OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, American Youth Symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus; American Youth Symphony

James Conlon, Anne
Tomlinson, Alexander Treger, conductors

Music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Beam, Wilcocks and
Bjarnason

March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall.

 

NOTE: With this
review, I come violate one of my cardinal rules, which is to not review people
for whom I’ve sung or with whom I am well acquainted. Anne Tomlinson fits in
the latter category and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is housed at my
church [Pasadena Presbyterian]. Thus, you can — as the late, great Molly Ivins
was often wont to say, take this review with “a grain of salt or a pound of
salt,” if you are so inclined.

______________________

 

We’ve just come off of six weeks that, among other things,
focused attention on Venezuela’s “El Sistema” music education system and the
Los Angeles Philharmonic’s attempt to reproduce — in some fashion — the success
of that endeavor locally.

 

Lost amid the Mahler, hoopla and acronyms such as YOLA and
HOLA is the fact that this region can boast of several ensembles that
demonstrate what happens when the musical cream rises to the top. Two of those
groups, the American Youth Symphony and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, combined
for a concert last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall that concluded with the
world premiere of an intriguing cantata, The
isle is full of noises
by Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason.

 

The Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (which, despite its name
is based in Pasadena) was founded in 1986 and has become one of the nation’s
leading children’s choral programs. There are now more than 375 children, ages
6-18, participating in seven choirs and an extensive music education program.
Its artistic director, Anne Tomlinson, has been at the helm for 16 years and
LACC regularly performs with the L.A. Phil, Los Angeles Opera and other
professional groups, while also presenting its own programs. The group’s
Concert Choir recently sang for both Mahler Symphony No. 3 and No. 8.

 

Founded in 1964 by Mehli Mehta (father of former LAPO Music
Director Zubin Mehta), the American Youth Symphony has trained more than 200
musicians who now play in professional orchestras. Together the New York
Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra have eight AYS alumni in
principal posts, while the L.A. Phil, L.A. Chamber Orchestra and L.A. Opera
Orchestra use 32 members who worked with the AYS.

 

For their appearance on the Phil’s “Sounds About Town”
series this year, the two organizations combined to commission Bjarnason’s
14-minute, three-movement piece based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the preconcert lecture, Tomlinson identified a
significant problem of writing a big piece for a children’s chorus: the range
of the young singers is only slightly more than two octaves, far less than if a
composer were writing for adults.

 

Bjarnason, who at age 31 isn’t all that much older than some
of the AYS instrumentalists (that group’s upper age limit is 27), was equal to
the task. He chose the texts purposefully; his grandfather translated
Shakespeare’s sonnets into Icelandic, a project that was published just before
his grandfather’s death.

 

Deciding that some of Shakespeare’s sonnets weren’t
appropriate textually for children, Bjarnason instead turned to The Tempest and selected Miranda’s O I Have Suffered, Caliban’s Be Not Afear’d and Prospero’s The Cloud-Capp’d Towers as the texts for
the three movements. He reserved the loudest, richest orchestral moments for
when the children weren’t singing, creating massed clusters of sound with piano
and percussion punctuation. However, during the choral portions Bjarnason
skillfully cut back the orchestra so as not to overpower the 86 members of the
LACC Concert Choir, whom he challenged with close harmonies and tricky sliding
chromatic scales; the composition ranged from unison singing to as many as 12
parts. The result was often intriguing and occasionally riveting.

 

Conlon, who spends much of his life balancing orchestras
with singers, was the perfect choice to lead this premiere performance. He did
an expert job of balancing and supplied a supple hand to the score’s tone
painting. The orchestra — with Principal Flute Alexandra Walin standing out in
her solo turns — played with assurance and skill and the choristers sang with
compelling gracefulness and cohesion. Considering that the singers had
relatively little time to prepare owing to their work in the Phil’s “Mahler
Project,” their performance was particularly noteworthy.

 

Prior to the Bjarnason work, Alexander Treger, who has been
the orchestra’s music director since 1998, led his AYS in a polished
performance of a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Last week, Charles Dutoit led the L.A. Phil in a
riveting performance of eight sections of the ballet and if Treger’s concept
(using just six sections) felt a little more episodic than Dutoit’s, this
performance had its exhilarating moments, as well.

 

In the first half of the program, three of the LACC choirs
began the Shakespearean theme by performing a series of short selections from
American and British composers. The 16 high-school girls of the Chamber Singers
made a block dividing the larger Intermediate and Apprentice Choirs.

 

The most impressive performance was the initial selection:
Douglas Beam’s Spirits, which
Tomlinson conducted and the combined choirs sang with impressive diction and
precision.

 

Individually, the Intermediate Choir (led by Mandy Brigham)
and the Apprentice Choir (led by Larissa Donnelly) sang Britten’s Fancie, Robert Johnson’s Where the Bee Sucks and Vaughan
Williams’ Orpheus with His Lute with
supple grace, although the diction was more muddied (part of which can be laid
at the hands of the composers). The Chamber Singers concluded the set with a
sweet performance of Vaughan Williams’ Sigh
No More, Ladies.
Among other things, the collection of choirs and songs
provided the audience with valuable lessons in how voices change as children
grow older and gain more experience in choral singing. Twyla Meyer accompanied
skillfully on the piano.

 

To conclude the first half, Tomlinson returned to the podium
to the lead the orchestra and Concert Choir (LACC’s flagship ensemble) in a
performance of David Wilcocks’ The
Glories of Shakespeare.
Actor Stuart W. Howard opened the piece by reciting
lines from uncredited, albeit familiar Shakespeare lines, and he and Lina Patel
added additional recitatives between each of the five selections in this
pastiche.

 

Unlike Bjarnason, whose orchestral writing covered a wide
range, Wilcocks’ orchestral accompaniments stayed mainly with the two-octave
treble-voice range, which made the work less interesting. Whether it was the
singers not projecting quite enough volume or the orchestra playing with two
much, Tomlinson had troubles with balances in the first piece but provided a
more integrated whole during the final four movements. Principal Flute Walin
again provided sparkling solo work.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Apparently bowing to complaints raised from opening night
onward about Disney Hall’s inability to adequately project spoken words, a
large horn cluster was suspended above the stage, which made diction from
Howard and Patel much clearer. It also looked ugly and overpowering but one can
hope that someone will figure out a way to cover the horns in a way that blends
more aesthetically with Frank Gehry’s wood walls and ceiling.

One thing the horn array did was eliminate the use
overhead projection of texts, which were, instead, in a printed-program insert.
Fortunately, house management left the lights up sufficiently for people to
follow the texts when that was necessary.

_______________________

 

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and American Youth Symphony appear tonight at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first published today in the above papers.

 

Los Angeles Children’s
Chorus; American Youth Symphony

James Conlon, Anne
Tomlinson, Alexander Treger, conductors

Music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Beam and Wilcocks

The Isle is full of
noises
by Daniel Bjarnason (world premiere)

Today at 7:30 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall. Preconcert
lecture at 6:30 p.m.

Information:
www.laphil.com

 _______________________

There are several reasons to consider attending this
evening’s program by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and American Youth
Symphony at 7:30 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, part of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series.

 

First (and most important) it’s a concert that combines two
of the Southland’s major youth-oriented organizations. Now in its second
quarter century, the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is one of the
world’s premiere children’s choirs whose singers regularly perform with such
groups as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera.  From the time it was founded, in 1964
by conductor Mehli Mehta (father of Zubin), the American Youth Symphony has
trained thousands of orchestral musicians, many of whom now play in major
orchestras throughout the U.S.

 

Second, the Shakespeare-themed program will see the
conductors of both ensembles on the podium (albeit at different times), along
with Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon, who will lead both
ensembles in the world premiere of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises, a
three-movement work based on Shakespeare’s The
Tempest.

 

The concert will conclude a very busy weekend for Conlon.
Last night he led a performance of Britten’s Albert Herring and this afternoon he conducts Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, both for L.A. Opera at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It will also be a busy day at Disney Hall, as
the L.A. Phil and guest conductor Pablo Hereas-Casado conclude their weekend
series with a program that includes the west coast premiere of James Matheson’s
Violin Concerto, along with Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Ein Heldenleben.

 

Anne Tomlinson, LACC artistic director, will lead the
opening half of the Sunday evening program, conducting the choir in Sigh no more ladies and Orpheus with his lute by Ralph Vaughan
Williams; Benjamin Britten’s Fancie;
and Douglas Beam’s Spirits. Tomlinson
will conclude the first half by conducting both ensembles in David Wilcocks’ The Glories of Shakespeare.

 

After intermission and before the Bjornason work, Alexander
Treger, AYS music director, will lead his ensemble in a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

 

A third reason to attend is that the “Sounds About Town”
series provides people with an inexpensive way to see a concert in the Disney
Hall auditorium. Tickets for this concert range from $20.75 to $45, far less
than you would pay for an L.A. Phil concert, so if you’ve never been inside
Disney Hall, this is a great opportunity. Since the two ensembles will
undoubtedly have lots of relatives in attendance, check with the box office
before you make the trip downtown. Information:
323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

(Updated) Five-Spot: What caught my eye on March 1, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

UPDATE:  I forgot The Colburn Orchestra concert on Saturday! Of course, I won’t be able to see it because I will be singing in the Pasadena Singers’ concert (see bottom of this post), but the Colburn kids deserve to be included.

Can it really be March 1 already??? Each Thursday, I list five events that pique my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive
tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

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

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor

The 34-year-old Spanish conductor, who last December was
named Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of St Luke’s in New York City,
returns to conduct the Phil in a program that includes the west coast premiere
of James Matheson’s Violin Concerto (with LAPO Principal Concertmaster, Martin
Chalifour as soloist) and Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben. Tomorrow night is a “Casual Friday” program; the
Saturday and Sunday concerts add Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Information:
www.laphil.com

Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium
The Colburn Orchestra; Bramwell Tovey, conductor

Tovey — music director of the Vancouver Symphony and for the past three summers principal guest conductor of the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl– leads a program of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (yes, we seem to be awash in Strauss’ autobiographical tone poem — see L.A. Phil above)) and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, with Sichen Ma as soloist. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

Sunday at 4 p.m. at
Neighborhood Church, Pasadena

Pacific Serenades

Known for presenting world premieres, Pacific Serenades unveils
a new work by the group’s artistic director, Mark Carlson, which is entitled Cave Paintings, for alto saxophone,
violin, viola, cello, and piano. Carlson
describes Cave Paintings as a
tribute to music from American popular culture of the 1930s and 1940s. “I grew
up hearing that music,” he explains, “partly because my mother loved it [...] and
partly because it was always such an integral part of our culture, and still
is.” He cites noir film scores and the Great
American Songbook
— music principally from Broadway and Hollywood musicals
and from jazz by the likes of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Billy Strayhorn,
Harold Arlen, and Cole Porter–as inspirations.

 

The concert
also plays Saturday night at a private home in Altadena and Tuesday night at
UCLA (where Carlson teaches). Information:
www.pacser.org

 

Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus and American Youth Symphony; James Conlon, Anne Tomlinson and
Alexander Treger, conductors

There are several reasons to consider attending this
concert. First (and most important) it’s a concert that combines two of the
Southland’s major youth-oriented organizations. Now in its second quarter
century, the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is one of the world’s
premiere children’s choirs whose singers regularly perform with such groups as
the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera.  From the time it was founded, in 1964 by conductor Mehli
Mehta (father of Zubin), the American Youth Symphony has trained thousands of
orchestral musicians, many of whom now play in major orchestras throughout the
U.S.

 

Second, the Shakespeare-themed program will see the
conductors of both ensembles on the podium (albeit at different times), along
with Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon, who will lead both
ensembles in the world premiere of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises, a
three-movement work based on Shakespeare’s The
Tempest.

 

Anne Tomlinson, LACC artistic director, will lead the
opening half, conducting music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Douglas Beam and
David Wilcocks. After intermission and before the Bjornason work, Alexander
Treger, AYS music director, will lead his ensemble in a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

 

Another reason to attend is that this concert is part of the
L.A. Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series, which provides people with an
inexpensive way to see a concert in the Disney Hall auditorium. Tickets for
this concert range from $20.75 to $45, far less than you would pay for an L.A.
Phil concert, so if you’ve never been inside Disney Hall, this is a great
opportunity. Since the two ensembles will undoubtedly have lots of relatives in
attendance, check with the box office before you make the trip downtown. Information: www.laphil.com

 

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

Jeffrey Kahane and
friends

Kahane, who is celebrating his 15th anniversary
as music director of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, appears with LACO’s
Concertmaster Margaret Batjer and Principal Cellist Andrew Shulman in a recital
on the Phil’s Colburn Celebrity Series. Kahane, who continues to be a
world-class pianist, will play music by Chopin, as well. Information: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 7:30 at
Pasadena Presbyterian Church

The Pasadena Singers:
“Choral Favorites from Two Continents”

Since I sing with this chamber choral ensemble, you can (as
I often say, quoting the late, great Molly Ivins) take this recommendation with
a grain of salt or a pound of salt. The program features the world premiere of
three Scottish/Irish folk songs arranged by Philip Lawson, who for 20 years
sang with and was the principal arranger for The King’s Singers. Also on the
agenda is music by Brahms (a healthy selection of the Liebeslieder Waltzes), Copland, Vaughan Williams and a rollicking
arrangement of Cindy by Mormon
Tabernacle Choir director Mack Wilberg. Information:
www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Choral music dominates the holiday season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first published today in the above papers.

 

Choral music always dominates the holiday season and this
year is no different. The next two weeks will bring a plethora of choral
concerts (most, but not all, with a holiday theme) — the problem will be
deciding which ones to attend. Consider this week’s schedule, for example:

 

The Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus

Today and Dec. 11,
both at 7 p.m.

at Pasadena
Presbyterian Church

This world-renowned ensemble, led by Artistic Director Anne
Tomlinson and based in Pasadena, offers its annual midwinter programs. The
Concert Choir (the group’s flagship chorus), Intermediate Choir and Chamber
Singers perform this evening. The Concert Choir, Apprentice Choir and Young
Men’s Ensemble will sing next week. Info:
www.lachildrenschorus.org

Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Friday at at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

at Pasadena Playhouse

Opera Posse picks up from Intimate Opera Pasadena in
presenting this familiar one-act opera written by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1951
for NBC television. Last year’s presentation was one of the season’s highlights
and this year’s production features most of the artists who brought it to life
last December, including Director Stephanie Vlahos and set designer John
Iacovelli. The cast includes noted mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmn as the mother
and Caleb Glickman in the title role. As was the case last year, actor Malcolm
McDowell will intro the opera by reading Dylan Thomas’  A
Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Michelle J. Mills’ article in last week’s Star-News is HERE. Concert Info: www.operaposse.com

 

Next Saturday offers the mother of all schedule clashes,
including three concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena churches within
walking distance of each other:

The Pasadena Master Chorale sings its “Home for the
Holidays” concert at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Info: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

The Angeles Chorale and Da Capo Players Chamber Orchestra
present Handel’s “Messiah” at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena; Info: www.angeleschorale.org

The 66th annual Candlelight and Carols concert
(a free event) is at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. Info: www.ppc.net

 

Another offering on Saturday is Masters of Harmony, fresh
off of its eighth consecutive gold medal in the Barbershop Harmony Society
International Competition. Fortunately for those wanting to attend one of the
evening events above, Masters of Harmony will perform at 2 p.m. at Ambassador
Auditorium in Pasadena (there’s another performance at 7:30 p.m.). Info: www.mastersofharmony.org

 

Further updates will be in “Five Spot” each Thursday and in
other posts.

_______________________

 

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email