AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Take your pick

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.

Which to choose? That’s the question confronting classical music fans in the San Gabriel Valley on Saturday, since they get to pick from three concerts, all of which begin at 7:30 p.m. on that evening.

The California Philharmonic opens its 17th “Festival on the Green” summer season, and its second at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, when Music Director Victor Vener leads his ensemble in a program entitled “Beatles, Beethoven and Beach Boys.” The concert repeats next Sunday at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, marking Cal Phil’s 10th season at the iconic Frank Gehry-designed facility in downtown Los Angeles.

“The Fab Four — The Ultimate Tribute” will perform a series of Beatles hits, including Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude, Imagine and Penny Lane. The orchestra will chime in with renditions of Beach Boys’ favorites Good Vibrations, I Get Around and California Girls. Vener will also lead his ensemble in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral).

Next weekend’s concerts are the first of five pairs this summer; the others take place at biweekly intervals beginning July 13-14 and concluding August 24-25.

The outdoor concerts take place on the racetrack’s infield concert lawn, which Santa Anita constructed last summer when the Cal Phil relocated its summer series from the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

Information: 626/300-8200;

Music of the Beatles will also appear on Muse/ique’s opening event in its 2013 summer season at Caltech’s Beckman Mall but that’s hardly the headline. Artistic Director Rachael Worby, who delights in creating what she calls “mash-up programming,” will also include music by Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Nicolo Paganini and other, but the centerpiece will be an appearance by Grammy Award-winning singer Patti Austin.

One example of Worby’s madcap programming style will have Worby, the orchestra and concertmaster Roger Wilkie playing the second movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2, followed by Austin performing Sam Coslo’s jazz tune, Mr. Paganini.

Austin, who last night was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, will sing tunes from her wide-ranging repertoire. Other selections for the evening will range from classical to pop to jazz and — yes — The Beatles (Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds). Worby will knit everything together with her erudite commentary.

Saturday’s program is the first of three at the outdoor Caltech facility, located in front of Beckman Auditorium with two large concrete buildings that create a unique echo-chamber effect. The other programs will be July 27 and August 17.

Information: 626/539-7085;

For its second concert of the summer, the Pasadena Pops will turn the spotlight on Broadway icon Bernadette Peters at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia. Peters, a two-time Tony-award winning actress most closely identified with the music of Stephen Sondheim, will sing songs from a wide array of Broadway shows, including South Pacific, Into the Woods, Gypsy, Company and A Little Night Music.

Martin Laird, Peters’ music director, will lead the Pops during her sets. Larry Blank, who was recently named the orchestra’s Resident Pops Conductor, will lead the orchestral-only portions for the balance of the evening.

The Pops season continues on July 13, August 10 and Sept. 7. Michael Feinstein, the Pops’ newly named Artistic Director, will lead the July and September concerts.

Information: 626/793-7172;

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


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.

Every classical music indoor season brings two or three dates when crunches pop up as seemingly every organization decides to schedule an event on that particular day. Summertime has largely escaped these conflicts but this year — specifically Sat., June 29 — will force folks in the San Gabriel Valley to make a choice among three different orchestras.

The California Philharmonic will open its second season at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia on Jan. 29 as Music Director Victor Vener leads his band in a program entitled “Beatles, Beethoven and the Beach Boys.”

On the same date — indeed, at the same time (7:30 p.m.) — a quarter-mile away at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the Pasadena Pops will be playing its second concert of the season with Broadway star Bernadette Peters as the centerpiece. Larry Blank returns to conduct the orchestra.

Finally, on the same day and time at Caltech’s Beckman Mall in Pasadena, Rachael Worby and her ensemble, Muse-ique, will begin its three-concert summer season with a program that features vocalist Patti Austin.

Pasadena Pops management, which announced its season several weeks ago, said that June 29 was the date chosen by Peters. A spokesperson for Muse-ique said, “Clearly each organization draws different audiences,” which sounds somewhat dubious to me but, hey, what does a lowly music critic know? The Cal Phil noted that each of its five concerts during the summer repeat Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. indoors at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Last year the Pops and Cal Phil scheduled their concerts on non-competing weekends but that has changed this year. The two organizations will have programs on July 13. The Pops plays the second of three programs being led by its new principal conductor, Michael Feinstein, this summer, while Cal Phil counters with one of Vener’s favorite programming concepts, “Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Puccini.” On Aug. 10, the Cal Phil’s “Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin” evening will go up against the Pops’ own Beatles-oriented program.

Meanwhile, on July 27, Muse-ique comes up with a program of movie music featuring cellist Matt Haimovitz as soloist, which the Cal Phil offers “Dance Fever.”

One of the potential problems when the Pops and Cal Phil perform on the same night is traffic. Although those attending Cal Phil concerts enter on the northeast side of the park, which is quite a ways from the Arboretum, traffic for both concerts coming from the west exits the 210 Freeway at Baldwin Ave.

Hollywood Bowl has concerts on each of the above weekends but the crossover issue seems less likely based on the Bowl’s programming as none of the Bowl’s programs involves orchestras.


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

(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Michael Feinstein debuts as Pasadena Pops conductor

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

Pasadena Pops Orchestra; Michael Feinstein, conductor
Saturday, Sept. 1, 2013 • Los Angeles County Arboretum
Next performance: June 29
Michael Feinstein and Lari White perform at last night’s concert by the Pasadena Pops at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Photo from Pasadena Pops

Midway through the Pasadena Pops concert last night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, Michael Feinstein thanked the audience for accompanying him and the orchestra on what he called an “experiment” in pops programming.

The description was spot-on. This was Feinstein’s first concert as the orchestra’s Principal Conductor and his first time conducting a full-sized orchestra. Whatever you thought of his conducting ability, there was no doubting the uniquely fascinating nature of the evening’s program, Of the 19 pieces performed, I can only remember two or three that I had ever heard on an orchestra pops program in my decades of reviewing.

Feinstein played to his numerous strengths. His commentary was, for the most part, erudite and witty and many of the works were pieces he had either exhumed in his archival wanderings or had rarely been played before. Nearly all were from the mid- to late-20th century, an era in which Feinstein has focused in what has become known as the “Great American Songbook.”

As a conductor, Feinstein seemed uncomfortable at times and in his element in others. There were occasional ragged entrances and cutoffs but, for the most part, the orchestra acquitted itself well, especially considering that for many of the players a healthy slice of the program was music they were playing for the first time. Feinstein will undoubtedly get better on the podium; most fledgling conductors cut their teeth on student or community ensembles, not on a stage before several thousand people.

In the first half of the evening vocalist Lari White delivered powerful performances of Jump for Joy and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, both arranged by Nelson Riddle, whose birthday was on June 1. She then concluded with poignant renditions of Where is it Written? and A Piece of the Sky from the movie Yentl.

Marc Cherry proved to be the evening’s comedic highlight with a rollicking performance of Mrs. Worthington by Noel Coward. Cheyenne Jackson delivered over-wrought performances of I Get Along With You Very Well and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, but was effective in channeling Sam Cooke in A Change is Gonna Come. Jackson noted that Barbara Cook once admonished him to talk less and sing more. He should have heeded her advice.

Feinstein concluded the evening by singing a touching rendition of The Way We Were from the keyboard, a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, who died last August (which is how Feinstein ended up as the Pops leader). Feinstein’s opening concert offered a great deal of promise for what he will bring in the two other programs he will conduct this summer and, perhaps, into the future.

• The Pops will appear June 9 at the Ford Amphitheatre (in the Cahuenga Pass, across the 101 Freeway from Hollywood Bowl) with vocalist Mandy Patinkin. The performance is part of the inaugural “Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series” at the Ford (Yaroslavsky’s L.A. County supervisorial district encompasses both the Ford and the Bowl). Info:
• Last night’s ambience was enhanced greatly by what seemed like hundreds of young volunteers who helped people to their seats and, in particular, provided light on the footpaths leading to the parking lots following the performance.
• Concertmaster Ainme Kreston led a somewhat lugubrious rendition of The Star Spangled Banner from her first-violin chair.
• Feinstein had a lot of fun with the Arboretum’s peacocks, many of whom were in fine voice Saturday night.
• The Pops second concert of the season, on June 29, will center on Broadway star Bernadette Peters. Feinstein will return on July 13 for an evening of music from MGM movies, and will conclude the season on Sept. 7 in an evening of the music of George and Ira Gershwin. In between those two, Martin Herman will lead the orchestra in a program featuring music of the Beatles.

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