NEWS: Michael Feinstein renews Pasadena Pops contract through 2019

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Michael Feinstein has renewed his contract as Principal Pops Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony and Pops through the 2019 season. He was hired to replace the late Marvin Hamlisch in 2013 and his contract was renewed through 2016 after his highly successful Pops debut that year.

Read the full media release HERE.

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ON THE ROAD: RETIREMENT.2 — On second takes and public transit

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Expo Station
The new Metro Expo Line terminus in Santa Monica is a two-block walk from the Santa Monica beach and pier.
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This week marks my second attempt at retirement. The first occurred in 2009 when I retired from my job as Senior Director of Communications at the Southern California Golf Association. Two years later I began studying in seminary and eventually became a pastor and administrator at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. This week I retire … again. We’ll see if this one sticks!

Through it all — work, study, family, church, etc. — I’ve kept up my writing career, including for the past 30+ years with the Pasadena Star-News and assorted other media outlets with what is now called the Southern California News Group. In this second “retirement” I plan on jumping back into the classical music field with both feet and you’ll find many more posts on this site in the coming weeks.

However, one thing you may not know about me is that I’m a public transit junkie. I have ridden public transit systems in more than a dozen cities in the United States, the three largest cities in Canada and more than a dozen systems in cities throughout Europe. I’ve also ridden Amtrak and Canada’s Via Rail extensively, and have ridden trains — both high speed and not-so-high speed throughout Europe. Nearly 40 years ago, I testified before a congressional subcommittee, advocating for what is now the Metro Purple Line — I hope I live long enough to see it reach Westwood (I doubt I’ll see it truly become a “Subway to the Sea” but hope always springs eternal).

In my first attempt at retirement, I volunteered for the Metro system, attending information fairs throughout Los Angeles. My experience with Metro stretches back more than 50 years, through its incarnation as MTA and even RTD. I rode the yellow streetcars in Highland Park, although not the late, lamented Red Cars. I can’t count the number of RTD, MTA and Metro buses that I’ve ridden and I’ve ridden every Metro Rail line either on the day it opened or soon after.

I’m a big believer in public transit for transportation, societal, environmental and economic reasons. We can — and should — do better in the area of public transit, but part of improvement will come when the public fully embraces that we live in a multi-modal transit community. All parts — autos, bikes, walking, uber/lyft/taxis, public transit and things we’ve not even imagined yet — are important to our “village” as we move forward (pun intended) into the next decades. Everyone has to give a little to accommodate the greatest good for the greatest number. We cannot continue to operate as have done for the past half-century. There are too many people in Southern California trying to move around at the same time.

I was thinking about all of this when my family and I climbed on the Metro Expo Line this morning for our first trip since the new extension to Santa Monica opened. I’ll report on that trip tomorrow — the good and the problematic. I hope you’ll find these new posts — which will be headed “On the Road” — to be informative and perhaps even useful and that you’ll feed back information to me, either by hitting reply or emailing me at: bobtatfore@aol.com.
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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: Spring flings

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Summertime and its outdoor concerts loom on the horizon but there’s still some work left to wrap up the 2015-2016 indoor Southern California classical music seasons.

DUDAMEL, THE PHIL AND DISNEY HALL
Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are offering a wide array of concerts to conclude their Walt Disney Concert Hall season, programs that are both interesting in their own right and demonstrate Dudamel’s continued growth as a conductor and musical leader.

Consider next weekend offerings, which feature two programs melding music by an old master and two contemporary folks.

On Thursday and Friday nights, Dudamel leads the Phil in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, K. 453, with Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan as soloist, and Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten and Symphony No. 4 (Los Angeles). The program also includes Inverted Birth, a short work by video artist Bill Viola.

The Saturday and Sunday programs pair Mozart’s Symphonies No. 35 and No. 40 with the world premiere of Pärt’s Greater Antiphons, a 15-minute work for strings that was commissioned by the Phil from the Estonian composer.

Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA. DISNEY “SILLY SYMPHONIES,” AND THE ORPHEUM
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s subscription seasons are over but there’s always one final offering by the innovative ensemble. For several years LACO presented silent movies in UCLA’s Royce Hall as a fundraiser, but last June the orchestra changed things up by offering Disney cartoons with the orchestra accompanying the big screen presentation.

This year LACO reprises that concept when it offers seven Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” on June 4 at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Six-time Emmy Award-winning conductor and composer Mark Watters leads the ensemble as it accompanies cartoons that include the first commercial short produced in Technicolor and five Academy Award winners.

Part of the evening’s enjoyment will be the theatre itself. Built in the 1920s, the Orpheum was the fourth and final theatre operated the Orpheum vaudeville circuit in Los Angeles. Its opulent lobby and auditorium remain a historical artifact of a bygone era, one that saw lavish movie and vaudeville palaces built across the country.

Information: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

ANGELES CHORALE

John Sutton leads the Angeles Chorale in a program entitled ““FREEDOM! The Sounds of Hope and Survival” on June 11 at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena. The principal work will be Songs of the Slave, a suite from the opera John Brown by Kirke Mechem. Bass-baritone Cedric Berry will be the soloist.

Information: 818/591-1735; www.angeleschorale.org

PASADENA MASTER CHORALE

On June 11 and 12, the Pasadena Master Chorale concludes its season at Altadena Community Church when Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein leads the chorale, soloists and pianist Michael Alfera in a performance of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion.

Information: 626/208-0009; www.pasadenamasterchorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: L.A. Phil names Susanna Mälkki as principal guest conductor

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Makkki 4 WEBFor just the third time in its history and the first in a quarter-century, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has appointed a principal guest conductor: Susanna Mälkki, a Finland-born, rising star in the conducting firmament. Her appoint begins in the 2017-2018 season and runs for three years.

Mälkki becomes the first woman named to this post and joins Mira Gražinytė-Tyla, the Phil’s newly named assistant conductor, in the orchestra’s musical leadership role, led by Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.

The only other two PCGs for the Phil were Sir Simon Rattle, 1981-1994, and Michael Tilson Thomas, 1981-1985. Both have gone on to major conducting careers and Mälkki is expected to follow in their footsteps. In fact many people championed her for the music director post at the New York Philharmonic before that ensemble choose Jaap van Zweden, instead.

Mälkki will assume the chief conductor role at the Helsinki Philharmonic beginning next season. Previously she was music director of Paris’ he Ensemble InterContemporain from 2006-2013. She began her musical career as a cellist, winning 1st prize in the 1994 Turku National Cello Competition. Subsequently she was principal cellist at the Gothenburg Symphony before make a career change to conducting.

In her new LAPO post, Mälkki will present three subscription weeks as part of the Walt Disney Concert Hall 2017/18 season, Green Umbrella dates along with projects with the orchestra to be announced. She has impressed both with her work in standard repertoire and contemporary works.

Read the LAPO media release here.
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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: 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; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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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.
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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: www.fumcpasadena.org).

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

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