Five Spot: March 17-19, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending.

8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Guest conductor Stéphane Devène leads the Phil in the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (“The Mysteries of Light”) with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist. The program also includes music by Britten, Fauré and Debussy

BONUS: The concerto, which was written for Thibaudet, is based on the five Luminous Mysteries, the most recently added section of the Catholic practice of praying the Rosary.

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.


2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena
Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan leads this program of music by Schubert, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Rachel Barton Pine will be the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”).


4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena
Gregory Norton leads his FUMCP choir and the choir of First United Methodist Church, Glendale, in this sublime work as part of the church’s “Third at First” series. Duruflé composed a version for this 1940s work for orchestra and another for organ. This performance will feature Aaron Shows, organ, and David Garrett, cello.

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering).


8 p.m. March 18 at Alex Theatre, Glendale
7 p.m. March 19 at Royce Hall, UCLA
The world premiere of Julia Adolphe’s Shiver and Bloom (a LACO “Sound Investment Commission”), Sasha Cooke singing Handel, Mozart and Mahler, and Jon Kimura Parker playing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 — Jeffrey Kahane leads this full, rich program.


4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 1, Op. 18, No. 1 and 7, Op. 59, No. 1, and the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s Ponte Musmeci.

BONUS: The Cerrone piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets and themes of patronage in the past and in the present. Cerrone also has a commissioned work that will be played on Jeffrey Kahane’s final concerts as Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Music Director on May 20 and 21 (INFO)

The Broad Stage can be reached by Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the 17th St./SMCC station and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there.


5 p.m. at Rosemead High School, Rosemead
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, one of the hottest conducting properties in the classical-music world at this time, leads the Phil in a concert of music by Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr.

BONUS: Free Admission. However, tickets must be reserved in advance. Call 626/350-4500.


(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

More on Deborah Borda’s leaving the L.A. Phil

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

As you can see by the post ABOVE Deborah Borda (pictured left) is leaving her position as President and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to take a similar position with the New York Philharmonic, effective Sept. 15.

It is a move that has rocked the classical music world, but in reading the various press reports I was struck by two reasons she advanced.

First, the move means that she and her partner, Coralie Toevs, assistant general manager for development at the Metropolitan Opera, will now be able to live in the same city as opposed to being 2,500 miles apart. Second was this quote: “This is an opportunity,” she said [to L.A. Times critic Mark Swed), “that won’t come up again.”

That’s undeniably true. At age 67, Borda would not likely have the chance to return to her native New York City and take on the NYPO challenge (one that she had already tried before coming to Los Angeles). So if that floats her boat, my feeling upon reading the news was, “You go, girl!”

If the news was shocking to the music world, one presumes that it wasn’t completely unthinkable to the L.A. Phil board, at least not if that group was doing its normal due diligence. Executives leave for any number of reasons when they reach her age and, one hopes, the LAPO board has had in place some sort of succession plan. In the short term, the Phil’s management seems very strong and capable of moving forward while the board undertakes its search for Borda’s successor. Various reports indicate that planning for the orchestra’s centennial season in 2018-2019 is well underway.

Nonetheless, the news brings to an abrupt close a magnificent chapter in the Phil’s history. During Borda’s 17-year-tenure she has balanced budgets, helped increase the orchestra’s endowment from $45 million to about $276 million, led the organization as it achieved remarkable labor relations with its musicians (there hasn’t been a work stoppage in half a century), was integrally involved in the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003, and — in perhaps her greatest decision — gambled on a very young Gustavo Dudamel to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as the L.A. Phil’s music director.

Borda has also been instrumental in continuing and expanding the Phil’s emphasis on creating new music, something that has made the LAPO the envy of the classical music world. In addition, she has nurtured an extensive number of young conductors who have moved on to major roles around the world, including Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Lionel Bringuier and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. In the upcoming season, Susanna Mälki will become the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor, a title not used for more than 20 years at the Phil.

She certainly faces major challenges with the New York Philharmonic. The current music director, Alan Gilbert, leaves after this season and his replacement, Jaap van Zweden, doesn’t officially start until the 2018-2019 season. The Phil’s current home, David Geffen Hall (aka Avery Fisher Hall) will undergo a major renovation if Borda and her new board can manage to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million.

During the reconstruction the NYPO will be homeless for at least two years, although I suspect that Board will solve this problem with her usual innovative skills — in fact, I believe this will turn out to be the capstone of her tenure in New York.

I have only met Borda a couple of times and only, then, to say hello. Nonetheless, I — like everyone who has attended a Phil concert — owes her a huge “thank you” for her work here during the past 17 years. I hope for her sake and for the NYPO’s that she will be able to prove Thomas Wolfe wrong!

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

NEWS: Deborah Borda to leave LA Phil for New York Phil

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Ides of March proved to be fateful for the Los Angeles Philharmonic this year when Deborah Borda, who has served as the Phil’s President and Chief Executive Officer for 17 years, announced that she is leaving that post to become President and CEO of the New York Philharmonic beginning Sept. 15.

It’s a homecoming for the 67-year-old Borda, who served as NYPO Executive Director for eight years before coming to Los Angeles. She replaces Matthew VanBesien, who resigned in January. Borda has also served in executive capacities with the San Francisco Symphony, Detroit Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Read Mark Swed’s story in the Los Angeles Times HERE.

Read Michael Cooper’s story in the New York Times HERE.

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

REVIEW: Jaap van Zweden and the L.A. Phil — when two fifths make up more than a whole

Southern California News Group Music Critic

Jaap van Zweden (pictured left), who was in town this weekend to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has a reputation as an intense podium presence (the photos on his Web site play to that image).

The 56-year-old Amsterdam native has rocketed up the conducting ranks in recent years, first as music director of the Dallas Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic and, beginning in 2018-2019 as leader of the New York Philharmonic. This was reportedly just the second time he has conducted the L.A. Phil — the last was in 2000.

His program this weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall played to his strengths — the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Shostakovich — and, consequently, the musical interpretations did not surprise, at all. However, his demeanor did reveal touches of humor that were a surprise, and the orchestra responded to everything he did with a superb performance.

In just a few rehearsals and two concerts (last night was the second of three this weekend), van Zweden took full advantage of Disney Hall’s ultra-live acoustics and the orchestra’s formidable skills. He seated all of the violins to the left of the podium and positioned the piano, celeste and two harps behind them. He put the violas to his right with the basses behind them and the cellos more or less in the middle.

From my seat in the Orchestra East section that made for a rich, sonorous string sound, and van Zweden — who before he became a conductor was the youngest concertmaster in the history of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebow Orchestra — reveled in the hall’s ability to elicit the softest of pianissimos from all string sections.

In his preconcert lecture, Eric Bromberger (who, among other things is a violinist) said he had never played or heard a program pairing Beethoven’s fifth with Shostakovich’s fifth. Neither have I and, perhaps, with good reason. It made for 80 minutes of intense music making with little respite — even the Largo movement of the Shostakovich was intense under Zweden’s leadership. The intensity translated to the musicians. Although Zweden occasionally cracked a smile, the orchestra never did.

Bromberger noted that both symphonies begin in darkness, end in triumph and conclude with the entire orchestra playing a single note. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 begins in C minor, concludes in C major and ends with a single “C”. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 begins in D minor, concludes in D Major and ends with a single “D”. That provided some different ways to consider the two pieces, which are among their centuries’ best-known symphonies.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect were those final movements. Under van Zweden’s ministrations, both works were relentless in their overall concept, but while Beethoven’s fifth was as quick as I have ever heard it played, the Shostakovich was more deliberate than many other renditions I have heard.

Anyone watching and listening to van Zweden will inevitably wonder how his style will translate to the Big Apple when he takes over the NYPO — he becomes music director-designate next season when he conducts three sets of subscription concerts, plus the season-opening gala.

All of next year’s programs are in the “power mode” — the one unusual piece is the New York premiere of Philip Glass’ Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, with Katia and Marielle Labèque as soloists. We don’t know how his style will play when he programs pieces outside of the power slot.

However, it’s even more fascinating to contemplate the leadership van Zweden will be able to exert in the renovation of the NYPO’s home, now called David Geffen Hall. A man who grew up playing in the Concertgebow and who has guest-conducted in many of the world’s great venues, including Disney Hall, will surely know what he wants and what the orchestra needs. How that translates into reality will be something to watch in future years.

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

NEWS: Pacific Symphony ratifies ground-breaking labor agreement

The Pacific Symphony’s musicians and management have finally approved a new labor agreement that not only provides wage increases over the five-year span of the contract but also, for the first time, provides minimums for services (including performances and rehearsals) that the musicians perform each season.

Paul Hodgins in the Orange County Register has the details HERE.

“We went from no guarantees to a three-tier system that guarantees the number of rehearsals and performances (Pacific Symphony musicians) will get in a season,” said Robert Sanders, president of the Local 7 of the American Federation of Musicians, to which the musicians belong. This was a major sticking point in the negotiations from the beginning. Hodgins’ article details the issues involved in the complex agreement.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email