OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Kahane, Batjer, LACO offer sparking Respighi and West Coast premiere of a promising concerto

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Alex Theatre; Glendale. March 17, 2018
Respighi: Three Botticelli Pictures
Jaubert: Violin Concerto; Margaret Batjer, soloist
Haydn: Symphony No. 99 in E-flat major; Hob 1.99
Next performance: March 18 at 7:00 p.m. Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.laco.org

When a former music director returns to conduct his old ensemble, it’s always a matter of interest, especially since such returns happen infrequently in Los Angeles, although Esa-Pekka Salonen, now the L.A. Philharmonic’s conductor laureate, returns regularly to conduct the Phil and Zubin Mehta comes back occasionally.

Other local orchestras are not so willing to bring back a former conductor. Last June JoAnn Falletta came back to lead the Long Beach Symphony but that was after a 20-year absence. I’m not sure that a former Pasadena Symphony music director has ever come back to conduct and Carl St.Clair has been at the Pacific Symphony for so long (nearly 40 years) that he’s surely outlived his predecessors.

So when Jeffrey Kahane returned this weekend to conduct the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra — the ensemble that he led for 20 years before retiring last year — the large crowd at the Alex Theatre gave him ovations before and after the performances. The evening had the feel of a family reunion (Kahane, now LACO’s Conductor Laureate, expects to conduct at least once in each of the upcoming seasons).

In his preconcert dialogue with composer Pierre Jalbert, Kahane allowed that coming back was lots of fun: an orchestra he still knows very well and a gig that doesn’t include fund raising. The orchestra, for its part, delivered the sort of top-flight performance that we were used to hearing when Kahane was in charge. It did, indeed, seem like the good old days.

It was, in many ways, a typical Kahane program: a relatively unfamiliar tone poem followed by the West Coast premiere of a concerto that he was instrumental in commissioning before he left, and a familiar Haydn symphony. Owing to a medical issue, I had to leave at intermission and, therefore, missed the Haydn. The two pre-intermission works were plenty.

Respighi’s Three Botticelli Pictures were written in 1922 and inspired by, as the title says, a triptych of mid-15th century paintings by Sandro Botticelli.

The first movement, La Primavera (Spring), was played with spritely exuberance.

L’Adoracione del Magi (Adoration of the Magi),Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) had an Asian feel to it, helped in large part by the winds and, in particular, three of their principals: Kenneth Munday, bassoon; Joachim Becerra Thomsen, flute; and Claire Brazeau, oboe.

The third movement, La Nacita di Venere (The Birth of Venus), gave the strings the opportunity to cut loose with a luscious sound that was reminiscent of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. Kahane led everything with a sure, suave hand; it’s hard to believe that the work had appeared on only two previous LACO programs.

The evening’s centerpiece, figuratively if not necessarily literally, was the West Coast premiere of Jalbert’s Violin Concerto. Jalbert, who is a former LACO composer-in-residence and now teaches at Rice University, was commissioned by LACO, the Milwaukee Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and wrote the piece with each orchestra’s Concertmaster in mind.

The 26-minute work is in two movements. The opening movement, Soulful, mysterious, Scherzando, began with mysterious Asian sounds, aided notably by pianist Mark Robson, with the violin solo meandering above. Without warning, the “Scherzando” section gave Batjer a chance to show her virtuous chops before the movement turned back to its original feel.

The second movement (considerably shorter than the first and subtitled With Great Energy,) often had a Leonard Bernstein feel to it. Batjer delivered the formidable solo writing with the energy that Jalbert called for, particularly in the concluding cadenza.

It’s often hard to tell whether a piece has the legs to move into the repertoire, but this Violin Concerto certainly has promise. Whether other soloists will want to study and learn the music, any orchestra interested in programming it has at least three soloists they can choose to import.

(c) Copyright 2018, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEWS: Important, informative posts on this weekend’s LA Chamber Orchestra and LA Master Chorale concerts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Master Chorale’s concerts this weekend feature a performance of its Peter Sellars-directed production of Orlando Di Lasso’s “Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter).”

Both the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Los Angeles Master Chorale have major concerts this weekend (see the LINK to my column in print last Sunday). Since both concerts involve works that will be unfamiliar to many of those in attendance, it will be worth your while to link to the following sites:

• Violinist Laurie Niles on her Web site has an informative interview with LACO Concertmaster Margaret Batjer about the West Coast premiere of Pierre Jalbert’s Violin Concerto HERE. Former LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducts.

• CK Dexter Haven, on his informative Web site “All is Yar” (LINK) has an extensive interview with LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon on the company’s reprise of Peter Sellars production of Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter) by Renaissance composer Orlando Di Lasso.

Even if you are unable to attend, both posts are worth reading. If you are attending, you’ll have a better understanding of these two works after reading the above.

LACO INFORMATION: www.laco.org
LAMC INFORMATION: www.lamc.org

(c) Copyright 2018, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Camerata Pacifica unveils next two seasons, featuring The Calder Quartet

In an unusual twist, Camerata Pacifica has announced not just its next season but its next two seasons. Each schedule will feature 10 programs focusing on Beethoven’s music. The Calder Quartet will perform Beethoven’s late string quartets and his Grosse Fuge.

The media release with program details is posted below.


2018-2019 & 2019-2020 SEASONS



Each season features 10 programs offering a broad exploration of Beethoven’s music. The Calder Quartet will perform Beethoven’s late string quartets and Grosse Fuge and the programs will also feature contemporary works by a wide range of composers. Concerts take place in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, and San Marino.

Subscriptions on sale now at www.cameratapacifica.org

“…the best chamber music reason to get out of the house…” – Los Angeles Times

“… a powerful, modern thinking person’s program …” Santa Barbara News Press

(Tuesday, February 27, Santa Barbara, CA) – Camerata Pacifica today announced the ensemble’s 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 seasons which, in collaboration with The Calder Quartet, will explore the three creative periods of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Integrated into 20 programs presented over the course of two seasons, The Calder Quartet has been invited to perform Beethoven’s five late string quartets and the composer’s Grosse Fuge. Overall, 23 of Beethoven’s compositions will be performed alongside late works by the composer’s contemporaries such as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Brahms & Schubert, as well as modern-day composers John Adams, Lera Auerbach, Aaron Copland, Anna Clyne, George Crumb, John Harbison, Charles Ives, Thea Musgrave and more, for a broad and comparative look at the interplay of past and present, with respect to Beethoven’s early, middle and late periods.

“Beethoven’s name is so familiar to everyone, even to those who will never attend a concert, that his music has lost much of its radical impact. We’re going to hit the ‘reset’ button, and over course of 20 programs examine the impact of this revolutionary freethinker from the beginning of his compositional career to music being composed today,” says Adrian Spence, Founder and Artistic Director, Camerata Pacifica.

The 2018–2019 season opens September 9 -14, 2018 with a program that includes Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1, Haydn’s final Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI/52, and Brahms’s Sonata in D Minor for Violin & Piano, Op. 108, featuring Camerata Pacifica musicians Paul Huang (violin), Ani Aznavoorian (cello), and Warren Jones (piano). Huang and Aznavoorian join Gilles Vonsattel (piano) for a performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Santa Barbara Symphony on February 16 – 17, 2018.

Highlights of the 2018–2019 season include a program of Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano & Violin in C Minor, Op. 30, No. 2 and his last Piano Sonata, in C Minor, Op. 111, followed by Steve Reich’s provocative Different Trains with Kristin Lee (violin), Richard O’Neill (viola), Ani Aznavoorian (cello) and Gilles Vonsattel (piano), (February 8 – 14, 2018); Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840-60 and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127, with Molly Morkoski (piano), and The Calder Quartet (March 10 – 15, 2018); and an adventurous program of Musgrave’s Dawn for Solo Oboe, Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F Major, K. 370, Beethoven’s String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No 2, Richards’s de Stâmparare for Solo Oboe, Grime’s Oboe Quartet and Adams Book of Alleged Dances with Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Kristin Lee (violin), Richard O’Neill (viola), Ani Aznavoorian (cello), (October 17 – 21, 2018).

The 2019–2020 season opens September 8 – 13, 2019 with Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violin & Piano and Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke” and features musicians Paul Huang (violin), Ani Aznavoorian (cello), Gilles Vonsattel (piano).

Highlights of the 2019–2020 season include a program of Beethoven’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132 and Schubert’s final Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 with Gilles Vonsattel and The Calder Quartet (October 3 – 8, 2019); and a monumental program of J. S. Bach’s late works in its entirety; The Musical Offering BWV 1079 paired with Beethoven’s Op. 131 String Quartet in C# Minor.

The 2019–2020 season also features two programs dedicated to American composers whose stature rivals that of the finest European composers. Camerata Pacifica Artistic Director Adrian Spence joins Jose Franch-Ballester (clarinet), Kristin Lee (violin), Ani Aznavoorian (cello), Molly Morkoski (piano) in a program of Aaron Copland’s Duo for Flute & Piano, Harbison’s Songs America Loves to Sing, Crumb’s 11 Echoes of Autumn, and Bolcom’s 2nd Sonata for Violin & Piano (October 20 – 25, 2019). Spence then joins Nicholas Daniel, Jose Franch-Ballester, Martin Owen, Kristin Lee, Ani Aznavoorian, Tim Eckert, Molly Morkoski and Ji Hye Jung in a program of Auerbach’s Dreammusik, (a 2014 Camerata commission), Conesson’s Sextet, Clyne’s A Wonderful Day and Adams’s Gnarly Buttons (March 15 – 20).

The seasons would not be complete without the inclusion of works that give a nod to Spence’s Irish homeland. Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Three Intermezzi for Clarinet & Piano, Op. 13 opens the program on November 1 – 7, 2018; Sir Hamilton Harty’s Three Miniatures for Oboe & Piano is included on a program that will also feature Spence playing John Corigliano’s Three Irish Folk Song Settings on April 19 – 24, 2020; and Beethoven’s WoO Irish Song Settings will be performed May 12 – 17, 2019. (Beethoven arranged more traditional airs from Ireland than from any other country.)

Camerata Pacifica’s celebrated chamber musicians are drawn from across the globe – from Taiwan and Korea, to England and Spain and, of course, the U.S. – for an extended rehearsal residency in Santa Barbara before performing subscription series in Ventura, San Marino, Santa Barbara & downtown Los Angeles.

Subscriptions ($212–$522) and single tickets ($58) can be ordered online at http://cameratapacifica.org/season-tickets/order-tickets or by calling 805-884-8410.

Founded in 1990, Camerata Pacifica is dedicated to engaging audiences intellectually and emotionally by presenting the finest performances of familiar and lesser-known masterworks in venues that emphasize intimacy and a personal connection with the music and musicians. For more information, call 805-884-8410 or visit www.cameratapacifica.org.


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CLASS ACT ADDENDUM: Rafael Payare, David Robertson get new conducting posts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In this week’s print column, now ONLINE, I didn’t have space to include the appointment of Rafael Payare (pictured left) as the next music director of the San Diego Symphony, effective with the 2019-2020 season. He replaces Jahja Ling, who stepped down last year after a 13-year tenure.

Payare will serve as music director-designate next season and has a four-year contract. Concurrently he will step down as music director of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland.

Payare, 37, is a graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema program that also produced (among others) Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music and artistic director. Payare is married to cellist Alisa Weilerstein — they currently live in Berlin with their young daughter.

Of note: with Payare’s appointment in San Diego and Jaime Martín being named music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the region — where Spanish-speaking people now form a plurality, if not a majority, of the population — now has at least three music directors with Spanish as their native language.

Information: www.sandiegosymphony.org

Other conductor news:
• Santa Monica native David Robertson (pictured right) has been named director of conducting studies at The Juilliard School in New York City. According to the school’s media release (LINK), “As part of his new role, Mr. Robertson will be the principal teacher for all conducting degree students at the school. He will work with three or four students per academic year and will personally audition prospective students. Mr. Robertson will teach private lessons, a regular studio class, and work with the students as they conduct the Juilliard Lab Orchestra. In addition, he will select students to accompany him and assist at major orchestral engagements on his schedule.

“Mr. Robertson,” the release continues, “will conduct one major concert annually with the Juilliard Orchestra. He is already scheduled to lead the Juilliard Orchestra at Carnegie Hall this spring on April 2, 2018, in a program of Ives, Bartók, and Dvořák.”

Robertson, outgoing music director of the St. Louis Symphony, replaces Alan Gilbert in the position once held by former Pasadena Symphony Music Director Jorge Mester and PSO Music Advisor James DePreist.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin has pushed up his start date as the Metropolitan Opera’s music director two years, to next fall. He will continue as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Montreal’s Metropolitan Orchestra, but will relinquish his leadership duties at the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Nézet-Séguin is also cancelling several guest-conducting dates in Europe to facilitate his new Met start-up date. He will conduct three operas in the Met’s upcoming season.


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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: James McVinnie, L.A. Phil premiere Nico Muhly organ concerto

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; James Conlon, conductor
Nico Muhly: Register, for Organ and Orchestra (world premiere, LA Phil commission)., James McVinnie, soloist
Mussorgsky-Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
Tonight and Sunday: Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
Walt Disney Concert Hall; 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Next performances: Tonight at 8 p.m. Tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com

To kick off a very busy music weekend in Southern California and to conclude one of the most significant months in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s long and storied history, LA Opera Music Director James Conlon walked across 1st St. to Walt Disney Hall to lead a “Casual Friday” L.A. Phil concert that paired the “old” with the new.

The “old” was Maurice Ravel’s ultra-familiar 1922 orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The new was the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Register, for Organ and Orchestra, with British organist James McVinnie (pictured left) as soloist on the Disney Hall pipe organ.

Because this was a “Casual Friday” concert (drinks in the WDCH Gardens ahead of time and craft beer afterwar with the audience encouraged to dress casually), the work that will open tonight’s and tomorrow afternoon’s program, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, was omitted and the two other works were played without intermission.

At age 36 Muhly is one of the busiest and most sought-after composers plying his trade today, so it was something of a coup for the Phil to get him to write his first organ concerto. He played the organ in high school but views the instrument as the companion to the synthesizer. The new work is one movement, with three sections, and sped by in a brief 20 minutes.

Muhly collaborated closely with McVinnie, who he met in 2004 at Cambridge and with whom he has maintained a close relationship. Their first musical experience was in a small chapel on Clare College in Cambridge, from where McVinnie went on to become assistant organist at Westminster Abbey and then organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, among other appointments.

As Muhly explained in the preconcert lecture, the title, “Register,” has several meanings but the principal one is the art and science that the organist employs to make the organ produce the sounds he (and the composer) wants, a practice that is called “Registration.” Organists register the instruments by pulling and pushing the draw knobs that are to each side of the organ console (along with those on the pedal board) and also uses switches, known as couplers, to create various combinations of sounds.

As McVinnie noted in that same lecture, each organ has a unique sound. What he produced on the Disney Hall organ will be quite different than when he plays the piece on the Harrison & Harrison organ in Royal Albert Hall in a summer Proms concert.

McVinnie made ample use of many of the Disney Hall organ sounds but what was unexpected was how well he and the orchestra blended together. Except for the extended cadenza in between sections 2 and 3, it was often hard to tell whether McVinnie was producing the sounds or whether they came from the orchestra, which had an oversized brass section as well as numerous percussionists. That cadenza, with two extended pedal solos, gave McVinnie a real chance to shine.

Conlon conducted the orchestra carefully, attentive to the score and to his soloist. The orchestra appeared to relish playing Muhly’s music and did so with a high degree of panache. The ending, based on a Pavane in G minor by 17th century composer Orlando Gibbons, was so mysterious that the audience didn’t quite know what to make of it. They will the next time they hear the concerto.

Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s famous piano piece is easily the best known of about two dozen different arrangements, but in a short talk before the performance Conlon noted that the French composer was working from a version of the piano score by Rimsky-Korskov, not the original music. Conlon said that, since he had access to that original score, he added in a couple of extra parts to the 14 movements. I was really only aware of one addition; they certainly didn’t detract from the original score, which was commissioned in 1922 by Serge Kousevitzky.

Conlon — who conducted without a score — took tempos were stately for the most part, and the orchestra — apart from a couple of scrappy entrances — delivered a sumptuous performance, with noteworthy performances particularly from the brass and winds sections. It made for a popular piece with which to accompany the organ concerto and the audience responded with a predictably raucous ovation.

In addition to the Phil subscription concerts this weekend, other significant programs are:
• The Phil’s Toyota Symphonies for Youth concert this morning will feature the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate (and former music director) Esa-Pekka Salonen leading his composition Wing on Wing, which was written for the opening of Disney Hall 14 years ago. Information: www.laphil.com

• The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, led by guest conductor Douglas Boyd, will play tonight at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and tomorrow night at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The program will include the latest offering in LACO’s “Sound Investment” series — a work by Ellen Reid — Haydn’s Symphony No 104 in D Major, “London,” and Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, with Thomas Cooley as soloist.Information: wwwlaco.org

• The Valley Performing Arts Center offers a screening tonight of the 1954 film On the Waterfront, with Richard Kaufman leading the New West Symphony as it plays the acclaimed Leonard Bernstein score live to accompany the film. Information: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

• Carl St.Clair leads the Pacific Symphony tonight and Tuesday night in semi-staged performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the latest effort in the orchestra’s opera series. Information:www.pacificsymphony.org

• The next L.A. Phil subscriptions on March 2 and 3 features the U.S. premiere of A Trip to the Moon, another L.A. Phil commission, this time by Andrew Norman. Yuval Sharon will stage this piece and Teddy Abrams will conduct. The program also includes Holst’s The Planets. Information: www.laphil.com

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