A quick note to readers

The Los Angeles Newspaper
Group (which owns this newspaper and others) is switching its Blog platform.
This will have little impact on readers except that I won’t be posting anything
on this Blog for several days while the switch is made. Things should be updated
by next Sunday when I will post my next “Around Town/’Music” column and I don’t
plan on reviewing any concerts between now and Sunday. You will still be able
to read everything currently online during the switchover. Thanks for your patience.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Local groups take center stage

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first
published yesterday in the above papers.

 

During the first three-quarters of the 20th
century, community orchestras flourished. Many offered their concerts free of
admission charges; others charged modest ticket prices. In either case, support
– financial and emotional — came from dedicated groups of volunteers who year
after year, through economic boom times and downturns, raised the bulk of the
money necessary to survive.

 

Gradually things began to change. The rise in the amount and
quality of recorded music and the lack of music education cut into audiences.
People got tired of raising money. Some community orchestras — e.g., Pasadena,
Pacific and Long Beach — “grew up” and became significant players, so to speak,
in the musical landscape. Others — e.g., Highland Park — died. New ensembles –
e.g., New West, Cal Phil, Pasadena Pops, Muse-ique — emerged.

 

A few stalwarts in the community-orchestra field remain. The La Mirada Symphony begins its 50th
anniversary season Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the La Mirada Theatre for the
Performing Arts. Dr. Robert Frelly begins his second season as the ensemble’s
music director with a program celebrating nature that music by Handel, Vivaldi,
Smetana, Grof, Debussy, and concludes with The
Pines of Rome
by Respighi.

 

This is the first of four free-admission concerts (three of
which are classical and one pops). There’s also a benefit concert on April 6
that will feature Broadway star Susan Egan (among other roles, she was the
original Belle in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast).

 

Information: www.lamiradasymphony.com

 

An even older group, the Rio Hondo Symphony, continues its 80th season next
Sunday at 3 p.m. in Whittier High School’s Vic Lopez Auditorium with a program
spotlighting dance. Music Director Kimo Furumoto will conduct the program and
the Nouveau Chamber Ballet of Fullerton will perform in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

 

The Prokofiev was performed last spring at a children’s
concert, and is on the main series by popular demand. Elizabeth Lauritsen, a
soprano, actress, music teacher and RHS board member, will narrate the popular
story.

 

Information: www.riohondysymphony.org

 

Pacific Opera
Project,
a new locally based company, is opening its season with a fully
staged production with orchestra of Sweeney
Todd.
Performances are today at 4 p.m., Oct. 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. and next
Sunday at 4 p.m., all at the Porticoes Theatre in Pasadena. Information: www.pacificoperaproject.com

_______________________

 

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Choral music seasons soaring

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of
this article was first published today in the above papers.

 

Various segments of the classical music world have been
unveiling their seasons. This week we focus on choral music.

 

Chorale Bel Canto
opens its 31st season on Saturday at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at
Whittier College’s Memorial Chapel with a program of part songs from three
centuries entitled “The Poet’s Voice.” Stephen Gothold will conduct his
80-voice chorale in music by Brahms, Eric Whitacre (Night Music) and Pasadena-based composer James Hopkins (The Rossetti Songs). Information: www.choralebelcanto.org

 

The Los Angeles
Master Chorale
will take advantage of one of the unique aspects of its
home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, when it opens its 49th season next
Sunday at 7 p.m. with “Organ Extravaganza.”

 

Music Director Grant Gershon and Assistant Conductor Leslie
Leighton will conduct 115 singers of the Master Chorale, and organists Paul
Meier and Kimo Smith.

 

Selections will include West Coast premieres of A Good Understanding by Nico Muhly and Ascending into Heaven by Judith Weir,
along with other anthems and works that take advantage of the hall’s 6,125-pipe
organ, including C. Hubert H. Parry’s I
Was Glad
(which was performed at the April wedding of Prince William and
Kate Middleton) and Gerald Finzi’s God is
Gone Up.

 

Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson will lead her Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus as part of the program. The group will join the Master
Chorale in the Muhly premiere and on its own will sing David Wilcocks’ Psalm 150. Information: www.lamc.org

 

Further south, the Pacific
Chorale
begins its 45th season on Oct. 28 at 5:30 p.m. at Rene
and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa when Artistic Director John
Alexander leads his chorale and the Pacific Symphony in a performance of
Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah.
Acclaimed American bass Eric Owens will sing the title role. Other soloists are
Christine Brandes, soprano, I-Chin Feinblatt, mezzo-soprano, and Nicholas
Preston, tenor.

 

Elijah was the
first work the Pacific Chorale performed, in its debut concert as the Irvine
Community Chorus under founding director Maurice Allard in January of 1969.
Alexander, who has led the Chorale since 1972, subsequently conducted Elijah in performances in 1977 and 1992,
but the group has not performed the full oratorio since that 1992 presentation,
when Metropolitan Opera baritone Sherrill Milnes sang the title role.

 

Information: www.pacificchorale.org

_______________________

 

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra opens season with scintillating concert

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

Ravel Piano Concerto in G; Jeffrey Kahane, soloist.

Andrew Norman: The
Great Swiftness.
James Matheson: True
South.

Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Augustin Hadelich,
soloist.

Sunday, October 7, 2012 Royce Hall

Next performances:
Nov. 10 at Alex Theatre; Nov. 11 at Royce Hall

Information: www.laco.org

______________________

 

Orchestras love themes and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
is no exception. According to the printed program book, the overall theme of
LACO’s 44th season is “Concerto Rhapsody” (although, interestingly,
the phrase doesn’t appear on LACO’s Web site). If the balance of the
orchestra’s concerts this season matches what I heard last night, it will be a
magical one, indeed.

 

55422-Kahane.jpg

Last night at UCLA’s Royce Hall Jeffrey Kahane (right) –
beginning his 16th season as LACO music director — scheduled not one
but two concertos: Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major to begin the program and
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major to conclude it. In between, he inserted
two interesting West Coast premieres. It made for a full evening, but a
memorable one.

 

Although I would have lost a bet guessing the answer to this
question, Ravel’s G Major Concerto has been played four previous times by LACO
and this was the second time that Kahane has conducted it from the keyboard
(the first was in 2003). He opened last night with a playful, almost jaunty
rendition of the outer movements and received wonderfully soulful playing from
his wind principals, particularly English horn player Laura Wickes, in the second movement. It
proved to be a delightful precursor of what would come after intermission.

 

62567-Hadelich.jpg

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is one of the staples of the
repertoire but I have never heard it performed like it was last night by
28-year-old violinist Augustin Hadelich, Kahane and the orchestra. Hadelich
(left) — who was born in Italy of German parents and studied at The Juilliard
School — has a stain-smooth tone and prodigious technique and displayed both
along with his own distinctive, but highly musical take on this very familiar
work.

 

However, what set the performance apart was how he, Kahane
and the orchestra melded together as one musical unit. Golfers talk about
“being in the zone” and I felt like this was the case last night.

 

I was fortunate to have a seat that gave me an unusual angle
on Kahane as he conducted and the entire performance was mesmerizing. There
were moments when he beat notes in 4/4 time, others when he was beating in two,
and still others when he wasn’t beating at all. Sometimes he conducted with a
baton; at others he led solely with his hands. It was as if he and the
orchestra were absolutely on the same wavelength. In addition, they were locked
in with Hadelich, as well, which wasn’t easy because the soloist was making frequent
subtle shifts that could have spelled trouble in less-skilled hands.

 

I’ve just read back over the above paragraph and it doesn’t
do justice to what occurred — you had to be there to experience it. Moreover,
if anyone wanted a prime example of why a live performance is preferable to
even the finest recording, last night was it. Seldom has an instantaneous
standing ovation been so well deserved. Hadelich obliged with an encore,
dashing off Paganini’s 24th Caprice as if it were mere child’s play.

 

Subsumed in the euphoria over the Beethoven were the two
West Coast premieres, which is too bad because they each proved to be worth
hearing.

 

62568-Calder Stabile.jpg

The Great Swiftness, by
Andrew Norman, is a five-minute musical description of an Alexander Calder
stabile in Norman’s hometown of Grand Rapid, Michigan. “My
piece is a bit like talking a walk around the Calder,” he wrote in the program
book. “The same melodic shapes happen over and over, but with each repetition
their relationship to each other shifts, as if one is looking at a stationery sculpture
from an every-changing point of view.” The title also refers to the river
flowing through the town that gives the city its name.

 

All of that translated to a series of swoops and musical
curves, which proved to be intriguing. The piece also served as a sort of
calling card; Norman is beginning a three-year-term as LACO’s
Composer-in-Residence and next spring the orchestra will perform the world
premiere of a work he is writing under LACO’s “Sound Investment” commissioning
program.

 

Far more substantive was True
South,
a work that American composer James Matheson wrote in 2010 on a
commission by the New York Philharmonic. Matheson revealed that the original
commission was for 22 players, including just two on each string part. “When I
heard that LACO was going to perform the piece with a full string complement,”
he said in introductory remarks, “I felt like a kid in a candy store.”

 

The genesis of True
South
was a Werner Herzog documentary entitled Encounters at the End of the Earth, i.e., the South Pole). There
were moments that felt like the icy wastes of that region (with overtones of
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Simphonia
Antarctica
sneaking in), interspersed
with lush, melodic sections and swooping screeches that sounded like birds
wailing. I found it all fascinating and would love to hear it again. Of course,
that was true of the entire concert.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

The evening began with the announcement that the Center
for the Art of Performance at UCLA (the new unwieldy name for the arts
impresario arm of the university) has named LACO as CAP UCLA’s
Orchestra-in-Residence for the next three years.

In 2011, The American Academy of Arts and Letters honored
Matheson with the Charles Ives Living, an award of $100,000 a year for 2 years
(2012-2014). Matheson was well aware of LACO; in 2009 he was named director of
the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship program.

Kudos to LACO for having the most informative program book
among local arts groups. The program notes by Christine Gengaro, PhD, are
highly informative even to non-musicians, the orchestra always includes the
group’s complete performance history of each piece being played, and there’s a
box with composition dates, instrumentation used, and the estimated duration of
each piece.

Now, if we could just get the concerts to start on time.
Speeches last night began 11 minutes after the scheduled 7 p.m. “curtain time”
and the music didn’t actually commence until 7:16 p.m. Even so, the orchestra
allowed latecomers to be seated after the first movement of the Ravel.

In LACO’s Nov. 10 and 11 concerts, Benjamin Wallfisch will
lead the world premiere of his Violin Concerto, which was written for Tereza
Stanislav, LACO’s assistant concertmaster. The balance of the program will be
Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for
Strings,
Op. 47 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. 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 opens 85th season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony; Mei-Ann
Chen, conductor

Beethoven: Egmont
Overture; Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 (George Li, soloist)

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9

Saturday, October 6, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next performances: November 3 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

______________________

 

62552-Chen 10-6-12.jpg

When Mei-Ann Chen (right) made her Pasadena Symphony podium
debut last fall, she concluded the program with a dynamic reading of
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Management obviously liked what it saw and heard;
it quickly re-engaged the now 39-year-old, Taiwan-born conductor to open the
orchestra’s 85th season with two performances yesterday at Ambassador
Auditorium in Pasadena.

 

However, her symphonic vehicle this tine around was a much
more challenging work: Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9. Chen certainly could have
turned to one of the Russian composer’s more popular symphonies — the
triumphant No. 5 or the pulsating 10th, for example. Instead, she
chose No. 9, which — to judge by Saturday’s smallish crowd — proved far less
marketable than Tchaikovsky (no surprise).

 

Written in 1945, Shostakovich originally conceived his ninth
symphony as a massive work for chorus, soloists and orchestra that would
celebrate the victorious end of World War II. Lengthy grandeur had been his
symphonic style during the war. Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad) had been a riveting work documenting in musical terms
the terrible siege that city’s residents would endure for 900 days. Even
Symphony No. 8 had been infused with a heroic, albeit, dour mood.

 

Whatever caused Shostakovich to change his mind regarding
Symphony No. 9 (the program notes cited the tens of millions who had died, a
world still in chaos, and a Soviet Union with Stalin and his “apparatchiks”
firmly in charge), what emerged was a sardonically witty, 28-minute work that
infuriated the authorities and undoubtedly perplexed audiences, as well. The
composer reportedly said that, “musicians will like to play it, and critics
will delight in blasting it.”

 

To judge by Saturday night’s performance, the wind players
certainly enjoyed playing the piece because Shostakovich put many of them in
the spotlight; the list Saturday night was headed by Rose Corrigan, bassoon;
Geraldine Rotella, piccolo; Ben Lulich, clarinet; Louise DiTullio, flute; and
Concertmaster Aimee Kreston.

 

Chen skillfully navigated the five movements (the last three
are played as a unit) and, apart from a couple of rough transitions, the
orchestra played this unfamiliar work stylishly, although the last few measures
could have done with a bit more flourish — the audience didn’t realize the
piece was over until Chen spun around on the podium. As the applause swelled,
she waded into the orchestra to shake hands with the wind principals and then
had each section stand to share in the well-deserved ovation.

 

After intermission, 17-year-old George Li was the soloist in
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. Winner of the 2012 Gilmore Young Artist
Award, Li displayed an abundance of technical chops but not much patience;
after a properly sonorous beginning, he accelerated through the work like an
impetuous teenager.  The upside was
that this was a Rachmaninoff concerto that didn’t wallow; it also lacked much
gravitas or introspection.

 

Chen did her best to rein in Li but it was a losing battle.
She luxuriated in the orchestra’s rich string sound but ultimately it became a
race to the finish. Soloist and orchestra received a standing ovation — have
you ever heard a Rach 2 or 3 that didn’t get one? — and Li responded more
quickly than seemed warranted with two encores that again highlighted his
technique.

 

The evening opened with a well-played account of Beethoven’s
Egmont Overture that Chen led with
confidence and a minimum of podium pyrotechnics.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

In one of those scheduling quirks that tantalize audiences
and bedevil arts organizations, Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 shows up in next
weekend’s Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts, which — if nothing else — should
provides a contrast for those who attended the PSO concert. German-born pianist
Lars Vogt will be the soloist. Robin Ticcati, a 29-year-old English conductor,
leads the concerts, which conclude with Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2. Ticcati is
the first in a four-month-long series of guest conductors leading the Phil
until Gustavo Dudamel returns to the podium on Feb. 21. Informatioon: www.laphil.com

Chen returns to Southern California
April 4-6, 2013 when she leads the Pacific Symphony at Rene and Henry
Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. The concluding work is Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 5; the program also includes the Zhanhao/Gang Butterfly Lovers’ Concerto, with George Gao on erhu, and
Huang’s
Saibei Dance, the piece with which Chen opened
her Pasadena Symphony debut concerts last October. Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

The PSO continues its pattern of using guest conductors in
the Nov. 3 concerts, which will be led by Edwin Outwater, now in his sixth
season music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Ontario, Canada.
The program will open with Spring
Festival Overture
by Hong Kong-composer Li Huanzhi and will include
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with Rueibin Chen as soloist. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 _______________________

 

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

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