OVERNIGHT REVIEW: A musically and visually superb “Creation”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Alberto Arvelo, video artistdirector
James F. Ingalls, lighting designer
Rachele Gilmore, soprano
Joshua Guerrero, tenor
Johannes Kammler, baritone
Next performances: today at 2 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. (without videos)
Information: www.laphil.com
_______________________

We are in the midst of a 10-day stretch when the Los Angeles Philharmonic has programmed three different oratorios, each performance with its own unique twist.

Next Thursday and Saturday, noted French-Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie is scheduled to lead the Phil in performances of Handel’s Messiah, with Labadie’s own choral ensemble, La Chapelle du Québec, singing the choral parts.

Next Friday and Dec. 18, the Phil and Los Angeles Master Chorale will perform a 21st century telling of the nativity story, El Niño, with the composer, John Adams, conducting both performances as part of the Phil’s year-long celebration of Adams’ 70th birthday, which actually occurs on Feb. 15.

Last night brought Haydn’s 1797 oratorio, The Creation, with LAPO Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel conducting 62 members of the Master Chorale and an orchestra reduced to equally appropriate numbers — both ensembles performing with their customary excellence — and three superb vocal soloists: soprano Rachele Gilmore, tenor Joshua Guerrero and baritone Johannes Kammler.

However, what made the evening unusual were that Dudamel’s Venezuelan counterpart, Alberto Arvelo, and lighting designer extraordinaire James F. Ingals combined to create a highly evocative video accompaniment to Haydn’s musical-portrait music.

Only once or twice have I experienced a program where the visuals added measurably to the enjoyment; more often, they’ve been a detriment or, at best, a confusion. Last night was the exception.

It began with the setting. Orchestra and chorus members were dressed in all black, as was Dudamel. The choristers were seated not in the choral benches but on risers directly behind the back row of the orchestra. Lighting for all was subdued.

The soloists were in between the two ensembles and were dressed in all white. That allowed Ingals’ subtle lighting changes to gently spotlight the soloists without having to be overbearing. Throughout the evening, the lighting cast a provocative mood over the entire proceedings.

Meanwhile, Arvelo used the ceiling, sides, and the seats and organ pipes above the empty choral bench seats as the backdrop for his shifting images to illustrate the texts and, in the case of the opening orchestral movement, the earth before creation, or as Haydn called it The Representation of the Chaos. Throughout the evening Arvelo used creation images from cultures around the world, including Africa, Japan, South America and native Californians.

In the preconcert lecture, Arvelo (a film maker whose work includes The Liberator, for which Dudamel wrote the score) noted that the creative process was turned upside down from his normal working procedure. “Instead of creating the movie and adding in the music,” he said, “in this case I had the music and texts and added the visual metaphors; they became poetry of images.” However you describe it, the entire visual integration was exemplary from beginning to end.

By the way, if you are dead-set against the use of projections, Sunday afternoon’s performance will be without the visuals.

The texts were in English. Haydn used simultaneous English and German versions of the texts, which — as program annotator John Magnum — noted made this the first major work printed with bilingual texts. The words — from the first two chapters of Genesis in the Bible, portions of the Psalms and some sections from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, may have been intended originally for Handel.

Although the texts last night were projected on the edges of the front balconies, most of the time the supertitling was unnecessary as both chorus and soloists sang with excellent diction.

All three soloists were excellent individually and they blended well in their trios. Gilmore was impressive both for her tone and in her melissmas, Guerrero’s tenor line was clean and effortless and Kammler’s voice was bright throughout his many solos.

Dudamel conducted with a score but did not use a baton. Instead, he used his expressive hands to encourage his singers — if Master Chorale Artistic Director Grant Gershon ever decides to take a sabbatical, Dudamel would make an excellent replacement. Even for, or perhaps especially for, those of us who have sung this work, it was an impressive performance.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVER:
• The first LAPO performance of The Creation was conducted in 1960 by Sir Georg Solti in (I presume) Philharmonic Auditorium. It was probably one of Solti’s last performances with the Phil; a year later Dorothy Chandler named Zubin Mehta as assistant conductor without bothering to inform Solti ahead of time. Thus the Hungarian conductor’s appointment as LAPO Music Director ended before it even began and the Mehta era came to pass, instead.
• Information on the Phil’s Messiah performances is HERE. Information on the El Niño performances is HERE.
________________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

NEWS: Ft. Worth Symphony settles labor dispute

On the heels of the end to the Pittsburgh Symphony setting its labor dispute (LINK) comes news that the Ft. Worth Symphony management and musicians have ended an even longer running strike. According to a story by Andrea Ahles in today’s Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (HERE), the end came after an anonymous benefactor pledged $700,000 to provide the resources necessary to make the agreement come to pass.

The Pacific Symphony remains in negotiations on a new labor agreement, although at least one report is that a settlement has been reached.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

CLASS ACT: New, old traditions highlight holiday music season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Tradition permeates every facet of holiday celebrations, especially music. One has only to hear a measure of Silent Night or Jingle Bells to instantly recognize the song and, indeed, to sing it.

However, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic takes the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage on Dec. 16 and 18, they will be performing a work that is not a tradition … at least, not yet. When John Adams’ El Nino debuted in 2000, the composer (and others) hoped that this so-called “nativity oratorio” would become a Christmas season staple, a 20th century version of Handel’s famed work, Messiah.

One reason that might prevent such an acceptance is the forces required to perform Adams’ 90-minute work. In addition to a full orchestra — with a percussion section that includes a glockenspiel, triangles, gong, almglocken, guiro, maracas, crotales, high cowbells, temple block, tam-tam, chimes, claves and two temple bowls, along with guitars, harp, piano and a sampler — the work is scored for chorus (in this case, the Los Angeles Master Chorale), children’s choir (the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus), and six vocal soloists, including three counter tenors.

Adams himself will be conducting the two L.A. performances and two of the counter tenors, Daniel Bubeck and Brian Cummings, sang in the world premiere in Paris. The performances will be part of the L.A. Phil’s season-long celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday (which will actually take place on Feb. 15).

For those who prefer a traditional telling of the nativity story, the Phil will intersperse El Nino with performances of Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 15 and 17. Noted French-Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie will lead the LAPO, his own chorus, La Chapelle de Quebec, and four soloists.

Information: www.laphil.com

There will be plenty of other Messiah performances throughout the month. Among them will be Julian Wachner leading the Choir of Trinity Wall St. Church in New York City and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra on Dec. 7 at Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. Information: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org.

Another performance will come from the Pasadena Master Chorale, led by Jeffrey Bernstein, performing on Dec. 11 at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

Among the churches offering Christmas programs this year will be La Canada Presbyterian Church, on Dec. 18. The centerpiece of the program will be a performance of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” a piece commemorating the 1914 Christmas truce during World War I. Tony award- and Emmy-award winning actor Courtney B. Vance will narrate the work. Information: www.lacanadapc.org
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

An interesting idea

This column appeared today on the New York Times online platform HERE.

It’s an interesting idea. Some of our local groups do have concerts in people’s homes, but they are more structured and more expensive. I’m surprised that more organizations — and freelance musicians — don’t create a Southern California version of this idea, which is called Groupmuse.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

PREVIEW: Dueling Chinese orchestras come to Southland Dec. 5 and 11

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Although it wasn’t intended that way, President-elect Donald Trump’s (perhaps) ill-advised contact with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has put an unexpected spotlight on two orchestra concerts this month.

The China Philharmonic, which was founded in 2000, will appear tonight (Dec. 5) at Walt Disney Concert led by its founder and music director, Long Yu. The program opens with Qigang Chen Enchantements oubliés and continues with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World). The concerto soloist will be 12-year-old Serena Wang, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Information: www.laphil.com

Meanwhile, the Taiwan Philharmonic, which dates from 1986 when it was known as the National Symphony Orchestra, makes its U.S. debut on Dec.11 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

Shao-Chia Lü leads the ensemble in the world premiere of Taiwanese composer Chun-Wei Lee’s The Last Mile and Tyzen Hsiao’s Violin Concerto, with Cho-Liang Lin as soloist in the concerto. The evening concludes with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

My suggestion: ignore the politics and enjoy the music.
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email