OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony;
Rossen Milanov, conductor

Borodin: Polovtsian
Dances
from Prince Igor;

Saint-Sans: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian); Esther Keel, pianist

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade,
Op. 35

Friday, February 18, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next concert: March 31, 2012, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

______________________

 

Although most people wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of
it, there’s something to be said for a concert comprised entirely of late 19th-century
romantic music (the three pieces on the program were written within eight years
of each other), especially when it’s played as well as what transpired last
night in the Pasadena Symphony Concert before a large crowd at Ambassador
Auditorium.

 

Rossen Milanov became the latest in a long train of guest
conductors to mount the PSO podium during the past two seasons and he made an
impressive local debut. Now age 47, the Sofia, Bulgaria native comes with impressive
credentials. In 2010 he became music director of the Princeton (NJ) Symphony
Orchestra where he is, by most accounts, doing splendid work. Before that he
spent 11 years as the associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and
artistic director of that ensemble during its summer outdoor seasons.

 

Tall and slim, Milanov cuts an impressive figure on the
podium and his conducting style is enthusiastic and demonstrative with the same
sort of infectious grin that shows up on a certain curly haired conductor who
plies his trade in downtown Los Angeles. Now, that conductor (Gustavo Dudamel)
often displays plenty of exuberance on the podium, but whereas I have almost
never seen the Venezuelan use a gesture that didn’t make musical sense,
Milanov’s swooping arms and hands and overly fussy attention to details occasionally — albeit not very often — seemed
to get in the way of the music, particularly in the concluding work on the
program, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

 

Considering that Rimsky-Korsakov’s tone poem is based on the
fabled tales found in 1001 Nights, it’s
hard to kvetch about a performance being episodic, but by the time we got to
the last note I felt as if we had heard all one thousand and one tales, not
just four of them.

 

Part of that problem lies with the composer; Rimsky-Korsakov
gave virtually every principal a solo turn and it’s understandable that Milanov
would want to luxuriate in the sound, given the luscious Ambassador Auditorium
acoustics and how superbly the Pasadena Symphony played throughout the
performance.

 

At the top of the list of principals was concertmaster Aimee
Kreston, who spun Scheherazade’s tales seductively and sweetly, but she
certainly wasn’t alone. The list of solo stars would certainly include Trevor
Handy, cello; Donald Foster, clarinet; Rong-Huey Lin, oboe; David Shostac,
flute; Katherine Oliver, bassoon; Marissa Benedict, trumpet (indeed, the entire
brass section), Teag Reeves, horn, and, perhaps most notably, Allison Allport,
harp.

 

The evening’s other debutante, 26-year-old Esther Keel, also
proved to be special as soloist in Saint-Sans Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian). Presumably the piece was
chosen because it sort of fit into the theme of Middle Eastern/Asian-tinged
music, but it proved to be a perfect vehicle for Keel, who now teachers at The
Colburn School when she’s not performing on the concert stage.

 

Considering what we heard last night, her teaching gigs may
have to be curtailed. Playing a Steinway piano, Keel displayed pristine runs
and trills along with powerhouse octaves throughout the performance. More
importantly, she brought sensitive musicality and a very individual take on
this not-often performed piece. Although I was delighted to hear her perform
this concerto (my favorite of the five), I eagerly look forward to hearing her
again in something slightly more mainstream.

 

Keel’s concept of the concerto wasn’t easy for the conductor
and Millanov did an excellent job of both following Keel and shaping the
accompaniment sensitively, while the orchestra gets kudos for being right on
top of where Millanov and Keel were heading — it wasn’t as easy as it may have
looked.

 

The evening opened with a somewhat raucous performance of
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. Oboist
Lin got things off gloriously with the “Strangers in Paradise” theme and Foster
added his usual winsome touch on clarinet, but Millanov drove the final four
dances forward relentlessly; a little breathing room would have been nice.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Prior to the concert, the Women’s Committee presented the
Pasadena Symphony Association with a check for $100,000, proceeds from funds
raised at the 44th annual Holiday
Look-in Tour
last December. Gloria Turner, who chaired the event, made the
presentation to PSA President Melinda Shea and CEO Paul Jan Zdunek.

For the record: Scheherazade
was written in 1888, Borodin’s Polovtsian
Dances
were written in 1890, and the concerto dates from 1896. Saint-Sans
wrote the concerto while on a trip to Luxor, Egypt but did not append the
nickname.

The PSO’s season continues on March 31 when Nicholas
McGegan leads a program of that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). Nareh Arghamanyan will be the
soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

STORY AND LINK: Pasadena Symphony announces 2012-2013 season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

As the Pasadena Symphony heads into its third season
following the 25-year-tenure of former Music Director Jorge Mester, the
orchestra continues to find a new rhythm as evidenced by its 85th
season that was announced yesterday.

 

Although there still seems to be no successor to Mester on
the horizon, three of the six guest conductors for the 2012-2013 season will
have led the PSO during the past and current seasons. James DePreist continues
in his role as music advisor but is not on next season’s maestro list after
leading a concert last season and conducting the final programs on this year’s
schedule. Russian repertoire will be very much in evidence throughout next
season, and newly named Composer-in-Residence Peter Boyer will have not one but
three of his works performed during the season.

 

As has been the case during the past couple of years, the
upcoming season will have five classical concerts with two performances each at
Ambassador Auditorium (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.). Next year will also see a reprise on
Dec. 1 of last year’s sold-out holiday candlelight concert at All Saints
Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper will again conduct and soprano Lisa Vroman will
return as soloist.

 

The classical season will open on Oct. 6 when Mei-Ann Chen, who was a dynamo leading
the PSO in this season’s opening concerts, returns to open next season, as
well. Now music director of the Chicago Sinfionetta and the Memphis Symphony,
Chen’s PSO program will be Beethoven’s Egmont
Overture,
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto
No. 2, with 16-ytear-old George Li, recipient of the 2012 Gilmore Young Artist
Award, as soloist.

 

Other programs on the schedule are:

 

Nov. 3 — Edwin
Outwater, conductor; Rueibin Chin, piano

A native of Santa Monica, Outwater has been music director
of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Ontario, Canada for five years. Now 41,
Outwater was resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony for four years
and recently made his professional opera debut conducting Verdi’s La Traviata at San Francisco Opera.

 

His PSO program will include Huang Li’s Spring Festival Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and
Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,
with Chin as soloist.

 

Jan. 12 — Tito
Muoz, conductor; Carolyn Goulding, violin

Muoz — music director of the Opra National de Lorraine and
the Orchestre symphonique et lyrique de Nancy in France — made an impressive
PSO debut last season. He returns to lead Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Sibelius’
Violin Concerto, with Carolyn Goulding as soloist. The program will open with
Boyer’s “Apollo” from Three Olympians.

 

Feb. 9 — Nicholas
McGegan, conductor; Yulia Van Doren, soprano; Donald Foster, clarinet

McGegan is known primarily as a Baroque music specialist but
his program next month concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and his concerts next season
will finish with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. For contrast, the PSO’s principal
clarinet, Donald Foster, will step out from the ranks as soloist in Mozart’s
Clarinet Concerto.

 

April 27, 2013 –
Jose Luis Gomez, conductor; Peter Boyer, conductor; Chee-Yun, violin

Gomez is another of the young conductors to come out of
Venezuela’s “El Sistema” music program, following in the footsteps of Los
Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. In 2010, Gomez won the
fifth International Georg Solti Conductor’s Competition in Frankfurt by
unanimous decision of the jury. Gomez will conclude the PSO season by leading
Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia and
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Meanwhile, Boyer’s composition Festivities is on the agenda and the
composer will conduct the inaugural performance of his Symphony No. 1 to
conclude the season.

 

Read the complete media release HERE.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS AND LINKS: Sir Neville Marriner to receive 2012 Richard D. Colburn Award, lead The Colburn Orchestra April 22 at Disney Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

Conductor Sir Neville Marriner has been named recipient of
the 2012 Richard D. Colburn Award and will lead The Colburn Orchestra, the
flagship ensemble of The Colburn School, in a gala concert on April 22 at Walt
Disney Concert Hall as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About
Town” series.

 

The award honors an individual “whose lifelong dedication,
work, talent and reputation enhance the teaching and performance of classical
music or dance in the Southern California Community.” This is the first time
the award has been given to a musician. Previous winners were Ernest
Fleischmann, former executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009,
former L.A. City Councilman and L.A. County Supervisor Ed Edelman in 2010 and
Toby Mayman, the school’s founding president, last year.

 

Marriner, who will turn 88 a week before the event, co-founded
and was music director of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1969-1978. In
announcing the award, Sel Kardan, the school’s President and CEO, said: “Sir
Neville shaped the artistic landscape of Los Angeles with his time as the Music
Director of LACO and inspired and mentored our students during his guest
conductor residency in 2011. We are thrilled to honor him with a special night
of performance and celebration.”

 

Marriner will conclude the April 22 concert (which will
start at 6:30 p.m.) by leading Elgar’s Enigma
Variations.
Earlier, current Colburn Orchestra Music Director Yehuda Gilad
will conduct Rossini’s William Tell Overture
and Barber’s Violin Concerto, with Mayumi Kanagawa, a Colburn student and
winner of the 2011 Irving M. Klein International String Competition in San
Francisco, as soloist.

 

The Colburn Orchestra concert becomes the second event on
the Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series this season. “SAT” presents top-notch
local performing groups and is the cheapest way to see concerts in Disney Hall
(tickets for the Colburn Orchestra concert are $15-37).  Information:
www.laphil.com

 

The first event on the current “SAT” series will be a joint
appearance by the American Youth Symphony and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus on
March 4 at 7:30 p.m. James Conlon, Los Angeles Opera music director, and
Alexander Treger, AYS music director, will lead the ensembles in a program that
will feature the world premiere of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises, a joint
commission by AYS and LACC.  Information: www.laphil.com

 

The Colburn Orchestra is also scheduled for the 2012-2013
“SAT” series on Feb. 19, 2013 when LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will
lead the ensemble. The orchestra’s next concert at Ambassador Auditorium is
March 3, when Bramwell Tovey (music director of the Vancouver Symphony) will be
the guest conductor (LINK).

 

In addition to help to found and lead LACO, Marriner founded
London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra in 1959, which
he led from both the concertmaster’s chair and the podium until the 1990s. He
was also music director of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979-1986. He was
knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the
birth of Richard Colburn, a noted philanthropist whose donation in 1980 helped
the then-30-year-old school grow into one of the nation’s premiere music
schools. The school moved to its present location atop Los Angeles’ Bunker
Hill (across the street from Disney Hall) in 1998.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony;
David Lockington, conductor

Sawyers: The Gale of
Life.
Elgar: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 (Andrew Shulman, soloist).

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56, (Scottish)

Saturday, January 14, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next concert: Feb. 18, 2012

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

______________________

 

There was a multiplicity of themes associated with the
Pasadena Symphony concert yesterday afternoon at Ambassador Auditorium (which
was repeated last night). The predominant theme was Britain: two of the three
composers were English, the guest conductor (David Lockington) and cello
soloist (Andrew Shulman) were born in England but now live in the U.S, and the
concluding work on the program was Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish).

 

Prior to the performance, Lockington — music director of the
Grand Rapids and Modesto Symphonies — described the program’s theme as “Looking
Back.” Mendelssohn, who began the symphony at age 21 and completed it 12 years
later, was recalling a trip he made to Scotland as a teenager in 1829. Elgar,
said Lockington, was looking back on the wreckage of World War I when he wrote
his Cello Concerto in 1919 (the program note by Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn said,
“It isn’t a requiem for the war dead, but rather for a lost way of life, the
end of a civilization”). Even Sawyers’ piece, which was composed in 2008, uses
as its text the poem On Wenlock Edge
from the 1896 cycle A Shropshire Lad by
A.E. Housman.

 

A third theme was friendship. Lockington and Shulman played
cello together in the National Youth Orchestra of Britain more than 30 years
ago, and Lockington and Sawyers are now friends. And a final theme was uniform
excellence, as in the performances Lockington, Shulman and the orchestra
delivered throughout the concert.

 

The program’s centerpiece — in placement, as well as in
performance — was Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Shulman captured the work’s aching
melancholy (the first three movements begin Adagio,
Lento
and Adagio) superbly with
his silky tone and expressive musicality, while Lockington and the orchestra
accompanied sensitively.

 

The opening work, The
Gale of Life
a 10-minute
concert overture that ends by alluding to the “Witches’ Sabbath” ending of
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique
received an exuberant reading from Lockington and the ensemble; they brought
out sympathetically all of Sawyers’ musical metaphors of the windy cliffs of
Wenlock’s Edge on the England coast.

 

Lockington displayed an assured feeling about Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, which concluded the
program. He had a score in front of him but rarely seemed to look at it, often
turning multiple pages at a time. His overall concept was to imbue the reading
with stately grandeur; call it “Mendelssohn a la Elgar.” The orchestra was in
top-notch form, playing with impressive rhythmic precision in the second
movement and displaying a lush sound from all sections — but particularly from
the strings — throughout the performance.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

One other tie in the concert concerns Lockington and Paul
Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association. Prior to coming to
Pasadena, Zdunek held a similar position with the Modesto Symphony where one of
his moves was to bring Lockington on board as that orchestra’s music director
in 2007.

With Shulman scheduled to conduct next weekend’s Los
Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts (Jan. 21 at the Alex Theater and Jan. 22 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall), LACO and the PSO took the opportunity to do some cross-promotion
by inserting a flyer with a 20% ticket discount for the LACO concerts. Smart
move, IMHO. Shulman will lead LACO in Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Violin
Concerto No. 3, along with Walton’s Sonata for Strings. A link to my article on
Shulman and the PSO and LACO concerts is HERE.

Emulating LACO’s “Sound Investment” commissioning program,
the PSO has begun its “Fresh Ink Society,” which will commission and make
possible the performance of the Symphony No. 1 by Peter Boyer as part of the
opening concert on the PSO’s 2012-2013 season. One of Boyer’s numerous
compositions, Ellis Island: The Dream of
America,
which was premiered in 2002, was nominated for a Grammy Award for
Best Classical Contemporary Composition. For more information on the “Fresh Ink
Society” or to make a contribution, call 626/793-7172.

Lockington’s “Looking Back” theme got me to recall the
first time I heard Elgar’s Cello Concerto in concert, in 1975, when the great
cellist Gregor Piatigorsky was scheduled as soloist in he concerto at a Los
Angeles Philharmonic concert. Zubin Mehta was the conductor, I think it was
opening night, and I believe the other work on the program was Mahler’s
Symphony No. 5. Ronald Leonard had just been named the Phil’s Principal Cellist
and when Piatigorsky had to cancel at the last minute, Leonard stepped in,
which meant his first notes in his new position were the opening lines of the
Cello Concerto (the soloist begins the piece). As I recall, Leonard played it
beautifully, but I’ll always remember it more for his ability to rise to an
unexpected challenge successfully.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

ALERT: Andrew Shulman and Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium tonight

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

If you haven’t already bought tickets for something else
tonight, consider attending the 8 p.m. performance of the Pasadena Symphony at
Ambassador Auditorium. The centerpiece of a well-played program is Andrew
Shulman’s superb performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto — it’s definitely worth
seeing! I’ll post a full review later.

 

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW AND LINKS: Andrew Shulman to solo with Pasadena, conduct L.A. Chamber Orchestra on consecutive weekends

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony. David
Lockington, conductor; Andrew Shulman, cello

Philip Sawyers: The
Gale of Life
; Elgar: Cello Concerto; Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 (Scottish)

Saturday, Jan. 14; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Ambassador Auditorium; 300 W. Green St., Pasadena

Tickets: $35-$100; senior rush tickets (23) available for 2
p.m. concert. Student rush tickets ($10) available for both concerts

Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

  

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra. Andrew Shulman, conductor; Nigel Armstrong, violin

Mozart: Symphony No. 29, K. 201; Violin Concerto No. 3, K.
216. Walton: Sonata for Strings.

Sat., Jan. 21, 8 p.m. at Alex Theater, Glendale. Sun., Jan.
22, 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA

Tickets: $24-$105; student season passes available

Information: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

______________________

 

Andrew Shulman is going to be one very busy musician during
the next 10 days, but there’s nothing surprising about that.

 

Shulman, who is principal cellist of the Pasadena Symphony
and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, will appear as soloist with the PSO Saturday
in two performances at Ambassador Auditorium playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto in
E Minor. David Lockington, music director of the Modesto Symphony and Grand
Rapids Symphony, will lead the programs, which will begin with The Gale of Life by English composer
Philip Sawyers and conclude with Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony.

 

The following weekend Shulman will make his LACO conducting
debut leading a program of music by Mozart and William Walton. Nigel Armstrong
will be the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. The 21-year-old graduate
of The Colburn School will be making his first local appearance since placing
fourth in the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition last
summer in Moscow (LINK).

 

There’s nothing unusual, says Shulman, about playing a titan
of the cello literature one weekend and conducting an entirely different program
the next. “What’s unusual,” he says with an infectious laugh, “is that they’re
both in the same city. Usually I’m playing here and then jetting off to England
to conduct an orchestra there.”

 

Now age 51, Shulman was born in London and studied both cello
and conducting at the Royal College of Music. “I first encountered the Elgar
concerto when I was 17 or 18,” he recalls. He studied with William Pleeth and
Pleeth’s most famous student, Jacqueline DuPre, who by then was suffering from
Multiple Sclerosis. “Jackie talked about things like fingering and bowing the
Elgar,” he remembers. “Despite the MS, she continued to be fully involved with
music up to her death; she was an inspiration.”

 

Although Shulman continued to conduct, he gained
international fame as a cellist. He served two terms as principal cellist of
London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, taking a break for 10 years to play in the
Britten Quartet. In 1999, Esa-Pekka Salonen called him and asked, “Are you fed
up with London and looking for a change?” He and his wife came to Los Angeles
where he eventually became principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

 

That job lasted just two years. “With the Philharmonia,” he
explains, “we had co-principals and others as well, so I was playing perhaps 30
percent of the concerts, which left me time to conduct and do film work. Being
principal cellist at the L.A. Phil meant that I had to play about 80 percent of
the concerts, and I just found that too confining.”

 

Shulman has since carved out a busy career in film music and
conducting. He became LACO’s principal cellist in 2008 and assumed a similar
position with the PSO in 2010. “Both of those positions are great,” he says.
“Both orchestras have great musicians and both orchestras give me plenty of
freedom to maintain all of my professional lives.”

 

That includes conducting and Walton’s Sonata for Strings has
special resonance for Shulman and LACO. “It’s actually a transcription of
Walton’s second String Quartet,” explains Shulman (who recorded the original
version in the 1980s with the Britten String Quartet). In 1971, Sir Neville
Marriner commissioned the transcription for his Academy of St.
Martin-in-the-Fields, and two years later Marriner and LACO gave the U.S.
premiere of what by then was known as the Sonata for Strings. “It’s a virtuosic
piece,” explains Shulman, “and a terrific way to show off my string colleagues
in the L.A. Chamber Orchestra. They’ll love it, and so will the audiences.”

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 12, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events (six this week)
that pique my interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission
(or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Paul Jacobs, organist

Despite being just 34, Paul Jacobs is one of America’s
extraordinary organ talents, who came to international renown 11 years ago when
he performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in an 18-hour non-stop
marathon performance. Later he performed the complete organ works of Olivier
Messiaen in nine-hour marathon concerts around the country. At age 26, he was
named chairman of the organ department at The Juilliard School in New York
City, one of the youngest faculty appointments in that school’s history.

 

There’s no Bach on this Royce Hall program, but the
selections include music by Messiaen, Elgar, John Weaver and others.

 

Royce Hall’s E.M. Skinner organ was built in 1930. It was
restored and rebuilt after being damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
With 104 ranks and 6,600 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern
California.

 

Concert information: www.uclalive.org

 

Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: “The Mahler Project” begins

The Los Angeles Philharmonic begins its massive survey of
all of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies as Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra in
Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, with soprano Miah Persson as soloist, and Songs of a Wayfarer, featuring baritone
Thomas Hampson. Links to my articles on the cycle are HERE and HERE. The Phil’s
“Mahler Project” information site is HERE. Concert
information:
www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium (Pasadena)

Pasadena Symphony;
David Lockington, conductor

The PSO resumes its 2011-12 season as David Lockington,
music director of the Modesto and Grand Rapids Symphonies, become the latest in
a string of PSO guest conductors. He leads a program with a British theme: The Gale of Life by British composer
Philip Sawyers, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Andrew Shulman as soloist, and
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish). In
addition to the compositional British tone, Lockington and Shulman are English.
A link to my preview story on this concert and next weekend’s L.A. Chamber
Orchestra concerts (Shulman is conducting the LACO programs) is HERE. Concert information: www.pasadenasymphony-org

 

Looking for a marketing edge, the PSO has joined forces with
Breakthru Fitness to sponsor a Yoga class tomorrow at 6 p.m. (As the late,
great British comedienne Anna Russell once famously said of Wagner’s Ring, “I’m not making this up, you
know!”) Lockington, an avid practitioner of yoga, will offer a brief
explanation on the influence yoga has made on his life and career as a
symphonic conductor. He will also play the cello during the class. Space is
extremely limited; contact Breakthru Fitness at 626/396-1700 to reserve a spot.

 

Sunday at 5 p.m. at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Los Angeles)

Young Musician
Foundation’s 57th annual Gala Concert

Usually a YMF concert would be in the “free admission”
category, but this one is held yearly to raise funds for this important
training program. Legendary film composer John Williams will lead the YMF Debut
Orchestra in selections from The
Adventures of Tintin
and War Horse, the
first concert performance of this music. Williams will conclude the program by
conducting music from E.T. The
Extra-Terrestrial.

 

Michael Tilson Thomas, who was the YMF’s music director from
1963-67 while he was a student at USC, will return to conduct Ravel’s La Valse. Other pieces will be conducted
by David Kaufman, Joey Newman and Teddy Abrams. Information: www.ymf.org

 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Steve Reich;
Bang-on-a-Can All Stars; ref fish blue fish; percussionist David Cossin

Steve Reich, one of the greatest composers working today,
brings a program to the Phil’s Green
Umbrella
series that includes the West Coast premiere of the double-rock
quintet, 2 x 5,  and concludes with one of Reich’s
seminal works, Music for 18 Musicians.
Information: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts (La Mirada)

La Mirada Symphony;
Robert Frelly, conductor

For the second concert of its 48th season, this
community orchestra presents a Spanish-themed program with music by Fannin,
Chabrier, Bizet, Turnia, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Guitarist Jeff Cogan will be the
soloist in Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un
Gentilhombre.
Information: www.lamiradasymphony.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Looking back on 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

With Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday church services
coming on the weekend this year, I’m going to post my “End of the Year Wrap-up”
column today so I don’t forget to do so. I hope all of you will find time to
attend a service, listen to the annual Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols
from King’s College Cambridge (locally on KUSC,
91-5 FM, at 7 a.m. Saturday), and have a blessed and joyous Christmas.

 

Looking back on the classical music year 2011 brought a
fascinating flood of remembrances. I discovered that (counting this column) I
have posted 236 times during the year on subjects as diverse as the genre. Some
of these posts also appeared in the above newspapers but — newsprint space
being what it is — obviously this Blog gives you much more. Following are some
of the significant occurrences of 2011, listed in sort-of-alphabetical order.

 

AMBASSADOR AUDITORIUM

The Pasadena hall with great acoustics will never approach
the number of events it hosted when it was built in 1974 but HRock Church
(which now owns the auditorium) has made it available to a number of performing
groups, including the Pasadena Symphony, Colburn Orchestra and, for one concert
a year, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

 

ANNIVERSARIES

Grant Gershon celebrated his 10th anniversary as
music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale last season. This fall Jeffrey
Kahane began his 15th season as music director of the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra. Both men — and both organizations — are among the reasons
why the Southern California music scene is so vibrant.

 

NIGEL ARMSTRONG and
NAREK HAKHNAZARAYAN

Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, a 22-year-old Armenian who in
January played the Dvorak Concerto with the Pasadena Symphony, won the gold
medal in the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition in June. Meanwhile,
Nigel Armstrong, a 21-year-old graduate of The Colburn School, won fourth place
in the violin portion of the competition. Earlier, Armstrong — who studied with
Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School — won an award for his performance of Stomp by American composer John
Corigliano.

 

BTW: Armstrong (who is now a grad student at The Curtis
Institute in Philadelphia) will return to Los Angeles to perform with the Los
Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Jan. 21 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and Jan. 22 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall (LINK).

 

AWARDS

Los Angeles Philharmonic Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka
Salonen won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. The work
was premiered in April 2009 with Salonen conducting the L.A. Phil and soloist
Leila Josefowicz (who grew up in Los Angeles and, like Nigel Armstrong, studied
with Ronald Lipsett at The Colburn School).

 

The award also spotlighted the Phil as America’s premiere
orchestra for commissioning and performing new music, another legacy of
Salonen’s 18-year-tenure as LAPO music director. The Phil is the only orchestra
to have commissioned and premiered two Grawemeyer Award compositions (Peter
Lieberson’s Neruda Songs in
2005 was the other) and Salonen is the only conductor to have led the first
performances of two winning scores (Neruda
Songs
and his own concerto).

 

Martin Haselbck, music director of Musica Angelica — the top-notch
Los Angeles-based period instrument ensemble — won a Grand Prix International
du Disque award for a recording he made with his other ensemble, the Vienna
Academy Orchestra, entitled The Sound of
Weimar: Franz Liszt; The Complete Works for Orchestra, Vol. 1.

 

CLASHING PROGRAMS

Each
year often brings one or two pieces that seemingly everyone wants to present,
and this year was no exception. There were four performances of Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No. 5 within a 16-day span in October (and two more to come next
month). Fortunately, several of the performances (Gustavo Dudamel with the L.A.
Phil, Yuja Wang) rose to exalted levels. Runner-up in this category was to
multiple performances of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (at least four in
four months) and an unusually large number of performances of Handel’s
Messiah in December.

 

DEATHS

Although the death of Steve Jobs on Oct. 5 dominated the
year’s obituaries, bringing to an untimely end the career of a man whose
inventions such as iTunes and iPod revolutionized the music industry, there
were other notable passings in our field, as well, including:

Daniel Catn died unexpectedly on April 8 at the age of
62. Although he composed many works, Catn was riding high after his opera Il Postino (The Postman) received its
world premiere in September 2010 by Los Angeles Opera.

Peter Lieberson (April 23), whose compositions included Neruda Songs, which (as noted above) was
premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005. The
soloist for whom the Grawemeyer Award-winning piece was written was Lorraine
Hunt Lieberson, the composer’s wife, who died the following year.

Sidney Harth (Feb. 16) was concertmaster of the Los
Angeles Philharmonic during the Carlo Maria Giulini era in the 1980s. He later
became a conductor, most notably with the Jerusalem Symphony.

Kurt Sanderling (Sept. 17) was a beloved guest conductor
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the 1980s and 1990s.

 

One other note: Salonen and Pierre Boulez returned to Los
Angeles on March 29 for a poignant tribute concert to the life and legacy of
Ernest Flesichmann, the orchestra’s longtime managing director who died in June
2010. It was a concert that Fleischmann would have loved, both for its
innovative programming and the quality of the performances.

 

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL

Now that the hoopla surrounding the now-30-year-old
Venezuelan’s debut as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director has subsided
somewhat, we’re watching this remarkable conducting talent mature as each year
passes. Although the Phil’s “Brahms Unbound” cycle devolved to “Brahms Unbound”
as illness, death and tardiness conspired to eliminate most of the new
compositions originally scheduled for the five-week-long “festival,” Dudamel
and the Phil delivered some superb performances of Brahms and newer works, as
well. Next month comes an even bigger challenge: The Mahler Project (more on
that next week and in January).

 

LOS ANGELES OPERA

Two years after presenting Wagner’s Ring cycle, LA Opera has put together a string of very successful
productions, including Verdi’s Rigoletto,
Rossini’s The Turk in Italy and
Britten’s The Turn of the Screw
earlier this year and then Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Onegin.
Gounod’s Romo et Juliette and,
in particular, Mozart’s Cos Fan Tutte
to open the current season.

 

Although it occurred in 2010, the world premiere of Daniel
Catn’s Il Postino (The Postman) continued
to resonate this year, in part because of the untimely death of the composer
and also because PBS’s “Great Performances” series telecast the world-premiere
production earlier this month.

 

LA PHIL LIVE

The jury is still out as to whether live telecasts of
orchestra concerts will attain the same level of popularity as the Metropolitan
Opera’s HD telecasts, but Dudamel and the Phil offered persuasively for the new
format in four concerts during 2011. The interviews and rehearsal footage are
worth the price of admission.

 

The one telecast that really stood out for me was the
concert that melded readings from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Tempest and Romeo
and Juliet
with music that Tchaikovsky wrote inspired by each play. The
actors performing the sketches were much easier to follow on the telecast as
opposed to being in Disney Hall. For the first concert of the current season,
Dudamel did a surprisingly good job acting as both host and conductor. The next
telecast is Feb. 18, a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 live from
Caracas, Venezuela.

 

MUSE-IQUE

A year after stepping down as music director of the Pasadena
Pops Orchestra, Rachael Worby returned with her life-long dream of a group that
would provide innovative and flexible programs. The opening event was an
orchestra concert on the lawn adjacent to Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium that
featured soprano Jessye Norman as the soloist. Both the locale and the program
proved to be quite special. Two small-ensemble programs followed in the fall.
Stay tuned in 2012.

 

THE OUTDOOR CONCERT
VENUE BATTLE

Springtime erupted when the Los Angeles County Arboretum
announced that it had selected the Pasadena Pops to replace the California
Philharmonic at the Arcadia venue beginning summer 2012. After much angst and
anger, the Cal Phil then decided to move slightly east to a venue that might –
if early projections actually come to pass — prove to be a more congenial home:
Santa Anita Racetrack.

 

Hollywood Bowl provided its usual solid set of programs, a
handful of which were noteworthy. Gustavo Dudamel concerted three concerts to
open the Bowl’s classical season, notable perhaps for the fact that less people
showed up than appeared the previous year. The Internet hoopla over Yuja Wang’s
“little orange dress” overshadowed her breathtaking performance of
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3; when she appeared at Disney Hall this
fall, she was dressed less flamboyantly and everyone could focus on her
extraordinary talent as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. As one
person summed up at the Disney Hall concert I attended, “She’s more than a
dress.”

 

PASADENA SYMPHONY AND
POPS

Now into its second season without a music director and,
seemingly, satisfied with that situation, the PSO welcomed a series of lively,
young guest conductors — including Tito Muoz, George Stelluto and Mei-Ann Chen
– to its new home, Ambassador Auditorium. Stelluto and the PSO also unveiled
one of the genuine “finds” of the season: a Kanun concerto by Khachatur
Avetisyan, played with sparkle and grace by Karine Hovhannisyan.

 

Meanwhile, as the Pops prepared to move to the Arboretum
this fall (see above), it welcomed a new principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch,
who proved to be a master at the pops-concert genre.

 

VALLEY PERFORMING
ARTS CENTER

At long last, the San Fernando Valley has a major performing
arts center located on the campus of Cal State Northridge. The hall is visually
attractive and acoustically solid, as was demonstrated by the appearance of
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia.
Now comes the hard part: finding and successfully marketing high-quality
performances.

 

Several other cities also opened new halls, including the
Soka University in Aliso Viejo, the New World Center in Miami Beach (complete
with a stunning outdoor video wall), and Maison
Symphonique de Montreal
in that Canadian city.

 

Next week: looking ahead at 2012.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Gerard Schwarz and The Colburn Orchestra at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

The Colburn Orchestra;
Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Takemitsu: From me
flows what you call Time;
Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Saturday, December 4, 2011 Ambassador Auditorium

______________________

 

When Gerard Schwarz was music director of the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra from 1978-1986, he regularly led that ensemble in Pasadena’s
Ambassador Auditorium. Saturday night he returned “home” to lead The Colburn in
a program that concluded with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

 

Mahler’s fifth will tax even the finest professional
orchestra, so to some it might have seemed foolhardy to have it tackled by a
conservatory ensemble. However, The Colburn Orchestra — the flagship ensemble
of the school that is the West Coast equivalent of New York City’s Julliard
School — is no ordinary student band as it demonstrated anew Saturday. The
musicians handled all of Schwarz’s somewhat disjointed ideas about this sprawling
work with aplomb and played their collective hearts out for their guest
conductor.

 

The 107 musicians onstage also taxed the resources of
Ambassador’s stage. With the entire brass section arrayed across the entire top
back row, the poor percussionists were treated like second cousins; the timpani
was buried in front of the brass on the left and the balance of the percussion
was tucked away on the right-hand side. The string basses were so tight against
the left-hand wall that Schwarz had to enter from the right-hand door.

 

Schwarz — who earlier this year completed a 26-year-tenure
as music director of the Seattle Symphony — had the violins seated left and
right and the cellos and violas inside of them. Conducting with a score, he led
a heavily nuanced account of the symphony that often veered into fussiness. His
fast sections, particularly in the first two movements, sped along briskly but
he turned the slow sections into sensuous, sometimes overly torpid meanderings.
The result was an episodic reading with little of the sweeping, long lines that
make Mahler distinctive.

 

Joseph Brown got things off to a splendid start with his
trumpet solos; they were a harbinger of things to come as the entire brass
section covered itself in glory throughout the performance. Schwarz brought
Principal Horn Johanna Yarbrough directly in front of him for her
third-movement solos (ask not why — the brass were heard clearly all night from
their top row perch). Although Yarbrough appeared somewhat uncomfortable,
especially during the long stretches when she wasn’t playing, she played her
lines with great sensitivity. The strings produced a lean, taut sound and the
wind sections were also noteworthy throughout the performance.

 

Many conductors would make Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (which
ran 66 minutes long Saturday) the sole piece on the program (when Gustavo
Dudamel conducts his Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela on Jan. 26
at Walt Disney Concert, Mahler’s fifth will stand alone). However, The Colburn
Orchestra elected to preface it with Toru Takemitsu’s quirky meditation From me flows what you call Time, which
featured the percussion group Smoke and
Mirrors
as soloist.

 

Not only is this 25-minute piece that features nine
connected movements quirky, the setup mandated by the Takemitsu is even
stranger. He gave precise instructions for the performers’ attire (white shirts
with colored sashes and black slacks), manner and staging (after the first
section, a flute solo played by Francesca Camuglia, the players sneak in during
the second section). On either side of the stage were different-colored ribbons
rising from the instruments to the ceiling, meant to simulate Tibetan Buddhist
prayer flags.

 

The five ensemble members — Joe Beribok, Edward Hong,
Katalin La Favre, Derek Tywoniuk and Wai Wah Ivan Wan — all study with Jack van
Geem at The Colburn School, and even those in the audience who get no joy out
of the East-West music melange from Japan’s most famous classical composer
could appreciate the musicality and dexterous movements of the soloists, who
were arrayed in front of and behind the orchestra.

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

As is usually the case, orchestra members wrote the
explanatory music notes for the program — in this case, Oboist Briana Lehman
for the Takemitsu and violinist/pianist Bora Kim for the Mahler. It’s too bad
they didn’t include the instrumentation, particularly for the Takemitsu piece.

At intermission the Smoke
and Mirrors
members changed back into formal dress and played the symphony.

Considering that patrons were asked to show up at 6:45
p.m. to assure orderly seating, the entire evening ran more than three hours in
a very warm hall. On the other hand, as Pastor Gwen Gibson noted in her brief
welcome, some people were undoubtedly glad to be in a hall with lights and
heating working, as many in the area continue without power due to Wednesday
night’s windstorms.

Prior to the performance, Colburn President and CEO Sel
Kardan came onstage to recognize and thank Mark Fabulich, the orchestra’s
manager and librarian, who is moving across Grand Avenue from The Colburn
School to assume a similar position with Los Angeles Opera. People like
Fabulich are among the unsung heroes of arts organizations, and Kardan read a
letter from The Colburn Orchestra’s Music Director Yehuda Gilad thanking him
not for his work but for his wise counsel.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

SAME-DAY REVIEW: Mei-Ann Chen conducts Pasadena Symphony

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony.
Mei-Ann, conductor; James Ehnes, violin

Huang: Saibei Dance
(from Sabei Dance Suite No. 2);
Korngold: Violin Concerto

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5

Saturday, October 29, 2011 Ambassador Auditorium

______________________

 

Mei-Ann Chen, a 38-year-old Taiwan-born conductor, is
diminutive in stature but she packs a wallop on the podium; in fact, she’s a
human dynamo who makes Gustavo Dudamel seem sedate by comparison. She’s also
one of the fast-rising stars in the conducting firmament with positions at the
Memphis Symphony and the Chicago Sinfionietta (the “Windy City’s” equivalent to
the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra).

 

This afternoon she helped open the Pasadena Symphony’s 83rd
season before a disappointingly small crowd. Too bad; they missed an exciting
concert with some top-notch music making. (the program repeated this evening to
a larger audience).

 

Chen’s exuberance was on display from the Star Spangled Banner – she had the snare
drum rattling as she walked briskly on stage. After that unfortunately
predictable opening, Chen introduced to local audiences Saibei Dance, a four-minute dance/fanfare by Chinese composer
An-Lun Huang whose flashy rhythms were perfect for Chen’s arm-whirling,
gyrating conducting style and the performance benefitted from spiffy solos from
Donald Foster, clarinet, Gary Woodward, flute, and James Thatcher, horn.

 

Violinist James Ehnes then joined Chen and the orchestra for
Korngold’s Violin Concerto, a 1945 work that melds tunes drawn from Korngold’s
motion picture scores from the 1930s overlaid by a wicked violin solo line that
Jascha Heifetz asked the composer to make more difficult than he had originally
written.

 

Ehnes — who towers over Chen — has become a champion of this
neglected work; his recording of the Korngold, Barber and Walton violin
concertos with Bramwell Tovey and Vancouver Symphony won Grammy and Juno Awards
in 2008. Ehnes’ sweet tone was very much in evidence in the first and second
movements and he handled the final movement’s pyrotechnic difficulties with seeming
ease. Chen and the orchestra accompanied sensitively.

 

After intermission, Chen concluded with has become her
signature work: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, the piece she conducted in the
finals when she became the first woman ever to win Denmark’s Malko Conducting
Competition, in 2005.

 

This was a reading full of pulsating energy from first note
to last. Chen shaped each phrase with flair and the orchestra responded in
first-rate fashion. The strings were lushly resonant, the wind principals
(especially Foster, Laura Wickes, oboe, Rose Corrigan, bassoon and Woodward)
were at the top of their games, and the brass rang out with gleaming vigor.
Even when compared with many performances of this familiar work this fall, this
one measured up well.

 

The PSO seems content to continue with a series of guest
conductrs and Music Advisor James DePreist, but Mei-Ann Chen is someone
definitely to keep very much on the radar screen.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

On a note of irony at afternoon when the PSO and Ehnes
were playing the Korngold Violin Concerto, Turner Classic Movies was showing
the 1938 motion picture, The Legend of
Robin Hood.
Korngold won an Oscar for his score for that film.

The next PSO concert is a holiday program on Dec. 3 at All
Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper, music director of the West Virginia
Symphony, will lead the orchestra, Donald Brinegar Singers, Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus and vocalist Lisa Vroman.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.