CLASS ACT: Choral concerts in La Cañada and Costa Mesa

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

My biweekly column is now online — LINK — but there are a couple of choral concerts I failed to include that are worth noting, both taking place next Sunday.

REFORMATION SUNDAY
This year (Oct. 31, to be precise) marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Tradition ascribes the beginning to when Martin Luther, an obscure Roman Catholic monk, nailed his Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences to the door of All Saints Church at Wittenberg, Germany on that date.

Although many churches will commemorate the anniversary in worship on Sunday, the La Cañada Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, soloists and orchestra, will present a concert at 2 p.m. on Sunday that revolves around music associated with the Reformation.

Among other things, Luther was a hymn writer, and his most famous hymn — A Mighty Fortress is Our God — will be performed in several guises during the concert, including Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 (Reformation), which uses the Luther’s famous tune — Ein Feste Burg — in the final movement.

Jack Lantz, the church’s music director, will conduct and will also offer a preconcert lecture beginning at 1:45 pm. The concert is free but a donation of $15 is requested from those who can afford it. Information: www.lacanadapc.org

PACIFIC CHORALE BEGINS 50TH SEASON

Although it’s only been around 1/10 of the life span of the Reformation, nonetheless 50 years is an important anniversary for a musical organization, and the Pacific Chorale begins its year-long celebration of half a century on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The Chorale’s new music director, Robert Istad, will lead his chorus, Pacific Symphony, Cal State Fullerton University Singers, Southern California Children’s Chorus and tenor Derek Chester in a wide-ranging concert that also commemorates the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein.

The program will include a performance of Bernstein’s Mass in a concert-version arrangement by Doreen Rao; a reprise of Songs of Eternity, a superb work by Southern California composer James Hopkins, which was commissioned for the Chorale’s 25th anniversary; and the U.S. premiere of A Celestial Map of the Sky by the Chorale’s new composer-in-residence Tarik O’Regan.

As a bonus, concert attenders will get to view the new outdoor court between Segerstrom Concert Hall and the Orange County Performing Arts Center’s original Segerstrom Hall. The 56,100-square-foot plaza features a large open space, multi-purpose stage, reflection pool, two green spaces — Theater Grove and Community Picnic Grove — an arrival court, and an outdoor restaurant.

Information: www.pacificchorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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LINK: A conversation with L.A. Philharmonic wind principals

CK Dexter Haven, who writes the excellent Blog entitled “All is Yar,” has an excellent article on his conversation with three of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s wind principal players: Principal Bassoon Whitney Crockett, Principal Flute Denis Bouriakov, and Principal Clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan. All came to the Phil from principal positions at the Metropolitan Opera.

LINK:

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NEWS: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus names new artistic director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Fernando Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, who for the past 13 years has served as music director of the American Boychoir in Princeton, NJ, has been named artistic director of the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, effective Aug. 1, 2018. He will replace Anne Tomlinson, who is retiring in 2018 after 22 years heading up the LACC.

Both organizations are among the premiere children’s choir organization in the United States and, indeed, around the world. Malvar-Ruiz becomes just the third artistic director/music director in LACC’s 32-year-history. Tomlinson succeeded Founding Co-Director Rebecca Thompson; thus, Malvar-Ruiz becomes the first male to lead the organization.

Malvar-Ruiz’s 13-year tenure with the ABC was highlighted by some 200 performances and up to five national and international tours annually and appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Olaf Choir, Westminster Choir and New York Choral Artists, among many others.

Under Malvar-Ruiz the ABC also appeared on the 77th annual Academy Awards and performed for the 9/11 Memorial Service broadcast live globally on CNN in 2006. He also conducted his choir on six recordings and served as the music director on the 2014 film Boychoir, inspired by the choir, directed by François Girard and starring Dustin Hoffman, Kathie Bates and Deborah Winger, as well as the American Boychoir.

Malvar-Ruiz, who has worked with children’s and youth choirs almost his entire professional career, notes his passion for working with this segment of the population is directly linked to three core beliefs.

“Music is an essential component of humanity,” he explains. “Our sense of being, what makes us human, needs music to exist and thrive in the same way that our bodies need food, water and air. Secondly, group singing, or choral music, is the most universal musical form of artistic expression; every known culture in the world, present or past, has some kind of collective singing. And finally, while music is a worthy end in itself — it does not need any justification to exist — it can also be a most powerful means to educate, empower, uplift, build character and generally enrich the lives of those who participate in it.”

LACC choristers are currently singing in LA Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen, a performance that L.A. Times Music Critic Mark Swed opined that “they stole the show in the crowd scenes at the beginning and end of the opera.” The Chorus also appears with the Los Angeles Master Chorale to open the LAMC season on Sept. 23 and 24.

The chorus opens its 2017-2018 concert season on Dec. 3 at Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series. Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: Feinstein, Pasadena Pops swing with Gershwin at the Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Saturday night’s Pasadena Pops concert before a large crowd at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Arcadia offered a diverse selection of music by George and Ira Gershwin, along with selections from composers who were either influenced by or contemporaries of the Gershwins.

However, the evening was also a good opportunity to see how Principal Pops Conductor Michael Feinstein has matured and improved both as conductor and ringmaster during his nearly five years leading the Pops. He could not have pulled off such a complicated program in 2013 with the panache that he did Saturday night.

As he often does in these types of programs Feinstein appeared as conductor, pianist, soloist, raconteur, historian and (as noted above) master of ceremonies over a cast that included two stellar vocal soloists, a pair of dancers and several Pops’ soloists. Altogether they performed 20 numbers on an evening that ran nearly two-and-one-half hours.

Feinstein’s conducting chops continue to improve year by year, although as he demonstrated when leading a performance of “Mambo” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” he’s no Gustavo Dudamel, (it’s also fair to note that five years ago he could not have conducted Dimitri Tiomkin’s “Mars Ballet” with the assurance with which he led Saturday’s stylish performance by the Pops).

Throughout the evening as he often does, Feinstein managed to exhume a couple of scores that have lain quietly in vaults for decades. He began the program with Ray Heindorf’s “Rhapsody in Blue Overture,” which was written for the 1945 movie but never used. “Mars Ballet,” which was written for the 1929 film “The March of Time,” was another of the evening’s “discoveries” that were receiving their first public performances.

The evening’s vocal soloists were Rachel York, who used her smoky seductive voice to full effect on “S’Wonderful, “Loved Walked In, “Swannee” and — most particularly on “The Man I Love;” and Jordan Danica, who took an evening off from “Hamilton” to sing a poignant rendition of “Ol’ Man River” along with “Fascinating Rhythm,” Sweet and Lowdown” and “That Certain Feeling.” Someone needs to feature Danica on a solo vocal program at an indoor locale such as The Broad Stage — he was terrific on Saturday!

Dancers Anna Petrova and Forrest Walsh negotiated a narrow sliver of the Arboretum stage with graceful élan on two sets of numbers.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Preconcert publicity had listed Madelyn Baillio as one of the soloists but she didn’t appear and no mention was made as to why.
• The publicity also listed “Someone to Watch Over Me” as one of the songs to be performed but it didn’t make the final list (too bad, it’s one my favorite Gershwin songs).
• The final concert in the Pops 2017 season is Sept. 9, when Feinstein leads a program of movie music from Universal Studios (last year it was Warner Brothers). Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Venezuela’s president lays into Gustavo Dudamel

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

According to Norman Lebrech on his Blog “Slipped Disc,” Los Angeles Philharmonic Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel has been publicly reprimanded by Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro because Dudamel urged his government to bring peace to the country (LINK).

Dudamel is also music director of the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra, flagship ensemble of Venezuela’s famed “El Sistema” music education program, which Maduro alluded to in his comments. Dudamel is also El Sistema’s most famous graduate.

So far, no comment from Dudamel. On the other hand, perhaps none is needed, other than to throw Maduro a pity party.

Dudamel returns to Hollywood Bowl next week to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in concerts Tuesday and Thursday. Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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