OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Benedetti, L.A. Phil introduce Wynton Marsalis violin concerto to Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Wynton Marsalis might be considered the Mozart of our generation. Most people think of him as a trumpeter (both in jazz and classical music), just as many in Mozart’s era thought of him as a child pianist. However, Marsalis is also a teacher, music educator and artistic director of “Jazz at Lincoln Center” in New York City.

He is also a significant composer. His Blood on the Fields became, in 1997, the first jazz piece to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under then-Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, recorded Marsalis’ 2002 oratorio All Rise, and the LAPO gave the West Coast premiere of his 2010 Swing Symphony.

BenettiNot until last year had Marsalis written a piece for solo instrument and orchestra, but last night at Hollywood Bowl the L.A. Phil gave the West Coast premiere of his Concerto in D for violin and orchestra (the Phil was part of the commissioning team). The world premiere was in London last November. The U.S. premiere was two weeks ago at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. The piece was written for Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti (pictured left) and she was on hand last night to play it magnificently.

To say that the 38-minute work is eclectic would be to radically understate all that Marsalis has thrown into it. In an interview with Music Critic John Rhein of the Chicago Tribune, Benedetti — who turned age 29 last week — said, “Wynton is funny and quirky, and there are so many little moments of humor and color in [the piece]. I would encourage people to go along for the ride and have fun.” It was good advice.

The concerto is divided into four movements — Rhapsody, Rondo Burleske, Blues and Hootenanny — but that’s just the beginning. As John Henken explained in his program notes, the first movement is subdivided into sections called Lullabye, Habanera, Dream, Military March (Nightmare), Blues Spiritual, Morning (Wistful but Sweet) and Rustic Dance (Distant Ancestral Memories).

Moreover in the first 23 bars are the following notations: from nothing, with gravitas, angsty, with purity, genuflect, freely, become more angsty, peaceful, with optimism, sweetly, sexy and throaty — essentially one for every two bars. Believe it or not, Benedetti pulled off all of these wonderfully, not an easy task since Marsalis had her soaring into the stratosphere throughout most of the performance, in the process nearly wearing out her violin’s E string while delivering a silky, singing tone.

Despite the above notations, the work is not a jazz concerto. It draws its influences from virtually every segment of American music, so it might well be considered an American concerto. Because there is so much embedded in its pages, it’s also a work that would benefit from hearing it multiple times, so it will be interesting to see if it catches on and, in particular, whether other violinists will want to put in the sweat equity to learn and perform the piece — the soloist plays in virtually every measure.

Among the takeaways: the opening, with Benedetti beginning plaintively and then building for those aforementioned 23 bars before the orchestra enters; the goofy accompaniment in the second movement, with Benedetti’s long hair whirling in the air as she negotiated the pyrotechnic solos; the Blues section, which was the most jazz-influenced (to my ears), with its lyrical inner section leading into the Hooteanny movement, where orchestra members not otherwise engaged were clapping enthusiastically (it was so infectious that I would have joined in but wouldn’t have known when to stop.

Cristian Măcelaru provide to be an inspired choice as the evening’s guest conductor, since before turning to conducting he was a good enough violinist to earn a Master’s degree in violin performance (along with one in conducting) from Rice University; become the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Miami Symphony (he made his Carnegie Hall debut with that orchestra at the age of 19); and play in the first violin section of the Houston Symphony for two seasons. For good measure, he joined Benedetti in the U.S. premiere of Marsalis’ concerto two weeks ago at Ravinia. So it was no surprise that he accompanied Benedetti sympathetically and the orchestra took the many musical mood shifts easily in its collective stride.

Măcelaru also proved to be a canny programmer, surrounding the concerto with two Aaron Copland works — canny because Copland was among the many influences heard in the concerto, especially in the last movement.

The program opened with An Outdoor Overture, which featured elegant solo work from Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten. The piece was written in 1938 for the High School for Music and Art in New York City, which obviously had a top-flight orchestra, and came at a time when Copland was developing what would be his signature musical style just as we was beginning to write his ballet music.

After intermission, came Copland’s Symphony No. 3, which was begun in 1944 and finished two years later. This might be considered the ultimate result of Copland’s musical style-change begun in 1938, and Măcelaru led a robust rendition, allowing the composer’s music to make its own statement. Even the “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which opens the final movement, was almost understated but never dull. The orchestra’s brass and percussion players highlighted the performance.

During the final movement as the flutes were softly playing, there were birds on the hillside that seemingly were singing along. It could only happen at the Bowl.

• Măcelaru — who, among his other gigs, is resident conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra — is scheduled to conduct the San Diego Symphony on January 16 and 17. The SDS is searching for a replacement for outgoing Music Director Jaha Ling, and San Diego might be a perfect spot for Măcelaru to continue his upward career ascendancy if he’s willing to relocate from Philly.
A Chorus Line plays this weekend at the Bowl. An oddity is that while the program book gives bio information on virtually everyone involved in the production, there’s not one word about the team that created the musical in the first place: Director and Choreographer Michael Bennett, Authors James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Lyricist Edward Kleban, and composer Marvin Hamlisch, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for the score. Sic transit Gloria. INFORMATION
• L.A. Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to the Bowl on Tuesday, leading the orchestra in a program of Latin American music, featuring the world premiere of Concerto de la Amistad by Lalo Schifrin and dance music by Piazzolla and Ginastera. INFORMATION

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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ON THE ROAD: The good, the bad and the ugly of Metro to the Bowl, with some suggestion for Metro management

“On the Road” is an occasional series on transportation — mostly public transit.

A note on my “rationale” for using public transit: If you can make a journey in the same amount of time on public transit as by driving, do so because financially it’s a steal! If the journey takes up to 50% longer on public transit, it’s still a good deal because the significant financial savings outweigh the extra time (especially for seniors). As you get closer to twice as long on public transit, the balance becomes more precarious. Anything more than twice as long will almost always send me to my car.

Two other notes:
1. The financial calculations in this post will vary significantly depending on whether you’re attending a Bowl concert as a single, couple or group. Moreover, I usually attend classical concerts on Tuesday and Thursday, when attendance is less than weekend events, but traveling to weekday concerts occurs during rush hour, which can be horrendous, especially around the Bowl. On the other hand, attendance at weekend events is often larger and travel times are impacted by the size of the crowds.
2. Virtually none of the issues discussed in this post can be assigned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic or other groups appearing in Hollywood Bowl. Virtually all of these issues are related to Metro, Los Angeles County and other governmental agencies. Indeed, the L.A. Phil seems to work very efficiently at moving people in and out of the Bowl and seems particularly attuned to folks with disabilities.

hollywood-bowl-post1Hollywood Bowl is a worldwide iconic symbol of Southern California. It’s a great place to attend a concert, especially if you bring a picnic supper to enjoy beforehand. The Bowl’s enhanced sound system, giant high-definition digital screens and the other improved have really enhanced the concert experience, no matter whether you come for classical concerts or other events. And the fireworks are awesome!

Conversely, getting to and from the Bowl remains the worst part of the experience, and increasing traffic will only exacerbate transit problems in the future. Essentially, there are four ways to get to and from the Bowl:

Park and Ride
There are 14 “Park and Ride” locations throughout Los Angeles County (the Bowl is a County-run facility, so “Park and Ride” isn’t extended into other counties). Prices are $7 per person round trip if purchased in advance (but service charges apply) and $12 (cash only, exact change) at each location. You park your car, get on a bus and ride directly to the Bowl where you will be dropped off near the main box office. When the concert is over, you walk down the hill and find your bus (which may be through a pedestrian tunnel). Advantages: Cost-effective (especially if you’re a single), and you don’t have to fight the traffic. Disadvantages: The online ticketing system is difficult to use. You’re stuck at the Bowl for the duration of the event. Your bus driver is fighting the same traffic as you would in a car, so the amount of time to and from the event can add up. INFORMATION

There are five shuttle lots but the two most popular are on Ventura Boulevard west of Lankershim Blvd. and at the L.A. Zoo. At each lot, you park and board a shuttle bus to the Bowl, where you will be dropped off near the main box office. When the concert is over, you walk down the hill and find your bus (which may be located by walking through a pedestrian tunnel). Cost is $6, either online or at the lot (cash only). Advantages: Cost-effective and you don’t have to fight the traffic. Disadvantages: You’re stuck at the Bowl for the duration of the event. Your bus driver is fighting the same traffic as you would in a car, so the total amount of time to and from the event can add up. The Ventura lot may be stack parked. The Union Station and Hollywood-Highland parking structures have fees in addition to the shuttle price. INFORMATION

There are three lots at the Bowl (lettered A, B, and C). Parking is limited and expensive ($18-$50). Advantages Once you get out of the lot after the concert (the main challenge), it’s easy to get on one of the freeway options. Consequently (absent something really unusual) your homebound travel time will probably be better than with any of the other options. Disadvantages The price is formidable and getting into the Bowl can be a real challenge. Because of the stack parking policy, you’re stuck at the Bowl for the duration of the event. INFORMATION

Metro Rail’s Red Line stops at the Hollywood-Highland and/or Universal City stations, from where you take a free shuttle bus to the Bowl. This means that the entire Metro system — particularly the other Metro Rail lines — provide easy connections to reach the Bowl. Advantages Cheapest way to travel to and from the Bowl, by far. See below for my experience with travel times. If you need to leave the Bowl early, you can walk down Highland and catch a Red Line train. Disadvantages Overall travel times can be a challenge, particularly if you add in the time to reach a Metro Rail station, where parking fees may (or may not) apply. See the story below for other issues. INFORMATION

On Tuesday, since I was unaccompanied, I decided to test out traveling from my home in Highland Park to and from the Bowl, after driving and parking for each of the other three concerts my wife and I have attended this summer (full disclosure: as a critic, the Phil provides free parking for me, usually in Lot B. The costs in this post are based on someone who doesn’t have that privilege).

My results are pretty typical because Metro Rail schedules are usually reliable. BTW: The closest “Park and Ride facility” from my house is in Pasadena, about a 15-minute drive each way. Also, I am somewhat mobility impaired (I walk with a cane).

In the three concerts to which I drove, it took from 55 minutes to 1:15 to drive to the Bowl, park, and reach the main ticket office plaza. Coming home, the shortest time from the plaza to our home was about 40 minutes, the longest just under an hour (the differences were getting away from the stacked parking).

Getting to the Bowl
I left my house driving at 5:18 p.m. and arrived at the Highland Park Gold Line station at 5:21. Highland Park has two municipal parking lots adjacent to the station with two hours of free parking until 6 p.m. and free parking thereafter, thus I incurred no parking fees.

I caught the Gold Line heading south at 5:24 p.m. arriving at Union Station at 5:36. I walked down downstairs and caught a Red Line train at 5:42, which arrived at Hollywood Highland and ascended to Hollywood Blvd., arriving at 6:08. That total of 44 minutes is optimal; if I had arrived on the lower platform 20 seconds later I would have missed the Red Line train, and they run 10 minutes apart at that hour. So 54 minutes is more realistic.

Why not a Hollywood Bowl Red Line station?
When Metro was planning what would become the Red Line, there was talk of putting in a station at Hollywood Bowl. I guess the powers-that-be determined that putting in a station for a season that (back then) ran just three months didn’t make financial sense, but many of us believed then and do so even more now that the decision was short sighted.

One reason public transit systems in other cities are successful is because they reach facilities where large numbers of people attend events. When I lived in Montreal, that city’s Metro had a station at Place des Arts, that city’s version of the Music Center. New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco — all of these cities have rail stops adjacent to or very close to major arts and entertainment venues.

In Los Angeles, not so much. While Staples Center, the Los Angeles Coliseum and Universal City do have Metro Rail stops located close by, venues such as Dodger Stadium, Hollywood Bowl and the Music Center are ill-served by rail transit. Instead — as with the Dodger Stadium Express and the Bowl shuttle from Hollywood/Highland — Metro and other governmental agencies rely on shuttle services to bridge the gap.

I’m all for shuttles, but if that’s the route you’re going to take, the commitment must be far more robust than it is here in Los Angeles. That means dedicated lanes for shuttle buses to run on and signal priority whenever possible. Moreover, the cost of running shuttles extrapolated over 20 to 30 years must be subtracted from the cost to build a Red Line station (and maintain it) to get an accurate picture of the true cost of building such a station.

There’s another factor in the equation. People who normally drive might — if there was a station at the Bowl — try out mass transit, especially when they realize the difficulty of driving to and parking at the Bowl. That, in turn, might encourage more of them to use transit as a viable alternative on a regular basis, to say nothing of helping to ease the gridlock around the Bowl on four to six nights a week during a summer season that now begins in early June and extends into October.

Instead, we get the following experience:

Shuttling to the Bowl
Once I arrived on Hollywood Blvd from the Red Line station, it took me seven minutes of quick walking to travel west to Orange St., north ½ block to Orange Court, and board a shuttle. That trip traverses through hundreds of people wandering Hollywood Blvd. and gawking at the footprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (I know, it has a new name but to us old codgers, it will always be Grauman’s).

The shuttle bus left at 6:17 and took 12 minutes just to get to Hollywood and Franklin, which means it took longer to get from when I began walking on Hollywood Blvd. to reach Hollywood and Franklin than it did for the Red Line trip. Fortunately, things picked up from there and we arrived at the main box office plaza at 6:36.

Total trip time from home to box office: 1:18 (and, as noted earlier, it would have taken 1:28 if I hadn’t been lucky catching the Red Line. Total cost (assuming two people): $3.50 or $1.50 for two seniors.

By contrast, the cost to drive and park at the Bowl would have been $8.10 (15 miles times the IRS reimbursement figure of 54 cents per mile) plus $20 — at least — for parking. Using my metric above, the total elapsed transit time would have been anywhere from equal to driving or — using the fastest time — within my 50% longer factor, with a very significant cost savings.

Coming Home
I left the main box office plaza at 10:06 and walked down the hill to the shuttle, which left at 10:16 and raced down Highland Ave. stopping at the corner of Hollywood and Highland (much closer than Orange Court). I was at the Red Line platform at 10:22; however, due to typical late-night maintenance issues, trains were running with a 23-24 minute headway and the next one didn’t leave until 10:31, arriving at Union Station at 10:59. It took seven minutes to walk to the Gold Line station, where there was another seven-minute wait for a train headed north. That train arrived at Highland Park at 11:29 and I arrived home at 11:33.

Total trip from box office to home: 1:27, or just about the same as the other direction (what we gained in the short shuttle run we lost on waiting for trains). Total cost: Driving and parking for a non-senior would have been the same as going ($8.10 vs. $3.50). Costs for two seniors at night would be 70 cents!

If you want people to use Metro when they go out at night, you’ve got to find a way to run trains more often later into the night and do maintenance closer to when trains do actually shut down. If it wasn’t for the incredibly short shuttle ride down the hill, the total travel times would have exceeded my 1:2.0 ratio, that is to say, be well beyond my tolerance limit.

As is obvious, I’m a big public transit advocate but it’s easy to see why people do everything they can to avoid using it, even if driving is expensive and time consuming. Part of this — as with the case with grade-separated crossings on the Orange Line and signal prioritization on all of the light rail and express bus lines — can only be solved by public policy changes. However, some of the problems — maintenance schedules (including broken escalators, such as the one going up at Hollywood and Highland) and where stations are located are solely within Metro’s purview. The entire system can, and should, be better.

Robert D. Thomas is a freelance music writer whose work (columns, reviews, features, etc.) appears in Southern California News Group publications (Daily News, Pasadena Star-News, etc.) and on their Web sites. © Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Mirga wows another Bowl audience

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

For at least the last ¾ of a century, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has done an exemplary job of finding and nurturing young conducting talent. That list begins, of course, with former Music Director Zubin Mehta and includes two other MDs: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel. But the tally also includes young people who have held various subsidiary titles such as Principal Guest Conductor (Michael Tilson Thomas and Sir Simon Rattle) and Associate Conductor (Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Lionel Bringuier), along with others who have participated in the Dudamel Fellow program and similar efforts.

Three of those alumni are on the Hollywood Bowl roster this summer: former Dudamel fellow Ben Gernon (August 4), Joana Carneiro, a former American Symphony Orchestra League Conducting Fellow with the Phil who is now Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony and Principal Conductor of Orquesta Sinfonica Portuguesa (8/23); and Harth Bedoya, now music director of the Ft. Worth Symphony (9/6).

Mirga_2016_4_WebHowever, not since Rattle — the original frizzy haired tyro — has a LAPO conducting assistant caught the fancy of the music world as has Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), who was a Dudamel Fellow in 2013-2014, became the Phil’s Assistant Conductor in 2014 and will become Associate Conductor this fall. More significantly, earlier this year she was named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the England ensemble that Rattle led for 20 years.

Last night she returned to Hollywood Bowl just a few days shy of her acclaimed debut two years ago, and once again demonstrated the ability that has the music world abuzz. That Bowl concert two years concluded with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Last night she ended with Ravel’s second Daphnis and Chloe suite, which was a marvelous fusion of French impressionism and sweeping power.

Like the Mahler, Daphnis is a piece that is in the L.A. Phil musicians’ DNA but they played with the sort of freshness and attentiveness that means they were very much attuned to the conductor’s every desire. Kudos, in particular, to Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov for his solo work.

Mirga (everyone seems to now call her simply by her first name, in part because her last name isn’t easy to pronounce) is quite something to watch, as the Bowl’s video screens amply demonstrated. She makes great use of her arms, her body moves lithely and, unlike some conductors, doesn’t seem to be inhibited by a music stand on the podium.

She also has a wonderfully expressive face, very much alike but in some ways different than we get from Dudamel. This was readily apparent in the evening’s opening work, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, where she appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself during the five sections, but especially in Empress of the Pagoda and in The Fairy Garden. Top marks to the various wind principals in this performance, as well: Catherine Ransom Karoly, flute; Burt Hara, clarinet; Anne Marie Gabriele, oboe; and Shawn Mouser, bassoon, along with Concertmaster Nathan Cole.

The original program paired the two Ravel pieces together after intermission with two Beethoven works played before the break. As a slip sheet told the good-sized audience, Mirga (presumably) at the last minute decided to break the works up, placing the Leonore Overture No. 3 before Daphnis. This is another familiar work to the players but, as with Daphnis, they were on top of their game. Of course, the audience loved the stellar playing of Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten, who was perched in a speaker tower midway up the Bowl (although it took awhile for the lighting folks to locate him).

Immediately prior to intermission came Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, that strangely quirky work that was premiered on December 22, 1808 in a concert that included the premieres of the composer’s fifth and sixth symphonies and the fourth piano concerto, along with an aria, two excerpts from his in-progress Mass in C, and a solo improvisation (the concert lasted four hours!). As program annotator Herbert Glass noted the debut was “a fiasco” — the composer’s secretary, Anton Schindler, said, that the Chorale Fantasy “simply fell apart” in performance.

No wonder. Why Beethoven called it a “Choral Fantasy” is a mystery. The piece actually begins as a piano concerto with a long solo introduction that is a precursor of the “Emperor” Concerto (and Saint-Saëns’ second piano concerto). Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet sailed through the endless runs and trills with his customary skill and panache and Mirga and the orchestra gave the performance their fullest attention.

If, indeed, Beethoven had left the work as a concerto, things might have been all right. Instead, towards the end he brings in a chorus and no less than six soloists. Perhaps Beethoven felt the chorus being used in the two “Mass” pieces in that premiere concert needed something else to occupy its time. Naturally, the listener immediately thinks of the “Ode to Joy” ending of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 when hearing this work.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale sang last night with its customary brilliant power in both the Beethoven and Daphnis although the Bowl’s sound engineers had the orchestra somewhat overpowering the singers (listed as 81 in the program) at the beginning of their section.

The sextet was excellent but I was left wondering why the Phil bothered to bring in such big names as soprano Janai Brugger and mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell for such a small amount of work (for the record, the others were soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, tenors Rafael Moras and Kevin Ray and bass Colin Ramsay). Surely the soloists got their highest pay, at least on a per-minute basis, since they were starting out in the profession.

• The Bowl has taken to provide movement titles on the digital screens, which was particularly helpful to the casual observer in both Ravel pieces Daphnis is four connected movements, so it’s particularly helpful to know what is what.
• Tomorrow night’s concert is a mixture of old and new. Guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru (Conductor-in-Residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra) returns to the Bowl with a program that opens with Aaron Copland’s An Outdoor Overture and concludes with Copland’s Symphony No. 3. In between is the West Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, written for violinist Nicola Benedetti, who will be the soloist.
• Always nice to have the Master Chorale aiding the audience in singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Even the high note at the end sounded beautiful.

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: Feinstein with Pasadena Pops, Mirga at the Bowl highlight upcoming week

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Style: "p25+-Ipro"For the past quarter century, Michael Feinstein pictured above has become the leading proponent and curator of “The Great American Songbook,” which is not really a book but rather a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early and mid-20th century.

One of the leading lights of that collection was Frank Sinatra, and Feinstein will join with the Pasadena Pops July 30 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum for what he has termed “The Sinatra Project — Volume 2.” It’s a follow-up to last summer’s sold-out concert of music by the crooner affectionately known as “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”

As was the case last summer, Feinstein will spend the evening singing and talking about Sinatra and his music. It will be an intimate evening as Feinstein’s first-hand knowledge gives him a unique slant on Sinatra. “I have a very different perspective about his musical taste,” explains Feinstein. “Among other things he loved classical music so I’m very careful in combining swing arrangements with great orchestrations of the ballads. Some are vintage charts that have not been heard publicly in many years or ever.”

One of those rarely heard numbers will be Sinatra’s original arrangement of Three Coins in the Fountain, which was cut in half for the 1954 motion picture. “Finding things like that is what makes an evening like this exciting for me,” says Feinstein. Other numbers will include Pennies from Heaven and Young at Heart. Resident Conductor Larry Blank will lead the Pops in this concert.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Mirga_2016_4_WebIn the midst of Gustavo Dudamel’s last weeks at Hollywood Bowl for this summer comes a concert that, for classical music aficionados, is a must-see event as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), one of the sharply rising stars in the musical firmament, conducts her only Bowl concert this summer this coming Tuesday.

A 29-year-old Lithuania native, Gražinytė-Tyla (because her last name is a tongue-twister to pronounce virtually everyone simply calls her “Mirga”) will become the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Associate Conductor this fall. More importantly she has been named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the latest in a long line of youthful conductors to lead that esteemed English ensemble who are now among the world’s conducting elite (e.g., Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons).

At the Bowl Gražinytė-Tyla will lead the L.A. Phil in works by Beethoven and Ravel. Pianist Jean-Yeves Thibaudet and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will join the Phil and six vocal soloists in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.” The evening will open with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and will conclude with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the second suite from Daphnis and Chloe.

Gražinytė-Tyla’s rise with the LAPO has been meteoric. She was a Dudamel Fellow with the orchestra in the 2012-13 season and became the ensemble’s Assistant Conductor in 2014, before being promoted to Associate Conductor for the 2016-17 season.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil, Lang Lang open Hollywood Bowl’s classical season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

It’s been more than a decade since we first encountered conductor Gustavo Dudamel and pianist Lang Lang. Two of the more interesting aspects of hearing them together in concert last night at Hollywood Bowl were (a) how they together would fare as a box-office draw and (b) how they have matured in the past 10 or so years.

They came together in that most ubiquitous of Bowl pieces: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which along with another favorite, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, opened the Bowl’s 10-week classical season.

First the crowd: although no official count was released, the Bowl appeared to be very full, (13,000-14,000?) especially for a Tuesday night. Those who came definitely got their money’s worth!

Perhaps it’s because we’ve gotten used to Lang Lang’s performing antics, but last night was notably light on over-the-top flourishes. Nonetheless it was a performance that had most of the audience spellbound and made us consider carefully what we were hearing, no mean feat for those who have heard this piece hundreds of times.

Dudamel (who conducted without a score) and the Phil held the proceedings together with a sure hand. He took magisterial tempos in the first movement while Lang Lang provided a breathtakingly wide range of dynamics and used the cadenza-like sections to stretch the tempos to (but not beyond) the breaking point. The pianist also appeared to interpolate his own thoughts into the cadenzas, again just enough to make us sit up and ask ourselves, “Did we just hear that?”

By comparison, the second the third movements emerged in relatively straightforward manners, apart from Lang Lang’s lighting-fast tempos in the final sections of each. The finale concluded with a Niagara Falls-like waterfall of thunderous octaves that had Dudamel and the orchestra hanging on for the wild ride. It also produced the predicatable standing ovation from the audience but there were no encores.

After intermission, Dudamel and the Phil offered a rich, luxurious rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Here was a good chance to see the increasingly mature Dudamel, who led tempos that were unhurried and allowed for the orchestra as a whole and the individual section principals to shine with jewel-like luminescence.

Dudamel continues to be a joy to watch on the podium; in fact, there were times when I wished the video screens were split so we could keep a constant eye on the now 35-year old maestro. He conducted without a score; he continues to be economical in his gestures, with almost no superfluous motions; he still takes bows from deep within the ensemble, surrounded by his colleagues; and, most importantly, he continues to radiate a genuine joy in making music.

Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour was radiant in his solos depicting the Arabian princess spinning her tales, but kudos also to (among many) Principal Cellist Robert deMaine, harpist Lou Anne Neill, Associate Principal Oboe Marion Arthur Kuszyk and Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov.

Overall, this was one of the most satisfying performances of this work that I have ever heard and a splendid way to begin the summer Bowl season.

• With flags at half staff, Dudamel and Co. opened the evening with a somber performance of The Star-Spangled Banner.
• Very good camera work for the most part, the sound system was in fine form, especially considering that this was the first classical concert of the season, and there were minimal aerial intrusions. You can’t ask for much more than that at a Bowl concert.
• The video screens included the numbers and titles of each piece’s movements, which was particularly helpful in the dark ambience of the Bowl’s seats.
• Whether it was the stage lighting or just a sign of age, Dudamel appears to now have touches of gray in his hair.
• Tomorrow night and next Tuesday Dudamel and the Phil present a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a work embedded into Dudamel’s DNA. It was with the “Mambo” portion of “WSS” that Dudamel burst onto the scene with his Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at the Lucerne Festival and the London Proms in 2007 (LINK).

The two Bowl West Side Story performances are being billed as “concert performances,” with a cast of 12 soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining with Dudamel and the LAPO. Although some will miss Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking dance sequences, the concert performance will put the emphasis squarely on the music, instead. Solea Pfeiffer, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will portray Maria and Jeremy Jordan, a Tony and Grammy-nominated actor and singer, will sing the role of Tony. A link to Catherine Womack’s Q&A with Pfeiffer in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. (INFO)

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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