AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Choral music takes center stage

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.

The combination of Christian Holy Week and Jewish Passover usually brings a number of major choral concerts and this year is no different except for the fact that the Los Angeles Master Chorale (which would normally have a concert during this time frame) is in Europe touring John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

On the local front:

• Jeffrey Bernstein will lead his Pasadena Master Chorale in a performance Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil this afternoon at 4 p.m. at Altadena Community Church. Fortunately, the work does not last all night (the 15-movement work lasts just over an hour). The name comes from the Russian chants that occur during the all-night liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Information: 626-208-0009; www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

Pasadena Presbyterian Church’s 16th annual Good Friday concert focuses on music influenced by Gregorian chant: Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Four Motets on Gregorian Themes and Meditation for solo organ, along with Paul Creston’s Gregorian Chant for String Orchestra. Timothy Howard will conduct the Kirk Choir, community singers, soprano Judith Siirila, baritone Michal Dawson Connor, organist Meaghan King, and the Friends of Music Orchestra. The concert is free, take place Friday at 7:30 p.m. and I’m giving a preconcert lecture at 7 p.m. Information: 818/209-4635; www.ppcmusic.org

• The centerpiece of the 76th Whittier Bach Festival will take place on April 6 at 4 p.m. at Whittier College’s Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts when Chorale Bel Canto sings two Bach settings of the Song of Mary: Magnificat in D Major and Cantata BWV 10, Meine selle ehebt den Herrn. Stephen Gothold will conduct the Chorale and Corey Carleton, soprano; Laura Harrison, mezzo-soprano; Daniel Babcock, tenor; and Chung Uk Lee, bass. Information: 888-460-9222; www.choralebelcanto.org

• Stephen Grimm will conduct his Pasadena Pro Musica as it offers a concert of motets by Bach, Brahms, Heinrich Schütz and Henryk Gorecki on Easter Sunday at 4 p.m. at Pasadena Neighborhood Church. Information: 626/628-2144; www.pasadenapromusica.org
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Rossini’s “Cinderella” begins tomorrow night

Los Angeles Opera’s production of Rossini’s Cinderella
Opening night: Saturday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles
Other performances: March 28, April 3 and April 13 at 7:30 p.m., March 31 at 4 p.m. April 7 at 2 p.m. (Best seating availability: March 23 and 28)
Preconcert lecture by James Conlon one hour before each performance.
Tickets: $19-$287
Information: 213/972-7812; www.laopera.com

Kate Lindsey and her “magic rats” will be part of the joy infused in LA Opera’s production of Rossini’s Cinderella, which will open tomorrow night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Robert Millard.
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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 and in other LANG Papers.

The eyes of Kate Lindsey, the beautiful, young, American-born mezzo-soprano, sparkle at the question of whether as a child she wanted to be Cinderella. “What girl doesn’t dream of capturing a prince and living happily ever after?” she laughs heartily.

Beginning Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Lindsey gets her chance as she plays the lead role in Rossini’s Cinderella (or, more properly, La Cenerentola, since the performances will be sung in Italian with projected English supertitles). This time around, LA Opera is using a co-production from Houston Grand Opera and Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona, directed by Spaniard Joan Font in his LAO debut. LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct.

Lindsey is performing the role of Angelina (the name assigned by librettist Jacopo Ferretti to Cinderella) for the first three performances. Georgian soprano Ketevan Kemoklidze takes over after Lindsey departs to the Glyndebourne Festival in England where she will perform the role of the Composer in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.

That’s the sort of hectic, nomadic life the 31-year-old Lindsey has been leading since she “graduated” from the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program six years ago. Her meteoric rise has landed her roles in well-known houses worldwide, including the Met, Royal Opera Covent Garden, the Aix-en-Provence festival in France, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera, where the created the title role in Daron Hagen’s Ameila. Her LAO debut came two years ago as Zaida in another Rossini opera, The Turk in Italy.

“That’s the way you build a career,” says Lindsey. “One step at a time, one building block at a time. Some of the roles are the kind of ‘hands-down-yes’ parts that you won’t turn down. For others, it’s a matter of the team with whom you’ll be working, the size of the house, and other things that factor into the decision.”

Saturday will be Lindsey’s first professional performance of Angelina, although she did play the role in a student production in 2005 at the Wolf Trapp Festival outside of Washington, D.C. “One thing that’s great is that I’m actually getting to play a girl,” she says with a chuckle. “So many of my parts have been ‘trouser roles’ “ [a male character sung by a female; the Composer in Ariadne is one example].

“Angelina is a hard character to portray,” she continues. “She’s the one normal character in the opera, the most morally centered person in a sea of insanity that surrounds her.”

Rossini was just 25 when wrote Cinderella in a mere three weeks, a year after he composed The Barber of Seville. Although not universally acclaimed at its Rome debut, Cinderella has since been established as one of the composer’s finest works. LA Opera created a sparkling production in 2000.

When Rossini operas work well, says Lindsey, they do so because the entire creative team is meshing well. “This isn’t grand opera, like Wagner,” she explains. “It’s rapid-fire comedy with split-second interactions. Every person on the team is important and the relationships we build during rehearsals are critical. Fortunately this production has been seen eight times around the world so that gives all us performing a real comfort level.”

The cast includes René Barbera as Prince Ramiro, Vito Priante as Dandini, Allesandro Corbelli, as Don Magnifico (the wicked stepfather) and Nicola Ulvieri as Alidoro — all in their company debuts — along with LAO “veterans” Stacey Tappan as Clorinda and Ronnita Nicole Miller as Tisbe.

Don’t forget the rats, says Lindsey. The cast includes dancers who perform the role of rodents. “I call them my ‘magic rats,’ “ she says fondly. “They are so cute!”

Having sung all around the world, both in operas and as a soloist with orchestras, Lindsey has had to learn to adapt to performance venues. One of her challenges in Cinderella is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which wasn’t designed primarily as an opera house when it opened nearly half a century ago. “When you sing at the Pavilion,” explains Lindsey, “you’re almost always facing forward so your voice can project throughout the house. Fortunately James [Conlon] is very aware of vocal balances, which is a great asset to a singer. He makes us all sound great.”

Lindsey learned as a youngster about musical teamwork. Her father is a retired Presbyterian pastor and she grew up singing in church choirs (“Children’s choirs, high school choir, bell choir — you name it and I was in it,” she recalls). When she returned home from Indiana University for breaks, she would drop in and sing with the choir — as an alto. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Music degree with distinction from IU before embarking on a professional career.

Now she’s flying around the world as she scales operatic mountains. Along the way, she even found her Prince Charming, marring Seattle optometrist Dr. Landon Jones in August 2011. They pick and choose their spots carefully when they can spend time together. “I’ll be at Glyndebourne for two months,” she says, “and he’ll come in when I have a five-day break. I don’t want him to see me in my ‘performance mode.’ “
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Hemidemisemiquavers:
• James Conlon article in the printed program discusses his re-kindled love affair with bel canto opera, of which Rossini’s Cinderella is but one example. Read it HERE.
• Tim Page, professor musicology and journalism at the USC Thornton School of Music, who won a Pulitzer Prize for music criticism in 1997, offers his take on Cinderella in a Los Angeles Times article HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS: Pasadena Symphony names new music director, principal guest conductor

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Don’t be surprised if the Pasadena Symphony adopts “The British are Coming” as the theme for an upcoming season. In biting England-like weather conditions today in the rotunda of the Pasadena City Hall, the PSO named British-born David Lockington as the orchestra’s next music director and also announced that another Brit, Nicholas McGegan, would serve in the newly created post of principal guest conductor.

Both contracts are for three years. The 56-year-old Lockington (right) was already scheduled to conduct the opening concert of the orchestra’s 86th season Nov. 2 at Ambassador Auditorium, a program that will conclude with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring), and McGegan was slated for his third consecutive appearance with the ensemble on January 11, 2014 (LINK)

The remaining concert this season and the other three concerts next season will be led by previously announced guest conductors. Beginning in the 2014-2015 season, Lockington will conduct three concerts annually and McGegan will lead two.

Lockington is in his 14th season as music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan. Since 2007 has served in a similar capacity with the Modesto Symphony in central California (Paul Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association, came to that position from the Modesto Symphony). Lockington is also principal conductor of Spain’s Orquestra Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias. He said today he would continue in those positions but expects to spend several weeks in Pasadena beyond those when he conducts.

An accomplished cellist before turning to conducting, he and PSO Principal Cellist Andrew Shulman played cello together in the National Youth Orchestra of Britain more than 30 years ago and Lockington once served as assistant principal cellist with the Denver Symphony). Lockington has also been music director of the Long Island Philharmonic, New Mexico Symphony, Cheyenne Symphony and the Ohio Chamber Orchestra.

McGegan, 61, is international renowned as a baroque music specialist but in recent years has been broadening his conducting repertoire. Two years ago he led the PSO in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and earlier this year was on the podium for the PSO’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

For 27 years, McGegan has been music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Philharmonia Chorale. He’s also a familiar face on the Los Angeles Philharmonic podium and will lead the LAPO this August in Hollywood Bowl.

At the media conference, today Lockington called his appointment something of a homecoming. “My wife [concert violinist Dylana Jenson) has relatives in the Valley,” he explained, “so we’ve been coming here for years and we’ve always hoped that we’d establish a professional reason to keep returning.”

At the same time, Lockington said he was excited about the orchestra’s musicians and about reaching deep into the fabric of lives in Pasadena and the surrounding regions. “Those of who love live symphonic music have a responsibility to be forceful advocates for the arts,” he declared. “I’m particularly interested in connecting with young people and making a difference in their lives.” Lockington and his family (he and Jensen have four children) will continue to live in Grand Rapids but he expects to spend several weeks in Pasadena beyond those when he conducts.

While the PSO has been led by a series of guest coductors during the past three seasons (most of whom have acquitted themselves admirably), the orchestra’s boar and musicians were determining the scope of future leadership. “We were looking for someone with leadership, musicianship and inspiration qualities,” said Board President Diane Rankin (a former member of the PSO’s flute section).

Drew Dembowski, the PSO’s principal bass who was one of four musicians on the committee that recommended Lockington, said, “David was the clear choice of the musicians. I cannot ever remember being as excited as I am about this announcement today.”

Lockington has made five recordings with the Grand Rapids Symphony (one was nominated for a Grammy in 2007) and he and Jensen collaborated on a recording of the Shostakovich First and Barber Violin Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2010.

McGegan (*left) has more than 100 recordings to his credit and has garnered both a Gramophone Award and a Grammy nomination. Like Lockington, McGegan was educated at Canbridge (McGegan also studied at Oxford, the English equivalent of attending both USC and UCLA). McGegan received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.

At today’s media conference, Zdunek noted that the two appointments bring to a conclusion a turbulent period that began with the worldwide financial meltdown in 2008. During the past four years, the orchestra has:
• severed its relationship in May 2010 with music director Jorge Mester after a 25-year tenure;
• named James DePreist as artistic director after Mester’s departure; DePreist died last month month at age 76;
• had former Pasadena Pops music director Rachael Worby leave after a 10-year-run;
• appointed legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch as Worby’s successor, only to have him die unexpectedly last August;
• named Michael Feinstein as Hamlisch’s successor beginning this June;
• changed outdoor venues three times (ending at the Los Angeles County Arboretum);
• moved into its new indoor home, Ambassador Auditorium;
• named Peter Boyer as the orchestra’s first composer-in-residence (the orchestra’s final concert this season on April 27 will conclude with the world premiere of Boyer’s Symphony No. 1 (LINK);
• remade its staff and board of directors; and
• retired a $1.2 million debt.

Read Janette Williams’ story in the Pasadena Star-News HERE.

Read the complete PSO media release HERE.

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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” sets sail Saturday in Los Angeles

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.
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Los Angeles Opera
Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

Opening night: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Other performances: March 21, 27 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. March 17 and 24 at 2 p.m.
(Best seating availability: March 9, 17 and 27)
Preconcert lecture by James Conlon one hour before each performance.
Tickets: $19-$287
Information: www.laopera.com
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To say that Los Angeles Opera’s decision to present Richard Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman was the result of a perfect storm would be to use a perhaps-too-obvious metaphor. Nonetheless, the legendary captain and his ghost ship — doomed to sail the seas endlessly until a curse is lifted by a woman’s love — drop anchor Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the first of six performances.

James Conlon, who recently extended his contract as LA Opera’s music director through the 2017-2018 season, will conduct the production, which comes to Los Angeles via Lyric Opera Chicago and San Francisco Opera, where it was created by noted German director Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Daniel Dooner will direct this offering with sets by Raimud Bauer and costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer (all three are making their company debuts).

Icelandic baritone Tómas Tómasson (pictured) will make his LAO debut in the title role. Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos will also appear with the company for the first time as Senta, the young woman whose devotion offers the Dutchman a hope for salvation. Tenor Corey Blix will portray Erik; he replaces Jay Hunter Morris, who had to pull out due to illness.

Given Conlon’s often-expressed desire to make LA Opera a Wagner mecca and the fact that 2013 marks the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth,The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer to be more accurate, since the work will be sung in German with English supertitles) was one of the obvious candidates to present this year.Dutchman will be the eighth Wagner opera that Conlon has conducted at LAO; the only missing link of the composer’s major works from LAO’s repertory isDie Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

MountingDutchman in 2013 also continues a company policy of presenting major works approximately every 10 years, explains Christopher Koelsch, LAO’s president and chief executive officer.

When LA Opera first presentedDutchman in 1993, Julie Taymor (in the days before she gained fame for her production ofThe Lion King) created a unique, albeit controversial production that the company revived a decade later.

This time around, says Koelsch, the opportunity to present Lenhoff’s production was too good to pass up. “I saw the original production in Chicago,” recalls Koelsch. “It was a powerful, moving experience. With this production, we continue a trend this year of presenting masters of the directing craft to our audiences, artists of great intellect and heft.”

Last fall, LAO eschewed a respectable homegrown production ofDon Giovanni to introduce director German Peter Stein to local audiences. Later this month when the company presents Rossini’sCinderella, it will lay aside its own colorful, playful production of a decade ago for an entirely new creative team (to local audiences, at any rate) headed by Director Joan Funt that will re-create what was originally a co-production of Houston Grand Opera and the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona.

Flying Dutchman marked a turning point in Wagner’s life when it debuted in 1843 in Dresden. Many of elements that would permeate his later operas first appeared inDutchman, including the use ofleitmotifsleading motives that allowed Wagner to delve deeply into psychological aspects of his characters and audiences with what amounted tosignature tunes.

Thoseleitmotifs show up immediately in the work’s overture, one of the great musical depictions of a storm at sea. Woven throughout the storm are motives for the Dutchman, Senta (the woman who can break the curse) and, finally redemption itself. This ability to weave motives into an extended orchestral writing would appear often in Wagner’s later operas.

Dutchman was revolutionary in another way. Although it contains three acts, Wagner’s concept was that all three should be performed as a single unit, and although some companies do insert one or two intermissions, LAO will honor the composer’s instructions by playing the entire work — two hours and 20 minutes — without a break.

The subject matter itself proved to be a prelude to themes that would emerge in Wagner’s later operas. Musicologist Thomas May writes, “Wagner discovered in the Dutchman the first of his mythic figures, ambivalent in nature, who have the flexibility to accommodate multiple meanings. His (unnamed) hero acquires the resonance of an archetype or myth as timeless as the wandering Odysseus and that, according to the composer, expresses ‘the longing for peace from the storms of life.’ “

In his official memoirs, Wagner wrote that the inspiration forDutchman came from a storm-tossed sea trip he made from Riga to Paris in 1838. However, the legend of the wandering, doomed sea captain was quite popular in the 19th century including an account by German poet Heinrich Heine who, like Wagner, was exiled from his homeland to Paris.

While Heine set his tale in Scotland, Wagner transplanted the locale to Norway. However, the essential elements of the myth — in particular, the concept of man’s redemption through love — would makeThe Flying Dutchman a major success for Wagner and point the way to his later operas, includingTristan und Isolde,Parsifal and, especially, his massive four-opera cycle,Der Ring des Nibelungen.
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• James Conlon’s commentary in the printed program is HERE.
* Thomas May’s article in the printed program is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.