PREVIEW: Hollywood Bowl, La Canada Presbyterian offer Independence-themed concerts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

July 4th used to see a plethora of patriotic music concerts but each year there seem to be fewer and fewer of these events with more and more venues focusing, instead, on fireworks.

Hollywood Bowl continues the musical tradition, of course, with concerts on July 2, 3 and 4. Principal Conductor Thomas Wilkins leads the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, along with the rock group Chicago and, of course, the Bowl’s iconic fireworks.

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

1776 ImageFor a different concept, check out La Cañada Presbyterian Church, which will offer an “Americana” concert on July 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the church’s Sanctuary. Music Director Jack D. Lantz will lead a chorus of 53 singers and a professional orchestra of 55 in a program of patriotic music that will include selections from the 1969 Tony Award-winning musical 1776.

Tyler Wright will portray John Adams with Rebecca Sjöwal as Abigail Adams and another 12 cast members who will perform scenes from the musical by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone.

The program will also salute veterans, including those connected with the congregation, and the balance of the evening will feature familiar music ranging from John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare to John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. Admission and parking are free and the Sanctuary — 626 Foothill Boulevard, La Cañada — is handicap accessible.

The program is the final event on La Cañada Presbyterian’s “Ovations” series of more than a dozen music and drama events throughout the year. The 2016-2017 “Ovations” season will open on Oct. 30 with a performance of Fauré’s Requiem and other works for All Saints Day, which is Oct. 1.

Information: 818/790-6708; wwwlacanadapc.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Definitely not a “Pittance” when it comes to talent

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group
Pittance
The Pittance Chamber Music Ensemble will relocate from the LA Opera pit to Pasadena Conservatory of Music Wednesday night. (Photo credit: Brenden-John Photography)
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One of the amazing aspects of living in Southern California is the incredibly deep well of musicians who live and perform in our area. Much of that emanates from the entertainment industry, where each day hundreds of musicians perform for scores of upcoming movies, television shows, commercials and other productions.

Those talented people also end up playing in the area’s orchestras, opera companies, musical theatre pits and chamber music ensembles. There are so many groups that it’s often hard to differentiate among them. So I love it when a group comes up a cute name and unique vision — it makes me sit up and take notice.

Which leads me to Pittance Chamber Music, which will perform a diverse program ranging from Beethoven to Germont Wolfgang on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. in Barrett Hall at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music.

The group is comprised of members of the LA Opera Orchestra and Chorus, who are often invisible in the pit of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion but who are also — individual and collectively — among the cream of the area’s musicians.

Violinist Lisa Sutton, who is the Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, founded the group in 2013. “The original idea behind Pittance was to raise up the extraordinary yet invisible musicians of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra from the pit to the stage to perform in small ensembles,” says Sutton, hence the name ‘Pittance,’ a play on words referring to these smaller offerings from the orchestra pit.” (See the group’s tongue-in-cheek “vision statement” HERE)

In addition to Sutton, performers Wednesday will include Leslie Reed and Jennifer Johnson, oboe; Sarah Beck, English Horn; Judith Farmer, bassoon; Heather Clark, flute; Greg Goodall, Marimba; Robert Cani, violin; Paul Floyd and Lisa Edwards, piano; Rebecca Tomlinson, soprano; Heather Quintana, mezzo-soprano; Omar Crook, tenor; and Steve Pence, bass-baritone.

Later this month the group will announce its inaugural three-concert season, which will begin Oct. 9 with two programs taking place at the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall of the Pavilion and one at The Colburn School’s Zipper Hall.

Sutton’s decision to focus the group on chamber music is in stark contrast to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, which for years has held a series of concerts with the entire Met Orchestra led by now-outgoing Music Director James Levine. It also means Wednesday’s ticket prices are a “pittance,” compared to the Met Orchestra concerts.

Tickets for Wednesday night’s performance are $35, $20 for seniors and $10 for students with valid ID. Ticket information: www.pittancechambermusic.org
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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: Hollywood Bowl, Pasadena Pops open seasons

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

hollywood-bowl-post1 Hollywood Bowl’s summer season opens this month.

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One of the joys of living in Southern California in the summertime is the plethora of outdoor music programs available. Virtually every genre is represented and the venues are part of the reason why tens of thousands of people turn out each weekend for music and accompanying picnics.

The largest, best-known venue with the widest programming options is HOLLYWOOD BOWL. If you haven’t been there in a few years (or at all), this is the year to check out the venerable venue.

The 38th annual Playboy Jazz Festival — one of the nation’s oldest and most important jazz programs — kicks off the summer season on June 11 and 12, with each day beginning at 3 p.m. George Lopez hosts and the lineup includes Fourplay, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Seth MacFarlane, and Janelle Monáe.

The official Bowl opening concert is June 18 at 8 p.m. Principal Conductor Thomas Wilkins leads his Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, with guest artist Steely Dan, and the Bowl’s legendary fireworks conclude the evening. The classical season begins July 12, with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program that includes pianist Lang Lang.

One of the things that makes the Bowl so attractive is the wide number of ways to get to the Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre. Forget driving and the stacked parking at the Bowl. There are several off-site shuttle lots available and 14 Park and Ride locations throughout Southern California. The cheapest way is to take the Metro Red Line subway to the Hollywood-Highland stop and then either walk up the hill or take the free Bowl shuttle from a lot on Orange Avenue.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com

Style: "p25+-Ipro"THE PASADENA POPS opens its 2016 outdoor season at the bucolic Los Angeles County Arboretum on June 18 at 7:30 p.m. Principal Pops Conductor Michael Feinstein (pictured left), whose contract has just been renewed through the 2019 season (LINK), will lead a program spotlighting the music of Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee, with soloists Madelyn Baillio, Cady Huffman and Lynn Roberts supplying the vocals. (BTW: Baillio was recently chosen to star in NBC’s Hairspray Live!)

Feinstein has become one of the great local success stories. After a successful debut concert as a soloist with the Pops, he stepped into a musical leadership role with the orchestra when Marvin Hamlisch, who had been the Pops conductor, died unexpectedly in 2013.

Despite having virtually no conducting experience, Feinstein has grown substantially as a conductor He has shown an uncanny ability to build interesting programs and make them come alive with his storytelling and deep historical music knowledge. Moreover he has found in the Pasadena Pops an eager partner in expanding Feinstein’s perusal of “The Great American Songbook.”

Feinstein will lead three of the five concerts during the upcoming summer season on the tree-lined “Great Lawn” concert venue. He will also appear as soloist in “The Sinatra Project, Volume 2” on July 30. Resident Pops Conductor Larry Blank will lead the Sinatra concert and also a program of music by Billy Joel.

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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REVIEW: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, L.A. Master Chorale conclude seasons with first-rate concerts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

ThreeLittlePigs_07_22_0-002-500x375”The Three Little Pigs” was one of the Disney “Silly Symphony Cartoons accompanied by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Saturday night at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
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Three major Los Angeles classical music institutions closed out their 2015-2016 seasons over the past weekend. I didn’t have time to catch the Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts (you can read Mark Swed’s glowing review in the Los Angeles Times HERE) but the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Los Angeles Master Chorale capped their seasons in typically first-rate fashion.

Using live orchestras to accompany movies has become a favorite programming tool for orchestras nationwide recently but the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has been at it for more than a quarter century. For the first 25 years, LACO accompanied silent films at UCLA’s Royce Hall, but last year it elected to dip into the Walt Disney Company vault for some of its famed cartoons for which the orchestra provided live musical accompaniment, a trickier assignment than silent movies.

Saturday LACO kept the Disney connection but shifted venues to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and chose seven of Disney’s “Silly Symphony” cartoons for the program. Composer-conductor Mark Watters again manned the podium and, as is to be expected, the orchestra played splendidly, including providing a wide range of sound effects. I write, “as is to be expected,” because a huge percentage of the musicians make their daytime living by playing for orchestras in the Hollywood sound stages.

The program for this fund-raiser concert was short on music (the selections added up to less than an hour) but was, nonetheless, fascinating. For one thing, the evening demonstrated that marrying live playing to film isn’t easy. A few seconds into Saturday’s opening number, Watters’ click-track monitor malfunctioned, which necessitated everything grinding to a halt. LACO Executive Director Scott Harrison did a good job vamping while technicians replaced the monitor.

Two things were particularly noteworthy during the evening. That opening number — Overture from the 1938 short Mother Goose Goes Hollywood — included clips from all 75 “Silly Symphony” cartoons. But what was even more interesting was that the seven other selections were presented in chronological order, which allowed audience members to see the technological and animation developments over the decade from 1929 to 1939.

According to David A. Bassert’s excellent program notes, the “Silly Symphony” concept grew out of a discussion between Walt Disney and his first musical director, Carl Stallings. The idea was to create the musical composition first and then create the story and the animation. It was an idea that would reach its ultimate fruition in 1940 with the making of Fantasia.

Among the incidental intelligence from the evening:
Flowers and Trees (1932) was the first to use the new Technicolor three-strip color process, for which Disney negotiated a contract that gave him exclusive rights to the revolutionary process through 1935.
The Three Little Pigs (1933), arguably the most famous of the 75, included Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, written by Frank Churchill, who would go on to write legendary songs which as Whistle While You Work and Some Day My Prince Will Come from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. From where I was sitting in the hall, it was hard to hear the text and singing, but at least the adults who grew up on this cartoon, it wasn’t a big deal.
• The music for The Ugly Duckling was written by Alfred Hay Malotte, whose setting of The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most famous religions songs ever written.

Given the vast amount of material in the Disney vaults, this programming concept looks as if it can continue well into the future. Frankly, it would be more interesting to see some of Disney’s full-length animation efforts, as well as the cartoons.
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LA Master Chorale Artistic Director Grant Gershon introduced the Sunday evening concert by noting that the pieces, which ranged from pre-Baroque to the present, were selected for their aural brilliance and, of course, to give Chorale the opportunity to shine.

Apparently Gershon wasn’t too concerned about the audience being able to read the lyrics since the Chorale elected not to project the words and the lights were usually too low to read the small-sized type in the printed program.

To my ears, the two opening works — Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti and Miserere, which was probably written by Gregorio Allegri (and transcribed from memory by Mozart) — and the final two pieces — Au-Delà Du ChagrinZXX by Sydney Guillaume and Moses Hogan’s eight-part arrangement of Elijah Rock — were easily the high points of the evening (literally in the case of the Miserere, which featured an octet in the top balcony behind the Chorale with a soprano who floated a high C).

The Guillaume piece’s text, written by his father, Robert — a poem entitled Beyond the Sorrow — was sensitively delivered by the Chorale, and Elijah Rock did exactly that in the lively acoustic of Disney Hall.

Whitacre-MCEric Whitacre (pictured left), who becomes the Master Chorale’s first Artist in Residence next fall, gave a preview of what’s to come to when he conducted his arrangement of Enjoy the Music, which was originally written by the British synthpop band Depeche Mode. The choral version, which was released in 1990 as a single, was effective although it doesn’t really say much about where Whitacre is a quarter-century later as a composer.

He followed that with Mouyayoum, a wordless meandering of singers’ pitches by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg that Whitacre said would be 14 minutes long but, mercifully, wasn’t. I’ve never been a big fan of Hillborg’s work and this early piece did nothing to change my opinion. It must have been devilish for the Chorale to learn, although if someone made a mistake who would have known?

Lesley Leighton is stepping down after six years as the Master Chorale’s associate conductor (and even more as a singer) and she and the Chorale delivered lyrical performances of Three New Motets, written in 2006 by Steven Stucky, who passed away in February. The performances were a fitting tribute to a composer long associated with Los Angeles and a lovely swan song for Leighton, who received a thunderous standing ovation from the audience and the Chorale before she mounted the podium.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Gershon and the Master Chorale will perform Tan Dunn’s Water Passion on Friday at Chicago’s outdoor Ravinia Festival.
• One of the advantages of the Orpheum Theatre is that is can be reached relatively by public transit. Several bus lines run close to the theatre and the Metro Red and Purple subway lines stop at Pershing Square, a flat, four-block walk from the theatre.
• Disney Hall, of course, is also readily reachable by public transit. The Red and Purple lines stop at the Civic Center/Grand Park station. The only problem is that the walk up the hill from the 1st and Hill exit is very steep. When Angels Flight was running you could take that to the top of Bunker Hill and have a flat walk across plazas to Disney, but no one knows when that ancient L.A. landmark will resume operation. The Downtown Regional Connector (LINK), currently scheduled to open in 2020, will provide elevators from the 2nd/Hope St. station to Bunker Hill (next to the Broad Museum), which will make the trip even easier.
• LACO’s opening orchestra concerts for its 2016-2017 season are Sept. 24 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and Sept. 25 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Jeffrey Kahane will open his 20th and final season as LACO’s music director with a program that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. INFO
• The LAMC opens its 2016-2017 Disney Hall season on Oct. 29 and 30 with a staged production of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter). Gershon will conduct 21 singers and Peter Sellars offers his first production of an a cappella choral work. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: End of an era: Cal Phil announces final outdoor summer season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The California Philharmonic will end 20 years of summer outdoor concerts with a season of three performances beginning July 23 at Santa Anita Racetrack’s performing arts venue. The orchestra will also play four concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall beginning July 10. Music Director Victor Vener is scheduled to lead all performances.

The outdoor season represents a reduction from the five concerts that have been held since Cal Phil shifted from the Los Angeles County Arboretum to Santa Anita Racetrack five years ago. The orchestra’s media release offered no explanation as to why this would be the last outdoor season but did say that the orchestra would continue perform in the summer at Disney Hall.

One of the things that has made Vener unique is that he mixes classical and pops repertoire for each of his concerts; other groups tend to play one genre or the other in their programs. For example, the July 23 Cal Phil concert will meld Scheherazade and Haydn’s “Miracle” Symphony with music from Prince, Queen, David Bowie and Michael Jackson.

When the Cal Phil shifted from the Arboretum to Santa Anita five years it marked the sixth outdoor venue in which Vener had worked — others included Descanso Gardens in La Cañada, the Rose Bowl, Starlight Bowl in Burbank and the steps of the Pasadena City Hall. Vener and the Cal Phil have also performed at Disney Hall every summer since it opened more than a decade ago.

Details on the upcoming season: 626-304-0333; www.calphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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