PREVIEW: Anne Akiko Meyers returns “home” to play free concert Sunday with YMF Debut Chamber Orchestra

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

One of the consequences of exceeding the Biblical “three score years and 10” is that I’m more and more writing about musicians with whom I have, in effect, grown up. One such is the violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, now in her 40s, who was born and grew up in Southern California and about whom I have written, or at least heard, since she began playing concerts at age 7.

Meyers returns “home” (she is an alumna of the Young Musicians Foundation) to play in a YMF Debut Chamber Orchestra concert on Sunday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Admission is free.

Meyers will be the soloist in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Fantasia and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ A Lark Ascending. Yuga Cohler, who is finishing his three-year term as YMF Music Director, will lead the program that will also include Poulenc’s Sinfonietta.

Rautavaara composed Fantasia for Meyers — it was his last completed major work. Meyers premiered the work earlier this year with the Kansas City Symphony, conducted by Michael Stern.

In December 2015, Rautavaara, then 87 years old, invited Meyers to his home in Helsinki to hear her play the yet unpublished work. She recalls, “After I played Fantasia, he looked at me and repeatedly said, ‘I wrote such beautiful music!’ We laughed and agreed… I was amazed that he made no changes to any notes or dynamics. Everything was in place, just the way he wrote it.”

Meyers will be playing the concert on her 1741 Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri del Gesu violin, which was given to her on lifetime loan several years ago. One of the most important violins ever made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, it belonged to Belgian violinist, Henri Vieuxtemps during the 19th century.

Concert information: www.ymf.org

Photo By: Vanessa Briceño-Scherzer

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

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NEWS: L.A. Phil looks north for its new CEO, Simon Woods

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Simon Woods, president and CEO of the Seattle Symphony since 2011, has been named CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, effective January 2018. The 54-year-old London native replaces Deborah Borda, who left to head up the New York Philharmonic earlier this year, although he is not getting Borda’s ‘President’ title.

Gail Samuel, who has been serving as the L.A. Phil’s acting President and CEO since Borda left, will resume her former duties as L. A. Phil Executive Director when Woods comes on board, although with several executive positions in play around the country, she may not be with the Phil for much longer.

The Phil’s formal announcement is HERE.

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

Deborah Vankin’s story in the Los Angeles Times is HERE.

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

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NEWS (LATE): Michael Tilson Thomas to retire as San Francisco Symphony music director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

By now you’ve probably heard the news that Michael Tilson Thomas will retire as music director of the San Francisco Symphony at the end of the 2019-2020 season. He will be age 75 at that point and will have served 25 years in the post (LINK).

Those of who have grown up in Los Angeles cannot think of M.T.T. without considering his strange stint as principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981-1985 (Sir Simon Rattle held the same position at approximately the same time).

However, despite Thomas’ precocious and prodigious talent, Ernest Fleischmann, the Phil’s executive director, preferred Esa-Pekka Salonen to succeed André Previn as the orchestra’s music director and so Thomas moved on, first to head up the London Symphony Orchestra and then San Francisco.

It’s a case of what might have been, but things did seem to work out for all concerned.

Incidentally, one of the names being bandied about in the media as M.T.T.’s replace is Susanna Mäkki, the Finnish maestro who is now the Phil’s principal guest conductor.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: More concerts during a very busy November

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In my biweekly print column, which is now online (LINK), I noted that November is a very busy month for classical music. In addition to the three events I mentioned, here are some others that didn’t make the cut due to space or other reasons.

PACIFIC SYMPHONY TACKLES BRUCKNER’S EIGHTH ON NOV. 9, 10 AND 11
I’m sorry that due to my ongoing health issues I won’t be able to attend this concert, but you should make every effort to travel to Costa Mesa this weekend. Bruckner’s eighth is one of the pinnacles of the symphonic canon and it has taken Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair more than 30 years before he felt ready to tackle this 90-minute work.

This is also the first PS program I can recall where the orchestra’s Writer-in-Residence, Timothy Mangan, has written so extensively about a program — this one is entitled “Cathedrals of Sound” — on the orchestra’s Blog.

In an interview (LINK) St.Clair notes that “I’ve wanted to conduct this piece for many years, but it’s like Mahler 9, it’s like all the pinnacle works, you have to build up to them. Not only does he, as a conductor, need to build up to Bruckner’s Eighth, but so do the musicians and the audience, he says. Accordingly, St.Clair has added an extra rehearsal for the orchestra. He’s also devised a prelude to the performance of the Eighth that he hopes will prepare the audience to hear the work.

“You can’t white knuckle it down the 5 or the 405 and every time you come to a stop you look at your phone, you text somebody, you send an Instagram, you answer the phone. You valet park, you run in, you slosh down a glass of white wine and you rush to your seat and then you hear the music of Anton Bruckner — it’s impossible,” he says.

Instead, writes Mangan, audience members will enter the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall before the performance as Gregorian chant is sung from the stage by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael Abbey. Organist Christoph Bull will play organ music by Bach and Bruckner. Video artists Nick and Clemens Prokop will project visuals on three screens that evoke the interiors of the majestic St. Florian Monastery in Linz, where Bruckner served as organist and is buried. The lighting will be low.

All of this is to create a more cathedral-like atmosphere of calm and contemplation, “so that the audience can have an opportunity to receive the music appropriately,” St.Clair says.

In addition to this extensive interview, Mangan has a nice video feature (LINK) on the Wagner tuba, that odd-shaped instrument that Bruckner — a Wagnerian of the first order — used in his Symphony No. 8.Mangan uses cute clips from the Berlin Philharmonic’s horn section to illustrate.

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org. Also, make sure you read the music notes ahead of time — LINK.

CHARLES DUTOIT CONDUCTS LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC NOV. 9, 10 AND 11
Considering that he is now age 81, one can’t be sure how many more times we’ll have to see this Swiss-born conductor and he comes with a program of music by Maurice Ravel, one of the composers with which Dutoit made his international reputation at, among other places, the Montreal Symphony.

The program includes Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, the Piano Concerto in G Major, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist, and rarely heard one-act opera, L’heure espagnole.
Information: www.laphil.com

Incidentally, Dutoit and Thibaudet and London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra journey to Segerstrom Concert Hall on Jan. 25 for a program that includes Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian). Information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

BTW: Ravel’s G-Major concerto also shows up on this weekend’s all-French programs at the San Diego Symphony. Louis Lortie is the soloist and Johannes Debus will be the evening’s guest conductor. On Nov. 10 and 11 at Copley Symphony Hall. Information: www.sandiegosymphony.org

LONG BEACH SYMPHONY SALUTES VETERANS ON NOV. 11
The orchestra’s new music director, Eckart Preu, picked an obvious date for this concert, which features a winning mixture of familiar and less-well-known pieces.

The former include Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

The latter category is headlined by Symphony No. 2, Songs of New Race, by African-American composer William Grant Still.

Somewhere in the middle is a work that was once so well known as to be considered a war horse but now appears rarely on symphonic programs: Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite.

Information: longbeachsymphony.org

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

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CLASS ACT: Choral concerts in La Cañada and Costa Mesa

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

My biweekly column is now online — LINK — but there are a couple of choral concerts I failed to include that are worth noting, both taking place next Sunday.

REFORMATION SUNDAY
This year (Oct. 31, to be precise) marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Tradition ascribes the beginning to when Martin Luther, an obscure Roman Catholic monk, nailed his Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences to the door of All Saints Church at Wittenberg, Germany on that date.

Although many churches will commemorate the anniversary in worship on Sunday, the La Cañada Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, soloists and orchestra, will present a concert at 2 p.m. on Sunday that revolves around music associated with the Reformation.

Among other things, Luther was a hymn writer, and his most famous hymn — A Mighty Fortress is Our God — will be performed in several guises during the concert, including Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 (Reformation), which uses the Luther’s famous tune — Ein Feste Burg — in the final movement.

Jack Lantz, the church’s music director, will conduct and will also offer a preconcert lecture beginning at 1:45 pm. The concert is free but a donation of $15 is requested from those who can afford it. Information: www.lacanadapc.org

PACIFIC CHORALE BEGINS 50TH SEASON

Although it’s only been around 1/10 of the life span of the Reformation, nonetheless 50 years is an important anniversary for a musical organization, and the Pacific Chorale begins its year-long celebration of half a century on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The Chorale’s new music director, Robert Istad, will lead his chorus, Pacific Symphony, Cal State Fullerton University Singers, Southern California Children’s Chorus and tenor Derek Chester in a wide-ranging concert that also commemorates the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein.

The program will include a performance of Bernstein’s Mass in a concert-version arrangement by Doreen Rao; a reprise of Songs of Eternity, a superb work by Southern California composer James Hopkins, which was commissioned for the Chorale’s 25th anniversary; and the U.S. premiere of A Celestial Map of the Sky by the Chorale’s new composer-in-residence Tarik O’Regan.

As a bonus, concert attenders will get to view the new outdoor court between Segerstrom Concert Hall and the Orange County Performing Arts Center’s original Segerstrom Hall. The 56,100-square-foot plaza features a large open space, multi-purpose stage, reflection pool, two green spaces — Theater Grove and Community Picnic Grove — an arrival court, and an outdoor restaurant.

Information: www.pacificchorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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