Second thoughts on the 2017 Hollywood Bowl season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Karina Canellakis makes her Hollywood Bowl debut on Aug 8, leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an all-Mendelssohn program. Photo credit: Hiroyuki Ito

Signs of the time?

Earlier this week I previewed the upcoming Hollywood Bowl classical season (LINK), noting — among other things — an increase in motion pictures accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A second look offers some other interesting thoughts about this season, and in particular, what we don’t get this summer:

No Mahler works
Not one!

No Brahms concertos
Zip. Nada.

No semi-stage opera
Instead, we get an evening of Wagner choral and orchestral works on July 20, with Dudamel leading the Phil and L.A. Master Chorale, a performance of Sondheim on Sondheim on July 23, with conducting, and the Broadway evergreen hit Mama Mia! on July 28, 29 and 30.

One Tchaikovsky symphony
No. 5, on July 27 conducted by Rafael Payare making his Bowl debut. Payare is another graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema program (which also produced Gustavo Dudamel), winner of the 2012 Malkio conducting competition, and is now chief conductor of the Ulster Philharmonic in Northern Ireland.

One Beethoven piano concerto
No. 1, on Aug. 31, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist and Bramwell Tovey conducting

One Rachmaninoff piano work
Concerto No 3, on August 15, with Behzod Abduraimov as soloist and Krzysztof Urbanski conducting.

One Gershwin program
Without Rhapsody in Blue, although it does close with An American in Paris — on Aug. 17, with Bramwell Tovey

Two Beethoven symphonies
• No. 9, on July 13 and 18, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting
• No. 3 on Aug. 31, with Bramwell Tovey conducting
I can’t remember a season without either the fifth or sixth symphonies.

Two Tchaikovsky concertos
• Piano Concerto No. 1 on Aug. 1, with Beatrice Rana as soloist and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting
Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Thomas Mesa as soloist, as part of “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts on Aug. 18 and 19

Among “traditional” works NOT being presented: Violin concertos by Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue,, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. And, of course, little — if anything — that appropriates that woefully neglected genre: “light” classics.

There’s no nothing to celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s upcoming centennial.

Things we do get:

• A full night of Vivaldi, with Simone Porter soloing in the Violin Concertos, Op. 4, Nos. 3 and 4, and the Pacific Chorale joining forces with Nicholas McGegan for Stabat Mater and Gloria.

• A smattering (just a smattering) of Mozart: his Requiem on Aug. 24, paired with John Adams Harmonimum, with Dudamel conducting the LAPO and L.A. Master Chorale; and an all-Mozart program led by McGegan on the final classical night of the season, Sept. 14.

• Two L.A. Phil commissions: the world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s Violin Concerto (with Pekka Kuusisto making his Bowl debut as soloist; and Alan Fletcher’s Piano Concerto on Sept. 5, with Inon Barnatan as soloist and Ken-David Masur conducting the Phil. Masur made a well-received debut as a last-minute Bowl sub last season.

• The Bowl debut of conductor Karina Canellakis (pictured at the top of this post), who (one hopes) is on a very short list of conductors to replace Jeffrey Kahane after he retires this season at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. She makes her Bowl debut on Aug. 8 in an all-Mendelssohn program. Canellakis, winner of the 2016 Georg Solti conducting competition, came to national attention when she stepped in not once but twice to replace Jaap von Zweden in Dallas Symphony concerts. My guess is that the San Diego Symphony, which is looking to replace Jahja Ling as music director.

One thing I wish had been programmed:
Either John Adams’ Harmonielehre or City Noir.

As indicated before, Bowl subscription tickets, in a variety of combinations are now on sale. Single tickets go on sale May 7.

The complete season schedule is HERE. The full media kit 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: Hollywood Bowl 2017: more movies, more Dudamel

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The 2017 Hollywood Bowl season, formally introduced via a media release this morning, extends the Bowl’s presence of showing movies on a big screen with the Los Angeles Philharmonic providing live accompaniment, offers more concerts led by Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, and provides several notable differences from the “traditional” outdoor music concerts.

The movie screenings begin with what has become an annual (and sold-out) event: The “Sing-Along Sound of Music, on June 24.

On the heels of last summer’s screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, (pictured above) the Phil will present the next two segments in the popular series: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on July 6 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on July 7. On both occasions, Justin Freer will lead the orchestra.

Another John Williams movie score will be front and center when the Bowl screens Raiders of the Lost Ark on August 4 and 5, with David Newman conducting the Phil. Newman will again lead the orchestra when it accompanies Singin’ in the Rain on Sept. 7 and he will join with John Williams to lead the Phil in the annual “John Williams: Maestro of the Movies” program on Sept. 1, 2 and 3, with accompanying film clips.

Williams the composer also shows up on the 10-week classical series, on July 25 when violinist Gil Shaham will be the soloist in Williams’ Violin Concerto. In addition to accompanying Shaham, Stéphan Denève leads the Phil in Sound the Bells, which Williams originally composed in 1993 for a Boston Pops tour of Japan, along with Respighi’s Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome.

Not only does Dudamel (pictured above) have more appearances scheduled this summer but, for a change, they aren’t all concentrated in the first couple of weeks. He will be on hand for the initial set of classical programs, which begins on July 11 with a program of ballet music featuring dancers Missy Copeland, Marcello Gomes, Sergei Polunin and Natasha Osipova.

The July 13 and 18 programs will be duplicates: Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists Amanda Majeski, J’Nai Bridges, Issachah Savage and Ryan Speedo Green joining Dudamel the Phil. All of the soloists will be making their Bowl debuts.

The Master Chorale returns on July 20 when Dudamel leads a program of Wagner’s choral and instrumental music

In between those weeks, Dudamel leads the Phil in accompanying Tony Bennett on July 14 and 15 (ask not why) and then combines the Phil and YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) in a performance of “Sondheim on Sondheim” — the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim — on July 23.

Dudamel returns to the Bowl on Aug. 22 with a program that includes the world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s Violin Concerto (with Pekka Kuusisto making his Bowl debut as soloist) and Holst’s The Planets. Dudamel also leads the Aug. 24 concert, which pairs John Adams’ Harmonium and Mozart’s Requiem. The Pacific Chorale provides the choral forces.

Among the other notable guest conductors are Bramwell Tovey, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), Vasily Petrenko, Karina Canellakis and Nicholas McGegan. Among the soloists are violinist Joshua Bell, trumpeter Alison Balsom, pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Jean-Yves Thibaudet; and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who will play all six Bach unaccompanied cello sonatas on Sept. 12.

Subscription tickets, in a variety of combinations are now on sale. Single tickets go on sale May 7.

The complete season schedule is HERE. The full media kit 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: LA Opera wins two Grammy Awards

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Opera’s production of John Corigliano’s The Ghost of Versailles in 2015 captured Grammy Awards today for both Best Opera Recording and Best Engineered Classical Album in 2016.

The PentaTone CD, which was the first recording of Corigliano’s opera, was conducted by LAO Music Director James Conlon. It starred Patricia Racette as Marie Antoinette and Patti Lupone as Turkish entertainer Samira, among others. The CD was recorded live in February 2015 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It was engineered by Mark Donahue and Fred Vogler.

This is Conlon’s second double-Grammy winner with LA Opera. He and the company won in 2009 for Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording for LAO’s production of Kurt Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

The LA Opera recording beat four other finalists in each category. Among those in the Best Engineered Classical Album category was Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9, with Andris Nelsons leading the Boston Symphony, which won the Grammy for Best Orchestral Recording.

In the Best Opera Recording category, LAO beat out a Santa Fe Opera production of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, which was conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, former associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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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. Master Chorale unveils 2017-2018 season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale perform in “Lagrime di San Pietro” last fall. A possible tour of the production, which received widespread critical acclaim, was part of the Master Chorale’s presentation of its 2017-18 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
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Once upon a time, not so many years ago, classical music organizations made a big deal of announcing their upcoming seasons. Most were a waste of time. The presentations weren’t well done (I can still remember Plácido Domingo reading the media release at one such occasion) and the news could have just as easily been disseminated by emailing a release, which is what usually happens these days.

This morning the Los Angeles Master Chorale revived the old tradition with a concise, informative event that included — for a change — some genuine news, well presented by Artistic Director Grant Gershon, President and CEO Jean Davidson and others who will be involved in the upcoming season, the Master Chorale’s 54th and Gershon’s 17th as the ensemble’s AD.

You can read the media release HERE but among the news items were:

• The Chorale has now remade itself as a fully professional ensemble. At 100 members it’s one of the largest fully professional choral groups in the world.

• Gershon will conduct six of the nine concerts (12 performances) in the upcoming season, which begins on Sept. 23 and 24 with Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Orff’s Carmina Burana and concludes on June 9 and 10, 2018 with Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem and works by Caroline Shaw and David Lang. The Bernstein piece is part of a world-wide celebration of the centennial of Lenny’s birthday (Aug. 25, 2018).

• In addition to the main season the LAMC will headline “Big Sing California,” a project led by LAMC Artist-in-Residence Eric Whitacre. The year-long event begins with a mass sing in Grant Park on June 24 as part of the 2017 Chorus America conference and will conclude in July, 2018 when people around the world will join together via a live stream to sing with the Whitacre and the Master Chorale performing in Disney Hall.

• The world premiere of dreams of the new world by Ellen Reid combined with one of the most iconic minimalist works: Terry Riley’s In C. Gershon and the Master Chorale will be joined by the “Wild Up” ensemble on May 13. It will be Reid’s second world premiere locally in 2018. She will be featured in Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts with a LACO “Sound Investment” commission on Feb. 24 and 25 (INFO)

• In the second installment of the LAMC’s “Hidden Handel” cycle, Gershon and 80 singers will sing Israel in Egypt in collaboration with visual artist Kevork Mourad. A clip on Mourad’s vision for this piece and his artistic style is HERE.

• Gershon will lead performances of Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 17 and the 27th annual “Messiah Sing-Along” on Dec. 18. This year is the 275th anniversary of the work’s premiere.

• Maria Guinand, conductor of Venezuala’s Schola Cantorum and head of the choral portion of the country’s El Sistema program, will lead a program on Oct. 29 of Latin American music as part of the annual “Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)” remembrance.

• Jenny Wong, the Master Chorale’s new assistant conductor, will lead a concert of Bach’s Six Motets on Dec. 10 and Whitacre will lead “Festival of Carols” concerts on Dec. 2 and 9.

Gershon ended the gathering by telling those assembled that plans are being developed to take the production of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter) on the road. My preview of the concert is HERE. Mark Swed’s L.A. Times review is HERE. Details to come, we are promised.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: A superb “Lost in the Stars” complete’s LACO’s “Lift Every Voice” festival

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Stars EnsembleEntrance scene of “Lost in the Stars,” the opera/musical theater piece by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson, presented last night in UCLA’s Royce Hall as the conclusion of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s “Lift Every Voice” festival. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.
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Perhaps the most amazing thing about Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Lost in the Stars, is that the searing work has been lost from Los Angeles for 67 years. The performances Saturday and last night in UCLA’s Royce Hall were the first professional presentations since Los Angeles Civic Light Opera mounted the work in 1950, a year after the piece’s Broadway debut and the year that Weill died of a heart attack at age 50.

Moreover, the opera/musical theater piece wasn’t presented this time by LA Opera, nor by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, nor even by the intrepid Long Beach Opera. Instead, it was mounted by a collaboration of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Center for the the Art of Performance at UCLA, and SITI Company. SITI’s leader, Anne Bogart, directed the production, with Jeffrey Kahane leading a trimmed-down LACO in the pit.

Lost in the Stars was the concluding program in “Lift Every Voice, LACO’s 15-day-long series about civil rights and injustice (LINK). The piece is based on Alan Paton’s famous anti-apartheid novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, which was published in 1948, four months before South Africa’s separatist National Party came into power and established the brutal system of apartheid.

Stars_Trial(Absalom Kuvalo [Samuel Stricken] on trial for murder in Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s opera/musical theater piece “Lost in the Stars,” presented at UCLA’s Royce Hall last night. Behind him is Lauren Michelle as his wife, Irina, and Christopher Hunter as the Judge. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.)

There are distinctive overtones of Porgy and Bess to Lost in the Stars. As was the case with Porgy, questions raged from the beginning as to whether Lost was an opera or Broadway musical. Weill believed that Porgy was musical theater and should be performed with spoken dialogue, rather than with sung recitatives and that’s how Lost in the Stars was conceived. Yet, when it opened on Broadway on Oct. 30, 1949 it was part of a season of “Opera on Broadway.”

That Lost in the Stars is rarely performed is no surprise, given its complexity. As is the case with Porgy and Bess, the principal singers and much of the chorus are African-American. The production was sung in English without captions or supertitles and the singers’ diction ranged from excellent to mostly understandable.

Lost has five principal singing roles, five principal actors (in this case) portraying 14 different roles, and 27 different singers from the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers and Los Robles Master Chorale who sang and dance various roles and acted as the chorus. Just to put the production together was a significant feat. The ensemble spent three weeks in rehearsals.

Although Weill scored the piece without violins and called for just 12 musicians in the pit (members of the woodwind section played several instruments in the original production), Kahane used 21 musicians in this production. They played superbly with verve and Kahane led a sensitive, yet spirited performance.

Stars_LeadsThe cast for this performance was dominated by Justin Hopkins (pictured left), who delivered an impassioned performance as The Reverend Stephen Kumalo, the black priest who travels from his hometown hundreds of miles to Johannesburg in search of his son, Absalom, and Lauren Michelle as Irina, the woman who is bearing his child. Meloney Collins sang and slinked the role of Linda and the clarion voice of Issachah Savage (pictured below) rang out as chorus leader/narrator.

Lost-SavageIssachah Savage and the chorus were an integral part of last night’s production of “Lost in the Stars.” Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

The plot synopsis is HERE. When Stephen Kumalo arrives in Johannesburg, he discovers that his son has been involved in a botched robbery-turned-murder and, unlike his two compatriots, refuses to lie by pleading not guilty (there were plenty of jibes at lawyers and the legal system — not much has changed in the last six decades).

Kumalo pleads with the murdered boy’s father to plead for Absalom’s mercy before the court, but the father refuses to do so. The play turns on how the two fathers find ways to reconcile their paths and forgive each other. The themes of anger, racial fear, murder and forgiveness are universal, which is why Lost in the Stars remains as relevant today as it was when it opened in 1949.

When Lost in the Stars went on a national tour following its Broadway run of 286 performances, the tour ended, in part, because African-American performers could not stay in the same hotels as the white cast. Although much has changed in the ensuing 60+ years in America, the thought-provoking story of this work deserves to be heard on a much broader scale than the 3,000 or so who heard this presentation at Royce Hall this weekend.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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