OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Berlin Philharmonic dazzles in Orange County

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

rattleSir Simon Rattle led his Berlin Philharmoniker yesterday in Rénee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. 2013 photo by Monika Ritterhaus.

My review of the Berlin Philharmonic’s concert Sunday in Costa Mesa, published online on the County Register’s Web site, is HERE. The story will run in the Register’s print editions tomorrow.

Following are some additional notes that fell on the cutting room floor:

• The BPO’s appearances in Walt Disney Concert Hall Saturday and Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall Sunday was part of a cross-continent tour that began in New York City’s Carnegie Hall on Nov. 9 and 10 and continued in Boston, Toronto and Ann Arbor, Michigan before heading to the west coast. The tour concludes tonight and tomorrow in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall.

• The alternate tour program, which was played in Disney Hall, was equally challenging to that we heard Sunday: Pierre Boulez’s Éclat and Mahler’s Symphony No. 7.

• Sunday’s concert was the Berlin Philharmonic’s appearance in Orange County in 15 years. It came back then to the original Segerstrom Hall when Claudio Abbado led the ensemble in two all-Beethoven programs, featuring the third, fifth and sixth symphonies. This was also, of course, the BPO’s first time in Segerstrom Concert Hall, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season.

• The OC program booklet contained the longest set of music notes than I can ever remember, stretching more than seven pages (although, thankfully for us older folks, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County uses nice large type for its notes). The one paragraph about Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 was dwarfed by the copious notes on the three pre-intermission works: Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6b, by Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16, and Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 by Alban Berg.

• The orchestra’s rehearsal schedule created some serious problems for the PSOC and Segerstrom Concert Hall. The orchestra’s desire to rehearse in the main auditorium right up to the concert time meant that the preconcert lecture by Christopher Russell had to be switched into a smaller room that didn’t have nearly enough seats to handle the crowds. I arrived five minutes after the posted start time and people were already standing around and behind the chairs. I suspect that more folks than usual came hoping to learn something about the first half of the program, only to be turned away.

Segerstrom isn’t alone in this type of problem. At least with BP Hall in Disney, people can stand on the balconies and hear the lecture, if necessary. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion uses the second-floor lobby for its lectures and that has the capacity for extra seating, if necessary. Ambassador Auditorium has nothing other than the main hall with which to handle lectures. Offhand I can’t think of another hall that could deal with the problem that cropped up Sunday.

Moreover, Segerstrom Concert Hall has only minimal seating in its lobbies, a fact that was exacerbated by the light rain that was falling as folks were arriving. Sir Simon Rattle, the BPO’s chief conductor and artistic director, called it “British weather.” He should know. Rattle returns top his native England to become Music Director of the London Symphony beginning in 2017.

• PSOC President and Artistic Director John Magnum welcomed the orchestra by announcing that the Society is halfway to its goal of $10 million endowment campaign that will enhance the group’s programming efforts.

• The next orchestra on the PSOC series is the Taiwan Philharmonic, which appears on Dec. 12 with violinist Cho-Liang Lin. The program includes two works including a violin concerto by Taiwanese composer Tyzen Hsiao along with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Information: https://philharmonicsociety.org/

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Benedetti, L.A. Phil introduce Wynton Marsalis violin concerto to Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Wynton Marsalis might be considered the Mozart of our generation. Most people think of him as a trumpeter (both in jazz and classical music), just as many in Mozart’s era thought of him as a child pianist. However, Marsalis is also a teacher, music educator and artistic director of “Jazz at Lincoln Center” in New York City.

He is also a significant composer. His Blood on the Fields became, in 1997, the first jazz piece to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under then-Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, recorded Marsalis’ 2002 oratorio All Rise, and the LAPO gave the West Coast premiere of his 2010 Swing Symphony.

BenettiNot until last year had Marsalis written a piece for solo instrument and orchestra, but last night at Hollywood Bowl the L.A. Phil gave the West Coast premiere of his Concerto in D for violin and orchestra (the Phil was part of the commissioning team). The world premiere was in London last November. The U.S. premiere was two weeks ago at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. The piece was written for Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti (pictured left) and she was on hand last night to play it magnificently.

To say that the 38-minute work is eclectic would be to radically understate all that Marsalis has thrown into it. In an interview with Music Critic John Rhein of the Chicago Tribune, Benedetti — who turned age 29 last week — said, “Wynton is funny and quirky, and there are so many little moments of humor and color in [the piece]. I would encourage people to go along for the ride and have fun.” It was good advice.

The concerto is divided into four movements — Rhapsody, Rondo Burleske, Blues and Hootenanny — but that’s just the beginning. As John Henken explained in his program notes, the first movement is subdivided into sections called Lullabye, Habanera, Dream, Military March (Nightmare), Blues Spiritual, Morning (Wistful but Sweet) and Rustic Dance (Distant Ancestral Memories).

Moreover in the first 23 bars are the following notations: from nothing, with gravitas, angsty, with purity, genuflect, freely, become more angsty, peaceful, with optimism, sweetly, sexy and throaty — essentially one for every two bars. Believe it or not, Benedetti pulled off all of these wonderfully, not an easy task since Marsalis had her soaring into the stratosphere throughout most of the performance, in the process nearly wearing out her violin’s E string while delivering a silky, singing tone.

Despite the above notations, the work is not a jazz concerto. It draws its influences from virtually every segment of American music, so it might well be considered an American concerto. Because there is so much embedded in its pages, it’s also a work that would benefit from hearing it multiple times, so it will be interesting to see if it catches on and, in particular, whether other violinists will want to put in the sweat equity to learn and perform the piece — the soloist plays in virtually every measure.

Among the takeaways: the opening, with Benedetti beginning plaintively and then building for those aforementioned 23 bars before the orchestra enters; the goofy accompaniment in the second movement, with Benedetti’s long hair whirling in the air as she negotiated the pyrotechnic solos; the Blues section, which was the most jazz-influenced (to my ears), with its lyrical inner section leading into the Hooteanny movement, where orchestra members not otherwise engaged were clapping enthusiastically (it was so infectious that I would have joined in but wouldn’t have known when to stop.

Cristian Măcelaru provide to be an inspired choice as the evening’s guest conductor, since before turning to conducting he was a good enough violinist to earn a Master’s degree in violin performance (along with one in conducting) from Rice University; become the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Miami Symphony (he made his Carnegie Hall debut with that orchestra at the age of 19); and play in the first violin section of the Houston Symphony for two seasons. For good measure, he joined Benedetti in the U.S. premiere of Marsalis’ concerto two weeks ago at Ravinia. So it was no surprise that he accompanied Benedetti sympathetically and the orchestra took the many musical mood shifts easily in its collective stride.

Măcelaru also proved to be a canny programmer, surrounding the concerto with two Aaron Copland works — canny because Copland was among the many influences heard in the concerto, especially in the last movement.

The program opened with An Outdoor Overture, which featured elegant solo work from Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten. The piece was written in 1938 for the High School for Music and Art in New York City, which obviously had a top-flight orchestra, and came at a time when Copland was developing what would be his signature musical style just as we was beginning to write his ballet music.

After intermission, came Copland’s Symphony No. 3, which was begun in 1944 and finished two years later. This might be considered the ultimate result of Copland’s musical style-change begun in 1938, and Măcelaru led a robust rendition, allowing the composer’s music to make its own statement. Even the “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which opens the final movement, was almost understated but never dull. The orchestra’s brass and percussion players highlighted the performance.

During the final movement as the flutes were softly playing, there were birds on the hillside that seemingly were singing along. It could only happen at the Bowl.

• Măcelaru — who, among his other gigs, is resident conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra — is scheduled to conduct the San Diego Symphony on January 16 and 17. The SDS is searching for a replacement for outgoing Music Director Jaha Ling, and San Diego might be a perfect spot for Măcelaru to continue his upward career ascendancy if he’s willing to relocate from Philly.
A Chorus Line plays this weekend at the Bowl. An oddity is that while the program book gives bio information on virtually everyone involved in the production, there’s not one word about the team that created the musical in the first place: Director and Choreographer Michael Bennett, Authors James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Lyricist Edward Kleban, and composer Marvin Hamlisch, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for the score. Sic transit Gloria. INFORMATION
• L.A. Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to the Bowl on Tuesday, leading the orchestra in a program of Latin American music, featuring the world premiere of Concerto de la Amistad by Lalo Schifrin and dance music by Piazzolla and Ginastera. INFORMATION

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

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NEWS: Dudamel’s contract extension affects orchestras in Berlin, New York

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

With prestigious orchestras — the New York Philharmonic and Berlin Phil — and others searching for new music directors, today’s announcement (LINK) that Gustavo Dudamel’s contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been extended through the 2021-22 season may have put a spoke into several wheels.

Along with the extension — which means the now-34-year-old Dudamel will lead the LAPO for at least 13 seasons — he has added the title of Artistic Director to his current Music Director post. No financial terms were detailed; the Los Angeles Times reported that Dudamel was paid $1.44 million in 2012, according to tax returns. The announcement came during the final leg of LAPO’s Asian tour, which wraps up Sunday in Tokyo.

Given that Dudamel seems fully invested as music director of the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra (flagship of Venezuela’s El Sistema program), it seems unlikely that he could maintain that post, the LAPO position, and a music directorship in either Berlin and/or New York unless he wants to be the reincarnation of Valery Gergiev, the world’s most peripatetic maestro these days.

Alan Gilbert has announced that he will leave his post as New York Philharmonic in 2017 (LINK). Simon Rattle will leave his post with the Berlin Philharmonic a year later and become music director of the London Symphony (LINK).

The same situation would seem to be the case with another high-profile conductor, Yannick Nezét-Seguin, who recently re-upped with the Philadelphia Orchestra through 2022.

(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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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.

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.

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW AND LINKS: Simon Rattle and Berlin Philharmonic to open season Friday with digital broadcast

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


The Berlin Philharmonic will begin its 2011-2012 season
Friday at the Berlin Philharmonie with Sir Simon Rattle conducting Mahler’s
Symphony No. 7 and Deutsche Bank is offering an opportunity to hear the opening
concert for free via the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall. You click on this
LINK, sign up and tune in at 10 a.m. Friday (7 p.m. Berlin time). A high-speed
broadband Internet connection is virtually (sorry) essential and a good pair of
headphones works best for the sound, IMHO.


BTW: Rattle will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic May 3,
4, 5 and 6 at Walt Disney Concert Hall in a program of music by Ligeti, Wagner,
Mahler and Bruckner (Symphony No. 9). Magdalena Koen will be the soloist in
Mahler’s Rckert-Lieder (LINK)



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

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