Thoughts on moving forward …

“Harmony is made of not people parroting or repeating each other’s notes, but the opposite: The blend of very different notes creates the chord. And so it’s not just singing in unison; it’s singing in harmony, with everyone’s diversity intact.
— Director Peter Sellars, on his 1988 staging of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which was set in Trump Tower in New York City. Read Michael Cooper’s interview with Sellars in the New York Times HERE.

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NEWS: Pittsburgh Symphony strike ends

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Pittsburgh Symphony finally settled its 55-day labor stoppage today. Read the story by Bob Batz, Jr. in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette HERE.

Now, can the folks at the Ft. Worth Symphony and Pacific Symphony get their sh*t together, too, please?
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Berlin Philharmonic dazzles in Orange County

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

rattleSir Simon Rattle led his Berlin Philharmoniker yesterday in Rénee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. 2013 photo by Monika Ritterhaus.
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My review of the Berlin Philharmonic’s concert Sunday in Costa Mesa, published online on the County Register’s Web site, is HERE. The story will run in the Register’s print editions tomorrow.

Following are some additional notes that fell on the cutting room floor:

• The BPO’s appearances in Walt Disney Concert Hall Saturday and Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall Sunday was part of a cross-continent tour that began in New York City’s Carnegie Hall on Nov. 9 and 10 and continued in Boston, Toronto and Ann Arbor, Michigan before heading to the west coast. The tour concludes tonight and tomorrow in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall.

• The alternate tour program, which was played in Disney Hall, was equally challenging to that we heard Sunday: Pierre Boulez’s Éclat and Mahler’s Symphony No. 7.

• Sunday’s concert was the Berlin Philharmonic’s appearance in Orange County in 15 years. It came back then to the original Segerstrom Hall when Claudio Abbado led the ensemble in two all-Beethoven programs, featuring the third, fifth and sixth symphonies. This was also, of course, the BPO’s first time in Segerstrom Concert Hall, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season.

• The OC program booklet contained the longest set of music notes than I can ever remember, stretching more than seven pages (although, thankfully for us older folks, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County uses nice large type for its notes). The one paragraph about Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 was dwarfed by the copious notes on the three pre-intermission works: Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6b, by Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16, and Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 by Alban Berg.

• The orchestra’s rehearsal schedule created some serious problems for the PSOC and Segerstrom Concert Hall. The orchestra’s desire to rehearse in the main auditorium right up to the concert time meant that the preconcert lecture by Christopher Russell had to be switched into a smaller room that didn’t have nearly enough seats to handle the crowds. I arrived five minutes after the posted start time and people were already standing around and behind the chairs. I suspect that more folks than usual came hoping to learn something about the first half of the program, only to be turned away.

Segerstrom isn’t alone in this type of problem. At least with BP Hall in Disney, people can stand on the balconies and hear the lecture, if necessary. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion uses the second-floor lobby for its lectures and that has the capacity for extra seating, if necessary. Ambassador Auditorium has nothing other than the main hall with which to handle lectures. Offhand I can’t think of another hall that could deal with the problem that cropped up Sunday.

Moreover, Segerstrom Concert Hall has only minimal seating in its lobbies, a fact that was exacerbated by the light rain that was falling as folks were arriving. Sir Simon Rattle, the BPO’s chief conductor and artistic director, called it “British weather.” He should know. Rattle returns top his native England to become Music Director of the London Symphony beginning in 2017.

• PSOC President and Artistic Director John Magnum welcomed the orchestra by announcing that the Society is halfway to its goal of $10 million endowment campaign that will enhance the group’s programming efforts.

• The next orchestra on the PSOC series is the Taiwan Philharmonic, which appears on Dec. 12 with violinist Cho-Liang Lin. The program includes two works including a violin concerto by Taiwanese composer Tyzen Hsiao along with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Information: https://philharmonicsociety.org/
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: L.A. Phil screens “On the Waterfront” with live orchestra accompaniment

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

on-the-waterfront-4-blogMarlon Brando (left) won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront.” Karl Malden should have won the Best Supporting Actor for the role of Father Barry but didn’t (he was one of three men nominated — the others were Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. They undoubtedly split the vote and the statuette went to Edmond O’Brien won for “The Barefoot Contessa”).
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The Los Angeles Philharmonic screened the 1954 film classic On the Waterfront last night in Walt Disney Concert Hall with composer David Newman conducting the orchestra as it played Leonard Bernstein’s score live.

If your goal was to hear Bernstein’s gritty, dramatic music full throat while, incidentally, seeing director Elia Kazan’s gripping treatment of crime and mob influence on the New York docks, then the evening was a rousing success. If, on the other hand, you wanted to see the film with the score integrated into the movie, the evening was probably less successful.

The film is one of three being screened this weekend as part of the orchestra’s in/SIGHT series. It also marked the beginning of a three-year collaboration between the Phil and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the orchestra playing the scores live while the movies are shown on a large screen suspended above the ensemble. My preview story is HERE.

Owing to previous commitments I was unable to see Rebel Without a Cause Thursday night and won’t be at Casablanca tomorrow afternoon, either. Others who are seeing all three films will have to judge as to whether the issues that emerged last night will also appear in the other two films. My guess is they will.

In one sense On the Waterfront was a perfect choice for this format, since Bernstein’s 50-minutes of music is less than half of the picture’s 108-long run time (there was also an intermission last night). Long stretches of the movie, therefore, have no music underlay. However, when the orchestra was playing the score it so overpowered the actors onscreen that captions were not only welcome, they were a necessity.

Although On the Waterfront was released by Columbia Pictures, it was an independent film produced by Sam Spiegel, one of many he made in the 1950s and 1960s (others included Bridge On the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, all of which won Oscars for Best Picture, making Spiegel the only person to win three Best Picture statuettes).

Needing a big name for the box office, Spiegel tapped Bernstein, who wrote what would be his only score composed expressly for a movie, although On the Town and West Side Story were adapted for the big screen. Rumor exists that Bernstein was disenchanted with the fact that director Kazan excised two segments of the score and that led to the composer’s decision to forego writing for another motion picture.

In the preconcert lecture last night, composer Laura Karpman — who has written for film, television, video games, theater, and the concert hall — said that’s the way films work; the director has the ultimate say and you know that going in.

Newman and the orchestra played the score powerfully and with their customary excellence last night. What Bernstein wrote was typical of Lenny: jazz and blues influenced, gripping, craggy and sweeping in its scope and the orchestra put all of that front and center.

As Karpman noted, seeing a movie like On the Waterfront with an orchestra playing the score live is similar to seeing a Wagnerian opera where the music often overpowers whatever is on stage. That was the case last night. However, for those who have seen On the Waterfront only on a television screen, viewing it in Disney Hall with a live orchestra was surely a revelation on several levels.

Moreover, whether Bernstein was, indeed, disenchanted with not having control of the score in the final movie or whether he feared what happened to Leonard Rosenman after the latter scored Rebel Without a Cause (“Back in the day when you went to Hollywood — for whatever reason,” said composer-conductor Scott Dunn in the Phil’s program notes for Thursday night’s screening, “you were just labeled and that was it”), Bernstein’s one film score was a masterpiece, as last night demonstrated anew.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Eva Marie Saint, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Edie Doyle, introduced the film last night, reminiscing about how she felt as she made what was her film debut. It was Saint’s only Oscar and was one of eight the movie captured that year. We should all look and sound as good as Saint when we are 92 years old.
Casablanca screens tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Disney hall with Newman conducting the L.A. Phil as it plays Max Steiner’s score. Noted film music author Jon Burlingame delivers a preconcert lecture at 1 p.m. 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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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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