REVIEW: Angeles Chorale opens 40th season with exciting Gospel concert

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

The Angeles Chorale opened its 40th anniversary season by reprising one of the most popular concerts in the ensemble’s history, an evening of Gospel music. It proved to be a savy choice; the performers (including a sizzling sextet of instrumentalists, two soloists and the chorale’s be-bopping artistic director, John Sutton) were hotter than the sweltering non-air conditioned sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena. For one of the rare times, the marketing tagline, “Unbridled Joy!” nailed it.

The 54 singers in the Pasadena-based chorale wore multi-colored casual tops and sang about 80 minutes from memory (the program, performed without intermission lasted a little over two hours). The chorale’s diction was so impressive that even though the texts were printed in the program that was a waste of paper except for when baritone soloist Darnell Abraham sang.

Freed from the shackles of holding music scores and/or folders, the singers — with a couple of exceptions — bounced and swayed to the music with joyful exuberance on their faces as did Sutton, who was fully in charge throughout the performance. It wasn’t how an African-American choir would have sung the program but it was exciting and performed with a high degree of polish.

After 20 minutes or so, the audience got into the swing of things. Part of the early lethargy was the heat both outside and inside (Sutton suggested people think of the evening as a Richard Simmons workout and fan with their programs in time with the music). However, when Tenor Saxophonist Ramsey Castaneda, soprano Eyvonne Williams and the chorale performed a gripping rendition of Mark Hayes’ arrangement of Here’s One, everyone was hooked. By evening’s end (an encore written and led from the piano by Byron Smith) all were on their feet stomping and screaming.

The instrumental ensemble — Castaneda, pianist Byran Pezzone, Moses Sun on guitar, Sean Barrett bass guitar, Greg Mathieson on a Hammond B-3 organ, and Bryan Taylor on a drum set — played wonderfully, especially in Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, which concluded the formal portion of the program.

As heard from a balcony seat, the instrumentalists occasionally overpowered the choir and Abraham, but when 50+ singers from the Azusa Pacific University Choir joined the Angeles Chorale for the last three pieces of the Gospel Mass the balance evened out nicely. Pezzone offered a nicely nuanced bridge to help the choristers get into the choir loft and each of the instrumentalists played hot jazz riffs during the final portion of Gospel Mass.

The evening was dedicated to the memory of Justin Carr on what would have been the former Harvard-Westlake student’s 18th birthday. The Altadena resident (he and his family lived next to Sutton and his wife) died from an undiagnosed case of idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy while in a swimming workout on Feb. 22, 2013 at the school.

After a screening of a CBS-2 Emmy-award winning news segment on the tragedy, Carr’s parents, Darnell Carr and Susan Toler Carr, came on stage and discussed the Justin Car Memorial Fund (www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org). Perhaps the most meaningful moment was the revelation that a San Fernando Valley high school had tested their student-athletes and discovered one with the disease before it could result in the kind of tragic accident that killed Justin.

For the record: the other pieces performed were Wondrous Love, Ain’t Got Time to Die, Lord I Know I’ve been Changed, and City Called Heaven.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Although I realize the concert was a significant event in the chorale’s history, the constant running around of the videographers and photographers proved to be distracting.
• The chorale’s next concert will be a holiday-music performance on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at FUMCP. Information: www.angeleschorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Winding down, ramping up as classical music seasons collide

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.

We’ve arrived at that odd time of the classical music year when outdoor concerts are winding down while at the same time indoor seasons are beginning to ramp up.

• Michael Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops Orchestra wrap up their 2014 summer season Saturday night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum with a program entitled, “New York! New York!” The evening will include music by Leonard Bernstein (Candide Overture, West Side Story, On the Town and Wonderful Town), several songs by Duke Ellington, and works by Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter. As is usually the case with a Feinstein concert, there will be several revivals among the offerings. Vocalists Patti Austin, Liz Callaway and Aaron Tveit will join the fun.

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

• Hollywood Bowl wraps up its classical season during the next couple of weeks. Ludovic Morlot, music director of the Seattle Symphony since 2011, returns to the Cahuenga Pass amphiteatre this week. Tuesday’s concert combines Mendelssohn with Mozart. Thursday’s performance features Colburn Conservatory student Simone Porter, who made an impressive debut with the Pasadena Symphony earlier this year, soloing in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Jessica Gelt has a profile of Porter in the Los Angeles Times HERE.

The final Tuesday concert (Sept. 9) will be led by Vancouver Symphony Music Director Bramwell Tovey. The program will open with the world premiere of Erskine, a concerto for drum set and orchestra, written by English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage for percussionist Peter Erskine, who will appear as soloist. Holst’s The Planets will conclude the evening, accompanied — as is now almost “de rigueur” — by imagery from NASA and JPL rovers and satellites, despite the fact that Holst’s musical depiction was astrological rather than astronomical.

On Sept. 11, Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena will lead Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, with soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining the Phil to conclude the season.

Information: 323/850-2000; www.hollywoodbowl.com

• Meanwhile, the Angeles Chorale begins in 40th anniversary season on Sept. 13 at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena. Artistic Director John Sutton will lead his chorale in “Unbridled Joy: an Evening of Gospel, Spirituals and More,” which will feature a performance of Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. Two vocal soloists and several instrumentalists will join the chorale in the concert.

The concert will spotlight the “Justin Carr Wants World Peace” Memorial Foundation, established in memory of the then-16-year-old Altadena resident who died of cardiac arrest during a swimming workout in 2013.

Information: 818/591-1735; www.angeleschorale.org

• First Congregational Church of Los Angeles kicks off its 46th annual organ concert series with a weekend devoted to its multiple organs, which together total 346 ranks, 265 stops, and 18 divisions — more than 20,000 pipes in several locations around the massive gothic sanctuary (modeled after Chartres Cathedral in France).

Fred Swann, former organist at First Congo and former president of the American Guild of Organists, will give a master class on Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. That evening at 8 p.m., three notable college grad students — Jaebon Hwang, Minh Ngyuen and Qi Zhang — will play a free recital. The following afternoon will be an “organ crawl,” a chance to get an up-close look at the workings of this massive instrument. Advance tickets at $25 are required for the organ crawl; the other events are free.

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Indoor, outdoor concerts clash in first weekend of June

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

Style: "p25+-Ipro"
Michael Feinstein will open his second season as the Pasadena Pops’ principal conductor on June 7 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.
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We’re at that odd time of the year for classical music when seasons collide. In June we’re wrapping up indoor seasons and beginning the outdoor concerts that are so much a part of Southern California life and, unfortunately, they all collide next weekend.

On the indoor scene:
• The Pasadena-based Angeles Chorale will conclude its 2013-2014 season at UCLA’s Royce Hall on June 7 at 8 p.m. when long-time artistic director and now resident guest conductor Donald Neuen makes his final appearance with the Angeles Chorale. The ensemble will be joined by the UCLA Chorale, UCLA Philharmonia and piano soloist Neal Stulberg in an all-Beethoven program: Mass in C Major, Choral Fantasy and the “Hallelujah” chorus from Christ on the Mount of Olives. Soloists for the mass will be soprano Sarah Grandpre, alto Sarah Anderson, tenor Daniel Suk, and bass Michael Dean. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

• The Pasadena Master Chorale’s final concert this year will feature Carl Orff’s ever-popular Carmina Burana on June 7 at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein will conduct the work’s two-piano chamber version. Soprano Krystle Casey and Baritone Ryan Thorn will be the soloists. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

• On June 8, Pasadena Pro Musica concludes its 50th season at 4 p.m. at Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church as Artistic Director Stephen Grimm leads a program of music by Mozart. Soloists include soprano Paula Rasmussen, who sang with PPM as a young chorister and has since gone on to an international opera career. Information: www.pasadenapromusica.org

• The Los Angeles Master Chorale wraps up its 50th season on June 8 at 7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall as Artistic Director Grant Gershon leads world premieres of pieces by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Conductor Laurate Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Lang, and the Chorale’s composer-in-residence, Shawn Kirschner, along with music by Gabriela Lena Frank and Francisco Nuñez. Gershon’s new title came with welcome news that he is extending his contract with LAMC through 2019-2020. Information: www.lamc.org

On the outdoor front, Michael Feinstein returns for his second season as the Pasadena Pops’ principal conductor, leading the group’s opening concert on June 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. The program will include a treasure trove of lost works that Feinstein has unearthed in places ranging from libraries to garages as he continues to build “The Great American Songbook.” Feinstein will conduct three of this summer’s concerts and sing in a fourth. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Pasadena Symphony resumes youth movement

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this story was printed today in the above newspapers.
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Pasadena Symphony; Andrew Grams, conductor, Simone Porter, violin
March 29 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Preview one hour before each performance.
Ambassador Auditorium; 131 South St. John Ave., Pasadena
Tickets: $35-$105.
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Simone_Porter_4_WebFor more than a quarter-century the Pasadena Symphony has distinguished itself by discovering young, talented soloists. Earlier this year 13-year-old pianist Umi Garrett soloed in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. For the PSO’s programs on March 29 at Ambassador Auditorium, a “grizzled veteran,” 17-year-old violinist Simone Porter (pictured right), will join the orchestra and guest conductor Andrew Grams for a performance of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. The concerts will open with William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra and will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

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.

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.

The PSO’s “youth movement” also includes its guest conductor. Grams, a 36-year-old Maryland native, last fall became music director of the Elgin Symphony just outside of Chicago, an ensemble that is similar in many respects to the Pasadena Symphony. In January he conducted the Baltimore Symphony in a concert that elicited from Tim Smith, music critic of The Baltimore Sun, the following: “The year is not even a week old, and there’s a contender for highlight of the 2014 music season in Baltimore.”

Meanwhile, two area choral groups resume their seasons this week.

• Jeffrey Bernstein leads the Pasadena Master Chorale in “The Voice of California” on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and next Sunday at 4 p.m. at Altadena Community Church. The program features music by Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen, along with premieres by Los Angeles-based composers Matt Brown and Reena Esmail. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

• Artistic Director John Sutton will lead his Angeles Chorale in “Romancing the Soul,” an evening of Brahms love songs on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena’s First United Methodist Church and March 30 at 4 p.m. at Northridge United Methodist Church. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

• This evening at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Grant Gershon leads 48 members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in music by famed Southern California composer Morten Lauridsen. The program will include Mid-Winter Songs, Ave Dulcissima Maria, Canticle/O Vos Omnes, O Magnum Mysterium, , Madrigali, Nocturnes and Les Chansons des Roses (Lauridsen will accompany the last two pieces on the piano). Ironically, the only major piece the Chorale won’t be singing is Lux Aeterna, which has become a choral landmark since it was premiered and recorded by the Master Chorale in 1997. Information: www.lamc.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Look ahead to 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last week I looked back at some of the memorable events of
2011 (LINK). Today I look forward, and “bulging” is the most appropriate word I
can think of when describing the classical music calendar in the first quarter
of 2012 (I won’t even attempt to list everything that I think is important for
all of next year). Among the major programs scheduled in the next few months
are:

 

ORCHESTRA

The Mahler Project

The Los Angeles Philharmonic kicks off its nearly month-long
survey of Gustav Mahler’s music in mid-January. Gustavo Dudamel will lead two
of the orchestra he heads — the L.A. Phil and Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra
of Venezuela — in 17 performances from January 13 through February 4 at Walt
Disney Concert Hall and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The sweeping
enterprise will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of
the great Austrian composer-conductor Gustav Mahler (which actually took place
on May 18, 1911).

 

Dudamel (who turns age 31 on Jan. 26) will lead every
performance. The Bolivrs will play four of the symphonies, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic will play four, and the two ensembles will combine and join with
more 800 choristers and eight soloists for the Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 4 at the
Shrine Auditorium, one of the few times in history when that work’s subtitle, “Symphony
of a Thousand,” will be fact as
opposed to appellation.

 

Following the Los Angeles concerts, the entire cycle will be
performed again in Caracas, Venezuela; the Feb. 18 performance of “Symphony of
a Thousand” will be telecast live from the Venezuelan capital at 2 p.m. (PST)
in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada (LINK). “Mahler Project” information: www.laphil.com

 

Andrew Shulman
doubles down with PSO and LACO

Shulman is principal cellist of the Pasadena Symphony
Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. On Jan. 13 he will appear as
soloist with the PSO at Ambassador Auditorium playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
The following weekend (Jan. 20 and 21), he will conduct LACO in a program that
will include former Colburn School student Nigel Armstrong as soloist in
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 (Armstrong won fourth place in last June’s
Tchaikovsky Violin Competition.

PSO information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

LACO information: www.laco.org

 

The Colburn Orchestra

This top-notch student ensemble wraps up its season at
Ambassador Auditorium with concerts on Feb. 4 and March 3. The latter will be
led by Bramwell Tovey, music director of the Vancouver and principal guest
conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl for the past three
summers. The Colburn Orchestra’s free concerts go through their ticket
allotments quickly so now is the time to log on and secure your seats (you
print the tickets when you make the reservation).

Information: www.colburnschool.edu

OPERA

San Diego Opera

San Diego Opera grabs the spotlight beginning Feb. 18 when
it presents the West Coast debut of Moby
Dick
by Jake Heggie (best known, until now, for his opera Dead Man Walking). This production got
mostly rave reviews when it debuted at Dallas Opera in May 2010 (LINK with
reviews) and the San Diego production includes Canadian tenor Ben Heppner
reprising his title role performance in San Diego. SD Opera Resident Conductor
Karen Keltner will conduct. It’s sung in English with supertitles. The company
will also present a production of Richard Strauss’ Salome beginning Jan. 28, with Lise Lindstrom in the title role. Information: www.sdopera.com

 

Los Angeles Opera

February will be a busy opera month. Los Angeles Opera
resumes its 2011-2012 season with productions of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra beginning Feb. 11 in the first of seven
performances and Britten’s Albert
Herring,
which opens Feb. 25 and continues with five performances in March.
LA Opera Music Director James Conlon will conduct both operas.

 

Simon Boccanegra
is significant because Plcido Domingo is in the title role, a part that was
written for a baritone (Domingo, of course, has spent nearly all of his career
as a tenor, although he now appears to be more comfortable in lower ranges).
This production originated at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Albert Herring is
the latest in a string of Benjamin Britten operas that the company is
presenting in a lead-up to the composer’s birth centennial in 2013. Although
LAO mounted Albert Herring early in
the company’s history, this production originated at Santa Fe Opera. Alek
Shrader makes his LAO debut in the title role. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Long Beach Opera

This intrepid company explores the world of the tango with a
production of Maria de Buenos Aires,
composed by Astor Piazzolla to a libretto by poet Hoarcio Ferrer. Sung in
Spanish with English supertitles, it plays Jan. 29 and Feb. 4 at the Warner
Theater in San Pedro. Information: www.longbeachoperea.com

IN MOVIE THEATERS

On the big screen, the Metropolitan Opera continues its High
Definition telecasts into movie theaters with three screenings in January and
February, including its new production of Wagner’s Gtterdmerung on Feb. 11. Information:
www.metopereafamily.org

 

CHORAL MUSIC

Although choral music concerts occur frequently, the
three-week span from March 17-April 6 has an unusually large number of notable
events.

 

Chorale Bel Canto will
sing Bach’s Mass in B Minor on March 17 at Whittier College as the major event
in the 75th annual Whittier Bach Festival. Stephen Gothold conducts
the CBC (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year),
soloists and orchestra in this monument of choral literature. Information: www.choralebelcanto.org

 

Angeles Chorale
will celebrate what conductor John Sutton calls “America’s most significant
musical story — gospel and jazz; the stories of our lives; and musical depictions
of the human experience” on March 24 at First United Methodist Church,
Pasadena. The featured work will be Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Los Angeles Master
Chorale,
which will present a concert of Bruckner and Stravinsky on Feb.
12, returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 31 and April 1 for a
performance of Bach’s St. John Passion. Grant
Gershon conducts both programs; the Bach features the area’s foremost
period-instrument ensemble, Musica Angelica. Information: www.lamc.org

 

As an added note:
my weekly “Five Spot” posts will return on Jan. 5. Each week, I list five notable
concerts for the upcoming weekend including, ideally, one that is either free
admission or very low cost. Have a safe and happy new year.

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

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