L.A. Chamber Orchestra plumbs Mozart’s Requiem; L.A. Phil takes on “Alice in Wonderland”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

• When Jeffrey Kahane began his “Discover” series of one-off concerts with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Ambassador Auditorium several years ago, it was to examine Beethoven symphonies in depth. Having exhausted most of those works (at least the familiar ones), Kahane & Co. turn to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor on Thursday at 8 p.m. for the next installment.

There are plenty of opportunities for examination. Mozart left the piece unfinished and most conductors have used an ending supposedly finished by the composer’s friend, Franz Süssmayr. However in the 1990s, fortepianist and Mozart scholar Robert Levin published his own completion and this is the edition Kahane will use when he conducts the orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists in the second half of the program.

In the first half, actors John Sloan and JD Cullum from The Antaeus Company will join with Kahane to tell the Requiem’s story.

Single tickets are $25-$115. BTW: check the Web site for parking instructions, which are different than for Pasadena Symphony concerts.

Information: www.laco.org

• While Los Angeles Opera remains immersed in its “Figaro Trilogy” — The Ghost of Versailles continues its run through March 1, The Barber of Seville opens Feb. 28 and The Marriage of Figaro begins March 21 — the Los Angeles Philharmonic jumps into the operatic fray on Feb. 27 and 28 in Walt Disney Concert Hall with West Coast-premiere performances of Alice in Wonderland by Korean composer Unsuk Chin.

This is a new production by video artist Netia Jones who, in addition to being director, also designed the costumes and sets. She will use illustrations by Ralph Steadman (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and combine those with live action and interactive animated projections.

There’s a cast of 12 in the opera — many playing multiple roles — along with members of the L.A. Master Chorale and L.A. Children’s Chorus. The performances will be conducted by rising Finnish star Susanna Mälkki, who was recently named chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and has made a strong impression in previous L.A. Phil concerts.

Incidentally, LA Opera is listed as a “collaborator” on this production although the company has made no mention of this on its Web site or publicity materials. LAO reportedly has been miffed about the Phil invading its turf with opera productions at Disney Hall in recent years so perhaps this “collaboration” was a way to mollify hurt feelings.

Information: www.laphil.com

If Chin’s contemporary take on Lewis Carroll’s classic isn’t your cup of tea, another young woman conductor with a growing rep, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla — the Phil’s new assistant conductor — will lead a program of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio overture, Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 on March 1 at Disney Hall.

Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Violinist Dylana Jenson: the backstory to an upcoming concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Violinist Dylana Jenson will appear as soloist with the Pasadena Symphony on Feb. 14 — read my preview story HERE.

Jenson’s struggles to find a violin that sings to and through her soul have been detailed in several postings. One is Jenson’s interview with Pasadena-based violinist and blogger Laurie Niles HERE. Another is an interview with violinist Robert L. Jones HERE.

An article by Donald Rosenberg in the Cleveland Plain Dealer is particularly illuminating because details the struggles of violinists to find just the right instrument — as Rosenberg puts it, “a cautionary tale for anyone in search of the instrument that best reflects his or her artistic soul” — Read it HERE.

As I read Rosenberg’s article, I was struck by the similarities between Jenson and organist Cameron Carpenter, who grew so frustrated with the organs on which he has played throughout his career that he built his own instrument. Read my story HERE.

My late wife was a concert pianist and I remember our long search for exactly the “right” piano for her. I was struck by the differences between the many instruments that she played, which included several Steinways. Finally when she sat down at a Baldwin L, she (and I) could hear that this was “Jennifer’s piano.”

FURTHER NOTES:
Jenson’s recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra is still available on compact disc. The recording of the Shostakovich and Barber Violin Concertos she made in 2008 with David Lockington and the London Symphony Orchestra is available as a download through cdbaby.com HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Alan Gilbert to step down as NY Phil music director in 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

In one of the more surprising developments in classical music recently, Alan Gilbert has told the New York Philharmonic that he will step down as the orchestra’s music director in 2017 after eight seasons on the job.

Now age 47, Gilbert told Michael Cooper in the New York Times that, “It’s become clear that the next chapter, logically, has to carry the organization through to the opening of [the planned renovation of Avery Fisher] hall, which is at the earliest 2021. It’s a wonderful atmosphere, which of course I will be sorry to leave. But as I’ve thought about it, the next logical step — it’s just longer than I want to stay around. It’s actually that simple.”

Read Cooper’s entire article HERE. Cooper has a followup article on possible replacements HERE. Anne Midgette in the Washington Post has her early list of candidates HERE.

My winterbook favorites are Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen but whether either want to be involved in the fund raising for and contentious remake of Avery Fisher Hall and the two years that the NY Phil would have to find temporary quarters will be surely be among the major questions.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: L.A. Master Chorale offers gripping “St. Matthew Passion”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
The Los Angeles News Group

Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor
January 31 at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Bach: St. Matthew Passion
Next performance: Tonight at 7 p.m..
Information: www.lamc.org

In an article in Performances Magazine (which acts as the program for events at Walt Disney Concert Hall and other venues), Thomas May wrote that a masterpiece “is a work of art that contains too many levels to be exhausted in a single encounter.” The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s splendid, gripping performance of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, heard Saturday afternoon in Disney Hall, exemplified that description.

Although the performance was not “staged,” the way Aristic Director Grant Gershon laid out his forces lent a theatrical quality to the afternoon. In front were tenor Jon Lee Keenan, who sang radiantly as the Evangelist (aka the narrator), and bass Chung Uk Lee, who subtly captured the many emotional facets of Jesus.

The 40 Master Chorale singers were divided into two choirs; Musica Angelica, the period-instrument ensemble with about the same numbers, was also split in half. Although everyone was on the Disney Hall stage, the division of forces was clearly evident and the split was reinforced because the orchestra and choir on each side of the dividing line aligned with the choruses and soloists. On the top riser were 26 members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, who lent a pure, angelic top sound to the opening and closing choruses of the work’s first half.

The 21 other soloists, who sing the characters that are part of the Biblical drama, came from the Master Chorale’s forces. All simply stepped out from the chorus to sing their solo lines. However, even here Gershon had a theatrical touch as to where the soloists stood; they eventually covered the entire width of the horseshoe shape of the chorus. Gershon led a glorious, fast-paced performance that captured all of the work’s drama expertly.

Without in any slighting Keenan’s searing performance as the narrator, the Chorale was the star of the show, both in the 12 chorales and their other accompanying parts. Five of those chorales are variations on what we now know as the Passion Chorale (most familiarly known as the tune for the hymn O Sacred Head, Now Wounded). The Master Chorale’s singing in those five chorales exquisitely made clear the subtle harmonic and key changes that Bach wrote to differentiate them.

At three hours, the St. Matthew Passion is an endurance contest for performers and audience alike, but when done well it’s worth the effort and this performance was everything one could want.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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LA Opera announces 2015-2016 season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
The Los Angeles News Group
San Francisco Opera, Moby Dick,
Jake Hegge’s opera “Moby-Dick” will be part of the 2015-16 Los Angeles Opera season.
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There’s a healthy dose of the familiar to Los Angeles Opera’s 30th anniversary season, which was formally unveiled yesterday, but enough new and/or interesting to make the 2015-2016 schedule worth considering when laying out your long-range plans.

The season will have six productions, totaling 38 performances, and two recitals — including a 30th anniversary gala pairing of Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming on March 16, 2016 with James Conlon conducting the LA Opera Orchestra — in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There will also be five offerings (13 performances) in the company’s “Off Grand” series (i.e., locales outside the Pavilion).

As has been the case in recent years, LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct four of the six Pavilion productions. He won’t be leading the opening offering — Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci — nor the last production, Puccini’s La Boheme (see below for details on these).

Among the Pavilion highlights:
• The Los Angeles premiere of Jake Hegge’s Moby-Dick, with Jay Hunter Morris singing the title role. This was originally a co-production of five companies, including San Diego Opera — I loved it when I saw it there. Opens Oct. 31 for six performances.
• A revival of the highly successful 2013 Barrie Kosky production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, featuring sets that evoke the silent-film movie era. Opens Feb. 13, 2016 for six performances. Another in the “don’t-miss” category.
• The season-opening double bill will revive the company’s Woody Allen production of Gianni Schicchi, with Domingo singing the title and Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor, leading the orchestra. After intermission, in an idea that only Domingo would think of, he will change clothes, wipe off makeup and pick up the baton to conduct Pagliacci. Opens Sept. 12 for six performances.
• The season concludes with Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel making his company debut leading the final two performances of La Boheme on June 10 and 12, 2016. Italian born conductor Speranza Scappucci makes her company debut leading the first four performances. Opens May 14 for eight performances.

Among the “Off Grand” productions
• Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet will perform Glass’ score to the classic 1931 film Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi) Oct. 29-31 at the recently restored Theatre at Ace Hotel, a 1927 Spanish Gothic movie palace in downtown Los Angeles that was once a United Artists flagship movie theatre.
• The world premiere of Anatomy Theatre by PulitzerPrize-winning composer David Lang and visual artist Mark Dion will mark the second collaboration between LAO and the Beth Morrison Projects at REDCAT (the Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theatre) located in the Disney Hall complex. June 16-19, 2016. Incidentally, the first of these collaborations, Dog Days, opens June 11 (2015). Information: www.laopera.org

Read the 2015-2016 media release HERE.

LAO’s 2015-2016 Web site is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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