NEWS: Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla takes a giant step

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

The news that Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla has been named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England has become a big deal in the classical music world. It’s a giant step for the 29-year-old Latvian-born conductor (her name is pronounced MEER-gah grah-zhee-NEE-teh tee-LA), who succeeds Andris Nelson, who left the CBSO to become music director of the Boston Symphony. Among her predecessors is Sir Simon Rattle, who moved from the CBSO to become music director of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1998.

Her appointment helps crack open the glass ceiling that has held down women conductors in recent years, so she will be under even greater scrutiny than would be the case for one of the world’s foremost orchestras.

Michael Cooper broke the story in the New York Times (LINK). Mark Swed, music critic at the Los Angeles Times, who has been among Mirga’s biggest supporters since her Hollywood Bowl debut in 2014, offers an excellent perspective 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: Jaap van Zweden named New York Philharmonic music director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

With the New York Philharmonic’s decision to hire Jaap van Zweden as its next music director (LINK), the merry-go-round of music director searches among the nation’s largest orchestras comes to a temporary halt (barring death, serious illness or conductor-management conflict nearly all of the recently appointed music directors are signed to 2021-22 or beyond). The New York Times article on van Zweden’s appointment is HERE.

There are, of course, several orchestras seeking leaders. Lisa Hirsch in her “Iron Tongue of Midnight” Blog (HERE) lists some here although she apparently thinks that the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Long Beach Symphony are not important enough to merit her attention (the San Diego Symphony does make her list). However, for the largest U.S. ensembles, the searches are over, for the moment.

The NYPO decision to tap van Zweden (his name is pronounced Yahp van ZVAY-den) predictably met with mixed reaction in the press and elsewhere (see Hirsch’s Blog HERE for a list of media reviews). The 55-year-old Dutch native currently leads the Dallas Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic but stepping up to the NYPO will be a quite different challenge and the media folks are quick to point up the issues.

Chief among them is that the NYPO will have to raise big, big bucks to renovate its home, now known as David Geffen Hall, and the orchestra will have to find new home(s) for at least two years when the project begins, tentatively set for 2019.

What’s interesting to note (from my perspective) is how the choices came down overall. Three of the orchestras chose young conductors (Gustavo Dudamel by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Yannick Nézet-Séguin by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Andris Nelsons by the Boston Symphony) while three went for older maestros (van Zweden, Riccardo Muti, 74, by the Chicago Symphony, and Gianandrea Noseda, 51, by the National Symphony of Washington, D.C.).

No women or U.S. born folks made the cut; all except Dudamel are white males from Europe or, in the case of Nézet-Séguin, Canada. Two are from Italy; Nelsons is from Latvia. At least one woman, Los Angeles Philharmonic Associate Conductor Mirga Grazintye-Tyla, has seen her name mentioned lately as a potential up-and-coming leader.

All except Muti have other music director commitments, two of them — Dudamel with the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin with the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal — long-standing relationships with ensembles that nurtured their talent early (good for them, IMHO).
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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“I’m back!”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

My “regular” job as Director of Administration and a member of the pastoral staff at Pasadena Presbyterian Church has caused me to lay aside my music critic/columnist role during an ultra-busy holiday season but I’m back on a semi-regular basis now.

During my hiatus, we’ve lost some musical giants to death — including Kurt Masur and Pierre Boulez — and retirement — Michelle Zukovsky (LINK).
In addition, the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C. has made a fascinating choice for its next music director in Gianandrea Noseda (LINK)

Meanwhile, our ultra-busy musical life plunges ahead here in Southern California.

During the past several seasons, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has played a single concert at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena (which long ago was its home). During these “Discover” concerts, Music Director Jeffrey Kahane takes the first half of the evening to explain a major work and then leads the orchestra in a complete performance of the work.

This year’s 8 p.m. concert tomorrow will feature Bach’s Cantata No. 140, known as Sleepers Awake because of the Advent-themed tune that dominates the work. For tomorrow night’s performance, LACO will be joined by the USC Thornton School Chamber Singers, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and three soloists.

Information: www.laco.org

For a choral experience of a totally different sensation, consider the Los Angeles Master Chorale performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” on January 30 at 2 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Artistic Director Grant Gershon will lead 110 choristers, four soloists and an orchestra in this monumental work with dynamics ranging from the softest solos to roof-rattling full-ensemble climaxes.

The latter will be accentuated by antiphonal trumpets placed around Disney Hall and a custom-built double bass drum to be used in the Dies Irae section. True confessions: while singing the Verdi Requiem would be a real treat, what I always wanted to do was whack that double bass drum.

Information: www.lamc.org

Speaking of rattling the Disney Hall rafters, organist Paul Jacobs and soprano Christine Brewer will make an unusual combination in a duo-recital at Disney Hall on this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Among the unusual choices of repertoire will be several pieces by Nadia Boulanger, who was better known as a teacher in the early 20th century than for her compositions.

The program comes from a recently released recording, “Divine Redeemer,” by the artists who will sign copies of the CD after the concert. For organ traditionalists, the evening will end with Jacobs playing the famous “Toccata” from the Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor.

Information: www.laphil.com

Among the notable orchestral concerts coming up, Music Director Marcelo Lehninger will lead his New West Symphony in concerts tomorrow night in Oxnard, Saturday night in Thousand Oaks and Sunday afternoon in Santa Monica. The program will feature music by George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel. Finnish pianist Denis Kozhukhin will be the soloist in Ravel’s G Major Concert.

Information: www.newwestsymphony.org

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic Conductor Laureate, returns to Disney Hall for a nearly month-long series of concerts that begins Jan. 29, 30 and 31 when he leads the Phil in performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with another familiar figure, pianist Yefim Bronfman as soloist.

It would be tempting to call this a program of “firsts,” except that the concerto was actually the second that Beethoven wrote. Since it was published before the B-flat major concerto, the C Major concerto became listed as No. 1.

Information: www.laphil.com

Salonen will return to lead the Phil during mid-February in two programs as part of his “City of Light” festival, which features French music spanning a century. Among the other programs in the festival will be Music Director David Robertson leading his St. Louis Symphony in a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles, a 90-minute work inspired by Utah’s national parks, including Bryce Canyon.

Information: www.laphil.com

Full information on the “City of Light” festival is HERE.

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

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OBIT: Famed choral musician Sir David Wilcocks dies at age 95

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Although none of our local media (nor even national media) have paid much notice, Sir David Wilcocks died Thursday at the age of 95. Unless you’re a choral musician, the name might not mean anything, although it’s quite likely that some of the carols you have sung in Christmas Eve service were arranged by this remarkable English conductor-composer-arranger, etc. Christmas Eve for me doesn’t really start until we have sung O Come, All Ye Faithful in the Wilcocks arrangement.

Wilcocks also edited, with composer John Rutter, a series of carol books that are widely used by choral groups both in churches and secular settings. Moreover, as the obit in the Manchester Guardian HERE shows, he was a prolific musician in many areas and even won a Military Cross during World War II.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: LACO names Scott Harrison as Executive Director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has named Scott Harrison as its new Executive Director. Harrison, who will begin on October 6, succeeds Rachel Fine, who left LACO earlier this year.

Harrison, 35, comes to Los Angeles from Detroit where he served as Vice President for Advancement and External Relations for the Detroit Symphony, which underwent a bitter labor strike in 2011. At LACO, Harrison will have a hand in the search for replacing Jeffrey Kahane as the orchestra’s Music Director; Kahane will step down at the end of the 2016-2017 season.

Read the full media release on Harrison HERE.

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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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