AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Two conductors make big news

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

Two conductor announcements thousands of miles apart made news this past week. One has immediate implications for Los Angeles and the other might. One thing’s for sure: the year 2018 has just gained significance in the classical music world.

The immediate impact story
James Conlon has extended his tenure as music director of Los Angeles Opera through the 2017-2018 season. Conlon joined LA Opera in 2006, succeeding Kent Nagano. Among his many accomplishments, Conlon led the company’s first production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2010.

During his tenure with LAO, Conlon has conducted a total of 33 different operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including 18 company premieres and two U.S. premieres. To date, he has conducted 190 performances of mainstage LA Opera productions, more than any other conductor in the Company’s history. He returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion pit on March 9 to lead six performances of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and on March 23 to lead six performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

It’s a measure of Conlon’s versatility that he could handle Wagner’s dramatic account of the sea captain doomed to wander the seas endlessly in his ghost ship and Rossini’s telling of the Cinderella story in the same month. In fact he conducts the two operas within 18 hours of each other on March 23 and 24.

He’s been a joy since he arrived and we’re lucky that this transplanted New Yorker has learned to love L.A. enough to sign on for another five years. Conlon’s commitment is also a reaffirmation of LAO’s continued rebound from the economic crash of 1998.

The longer-range story
Simon Rattle has announced that he will step down as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic when his contract expires in 2018. Sir Simon (he was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1994) will be 64 when he leaves the prestigious post; he was named to succeed Claudio Abbado in 1999 and began his tenure in 2002. When he retires, Rattle will have been in the post longer than all but two other conductors: Arthur Nikisch (1895-1922) and Herbert von Karajan (1954-1989).

In his announcement, Rattle said he gave a long lead-time to allow the orchestra time to name a successor. Most orchestras have a gap — sometimes a long gap — between the end of one tenure and the beginning of another; to cite one example, the Chicago Symphony went four years between the tine Daniel Barenboim left in 206 and Riccardo Muti arrived in 2012. Berlin has a chance to avoid what can be a major problem.

Speculation about Rattle’s successor will, inevitably, center on Gustavo Dudamel, whose contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic currently runs through 2018-2019 (which will be the Phil’s centennial season). Rattle, of course, has a history with the LAPO. He made his North American debut in 1976, conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1979 and was the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor from 1981╨1994. How ironic it would be if Rattle and Dudamel swapped posts.

NEWS FROM AROUND THE MUSICAL WORLD
The Grand Rapid Symphony apparently sounded like Southern California transplants this weekend. David Lockington — the group’s music director who was in town last year to conduct the Pasadena Symphony — led his orchestra in performances of John Adams’ City Noir, the work he wrote three years ago for Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director. Also on the GRS program was The Great Swiftness by Andrew Norman, a Grand Rapids native who is the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. LACO played The Great Swirtnexx earlier this season. You can read what a local music critic had to say about the GRS performance HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Cleaning out the inbox, checking out other Blogs, etc.

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Cleaning out the inbox with items that you may or may not
have seen:

 

Andrew Norman will become the Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence for a three-year term beginning in July. He
will succeed Derek Bermel and become the eighth person to hold the LACO post,
which includes funding for a new composition and an opportunity to work in
various educational opportunities. Norman, 32, was raised in central
California, studied at USC and Yale, and now lives in Brooklyn. A Los Angeles
Times story is HERE.

 

Los Angeles Opera has paid off half of the $14 million it
borrowed from Bank of America in 2009 during a liquidity crisis while it was
producing Wagner’s Ring cycle at the
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The loan was guaranteed — not made — by Los Angeles
County and the early repayment saves the company about $350,000 in interest
charges.

 

The financial crisis for arts organizations has apparently
struck Trinity Church in New York City. Anne Midgette of the Washington Post has the story HERE.
(Incidentally, it’s good to have Anne back on the “beat;” she was out on
maternity leave.).

 

You’ve undoubtedly heard about Alan Gilbert, music
director of the New York Philharmonic, who stopped a recent performance of
Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 because of a persistently ringing cell phone. Tim Smith
in the Baltimore Sun has a followup
on this story with threads back to the original story HERE.

 

A new opening on Broadway is The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which has drawn greatly mixed
reviews. You may remember this as the musical that was savaged by Steven
Sondheim in a letter to the New York
Times
last year (LINK). Martin Bernheimer’s review in London’s Financial Tines is HERE; predictably
pulls no punches.

 

I include this final story just because it’s so
beautifully crafted and poignant (LINK). Daniel J. Wakin in The New York Times writes about what
it’s like for a family to sell one of the world’s most famous cellos, the Countess of Stainlein, ex-Paganini of
1707,
played for 54 years by Bernard Greenhouse, a founding member of the
Beaux Arts Trio.

 

Perhaps the key paragraph is what follows:

 

“Through the optic of history, those in possession of these
instruments are caretakers, not owners. For their players, the transfer to the
next caretaker symbolizes the end of performing, the termination of an artistic
prime, the memories of which reside in long-used instruments. “The violin is
not only a friend,” said Aaron Rosand, 84, once a prominent soloist in the
tradition of the great Romantics like Oistrakh, Milstein and Heifetz. “It’s
something that you live with. Every day it becomes more dear to you. It’s
almost like a living thing. You treat it carefully; you treat it gently. It
talks to you,” he said. “You’re caressing your instrument all the time. Parting
with an instrument that has become such a wonderful friend is just like losing
a member of your family.”

 

I resonated to this story. My former wife was a concert
pianist and I was with her when she bought her Baldwin piano. She spent most of
a day trying out Steinways but never found one that made her sing. Late in the
day, we went into the Baldwin showroom (she was age 17 at the time) and when
she sat down at this Baldwin L, it was love at first sight, a love affair she
never let go.

 

P.S. The comments are worth reading, as well.

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