FIVE SPOT: March 23-29, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending. As you can see, Saturday will be a very busy day (and night).

4 p.m. at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, Beverly Hills
Stephen Pu leads the chorale in a peace-oriented program that includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, and Nick Strimple’s Psalm 133, let the sweet sounds delight!


7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Grant Gershon leads his chorale in Stravinsky’s Les Noces and several choruses by John Adams.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.


7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Plácido Domingo is in the pit for this LAO revival of Marta Domingo’s production of Offenbach’s famed tale about poet E.T.A. Hoffman’s boozy recollections of the four women he has loved and lost. Vittorio Grigolo sings the title role and Diana Damrau portrays two of the women (Kate Lindsey and So Young Park are the other two heroines). There are five other performances (Grant Gershon conducts on April 6).

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then and walk up two blocks to reach the hall.


8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church Santa Monica
Pianist Stephen Vanhauwaert performs Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and wildUp French horn Allen Fogel plays Massiaen’s Interstellar Call (a portion of From the Canyons to the Stars).

BONUS: First Pres, Santa Monica, is within shouting distance of the west end of the Metro Expo Line, especially if the weather is good. Walk north three long blocks and west to the church.


3 p.m. at The Founders Room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
The Pittance Chamber Music Ensemble, featuring members of the LA Opera Orchestra, join with tenor Arnold Livingston Geis and pianist Paul Floyd in this free concert that is part of L.A. Opera’s Open House program. Music by Britten, Korngold and Vaughan Williams.

BONUS: General seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are approximately 150 available seats. The performance will be about 90 minutes and will take place without intermission.

The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then and walk up two blocks to reach the hall.


8 p.m. at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills
Colburn School Artist-in-Residence Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joins pianists in the Colburn’s Conservatory of Music, Music Academy, and Community School in a program of solos and chamber music.


(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Back to school with the L.A. Philharmonic

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured at Hollywood Bowl) conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic yesterday in a free Neighborhood Concert at Rosemead High School. (Photo by Los Angeles Times)

Since 1991 the Los Angeles Philharmonic has sponsored “Neighborhood Concerts,” free programs that range from chamber music to youth orchestras to the full L.A. Phil to what it terms “neighborhoods underrepresented in our audiences.” What that translates to is, “attending concerts in Walt Disney Concert Hall (and, to a lesser extent, Hollywood Bowl) are too expensive for many people to afford.”

Some of these events are held in churches. Some take place in areas where the Phil has a presence through its Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA). However, yesterday’s concert at Rosemead High School was somewhat of a departure since neither part of that first sentence applies. Instead, kudos to L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, the El Monte Union High School District, the high school and the Phil for making yesterday’s event possible.

In truth, it was a massive amount of logistical work for 35 minutes or so of music, but no one in the large, exuberant crowd seemed to mind the short program. The orchestra certainly took the afternoon seriously: the dress standards were what one normally sees for a Sunday program at Disney Hall (black suits for the men, black outfits for the women), many of the orchestra’s first-chair players were onstage (including Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour) and the playing was first rate.

Moreover, the afternoon’s leader was the Phil’s associate conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who last year was named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England, a prestigious position previously held by Sir Simon Rattle and then Andris Nelsons.

The musical selections seemed a bit curious for the Rosemead audience, many whom had obviously never attended a Phil concert before. The afternoon opened with a crackling rendition of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Overture to ZZZDie Fledermaus, and continued with sparkling performances of Strauss Jr.’s ZZZOn the Beautiful Blue Danube, The Gypsy Baron Overture and ZZZPizzacata Polka.

Gražinytė-Tyla was in her element as a conductor and bubbly as she briefly introduced the music, acknowledging that it was more in tune with a New Year’s Eve program in Vienna — the school could have made hearing easier had it provided her with a microphone, although she was audible and understandable to most, even in the mezzanine where I sat.

With her flowing arms and hands and her penchant for bouncing and dancing on the podium, Gražinytė-Tyla was in her element in this dance-oriented program. She shaped phrases lovingly and played with the tempos expertly during the first five pieces. More importantly, she continues to impress with her ability to elicit top-quality music making from the Phil.

During the program’s final piece — Johann Strauss Sr.’s ZZZRadetsky March — Gražinytė-Tyla had the audience (literally) in the palm of her hand as she choreographed the beginning and cessation of clapping with gusto. It may well be that in the decades to come those in attendance will realize they were able to see this young, dynamic conductor near the beginning of what most in the business believe will be an important career.

The next Neighborhood concert is scheduled for Monday, April 24, at 7 p.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 2760 West Pico Blvd. (at Mariposa) in Los Angeles, CA. Program details have yet to be announced.

Gražinytė-Tyla will be on the podium at Disney Hall on March 31, April 1 and 2 leading a program that includes Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, K. 491, with Stephen Kovacevich as soloist; Haydn’s Symphony No. 31, “Hornsignal,” and the U.S. premiere of Georg Frederich Haas’s Concerto grosso No. 1 for 4 alphorns and orchestra, with the hornroh modern alphorn quartet as soloists. Because March 31 is a “Casual Friday” concert, the Haas work will be omitted. Information:

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony takes patron on a world tour

Music Critic

Pasadena Symphony, Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena
Next performance: Tonight at 8:00 p.m.

Publicity for today’s Pasadena Symphony’s concerts proclaimed it as “Mozart and Mendelssohn.” That was an accurate, if incomplete, title, since the program also began with a Schubert overture.

However, Rachel Barton Pine (pictured right), the afternoon’s soloist, had a better description, “Musical Tourism,” as the program began in Italy and continued through Turkey to Scotland, with a detour into Ireland.

Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan was on the podium, conducting as usual without a baton but with his bouncy, ebullient personality and occasionally humorous gestures. Moreover, as usual, the PSO was in top form for him throughout the program, which began with a sparkling account Schubert’s Overture in C Major, D. 591, the second of two that Schubert wrote “In the Italian Style” (the other, D. 590, is in D Major). Principal Clarinet Donald Foster was in the spotlight throughout the performance.

Pine, now 42, has rebounded from a gruesome accident on a Chicago Metra train to become one of the nation’s foremost violin soloists. She demonstrated her prodigious capabilities in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219,, known as the “Turkish” for its final-movement rondo.

Playing on the “ex-Bazzini ex-Soldat,” a 1742 violin crafted by Joseph Guarneri “del Gesu,” Pine poured out a lovely, sweet tone throughout the performance, although her desire to create ultra-quiet moments came across as almost too precious in its concept. She reportedly creates her own cadenzas for Mozart concerti and those today were wonderfully suited to the music and the overall performance.

As an encore, Pine introduced to most in the audience Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s Concert Etude No. 6, which is based on the Irish tune, The Last Rose Of Summer. The work wraps the tune in an introduction and a set of variations and, although somewhat lengthy for an encore, was a big hit with the audience as Pine dazzled with her intricate melding of bowing and pizzicato.

After intermission, McGegan led a vigorous account of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 (“Scottish.”) This is actually the last of five symphonies that Mendelssohn wrote, but like Beethoven’s first and second piano concertos and Chopin’s two piano concertos, it is numbered in terms of its publishing date, not the date in which it was written — in fact, it took 12 years from when this symphony was begun, in 1830, until it was finished.

As Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn wrote in their program notes, “While the music has an undeniably Scottish flavor, it does not quote any authentic folk melodies, a device that Mendelssohn despised. Writing to his father from Wales, he commented: ‘…anything but national music! May ten thousand devils take all folklore… a harpist sits in the lobby of every inn of repute playing so-called folk melodies at you — dreadful, vulgar, fake stuff; and simultaneously a hurdy-gurdy is tooting out melodies — it’s enough to drive you crazy…’ That being said, it’s difficult to distinguish Mendelssohn’s invented Scottish style melodies from the kind of musical nationalism he so despised.”

Whether it was the gloomy opening, redolent of the dank weather in the Scottish Highlands, or the Scottish-like tunes in the second movement, McGegan bounced things along smartly and the orchestra responded with first-rate playing throughout, sending the audience out into the warm afternoon in the spirit of pleasant joy.

• The season’s final concert, on April 29, blends choral music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with its “Ode to Joy” choral ending. In addition to the orchestra, the program will include four soloists, the Donald Brinegar Singers, JPL Chorus and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.
• Given that the last three programs have been virtual sellouts, if you want to hear this program you may want to buy tickets in advance. Information:

Robert D. Thomas is a freelance music writer. Email him at: More of his reviews, columns and features can be found at


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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Temirkanov, St. Petersburg Philharmonic end So Cal sojourn at VPAC

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic wrapped up a two-night Southern California tour last night at Cal State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center.

Once upon a time, before the advent of jet aircraft and more open national borders, many orchestras maintained a national sound — i.e., their playing reflected sounds that emanated from their nations’ unique musical traditions. Today few of those distinctive orchestra continue, but perhaps the most significant still working is the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

This ensemble is Russia’s oldest orchestra. Alexander III founded it in 1882 as the Imperial Music Choir, which then transformed into the Court Orchestra. Subsequently the orchestra’s name reflected the city’s name changes — e.g., State Philharmonic of Petrograd and Leningrad Philharmonic. In 1991, it became the St. Petersburg Philharmonic when the city resumed its historic name.

By whatever name, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic is recognized as one of the world’s great ensembles and last night performance showed why. A look at the orchestra’s roster shows it’s comprised almost entirely of Russian or Eastern European names, which is one big reason why it retains its distinctive national sound.

Another reason is Yuri Temirkanov (pictured left), who made his debut with the ensemble 50 years ago and almost immediately became Assistant Conductor to the orchestra’s legendary leader, Evgeny Mravinsky. Now age 78, Temirkanov has been the ensemble’s Artistic Director and Chief Conductor since 1978, and he was on the podium last night at Cal State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center.

For this second of two consecutive performances in Southern California Temirkanov constructed a quite different program than he conducted Wednesday night in Costa Mesa (my review is HERE). For VPAC he chose Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

What a difference a night made in terms of sound. At the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa the orchestra was seated on risers, with the string basses grouped in a tight bunch on a top riser at the back left of the orchestra. Last night all the musicians’ chairs were on the floor and the basses were in a single line to the back left of the orchestra. That made for a more balanced sound with the violins more prominent throughout the night than had been the case the night before.

Moreover, unlike Segerstrom’s enveloping acoustic, VPAC has a dryer sound, which may have helped the balance but also diminished the sense of deep bass sonority except in certain key portions of the Shostakovich.

There was heightened pre-performance interest in Shostakovich’s fifth for a couple of reasons.

First, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by Jaap van Zweden, had just given an ultra-powerful performance of this best-known Shostakovich work last weekend in Walt Disney Concert Hall (REVIEW).

Second, Shostakovich’s music has been in the St. Petersburg Philharmonic’s DNA from the beginning. Mravinsky and the orchestra premiered five of Shostakovich’s symphonies (including the fifth in 1937) and the composer dedicated his eighth symphony to Mravinsky. Moreover, Temirkanov reportedly knew the composer.

The orchestra was absolutely at the top of its game in last night’s performance. The brass section was more prominent than in Segerstrom Hall and they sounded terrific, particularly in the Shostakovich. Everyone was locked in on Temirkanov, who — as always — conducted without a baton, using his hands and supple fingers instead to sculpture phrases and cue individuals with quiet gestures. He also invariably conducts with a score in front of him, a rarity in terms of conductors today.

The first movement was quite brisk and not as full of sturm und drang as one normally hears (although part of that may have been VPAC’s acoustics). The second movement featured razor-sharp precision from the strings’ pizzicato and the winds. In the third movement (in which the brass is silent throughout), the orchestra’s string sections unveiled that deep, sonorous Russian sound, with the cellos, in particular, digging deeply for their effects.

Much has been written about the symphony’s final movement — indeed, about the entire work. This was the piece with which Shostakovich regained favor with the Soviet government after a Pravda editorial (presumably authored by Joseph Stalin) had excoriated the composer for his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. Whether that final movement did, indeed, represent a note of triumph or sarcasm toward the government has been debated and will continue to be debated forever.

Some conductors lead the final movement with increasing speed and force. It’s certainly a valid concept, one made famous by Leonard Bernstein, among others. On the other hand, Temirkanov’s tempos were more stately (even more so than van Zweden used in the L.A. Phil performance) and, rather than accelerating in the ending pages, Temirkanov held to his deliberate tempos to the very end, an equally defensible tactic that made for a spine-tingling conclusion.

Following the justifiably deserved standing ovation, Temirkanov and Co. responded with a luscious reading of the Amaroso from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella as an encore.

For whatever reason, several local orchestras have elected to begin their programs recently not with overtures and concertos but with major single works. To cite but two examples: the Pasadena Symphony recently began a program with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and last week the Los Angeles Philharmonic ‘s program opened with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Wednesday night in Costa Mesa the folks from Russia opened with a 35-minute suite from Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet.

Neither Wednesday nor last night did Temirkanov pause to allow management to seat latecomers (Jaap van Zweden didn’t either after the first movement of the afore mentioned Beethoven’s 5th). Both conductors expected patrons to show up on time — what a concept!!! — although VPAC management did, regrettably, seat latecomers after the first movement

Garrick Ohlsson (pictured left), who has appeared quite frequently in these parts, was the soloist for last night’s performance of Brahms first piano concerto. As always, Ohlsson sat quietly as he waited while Temirkanov and his band essayed the stormy opening section of the concerto. Ohlsson then delivered a riveting, regal reading, alternating pulsating power and majesty with the most delicate playing in the soft sections.

I have always envisioned composers in heaven listening to people performing their music, and I like to think that Brahms would have turned to Mozart and said, “Now that’s exactly what I had in mind for this piece!”

As an encore, Ohlsson — who leaped onto the international scene when he won the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition — offered a playful, yet elegant rendition of Chopin’s Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3.

• There were no notes about the music in VPAC’s printed program book.
• Details about VPAC’s 2017-2018 season will be released May 5.

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: St. Petersburg Philharmonic plays Prokofiev and Ravel in Costa Mesa

My review of last night’s concert by Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (the one from Russia, not Florida) at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa is online in the Orange County Register HERE.

The orchestra plays Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist) tonight at Cal State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center — INFO

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