(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Cal Phil presents Rodgers & Hammerstein and Gershwin at Santa Anita Racetrack

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
The changes are the principal trumpet and the fact that Mr. Pezzone’s “Rhapsody in Blue” cadenzas were an addition to, not a substitute for Gershwin’s cadenzas, as originally stated.
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California Philharmonic; Victor Vener, conductor
“Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin”
Saturday, August 11 • Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia
Next performances: today at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.calphil.org
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Rodgers and Hammerstein and George Gershwin wrote some of history’s greatest music and combining the two always guarantees boffo box office, so it’s no surprise that a good-sized crowd came to Santa Anita Racetrack’s performance area on a balmy evening last night to hear Victor Vener, the California Philharmonic and three soloists perform some of the best-loved tunes from these three 20th century musical giants.

Unlike most Cal Phil concerts, Vener limited his commentary particularly in the post-intermission portion of the concert, and left the wandering spotlights on singers Kim Huber and James Barbour, each of whom displayed rich, powerful voices as they sang “greatest hits” from The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, The Sound of Music, and Oklahoma.

The singing was almost all loud and — except for the last line of People Will Say We’re in Love and the encore, the title song from Oklahoma, Barbour and Huber sang independently; it would have been nice to have them sing another duet or two. Barbour’s rendition of the Soliloquy from Carousel and Huber’s My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music were among the evening highlights. Vener and the Cal Phil accompanied everything with gusto.

Prior to intermission, Vener and the orchestra opened with The Carousel Waltz and then offered a straightforward performance of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, both of which were marred by smudgy openings and a couple of rough transitions.

They were then joined by pianist Bryan Pezzone for a somewhat overwrought performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which was notable for two cadenzas that Pezzone added to Gershwin’s own work. This seems to have become prevalent in recent performances that I’ve heard of this well-worn piece. I’m not sure it’s a positive trend, but Pezzone’s cadenzas were mildly interesting and not overly long (the second used strains of Summertime). His playing of Gershwin’s actual music had several rough passages but overall caught the piece’s jazzy nature. Principal Clarinet Michael Arnold got the performance off to a great start with his bluesy opening measures.

Vener did a good job introducing both pieces. His analysis of An American in Paris as a “symphony” with four connected movements, with demonstrations from the orchestra (in particular, Principal Trumpet Bob Feller), was an excellent way to get people to listen to the work with new ears.
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Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Blessedly there were no announcements at the concert’s opening and Vener opened with God Bless America instead of The Star Spangled Banner. Except for the somewhat lethargic tempo of God Bless America, this seemed to be a popular decision.
• Pezzone improved on themes by Led Zepplin and Gershwin (I Got Rhythm) as an encore to Rhapsody in Blue. Judging by the tepid applause, it was unnecessary.
• The sound system was quite good; from my table it was loud but that’s necessary to carry to the back sections of the 4,000 or so who attended.
• On the other hand, the camera work was atrocious and the flittering geometric images on the inside of the shell (some of which may have represented birds) and the other light effects were distracting and often silly in their implementation. The changing shell lights also played havoc with the camera skin tones.
• In between People Will Say We’re in Love and the title song from Oklahoma, Vener inserted a march tune as an encore. Ask not why on an evening devoted to R&H&G.
• My wife loved the racetrack’s permanent bathrooms (as opposed to porta-potties).]

Not so hemi-demi-semi:
Having concerts at both Santa Anita Racetrack and the Los Angeles County Arboretum (the Pasadena Pops) makes for traffic jams exiting both events. Moreover, the City of Arcadia won’t be nominated for the “Best Welcoming City” award for their lack of traffic control around the area. The Arcadia PD did have someone directing traffic for those exiting the Cal Phil concert but certainly could have used some help at the point where the Cal Phil folks get onto Baldwin Ave. prior to heading to the freeway. The signage ranges from poor to non-existent and, considering that you get onto Baldwin Ave. in a different location than you got off, anyone unfamiliar with the setup can easily get disoriented. The PD did have have a car with an officer who flagged down a motorist who got confused figuring out the lanes for east and west leading to the 210. That, I suppose, makes money for the PD but surely left a bad taste in the mouth of one concertgoer. I left thinking, “I wish that officer had been directing traffic instead.”
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Cal Phil, Pasadena Pops perform tomorrow night

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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California Philharmonic: Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin
Saturday, August 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia
Sunday, August 11 at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Information: www.calphil.org

Pasadena Pops: Classical Mystery Tour
Saturday, August 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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There’s an interesting synergy between the two local orchestra concerts taking place tomorrow night in Arcadia: the Cal Phil at Santa Anita Racetrack and the Pasadena Pops at the L.A. County Arboretum.

The Cal Phil concert features music by George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Pops concert (entitled “Classical Mystery Tour”) features music of The Beatles, with four mop-top singers who simulate the famous English quartet. I have no idea what “Classical Mystery Tour” means but it’s obviously a popular show with one or two bookings each month during this year and next throughout the country.

The synergy is the timing. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last musical, The Sound of Music, debuted on Broadway in 1959 and the movie version was released in 1965. The Beatles came together in 1960 in Liverpool and made their U.S. debut in 1964 when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Subsequent tours brought them to Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965.

Although the musical styles of R&H and The Beatles were dramatically different, they were hugely influential in their own eras and, as evidenced by these concerts and others this summer, remain so today.

Just so, the music and musical influence of George Gershwin remains significant today. Thus, Music Director Victor Vener’s decision to pair Gershwin with R&H makes a lot of sense both from a musicology and box office point of view.

The Cal Phil concert will open with Gershwin’s An American in Paris and will continue with Rhapsody in Blue, with well-known Southern California pianist Bryan Pezzone as soloist. Broadway soloists Kim Huber and James Barbour will join Vener and the Cal Phil for music from Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel and The Sound of Music.
BTW: if both concerts intrigue you, you can catch the Pasadena Pops at the Arboretum on Saturday and Cal Phil Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, with a preconcert lecture by Vener at 1 p.m.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Dudamel returns to the Bowl

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.

Hollywood Bowl occupies a significant place in the life of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For nearly a century, concerts have been ongoing in the venerable Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre, which has undergone major facility renovations throughout that time.

The Bowl is a Southern California tradition and an iconic symbol of Los Angeles. Moreover, revenue from the outdoor season gives the orchestra the financial flexibility to keep moving forward as one of the world’s most progressive ensembles.

Some of the Phil’s music directors have barely tolerated performing at the Bowl, but Gustavo Dudamel — the ensemble’s 11th and current leader — is decidedly different. The Bowl was where Dudamel made his U.S. debut on Sept. 13, 2005 and where four years later, he first conducted the Phil as its music director in a free, eclectic concert that concluded with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

He speaks often and lovingly about making music for large masses of people under the stars at the Bowl and each summer he has returned to conduct there. Moreover, he has revived a tradition of opera at the Bowl that is nearly as old as the facility itself. His first concert this season next Sunday will be a performance of Verdi’s Aida, a logical choice since 2013 is the bicentennial of the Italian composer’s birth.

Kiev native Liudmyla Monastyrska will sing the title role, aided by a strong supporting cast including Jose de León as Radames, Eric Owens as Amonasro and Michelle DeYoung as Amneris. The Los Angeles Master Chorale will supply the important choral sections.

The concerts on Aug. 13 and 15 will be performances of Verdi’s Requiem, with Dudamel leading the Phil and Master Chorale, along with soloists Julianna Di Giacomo, soprano, Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano, Vittorio Grigolo, tenor, and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, bass.

The Aug. 16 and 17 concerts represent another Bowl tradition: the annual “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts. Begun nearly a half-century ago, these were where the Phil’s management discovered the lucrative draw that fireworks concerts represent. Few, if any, groups do pyrotechnics choreographed to music better than the Phil and its technical team, now headed by Paul Souza.

However, the “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” tradition seems to be struggling a bit. True, the program will conclude, as always, with the 1812 Overture, aided by the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps, and Pacific Crest, marching bands. However, as of last Thursday, the balance of the program had not been announced and the conductor, Robert Moody, is a relatively young (46), relatively unknown (at least on this coast) maestro. On the other hand, that’s what we all thought about a young Venezuelan conductor named Gustavo Dudamel when he made his Bowl debut nearly eight years ago.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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