AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Walt Disney Concert Hall

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.
Disney Hall
Since it opened 10 year ago, Walt Disney Concert Hall has become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and one of the world’s great concert halls.
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Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
• Free Concert with YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles)

Today at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall, with simulcast in Grand Park
Information: www.laphil.com
• Gala Opening Concert
Tomorrow at 7 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
• First week of Subscription Concerts
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
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Hard as it is to believe, this month begins the 10th anniversary season of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Where has a decade gone? What was once a long-held dream by a handful of Los Angeles Philharmonic administrators, musicians and supporters finally emerged on Oct. 24, 2003 to become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and an acoustically marvelous new home for an orchestra just beginning to realize its potential.

Not everyone loves the hall, of course. Its “billowing sails” exterior isn’t to everyone’s taste and the goal of making a 2,200-seat concert hall as intimate as possible means that some seats and aisles are a mite cramped. (Christopher Hawthorne, in a laudatory Los Angeles Times article (LINK), described the seats as “upholstered in an almost-garish floral pattern that dares you to dislike it.”) Moreover, the hall still doesn’t project amplified spoken words well.

However those, I submit, are quibbles. When you hear the orchestra (or the Los Angeles Master Chorale) in the hall, the transparency, blend and power of sounds are simply amazing. I have been lucky enough to hear concerts in many of the world’s best-known and greatest venues (those two descriptions are not necessarily interchangeable), including Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein, and I can still remember how stunned I was to hear the sound in Disney Hall for the first time. That feeling has never left me and the sound is excellent from all parts of the house (to which I can attest from personal experience).

The L.A. Times has produced an extensive retrospective on Disney Hall in the run-up to this week’s opening concerts, with Hawthorne, Music Critic Mark Swed and more than a dozen others writing about the history and importance of the hall and other informative tidbits. The articles are definitely worth your time; read them HERE. The Phil also has an extensive section on the hall’s anniversary HERE and Rob Lowman has an article in the papers of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group (which includes the Pasadena Star-News ) HERE

Never one to turn down a marketing opportunity, the Philharmonic is, of course, going all out with its season-long “Celebrat10n”, turning the “io” into “10” on a logo appearing seemingly everywhere throughout Los Angeles. A number of concerts, lectures and other events are directly tied to the celebration and to the future of the hall and Grand Ave. (including a panel discussion with architect Frank Gehry, LA Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda and others on Oct. 2 — INFO). Details on the Disney Hall celebration events (aka “Inside Out”) are HERE.

The party begins this afternoon at 4 p.m. with a free concert pairing the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s goal of bringing music to under-served neighborhoods, a project similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel).

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Arturo Márquez), while legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia will be among the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St. MAP

Dudamel-9-29-13
Dudamel will also conduct tomorrow night’s gala opening concert, an unusually serious program for a gala, but a fascinating one. The evening opens with John Cage’s 4’33”, a famous (or infamous, from your perspective) piece in which a musician or combinations of musicians sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds. The idea is for the listener to absorb the sounds surrounding him or her at that moment (at least, I think that’s the idea; I’m not a big John Cage fan).

The Cage piece will be followed by the “Prelude” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. The concept that from out of the silence will come this solo cello work seems breathtakingly beautiful to me. Moreover, it hearkens back to that opening night nearly 10 years ago when the first sounds heard by the public in the hall were of Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour playing Bach from the organ loft (will the Phil put Yo-Yo and his cello in the organ loft? Stay tuned — sorry, couldn’t resist).

The Bach prelude will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Ma as soloist, a four-minute piece by Thomas Adès, the third movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, and the final movement from Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”). That, as I noted, will be a rich, full evening, especially for a gala with a party awaiting afterwards.

The subscription season opens with four concerts beginning Thursday night. Dudamel will lead a program that begins with Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 and continues with the world premiere of Shing Kam, a 10-minute work for percussion and orchestra that was begun by Peter Lieberson in 2010.

The piece, commissioned by several organizations including the L.A. Phil, came about because a request by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro. Lieberson died in April 2011 with only the first movement of what had been envisioned as a three-movement work in any sort of shape to complete, a task that fell to noted British composer Oliver Knussen. Carneiro will be the soloist this weekend. Read the Phil’s music note HERE for more details.

The second half of the weekend programs will be Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist.

The entire first month of the Phil season celebrates Disney Hall. Dudamel and Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes continue their survey of the five Beethoven piano concerti with performances of the Nos. 2 and 4 on Oct. 10 and 11 and the fourth concerto on Oct. 12 and 13 paired with the U.S. premiere of The Last Days of Socrates by Australian composer Brett Dean. Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens Overture opens all four concerts.

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Former LAPO Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen takes the helm for the next two weeks, a particularly appropriate gesture since Salonen was one of the driving forces behind the conception and creation of Disney Hall.

On Oct. 18, 19 and 20, Salonen will lead the Phil in Debussy’s Nocturnes, Bartok’s Music for Strings, Celesta and Percussion and the world premiere of a new piece for cello and orchestra by Magnus Lindberg. The following weekend, Salonen and the Phil will pair Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 with Salonen’s own Violin Concerto, one of the most important pieces in his growing repertoire. In between (on Oct. 23), Salonen will lead the Phil and L.A. Master Chorale in the world premiere of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels as the opening concert in the Phil’s acclaimed “Green Umbrella” series, another element in the Phil’s history that Salonen was instrumental in building.

Exactly why this piece is dubbed a “world premiere” is not clear. Zappa (founder of the band “The Mothers of Invention”) originally wrote 200 Motels for a 1971 British film of that name and a soundtrack album was subsequently. Presumably (details have yet to come) the piece being played at the “Green Umbrella” is a new reconstruction or reworking of the original score by Zappa, who died in 1993 of prostate cancer just days shy of his 43rd birthday.

BTW: The Phil’s Web site notes that “mature language and content” as well as strobe lights will be used in this performance. According to an article by Sanchez Manning in London’s The Independent, (LINK) after the movie was released, a concert scheduled at London’s Royal Albert Hall was canceled because a representative of the venue found some of the lyrics obscene. In 1975, Zappa lost a lawsuit against the hall for breach of contract. Reportedly after the judge heard Penis Dimension (a portion of the score) he responded, “Have I got to listen to this?” Presumably most listeners in 2013 will be less offended, but the caveat is worth noting.

Also on the Disney hall celebration schedule are a recitals by organist Hector Olivera Oct. 13, Bach recitals by pianist András Schiff Oct. 9 and 16, and a panel discussion with Salonen and Gehry on Oct. 15 on the creative synergy and architecture, moderated by Nicolai Ouroussoff, formerly the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

• For a calendar of the entire 2013-2014 LAPO season, click HERE.
• The L.A. Phil Web site can be linked HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

CLEANING OUT THE INBOX

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

The following items come the hundreds of emails that land in my inbox each week … along with material from other Blogs and stories.

• CALIFORNIA PHILHARMONIC FOUNDATION DECLARES BANKRUPTCY; ORCHESTRA TO BE OWNED AND RUN BY FOR-PROFIT COMPANY
The Cal Phil has struggled financially for several years, so the CalPhil Foundation has declared bankruptcy. The orchestra will now be owned and run by Pasadena Entertainment, a local, for-profit company headed by André Vener, who has been President and CEO of the Foundation for 10 years and is the son of Music Director Victor Vener.

Among the highlights of the announcement:
• Pasadena Entertainment has paid all back wages owed to the musicians and a new collective bargaining agreement has been signed. Presumably all other debts incurred by the orchestra will be handled through the CalPhil Foundation bankruptcy.
• The 2014 season has been set, with outdoor concerts continuing at Santa Anita Racetrack and the indoor season taking place at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
• According to the release “close to 20,000 people” attended the five “Festival on the Green” concerts at Santa Anita this past summer and “10,000 fans” attended the five “sold out” Disney Hall concerts.

(The complete media release is at the bottom of this post.)

• PASADENA SYMPHONY AND POPS TO PRESENT FREE “MUSIC UNDER THE STARS” CONCERT OCT. 5 AT PASADENA CITY HALL PLAZA
Larry Blank will conduct the orchestra in this annual concert with soloists Susan Egan, Vicki Lewis and David Burnham and the JPL Chorus singing. The free program begins at 7:30 p.m. DETAILS

• CARL ST.CLAIR TO HEAD COSTA RICAN ORCHESTRA FOR ONE YEAR
Carl St.Clair, music director of the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa for 25 years, will become music director of the National Symphony of Costa Rica for one year beginning in 2014. He will continue with his Pacific Symphony post. Read the Los Angeles Times story HERE.

• THREE NAMED DUDAMEL FELLOWS FOR 2013-2014
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has named the latest class of young conductors who will work with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and the orchestra during the upcoming season: David Cohen, Ben Gernon and Antonio Méndez. DETAILS

• JAMES LEVINE RETURNS TO CONDUCTING DUTIES AT THE METROPOLITAN OPERA
Many of us thought that the day would never come given the serious of Maestro Levine’s health issues, but by the press accounts his return as conductor of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte was triumphant.
New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)
Financial Times (Martin Bernheimer)
Los Angeles Times (James C. Taylor)
Washington Post (Anne Midgette)

• FASTNOTES: A great L.A. Phil tradition continues
I got the first edition of “FastNotes” for the upcoming season in my inbox this week and once again I highly recommend them to any classical music lover. “FastNotes” are an email glimpse at each upcoming concert with an overview of the program, notes about each of the composers, links to ticket purchasing options, and links to the programs notes and excerpts of the pieces to be played (or, as is the case this week, when a piece is a premiere, excerpts from the composer’s other works — there may be a fee for the excepts). You can sign up for this through the Phil’s E-Newsletter section HERE. Even if you’re not going to attend a concert, I find them very informative.

(From the post above, here’s the complete Cal Phil media release)

CALIFORNIA PHILHARMONIC ENDS 2013 SUMMER SEASON ON A HIGH NOTE;
SANTA ANITA RACE TRACK AND WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL SET FOR EXCITING 2014 SUMMER SEASON

Local 47 Musicians Union Issues Statement Of Support As California Philharmonic Moves Forward With New Ownership And Operations Under Pasadena Entertainment

Pasadena – With the dynamic conclusion of California Philharmonic’s 2013 summer season comes exciting news for the world class orchestra. And, as it begins the next phase of its legacy, now owned and operated by Pasadena Entertainment, California Philharmonic is moving full steam ahead with the announcement that both of its summer homes, iconic venues Santa Anita Race Track and Walt Disney Concert Hall, are on board for 2014 and beyond.

“It’s been our pleasure to work with Pasadena Entertainment since 2009,” says Sharon Stewart, Director of Scheduling and Events for the Music Center of Los Angeles County. “We look forward to working with them in future summers, and to another successful summer classical music series.”

Pasadena Entertainment has served as the production and marketing firm for the California Philharmonic and its concert series for the past four years.

“We value the professionalism of Pasadena Entertainment as part of our marketing and production team,” said Pete Siberell, Director of Special Projects for Los Angeles Turf Club. “Teaming up with California Philharmonic has been a great opportunity to develop Santa Anita Race Track as a premier concert venue.”

And the close to 20,000 people who attended California Philharmonic’s 2013 Festival on the Green at Santa Anita Race Track couldn’t agree more. Equally enthusiastic, are the 10,000 fans who filled last season’s sold out concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall and showed their appreciation of the revered orchestra with an unprecedented five standing ovations during the final performance of the season.

The transition of California Philharmonic to Pasadena Entertainment from the non-profit CalPhil Foundation began earlier this year. CalPhil Foundation (not the California Philharmonic), will phase out through bankruptcy.

Under its new organization, all past and present professional obligations with California Philharmonic musicians have been met. A new collective bargaining agreement has been set and California Philharmonic is moving forward with the Musicians Union and its members in good standing.

“AFM, Local 47 is pleased to announce that all back wages owed to California Philharmonic musicians for services rendered have been paid,” comments John Acosta, Vice President of Local 47. “Pasadena Entertainment has stepped up to take on the proud tradition of California Philharmonic, providing summer concerts in Los Angeles County. Local 47 and its new partner Pasadena Entertainment look forward to a long and successful relationship!”

The musicians echo the excitement for the future of California Philharmonic along with the Union, the orchestra’s ever-growing loyal fan base and the venues.

“Maestro Vener and California Philharmonic create the kind of energy that John Mauceri, Arthur Fiedler and Leonard Bernstein brought to the concert stage,” says Dennis Karmazyn, California Philharmonic’s principal cellist. “California Philharmonic takes the audience on a musical journey.”

Subscriptions and tickets are available for the 2014 summer season.

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

PREVIEW: Free concerts abound

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

Several local organizations that sponsor admission-free concerts are unveiling their seasons during the next couple of weeks. Of course, few — if any — concerts are actually free; expenses are incurred, so whether it’s through a donation envelope, offering plate, sponsorship support or any combination of the three, all who can afford to do so are encouraged to contribute something — every little bit helps.

In chronological order, here is an admittedly incomplete list of some of the offerings :

• Rio Hondo Symphony; Kimo Furumoto, conducting
Today at 3 p.m. • Vic Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High School), Whittier
Information: www.riohondysymphony.org

Rio Hondo Symphony opens its 81st season of four free-admission concerts this afternoon with an all-Beethoven concert. Music Director Kimo Furumoto, beginning his fifth season, will conduct the Fidelio Overture, Symphony No. 5, and Piano Concerto No. 3, with Ben Hopkins as soloist. Hopkins, a 21-year-old Rochester, NY resident, was the piano winner of the orchestra’s Young Artists’ Competition last January.

• Rudy de Vos, organist
Friday at 7:30 p.m. • Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Pasadena
Information: www.ppcmusic.org

De Vos will open the church’s 2013-2014 Friends of Music season with a program of music by Marcel Languetuit, Charles Tournemire, Louis Vierne, Guy Bovet, César Franck, Maurice Ravel, Edwin Lemare, Joseph Bonnet and Maurice Duruflé.

A native of South Africa (and the son of a Dutch Reformed Pastor), de Vos has been organist and director of music at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland since 2009. A laureate of the prestigious St. Albans International Organ Competition, he has appeared with the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, Artium Symphony, Natal Symphony and the Eastman School Symphony.

In addition to the eight concerts (two choral, three organ, one chamber music, one with vocal soloists and one jazz), the church sponsors its “Music at Noon” series of free concerts every Wednesday from 12:10 to 12:40 p.m.

• Los Angeles Philharmonic and Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA)
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Sunday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall and Grand Park
Information: www.laphil.com

This free concert begins a season-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of Disney Hall (I’ll have more on this in my column next Sunday). Next Sunday’s concert will feature the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. For those not in the know, YOLA is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s project to bring music to under-served neighborhoods, similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Másrquez. Legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia ensemble will be the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St.

• American Youth Symphony • Alex Treger, conductor
Sunday, Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. • Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.aysymphony.org

Traditionally one of the finest ensembles of young orchestral musicians in the nation, the AYS opens its season at 5:30 p.m. by screening the San Francisco Symphony’s “Keeping Score” program on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, led by the SFS’s music director, Michael Tilson Thomas. Then at 7 p.m., Alex Treger leads his young charges in a performance of this famous and familiar work, along with the West Coast premiere of Timo Andres’ Bathtub Shrine and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Alan Steele as soloist.

• Mus/ique: Free for All; Rachael Worby, artistic director
Friday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. • Pasadena Civic Center plaza
Information: muse-ique.com

This free family-oriented program will mash up hip-hop and orchestra in a way that only Rachael Worby can conjure. The concert is being held in conjunction with Pasadena’s “ArtNight,” a citywide celebration of the arts.

• Pasadena Master Chorale; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Altadena Community Church, Altadena
Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

Normally the Pasadena Master Chorale charges for its concerts but the opening program on its fifth season features an interesting challenge. Patrons are invited to hear the all-Britten program and then ante up whatever they think the concert was worth.

The program — which commemorates the centennial of the English composer’s birth on Nov. 22, 1913 — will include Jubilate Deo, Festival Te Deum, Hymn to St. Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb. James Walker, organist/music director at All Saints Church, Pasadena, will accompany the concert on the church’s recently renovated 3-manual, 27-stop pipe organ, which was made by Casavant Brothers, Ltd. of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, one of the best-known organ builders in North America.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: L.A. Master Chorale celebrates 50th season with Sunday concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Conductors4Web

The four conductors who have led the Los Angeles Master Chorale are (l-r) Roger Wagner, John Currie, Paul Salamunovich and John Currie.
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Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor
50th Anniversary Celebration Concert
Sunday, Sept. 22, 7:00 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.lamasterchorale.org
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Arts organizations love numbers ending with zero (or, to a lesser extent, five) or anything that divides evenly into the number 100 because it gives them ready-made opportunities for a celebration. This year, for example, the music world is celebrating the 200th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner and the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth. Locally, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is using its 10th season at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a focal point for its upcoming season — more on that next week.

So it’s no surprise that the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 50th season — which opens Sunday night at Disney Hall — is a very big deal for one of the world’s foremost choral organizations. Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor and artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic, calls the Master Chorale “one of the finest choruses in the world without a doubt.” In his review of John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary at this summer’s Ravinia Festival, Chicago Tribune Music Critic John von Rhein described the Master Chorale as “marvelous” and continued “these inspired choral sections are prime Adams and were beautifully rendered by [LAMC Music Director Grant}Gershon’s choristers, who sang magnificently throughout.”

In Sunday’s concert, Gershon, who has headed LAMC since 2001, will lead a program that highlights works sung during his 12-year-tenure and those of his three predecessors as music director: Roger Wagner (1964-1986), John Currie (1986-1991) and Paul Salamunovich (1991-2001). KUSC radio personality Alan Chapman will host the event. A historical exhibition of Chorale memorabilia and photos will be on display in the Disney Hall gallery before the concert. (Click HERE for the media release, which contains the complete program).

Wagner-w-singers4web

Roger Wagner leads singers in a circa 1965 performance in the home of businessman Louis D. Statham, who helped found the Chorale. (Of Note: Statham’s home was later bought by Hugh Heffner and became the Playboy Mansion).
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The upcoming season will include 14 performances of 10 programs plus appearances on four Los Angeles Philharmonic programs. Included are world premieres of pieces by Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Lang, Francisco Nuñez and LAMC Composer-in-Residence Shawn Kirchner, all composed in honor of the 50th anniversary season. All will be performed on the season-ending concert on June 8, 2014. The Chorale has an extensive history of commissioning new works, particularly during Gershon’s tenure.

The 2013-2014 season will include two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, the piece performed at the group’s inaugural concert in 1965; this program will be sung on Jan. 25 and 26, 2014 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, (the Chorale’s home before moving to Disney Hall 10 years ago). The Chorale’s first concert came just 123 days after the Pavilion was opened.

Another major event will be a tribute to acclaimed composer Morten Lauridsen on March 16. Lauridsen, a Hollywood resident and professor of music at the USC Thornton School of Music, was formerly the Chorale’s composer-in-residence. During that tenure, he wrote Lux Aeterna, one of the most significant choral works of the 20th century. The Chorale was nominated for a Grammy for its recording of the piece.

Other works to be sung during the season will be Orff’s Carmina Burana and Verdi’s Te Deum on Nov. 2 and 3; Respighi’s Laud to the Nativity, Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and Stephen Paulus’ Christmas Dances on Sept. 8; Steve Reich’s You Are and David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion on April 6. There will also be two performances of Handel’s Messiah along with the annual Messiah Sing-A-Long in December.

• To read the season-announcement release with program details, click HERE.
• More information, including ticker-purchase details, is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS: LA Philharmonic and its musicians reach new labor accord

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

The big news that came out of the announcement from the Los Angeles Philharmonic yesterday wasn’t the positive but what might be termed in linguistic terms the double negative.

The orchestra and Professional Musicians, Local 47 (the union that represents the orchestra’s instrumentalists) reached a new four-year agreement effective immediately and two weeks in advance of the opening of the Phil’s 2014 season. The old contract had expired Sunday.

The agreement meant that the two sides avoided the sort of acrimony that has plagued orchestras across the U.S. during the past years, bitterness that has seen strikes at symphony orchestras in San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit, a lengthy bankruptcy battle at the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a now-months-long lockout at the Minnesota Orchestra.

The new agreement calls for salary increases totaling 3.8% over the four years, bringing the annual base pay up to $154,336 in the final year of the contract (according to a Los Angeles Times report HERE, the base in the old contract ended at $148,700). As is the case with most orchestras, many members make far more than the base. The last contract had increased musicians’ salaries 17% over four years.

However, the most intriguing line in the release was the inclusion of a “housing allowance” (undefined and unspecified as to amount), which would help compensate for the relatively modest salary increases. According to the Phil’s release, the new agreement also includes “managing the Association’s healthcare expenses through restructured healthcare plan offerings” and “new contributions to a 403(b)” (the nonprofit equivalent to the more familiar 401(k).

The new contract announcement comes on the heels of a LA Times report (HERE) that detailed significant compensation increases for Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda and a generally robust financial picture for the orchestra, particularly when compared with other arts organizations.

The Phil’s 95th season opens Sept. 29 with a free concert where tickets are already gone but which will be simulcast on the new Grand Park lawn just south of the Music Center. The annual gala concert takes place on Sept. 30 and the first subscription concerts are Oct. 3-6. This season marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Details HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Three indoor music seasons begin next weekend

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of his article was first published today in the above papers.

With summer seasons for the most part in our rear-view mirror, three major arts organizations will open their 2013-2014 classical music seasons next weekend.

• The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra begins its 45th season Saturday night at 8 in Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Preconcert lectures will take place an hour before each performance.

The program will feature 24-year-old violinist Benjamin Beilman as soloist in Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto. Jeffrey Kahane, beginning his 17th season as LACO’s music director, will also lead the orchestra in music by Beethoven, Kodaly and Lutoslawski. INFO: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

Due to a renovation of Glendale’s Alex Theatre, this will be the first of two LACO orchestra series concerts that will be held at Ambassador, which LACO called home during the 1980s and 1990s. The orchestra will also play its annual “Discover Beethoven” concert at Ambassador on Feb. 22, 2014.

• Los Angeles Opera opens its 28th season Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the first of seven performances of Bizet’s Carmen. Other performances are Sept. 26 and 28 and Oct. 1 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.

Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon will perform the title role in all but one of the performances (Belgrade-born Milena Kitic appears on Sept. 28). The opening-night cast includes José Brandon Jovanovich as Don Jose, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Escamillo, and Pretty Yende in her company debut as Micáela. Some performances intersperse other singers so check carefully before you decide on when to attend.

Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director, will conduct four of the performances, including opening night, while Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor will lead the other three. The production originated at Teatro Real in Madrid and has previously been used by LAO in 2004 and 2009. Opening night will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5-FM). INFO: 213/972-8001; www.laopera.com

LA Opera has announced that it will present three semi-staged productions of André Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, May 18, 21 and 24 in the Pavilion. Soprano Renée Flemming will sing the title role; she will be joined by some members of the cast that performed during the work’s debut in San Francisco in 1998. Patrick Summers, now principal conductor at San Francisco Opera, will conduct the three performances here. INFO

Previn, now 84, first made his name composing and arranging in Hollywood, winning Academy Awards in 1958 for scoring Gigi and 1959 for Porgy and Bess and then winning in 1963 for adapting Irma La Douce and 1964 for My Fair Lady. He has also written hundreds of classical and jazz compositions and other works. A Streetcar Named Desire ,based on Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer-Prize winning play from 1947, was Previn’s first opera (he also wrote Brief Encounters in 2007).

Previn eventually scratched a long-standing itch when he turned to conducting orchestras, including the Houston Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony. In 1985, he succeeded Carlo Maria Giulini as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a position he held until 1989. He also worked extensively with the London Symphony Orchestra and made a number of recordings with the LSO. Although Previn has rarely conducted in Los Angeles since his acrimonious departure as LAPO music director, one could only hope that the Phil would find a way to have him conduct during the May opera cycle, perhaps a concert of his own music.

The semi-staged production of A Streetcar Named Desire played earlier this year at Carnegie Hall and Lyric Opera of Chicago. LAO has an interesting article with Previn and Flemming commenting on the work on its Web site HERE.

A Streetcar Named Desire becomes the third 20th century opera that LAO will present this season. Einstein on the Beach, a landmark 1976 collaboration between director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, will play Oct. 11, 12 and 13 in the Pavilion. INFO

Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd will be presented six times, beginning Feb. 22, 2014. INFO Billy Budd is LAO’s major offering in the celebration of the centennial of Britten’s birth (he was born Nov. 22, 1913).

• Los Angeles Master Chorale opens its 50th anniversary season and its 10th as a resident ensemble at Walt Disney Concert Hall next Sunday at 7 p.m. when Grant Gershon leads 115 singers in an eclectic program featuring highlights from the Chorale’s four music directors during its first half-century: Roger Wagner (1964-1986), John Currie (1986-1991), Paul Salamunovich (1991-2001) and Gershon, who took over in 2001. The finale will be a performance of Randall Thompson’s a cappella anthem Alleluia performed by current and former LAMC members. INFO: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org

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

OVERNIGHT REVEW: Feinstein, Pasadena Pops close season in style

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

Russell-Feinstein
Vocalist Catherine Russell, conductor Michael Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops lit up the night in an arrangement of Gershwin tunes at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. (Photo by Steve Sabel for the Pasadena Pops)
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When the Pasadena Pops hired Michael Feinstein to replace Marvin Hamlisch as its Principal Conductor shortly after Hamlisch died unexpectedly on Aug. 6, 2012, the orchestra was taking quite a gamble. Although Feinstein is a prolific entertainer and musical scholar, he had never conducted an orchestra prior to the Pops’ opening night last June.

To judge by the summer’s results — notably that first concert and Saturday night’s season finale — that gamble has paid off in a jackpot-large way. According to management, attendance at the Los Angeles County Arboretum has been up more than 30 percent and season renewals for next season have increased more than 200 percent. It’s no surprise that the board wasted no time extending Feinstein’s contract through the 2016 season.

Feinstein has worked on the music of George and Ira Gershwin since pianist Oscar Levant introduced Feinstein to Ira in 1977. Since then, Feinstein has been researching, cataloguing and preserving unpublished Gershwin sheet music and rare recordings, including a six-year-sojourn in the Gershwin’s home.

Thus it’s no surprise that last night’s concert, entitled “The Gershwins and Me,” included 20 Gershwin tunes, many of which were performed in arrangements that had not been played before or at least since their premieres.

As has been the case in all Feinstein concerts, his commentary Saturday was erudite, insightful and witty, laced with fascinating factoids drawn from Feinstein’s relationship with the Gershwin family and Hollywood. What was different from the opening concert was how much more comfortable Feinstein seemed on the podium (at least judging from the audience side). His beats were concise, his cutoffs more expert, and he seemed to swing and thoroughly enjoy himself, particularly in the arrangements of four songs that Nelson Riddle made for Ella Fitzgerald.

Catherine Russell was a creamy soloist in that set, which began with Nice Work if You Can Get It and ended with The Man I Love. In the second half of the concert, Tom Wopat emphasized lyrics in a set that opened with Love is Here to Stay and concluded with I Got Plenty of Nuttin, the latter using an arrangement that Riddle wrote for Frank Sinatra.

The JPL Chorus (Donald Brinegar, conductor) offered spritely lyrics to I Got Rhythm and the orchestra delivered lush sounds throughout the evening. Among the instrumental soloists, Aimee Kreston, violin, and Bryan Pezzone, piano, were standouts.

Before the final scheduled number, Feinstein sang a winsome arrangement of They Can’t Take That Away From Me from the piano, which he termed a preview of the 2014 season when Feinstein will conduct and/or sing in four of the five Pops programs beginning June 7, 2014. Judging by the audience’s reaction, that date will be eagerly awaited.
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HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Last night was Feinstein’s 57th birthday; the orchestra and audience serenaded him with Happy Birthday prior to the concert.
• Among the celebrities in the audience, Feinstein introduced before the concert’s end Mark Gershwin and other members of the Gershwin family, Patricia Kelly (widow of dancer-singer-actor-director Gene), Ginny Mancini (widow of composer Henry), singer Debby Boone (also known to us old fogies as daughter of crooner Pat) and actress Betty White, who Feinstein noted is older than Rhapsody in Blue (look it up).
• The camera work was spotty most of the evening. Sometimes they got the correct soloist (albeit a note or two late); at other times they were totally off base, which can be disconcerting for those watching. Directing a concert is an art form in itself.
• The Pops will offer its annual free “Music Under the Stars” concert on Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pasadena City Hall plaza. The orchestra’s resident conductor, Larry Blank, will lead the program. INFO
• The Pasadena Symphony opens its indoor season on Nov. 2 at 2 and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium when newly appointed Music Director David Lockington will lead a program that will include what CEO Paul Jan Zdunek joked last night will probably be the final performance in 2013 of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (this year marks the centennial of the piece’s Paris debut and seemingly every orchestra in Southern California — and probably the world — has programmed it this year). Fortunately, it remains fresh and provocative each time I hear it. INFO
• Brinegar and the JPL Chorus opened the evening with The Star-Spangled Banner, accompanied by snare drum.
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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: Examining the role of a critic

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.

What is the role of a critic? Does he or she even have a role? Does anyone care?

Judging from responses to my review of the California Philharmonic concert on Aug. 10, the answer to that last question is, “Yes.” Those responses have prompted me to share, as I do every few years, some of the rationales and responsibilities of a music critic, a subject that seems timely as we gear up for another very full indoor music season.

In some ways, it’s easier to say what a music critic is not. A critic is not a journalist, at least if your definition is: “A journalist collects, writes, and distributes news and other information.” One reader questioned whether my recent review was a good example of “objective journalism.” If, in fact, such a thing exists (that term may well be an oxymoron), then the answer is “no.”

There is a vast difference between my role as a journalist and as a critic. When I write preview pieces, news items or features for the paper or my Blogs, I do so as a journalist. Our papers devote a great deal of our small space to upcoming arts performances and I do even more in my Blog (although my full-time+ job has limited my Blog postings lately). We try our best to best and wish we had more space and person power to cover the arts more extensively.

A journalist reporting on a particular concert might write, “The [blank] orchestra performed last night at [blank locale]. [Blank] conducted and [blank] was the soloist. The program was [blank].” These are four of the basic “Ws” we learned in journalism school, but rarely would that be news since most of it was available in advance of the concert.

The one item that might be newsworthy would be the attendance but even that number makes little sense without context and, at any rate, is open to conjecture. If I say that x,xxx people attended, you might well ask two questions: “How does that compare to the event by xxx?” or “how many people does the facility hold?”

If I write that 8,000 people attended a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert at Hollywood Bowl where the capacity is about 17,500, that means the Bowl was less than half-filled. On the other hand (as LA Phil management is always quick to point out) that one concert drew more people than would attend three or four concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Is the glass half-empty or overflowing?

When I write as a critic, I wear a much different hat. My responsibility is to present accurately my feelings about what I saw and heard in a particular concert, offering both good points and weak points. That’s the role — the only role— of a critic. Moreover, it’s a review of one concert; if I had, for example, attended the Cal Phil concert in Disney Hall on Aug. 11, I would have had a different opinion.

That last word is the key. A critic’s role is to write critically about a performance — to give an opinion — but he or she isn’t alone in this regard. I believe that everyone who attends a performance is a critic; even saying “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” as performance is a critical opinion, however minimalist. Thus when one of my responders wrote, “This reviewer got it right,” what he was saying is that he disagrees with my assessment but liked the other one, not that one or the other is “right.” The word “right” is not applicable, unless there are factual errors.

What I hope is that when someone reads my review of a concert they attended, they might think about what THEY heard and saw and either validate their first opinion, change it somewhat, or do neither. Any reaction is okay. That, I submit, is one of the principal functions of a critic.

Another point raised by a responder that when my review is the only one, people who didn’t attend the concert might take that review too seriously because they can’t or haven’t read any others. I’m sorry but that isn’t something that I can correct. Occasionally there are multiple reviews of concerts but in this era of diminishing newspapers, the facts of life are that you may only read one in print. The good news is that, thanks to the Internet, you can often find multiple reviews online if you’re willing to search for them. Don’t take any one review as gospel; treat each as one person’s opinion.

Two other things to note about music critics, both related. As a general rule, today’s critics have adopted a much gentler tone than those of previous generations. When Martin Bernheimer left the Los Angeles Times in 1986 after 31 years as its classical music critic and moved to New York City and when Alan Rich passed away in 2010, the Southland lost the last two of the genre of curmudgeonly critics. For the most part, today’s critics (including myself), for better or worse, seem to have neither the desire (nor, in my case, the talent) to pick up that baton).

Another point to note: when an artist performs, what occurred disappears into the ether of memory. A critic’s words, on the other hand, remain immortalized — for better or worse — perhaps for eternity (certainly in the Internet age). Considering the following reviews of works now considered among the greatest ever written:

“While we are enjoying the delight of so much science and melody and eagerly anticipating its continuance, on a sudden, like the fleeting pleasures of life or the spirited young adventurer who would fly from ease and comfort of home to the inhospitable shores of New Zealand or Lake Ontario, we are snatched away from such eloquent music to crude, wild and extraneous harmonies … The chorus that immediately follows is in many places exceedingly imposing and effective, but then there is so much of it, so many sudden pauses and odd and almost ludicrous passages for the horn and bassoon, so much rambling and vociferous execution given to the violins and stringed instruments, without any decisive effect or definite meaning … “(there’s more but I’m tired of typing; suffice to say that this ranks as one of the longest sentences ever written).

“xxx seemed to us [note the plural pronoun — the style of Kings and Popes] as hard and as uninspired as upon its former hearing. It is mathematical music evolving with difficulty from an unimaginative brain … The noisy, ungraceful, confusing and unattractive example of dry pedantry before the masterpieces of Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Gade or even the reckless and every-fluent Rolf? Absurd!”

The first, you may have guessed, was a review of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which was published in The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review of London in 1825, a year after the work’s premiere. The second was a review of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 written in the Boston Advertiser on January 24, 1878.
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BTW: if you’re interested, these two reviews are contained in a marvelous book, Lexicon of Musical Invective, by musicologist, composer, author and critic Nicolas Slonimsky. Among other things you will learn that many Boston critics detested the music of Brahms. The book is a great read for any classical music lover and a must for any professional critic. It’s available from Vroman’s or online booksellers.

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