PREVIEW: There’s more to orchestras than the L.A. Phil

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Somewhat overshadowed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s opening this week (LINK) are a handful of other openings that should be noted.

The Long Beach Symphony opens its 80th anniversary season Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Long Beach’s Terrace Theatre. Richard Guzman’s preview article on our papers’ Web site is HERE.

The orchestra’s board announced today that it has extended Kelly Ruggirello’s contract as the LBSO executive director through the 2017. Ruggirello took over the post 18 months ago and this announcement means, presumably, that she will be leading the orchestra through its music director transition. Enrique Arturo Diemecke resigned abruptly last season after 13 years as the LBSO’s music director.

Concert information: www.lbso.org

The London Philharmonic Orchestra will make a stop at California State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center on Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski will lead the program of Dvorak’s The Noonday Witch, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”) and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist. Incidentally, the LPO announced yesterday that Jurowski’s contract has been extended through at least 2018 (LINK).

Information: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

The following day, the LPO moves down the 405 Freeway to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa when it opens the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s 2014-2015 season on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. with the same program and performers as at VPAC. Information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

If you’re so inclined, you can comparison performances of the concerto because Behzod Abduraimov will be the soloist when the Los Angeles Philharmonic pairs Prokofiev’s third concerto with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in a “Casual Friday” concert on Oct. 17. Basque conductor Juanjo Mena will conduct. The concerts on Oct. 18 and 19 add Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony to the aforementioned two. Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: L.A. Phil and others open 2014-2015 seasons

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.

Dudamel-9-29-13Less than three weeks after concluding its Hollywood Bowl summer season, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will open its 2014-2015 season this week at Walt Disney Concert Hall as Music Director Gustavo Dudamel (right) leads the annual gala concert on Sept. 30 and the first two weekends of subscription concerts beginning Oct. 2.

During his sixth season as the Phil’s music director, Dudamel, now age 33, will conduct 12 subscription programs during the upcoming season along with Tuesday’s gala. Dudamel will also lead the orchestra on an Asian tour in March 2015.

The gala (which benefits the musicians’ pension fund) will honor legendary movie score composer John Williams, whose 49 Academy Awards are second only to Walt Disney. Dudamel will conduct music ranging from familiar (Star Wars) to less-well-known scores (The Adventures of Tintin). Violinist Itzhak Perlman will be the soloist in excerpts from Schindler’s List and Fiddler on the Roof.

Information: www.laphil.com

The opening week of LAPO subscription concerts (Oct. 2, 3, 4 and 5) will begin with the U.S. premiere of man made by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang. The quartet “Sō Percussion” will be the soloist in the concerto, a L.A. Phil co-commission that was written for the quartet and premiered last May in London. This will be one of 10 L.A. Phil-commissioned works in the upcoming season.

So_Metronomes_smallIn his program note, Lang wrote: “I have worked with Sō Percussion (pictured left) for a very long time now. They are frequently theatrical, they invite found objects into their performances, they build their own instruments, etc. I wondered if I could make the unusualness of their musicality the centerpiece of this concerto, but how could an orchestra of ‘normal’ instruments doing mostly ‘normal’ things find common ground with them?”

“My solution,” continues Lang, “was to set up a kind of ecology between the soloists and the orchestra, using the orchestral percussionists as ‘translators.’ An idea begins with the soloists on an invented instrument, the percussionists in the orchestra hear the solo music and translate it into something that can be approximated by more traditional orchestral percussion, the rest of the orchestra hears and understands the orchestral percussion, and they join in.

“The opening, for example begins with the soloists snapping twigs, which the orchestral percussionists translate into woodblocks, marimba, and xylophone, which the orchestra takes up and embellishes, eventually overwhelming the soloists. This process of finding something intricate and unique, decoding it, regularizing it, and mass producing it reminded me of how a lot of ideas in our world get invented, built, and overwhelmed, so I decided to call it man made.”

This weekend’s concerts will conclude with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, a work that Dudamel has conducted and recorded with his Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. However, this marks the first time that he has conducted it with the Phil.

KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen has a concert preview HERE.

Information: www.laphil.com

The second week of subscription concerts (Oct. 9, 10, 11 and 12) will find Dudamel conducting John Adams’ Harmonium, along with Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor). Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will be the soloists.

INFORMATION: www.laphil.com

Two other L.A. Phil series begin during the upcoming fornight. Sō Percussion and LAPO percussionists will open the Phil’s “Green Umbrella” series of new-music concerts on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Disney Hall, performing music by David Lang and Michael Gordon, co-founders of the group “Bang on a Can.”

Information: www.laphil.com

Meanwhile, the Phil’s organ series, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Disney Hall instrument, will open Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. Organist Christopher Houlihan, LAPO Principal Timpanist Joseph Pereira and members of the orchestra’s brass section will offer a selection of music ranging over four centuries.

Information: www.laphil.com

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• The “Green Umbrella” and organ recital concert are part of a new Phil new ticketing policy where a limited number of seats are offered for $20. They are available online, by phone and in person at the box office. INFO

• The opening concerts also mark the resumption of “FastNotes,” the orchestra innovative informational effort. You sign up for a Phil email account (no charge) and a few days before each concert you get an email with program notes, bios, links, audio samples and ticketing information about the event. A few other organizations have similar programs but none as good as the Phil’s. LINK

• The Phil has also announced that Danish conductor Christian Kluxen and New Zealand native Gemma New will participate in this season’s Dudamel Fellowship Program. This program has shrunk during the past two years, going from four Fellows in 2012-13 to three last season and now two. However, LAPO Director of Public Relations Sophie Jeffries reports: “There is no fixed number for how many Dudamel Fellows are announced each year. It has to do with identifying young conductors to take part and also their availability.”

Lluxen leads the Philharmonia of London’s “iOrchestra” project and just finished a three-year stint as Assistant Conductor of the Royal Scottish Orchestra. New is Associate Conductor of the New Jersey Symphony and Founder and Director of the Lunar Ensemble, a contemporary music collective in Baltimore.

Read the media release HERE.

• The Phil also recently named Lithuanian native Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, a Dudamel Fellow two seasons ago, as the orchestra’s Assistant Conductor. Read the media release HERE.

ALSO UPCOMING:
Two of the Southland’s — indeed, the nation’s — premiere youth orchestras open their seasons during the next fortnight.

• Roger Kalia begins his final season as music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra on Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aratani/Japan American Theater in Little Tokyo. The program, which celebrates 60 years for the YMF, will feature flutist Catherine Baker and soprano Solène Le Van as soloists; both were Special Recognition winners in the recent YMF Debut Concerto Competition. Tickets are $5. Information: www.ymf.org

• Meanwhile, the American Youth Symphony kicks off its 50th anniversary season with a free concert on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Music Director Alexander Treger leads his ensemble — 107 musicians, ages 15 to 27, representing 26 schools — in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and the world premiere of Henri Lazarof’s Cello Concerto No. 4. Alan Steele, who at age 21, departed the AYS to become principal cellist of the Fort Worth Symphony, will be the concerto soloist. Information: www.aysymphony.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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(Rev.) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Jeffrey Kahane, LACO open 46th season with “world tour”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
The revision includes the name of the encore.

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Saturday, September 20, 2014 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre
Patrick: Lines of the Southern Cross
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian); Juho Pohjonen, soloist
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor.
Next performance: Tonight at 7 p.m. UCLA’s Royce Hall. Concert preview at 6 p.m.
Information: www.laco.org
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Jeffrey Kahane took his audience on an around-the-world tour for the opening concert of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 46th season last night in Glendale’s Alex Theatre. The itinerary included Australia by way of Southern California, Egypt via France and Finland, and Germany-Austria.

Kahane, beginning his 18th season as LACO’s music director, opened the program with the LACO-commissioned world premiere of Lines of the Southern Cross by 46-year-old Australia native Cameron Patrick, who now lives in Los Angeles.

The 15-minute, five-movement work for strings and percussion used sounds that replicated Aboriginal instruments — in his preconcert talk, Patrick explained that importing actual instruments would have been too difficult legally.

Patrick also employed “songline,” an aural map that describes geographical features, to paint evocative pictures of the wide-open Outback spaces (Lake Cootharaba, K’gari Coast and Nullabor Plain). The jazz-infused final section added a joyous counterpoint to the mystery. The audience responded with a thunderous standing ovation.

Prior to intermission, Kahane, the orchestra and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen offered a scintillating performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5. The only other time that LACO had programmed this last of the composer’s piano concertos was in 1985 when Gerard Schwarz was music director, Kahane was three years shy of making his conducting debut, and Pohjonen was age four.

Now a rising star in the piano firmament, Pohjonen displayed impeccable technique throughout Saturday night, particularly in his ultra-clean runs and trills. However what made this performance special were his exquisite shadings and musicality, especially in the second movement that gives the concerto its nickname, “Egyptian” (reportedly the composer heard that movement’s main theme being sung by boatmen while cruising down the Nile River). Kahane and the orchestra offered supple accompaniment throughout the performance. Pohjonen encored with Les chinois by François Couperin from Pieces de Clavecin, Book 4: 27th Ordre in B minor.

After intermission, Kahane and his orchestra a brisk account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Like the concerto, this was just the second time that LACO has played this most familiar of Beethoven symphonies (the other time was in 2009) but Kahane conducted it from memory.

This performance also demonstrated Kahane’s savvy programming in broadening LACO’s repertory to include “larger” symphonies (as opposed to those of Mozart and Haydn, to name but two composers). Saturday night wasn’t a note-perfect performance but the 53 players approximated the size Beethoven would have used and, compared to a “full-sized” orchestra of 90 or so, played with a transparency that allowed many of the inner voices to shine through clearly.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Prior to the performance, Kahane took the opportunity to salute Andrea Laguni, who has retired after 19 years as the orchestra’s general manager.
• In the preconcert talk, in addition to Kahane interviewing Patrick about Lines of the Southern Cross, Principal Oboeist Alan Vogel played Saint-Saëns’ Oboe Sonata, with Kahane accompanying at the keyboard.
• Most interesting item gleaned from Dr. Christine Lee Gengaro’s music notes: There was a 20-year-gap between Saint-Saëns fourth and fifth piano concertos. He wrote the Egyptian concerto in 1896 for the 50th anniversary of his debut at Paris’ Salle Pleyel when he was age 11.
• The next LACO orchestra concerts are Oct. 18 (at the Alex) and 19 (at UCLA’s Royce Hall). Douglas Boyd leads a program of George Benjamin’s At First Light; Mozart’s “Haffner” March and “Haffner” Serenade; and Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2, with Steven Isserlis as soloist. Information: www.laco.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: Angeles Chorale opens 40th season with exciting Gospel concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

The Angeles Chorale opened its 40th anniversary season by reprising one of the most popular concerts in the ensemble’s history, an evening of Gospel music. It proved to be a savy choice; the performers (including a sizzling sextet of instrumentalists, two soloists and the chorale’s be-bopping artistic director, John Sutton) were hotter than the sweltering non-air conditioned sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena. For one of the rare times, the marketing tagline, “Unbridled Joy!” nailed it.

The 54 singers in the Pasadena-based chorale wore multi-colored casual tops and sang about 80 minutes from memory (the program, performed without intermission lasted a little over two hours). The chorale’s diction was so impressive that even though the texts were printed in the program that was a waste of paper except for when baritone soloist Darnell Abraham sang.

Freed from the shackles of holding music scores and/or folders, the singers — with a couple of exceptions — bounced and swayed to the music with joyful exuberance on their faces as did Sutton, who was fully in charge throughout the performance. It wasn’t how an African-American choir would have sung the program but it was exciting and performed with a high degree of polish.

After 20 minutes or so, the audience got into the swing of things. Part of the early lethargy was the heat both outside and inside (Sutton suggested people think of the evening as a Richard Simmons workout and fan with their programs in time with the music). However, when Tenor Saxophonist Ramsey Castaneda, soprano Eyvonne Williams and the chorale performed a gripping rendition of Mark Hayes’ arrangement of Here’s One, everyone was hooked. By evening’s end (an encore written and led from the piano by Byron Smith) all were on their feet stomping and screaming.

The instrumental ensemble — Castaneda, pianist Byran Pezzone, Moses Sun on guitar, Sean Barrett bass guitar, Greg Mathieson on a Hammond B-3 organ, and Bryan Taylor on a drum set — played wonderfully, especially in Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, which concluded the formal portion of the program.

As heard from a balcony seat, the instrumentalists occasionally overpowered the choir and Abraham, but when 50+ singers from the Azusa Pacific University Choir joined the Angeles Chorale for the last three pieces of the Gospel Mass the balance evened out nicely. Pezzone offered a nicely nuanced bridge to help the choristers get into the choir loft and each of the instrumentalists played hot jazz riffs during the final portion of Gospel Mass.

The evening was dedicated to the memory of Justin Carr on what would have been the former Harvard-Westlake student’s 18th birthday. The Altadena resident (he and his family lived next to Sutton and his wife) died from an undiagnosed case of idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy while in a swimming workout on Feb. 22, 2013 at the school.

After a screening of a CBS-2 Emmy-award winning news segment on the tragedy, Carr’s parents, Darnell Carr and Susan Toler Carr, came on stage and discussed the Justin Car Memorial Fund (www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org). Perhaps the most meaningful moment was the revelation that a San Fernando Valley high school had tested their student-athletes and discovered one with the disease before it could result in the kind of tragic accident that killed Justin.

For the record: the other pieces performed were Wondrous Love, Ain’t Got Time to Die, Lord I Know I’ve been Changed, and City Called Heaven.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Although I realize the concert was a significant event in the chorale’s history, the constant running around of the videographers and photographers proved to be distracting.
• The chorale’s next concert will be a holiday-music performance on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at FUMCP. Information: www.angeleschorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: LACO to open 46th season next weekend

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.
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• Next weekend might seem like a typical season-opening set of concerts by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and in one sense it is. Jeffrey Kahane and LACO begin the ensemble’s 46th season Saturday at 8 p.m. in Glendale’s Alex Theatre and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall with, what for them, is a typical Kahane-planned program.

However, what makes the concerts different is a clicking clock. Kahane, who turned 58 on Friday, announced in April that he would retire at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season, which will be his 20th with the orchestra. Consequently, every move LACO makes in the coming years will be scrutinized as to its future direction.

Perhaps with a nod to continuity, this weekend’s program is quintessential Kahane. It opens with a world premiere — the first performance of Lines of the Southern Cross, a work for strings and percussion by young Australian-born composer Cameron Patrick — and concludes with a Beethoven’s most famous symphony, the fifth. In between comes a less-than-frequently played concerto — Saint-Säens’s fifth (the Egyptian) — with Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen as soloist

Throughout his career, Kahane has championed the orchestra’s commissioning of new works and Patrick’s is the latest in a long line of premieres. Moreover, when Kahane began his tenure 18 years ago, one of his goals was to expand the orchestra’s repertoire beyond the then-traditional baroque-era pieces to include larger works, such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Information: www.laco.org

• If you’re looking for a great concert at an affordable price, consider The Colburn Orchestra, which opens its season on Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. in Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium. Music Director Yehuda Gilad leads his young but talented ensemble in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman overture, Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite and Brahms’s Double Concerto, with Colburn School faculty members violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith as soloists.

Tickets are just $10 each. Metro riders get a $5 discount if they present their Metro TAP card. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

• The Pasadena Master Chorale will use a unique twist on a familiar pricing strategy when it opens its season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and next Sunday at 4 p.m. in Altadena Community Church. Although tickets are required, they are free but those attending are asked to pay what they think the concerts are worth following the performance, a variation on freewill offerings that many groups use to help defray costs.

Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein will conduct an eclectic program with music ranging from Hildegard of Bingen and Giovanni da Palestrina to Eric Whitacre Randall Thompson and PMC composer-in-residence Reena Esmail. Soloists will include pianist Crystele Rivette and percussionists from LaSalle High School.

Information: www.pasdenamasterchorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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