OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Grams, Porter make impressive debuts at Pasadena Symphony concert

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

Andrew GramsOne of the advantages of the long interregnum between Pasadena Symphony music directors is that local audiences have heard a number of young conductors who are forging strong careers with orchestras in the United States and abroad. Saturday brought the last of those young maestros as Andrew Grams (right) took the podium at Ambassador Auditorium.

The 36-year-old Baltimore native was recently named music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in suburban Chicago, an ensemble that is similar in size to the PSO. Grams reportedly was the unanimous choice of the ESO’s musicians and it’s easy to see why. He has an enthusiastic, energetic conducting style and, as he showed in the opening piece Saturday night, a cheeky sense of humor, as well.

For William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra Grams tucked a trio of string soloists high on the back row of the orchestra, where percussionists would normally sit. Midway through their first solo lick, Grams turned to the audience and pointed to the soloists with a sly smile, as if to say, “Did you find them?” It was an appropriately light touch to Bolcom’s mashup of styles that range from Baroque to Mahler to slapstick.

Grams was all business in the final piece for the evening, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, although at the end of the first movement he peeked over his shoulder and smiled as if to say, “It’s okay to applaud.” Overall, Grams took things at a brisk pace, although he also found time to luxuriate in the woodwind solos that permeate the uber-familiar work. The orchestra was in top form throughout most of the performance.

In between those two pieces came Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with 17-year-old Simone Porter as the soloist. A native of Seattle, Porter studies with Robert Lipsett at The Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles. She is also part of Colburn Artists, a program created in 2012 by The Colburn School to provide professional management services to its most-accomplished students, and Saturday night Porter validated her selection.

Playing a 1742 Camillus Camilli violin, Porter displayed a sweet, yet rich tone throughout the concerto, not just in the low notes but on the upper strings as well. She attacked this familiar work with exuberant, youthful gusto and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the moment, listening and bouncing along with the orchestral accompaniment when she wasn’t playing. It was an impressive performance; she is clearly someone to keep an eye and ear on.

Grams and the orchestra offered rich, luxuriant accompaniment, particularly during the broad, romantic moments of this familiar work. I hope that representatives of the Long Beach Symphony, which is searching for a new music director, were in the audience. Grams should be on their candidates list.

• Porter’s PSO appearance is one of several important local concerts for her this year. On April 27 she will play Beethoven’s Romances 1 & 2 with the Pacific Symphony, led by Carl St.Clair, at the SOKA Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. On Sept. 4 she will make her Hollywood Bowl debut as soloist in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot.
• The final concert of the PSO’s 2013-2014 classics season will be held May 10. Jahja Lang, long-time music director of the San Diego Symphony, will lead a program of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Shai Posner as soloist. Information.
• Audience members got the first public look at the PSO’s 2014-02015 season. Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan will alternate leading the five classics series concerts, with Lockington conducting the first, third and final program and McGegan leading Nos. 2 and 4. Opening night is Nov. 1. I’ll have more on this tomorrow in a Blog post.

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: L.A. Phil and others fire up the “Minimalist Jukebox”

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.

Eight years ago the Los Angeles Philharmonic curated a landmark, multiweek festival entitled “Minimalist Jukebox,” devoted to the era of minimalism, the compositional genre that began in the 1960s and was led by composers including Terry Riley and John Adams.

“Over the past 40 years,” says Adams, “Minimalism has brought about a revolution in aesthetic sensibilities, changing the way we experience the flow of musical time and the feel of its rhythm. It has not only revitalized harmony and enabled composers to once again think big thoughts, but it has seen its influence felt in genres as far afield as rock, electronic, and film scoring.”

Whether you believe that to be the case or are among those who see Minimalism as a quarter-century-long genre now consigned thankfully to the history books, for the second incarnation of this festival concept the Phil and other local organizations will join forces for 14 programs (20 performances) from April 5 through May 4 at locations from the west side to downtown Los Angeles and into Pasadena.

Adams — the Phil’s creative chair and composer of operas such as “Dr. Atomic” and numerous other works — will be very much at the forefront of the entire month both as curator and conductor. Everyone will have their favorite concerts but here are two of my must-see events:

• April 6 at Walt Disney Concert Hall:
Grant Gershon conducts 32 singers of his Los Angeles Master Chorale and an instrumental ensemble in David Lang’s Pulitzer-Prize winning the little match girl passion and Steve Reich’s You Are (variations), which the Master Chorale premiered in 2004. Information: www.lamc.org

• April 11, 12 and 13 at Disney Hall:
Adams will conduct the Philharmonic in his own Naïve and Sentimental Music, Michael Gordon’s Sunshine of Your Love, and the world premiere of At the Royal Majestic, Riley’s new concerto with organist Cameron Carpenter as soloist.

Riley’s In C, written in 1964, is often considered the beginning of the minimalist movement. It was played during the 1986 “Minimalist Jukebox” festival and will be performed this time around on April 5 and 12 at The Hammer Museum in Westwood.

Naïve and Sentimental Music, a 45-minute symphony in all-but-name, was written by Adams on a L.A. Phil co-commission in 1999 and premiered by the Phil conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Ironically, it was the major work with which Adams liberated himself from the minimalist style that he had used in much of the music he had written before then. It remains one of most important and beautiful compositions.

Information: www.laphil.com

Several of the “Minimalist Jukebox” programs will involve portions of The CIVIL warS, an opera created by director Robert Wilson using music by Philip Glass, David Byrnes and others. The concept was for a daylong piece of music theatre. Six composers were to write sections and the entire work was to have been performed during the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival in 1984. Funding woes derailed the complete presentation and only four sections ultimately were completed.

Details, schedules and other information on the entire “Minimalist Jukebox” series can be found HERE.

• Michael Feinstein will participate in four of the five Pasadena Pops concerts this summer, beginning on June 7 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Feinstein, beginning his second season as the Pops principal conductor, will lead that concert along with programs on August 16 and September 6, and will be the featured vocalist in an all-Gershwin program on July 19. Details are HERE.

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: Michael Feinstein appears with Pasadena Pops in four summer concerts

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

To no one’s great surprise, summer with the Pasadena Pops will be a Michael Feinstein affair as the singer-conductor-curator will appear in four of the five Pops programs at the Los Angeles County Arboretum beginning June 7.

The Pops’ gamble on hiring Feinstein as its Principal Conductor paid off big dividends last summer and the organization moved quickly to capitalize on that success in planning the upcoming season. Feinstein will conduct three of the summer programs and will appear as a singer in an all Gershwin-concert on July 19.

The concerts:
June 7:
Feinstein will lead a program of music by Harry Warren, Richard Rodgers, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini and Alfred Newman, and the world premiere of a piece by André Previn, which was originally part of a movie score that never materialized. Vocalists Laura Osnes and Norm Lewis and pianist Armen Guzelimian will be guests.

June 28:
On the only program not involving Feinstein on stage, composer-producer-songwriter Tena Clark appears with Dionne Warwick, Sheléa Frazier, Sara Niemetz and the orchestra’s resident conductor, Larry Blank.

July 19:
Feinstein puts aside his baton to sing Gershwin and selections from other composers.

August 16:
Feinstein curates and conducts music from the silver screen — Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures and Walt Disney. Debby Boone, Alan Bergman, Maureen McGovern and Kevin Early will also appear.

September 6:
In a program entitled “New York! New York!, Feinstein turns to music that celebrates the Big Apple. Patti Austin, Liz Callaway and Jeremy Jordan are on the program.

• The complete media release and artists’ photos are HERE
• For information and ticket ordering, click HERE

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS: San Diego Opera to shut down

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

San Diego Opera has voted to shut down following the conclusion of the 2014 season, its 49th year of operations.

The San Diego Union-Tribune story is HERE.

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: L.A. Master Chorale offers weekend-long tribute to composer Morten Lauridsen

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

mortenDuring its 50th anniversary season, the Los Angeles Master Chorale is looking back over some of the group’s high points during its first half-century. This past weekend the Chorale focused on its long relationship with composer Morten Lauridsen (right). Friday night the Chorale hosted a screening of Michael Stillwater’s 2012 award-winning documentary, Shining Light: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen, at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Last night before a sold-out house at Walt Disney Concert Hall the Chorale presented a moving musical tribute to Lauridsen that was expertly crafted by Music Director Grant Gershon and beautifully sung by 48 members of the chorus.

William Hall, a well-known and long-time choral conductor, once said that the hardest program to conduct is a collection of short pieces; by comparison, he said, conducting Verdi’s Requiem is far easier. That last night’s program — which included two dozen pieces, sung in five languages — didn’t validate Hall’s opinion was due, in large measure, to the fact that “the Master Chorale has the music of Lauridsen in its DNA,” as Gershon noted in a post-screening discussion Friday night.

Predictably the weekend turned into a love fest. Gershon called Lauridsen “the greatest American choral composer of our time, all of all time.” Lauridsen later described the Master Chorale as “a jewel of our nation.” Fortunately the speeches were mercifully brief; the singing took the spotlight.

Lauridsen accompanied two of the works — Nocturnes and Les Chansons des Roses — on the piano. It’s interesting that most composers rarely perform music that they write for other groups or individuals. John Adams, for example, occasionally conducts his own works but almost never has the chance to play them. Choral and vocal composers are the exception to the rule, so it was both poignant and memorable that Lauridsen was able to accompany two of his best-known works last night, quite well, I might add.

Moreover, just to show that he’s not riding off into the sunset at the age of 71, Lauridsen has taken a 1991 poem, Prayer, by poet Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endwoment for the Arts and now Lauridsen’s colleague at USC, and set it into an evocative, six-minute anthem that was stunningly performed by the Master Chorale as the penultimate work last night. For good measure Gioia was on hand to recite the program before the Master Chorale sang Lauridsen’s setting.

Lauridsen’s history with the Master Chorale began in 1964, when the Pacific Northwest native came to Los Angeles to study at USC. A year later, when the LAMC was founded, Lauridsen began attending concerts in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, “from the cheap seats, high up,” he noted with a chuckle last night. In 1972, Lauridsen — now age 71 — joined the faculty of the USC School of Music where he still teaches. He served as LAMC’s Composer-in-Residence from 1994-2001.

For Gershon, Lauridsen’s music is truly in his DNA. Midwinter Songs on Poems by Robert Graves, which opened last night’s concert, was commissioned for the centennial of USC’s founding in 1980. It was premiered by the USC Chamber Singers, which included not only Gershon among the singers but also current LAMC members Elissa Johnston and Nancy Sulahian.

Midwinter Songs was one of many pieces that reflect the composer’s life-long love of poetry (he begins each class at USC by reading a poem). Stylistically, however, it’s quite different from the lush Lauridsen music for which he is now most famous (including Lux Aeterna, which didn’t appear on the program). The Chorale sang the icy music of Midwinter Songs expertly, accompanied by pianist Lisa Edwards (Lauridsen originally wrote the treacherous piano part for Mack Wilberg, now music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).

Gershon had his singers performing in different locations throughout the evening: men in the center, women in the center and then all women left and all men right. He also programmed one piece, Ave Dulcissima Maria, for men alone and another, Canticle/O Vos Omnes, with the women accompanying Gary Bovyer who played a hauntingly evocative clarinet. Theresa Dimond played finger cymbals on the former piece and chimes on Canticle.

For choral singers in the audience, Gershon — now in his 13th season at the fourth music director of the Master Chorale — continues to be a pleasure to watch, his hands sculpting phrases elegantly and his cutoffs nearly imperceptible but nonetheless precise. The choir nearly always sings as a flexible, unified ensemble and they were particularly elegant in Sure on This Shining Night from Nocturnes, which was premiered by the Donald Brinegar Singers in 2005.

The second half began with Madrigali: Six “Fire Songs” on Italian Renaissance Poems and continued with Les Chansons des Roses. After its performance of Prayer, the Chorale concluded the program by singing one of Lauridsen’s best-known works, O Magnum Mysterium, which Gershon dedicated to Paul Salamunovich, the ensemble’s Music Director Emeritus, who is gravely ill.

• CK Dexter Haven has a very long, but fascinating interview with Lauridsen posted on his Web site “All is Yar” HERE. If you’re a hardcore Lauridsen fan, you’ve heard much (but not all) of this before but it’s still worth reading.

• The documentary Shining Night is available through many brick-and-mortar stores, as well as on amazon.com

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Pasadena Symphony resumes youth movement

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this story was printed today in the above newspapers.

Pasadena Symphony; Andrew Grams, conductor, Simone Porter, violin
March 29 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Preview one hour before each performance.
Ambassador Auditorium; 131 South St. John Ave., Pasadena
Tickets: $35-$105.
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Simone_Porter_4_WebFor more than a quarter-century the Pasadena Symphony has distinguished itself by discovering young, talented soloists. Earlier this year 13-year-old pianist Umi Garrett soloed in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. For the PSO’s programs on March 29 at Ambassador Auditorium, a “grizzled veteran,” 17-year-old violinist Simone Porter (pictured right), will join the orchestra and guest conductor Andrew Grams for a performance of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. The concerts will open with William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra and will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Porter’s PSO appearance is one of several important local concerts for her this year. On April 27 she will play Beethoven’s Romances 1 & 2 with the Pacific Symphony, led by Carl St.Clair, at the SOKA Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. On Sept. 4 she will make her Hollywood Bowl debut as soloist in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot.

A native of Seattle, Porter studies with Robert Lipsett at The Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles. She is also part of Colburn Artists, a program created in 2012 by The Colburn School to provide professional management services to its most-accomplished students.

The PSO’s “youth movement” also includes its guest conductor. Grams, a 36-year-old Maryland native, last fall became music director of the Elgin Symphony just outside of Chicago, an ensemble that is similar in many respects to the Pasadena Symphony. In January he conducted the Baltimore Symphony in a concert that elicited from Tim Smith, music critic of The Baltimore Sun, the following: “The year is not even a week old, and there’s a contender for highlight of the 2014 music season in Baltimore.”

Meanwhile, two area choral groups resume their seasons this week.

• Jeffrey Bernstein leads the Pasadena Master Chorale in “The Voice of California” on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and next Sunday at 4 p.m. at Altadena Community Church. The program features music by Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen, along with premieres by Los Angeles-based composers Matt Brown and Reena Esmail. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

• Artistic Director John Sutton will lead his Angeles Chorale in “Romancing the Soul,” an evening of Brahms love songs on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena’s First United Methodist Church and March 30 at 4 p.m. at Northridge United Methodist Church. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

• This evening at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Grant Gershon leads 48 members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in music by famed Southern California composer Morten Lauridsen. The program will include Mid-Winter Songs, Ave Dulcissima Maria, Canticle/O Vos Omnes, O Magnum Mysterium, , Madrigali, Nocturnes and Les Chansons des Roses (Lauridsen will accompany the last two pieces on the piano). Ironically, the only major piece the Chorale won’t be singing is Lux Aeterna, which has become a choral landmark since it was premiered and recorded by the Master Chorale in 1997. Information: www.lamc.org

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OBIT: Bill Peters, music journalist and Blogger, dies at age 81

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

The San Gabriel Valley music community lost a strong advocate and I lost a friend when Bill Peters passed away last week at the age of 81. Bill was a life-long resident of the area and after retiring as President and CEO of Trail Chemical Corporation in El Monte, he began a second career as a music journalist. His Blog, “Peters’ Music News,” was one of the most active in the area and he was an unfailingly gracious presence at concerts. There are more details in his obituary HERE.

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: LA Opera hopes new production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” is a prize-winning design

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

Los Angeles Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor
Opening night: Saturday, March 15; 7:30 p.m.
Remaining performances: March 20, 26 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. March 23 and April 6 at 2 p.m.
Preconcert lecture by LAO Music Director James Conlon one hour before each performance.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Tickets: $19-$311. Student and senior rush tickets, subject to availability.
Information: www.laopera.org
Russian coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova will sing the title role in Los Angeles Opera’s new production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Robert Millard for LA Opera.

It’s been a decade since Los Angeles Opera last presented Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. On Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion LAO will use a new production by Elkhanah Pulitzer, one of two created by LA Opera this year (the other was “Falstaff” last November). Therein lies a (back) story.

According to Rupert Hemmings, LAO’s Senior Director of Production, the company tries each season to use a mix of approximately two new productions, two revivals and two productions that it rents from other companies.

The current season would have followed that formula except for the additions of Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach and André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire to the schedule, plus a last-minute decision (in opera scheduling terms; it actually took place about six months in advance) to substitute a unique production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute that Barrie Kosky created for Komische Oper Berlin, instead of using LAO’s own production designed by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe.

As to the two additions: Einstein is a unique, one-off opera; from a practical and financial point of view, Robert Wilson’s design couldn’t — and perhaps shouldn’t — be re-created, while Streetcar is a semi-staged production that was essentially created for soprano Renée Fleming, who is coming to Los Angeles for the three performances May 18, 21 and 24.

Of the seven operas on next season’s schedule (not counting Dog Days, which will play at Walt Disney Concert Hall’s REDCAT Theatre), two — The Ghosts of Versailles and Hercules vs. Vampires — will be new productions while four — La Traviata, Florencia en el Amazonas, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro — will be revivals. Only the evening that pairs Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle will be a rental, in this case from Frankfurt Opera.

LAO’s new production of Lucia di Lammemoor will be the first main stage production for LAO by Pulitzer, who created the company’s 2008 community production of Handel’s Judas Maccabeus at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

It’s the biggest opera assignment yet for Pulitzer, who is the great-great granddaughter of Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper and creator of the Pulitzer Prizes. Her production will use digital imagery by Wendall K. Harrington and scenery by Carolina Angulo, who also designed LAO’s production of Jonah and the Whale, which will play next week at the nearby cathedral. Christine Crook will make her LAO debut as costume designer and Duane Schuller returns as lighting designer.

The question of whether to revive, rent or create a production surely vexes all opera companies. Finances play a role in the decision but recent improvements and expansions in video and computer-generated capabilities — and the public’s delight in them — leave companies with the question of whether to re-mount a production, create a new one, remodel an existing production or rent a production from another company.

‘There are a number of factors at play,” says Christopher Koelsch, LAO’s President and Chief Executive Officer. ‘Tastes, of course, change over time. A production in consideration for revival may no longer reflect the aesthetic direction of the house and its artistic leadership. There are also singers for whom we would wish to produce a particular production or who have a particularly felicitous relationship with a certain stage director. Similarly there may be a stage director or designer whose work we feel is important to be seen in our community.

“We also have heard from our audiences,” continues Koelsch, “that they are more likely to revisit classic, foundational titles if both the casts and the production are new; they are compelled by the diversity of interpretation from both the musical and the theatrical sides of the equation.”

Another factor is that, while video imagery and CGI have added dramatic impetus to many new productions, designers — much like artists being asked to alter paintings — are hesitant to tinker with an existing production.

When LAO presented Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd (which concludes its run on Sunday), it remounted a production designed in 1985 by Francesca Zambello and seen in Los Angeles in 2000. Zambello left the design intact. “I think once you make a production, you tend to work more on the characters,” she told me. “Certainly one can enhance the visuals sometimes, but in this case, as the production is so stylized, I chose to keep it as it was conceived.”

Not only does LA Opera rent shows from other companies, it’s also active on the flip side. Companies around the world have used more than 50 LAO productions from the company’s 29 seasons. Several are currently being shown around the world. Verdi’s The Two Foscari, which opened the 2012-2013 LAO season, was a co-production with Valencia, Spain; it played last December in Vienna and will be mounted this spring at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London.
Among recent LAO productions, one of the most popular is Il Postino (right), by Daniel Catán, which LAO premiered in September 2010. Since that highly successful debut the production been seen in Paris, Vienna, Santiago (Chile) and at the Cervantino Festival in Mexico. It just returned from Madrid.

Other popular LAO productions are Il Trovatore, Tristan und Isolde and L’elisir d’amore (the latter recently appeared in San Diego). Salome, which was part of the company’s original 1986-87 season, was popular for years afterward, says Hemmings. And the calls keep on coming. LAO’s 2008 production of Otello will play at Houston Grand Opera in the fall and its Gianni Schicchi, directed by Woody Allen, will be presented in Madrid next season.

Notwithstanding those rentals (which do pour much-need dollars onto LAO’s bottom line) possible rentals are not the primary concern when the company commissions a new work, says Hemmings. “If the production is going to be a co-production,” he explains, “then we take into account the needs of all the co-producing companies in great detail.” This production of Lucia di Lammermoor is a stand-alone effort. “[Of course] we always hope that a new production will have a long successful life in L.A. and in other houses around the world,” says Hemmings.

By the time this new Lucia di Lammermoor raises its curtain Saturday, the company will be fully on board with what Pulitzer has designed. “The stage that a production would be fully rejected would be the presentation stage, which comes before anything has been built,” explains Koelsch. “I have seen this happen only a few times and not at LA Opera. The consequences both times were that the creative teams received buyouts and were released from the productions. New creative teams were put in place and the new iteration of the production had to be pushed through faster, resulting in both cases in additional financial and logistical hurdles for the company.”

Production qualities aside, Lucia almost always succeeds or fails because of the title character, who must rise to the occasion in the famed “Mad Scene” that is the opera’s climax. “Despite its enormous popularity, Lucia di Lammermoor isn’t easy to produce,” says LA Opera’s General Director Plácido Domingo. “There is little point in scheduling this opera without a truly special leading lady.

Ten years ago that star was Anna Netrebko; this time around, another Russian coloratura soprano, Albina Shagimuratova, will sing the title role. She certainly knows the part since she comes to Los Angeles from Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where she became the first Russian to sing Lucia. The performance earned review superlatives from at least once source. Shagimuratova made
her LA Opera debut in 2008 as the “Queen of the Night” in The Magic Flute.

Joining Shagimuratova will be Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu as Lucia’s secret lover, Edgardo, baritone Stephen Powell in role of Enrico, and bass James Creswell as Raimondo. James Conlon will conduct the LA Opera Orchestra. Of note: one of the instruments will be a glass harmonica, to be played by Thomas Bloch (LINK).

The opera is set in the Lammermoor Hills of Scotland. “What is it about Scotland,” writes Magda Krance for Chicago Lyric Opera, “that certain Italian composers found irresistible? Perhaps its gloomy castles and misty moors made a more exotic setting for clan rivalries, doomed love, ghosts, madness, and bloody murders than the familiar sunny climes of la bella Italia. Just as Giuseppe Verdi found inspiration in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, so did his predecessor, Gaetano Donizetti, in Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor.”

How Pulitzer translates all of that into her new production will be one of the eagerly awaited intrigues on Saturday night.

• The performance will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. It runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
• Conlon will offer a preview an hour before each performance. They’re always worth hearing, even if you know the opera well.

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 revived powerfully at Los Angeles Philharmonic concert

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

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Corigliano: Symphony No. 1; Brahms: Symphony No. 2
Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. • Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com

When the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its 2013-2014 season last spring, I immediately put a big red circle around this weekend’s concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall because they featured John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 being played for only the second time in LAPO history. I remember hearing the first time when David Zinman conducted the Phil at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in January 1993 and being gobsmacked by the work’s power and anguish.

However, this is a different time. Gustavo Dudamel is a different conductor, and Walt Disney Concert Hall is a VERY different venue than the Pavilion. At the time of its composition, Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 was triggered by the AIDS crisis that was sweeping the nation. Many people now view the work simply as a “tragic symphony,” a la Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique.” Either reaction, says Corigliano, is fine.

“At the time [the work was written],” said Corigliano in an e-mail interview just after his 76th birthday last month, “I had lost over 100 friends and colleagues. My closest friend (for three decades) was dying, and came to the performances, accepted the dedication to him, and passed away a week later. This was a horrible time and writing my symphony was all I could do. So my feelings at the premiere were enormously influenced by my friend, Sheldon [Shkolnik], his state and the world then around me.” Corigliano subtitled the first movement Apologue: Of Rage and Remembrance.

Thanks to increase in medical treatments and national awareness, AIDS is no longer the scourge it was in 1990. “Many things have changed,” says Corigliano, “especially concerning the treatment of AIDS. So hearing the work now has been more of a nostalgic experience. The memories of my friends come back to me, and I feel grateful to be able to mourn them in this different way.”

Corigliano was age 48 and serving as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first Composer in Residence when in 1998 the CSO commissioned him to write a large work. The orchestra got more than it bargained for. It was Corigliano’s first large-scale symphonic work; the four-movement piece lasts a little over 40 minutes and the forces necessary to perform the piece are enormous.

There are extra players in every section last night, including 18 brass players in a ring behind the winds and strings. The percussion array includes two sets of timpani (Dudamel placed them on either edge of the back row); two sets of tubular chimes, placed behind the orchestra’s first and second violins; two pianos, one onstage and one off, along with two glockenspiels, crotales, two vibraphones, xylophone, marimba, snare drum, three tom-toms, three roto-toms, field drum, tenor drum, three bass drums, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, three temple blocks, tambourine, anvil, metal plate, brake drum, triangle, flexatone, police whistle, whip, ratchet, harp and four (!) mandolins. About the only instrument that Corigliano didn’t use was an organ — I think Chicago’s symphony hall didn’t have one at the time and where would they have put the console anyway?

Corigliano was on hand during rehearsals this week and attended last night’s performance. He also provided an emotional and extensive tour of the work at the preconcert lecture, far more detailed than either his original program notes or the truncated version in the L.A. Phil’s printed program. If you’re going to one of the remaining concerts, don’t miss the lecture.

Dudamel was conducting the work for the first time. He used a score, followed it carefully and brought out a great deal of both the anger and pathos in the work, along with much of the tragic lyricism. Following this weekend’s performances, the Phil will make this work a centerpiece of its North American tour beginning March 11 (DETAILS). They will perform it in six cities and, based on how splendidly Dudamel and the orchestra played last night, I would love to be in Montreal or Boston at the end of the tour to hear how everyone will have grown into this complex piece after another eight performance.

Among the highlights:
• The strings underlaying Joanne Pearce Martin’s wistful playing of measures from Albéniz’s Tango in the first movement. The effect was mesmerizing.
• The end of the second movement, described by the composer as “a brutal scream” with the overtones ringing throughout a silent Disney Hall for several seconds. Magical.
• The hauntingly soulful solos by Principal Cellist Robert deMaine and Assistant Principal Ben Hong in the third movement, Chaconne: Giulio’s Song. Sublime.
• The full-out orchestra in the many moments of rage that are embedded throughout the work. Shattering.

During the tour, Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 will be paired with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, which will make for an emotionally wrenching evening. This weekend, the companion piece is the much more pastoral Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, which will be played as part of an alternate tour program in second concerts in San Francisco and New York City and in the single performance in Kansas City.

Compared to the Corigliano, the Phil seemed like a chamber orchestra in the Brahms: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets and two bassoons (the Corigliano had four, three, four and three, respectively); four horns instead of six, two trumpets (five), three trombones (four) and one tuba (2). On the back riser instead of that massive percussion array sat a lone set of timpani with Principal Timpanist Joseph Pereira. Nonetheless, it was enough; all forces could produce a powerful, albeit sweet sound.

Freed from having a score on a music stand in front of him and leading a work he knows well, Dudamel was in his all-out “Showtime” conducting mode and the orchestra was right with him for the entire ride. Dudamel sculpted phrases throughout, often with big swooping movements, occasionally with the barest of gestures. The first movement began with unhurried lyricism, the second emphasized drama, the third was notable for its gentle opening, and the finale blazed in full glory. By March 12, everyone will be ready for Davies Hall in San Francisco.

• For my preview story including other comments from Corigliano, click HERE.
• Corigliano’s complete program notes for Symphony No. 1 are HERE.
• One of the interesting things to come out of the preconcert lecture was that all three of Corigliano’s symphonies were written for quite different ensembles. Symphony No. 2 (which won him the Pulitzer Prize after it was composed in 2000) was written for string orchestra, while Symphony No. 3, subtitled “Circus Maximus,” was written for concert band — brass and wind ensemble.
• Corigliano’s music will return next year when Los Angeles Opera presents The Ghosts of Versailles Feb. 7 through March 1 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. DETAILS
• Of the more than 100 works that Corigliano has published, arguably the best known is his score for the movie The Red Violin, for which he received an Oscar in 1999 and subsequently created a violin concerto and other versions.
• Corigliano is one of a very few composers to have won an Oscar, Grammy, Pulitzer and a Grawmeyer Award (he won the latter for Symphony No. 1).

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.