Last-minute Christmas gift needs? Tickets are the best choice

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Daily News/Daily Breeze/Long Beach Press-Telegram

Even at this late date I get someone asking me what to give to a classical-music loving friend. Earlier this month Mark Swed, in the Los Angeles Times (LINK) offered a well-researched compendium of new recordings. However, with all due respect to my esteemed colleague I think he missed the boat. The best gift you can give to a classical music lover isn’t a recording. It’s tickets.

There’s no denying that technology has produced some stupendous recordings, both audio and visual. Nonetheless, music resonates best when it is performed — and heard — live. The interplay between artist and audience cannot be duplicated on a recording, no matter the technological marvels. So give your recipient tickets instead.

You can start with the obvious: the Los Angeles Philharmonic. There’s still half a season left for the Phil but one of my choices would be the concerts on March 12 and 13 when Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will lead the Phil in John Adams City Noir and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World), just before they will take off on an Asian tour with these pieces.

If you have never heard City Noir, which was written for Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts, I think you’ll find it to be a terrific piece of music that would be enjoyed by almost anyone. Of course, the New World symphony is one of the most beloved works ever written. INFO

One reason to attend L.A. Phil concerts is the chance to hear music inside Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the world’s great venues from an acoustical and visual point of view. However, there are other groups appearing throughout the year where prices are lower than those for the Phil. One is The Colburn Orchestra, one of the nation’s premiere conservatory ensembles, which will appear Jan. 18 when Sir Neville Marriner leads performances of Holst’s The Planets and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with Blake Pouliot as soloist. INFO

Other ensembles appearing on the Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series (with reasonably priced tickets) are the USC Thornton Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 24, the American Youth Symphony on March 7, and The Colburn Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, on April 24. All offer fine music at a great value.

This is the first season for David Lockington as music director of the Pasadena Symphony and their concert on Valentine’s Day at Ambassador Auditorium will be particularly appropriate because the soloist will be Lockington’s wife, Dylana Jensen. Before you dismiss this ss pure nepotism, know that Jensen is a superb violinist who in 1978 was the first American to win a silver medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition. With the PSO she will solo in Shostakovich’s lyrical Violin Concerto No. 1; the program will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. INFO

One of the great benefits to tickets in Southern California is that price is no barrier. Because of the amazing depth and breadth of musical talent in Southern California there are wonderful concerts throughout the year, many of which are free or modestly priced. Among the groups that perform free concerts are the Peninsula Symphony in Redondo Beach, the Rio Hondo Symphony in Whittier, and the American Youth Symphony at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

There are other groups where tickets are either modestly priced or free; do a little Internet sleuthing to uncover them. Just remember that “free concerts” are not really free; someone is footing the bill so donations are always gratefully appreciated.

Finally, when you give tickets, don’t just provide pieces of paper or cardboard. Take the time to make the concert an event. Take your friend to dinner beforehand or dessert afterwards. Arrange to pick them up and drive them. Dress up — whatever that means to you. Make it all special — as it should be!

Finally get a head start on Christmas giving by attending one of the Christmas Eve concerts discussed in my post HERE. Oh, any by the way; Merry Christmas!
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Christmas Eve services offer sublime music

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Even if the day means nothing to you from a religious standpoint, Christmas Eve represents a night to hear some wonderful music … and you even get to join in the music making in many instances. Moreover there are no ticket admission charges, although you’re certainly include a donation when the offering plate passes. Here are Christmas Eve programs from four locales in our readership area:

Westwood United Methodist Church
10497 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90024
310/474-4511; www.westwoodumc.org

A pre-service concert at 10:30 p.m. features the church’s Chancel Choir, soloists and an orchestra, led by Minister of Music Gregory Norton, in selections from Handel’s Messiah. The candlelight service at 11 p.m. adds organist Jaebon Hwang to the musical mix that includes congregational singing of Christmas carols.

St. Frances de Sales Church
13360 Valleyheart Drive
Sherman Oaks 91423
818/784-0105; www.sfdsparish.com

Jenine Wagner directs the church choir in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Noel and selections from Handel’s Messiah in a service that begins at 11:15 p.m. with the singing of Christmas carols. A string quartet and organist Stephen Park accompanies the musical works.

Pasadena Presbyterian Church
585 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena 91101
626/793-2191; www.ppc.net

Yes, I realize it’s my home church so — to quote the sage words of the late, great Molly Ivins — you can take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt. Organist Meaghan King begins the Christmas Eve service at 8:40 p.m. with three selections from Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of the Lord), concluding with Dieu Parmi Nous (God With Us). During the Candlelight Communion Service, Dr. Timothy Howard, the church’s organist/music director, will lead the Kirk Choir and Handbell Choir and the congregation joins in singing in seven Christmas carols. As a bonus, soprano soloist Judith Sirilla sings O Holy Night.

St. James’ in the City
3903 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90010
(213) 388-3417; www.saintjamesla.org

The Choir of Saint James’, led by organist/music director James Buonemani, and an instrumental ensemble lead the 10:30 p.m. Holy Eucharist Christmas Eve service. There’s also a service featuring Gregorian chant on Christmas Day at 10:30 a.m.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: John Adams’ “City Noir” garners two Grammy nominations

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

I never get too excited about the Grammys, in part because I choose to spend my money on other pursuits, but I found this morning’s announcements about the 2015 Grammy nominations to have at least one note of irony. John Adams’ City Noir was nominated in two categories this year — Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Classical Album — thanks to a Nonesuch recording by David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony.

What’s ironic, of course, is that Adams’ work was written for Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural concert as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2099 (Adams serves as the Phil’s Creative Chair). A live recording of that concert is available but apparently the nominators were more impressed with Robertson’s studio effort last year.

Dudamel and the Phil will reprise City Noir on March 12 and 13, 2015 at Walt Disney Concert Hall and then play it as part of tour to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo during the following two weeks.

Read all the 2015 Grammy nominations HERE. The classical nominations are categories 72 through 81.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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The Music Center at 50: Thoughts on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s future

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Pavilion4WebWill the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion one day have a new name?
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The New York Philharmonic announced last month that it has reached agreement with the family of Avery Fisher, which will enable the orchestra to seek a donor who would make a major financial gift to what is reported to be a $500 million makeover of the ensemble’s Lincoln Center home now called Avery Fisher Hall. In exchange, the donor would have his/her/its name placed on the hall. Details and the history of these touchy negotiations are in a New York Times article HERE.

Reactions have been interesting. Musicologist Norman Lebrecht, in his Blog Slipped Disc (HERE) called Lincoln Center (or the Phil) “ungrateful bastards” and opined “Morally, this sucks.” Anne Midgette in the Washington Post (HERE) hopes that a corporate name won’t be stuck on the building.

My initial reaction to both columnists was, “Huh?” Nearly everyone agrees that Avery Fisher Hall is a poor hall acoustically (to put it charitably) and needs to be renovated. When George Szell first conducted in it, he reportedly suggested blowing up the building and starting over. The current plan apparently is to keep the building’s Greek-classical exterior while gutting the interior.

However, the obvious question is who is going to pay for this? The New York Phil is undeniably a strong marketing factor for the city but there’s no way the city will be likely ante up half a billion dollars. So how can the Phil be blamed for negotiating this deal with the Fisher family?

There are two recent examples of individuals donating big bucks in exchange for naming rights in the Big Apple.

“The New York State Theater at Lincoln Center became the David H. Koch Theater in 2008,” wrote Robin Pogrebin in her NYT article, when Mr. Koch, the oil-and-gas billionaire, contributed $100 million toward its renovation. That same year, the New York Public Library’s flagship on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street was named for Stephen A. Schwarzman, a Wall Street financier who donated $100 million toward that building’s expansion.” The benchmark has, apparently, been set and high at that.

(A sidebar to that story noted that Jerome L. Stern, a venture capitalist, said he wanted to see his name “in a place where I’m going to spend a lot of time,” so he gave an undisclosed amount of money to the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007 for the Jerome and Ellen Stern Restrooms.)

This naming story hits home because of the Music Center in Los Angeles — which celebrates its 50th birthday this week — and, specifically, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In a Los Angeles Times article (LINK) Mike Boehm reported that the price tag for renovating the Pavilion has been pegged at $350 million — if true, it would be a bargain, compared to the Avery Fisher Hall makeover.

Boehm quotes Lisa Specht, chair of the Music Company board, as saying, “’the greater part’ should be paid by the county government, which owns the building. The money would be a combination of county funds and private donations and have yet to be discussed by the Board of Supervisors or raised from donors.”

While L.A. County (which owns the Music Center complex) will play a financial role in the proposed renovations, which are urgently needed and will provide cost savings in terms of utilities costs, Specht’s quote it will provide “the greater part” of the tab is open to skepticism. In any case, private donations will play a pivotal role in the fund-raising campaign, and nobody apparently is yet willing to discuss publicly the elephant in the room: the potential issue of new naming rights for the Pavilion. Stay tuned.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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“Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles News Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

“Have you ever thought … what the world would be like without music? … We would all be humans and life would go on, but it would be much more difficult to mourn our losses and celebrate our loves. God gave us music, I think, so that we would have some hint of what She is like. God sings to our hearts with music, telling us of love about which we would know much less if it were not for music.”

This quote from a gem of a little book, Star Bright, by one of my favorite authors, Father Andrew Greeley, rings especially true as we approach the season of Thanksgiving. “Give thanks with a grateful heart,” wrote the songwriter Henry Luke, and there are, of course, many things for which I like to give thanks, among them, classical music.

First, of course, I give thanks for the magical, mystical medium of music, which speaks to us in ways that mere words cannot. So today I give thanks for those who continue to compose music, often battling significant odds. Every week it seems that wonderful new compositions appear, sometimes when we least expect it. I find this particularly true in choral music, but perhaps that’s because my heart resonates especially to music that can be sung.

Let us never forget that music is not just notes on a page. It comes alive when musicians perform it. So I give thanks for instrumentalists, conductors, choristers and soloists who make the music. As a critic my job is to report on what I saw and heard at a program, but because I am also a performer I never forget how difficult is the art and craft of performance. Being a critic is almost always a juggling act.

Unfortunately, not every everything in music is a happy story. Once again this year we need to give special thanks for music educators in schools, conservatories and churches who struggle to keep the music candle shining in a society that finds it hard to believe that art is an indispensable part of the educational process.

Moreover, let us remember parents who know the value of music and the arts and who work hard to find the extra income necessary to give their children a music education. I believe there is a direct correlation between the decline in music education and society’s increase in violence, bigotry and mistrust. May we come to our senses before it is too late.

There are so many others — administrators, volunteers, boards of directors, financial supporters and others — who come together to enrich our lives through concerts, recitals, opera productions and other events. We need to remember, support and give thanks to all of them, especially at this time of the year.

The best way of saying thanks is, of course, to attend concerts and, fortunately, there will be plenty of musical cheer offered during the holiday season. December will be EXTREMELY busy and you will read about them in upcoming posts on the Los Angeles News Group Web sites. Take time from the hectic commercial season and spend an hour or two in a concert. Consider it a present to yourself. And give thanks with a grateful heart.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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