NEWS: Call it “the Soraya”

Following a $17 million donation from Younes and Soraya Nazarian to the Valley Performing Arts Center on the Cal State Northridge campus, the center — which hosts a number of concerts annually including classical music — will be renamed the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts or “the Soraya” for short.

Wonder if they’re going to change its Web site URL.

Read Jeffrey Fleischman’s article in the Los Angeles Times HERE.

Read Dana Bartholomew’s story in the Daily News HERE.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Midtown Men shine with Pasadena Pops at Los Angeles County Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group


The Midtown Men, who performed more than 1,000 times in the original Broadway run of “Jersey Boys,” appeared with the Pasadena Pops at the Los Angeles County Arboretum last night.

Since Michael Feinstein took over as Principal Conductor of the Pasadena Pops five years ago, the pattern for the summer schedule has settled into a familiar — and comfortable — pattern. Feinstein conducts three of the shows and appears as singer in the fourth.

Then there is the fifth show, which usually falls in the No. 2 slot on the schedule. This year Pops management found a great “outlier” when it imported The Midtown Men — four members of the original Broadway cast of the long-running the hit Jersey Boys — to the Los Angeles County Arboretum Saturday night. In addition to a highly pleasing performance, the Midtown Men raised an intriguing question, as well.

It undoubtedly helped the quartet, and certainly helped the large audience, that Pops Resident Conductor Larry Blank and the orchestra provided backup. Blank, who has undoubtedly conducted thousands of a widely varied number of concerts, allowed the orchestra to open by playing a lengthy medley of songs from Grease, which they did superbly. He also provided a steady, sure hand throughout the balance of the evening and the orchestra played with solid assurance.

That brought on The Midtown Men — Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer — who look a bit like the Rat Pack and delivered a high-energy performance that belied the fact that they have performed this show in more than 700 venues across the U.S. and around the world.

During first-half introductions, the audience learned how each member got into the original Broadway run of Jersey Boys, where they played more than 1,000 performances before creating their own show and heading out on the road.

The intros assumed that the audience had either seen the original Broadway show, which has spawned several nationwide tours and a long-running Las Vegas version, or at least knew the story: the formation, success and eventual break-up of the 1960s rock ‘n roll group The Four Seasons.

In addition to a couple of songs from Jersey Boys, Saturday night’s first-half performance featured music by The Beatles and other rock groups from the 1960s (illness sent me home at intermission, which included a larger Jersey Boys set).

Honed by years on the road, the program was polished and certainly played to the Baby Boomers in the audience who grew up on this music during their teens. Moreover, the group’s diction was unusually precise.

However, early in the program one of the “Men” opined that the 1960s was history’s greatest era for rock and roll. My wife and I discussed this on the ride home and both of us (who predate the Baby Boomer era by a couple of years) felt that the 1950s were better than its succeeding decade, at least in part because the 1950s saw the rise of Elvis Presley.

On the other hand, as Michael Feinstein said about Broadway’s “Golden Age” during the Pops season’s opening concert in June, what you think about Broadway and rock and roll “golden” era depends on the age of the person giving the opinion. Whatever the answer, Saturday proved to be a satisfying argument for the 1960s era of that iconic music.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Feinstein returns to the Arboretum stage on July 29 as he sings music from the Swing era(s): Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and others. Blank will be on hand again to lead the orchestra. INFO
• Feinstein will appear next Sunday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center playing the piano, telling stories and singing songs from “The Great American Songbook,” the collection of music that he has continued to espouse with almost religious fervor. INFO
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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: Some thoughts on last night’s Hollywood Bowl concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Thursday night at Hollywood Bowl
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (with soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale).
Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man; Lincoln Portrait (Vin Scully, narrator)
Next performance: Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com

My review of last night’s concert will be in our papers and online next week, but I wanted to add a few notes that didn’t make the review due to lack of space:

• The brass section, which stood in place for the performance, delivered a particularly burnished performance in Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which opened the concert. Kudos, especially, to Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten, who was striking not only in this work but also in Copland Portrait, which followed the fanfare.

• Since Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is always a big seller, it’s hard to estimate how many people in the audience came to hear Vin Scully narrate Lincoln Portrait, but the large crowd gave Scully a standing ovation as he came onstage slowly with L.A. Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel.

Scully stood quietly as Dudamel led the first half of the piece with appropriate grandeur. Scully then intoned Lincoln’s words — some familiar (e.g., Gettysburg Address) and others less so (words from the Lincoln-Douglas debate) — with his familiar easy baritone voice that always sounds like he’s delivering a story to a doting grandchild. What was amazing was that he delivered the texts from memory. I’ve heard this piece dozens of times and I don’t ever recall anyone not using a score, not only to know where to come in but also for the words (I’m sure it’s happened; I just don’t recall it).

Not that I should have been surprised. In 1999 when I was preparing a half-hour documentary on the history of the Southern California Golf Association, Scully agreed to narrate the video. We recorded it in the press box at Dodger Stadium and Scully used just one take to record the entire script — having not seen it ahead of time. He was — and is — amazing!

• If you’re planning on attending next week’s concert, you might want to consider arriving a bit earlier than usual. The crowds at Tuesday’s and Thursday’s concerts were quite large — not sellout, so tickets are available, but close — and with the new metal detectors at the entrance, getting into the Bowl takes a bit longer. Also, if you already have your tickets, use the new “Mid-Gate” entrance to avoid the lines.

• Tuesday’s concert is a repeat of last night’s performance — INFO. On Thursday night, Dudamel conducts overtures and choruses from Wagner operas (Tannhauser, Die Fleglende Hollander and Die Meistersinger)INFO. On Sunday evening, Dudamel leads the Phil, Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) and a large case in a performance of Sondheim on Sondheim, a tribute to the great Broadway lyricist and composer, who turned age 87 last March. INFO
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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: 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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