SAME-DAY REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony takes patron on a world tour

By ROBERT D. THOMAS
Music Critic

Pasadena Symphony, Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena
Next performance: Tonight at 8:00 p.m.
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Publicity for today’s Pasadena Symphony’s concerts proclaimed it as “Mozart and Mendelssohn.” That was an accurate, if incomplete, title, since the program also began with a Schubert overture.

However, Rachel Barton Pine (pictured right), the afternoon’s soloist, had a better description, “Musical Tourism,” as the program began in Italy and continued through Turkey to Scotland, with a detour into Ireland.

Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan was on the podium, conducting as usual without a baton but with his bouncy, ebullient personality and occasionally humorous gestures. Moreover, as usual, the PSO was in top form for him throughout the program, which began with a sparkling account Schubert’s Overture in C Major, D. 591, the second of two that Schubert wrote “In the Italian Style” (the other, D. 590, is in D Major). Principal Clarinet Donald Foster was in the spotlight throughout the performance.

Pine, now 42, has rebounded from a gruesome accident on a Chicago Metra train to become one of the nation’s foremost violin soloists. She demonstrated her prodigious capabilities in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219,, known as the “Turkish” for its final-movement rondo.

Playing on the “ex-Bazzini ex-Soldat,” a 1742 violin crafted by Joseph Guarneri “del Gesu,” Pine poured out a lovely, sweet tone throughout the performance, although her desire to create ultra-quiet moments came across as almost too precious in its concept. She reportedly creates her own cadenzas for Mozart concerti and those today were wonderfully suited to the music and the overall performance.

As an encore, Pine introduced to most in the audience Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s Concert Etude No. 6, which is based on the Irish tune, The Last Rose Of Summer. The work wraps the tune in an introduction and a set of variations and, although somewhat lengthy for an encore, was a big hit with the audience as Pine dazzled with her intricate melding of bowing and pizzicato.

After intermission, McGegan led a vigorous account of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 (“Scottish.”) This is actually the last of five symphonies that Mendelssohn wrote, but like Beethoven’s first and second piano concertos and Chopin’s two piano concertos, it is numbered in terms of its publishing date, not the date in which it was written — in fact, it took 12 years from when this symphony was begun, in 1830, until it was finished.

As Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn wrote in their program notes, “While the music has an undeniably Scottish flavor, it does not quote any authentic folk melodies, a device that Mendelssohn despised. Writing to his father from Wales, he commented: ‘…anything but national music! May ten thousand devils take all folklore… a harpist sits in the lobby of every inn of repute playing so-called folk melodies at you — dreadful, vulgar, fake stuff; and simultaneously a hurdy-gurdy is tooting out melodies — it’s enough to drive you crazy…’ That being said, it’s difficult to distinguish Mendelssohn’s invented Scottish style melodies from the kind of musical nationalism he so despised.”

Whether it was the gloomy opening, redolent of the dank weather in the Scottish Highlands, or the Scottish-like tunes in the second movement, McGegan bounced things along smartly and the orchestra responded with first-rate playing throughout, sending the audience out into the warm afternoon in the spirit of pleasant joy.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• The season’s final concert, on April 29, blends choral music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with its “Ode to Joy” choral ending. In addition to the orchestra, the program will include four soloists, the Donald Brinegar Singers, JPL Chorus and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.
• Given that the last three programs have been virtual sellouts, if you want to hear this program you may want to buy tickets in advance. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
____________________

Robert D. Thomas is a freelance music writer. Email him at: BobTatFORE@aol.com. More of his reviews, columns and features can be found at www.insidesocal.com/classact/

-30-

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

NEW: Pasadena Symphony extends contracts of Lockington and McGegan

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Pasadena Symphony has extended the tenures of Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan through the 2018-2019 season. Lockington and McGegan were each appointed three years ago with three-year contracts and the contracts have been extended each year, in effect making them “evergreen” contracts.

Lockington will conduct four concerts during the upcoming season, beginning with the opening programs at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on October 8 at Ambassador Auditorium. McGegan will lead two concerts at Ambassador and the seventh event will be the now-annual holiday-music concert on Dec. 17 at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

The final Pasadena Pops concert of the summer season will be Sept. 10 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Pasadena.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

PREVIEW: Pasadena Symphony to open 87th season with Bernstein-Gershwin program Saturday

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group
This article was first published today Sunday in the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News.

Read my preview of the Pasadena Symphony’s season-opening concert on Saturday HERE.

Performance details:
Pasadena Symphony; David Lockington, conductor
Nov. 1; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Preconcert discussion one hour before each performance.
Ambassador Auditorium; 131 S. St. John St., Pasadena
Tickets: $35-$110
Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

NEWS: Lora Unger named CEO of Pasadena Symphony Association

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

Unger2014-LRJust when we thoughts things had settled down at the The Pasadena Symphony Association the wheel turns again. The association, which, operates the Pasadena Symphony and POPS, today announced that it has tapped Lora Unger (right) as its new Chief Executive Officer, effective November 1. Read the Pasadena Star-News story HERE.

Unger replaces Paul Jan Zdunek, who has been named Chief Capital Development Officer with Singpoli Capital Corp. in Pasadena. For the past several years, Singpoli has sponsored the Pasadena Symphony’s indoor classics series.

Zdunek took over the association in December 2008 in the midst of a major financial crisis that resulted in part from financial losses incurred in the recession. One of his first moves was to hire Unger and together the two have worked with others to steer the PSA back to financial and artistic health.

Among the changes were moving the Pasadena Symphony’s indoor season from the cavernous Pasadena Civic Auditorium into the more intimate Ambassador Auditorium, one of the world’s acoustic gems, in 2010. Two years later the Pops shifted into its summer home, the Los Angeles County Arboretum. The PSO also presents a holiday concert at All Saints Church, Pasadena.

Other changes were messier. Long-time PSO Music Director Jorge Mester left in acrimony and Pops leader Rachael Worby also stepped down. Eventually Zdunek and the association hired Marvin Hamlisch as the Pops’ principal conductors only to have him die suddenly in 2012. Despite the grief from Hamlisch’s death, Zdunek and the board took a gamble by hiring entertainer and historian Michael Feinstein to replace Hamlisch, a toss of the dice that has paid off well both artistically and financially.

The Pasadena Symphony’s music director, David Lockington, will lead his first concert in his new role on Nov. 1 at Ambassador Auditorium (LINK). Noted British conductor Nicholas McGegan will assume his new role as the symphony’s principal guest conductor January 17 (LINK).

In a media release, Lockington said he is “thrilled for Paul and absolutely delighted that Lora will be assuming the role of CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association.” Lockington pointed out that he has “worked with Lora for over four years. She is visionary, smart and an astute strategist. Her style is a stimulating blend of seriousness and humor which makes for a creative working environment.”

Unger, who is a trained violist, holds a BA in Music with a Minor in Business Administration from the University of Louisville, and received her MA in Arts Administration from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Cincinnati College of Business Administration.

Prior to coming to Pasadena she worked with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, as well as the Cincinnati, Modesto, and Jacksonville Symphony Orchestras in public relations, marketing and artistic operations. She was a League of American Orchestras’ Orchestra Management Fellow with residencies at the Aspen Music Festival, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony. She is a member of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras and a presenter at their conferences

“Given the enormous contributions to our success that Lora has made for us, we’re delighted to elevate her to the position of CEO, following thoughtful deliberation by the Board,” said Kay Kochenderfer, president of the PSA Board of Directors, in the media release. “Over the past five years, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in Classics Series ticket sales, an astonishing 200% increase in POPS sales, and an 85% subscription retention rate.

Read the full media release HERE.
_____________________

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Grams, Porter make impressive debuts at Pasadena Symphony concert

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

Andrew GramsOne of the advantages of the long interregnum between Pasadena Symphony music directors is that local audiences have heard a number of young conductors who are forging strong careers with orchestras in the United States and abroad. Saturday brought the last of those young maestros as Andrew Grams (right) took the podium at Ambassador Auditorium.

The 36-year-old Baltimore native was recently named music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in suburban Chicago, an ensemble that is similar in size to the PSO. Grams reportedly was the unanimous choice of the ESO’s musicians and it’s easy to see why. He has an enthusiastic, energetic conducting style and, as he showed in the opening piece Saturday night, a cheeky sense of humor, as well.

For William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra Grams tucked a trio of string soloists high on the back row of the orchestra, where percussionists would normally sit. Midway through their first solo lick, Grams turned to the audience and pointed to the soloists with a sly smile, as if to say, “Did you find them?” It was an appropriately light touch to Bolcom’s mashup of styles that range from Baroque to Mahler to slapstick.

Grams was all business in the final piece for the evening, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, although at the end of the first movement he peeked over his shoulder and smiled as if to say, “It’s okay to applaud.” Overall, Grams took things at a brisk pace, although he also found time to luxuriate in the woodwind solos that permeate the uber-familiar work. The orchestra was in top form throughout most of the performance.

In between those two pieces came Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with 17-year-old Simone Porter as the soloist. A native of Seattle, Porter studies with Robert Lipsett at The Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles. She is also part of Colburn Artists, a program created in 2012 by The Colburn School to provide professional management services to its most-accomplished students, and Saturday night Porter validated her selection.

Playing a 1742 Camillus Camilli violin, Porter displayed a sweet, yet rich tone throughout the concerto, not just in the low notes but on the upper strings as well. She attacked this familiar work with exuberant, youthful gusto and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the moment, listening and bouncing along with the orchestral accompaniment when she wasn’t playing. It was an impressive performance; she is clearly someone to keep an eye and ear on.

Grams and the orchestra offered rich, luxuriant accompaniment, particularly during the broad, romantic moments of this familiar work. I hope that representatives of the Long Beach Symphony, which is searching for a new music director, were in the audience. Grams should be on their candidates list.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Porter’s PSO appearance is one of several important local concerts for her this year. On April 27 she will play Beethoven’s Romances 1 & 2 with the Pacific Symphony, led by Carl St.Clair, at the SOKA Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. On Sept. 4 she will make her Hollywood Bowl debut as soloist in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot.
• The final concert of the PSO’s 2013-2014 classics season will be held May 10. Jahja Lang, long-time music director of the San Diego Symphony, will lead a program of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Shai Posner as soloist. Information.
• Audience members got the first public look at the PSO’s 2014-02015 season. Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan will alternate leading the five classics series concerts, with Lockington conducting the first, third and final program and McGegan leading Nos. 2 and 4. Opening night is Nov. 1. I’ll have more on this tomorrow in a Blog post.
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email