OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Pops conclude 2012 season with Gershwin, Hamlisch tributes

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Pasadena Pops
Orchestra; Larry Blank, conductor

Kevin Cole, piano;
JPL Chorus

Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 Los Angeles County Arboretum

Next performances: Saturday at 8 p.m. Ambassador
Auditorium

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

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To say that this has been an eventful summer for the Pasadena
Pops Orchestra would be to understate the obvious. The orchestra moved into a
new summer home, the bucolic Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia,
completing an odyssey that in three years took the ensemble from Descanso
Gardens in La Caada to a lawn outside of the Rose Bowl and, finally, to
Arcadia.

 

This was the second season under the leadership of Principal
Conductor Marvin Hamlisch, who passed away unexpectedly on August 6 at the age
of 68. Weeks later, the orchestra named noted pianist-songwriter Michael
Feinstein as Hamlisch’s replacement. And prior to last night’s concert, Paul
Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association (which runs both the Pops
and the Pasadena Symphony) announced that Melinda Shea, board of directors
president for the past three years, has stepped aside because she and her
husband are moving to the Northeast U.S. (see the note at the end of this
post).

 

When Hamlisch and the Pops planned last night’s night’s
concert — the season’s final program –the focus was to be on the music of
George Gershwin. After Hamlisch died, the evening became a mlange of Gershwin
and Hamlisch, appropriate since Marvin was one of the few musicians in our era
who approached Gershwin’s eclectic genius.

 

Both the replacement conductor, Larry Blank, and the
previously scheduled pianist, Kevin Cole, owe much of their professional
success to their relationships with Hamlisch. Each offered touching
reminiscences of those memories and Cole used the evening to debut two pieces:
a medley of three iconic Hamlisch songs (incliuding The Way We Were) and a piano-vocal song Cole wrote immediately
after hearing of Hamlisch’s death.

 

Beyond that, the program showed off several facets of
Gershwin’s compositional talent and, for a change (at least in a Pops program
under Hamlisch’s leadership), offered a healthy slice of Gershwin’s classical
side. Cole, Blank and the Pops closed the opening half of the program with the
last two movements of Gershwin’s Concerto in F on a night that marked the 75th
anniversary to the day of a famous memorial concert for Gershwin at Hollywood
Bowl that included Oscar Levant as soloist in the concerto.

 

Hearing portions of a concerto is rarely a good thing and it
wasn’t last night. Concerto in F, Gershwin’s second major piece for piano and
orchestra,  was written in 1925, a
year after Rhapsody in Blue, and it
was the first where he wrote his own orchestra score (Ferde Grof orchestrated Rhapsody in Blue). The concerto has two
pulsating outer movements surrounding a laconic, bluesy second section; hearing
the latter without the opening movement deprives the listener of the contrast
but that’s what we got last night.

 

On the other hand, given what transpired in performance,
perhaps that wasn’t a bad idea. The orchestra played its best for the evening
in the second movement, with stellar solo work from Donald Foster, clarinet,
Marissa Benedict, trumpet, and Concertmaster Aimee Kreston. Cole seemed to have
been appropriately delicate in the piano portions of that movement, although
the heavy over-amplification makes that judgment pretty much a guess, and Blank
led the movement sensitively.

 

Unfortunately, the third movement was far less successful,
partly because Cole and Blank had quite different ideas of what the tempo
should be; consequently, the orchestra experienced several rough patches along
the way.

 

Those tempo differences also showed up in Rhapsody in Blue, which was one of the
major offerings after intermission. Although Cole’s take on the piece wasn’t as
off the wall as, for example, Marcus Roberts, it was distinctive and not
particularly easy for Blank and the orchestra to follow, which made for some
scratchy moments.

 

The other classical number was a smartly played reading of
Robert Russell Bennett’s Porgy and Bess
suite.

 

The evening also marked the symphonic debut of the
orchestra’s JPL Chorus; the 35-member ensemble sang confidently in I Got Rhythm in the second half of the
program, but had significant intonation problems in Foggy Day, which opened the evening.

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

As Zdunek pointed out in his preconcert remarks, Shea’s
three-year tenure as PSA president was marked by (a) resignations by Music
Directors Jorge Mester and Rachael Worby; (b) hiring Hamlisch; (c) Hamlisch’s
death; (d) the appointment of Feinstein; (e) the Pasadena Symphony’s move into
Ambassador Auditorium; (e) the Pops’ two relocations; (f) restructuring the
board and the staff; and retiring the association’s $1.2 million accumulated
debt. That’s quite a legacy!

The Pops elected not to provide a printed run list last
night, which left those who are not hard-core Gershwin aficionados at a loss at
several points in the evening (including the two encores) for the songs being
played.

The camera work left much to be desired last night and the
orchestra needs to work on adding speakers throughout the seating area so that
the sound doesn’t need to be as heavily amplified as it was last night.

The Pasadena Symphony and Pops move into Ambassador
Auditorium Saturday night for a concert that continues to be called “Marvin
Hamlisch and Friends,” since Hamlisch had made all the plans for the event to
raise funds for the two orchestras. Blank will conduct and Jason Alexander will
be the emcee. Among those appearing will be composer-pianist Jason Robert Brown.
DETAILS

The Pasadena Symphony opens its 2012-2013 season on Oct. 6
when Mei-Ann Chen — who made a successful PSO debut last year (LINK) returns to
Ambassador Auditorium to lead the orchestra in a program that includes
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture,
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with
16-year-old George Li as soloist. DETAILS

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: LA Opera to open 2012-2013 season with two productions

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.

 

Although Los Angeles Opera’s 2012-2013 season isn’t
particularly adventurous, the company’s two opening productions do have
interesting aspects that may make them worth investing your time and money.

 

The season opens Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion with a new production of Verdi’s rarely performed I Due Foscari, a work that probably
wouldn’t be exhumed except that it provides another baritone role for Plcido
Domingo. 

 

Nonetheless, says LAO Music Director James Conlon: “This
opera represents an important step in the development of Verdi’s style and
musical vocabulary, in which he gradually transforms the inherited culture of
Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini into a language of his own, quintessentially
defining and personifying the Italian 19th century.”

 

Other performances will take place on Sept. 20 and 29 and
Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 23 and Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. A concert performance
will be presented on Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for
the Performing Arts. Conlon will conduct all seven performances. KUSC-FM will
broadcast the opening-night performance.

 

The role of Francesco Foscari will be the 140th
in Domingo’s long and illustrious career. Most of those were in the tenor range
but, of late, the 71-year-old Spaniard — who also doubles as LAO’s general
director — has returned to baritone roles (he began singing in that lower
register). Italian tenor Francesco Meli appears with Domingo in the role of
Jacapo Foscari and Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya will portray Jacapo’s
wife, Lucrezia Contanini.

 

This will be the only new production in the LA Opera season;
it will move on to Valencia, Vienna and London after its L.A. premiere. Thaddeus
Strassberger makes his LAO debut as director.

 

I Due Foscari will
run in tandem with Mozart’s Don Giovanni,
which opens on Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and runs for seven performances using a
production created in 2004 for Chicago Lyric Opera. Other performances are
Sept. 28 and Oct. 3, 6 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 20 and Oct. 14 at 2 p.m.
KUSC will broadcast the Oct. 3 performance.

 

At least part of the interest will be to see how this
production compares with the modernist take on the famous Don Juan tale created
by Frank Gehry last spring for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

 

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo will perform the title role in the
LAO production, joined by American sopranos Julianna Di Giacomo and Angela
Meade. Gregory Fortner, who directed last season’s La Boheme for LAO, will oversee the production that was originally
conceived by Peter Stein. Conlon will conduct the first five performances,
while Domingo will step into the pit for the final two.

 

Ticket information:
213/972-8001; www.laopera.com

 

The Web site also has a number of background articles.
Conlon will present pre-concert lectures an hour before each staged
performance.

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

SEASON PREVIEW-2: Colburn Orchestra to open Sept. 29 at Ambassador Auditorum

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

The Colburn Orchestra will open its 10th
anniversary season on September 29 at 7:30 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium when
Music Director Yehuda Gilad leads The Colburn School’s internationally renowned
ensemble in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.
3. Colburn Conservatory of Music student Beiyao Ji will be the soloist in the
concerto (this is also the 10th anniversary of the Conservatory).

 

Gilad, who is also professor of clarinet at the Colburn
School of Music and the USC Thornton School of Music, will conduct five of the
Colburn Orchestra’s seven concerts. Five programs will take place at Ambassador
and one will be played the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. The
orchestra will also play on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town”
series at Walt Disney Concert Hall when LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel
will conduct.

 

Particularly considering the exemplary quality of the
orchestra, its Ambassador season counts as one of the real bargains for music
lovers. Some of the tickets are free, other general admission seats are $10,
and premium seats are just $25. Check the school’s Web site HERE for details.
For tickets to the Dec. 1 concert at the Valley Performing Arts Center, call 818/677-3000. Information on the Disney Hall
concert is HERE.

 

The complete orchestra series is available HERE.

 

The Colburn Chamber Music Society will present six concerts
at the school’s Zipper Hall beginning October 14 (DETAILS) and a new Thursday
evening chamber series in the Thayer Hall lobby is also on tap (DETAILS). The
school will again join forces with LA Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artists
Program when LAO’s Music Director James Conlon conducts performances of
Britten’s chamber opera The Rape of
Lucretia
April 4, 5 and 6 at Zipper Hall (DETAILS).

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Other season stories:

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra HERE

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