program opens with Mendelssohn’s Incidental
Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Information:


On Sept. 4, 30-year-old Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbaski
makes his Bowl debut leading a meaty (and unusual) program that concludes with
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. Denis Matsuev, winner of the 11th
Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1998, makes his first Bowl
appearance as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and, for good measure,
plays selections from Stravinsky’s Petrushka
transcribed for solo piano. Information:


The Sept. 6 program is even more unusual (certainly by Bowl
standards). Bramwell Tovey returns to lead the Phil in Strauss’ Til
Euelenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
and Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals.
However, it’s the soloists that make the evening potentially intriguing as the
violin and piano duo Igudesman
& Joo
will perform selections from their hit show, BIG Nightmare Music. Pianists Inon Barnatan
and Benjamin
also be on hand. Information:


And if that wasn’t enough, there’s plenty of movie music
slipped in between. John Williams conducts a program of his own music on Aug.
30 and Sept. 1, while Sept. 2 brings a salute to Paramount’s centennial, with
the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by David Newman. On all three programs,
the orchestras will accompany film clips that will be shown on the Bowl’s
screens, including a large one suspended above the orchestra. Information:



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

(Revised) NEWS: Michael Feinstein to replace Marvin Hamlisch as Principal Conductor of Pasadena Pops Orchestra

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


Less than two weeks after the sudden death of
composer-conductor Marvin Hamlisch, the Pasadena Pops Orchestra announced today
that five-time Grammy-nominated singer and pianist Michael Feinstein would succeed Hamlisch as the Pops principal conductor in the 2013 season.

Today’s announcement was made by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogard at a media conference in the rotunda of the Pasadena City Hall with Feinstein;

Paul Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association; and Melinda Shea,
PSA president, also in attendance.

Feinstein will be the first person to hold the newly created Marvin Hamlisch Chair. He will lead three concerts next summer at the orchestra’s new home, the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia, with dates and programming to be announced later (other concerts will be led by guest conductors, as was the case in each of Hamlisch’s two seasons).

The orchestra’s third concert this season will be tomorrow night. It will be led, as was originally planned, by guest conductor Michael Krajewski (LINK). The season’s final concert, on Sept. 8, will be conducted by Larry Blank, a long-time Hamlisch collaborator, and features the music of George Gershwin. (LINK)

Selecting Feinstein, who turns 56 next month, represents something of a gamble for the Pops because he has never conducted a symphony orchestra, although he has led a backup band in many of his shows. “I’ve played with orchestras for 25 years,” Feinstein said today at the media announcement, “and I’m glad that I paid close attention. I’ve got a lot of learning to do.” The initial commitment is for one year.

He said that, for the moment, the Pops would be his only orchestra, although he is artistic director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts, a $170 million, three-theatre venue in Carmel, Indiana, which opened in January 2011, as well as director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Feinstein will continue the musical tradition of all-pops concerts that Hamlisch established when he took over the reins last summer at the Rose Bowl. “I consider this the thrill of a lifetime,” said Feinstein, “and it’s a great deal of responsibility to continue Marvin’s great legacy. I feel like Marvin will be mentoring me in this new position.”

Hamlisch died suddenly Aug. 6 at the age of 68. He was in the second year at the helm of the Pops; he and Feinstein had appeared on July 21 before what was reported to be the largest crowd in Pops history. “It’s still hard for all of us to realize fully what has happened,” said Zdunek. “Things well moving ahead so well, with the Pasadena Symphony fully into its new home at Ambassador Auditorium and our new summer home at the Arboretum being such a spectacular success. And then we all woke up to the terrible news
earlier this month.”

During the past two decades, Feinstein has gained widespread fame for his work archiving, advocating and performing what he calls the Great American Songbook. After graduating from high school, Feinstein moved to Los Angeles when he was 20. The widow of legendary concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant introduced him to Ira Gershwin in July 1977. Feinstein became Gershwin’s assistant for six years, which earned him access to numerous unpublished Gershwin songs, many of which he has since performed and recorded.

His experience at the July 21 concert was integral to Feinstein’s accepting the new position. “In a time when arts in general are being devalued,” said Feinstein, “the commitment that the city of Pasadena and the Pasadena Pops Orchestra has made is very special.”

Feinstein also noted the vibe that he felt at the Arboretum on July 21. “I always want to feel a connection with the audience,” explained Feinstein, “and that night was something special. It was one of the most gratifying times I’ve had.” Next season, he will be in charge of continuing the success.


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

BREAKING NEWS: Michael Feinstein to replace Marvin Hamlisch as Principal Conductor of Pasadena Pops Orchestra

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


Michael Feinstein has been named the new Principal Conductor
of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, replacing Marvin Hamlisch, who died suddenly
Aug. 6 at the age of 68. The announcement was made today by Pasadena Mayor Bill
Bogard at a media conference in the rotunda of the Pasadena City Hall with
Feinstein; Paul Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association; and
Melinda Shea, PSA President, in attendance.


Feinstein, who turns 56 next month, will be the first person
to hold the newly created Marvin Hamlisch Chair. He will lead three concerts in
next summer’s season at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. It will be his first
experience conducting a symphony orchestra.


More to come later this afternoon.



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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Yuja Wang, Gustavo Dudamel and L.A. Phil light up Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Yuja Wang, pianist); Symphony No. 4

Thursday, August 12, 2012 Hollywood Bowl



Combining Gustavo Dudamel, Tchaikovsky, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and two stellar soloists has made for boffo box office this week
at Hollywood Bowl. Tuesday night, with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist in the Schuman Cello
Concerto, was sold out in advance and there were very few empty seats at last
night’s concert, especially impressive since Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony
concluded both concerts, which might have limited some repeat business.


Last summer at the Bowl, the daringly short “little orange
dress” that Yuja Wang wore overshadowed, for many people, her prodigious
performance in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Last night’s floor-length
purple gown with a long slit elicited no gasps, as happened last summer, which
left people free to concentrate on her performance in Tchaikovsky’s Piano
Concerto No. 1.


This is the 25-year-old Chinese pianist’s third big Russian
concerto in a year with the Phil (she was soloist in Prokofiev’s third last
November) and all three performances have been breathtaking. Last night, she
blazed through the powerful octaves in the Tchaikovsky first but — as happened
in the other two performances — she balanced those pyrotechnics with elegant
introspective passages, at least in the first two movements.


Unfortunately, as was the case particularly in the
Prokofiev, she elected to take the third movement last night at an
extraordinarily fast tempo, as if to say, “I’m playing it this super fast just
to show I can do it.” Yuja, my dear, we know that by now. What would be more
exquisite would be to hear you deliver the same level of musicality that shined
forth in the first two movements. What Peter Ilyich wrote in the score — played
as well as you are obviously able — provided all the pyrotechnics needed. One
Lang Lang is enough for this generation.


Dudamel shaped the accompaniment lovingly and made effective
use of silence throughout the piece. Aside from some brass bobbles at the
beginning, the orchestra accompanied Wang splendidly. Catherine Ransom Karoly
on flute, Principal Cellist Tao Ni and Principal Oboist Ariana Ghez were
particularly noteworthy in their second-movement solos. The sound engineers,
who accentuated the bass throughout the evening, tended to make the Steinway piano
sound somewhat tubby from my spot at the back of the boxes.


Tchaikovsky’s symphonies have played a major role in
Dudamel’s young Los Angeles career so far. He made his Bowl debut in 2005 with
a “sit-up-and-take-notice” reading of the fifth symphony, and the sixth was on
his first tour as LAPO music director. The fourth last night had some of the
same characteristics as the other two but it also had a sense of maturity that
made it sound quite different.


Dudamel has something to say every time he tackles
Tchaikovsky; you may not always agree with it but you want to know where he
will go next. He was relaxed — almost introspective — with most of the first
movement last night. The second movement featured luxuriant strings, along with
melancholy solos from Ghez and Principal Bassoon Whitney Crockett. The third
movement was appropriately playful, and the finale was majestic without being
strident — all in all, a marvelous evening.




Whether or not the highly publicized hearings about
helicopter noise over the Bowl and San Fernando Valley residential areas were
the reason, this was as quiet as I can remember things for several years — just
two minor aerial incursions, one in the third movement of the concerto and the
other at the beginning of the symphony.


This was my first concert this summer at the Bowl so the
orchestra members’ dress may not be news for regulars but the men wore white
dress shirts (no coats or ties) while Dudamel wore a black dress shirt.
Casually elegant; I liked it.


Dudamel is in the midst of a six-concert stretch at the

– Sunday he leads a concert performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto (LINK).

Next week’s concerts feature another chapter in Dudamel’s “Americas
and Americans” series.

– Tuesday’s soloist is vocalist Juan Luis Guerra in a
program of Latino/Hispanic music (LINK).

– Thursday’s program includes Ginastera’s Piano Concerto
No. 1 (with Sergio Tiempo as soloist) and Copland’s Symphony No. 3 (LINK).

– On August 19, Dudamel joins Plcido Domingo in what is
being billed as an evening of songs and opera arias; it’s also a benefit for
the Phil musicians’ pension fund (LINK).



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

(Updated-3) BREAKING NEWS: Pasadena Pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch dies at age 68

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

(Updated to include quotes from Victor Vener and Rachael Worby)



Marvin Hamlisch, Academy Award-winning film score and
Broadway composer and principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, died
yesterday at the age of 68.


Hamlisch was one of just 12 people to have won for his music
Oscars (three of them, in fact), Emmys (four), Grammys (four) and a Tony Award.
He also is one of two composers to have swept those four categories plus earned
a Pulitzer Prize (the other is Richard Rodgers).


In recent years, Hamlisch became equally renowned for his
work as a pops orchestra conductor. He began this new phase of his life 18
years ago as principal pops conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Last summer
he took over as principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops and served in a
similar capacity with the Milwaukee, Dallas, Seattle and San Diego Symphonies.
A link to a story I wrote prior to his first Pasadena Pops concert last year is


Melinda Shea, president of the Pasadena Symphony (parent of
both the Pasadena Pops and Pasadena Symphony) released the following statement
this morning:


“The Pasadena Symphony and Pops are both shocked and
devastated to learn about Marvin Hamlisch’s sudden passing. Our thoughts and
prayers are with his wife Terre, his family, and his friends and colleagues.


“During his time in Pasadena, he was beloved in our
community and made an enormous impact with everyone he encountered. He brought
a tireless humor and enthusiasm to the stage, and was loved by our audience,
musicians, and staff. Marvin propelled the Pasadena Pops into a new and
successful era, guided by his contributions to the Great American Songbook, carrying on the legacies of Richard Rogers
and George Gershwin. His was a giant in American music and a true national


“Marvin was here when we needed him with his vision and
artistic guidance. He was a great friend and his music leaves an unforgettable
legacy to the world. Marvin was a remarkable person and an incredible talent
who will be dearly missed.”


Victor Vener, music director of the California Philharmonic
Orchestra, said this morning: “I, along with millions of people around the
world, am shocked and saddened by the news of the untimely passing yesterday of
the highly-respected and decorated Marvin Hamlisch.  It is tragic and we
at Cal Phil are grieving the loss of the remarkable and talented composer who
left an indelible mark in the industry … but more than that, in the lives of
everyone, everywhere, who experienced the power and brilliance of his music and
lyrics over the decades. Marvin undeniably leaves a legacy that will forever
live through his music and in our hearts.”


Rachael Worby, who preceded Hamlisch as the Pops principal
conductor and now leads her ensemble Muse-ique, said from Quebec where she is
preparing to conduct a concert, “I’m absolutely devastated. Marvin was a bright
light, a true genius. He was also an amazing human being with all the best
instincts. I bet that when ‘Curiosity,’ JPL’s rover, finally discovers life on
Mars, it will discover a little bit of Marvin Hamlisch, for whom all music was
certainly of the entire universe. He was, indeed, one singular sensation.”

Hamlisch’s Broadway credits included the music for A Chorus Line, which received the
Pulitzer Prize, as well as They’re Playing
Our Song, The Goodbye Girl
and Sweet
Smell of Success.
Earlier this summer, what turned out to be Hamlisch’s
final concert with the Pasadena Pops included selections from They’re Playing Our Song, starring
Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, reprising the roles they inaugurated in 1978 when
the musical opened at the Ahmanson Theatre and then moved on to Broadway, where
it ran for 1,082 performances.


Hamlisch’s latest musical, The Nutty Professor, based on the movie that starred Jerry Lewis,
had recently opened in Nashville.


Hamlisch was the composer of more than 40 motion picture
scores including his Oscar-winning score and song for The Way We Were and his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s music for The Sting, for which he received a third
Oscar. His prolific output of scores for films include original compositions
and/or musical adaptations for Sophie’s
Choice, Ordinary People, The Swimmer, Three Men and a Baby, Ice Castles, Take
the Money and Run, Bananas, Save the Tiger,
and his latest effort The Informant!, starring Matt Damon and
directed by Steven Soderbergh.


A story from the New
York Times
is HERE.



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