REVIEW: Feinstein, Pasadena Pops swing with Gershwin at the Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Saturday night’s Pasadena Pops concert before a large crowd at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Arcadia offered a diverse selection of music by George and Ira Gershwin, along with selections from composers who were either influenced by or contemporaries of the Gershwins.

However, the evening was also a good opportunity to see how Principal Pops Conductor Michael Feinstein has matured and improved both as conductor and ringmaster during his nearly five years leading the Pops. He could not have pulled off such a complicated program in 2013 with the panache that he did Saturday night.

As he often does in these types of programs Feinstein appeared as conductor, pianist, soloist, raconteur, historian and (as noted above) master of ceremonies over a cast that included two stellar vocal soloists, a pair of dancers and several Pops’ soloists. Altogether they performed 20 numbers on an evening that ran nearly two-and-one-half hours.

Feinstein’s conducting chops continue to improve year by year, although as he demonstrated when leading a performance of “Mambo” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” he’s no Gustavo Dudamel, (it’s also fair to note that five years ago he could not have conducted Dimitri Tiomkin’s “Mars Ballet” with the assurance with which he led Saturday’s stylish performance by the Pops).

Throughout the evening as he often does, Feinstein managed to exhume a couple of scores that have lain quietly in vaults for decades. He began the program with Ray Heindorf’s “Rhapsody in Blue Overture,” which was written for the 1945 movie but never used. “Mars Ballet,” which was written for the 1929 film “The March of Time,” was another of the evening’s “discoveries” that were receiving their first public performances.

The evening’s vocal soloists were Rachel York, who used her smoky seductive voice to full effect on “S’Wonderful, “Loved Walked In, “Swannee” and — most particularly on “The Man I Love;” and Jordan Danica, who took an evening off from “Hamilton” to sing a poignant rendition of “Ol’ Man River” along with “Fascinating Rhythm,” Sweet and Lowdown” and “That Certain Feeling.” Someone needs to feature Danica on a solo vocal program at an indoor locale such as The Broad Stage — he was terrific on Saturday!

Dancers Anna Petrova and Forrest Walsh negotiated a narrow sliver of the Arboretum stage with graceful élan on two sets of numbers.

• Preconcert publicity had listed Madelyn Baillio as one of the soloists but she didn’t appear and no mention was made as to why.
• The publicity also listed “Someone to Watch Over Me” as one of the songs to be performed but it didn’t make the final list (too bad, it’s one my favorite Gershwin songs).
• The final concert in the Pops 2017 season is Sept. 9, when Feinstein leads a program of movie music from Universal Studios (last year it was Warner Brothers). Information:

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Venezuela’s president lays into Gustavo Dudamel

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

According to Norman Lebrech on his Blog “Slipped Disc,” Los Angeles Philharmonic Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel has been publicly reprimanded by Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro because Dudamel urged his government to bring peace to the country (LINK).

Dudamel is also music director of the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra, flagship ensemble of Venezuela’s famed “El Sistema” music education program, which Maduro alluded to in his comments. Dudamel is also El Sistema’s most famous graduate.

So far, no comment from Dudamel. On the other hand, perhaps none is needed, other than to throw Maduro a pity party.

Dudamel returns to Hollywood Bowl next week to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in concerts Tuesday and Thursday. Information:

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Petranko replaces Mirga tomorrow

If you’re planning to go to Hollywood Bowl tomorrow to see Mirga Grazinyte-Tyra conduct, be advised that she has cancelled due to illness. Vasily Petrenko, who had already to conduct Thursday, will sub for Mirga. The program remains the same, including the Bowl debut of 24-year old Italian pianist Beatrice Rana as soloist in Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1.

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NEWS: New West Symphony names three finalists for music director position

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Thousand Oaks-based New West Symphony has named three finalists for its vacant music director position and concurrently filled out most of its 2017-2018 season. Two of the finalists will lead programs in the upcoming season at the orchestra’s three homes: Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and Santa Monica. The other candidate will lead the opening concert of the 2018-2019 season.

The winner will replace Marcello Lehninger, who left last year to become music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan. The GRS was led for nearly two decades by David Lockington, who left there to become the Pasadena Symphony music director — yep, the wheels of the car go round and round …

The three conducting finalists are:
Tania Miller, who last season celebrated her 14th season as music director of the Victoria Symphony in British Columbia. Miller, who will turn 48 next month, is the oldest of the candidates and the only woman finalist.

Miller, who led the first NWS concert last season, will conduct the final concert in the 2017-2018 schedule on May 12 and 13. Her program will include Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, along with Liszt’s Totentaz and his Piano Concerto No. 1. 2009 Van Cliburn International Competition gold medalist, Haochen Zang, will be the soloist in the Liszt works.

Kynan Johns, who will lead programs on January 25, 27 and 28. The concerts will conclude with a warhorse, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique), but the program will also include a world premiere by Bruce Boughton written for the Lyris Quartet, which was founded by New West Symphony Concertmaster Alyssa Park. Johns is the only one of the three without a current music director position.

Fawzi Haimor, recently named music director of Württenbergische Philharmonic Reutlingen in Germany. His start date there is in September, which probably pushed his NWS “audition” concert back to the 2018-2019 season opener. Haimor, 34,was formerly resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Chicago Tribune columnist/critic John Von Rhein notes: “The Chicago-born conductor Fawzi Haimor, whose father is Jordanian-Lebanese and whose mother is from the Philippines, sees it as his duty to promote the work of Muslim and Arabic composers. One of the very few Muslim conductors pursuing an international career, he also has made it part of his mission to encourage younger musicians of similar ethnic and religious background to take up the baton.”

New West Symphony season:
In addition to the concerts led by Miller and Johns, the season includes:
Season Opener
The October 6, 7 and 8 concerts will feature Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 combined with music from Argentina and Spain. Grant Cooper, who annually leads the Pasadena Symphony’s Holiday concerts, will conduct this program. Flamenco dancer Siudy Garrido will perform the ballet El Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla as part of the program.

Mauceri and Bernstein’s 100th
Mauceri, the former music director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, returns to Southern California November 18 and 19 for a program that includes selections from On the Town, West Side Story, Candide and other Bernstein works. One hopes that he will include his special raconteur moments.

Zuckerman and Forsyth
Pinchas Zukerman, who in addition to being a superb violinist and violist, has been increasing his conducting gigs during the past decade. With the NWS, he will appear as both soloist and conductor on March 9, 10 and 11. His program, which concludes with Schubert’s Symphony No. 5, opens with Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin and Cello in B-flag Major, with Amanda Forsyth playing the cello part. Forsyth is a founding member of the Zukerman ChamberPlayers.

Classical Vienna
A guest conductor not one of the finalists, Andrew Grams, will lead a program of Viennese music on April 14 and 15, which will include Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, with Till Fellner as the soloist.

All of the NWS concerts play at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center and at the Oxnard PAC. At least three of the programs also play in a Santa Monica venue not yet named (last year it was The Broad Stage).


(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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