CLASS ACT: The magic — and power — of Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Fireworks are just part of the magic of summertime concerts at Hollywood Bowl.

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Tonight and Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Hollywood Bowl
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9. Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait
Information: www.laphil.com
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Most of the classical music world has a great appreciation for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and with good reason. Its instrumentalists play in top form virtually every night of their yearlong concert season. The Phil’s music and artistic director, Gustavo Dudamel, is one of the most charismatic conductors working today and he has matured significantly in his nine years with the orchestra. Moreover, he is signed through the 2021-22 season.

The orchestra’s management has been exemplary and visionary during the past three decades and even though its longtime President and CEO Deborah Borda left this summer to try and work her magic with the New York Phil, the orchestra’s board has two excellent in-house candidates — Gail Samuel and Chad Smith — to replace her, should it so choose.

However, one aspect of the Phil’s life remains unique among the nation’s orchestras: Hollywood Bowl, which this season celebrates its 96th year. Tuesday night Dudamel and the Phil opened their 10-week classical season, which contains concerts nearly every Tuesday and Thursday plus a couple of other days as well.

Many people, including me, got our first significant exposure to classical music from the Bowl’s “cheap seats.” As usual, the $1 seats are sold out but there are plenty of $8 seats available for some of the classical concerts this season, so that “first exposure” rule still holds true in many respects.

However, what makes the Bowl valuable for the Phil is the growing number of pops and movie nights that it hosts each season, numbers that dwarf most of the classical concerts in terms of crowd counts. This weekend Dudamel and the Phil will appear with Tony Bennett and many other pops-style programs will take place this summer. Most, if not all, will draw near the capacity of about 18,000 people. All of these provide a tremendous cash influx for the orchestra and help it to maintain a positive cash flow in its annual budgets while paying its musicians top dollar.

The Bowl’s central location is another bonus for the L.A. Phil. The Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Music Festival takes place each summer, but it 2-3 hours driving west of Boston (into one of the prettiest areas of the country, I’ll grant you). Moreover, its listed seating capacity in its main “shed” is just 5,700, less than a third of the Bowl.

If you haven’t visited the Bowl in a season or two, you’ll be surprised at the changes. Each year something is improved — this year it’s a new Main Plaza and enhanced picnicking areas, along with metal detectors to get into the main gate entrance (there’s also a new “mid-gate” entrance that let’s you avoid the crowd at the main gate). If you don’t enjoy the stacked parking on site, there are several alternative forms of transportation, including Park and Ride buses and a shuttle from the Red Line’s Hollywood/Highland station.

Particularly this summer when the nights have been unusually warm, it all makes for a quintessential summertime magical experience.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS AND LINKS: Coming, departing and staying

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Comings
Matthew Hanson, chief executive officer of the Houston Symphony for the past seven years, has been named executive director of the San Francisco Symphony, effective Sept. 1. Hanson, 43, replaces Brent Assink, who left in March after 18 years heading the SFS. Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle has the story HERE.

Departing:
Daniel Lewis, former music director of the Pasadena Symphony and former professor of music at the USC Thornton School of Music, has reportedly passed away at the age of 92.

Lewis assumed his Pasadena Symphony position in 1981 and served until 1992 when he was succeeded by Jorge Mester. Under Lewis’ leadership, the orchestra transitioned to a fully professional ensemble and won five ASCAP awards for adventuresome programming.

“Daniel Lewis played an invaluable role in that he created the foundation of artistic excellence and community engagement that are the hallmarks of who the Pasadena Symphony is today,” says the orchestra’s current CEO Laura Unger. “His artistic leadership drew in the best musicians from the studios and made the Pasadena Symphony a joyous artistic outlet for the caliber of musicians that this orchestra has always attracted.”

Lewis arrived at the USC Thornton School of Music in 1970 as director of conducting studies and head of the orchestral music program, He headed the School of Music from 1976 to 1995 and in 1984 became the first faculty member of the School of Music to receive the title of University Professor.

In addition to his Pasadena Symphony duties, Lewis twice served as music director of the Ojai Music Festival, music director of the Cabrillo Music Festival, and musical advisor to the Glendale Symphony. He was also associate conductor of the San Diego Symphony under Robert Shaw.

Staying:
Grant Gershon has extended his contract as Resident Conductor of Los Angeles Opera through the 2019-2020 season. He will continue as Artistic Director of Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Gershon conducted his first LAO production in 2009 and led the world-premiere performances of Daniel Catán’s Il Postino a year later. He has conducted 11 different productions at LA Opera as well as several concerts. He has also prepared the LA Opera Chorus for 51 different works since his debut as Chorus Director with Fidelio in 2007. In the upcoming season, Gershon will conduct performances of The Pearl Fishers on Oct. 25 and 28.

Read the LAO media release 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: Kent Nagano to set down from Montreal Symphony position in 2020

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Kent Nagano, former music director of Los Angeles Opera, and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal— which he has led since 2006 — have announced that Nagano will step down from the Montreal orchestra when his contract ends after the 2020 season.

The OSM announcement HERE did not include any comments from Nagano, other than to say this was a joint announcement.

Nagano, who will turn 66 in November, has been general music director of the Hamburg State Opera since 2015. He had been principal conductor of L.A. Opera in the 2001-2002 and was music director at LAO from 2003-2006 when he stepped down concurrently with taking the Montreal position.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Thoughts on conductors leaving (with links)

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

I was thinking last night as I was reading a media release from the Los Angeles Philharmonic how fortunate we are to be living in Los Angeles. Part of that stems from the release’s content: the beginning of the LAPO’s classical season at Hollywood Bowl, which takes place on July 9 — the season runs through mid-September.

However, embedded in the release was the statement that this is Gustavo Dudamel’s eight season at the Bowl, and eight is the operative number. Across the country Alan Gilbert has just finished his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic after eight seasons and Washington Opera has announced that it will not renew the contract of its music director, Phillipe Auguin, after eight seasons.

Gilbert’s departure story is well known in classical music circles, but there was a telling quote among the stories that were published as he was leaving. He said to New York Times writer Michael Cooper, ““To a degree I lost my stomach to fight for things.” You can read the entire article HERE.

That should be a sobering quote for incoming NYPO president and chief executive officer Deborah Borda. One of the reasons Borda was so successful in Los Angeles is that she and her music directors, first Esa-Pekka Salonen and then Gustavo Dudamel, worked as a team in their programming initiatives. Whatever your feelings about Gilbert as a conductor, he apparently didn’t enjoy that support from upper management. Incoming NYPO Music Director Jaap van Zweden will need the support of Borda and the NYPO board if he is to not relive Gilbert’s epitaph.

Incidentally, for Gilbert, the well-known phrase, “When one door closes, another opens,” has come true. He has been named he next chief conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Germany. Unlike the NYPO, which faces the daunting task of raising millions of dollars for a multi-year renovation project of its home, David Geffen Hall, the NDRE’s home is a new $843 million concert hall that overlooks Hamburg’s harbor — it opened earlier this year and has received rave reviews for its looks and strong reviews for its sound.

In the case of Auguin, several factors appear to be in play for the board’s decision to not renew his contract, many of which are spelled in Anne Midgette’s Washington Post article HERE. Part of this — according to Midgette — seems to be a power play between Auguin and the company’s artistic director, Francesco Zambello. Part of it appears to be a conscious decision to move away from the music in which Auguin is most comfortable into areas where he has not been asked to conduct.

Throughout its history, the L.A. Phil has had its share of short-term music-directors. Carlo Maria Giulini succeeded Zubin Mehta after the latter’s run of 16 years. Giulini stayed only six seasons, although his tenure was cut short by his wife’s serious illness. Giulini’s successor, André Previn, lasted just four years until he was succeeded by Salonen, who set a record with his 17-year tenure, and Dudamel, who became LAPO music director in 2009 and is under contract through 2022.

BTW, for those keeping score, at the end of her post on Auguin’s departure HERE, Lisa Hirsch in Iron Tongue of Midnight has a list of orchestras with open music director positions and those recently filled.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: Feinstein, Pasadena Pops open summer season at the Aboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Michael Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops opened their 2017 summer season at the Los Angeles County Arboretum Saturday night with one of those programs that has become “traditional” for Feinstein since he became the Pops’ Principal Conductor in 2012 and conducted his first concert a year later.

A large, nearly sellout audience — which included the usual contingent of joyous peacocks — saw Feinstein as conductor, pianist, soloist, duet singer, interviewer and, of course, raconteur. He does most of these things in many concerts, just not all of them at one time, usually. No circus bandleader could have handled the myriad duties with the aplomb of the irrepressible Feinstein.

He got assistance from four soloists (one of whom was a surprise), the Pops’ Resident Conductor Larry Blank (who also arranged three of the evening’s numbers), eight of the Donald Brinegar Singers, and several orchestra members who excelled in their solo turns.

The concert was entitled “Broadway: The Golden Age,” although Feinstein noted in his opening remarks that what constitutes the “Golden Age” differs in large part based on the listener’s age (for some people, Phantom of the Opera equates to ancient history). Nevertheless, the evening featured music covering four decades and, as is often the case, Feinstein unearthed a work that hasn’t been performed in public: Herbert Spencer’s arrangement of The Sound of Music.

From a performance point of view (aside from Feinstein), the evening’s highlight was vocalist Storm Large, who delivered passionate, sultry performances of As Long as He Needs Me and Maybe This time, joined with Feinstein for Come Rain or Come Shine, and did a hilarious send up of Hopelessly Devoted to You.

Feinstein introduced a young singer, Alex Getlin, who he discovered during parties at Judge Judy’s house when she was age 8. Now age 23 and a recent grad from Northwestern University, Getlin sang I’m the Greatest Star from Funny Girl with polished gusto.

After intermission, Joel Grey showed that even at age 85 he can still create magic in a medley from the musical Cabaret, for which he won an Academy Award and Tony Award in his role as the show’s Master of Ceremonies.

The evening’s surprise was the appearance of Liza Minnelli, who had been listed in the preconcert publicity as the evening’s honoree. After a video montage of some of her greatest musical moments, Minnelli came onstage and it appeared as if she would, indeed, simply be interviewed by Feinstein about her legendary career. Instead, she joined Feinstein for a couple of songs, including a performance of Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano, in which she flashed glimpses of her magnetic stage personality.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• The Pops is co-sponsoring a performance by country-music star LeAnn Rimes on July 8 at The Arboretum. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased through the Pops’ Web site HERE.
• The next concert in the Pops’ season is July 15 when four of the original cast members of the Broadway’s Jersey Boys, who call themselves The Midtown Men, will present songs from that show along with music by the Beach Boys, Beatles and others. Resident Conductor Larry Blank will lead the orchestra. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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