CLASS ACT: Pasadena Symphony music director takes on soloist role

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

David Lockington, conducter, guest cellist performs Sawyers Cello Concert with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. November 3, 2012

David Lockington, conducter, guest cellist performs Sawyers Cello Concert with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. November 3, 2012

David Lockington, music director of the Pasadena Symphony, will perform as cello soloist in this weekend’s concerts at Ambassador Auditorium.

Pasadena Symphony; Nicholas McGegan, conductor; David Lockington, cellist
Saturday (March 19) at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Ambassador Auditorium; 131 South St. John Ave., Pasadena
Tickets: $35-$110.
Information: 626/793-7172;

Most orchestra conductors begin their careers as instrumentalists, but when they ascend the podium they give up their “other” gig. There are exceptions, of course: Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman continue their solo careers even as they have transitioned more and more to conducting, and Jeffrey Kahane often leads from the piano at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

However, for the most part, it’s either conducting or solo careers, which makes this Saturday’s concerts by the Pasadena Symphony, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium rather unusual because PSO Music Director David Lockington will appear not as conductor but as soloist in the cello concerto by British composer Philip Sawyers.

Nicholas McGegan, the PSO’s principal guest conductor, will lead the ensemble accompanying Lockington, and also in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

“I was a very serious cellist until I was about 40,” explains Lockington when questioned about his soloist role for the concert. “By then I had achieved all my performing aspirations and was concentrating on my conducting career. Over the years I played a few small things with the Baltimore Symphony and when I got to the New Mexico Symphony and the Grand Rapids Symphony, I would play little things at fund raisers and the like.

“But then,” he continues, “my friend Philip wrote this cello concerto in 2010, not for me but for a festival that subsequently didn’t happen. In the meantime I had scheduled the piece for the Modesto Symphony, so just by chance, by default really, I ended up playing the world premiere of Philip’s concerto.”

Subsequently Lockington performed the work with the Grand Rapids Symphony, so this will be the third time he has played it in concert. “I absolutely love the piece,” he says. “It’s beautiful and interesting with a lot of variety, yet in many ways it’s a traditional three-movement concerto for cello and chamber-sized orchestra.

“Philip’s music is contrapuntal,” continues Lockington, “and he composes in an organic way, so the orchestra is integrated into the musical texture of the piece. Particularly in the last movement he has a great sense of thrust and dynamism, which makes it a perfect pairing for the Beethoven ‘Egmont’ Overture.

“The same is true of the Mozart symphony,” concludes Lockington. “The first movement of the concerto is sort of soulful, almost tragic, with a sighing-falling motif, similar to the Mozart 40, so all of this seemed to fit very nicely as a program.”

The concerto also provides an opportunity for Lockington and McGegan to appear in the same concert. “Nick, Philip and I had a brief connection way back when I was at Cambridge,” recounts Lockington. “So we haven’t seen each other together since we were there 40 years ago.” Sawyers is scheduled to be attendance for the performances, which will be a reunion as well as a performance.

Saturday will be a very busy day, musically, in Pasadena. In addition to the PSO performances, two major free-admission choral concerts will take place a block from each other.

Gregory Norton will lead his Claremont Chorale in a 4 p.m. performance of Mozart’s Solemn Vespers and Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna as part of First United Methodist Church, Pasadena’s “Third @ First concert” series. (Information:

Then at 7 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Timothy Howard will lead his Pasadena Singers, soloists and orchestra in a complete performance of Handel’s Messiah. (Information: 626/793-2191;
The timing of the three events means you could attend the afternoon PSO concert and still have time to hear Messiah, hear the Claremont Chorale concert and attend the PSO evening performance or hear both choral concerts back to back — a cornucopia of musical riches.

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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