PREVIEW: Orange County Philharmonic Society unveils 2014-2015 season

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

Season schedules for 2014-2015 are beginning to filter into email boxes and although the Orange County Philharmonic wasn’t first off the block (that “honor” went to the Long Beach Symphony — INFO),the OCPS announcement is noteworthy because it usually gives a tease of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s upcoming Walt Disney Concert Hall season.

The L.A. Phil and Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will journey to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on Sunday, Nov. 23 for an afternoon concert that will feature what’s being termed the world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s long-delayed Symphony No. 4 “Organ.” The Hartke piece was originally scheduled to debut in May, 2010.

Also on the program are Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (also subtitled “Organ”) and Barber’s Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra. Cameron Carpenter and the Phil’s own keyboard virtuoso, Joanne Pearce Martin, will be the soloists, playing the hall’s William J. Gillespie Concert Organ.

Assuming that this is not, in fact, the world premiere of the Hartke piece — i.e., if we presume that this performance will follow concerts in Disney Hall with the same program — that cycle will give organ lovers a chance to compare the Segerstrom Concert Hall Organ with Disney Hall’s much larger instrument.

The OC organ, a “tracker” or mechanical action organ built by C.B. Fisk, Inc. of Gloucester, Mass., has 4,322 pipes in 75 ranks with 57 stops. It was first played in concert in 2008. Glatter-Götz of Germany built the Disney Hall instrument under the tonal direction and voicing of Manuel Rosales and its first concerts were in 2004. The Disney Hall is much larger than its OC counterpart: 6,125 pipes in 109 ranks with 72 stops. Reflecting its Fisk design concept, the OC organ sounds much brighter than the Disney Hall instrument; its bright metal pipes also provide a much different look from the “overturned French fries” façade in Disney Hall, which was designed by Frank Gehry. The comparisons will be fun and instructive.

The upcoming OCPS schedule could easily have been termed “The British are Coming, The British Are Coming.” The season opens Oct. 11 when Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic in music by Dvorak, Tchaikovsky (Symphony No. 6) along with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist.

Also coming across the pond is the London Symphony Orchestra, led by Michael Tilson Thomas on March 28, in a program including Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, and Gershwin Piano Concerto in F with Yuja Wang as soloist.

As part of a 50th anniversary season tour, the Monteverdi Choir makes appearances at Segerstrom Hall April 24 and 25, 2015 led by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. The first concert is Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and the second is that composer’s L’Orfeo. The English Baroque Soloists accompanies the choir.

Other orchestras on the schedule:
The Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek on Nov. 14, with a program of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony paired with Liszt’s second piano concerto, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist.
The Rotterdam Philharmonic, led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on Feb. 11, 2015 in a meaty program of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, with Hélène Grimaud as soloist.
The Venice Baroque Orchestra on Feb. 28, 2015 playing with Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital.
• The State Symphony of Mexico, commemorating the 40th anniversary of its first U.S. Tour, on March 5, 2015, with Enrique Batiz conducting a program of two works by Manuel Maria Ponce: his Piano Concerto, with Irina Chistiakova as soloist, and Concierto del Sur, with Alfonso Moreno as guitar soloist. Music by Rimsky-Korsokov and Borodin rounds out the evening.

The season also includes recitals and chamber-music concerts, some at Segerstrom Hall and others at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. One of those evenings will be a salute to Carl St.Clair’s 25th anniversary as music director of the Pacific Symphony. Another will performances of the Mark Morris Dance Company’s production of Dido & Aeneas on May 15 and 16.

The complete media release is HERE: www.philharmonicsociety.org

Subscriptions are now on sale (Info: www.philharmonic society.org). Single tickets are scheduled to go on sale this summer.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Long Beach Symphony begins farewells to Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Long Beach Symphony; Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor
Terrace Theatre, Long Beach
Next concert: March 8
Information: www.lbso.org
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For the past quarter-century the Long Beach Symphony has grown steadily in terms of artistic quality while, apparently, also achieving financial stability. In the process, it has consigned to ancient history a turbulent era that included cancelling most of the 1984-1985 season while the ensemble reorganized following bankruptcy.

In 1989 JoAnn Falletta began an acclaimed 12-year-tenure as the orchestra’s music director before moving on to bigger vistas in Buffalo, New York and Virginia. In 2001 Enrique Arturo Diemecke, a dynamic Mexican conductor, succeeded Falletta and he has continued the orchestra’s growth.

However, last November Diemecke — somewhat suddenly and mysteriously — announced that this current season would be his last. Beyond the original release, neither the orchestra nor Diemecke has said much about the decision. The orchestra has formed a search committee for a new music director and its recently announced 80th anniversary season in 2014-2015 will have each of the six concerts led by a different guest conductor, at least some of whom, presumably, could be candidates succeed Diemecke.

Meanwhile, the orchestra is trying to send Demiecke off with panache (the formal celebration will come in the last concert on May 31). Last night’s concert featured him not only as a conductor but as a composer, since the final work on the program, Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas, features a cadenza for 12 percussionists that Diemecke wrote 15 years when he was conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México.

In another nod to the birth centennial of English composer Benjamin Britten, the concert opened with an exuberant performance of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or, as it is sometimes called, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell. The piece was also the centerpiece of the orchestra’s free education program for youth, which took place during the week prior to the concert.

In the mid-17th century, Purcell composed incidental music to the play Abdelazar (The Moor’s Revenge), and Britten used Purcell’s hornpipe melody as the basis for music that he composed for a 1946 film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra.

Diemecke took the opening theme in a lush, stately manner, and the 13 variations showed off solo instruments and sections of the orchestra. The concluding fugue was brisk and built inexorably to a grand finale. Perhaps more than anything, the piece demonstrated the value of hearing music live, as opposed to via recording. Seeing and hearing the variations passed from one section to another added to the enjoyment.

Post-intermission, Diemecke and the orchestra offered a boisterous performance of La Noche de los Mayas, a piece that began as a score for a 1939 movie filmed in the jungles of the Yucatan and ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico. In 1960, composer-conductor José Yves Limatour created a four-movement suite from the film score and, with Diemecke’s cadenza for the 12 percussionists who highlight the final movement, this is the version played by most ensembles today.

This is one of the few film scores that have made it into mainstream classical programs and it has been played by many Southern California orchestras, despite the resource required both in terms of extra percussionists and the instruments they play, which include a native log-like drum and a conch shell.

Diemecke, who was born in Mexico of German parents, clearly relishes this 36-minute work, and the orchestra rose to the challenge not only in the athletic portions but also in the lyrical moments during the two inner movements. As often happened, the audience sat stunned after the final cadence before erupting into a thunderous standing ovation.

Acting as a sandwich between the Britten and Revueltas pieces was Burleske for piano and orchestra, written when Richard Strauss was just 21 years old. If any orchestra has to program this vulgar, 17-minute piece then it might was well engage someone like pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine as soloist to make it at least endurable or, to most in the audience, enjoyable.

The 33-year-old Moutouzkine, who was born in Russia but completed a Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, has the kind of piston-like fingers that are indispensable in this piece, which program annotators Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn described as “a grand waltz fantasy in the flamboyant style of Franz Liszt.” Actually, the way that Moutouzkine threw himself around the piano bench, one could easily have pictured a reincarnation of Liszt if Moutouzkine had the Hungarian composer’s wild hairstyle. An enthusiastic standing ovation brought forth a jazzy encore that proved to be more of the same. One can only hope that there is more than pyrotechnics to Moutouzkine’s musical makeup.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Diemecke offered short commentary before each half of the program. His thick accent makes it hard for those who aren’t concert regulars to understand him completely, but his infectious enthusiasm comes through clearly as it does on the podium, where he conducts without a baton, depending instead on whirling hands and bouncy athleticism.

The 2014-15 lineup of guest conductors includes
John DeMain, formerly Music Director at Opera Pacific in Orange County who now leads the Madison (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra (Oct. 4);
• Santa Monica native Edwin Outwater, Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Ontario, Canada (Nov. 8);
Bruce Kiesling, assistant conductor of the Pasadena Symphony who is also leading YOLA, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (Jan. 31, 2015;
William Eddins, Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony (March 7, 2015);
Lucas Richman, Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony and Bangor Symphony (April 25, 2015); and
Edward Cumming, former Music Director of the Hartford Symphony (May 30, 2015).

Information: www.lbso.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

MEMOIR: Thoughts on LA Opera’s 2014-2015 season

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

After contemplating the recently announced 2014-2015 season of Los Angeles Opera, it’s hard to decide how much of a push forward — if any — the season represents for the company. If you’re a “glass full” person, the upcoming schedule represents several exciting new ventures; if you’re in the “glass empty” category, you may not be as excited. I tend to accentuate the future possibilities that next season represent for LAO.

The 2014-2015 includes six “main stage” productions at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (seven, if you want to consider the pairing of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle by Bela Bartok as two productions) for a total of 41 performances. That compares with seven productions and 42 performances that were announced at this time for what is now the current season. However, last spring the company announced that it would also offer three semi-staged productions of André Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, which will take place May 18, 21 and 24. We’ll see if that “late arrival” notice becomes a trend.

“OFF-GRAND SERIES” EXPANDS
As part of next season, the company also announced an expansion of its “Off Grand” initiative, although the words “expansion” and “Off Grand” need to be taken with a grain of salt. True, there were three productions announced, an increase of one from this season: performances of new mounting of the family-oriented opera, Jonah and the Whale at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels March 21 and 22 and two performances of a concert setting of Massenet’s Thais in Orange County on May 27.

However, one of next season’s “Off Grand” productions is a revival of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (a title now updated to Noah’s Flood) at the Roman Catholic cathedral, which continues a several-years tradition of using the cathedral for operas aimed at children and families in that expansive space.

A second production is what’s being termed a “mash-up” (one of the current “hot” terms in classical music circles) of opera and film entitled Hercules and the Vampire, which pairs an operatic score by composer Patrick Morganelli, performed live by members of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, with Mario Bava’s 1961 film Hercules in the Haunted World. LAO terms the movie a “cult-fantasy film, and the evenings are being presented in partnership with American Cinematheque in April 2015 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The third offering is the West Coast premiere of Dog Days by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Varek, which will be presented in June 2015 in partnership with REDCAT, the “black box” theatre that is part of the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. This is scheduled to be the first production of a multi-year partnership with Beth Morrison Projects. The opera earned several rave reviews when it premiered in 2012 in New Jersey.

Some of this rates in the “intriguing” category but calling it “Off Grand” seems somewhat curious since (a) all three venues are located on Grand Avenue and (b) two of them — the Cathedral and the Pavilion are regular homes for LAO productions. It would have been far more stimulating if, for example, Hercules and the Vampire had been scheduled at the Wiltern Theatre, the renovated Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles or at a venue in another part of the region.

As to the “regular” LAO 2014-2015 season:

”FIGARO UNBOUND”
Half of the season is devoted to what the company is calling its “Figaro Unbound” venture (“unbound” is another of those words currently in vogue in the classical music world). The mini-series will feature three operas based on the character originally created by French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. All three operas will be conducted by LAO Music Director James Conlon.

The first of the company’s “Figaro Trilogy” offerings will be the West Coast premiere of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles in six evenings running from Feb. 7 through March 1, 2015. The opera was premiered in a lavish production at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991 but since then “Ghost” has essentially vanished. Lyric Opera of Chicago presented it in its 1995/1996 season and a “chamber version” of the opera took place at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera in 2008, but that’s it. Darko Tresnjak will direct a new production in Los Angeles, with Patricia Racette as Marie Antoinette and Patti LuPone playing the Turkish entertainer Samira.

The second “Figaro Unbound” opera is Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, using a production from Teatro Real Madrid that last played here in 2009. This time around, LAO will present six offerings from Feb. 28 through March 22, 2015. Russian baritone Rodion Pogssov will sing the title role.

The trilogy concludes with a revival of the company’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in six evenings from March 21-April 12, 2015. South African soprano Pretty Yende will portray Susanna while Nicola Alaimo will play the title role.

OTHER SEASON OFFERINGS:
• Australian director Barrie Kosky, who led LAO’s acclaimed production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute earlier this season, returns to stage the double bill of Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle using a production that originated at the Frankfurt Opera. Steven Sloan, who was born in Los Angeles in 1958 and conducted LAO’s world premiere production of Grendel in 2006, will conduct the double bill.

• A revised version of the company’s production of Daniel Catán’s opera, Florencia en el Amazonas will be presented in six performances from Nov. 22-Dec. 20. Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor and music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, will conduct. Francesca Zambello is scheduled to direct this revised production, which was first presented in 1997.

• The season’s opening production will be revival of the company’s staging of Verdi’s La Traviata in six evenings from Sept. 13-28. Plácido Domingo continues his traversal of baritone roles by portraying Giorgio Germont, while Nino Machaidze will star in the role of Violetta. Conlon will conduct and Marta Domingo (Plácido’s wife) will re-create her staging. Of note: in the media release Conlon stated that La Traviata and The Barber of Seville were the first operas he saw as a child more than 50 years ago.

Information: www.laopera.org

Season tickets: www.laopera.org

Single tickets go on sale June 22.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Los Angeles Master Chorale celebrates 50th anniversary season with Bach’s B Minor Mass

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor
Bach: Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Saturday at 2 p.m. (note the unusual start time)
Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. Preconcert lecture with Grant Gershon and Alan Chapman one hour before each performance
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 1st St. and Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Tickets: $29-$129 (student rush seats may be available at the box office two hours before performance)
Information: www.lamc.org

MC4Web
Forty-nine years almost to the day (Jan. 27, 1965) from when Roger Wagner stepped onto a podium in the newly minted Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to conduct Los Angeles Master Chorale in its inaugural concert, a performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass, the Chorale will celebrate that first concert with a performance of Bach’s masterpiece on Saturday afternoon and next Sunday evening in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Grant Gershon, who became the Chorale’s fourth music director in 2001, will lead 115 singers including 12 soloists (all Chorale members) plus a symphonic orchestra in what turned out to be one of the final pieces that Bach completed, a work considered to be a pinnacle of choral music. The Mass contains music that Bach had composed over a quarter-century, although most of it was revised for the final work. The B-Minor Mass was never performed in totality during Bach’s lifetime; the first documented complete performance took place in 1859.

The performance marks the Chorale coming full circle from when famed conductor Roger Wagner founded the chorus in 1964. Wagner — who had created his own small group, the Roger Wagner Chorale, in 1945 — formed the Los Angeles Master Chorale as one of three resident groups of the Music Center of Los Angeles. For the first 39 years, it performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Since the completion of Walt Disney Concert Hall 11 years ago, the LAMC has joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as resident groups at that iconic hall.

In addition to presenting history’s major choral works, the Master Chorale has commissioned 39 and premiered 88 new works, of which 57 were world premieres. The Master Chorale has half-dozen of its own CDs, most notably the first CD of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. The group will be featured on an upcoming CD of John Adams’ oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, scheduled to be released March 10 by Deutsche Grammophon. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Master Chorale and soloists in this live recording at Disney Hall.

Next weekend’s concerts are among the 14 programs on the Master Chorale’s 50th anniversary season, along with its extensive work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The weekend will include a gala celebration entitled “Golden on Grand,” which will take place at 6 p.m. in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall of the Pavilion. Tickets for that event are $650 per person. Information: www.lamc.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Back to work

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.
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Pasadena Symphony; Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Umi Garrett, pianist
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Concert preview with Nicholas McGegan one hour before each performance.
Ambassador Auditorium; 131 South St. John Ave., Pasadena
Tickets: $35-$105.
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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As Christmas and the holiday season fade into pleasant memories, the classical music season begins to ramp up again for what will be a busy 2014.

• The Pasadena Symphony resumes its season next Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium. Nicholas McGegan begins his tenure as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor by leading a program of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with 13-year-old Umi Garrett as soloist.

McGegan, who turns 64 three days after these concerts, has built an illustrious career leading ensembles that perform baroque and older music on period instruments. Since 1985, he has been artistic director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco. However in recent years he has expanded his repertoire to include conducting music from later eras. Two years, he made his Pasadena Symphony debut leading Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”). Last season he and the orchestra played Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

Last year, the PSO announced that McGegan would join its new music director, David Lockington, and Principal Pops Conductor Michael Feinstein, in leading the orchestra’s musical future (LINK). McGegan expects to conduct two classical concerts a year in the next two seasons (Lockington will lead the other three). They make a potent trio for PSO audiences.

Garrett will be making her PSO concert debut in Saturday’s concerts. She appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at age 8 and last year won first prizes in several competitions, including the 13th Osaka International Music Competition in Japan. She has also won top prizes in two different competitions bearing Chopin’s name, one in Budapest and the other in Hartford, CT (it should be noted that neither are the more prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition, which since 1927 has been held approximately every five years in Warsaw, Poland).

• The Pasadena Master Chorale continues a recent tradition as it joins forces with Los Angeles Daiku and the city of Naruto, Japan, to present a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 next Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre in Little Toyko (244. S. San Pedro St. in downtown Los Angeles). Jeffrey Bernstein will lead the PMC and LA Daiku, orchestra and soloists, along with singers from Japan who will travel to Pasadena to join this performance. Performances of Beethoven’s 9th are a staple around New Year’s in Japan. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

BTW: if you are into comparisons, guest conductor Kazem Abdullah will lead the Pasadena Symphony and Pasadena Singers in performances of Beethoven’s 9th on Feb. 15 at Ambassador Auditorium. The concert will also include a performance of Morten Lauridsen’s Midwinter Songs. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

• The Los Angeles Philharmonic returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday evenings and next Sunday afternoon. Christoph Eschenbach, music director Washington D.C.’s National Symphony, will lead Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto, with Christian Tetzlaf as soloist.

The following weekend (Jan. 17-19), young English conductor Robin Ticcati returns to lead the Phil in music by Ligeti, Schumann and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, with Emmanuel Ax as soloist. The concerts are part of what’s being termed as Ax’s “Brahms Project.” Friday is a “Casual Friday” concert to Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 will be omitted.

Information: www.laphil.com

In case you are wondering, Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to the LAPO podium on Feb. 21 as the Phil and Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra perform “TchaikovskyFest,” a 10-day long orgy of Tchaikovsky symphonies, concertos and other music. Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.