OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Garrick Ohlsson creates a magical Beethoven evening

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Ohlsson-2016I’ve never been big hearing on single-composer recitals — in fact, I can count on Mordecai Brown’s pitching hand the number of truly great concerts I’ve heard in this specialized genre. But Beethoven is no ordinary composer and Garrick Ohlsson is a uniquely gifted pianist, so his recital last night before a good-sized audience at Walt Disney Concert Hall proved to be the outlier to my listening history.

When my late wife (a concert pianist) was planning recitals she would often program a Beethoven sonata and it was usually the centerpiece of the evening. During her short career (cut short by MS) she played three of the four sonatas that Ohlsson performed last night but never would have conceived of programming four in one evening. Ohlsson made it work magnificently.

Strictly speaking, Ohlsson’s feat wasn’t a novelty. In recent years, pianists Paul Lewis and Andras Schiff have played the complete Beethoven sonata cycle over several programs.

However, so far as I can make out from his Web site, Ohlsson isn’t undertaking such a marathon He simply chose four of Beethoven’s best-known sonatas to make up this recital. All four have subtitles and all are in three movements (some of the composer’s efforts in this genre have four movements and a few have just two).

Dennis Bade, in his printed program essay, quoted Ohlsson as saying: “The great thing about the famous pieces of the repertoire is that they are famous because they are great! These sonata take no prisoners!” That, from Ohlsson’s perspective, was a good enough for his choices.

The Pathetique Sonata (Op. 11), which opened the evening, and the Moonlight (Op. 27, No. 2), which concluded the quartet were among Beethoven’s earlier efforts in this genre. The Appassionata (Op. 57) and Waldenstein (Op. 53) are from Beethoven’s middle period, and last night they formed the middle of a very tasty sandwich. Pathetique and Moonlight are the shortest of the four; thus the program formed a splendid arch.

Ohlsson is a joy to watch precisely because there is little to watch (compared to young pianist today, such as Yuja Wang and Lang Lang). He walks briskly on stage, sits quietly at the keyboard and plays magnificently. As I noted in my Hollywood Bowl review from this past summer, “There is a sense of serene calm to Ohlsson,” He emphasizes sonority in his bass notes and his right hand delivered pristine, pearly tones throughout the evening.

His Pathetique rendering was elegant, even in the stormy points, and Appassionata (which for most pianists would be the climax of the evening but here merely ended the first half) was appropriately passionate. The second half of the evening — featuring delicate swirling lines in Waldenstein and limpid serene pools in Moonlight — was even more satisfying than the pre-intermission performances.

In response to the thunderous standing ovation, Ohlsson announced he would play as an encore something that wasn’t Beethoven and needed no introduction: an exquisitely delicate performance of Debussy’s Clair du lune. The word breathtaking is often overused (including by me). In this case, it was exactly the appropriate description. What a gorgeous way to end the evening!

Hemidemisemiquaver:

Ohlsson will appear May 11, 12 and 13 with the New West Symphony playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor). Information
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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ADD: More info on L.A. Phil movie nights this week

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Los Angeles Philharmonic will screen three classic movies this weekend (here’s a LINK to my story on these sites) and it won’t be a one-off programming concept. Last Friday, the Phil and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (the folks who bring us the Oscars) announced that this weekend would kick off a three-year collaboration between the two groups.

rebel-4-blogNo details were announced on what might come in future years; some of that will, undoubtedly, depend on what transpires this weekend, which opens with Rebel Without a Cause on Thursday, continues with On the Waterfront on Friday and concludes with Casablanca on Sunday. INFORMATION

The media release on the new venture 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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Class Act: On Pacific Symphony labor issues and a grand slam Beethoven piano recital by Garrick Ohlsson

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Because some, but not all, of our online sites have my column from last Sunday up yet, I am posting a link HERE.

The top half of the column deals with the ongoing labor issues at the Pacific Symphony (along with those in Ft. Worth and Pittsburgh). As of this morning, there appears to be no update on the situation and the orchestra’s upcoming concerts — including the screenings tonight and tomorrow of the movie Home Alone, with the Pacific Symphony playing John Williams’ score live — appear to be still on. An orchestra spokesperson said that talks will resume on Tuesday — talking is always a good thing. Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

ohlsson-2016At the bottom of the column is a note on Sunday evening’s recital by pianist Garrick Ohlsson (pictured left) Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Ohlsson will play four (!) of Beethoven’s best-known piano sonatas, all of which contain subtitles: Pathétique, Moonlight, Waldenstein and Appassionata. Information: www.laphil.com

Check print Sunday and online (probably next week) for my preview of the upcoming L.A. Phil movie nights, featuring performances of Rebel Without a Cause on Nov. 17, On the Waterfront Nov. 18 and Casablanca Nov. 20, all with the Phil playing the scores live. Information: www.laphil.com
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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 Philharmonic offers transcendent Mahler 9th in Orange County

By Robert D. Thomas
Southern California News Group Music Critic

Once in a great while a concert ascends beyond greatness to transcendent. Saturday night’s performance at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic reached that level.

This was the second of three major orchestras being presented this fall by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County in a season celebrating the 10th anniversary of Segerstrom Concert Hall and the 30th anniversary of the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa.

For the LAPO this was the first concert on a short West Coast tour (other performances are in San Francisco, Davis and Seattle this week). It’s to the PSOC’s credit that it chose this work rather than the companion tour program, which concludes with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

It’s also to the large audience’s credit — and, of course, to the orchestra’s performance — that patrons waited a full minute after the final notes died away while Dudamel stood motionless on the podium, before he relaxed his posture, which elicited a thunderous, standing ovation.

Now age 35, Dudamel is in his eighth season as the Phil’s 11th music director. Some silver strands are creeping into his curly locks but he looks nearly as youthful as when he took the reins in 2009. His conducting style continues to be purposeful and elegant — every gesture has a musical reason behind it.

Although he was an experienced Mahler conductor before he came to the LAPO, primarily through his work with what is now called the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra, we have watched Dudamel mature during his frequent LAPO Mahler programs, which included two surveys in 2012 of the composer’s entire symphonic output.

The 9th — which Mahler composed in 1910 while suffering from a heart condition that would lead to his death a year later — is so important to Dudamel that when he took the Phil on a European tour in 2011 Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 was on the agenda.

However, Saturday night’s performance was in a class by itself. Conducting without a score, as he usually does for major pieces, Dudamel led an unhurried, majestic reading of this 80-minute work. Along the way were several illuminating moments — who realized, for instance, how many wonderful moments Mahler assigned to the second violins in the final movement?

Dudamel has now chosen several of his principal players, including Principal Horn Andrew Bain and the orchestra’s new principal trombone, David Rejano Cantereo, and they and their sections were exemplary throughout the performance. In addition to having both take solo bows afterward, Dudamel waded into the orchestra to give Bain an affectionate hug before shyly taking bows from deep within his ensemble.

Hemidemisemiquaver:
The third of the major orchestras on the PSOC series this fall will be the Berlin Philharmonic on Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. Outgoing Music Director Sir Simon Rattle will lead his ensemble in its first Orange County performance in 15 years, playing music by Webern, Schoenberg, Berg and Brahms. Information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

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NEWS: Joachim Becerra Thomsen named LACO Principal Flute

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

joachim-thomsenThe Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has named 21-year-old Denmark native Joachim Becerra Thomsen (pictured left) as its Principal Flute, succeeding David Shostac, who retired in May after 41 years with the orchestra.

Thomsen, who is pursuing a Professional Studies Certificate with Jim Walker at The Colburn School, is the youngest musician appointed to a LACO principal chair. He begins at LACO on Jan. 21, 2017 and fills one of three principal chairs vacant — the other recent retirees are violist Roland Kato and oboist Alan Vogel.

Thomsen’s appointment, coming in the final season of Music Director Jeffrey Kahane’s 20-year tenure with the orchestra, would seem to hint that LACO either doesn’t expect Kahane’s replacement to begin immediately upon the maestro’s departure next year or has already chosen his successor, hasn’t yet announced the selection and that person has signed off on this decision.

The media release follows:

Music Director Jeffrey Kahane has named Joachim Becerra Thomsen principal flute of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), one of the nation’s leading orchestras renowned for its wide-ranging repertoire and adventurous commissioning initiatives. A native of Denmark, Thomsen, 21, who begins his tenure Jan. 21, 2017, is the youngest musician ever appointed to a LACO principal chair. He comes to Los Angeles after holding the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s principal flute position in Helsinki, Finland, where he performed under the baton of such conductors as James Gaffigan, Manfred Honeck, Louis Langrée, Hannu Lintu, Santtu-Matias Rouvali and Tugan Sokhiev. Thomsen succeeds David Shostac, who retired as LACO principal flute in May after 41 years with the Orchestra.

“LACO Principal Flute Joachim Thomsen, who has a distinctive and ravishingly beautiful sound, superb musicianship and a wonderful presence, is an extraordinary and critically important new member of the Orchestra,” states Kahane. “In the crucial final chamber music round of the audition process, he also proved himself to be a first-rate chamber musician as well as a charismatic solo artist. I know that he will bring an electricity and special energy to the orchestra, which, I have no doubt, our audiences will feel immediately.”

“This opportunity to play in Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is a dream come true,” says Thomsen. “I am honored and can’t wait to start making music with its amazing musicians.”

Praised for his “golden sound” and “heartfelt musicianship,” Thomsen is the recipient of many of Denmark’s most prestigious music awards, including the Sonning Talent Prize; the Jacob Gade Honorary Award and Talent Prize; and the Rødovre Music Award. In addition to serving as principal flute of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Thomsen has also performed throughout Denmark as a soloist and chamber musician, collaborating with such highly regarded Baroque specialists as Aureliusz Golinski, Jakob Lorentzen and Bolette Roed. Additionally, Thomsen performed with the Odense Symphony Orchestra as a result of being named a semi-finalist in the Carl Nielsen International Flute Competition. He also performed regularly with such esteemed Scandinavian ensembles as the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, The Royal Danish Orchestra, the Copenhagen Philharmonic, Odense Symphony Orchestra and Malmö Symphony Orchestra, for which he won the audition for co-principal flute. Thomsen graduated with honors from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, where he studied with Ulla Miilmann, earning Bachelor and Master degrees in Flute Performance with special studies in Early Music. He is currently pursuing a Professional Studies Certificate with Jim Walker at the Colburn School.

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), proclaimed “America’s finest chamber orchestra” by Public Radio International, “one of the world’s great chamber orchestras” by KUSC Classical FM and “resplendent” by the Los Angeles Times, has established itself among the world’s top musical ensembles. Since 1997, LACO has performed under the baton of acclaimed conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, hailed by critics as “visionary” and a conductor with “effortless musicality and extraordinary communicative gifts.” Under Kahane’s leadership, the Orchestra maintains its status as a preeminent interpreter of historical masterworks and a champion of contemporary composers. During its almost 50-year history, the Orchestra has made 31 recordings, toured Europe, South America and Japan, performed across North America, earning adulation from audiences and critics alike, and garnered eight ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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