NEWS: Indeed, great news! Conlon renews LA Opera contract for three more years

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Conlon 2016With no fanfare, merely a simple media release, Los Angeles Opera took a supremely important stop in its growth by announcing that Music Director James Conlon (pictured right) has renewed his contract for an additional three years, through the 2020/21 season (click HERE for the release).

While General Director Plácido Domingo is the best-known figure in LAO management (more for his legendary singing career and his ability to draw other major singers than for his administrative abilities), Conlon — now in his 10th season at LAO — and President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Koelsch are equally important — many would say more important — than Domingo for the company’s long-term growth and success. Last year Domingo re-upped his contract through the 2021-22 season.

Domingo understands Conlon’s importance. “It is impossible to overstate what a profound impact James Conlon has made during his ten years in Los Angeles,” said Domingo in the release. “I am thrilled that James will continue to shape the company’s artistic legacy for many years to come, for he has truly become an essential member of the LA Opera family.”

Thus, with companies such as New York City’s Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco in transition, it is significant that L.A. was able to keep Conlon, now age 66, on board. He will continue as Principal Conductor of the Italian RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Turin, a post he assumed last year.

It is Conlon who directs the majority of the company’s main-stage productions (this season he leads four of the six offerings at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) and offers erudite preconcert lectures before each performance. However, his involvement doesn’t stop there.

Conlon will lead a revival of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde on May 6 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles as part of the company’s “Community Opera” program.

Moreover, on Feb. 3 at The Colburn School’s Zipper Hall, Conlon will conduct the Pittance Chamber Ensemble (comprised of member’s of the LA Opera Orchestra) in a program of Mozart’s Serenade in B flat (Gran Partita) and Octet for Strings in E flat, Op. 20. (INFORMATION)

Conlon’s next Pavilion appearances will be to lead performances of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio beginning Jan. 28 and Richard Strauss’ Salome, beginning Feb. 18 (INFORMATION)
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEWS: Adams celebration, Pacific Symphony, L.A. Phil kick off January programs

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In addition to Los Angeles Chamber Chorus’ “Life Every Voice” festival (LINK), which begins Jan. 14, and two previously noted Los Angeles Philharmonic programs (LINK), two other noteworthy events are worth mentioning as I get back into my biweekly column routine for 2017.

ADAMS CELEBRATION AT VPAC
Composer John Adams turns age 70 on Feb. 14 and, as has been noted in other columns and Blog posts, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is paying tribute to its Creative Chair throughout the current season. However, it’s not the only organization honoring Adams.

The Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge has a mini-festival that kicks off on Jan. 14. Entitled “American Berserk” and also presented by Jacaranda Music, the Santa Monica-based contemporary music organization, this concert ends with three Adams pieces: American Berserk, a short piano piece; John’s Book of Alleged Dances, originally written for the Kronos Quartet; and Grand Pianola Music, one of Adams’ best-known works.

The concert also includes music by Louis Marie Gottschalk, Scott Joplin, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Theolonius Monk and Colon Noncarrow.

Performers will include Christopher Taylor, piano; the Lyris Quartet with four dancers; the Jacaranda Chamber Orchestra (Mark Alan Hilt, conductor) with Gloria Cheng and Taylor pianos; Holly Sedillos, soprano; Zanaida Robles, soprano; and Kristen Toedtman, alto.

Other VPAC programs during the Adams celebration will take place on Feb. 3 and 15. Information: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

PACIFIC SYMPHONY IN RUSSIAN PROGRAM

Music Director Carl St.Clair will lead the Pacific Symphony on Jan. 12, 13 and 14 at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa. The program will pair Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with 25-year-old Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang as soloist. On Jan. 15 the program is solely the Prokofiev symphony. Information: www.pacificsymphony.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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ROUNDUP: Music Director carousel resumes

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Just when it seemed as if the orchestral music director carousel had spun to a stop comes word that the retirement of two leaders will crank up the engine again.

david-robertsonDavid Robertson, (right) the Santa Monica native who has led the St. Louis Symphony since 2005, has announced that he will step down from that post at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season. In a STORY in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robertson said, “I think my sell-by date has come and I think it’s important not to overstay one’s welcome.”

Robertson continues as music director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia. He lives in New York City his wife, pianist Orli Shaham, and their 9-year-old twin sons, Nathan and Alex. SLSO officials must have breathed a sigh in relief last spring when the New York Philharmonic chose Jaap van Zweden as that orchestra’s next music director. A premature sigh, as it turned out.

A frequent collaborator with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Robertson will return to conduct the Phil on April 20, 22 and 23 in a program that will include music by Ives and Dvorak, as wall as the west coast premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto, with Paul Jacobs as soloist. INFO

Meanwhile, Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper, is reporting HERE that Zubin Mehta will retire from his position as Music Director-for-life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in October 2018. The decision will end a 55-year formal relationship between the now-80-year-old Mehta and the ensemble to which he was appointed music director in 1969 and lifetime music director in 1981.

Mehta was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978 and will return to lead the Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Jan. 13, 14 and 15 in a program of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben and the west coast premiere of the Sitar Concerto No. 2 Raga Mala by Ravi Shankar, with Shankar’s daughter, Ankoushka, as soloist. INFO

Tovey_2013One conductor coming to the end of a transition, Bramwell Tovey (right), returns to Disney Hall to lead the L.A. Phil in a typically cheeky program on January 5, 7 and 8. The program includes Sir William Walton’s Façadce Suite, No. 2, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto (with Ray Chen as soloist) and the second act of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty. INFO

Tovey has been music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra since 2000. In the fall of 2018, the VSO’s centenary year, he will become the orchestra’s Music Director Emeritus. He also served as Principal Guest Conductor of the LAPO at Hollywood Bowl for several years.

Tovey is a noted composer. In 2014 his trumpet concerto, Songs of the Paradise Saloon, was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Alison Balsom as soloist. The work ended up in Tovey’s opera, The Inventor, which commissioned by Calgary Opera and premiered in January 2011.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Begin Christmas Eve with “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” on KUSC

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Earlier this month I began my column with the following: “Tradition permeates every facet of holiday celebrations, especially music. One has only to hear a measure of Silent Night or Jingle Bells to instantly recognize the song and, indeed, to sing it.” That statement will ring especially true tomorrow, which is Christmas Eve on the Christian calendar.

For me, Christmas Eve always begins at 7 a.m. PST when I pull up a chair and listen to the radio broadcast of “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” from the iconic chapel of King’s College in Cambridge, England. Begun in 1918 and first broadcast in 1928, the service has been broadcast every year since and churches around the world have adapted its format. Attending a service live was always on my travel bucket list. That probably won’t happen, so listening to the broadcast — locally on KUSC (91.5 FM in Los Angeles — it’s also on KUSC.org) is the next best thing. If you’re outside of Los Angeles, check your station listings to see who is carrying it.

You can get all the details and can download the service booklet HERE. A word of caution: the BOOKLET is 52 pages long, so it will eat up lots of ink and paper. However, you can read it easily on a tablet, so consider that ecological step, instead.

One interesting aspect to the service is that, since 1982, the college has commissioned a carol for each service. This year’s composer is Michael Berkeley, who has created a new setting for the traditional 15th century Christmas text, This Endernight. Berkeley is the son of Lennox Berkeley, who in 1982 was the first composer tapped by King’s College Choir Director of Music Stephen Cleobury to compose a new carol. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: Some last-minute gift ideas for your classical music lover

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each year about this time, people call or email me asking what to get as a holiday present for their favorite classical music lover. My answer this year remains the same: tickets. Technological innovations notwithstanding, attending a concert in person is still the best way to experience the full scope of classical music.

If you plan ahead, you can obtain tickets at reasonable prices, especially if the recipient of your gift is a senior or student. Better still, plan on attending the concert with the person to whom you provide the tickets.

Here are a few opportunities among hundreds in genres ranging from orchestras to chamber music to choral programs and beyond:
Preu-2016
• Earlier this year the Long Beach Symphony named Eckart Preu (pictured) as its next music director. You will have a chance to experience his podium presence on Feb. 4 when Preu makes his only appearance this season with the LBSO (he takes over the orchestra’s podium next season). His all-French program concludes with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Information: www.longbeachsymphony.org

• This season is Jeffrey Kahane’s last as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and he’s going out with a bang, curating a two-week series in January entitled “Lift Every Voice.” I’ll detail the proceedings in my January 1 column (which includes an interview with Kahane) but there are several events worthy of your attention during this series that might make great gifts: Information: www.laco.org

• If sweeping Romantic music is your forte, consider the Pasadena Symphony’s Feb. 18 concerts. Music Director David Lockington will conduct Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique) and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Natasha Paremski as soloist. On the other hand, if your tastes run to the baroque, the PSO’s January 21 concerts feature music of Bach and Handel led by Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
usc-st-clair
• Carl St.Clair (pictured), music director of the Pacific Symphony in Orange County, will lead the USC Thornton School of Music Symphony on Jan. 22 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program is micro and macro: Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos (with Bernadene Blaha and Kevin Fitz-Gerald as soloists) and Richard Strauss’ sprawling musical depiction of a day the country, An Alpine Symphony.

This appearance is part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series, which offers top-quality student ensembles at reasonable prices: $30-$44 each. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing a concert in Disney Hall, this is a splendid opportunity for superb music in a great setting. Information: www.laphil.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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