NEW: Pasadena Symphony extends contracts of Lockington and McGegan

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Pasadena Symphony has extended the tenures of Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan through the 2018-2019 season. Lockington and McGegan were each appointed three years ago with three-year contracts and the contracts have been extended each year, in effect making them “evergreen” contracts.

Lockington will conduct four concerts during the upcoming season, beginning with the opening programs at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on October 8 at Ambassador Auditorium. McGegan will lead two concerts at Ambassador and the seventh event will be the now-annual holiday-music concert on Dec. 17 at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

The final Pasadena Pops concert of the summer season will be Sept. 10 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Pasadena.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.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: Three named for L.A. Phil Dudamel Fellow conducting program

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Three young international conductors — including two winners in the recent Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition — will participate in the 2016/2017 Dudamel Fellowship Program for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Singapore’s Kachun Wong — winner of the 5th Mahler Contest last May and a protégé of Kurt Masur — will lead a LAPO community concert on Dec. 16 at Wilshire United Methodist Church. Paulo Bortolameolli of Chile will lead Toyota Symphony for Youth concerts on Feb. 18 and 25 dealing with the art of the piano. Eileen Chan of Hong Kong will lead Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” in Symphony for Youth concerts on Nov. 26 and Dec. 3.

Each young conductor will also work with LAPO Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, LAPO musicians and other artists and conductors during their time in L.A. They will also interact with students in the orchestra’s education programs.

Read complete details in the LAPO media announcement HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Long Beach Symphony names Eckart Preu as next music director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Preu-2016After a two-year-long search, East German native Eckart Preu has been named the eighth Music Director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra. He replaces Enrique Arturo Diemiecke, who resigned at the end of the 2013-2014 season.

Preu (whose name rhymes with “joy” — a singularly good omen for a conductor) signed a three-year contract effective with the 2017-2018 season when he will program and conduct all six classical series concerts, all youth concerts and one Pops concert annually. He will be Music Director Designate for the upcoming season and will lead the Feb. 4, 2017 in Long Beach’s Terrace Theatre, which will include performances of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Saint-Säens’ Danse Macbre, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. INFO

Preu, who turns 47 on Thursday, has been Music Director of the Spokane (WA) Symphony since 2004 and of the Stamford (CT) Symphony since 2005. He will relinquish the latter role when he assumes the LBSO Music Director position in 2017.

Read Richard Guzman’s article in the Long Beach Press-Telegram HERE

The full LBSO media release follows:

LONG BEACH SYMPHONY SELECTS ECKART PREU AS NEXT MUSIC DIRECTOR

LONG BEACH, CA, August 19, 2016 – Following a 2-year search that brought 9 guest conductors to the stage of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Long Beach Symphony proudly announces today that it has selected Eckart Preu (rhymes with “joy”) to take the helm under a 3-year contract beginning with its 2017-18 season.

Commenting on the decision, Symphony Board President, Irv Miller, said, “Eckart Preu’s execution of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 at our June 4 Finale not only elevated the overall concert experience for our audience that night, but also excited our orchestra players. Maestro Preu’s genuine spirit of collaboration, partnership, and adventure makes us confident that we have identified a Music Director who can take our Symphony to the next phase of its development.”

Maestro Preu says he decided to accept the position with Long Beach Symphony “because of its pure excellence – an excellence that extends not only to the amazing quality of its musicians, but also to the excellence in how its staff and volunteers run the organization. He looks forward to getting to know the wider Long Beach community, including its inspired arts leaders, musicians, and supporters and relishes the opportunities that a community as large and impressive as Long Beach can bring.

When asked for comment on the appointment, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia expressed his approval saying, “The Symphony and the arts play a crucial role in our thriving community. The City of Long Beach wants to be among the first to welcome our talented new Maestro!

Maestro Preu will serve as Long Beach Symphony’s Music Director Designate during the 2016-2017 season, returning to Long Beach to conduct the Symphony Concerts for Young People on February 1 and 2, 2017 for over 12,000 Long Beach Unified 4th and 5th graders. Within that same week, he will conduct Berlioz’s magnificent Symphonie fantastique and Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre as well as Dukas’ classic, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice at the February 4, 2017 Classical concert at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Terrace Theater. Tickets will be released on sale on September 10, 2016. Maestro Preu will continue to serve as Music Director of the Spokane Symphony (WA), but will step down from his current position with the Stamford Symphony (CT) next year.

Commencing in the 2017-2018 season, he will take on his full time Music Director position, and will program and conduct all six Classical series concerts, all Youth Concerts and one POPS! concert annually.

Maestro Preu’s philosophy on classical music complements the demographic make-up and cultural vibrancy of the Long Beach community. Paralleling the Symphony’s current efforts to reach out to diverse segments of the City with its Sounds and Spaces program, Maestro Preu believes that classical music can be accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

Long Beach Symphony Executive Director, Kelly Ruggirello remarked that “in Eckart Preu, I have found a partner who shares a vision for a future that will deepen our programming, provide greater access to more residents, and further our artistic excellence.”

When he first began his tenure as Music Director of the Spokane Symphony, Maestro Preu led a night of cultural sharing through a Spokane Symphony performance with Spokane Tribal members. More recently, in March 2016, Maestro Preu collaborated with a local Washington state hip-hop collective, electro-pop duo, and singer-songwriters to mix their own original works with the Spokane Symphony’s performance of Peter and the Wolf. “The idea was to do something unpredictable, and to mesh things that, at first glance, don’t go together,” Preu said. “It’s getting down to the roots of music – we all play with the same notes, just in different ways and with different approaches. … It’s bringing all these genres together that usually don’t play in the same sandbox, and we basically just provide the sandbox.”

Eckart Preu was born in Erfurt, a town that was, at that time, part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). He and his older brother grew up with a musically-inclined father who started them on music lessons early in life. At age 10, they were enrolled in the Dresdner Kreuzchor (Dresden Boys’ Choir), one of the world’s oldest and most famous boys’ choirs and boarding schools. Preu studied there for 8 years, eventually becoming a soloist, rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor. Subsequently, he earned a master’s degree in conducting from the Hochschule fuer Musik in Weimar and then went to Paris for two years to study at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique, where he also served as Music Director of the Orchestre International de Paris from 1993-95.

Then in 1996, Preu won the National Conducting Competition of the German Academic Exchange Service, which afforded him the opportunity to come to the United States for graduate studies at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut. Upon completion of his studies there, Preu became Assistant Conductor for the American Symphony Orchestra, a position he held from 1997-2004. During these years, he also held posts as principal conductor of the New Amsterdam (NY) Symphony Orchestra and associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, among others.

In 2004, Preu decided to make a fresh start by moving to the state of Washington to accept the position of music director with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. To welcome him to the area, the Symphony put up billboards around town bearing Preu’s image. As the story goes, a young woman who drove by took one look at his fetching visage and instantly decided that was the man she was going to marry. The rest, as they say, is history. Eckart and that same woman, his wife, Neeley, currently reside in Spokane with their two daughters, ages 8 and 5.

Though his rigorous schedule, community involvement and young family do not leave much time for R&R, when he does manage to carve out some time for himself, Preu seeks quiet. “I am around music all day, so at the end of the day, I relish quiet. It is sacred to me.” It is partly for this reason that he has recently taken up golf. He enjoys the peacefulness of the golf course and the opportunity to commune with nature. And, in seemingly diametric opposition to that, Preu also loves action movies!

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• The LBSO has also rounded out its conducting roster for the upcoming season. Mei-Ann Chen, who has appeared with the Pasadena Symphony and Pacific Symphony locally, will conduct a program of Glink, Rachmaninoff and Respighi on Nov. 19, while Paul Polivnick will lead an evening of Beethoven, Lebrun and Dvorak on March 8. Full-season INFO.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: McGegan, L.A. Phil explore “Romantic”-style music at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

McGegan-2016Nicholas McGegan (pictured right) has been coming to Hollywood Bowl as a valued guest conductor for 20 years and we have had the privilege of watching him grow during those two decades. Originally he was advertised as an early-music specialist and, indeed, his all-Handel concert Tuesday night reinforced that image.

However, in the past few years McGegan — especially in his role as Principal Guest Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony —has been pushing his own envelope, expanding his repertoire into the Romantic era, as last night’s program demonstrated.

On paper, the program of Weber’s Overture to Oberon,, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) would seem to have a foot in both camps but the performances placed it squarely in the Romantic style.

That emphasis was aided by two short video conversations between McGegan and Scott Alan, curator of Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau, an exhibit of Rosseau’s paintings showing through September 11 at the J. Paul Getty Museum. In the paintings and commentary — think of them as “preconcert lecture light” — McGegan and Alan discussed the musical pieces that might have influenced Rosseau whose time (1812-1867) almost exactly coincided with Schumann (1810-1856).

The Weber overture proved to be a sparkling opening to the evening, although the video interview — which was played while the piano was being moved onstage for the concerto — focused more on Der Freischutz as opposed to Oberon. Nonetheless, high marks to Jeffrey Fair’s horn solos that opening the evening, Burt Hara’s clarinet solo, and the rhythmic precision of the entire string section.

In the video clip, McGegan encouraged the audience to remember the dark, forest paintings of Rosseau as it listened to the transition from the Weber overture to Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto, one of the darkest in the composer’s repertoire.

Ohlsson-2016After a summer that featured both Lang Lang and Yuja Wang, it was a pleasure to watch and hear Garrick Ohlsson’s performance last night. Unlike his younger counterparts, there is a sense of serene calm to Ohlsson (pictured Left), who sits quietly on the bench while he plays, just letting the music weave its own magic spell. This was especially true in the famous “Romance” middle section, but even in the outer movements Ohlsson continued to project a sense of stillness during his pristine runs, trills and cadenzas.

That atmosphere of serenity was even more apparent in Ohlsson’s exquisite rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2. For the second night in a row the Bowl seemed like an intimate concert hall with the skies opened to the heavens, a rare moment indeed (high marks, also, to Ohlsson for clearly articulating through a microphone the entire title of the Nocturne prior to playing it).

Despite the fact that this was Mozart, the concerto’s performance had a very “Romantic” feel to it. The orchestra was larger than what Mozart used and, of course, the Steinway grand on which Ohlsson played was a long way from the pianofortes that Mozart would have used when he first performed the piece in 1785.

However by the time of Beethoven — according to Susan Key’s program notes this was the only Mozart concerto Beethoven played in public — the piece would surely have sounded different and so it did last night. McGegan emphasized the work’s sweeping lines and dark textures, and the orchestra — with basses placed to the far right of the ensemble and the cellos directly to McGegan’s right — played with its customary level of excellence.

Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony — the subtitle refers to the fact that the composer had just moved to Düsseldorf, a city on the Rhine, in 1850 — continued the Rosseau-inspired theme.

In one sense, the piece looks backward — like Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, Schumann’s “Rhenish” has five movements. However, the work clearly introduces the “Romantic” symphonic concept to the world and McGegan’s take on the piece was, for the most part, straight forward in its concept.

In particular, he invested the fourth movement, Feirlich (“Solemn”) — inspired by the composer’s trip to the recently completed and majestic Cologne cathedral — with the proper sense of brooding awe, which provided a perfect contrast to his perky take on the concluding section. The Phil’s brass section — particularly the horns — were in fine form throughout the performance.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• On Sunday cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble returns to the Bowl for a program of music spanning the globe — no surprise, since the ensemble is comprised of performers and composers from more than 20 countries. INFO

• On Tuesday, Ken-David Masur — son of Kurt, former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra — makes his Bowl debut in a program of Beethoven (Overture to Fidelio and Symphony No. 5 — and Korngold’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham as soloist. Masur is replacing Joana Carneiro, who was originally scheduled to conduct. INFO

• Then on Thursday, Bramwell Tovey returns for the first concert in a two-week stint on the podium, bringing a program of rarely performed movie music by Bernard Hermann, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin, along with Pas de deux, a new double concerto by James Horner to be played by Mari and Håkon Samuelsen, the Norwegian brother/sister duo that commissioned the piece.

Tovey — the British-born conductor who in 2018 completes a 19-year tenure as Music Director of the Vancouver (BC) Symphony — once held the title of Principal Guest Conductor at the Bowl. In reality, he still, has that now untitled position since he is the only conductor to lead more than a week of Bowl concerts. Expect some witty commentary along with the music. INFO

• McGegan will conduct two concerts with the Pasadena Symphony in the upcoming season at Ambassador Auditorium, leading a Baroque program on January 21 and a Schubert-Mozart-Mendelssohn program on March 18. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Susan Graham stars in Handel night at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

GrahamIn an article in the Hollywood Bowl program magazine, Nicholas McGegan — who is celebrating 20 years of conducting at the Bowl — told Dennis Bade: “We settled on Handel for this summer once we confirmed that Susan Graham was available.”

Good thinking, Nick. At age 56 the Roswell, NM native (pictured left) is at the peak of her career, which includes roles ranging from Monteverdi to Jake Hegge’s Dead Man Walking. She brought to the Bowl last night arias from two Handel operas and sang them magnificently. In the process she managed to make the cavernous Bowl seem like an intimate recital hall. It’s a shame more people didn’t attend.

Graham looked as gorgeous as she sang, wearing a multi-colored robe over a simple black dress in the first half when she sang Scherza infida and Dopo notte from Ariodante. Post intermission she switched to a stunning, shimmering turquoise robe and sang Ombra a mai fù and Se Bramate from Xerxes.

Throughout the performances, she held the audience spellbound with her amazing runs and melismas, but she did more than simply sing the parts. In the first half she was the title character, displaying a full range of emotions from despair to laughter; in the second half, she laid into Se Bramate with all the anger she could bring to a non-staged performance. However, for this listener, the highlight was the amazing pianissimo she dared to float at the beginning of Ombra a mai fù, the note hanging in the night air as clearly as if she was singing in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

McGegan and the Los Angeles Philharmonic accompanied Graham sensitively although — truth be told — she was, in every sense, the central focus. The ebullient McGegan surrounded Graham with several well-known Handel works, taking full advantage of 79 voices of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in the opening work, Zadok the Priest (aka Celebration Anthem No. 1). The Chorale sang superbly and the amplification was so much on the singers as to virtually obliterate the orchestra, which was just fine by me.

The first half closed with Awake the Trumpet’s Lofty Sound from Samson, which found the chorus playing off beautifully against Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten, although the work was so short that the audience didn’t realize it was over until McGegan turned around and indicated that it was okay to clap, which they did.

McGegan and the orchestra offered a spritely performance of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon to bring Graham onstage for her first-half numbers. Post intermission, McGegan used breathless tempos in the Suite No 2 from Water Music and Music from the Royal Fireworks, which the orchestra handled with its customary aplomb.

In past years, actual fireworks have accompanied that latter piece but, given the high fire danger and with news of the I-15 fire on people’s minds, it was probably just as well that the Phil elected to eschew the pyrotechnics. No need to repeat the premiere performance on April 27, 1749 when a 100-foot-high and 400-foot long tower burst into flames, causing the crowd to panic with, reportedly, at least two people killed.

Instead, McGegan closed the evening by leading the orchestra and Master Chorale in a lightning-fast rendition of the chorus, Hallelujah, from Messiah. Only ensembles as great as the Phil and Master Chorale could have handled these tempos, but McGegan added some nice dynamic layering to the performance just to keep everyone on their toes.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Tomorrow’s program features McGegan leading the LAPO in Weber’s Oberon overture and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish), along with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466, with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist. The program is a collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum, which is holding a retrospective of paintings by Théodore Roisseau through Sept. 11. Videos created in conjunction with The Getty will introduce much of the music. INFO
• On Sunday cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble returns to the Bowl for a program of music spanning the globe — no surprise, since the ensemble is comprised of performers and composers from more than 20 countries. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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