OVERNIGHT REVIEW: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in Concert
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Justin Freer, conductor

Hollywood Bowl
Next concert: “Star Trek” in Concert
Friday (July 8) and Saturday (July 9); Hollywood Bowl
Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
Potter4Web”Harry Potter and the Scorerer’s Stone” was shown on Hollywood Bowl’s big screen and digital monitors last night with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Justin Freer, playing John Williams’ score live before a large audience. (Photo by Nikki Thomas)
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One of the more interesting concert-programming concepts in recent years has been screening full-length motion pictures with the scores played live by orchestras.

The first such venture I can remember was in 1987 when André Previn conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion accompanying Alexander Nevsky, the great 1937 film by Sergei Eisenstein. One of the things that remain memorable about the Previn/LAPO/Alexander Nevsky pairing was how it brought Sergei Prokofiev’s score to life (Previn once remarked that Prokofiev’s music “the greatest film score ever written trapped inside the worst soundtrack ever recorded”).

From that point forward, the Phil realized how significant this sort of programming could be and, since 1997, film screenings with orchestral accompaniment have become an annual occurrence at Hollywood Bowl. This season’s offerings began last night with a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and continue tomorrow and Saturday nights with screenings of Star Trek — The Movie. (The annual “Sing-along” presentation of The Sound of Music last month didn’t include live orchestral accompaniment.)

There’s nothing simple about these sorts of performances. The soundtrack has to be stripped out of the movie print while leaving the dialogue and other sound effects in place. In performance the conductor and orchestra have to match the score to what’s showing on the screen, all — in effect — without aid of a safety net, i.e., you get no “do-overs” as you would have in a film studio.

Last night’s audience of 17,000+ got a demonstration of that issue because the opening had to be re-started. Moreover, the “click track” (the device with which the conductor judges the speed by which to play the score) was audible for a few seconds before a technician realized the error and shut it off. Freer, a Huntington Beach native whose composing credits include movies and numerous film commercials, seemed calm and collected as he steered the musicians expertly through the various machinations.

Technical challenges notwithstanding, the audience loved the evening. They laughed, cheered and/or booed at each main character’s first appearance in the movie, quieted down and got caught up in the gripping elements in the second half, and stayed through the credits to give thunderous ovations to Freer, the LAPO instrumentalists and the uncredited women’s chorus who brought John Williams’ sweeping score to life in a way that a soundtrack simply cannot match.

Given that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first of eight “Potter movies” (all based on the book series by J.K. Rowling) and the large crowd — especially notable for a weeknight — one can only imagine that the next seven installments will show up in future years. Moreover, with Williams’ music having such a luxurious, symphonic style, might one expect to see other movies with Williams scores, including Episodes 4, 5 and 6 of Star Wars, to make it to the Bowl big screen?

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• I may have been the only adult in attendance who has never seen one of the movies or read the books. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and my wife, who is a confirmed “Potter-phile” loved it!
• When it was released in England, the initial segment in the Harry Potter series was entitled Harry Potter and the Professor’s Stone.
• One of the technical challenges of screening a movie at the Bowl in the middle of summer is that the sky didn’t darken enough to see the screen clearly until about 45 minutes into the performance. The evening didn’t end until nearly 11 p.m., which accounted for the 8 p.m. start time, but perhaps showing movies in September makes a lot more sense.
• For one of the few times in recent Bowl memory, the concert began just two minutes late. Consequently, hundreds of people, arrived late.
• The screening was preceded by a fascinating 15-minute feature on Williams and how he scores movies. Unfortunately it was hard to see because of the ambient light (see the first bullet above) and the noise from party-goers. Posting the feature on the Bowl’s Web site would be a nice touch.
• The Bowl opens its classical season on July 12 when Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel leads the Phil in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist in the concerto. (INFO On July 14 and 19, Dudamel, the Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale and a dozen soloists will perform Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in concert. (INFO)
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: (Revised) Dudamel, L.A. Phil open Bowl classical season on July 12

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

NOTE: This column has been revised to include date changes and a link to an article on Solea Pfeiffer.

Dudamel-HB-2016Although Hollywood Bowl has been going strong for several weeks, its 10-week classical music season opens July 12 when Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel (pictured above) leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a blockbuster program pairing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist in the concerto. (INFO)

Unlike most of his music director-predecessors — who, at best, tolerated the Bowl’s outdoor distractions — Dudamel revels in the opportunity to present music to great numbers of people, many of whom may be attending a classical concert for the first time. Beginning with this year’s opening night Dudamel will conduct eight programs during the season, concluding with the “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts on August 5 and 6. (INFO)

The July 14 and 19 programs will see Dudamel leading a work that is embedded in his DNA: Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. It was with the “Mambo” portion of “WSS” that Dudamel burst onto the scene with his Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at the Lucerne Festival and the London Proms in 2007 (LINK).

The two Bowl West Side Story performances are being billed as “concert performances,” with a cast of 12 soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining with Dudamel and the LAPO. Although some will miss Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking dance sequences, the concert performance will put the emphasis squarely on the music, instead. Solea Pfeiffer, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will portray Maria and Jeremy Jordan, a Tony and Grammy-nominated actor and singer, will sing the role of Tony. A link to Catherine Womack’s Q&A with Pfeiffer in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. (INFO)

The July 21 concert features another superstar Chinese pianist, Yuja Wang, in not one but two concertos: Ravel’s Concerto in G and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Dudamel and the Phil will open the evening with Gershwin’s “Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess” and conclude the proceedings with Ravel’s Bolero. (INFO)

The summer’s now-annual opera production will be Puccini’s Tosca on July 24, with Dudamel leading the LAPO, L.A. Master Chorale, L.A. Children’s Chorus and a cast of soloists headed by Santa Monica native Julianna Di Giacomo in the title role. (INFO)

What makes the Bowl classical season important? For many of us, Hollywood Bowl was among our first exposures to classical music. I remember being mesmerized by the gigantic Bowl with its thousands and thousands of seats under a canopy of stars (if they were visible through the smog) and for one of the first times hearing the L.A. Phil playing glorious music live.

Although each year I kvetch about the orchestra’s management not being more aggressive in making more seats in the upper tiers available at lower prices, you can buy seats at $8 and $12 for some concerts, which is cheaper than attending a movie these days. Moreover, the enhanced sound system and gigantic digital monitors make the experience far better than when I was a kid a half century ago. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere.

Information on the entire summer schedule is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: New West Symphony’s Marcelo Lehninger named music director of Grand Rapids (MI) Symphony

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Sometimes the classical world can seem very large. At other times, it’s amazingly small.

Four years ago David Lockington was named music director of the Pasadena Symphony. In taking that position he wound up his 16-year tenure with the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan (he is now that ensemble’s Conductor Laureate).

After a three-year search, the Grand Rapids Symphony has named Lockington’s successor and the orchestra found its man about 45 minutes west of Ambassador Auditorium, the PSO’s home. He is Marcelo Lehninger, who for the past four years has been the music director of the New West Symphony, which plays concerts in Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and Oxnard. The Brazilian-born Lehninger was also first assistant conductor and then associate conductor of the Boston Symphony for several years.

Lehninger is the 14th music director in the 86-year history of the Grand Rapids Symphony, which runs a 40-week season. Beginning with the 2017-18 season, he reportedly will lead a majority of concerts on the GRS’s classical series and will make podium appearances at other symphony series as well.

Just to add a further twist, the Web site “Slipped Disc” lists Lehninger as one of two Brazilian candidates to be the next music director of the New Mexico Philharmonic (LINK). That’s the ensemble born out of the 2011 bankruptcy of the New Mexico Symphony, where Lockington was music director from 1996-2000. Lehninger will conduct the New Mexico Philharmonic in a concert on Dec. 10 that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).

Meanwhile, New West Symphony begins its search for a new music director with guest conductors leading each of the six concerts in the upcoming season, which opens September 30 and October 1 with Tania Miller, the only woman among the six, on the podium (INFO).

Yet to be heard from is the Long Beach Symphony, which has been in a music director-search process for more than three years. The orchestra has released programs and dates for its upcoming season but only three of the six classical concerts have conductors listed.

Ironically, two of the three are connected with the Virginia Symphony. The 2016-2017 season will conclude on June 10 when former LBSO Music Director Joann Falletta returns to Long Beach to lead her former orchestra. Falletta is now music director of both the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony. The LBSO season will open on October 1 when Benjamin Ruffalo, the Virginia Symphony’s resident conductor, leads a program of music by Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Prokofiev.

The third conductor on the LBSO season is Robert Istad, newly appointed artistic director-designate of the Pacific Chorale, who will lead an all-Mozart program that will include the Requiem in D Minor, with the Long Beach Camerata Singers, which Istad also directors, joining the orchestra. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Hollywood Bowl, La Canada Presbyterian offer Independence-themed concerts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

July 4th used to see a plethora of patriotic music concerts but each year there seem to be fewer and fewer of these events with more and more venues focusing, instead, on fireworks.

Hollywood Bowl continues the musical tradition, of course, with concerts on July 2, 3 and 4. Principal Conductor Thomas Wilkins leads the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, along with the rock group Chicago and, of course, the Bowl’s iconic fireworks.

Information: 323/850-2000; www.hollywoodbowl.com

1776 ImageFor a different concept, check out La Cañada Presbyterian Church, which will offer an “Americana” concert on July 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the church’s Sanctuary. Music Director Jack D. Lantz will lead a chorus of 53 singers and a professional orchestra of 55 in a program of patriotic music that will include selections from the 1969 Tony Award-winning musical 1776.

Tyler Wright will portray John Adams with Rebecca Sjöwal as Abigail Adams and another 12 cast members who will perform scenes from the musical by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone.

The program will also salute veterans, including those connected with the congregation, and the balance of the evening will feature familiar music ranging from John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare to John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. Admission and parking are free and the Sanctuary — 626 Foothill Boulevard, La Cañada — is handicap accessible.

The program is the final event on La Cañada Presbyterian’s “Ovations” series of more than a dozen music and drama events throughout the year. The 2016-2017 “Ovations” season will open on Oct. 30 with a performance of Fauré’s Requiem and other works for All Saints Day, which is Oct. 1.

Information: 818/790-6708; wwwlacanadapc.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Definitely not a “Pittance” when it comes to talent

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group
Pittance
The Pittance Chamber Music Ensemble will relocate from the LA Opera pit to Pasadena Conservatory of Music Wednesday night. (Photo credit: Brenden-John Photography)
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One of the amazing aspects of living in Southern California is the incredibly deep well of musicians who live and perform in our area. Much of that emanates from the entertainment industry, where each day hundreds of musicians perform for scores of upcoming movies, television shows, commercials and other productions.

Those talented people also end up playing in the area’s orchestras, opera companies, musical theatre pits and chamber music ensembles. There are so many groups that it’s often hard to differentiate among them. So I love it when a group comes up a cute name and unique vision — it makes me sit up and take notice.

Which leads me to Pittance Chamber Music, which will perform a diverse program ranging from Beethoven to Germont Wolfgang on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. in Barrett Hall at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music.

The group is comprised of members of the LA Opera Orchestra and Chorus, who are often invisible in the pit of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion but who are also — individual and collectively — among the cream of the area’s musicians.

Violinist Lisa Sutton, who is the Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, founded the group in 2013. “The original idea behind Pittance was to raise up the extraordinary yet invisible musicians of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra from the pit to the stage to perform in small ensembles,” says Sutton, hence the name ‘Pittance,’ a play on words referring to these smaller offerings from the orchestra pit.” (See the group’s tongue-in-cheek “vision statement” HERE)

In addition to Sutton, performers Wednesday will include Leslie Reed and Jennifer Johnson, oboe; Sarah Beck, English Horn; Judith Farmer, bassoon; Heather Clark, flute; Greg Goodall, Marimba; Robert Cani, violin; Paul Floyd and Lisa Edwards, piano; Rebecca Tomlinson, soprano; Heather Quintana, mezzo-soprano; Omar Crook, tenor; and Steve Pence, bass-baritone.

Later this month the group will announce its inaugural three-concert season, which will begin Oct. 9 with two programs taking place at the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall of the Pavilion and one at The Colburn School’s Zipper Hall.

Sutton’s decision to focus the group on chamber music is in stark contrast to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, which for years has held a series of concerts with the entire Met Orchestra led by now-outgoing Music Director James Levine. It also means Wednesday’s ticket prices are a “pittance,” compared to the Met Orchestra concerts.

Tickets for Wednesday night’s performance are $35, $20 for seniors and $10 for students with valid ID. Ticket information: www.pittancechambermusic.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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