OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil open Disney Hall season with gala concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

dudamel2016Nearly every major American orchestra opens their season with some sort of gala concert in advance of their initial subscription programs. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is no different … except that it is.

Many of the L.A. patrons (most of whom have ponied up big bucks to attend the post-concert party on Grand Avenue) dress up in black tie or the female equivalent and amble up a red carpet. The concert is somewhat shorter than regular subscription programs, negated somewhat by the fact that most of the audience arrive very late (the downbeat last night was 21 minutes after the announced start time of 7 p.m.)

The evening, which ended with mylar shards floating down from the Walt Disney Concert Hall ceiling, also raises big bucks for the Phil’s education programs, including its Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA), the local version of Venezuela’s El Sistema program, which begins its 10th anniversary this year. The orchestra donates its services for this annual event.

What makes the Phil galas different is that LAPO Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel (pictured above) takes these programs very seriously. True, last night ended with a repertoire staple — Gershwin’s An American in Paris — but that piece was a natural finish to an evening that focused on “Gershwin and the Jazz Age.”

In addition to music by Gershwin, Dudamel added selections from two other giants of the jazz age — Cole Porter and Duke Ellington — and a work by a composer whose work was heavily influenced by jazz: Leonard Bernstein.

Not only did Dudamel take the program seriously but so did the orchestra, which played at top form throughout the evening, not an easy thing to do when shifting from one style to another, in this case from jaunty jazz to sweeping symphonic.

The evening opened with Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ Variations, which featured diminutive 21-year-old pianist George Li as the saucy soloist.

The orchestra’s Principal Clarinet, Boris Allakhverdyan, also proved to be a formidable soloist in Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, which, according to John Henken’s informative music notes, was written originally on a commission by Woody Herman in 1949. However, Herman’s band broke up before he could perform the piece and it wasn’t until 1955 the the piece was actually performed, with Benny Goodman as soloist, for the television series, Omnibus.

For these ears, the highlight of the evening was the second movement, Stalking Monster, of Ellington’s 1955 work Night Creature, with the trombone section setting an atmospheric mood and Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour adding a winsome solo. This would be a great encore piece on the Phil’s upcoming West Coast tour.

In between those opening and closing orchestral sections, singers Megan Hilty and Brian Stokes Mitchell offered solos and duets by Cole Porter (Always True to You in My Fashion and So in Love) and Gershwin (Someone to Watch Over Me and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off).

The highlight was Mitchell’s hilarious rendition of It Ain’t Necessarily So from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, although it took awhile for the audience to get in the swing of things as the “echo” part.

Now age 35 and beginning his eight season at the Phil’s helm, Dudamel was relaxed and poised on the podium and even joked about the silver strands creeping into his curly hair. It was a promising beginning to the orchestra’s 98th season.

• Although the official unveiling isn’t until Saturday, patrons entering Disney Hall from the parking garage got their first look at Nimbus, a series of cloud-like structures hanging from the ceiling accompanied by music played by the Phil’s musicians. Details are HERE.
• The orchestra’s 98th subscription season opens tomorrow night with Dudamel leading the Phil in Beethoven’s Corolian Overture, John Adams’ Strange Jest, with the St. Lawrence String Quartet as soloists, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist. The program repeats Friday and Sunday; KUSC will broadcast the Friday program. INFO
• The program officially kicks off the season-long 70th birthday celebration of Adams, who — in addition to being one of America’s most important composers — serves as the Phil’s Creative Chair.
• In addition to officially unveiling Nimbus, Saturday will be an 12-hour (noon to midnight) celebration of contemporary music, including the opening program in the Phil’s “Green Umbrella” series. INFO

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: An Enchanted Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Brian Stokes Mitchell

Friday, March 9, 2012 The Broad Stage

Next performance: Tomorrow at 4 p.m.

Information: www.thebroadstage.com



Brian Stokes Mitchell is a true Renaissance man: children’s
book author (On Broadway, with Brian
Stokes Mitchell)
, TV star (Trapper
John, M.D., Fraiser, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,
and most recently, Glee), among other talents. However,
he’s still best known as an iconic, Tony Award-winning Broadway musical theatre
star, a worthy successor to baritone legends such as John Raitt.


Now age 54, Stokes (as he prefers to be called, as opposed
to Mitchell) has forsaken the eight-shows-in-a-week grind of Broadway in favor
of concert and semi-staged performances of musicals, but he has also created a
90-minute long, stylishly crafted, winsomely performed show that made its local
debut at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica last night.


The show was entitled “From Broadway to The Broad,” ignoring
the fact that the name of the stage is pronounced “brode” (the hall was funded,
in part, through a gift from Eli and Edythe Broad). There was, of course, a
generous helping of powerfully sung Broadway favorites sprinkled throughout the
program (Stokes opened with Some
Enchanted Evening
from South Pacific
and encored with The Impossible Dream from
Man of La Mancha).


59035-Mitchell family.jpg

Stokes really connects with the audience (at one point, even
getting them sing the responses in It
Ain’t Necessarily So
from Porgy and
and his diction was excellent throughout the evening. Along the way, he wove stories about
his childhood, his performing life, and what it’s like to be the father of a
precocious eight-year-old son (the image pictured right is obviously several
years old) — along with other musical genres — into the fast-paced show. He
even managed to graciously hawk his book, proceeds of which benefit The Actors’


He was backed by a sensitive accompanying quartet: Jeff Colella
(who doubled as music director) on piano; Chris Colangelo, bass guitar; Rod
Harbour, drums; and Bob Shepherd, who sparkled on several different wind
instruments throughout the evening.


After the Some
Enchanted Evening
opener, Stokes sang material from George Gershwin (songs
and two selections from Porgy and Bess), the
Brazilian hit Waters of March, Stars (aided by a sensitive lighting
scheme by Michael Flowers) and a poignant medley of It isn’t Easy Being Green and Hooray.


Along the way, he slipped in a couple of pointed political
jibes; he applauded the number of states that have passed gay-marriage laws and
followed that by singing Hello, Young
from The King and I — the
context gave the familiar lyrics quite a different spin. 


Before encoring with The
Impossible Dream,
Stokes paired an a cappella rendition of the first and
last verses of America the Beautiful (singing
the last refrain as God shed her grace on
thee; and crown thy good with sisterhood …”)
with Wheels of a Dream from Ragtime.


For many people in attendance, the show’s highlight came in
the middle. After recounting the back story of how he became involved with the
2005 concert performance of South Pacific
in Carnegie Hall (a performance captured, tbankfully on DVD) and noting
that the musical was originally performed in 1949 and 1950 without
amplification (“cheaters” he called it), Mitchell honored that tradition with a
gripping rendition of This Nearly Was
sung “au naturele” (without a microphone). His powerful baritone carried
wonderfully in the flattering acoustic of the intimate Broad Stage; indeed, at
least this critic wished the entire show had been done without amplification. This Nearly Was Mine received an
eminently deserved standing ovation from the capacity audience, and there were
more than a few tears flowing.


Stokes represents an earlier era of Broadway musicals, one
that young people today rarely get the chance to experience. However, this show
is deeper and richer than mere nostalgia, so if you can get a ticket for
tomorrow’s final performance, grab it.




One kvetch about Stokes’ commentary: South Pacific was not the first Broadway musical to tackle racism. Show Boat in 1927 had the same theme as
part of that landmark show.

If you’ve never seen The Broad Stage, that’s another
reason to see this show. With just 499 seats and plenty of wood accents, the
acoustics are intimate and flattering and the seats seem wider than normal, in
part because of the low arms.

Another bonus: parking is free and the theater (which is
part of the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center) is accessible via
public transit (Metro’s 704 Rapid Line stops two blocks from the hall and Santa
Monica’s Big Blue Bus runs on Santa Monica Blvd., as well). Some day, Metro’s
Expo Line will be within walking distance.

The hall is a short walk from the Third Street Promenade
and the beach, so if you’re going tomorrow, make a day of it.

Last night’s show was followed by free wine and hors
d’oeuvres, a nice touch that other halls would do well to emulate.

* The Broad Stage is quite a busy spot with six more
programs scheduled during March. Broadway music lovers will want to mark March
31 on their calendars because Jason Robert Brown, whose songs in the musical Parade won him a Tony, comes to the hall
with the Caucasian Rhythm & Brass Kings and Anika Noni Rose. Information: www.thebroadstage.com



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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on March 8, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



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:

NOTE: Daylight
Saving Time begins Sunday morning at 2 a.m. Don’t be late for the Sunday



Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa

Brian Stokes Mitchell in recital

This great Broadway musical star
appears in the intimate confines of The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. My preview
story is HERE. Information: www.thebroadstage.com


Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Bovard Auditorium (University of Southern
California), Los Angeles

Sunday at 7 p.m. at Zipper Hall (The Colburn School), Los Angeles

Piatigorsky International Cello Festival

This multi-faceted series from
March 9-18 is cosponsored by the USC Thornton School of Music, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, The Colburn School and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. It brings
more than two-dozen artists from 12 countries to Los Angeles. The events
include concerts, recitals and master classes at USC, Zipper Hall and Walt
Disney Concert Hall.


The opening concert Friday night
features the “Festival Orchestra,” which is comprised of the LACO principal
players and students from the USC Thornton School of Music led by conductor
Hugh Wolf playing cello concertos and double concertos. Among the soloists is
Narek Hakhnazaryan, who won the gold medal in last summer’s Tchaikovsky
International Competition; he will be soloist in Saint-Sans’ Cello Concerto
No. 1 in A Minor.


Sunday evening’s recital in Zipper Hall features the six
Bach solo cello suites played by six different cellists. The L.A. Phil plays
concerts on March 15, 17 and 18 (we’ll cover them in next week’s post).


The festival honors Gregor Piatigorsky, one of history’s
greatest cellists and pedagogues, who taught at USC from 1962 to 1974. As a
basically clueless sophomore at USC in 1965, I listened to Piatigorsky and the
equally legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz play recitals in Hancock Auditorium,
not realizing how significant that was (to be honest, I went because my date —
who would later become my wife — was studying piano. She appreciated who
Heifetz and Piatigorsky were far more than I did at that point).


Among the 24 cellists performing are the three living
holders of the Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello at the USC Thornton School of
Music: Lynn Harrell, Ronald Leonard and Ralph Kirshbaum. USC established the chair
in 1974, two years before the death of its namesake. Harrell held the position
from 1986-1993, and Leonard succeeded him, serving from 1993-2003 (formerly the
L.A. Phil’s Principal Concertmaster, Leonard now teaches at The Colburn School).
From 2004-2007, the late Eleonore Schoenfeld taught as the Piatigorsky Chair
holder and the Festival’s artistic director, Ralph Kirshbaum, succeeded her in


The Los Angeles Times has
a cute article on the festival HERE.


Information: piatigorskyfestival.com


Saturday night at 8
p.m. at Terrace Theatre, Long Beach

Long Beach Symphony;
Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor

The LBSO continues its season with performances of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances Nos. 1 + 4; Schubert’s
Symphony No. 9, D 944, the “Great C Major” symphony; and Mendelssohn’s
evergreen Violin Concerto with the orchestra’s principal second violinist,
Katia Popov, as soloist. Information: www.lbso.org


Sunday at 7 p.m. at
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena

performances la
carte: “Winter’s Thaw”

This new group debuts with what’s described as a “multimedia
concert weaving the literary, musical and visual arts.” The musical selections
will include pieces by Eric Whitacre, David Downs, Carole Bayer-Sager and Ennio
Morricone. Performers will include the group’s founder, Jamie Perez, soloists,
instrumentalists, and choristers from five area churches.


If you’ve never seen Westminster Presbyterian Church (which
is located on North Lake Avenue), its sanctuary’s gothic look and feel,
inspired by several French cathedrals, is worth the trip (because Daylight
Savings Time starts Sunday, the stained glass windows will really sparkle).
This is a benefit concert; net proceeds will go to Elizabeth House. Information: 626/710-8639; performancesalacarte.org


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


Sunday at 6 p.m. at
St. James Church, Los Angeles

John Scott, organist

John Scott is Organist and Director of Music at St. Thomas
Church, NYC; before that he was in the same capacity at London’s St. Paul’s
Cathedral. His program will be music by Handel, Bach, Vierne, Locklair, Bolcom,
Fagiani and Sweelinck. The recital follows an Evensong service at 4:30 p.m.,
which — in a nice touch — will include music by Gerre Hancock, whom Scott
succeeded at St. Thomas Church in 2004 (Hancock died earlier this year).


Sunday’s recital will be played on St. James’ historic David
John Falconer Memorial Organ, one of the only remaining organs built by the
Murray Harris Company (the instrument dates from 1911 — read about its history
is HERE).


The church is located on Wilshire Blvd. in the mid-Wilshire
area and is within walking distance of Metro Rail Purple Line’s
Wilshire/Western station. Information: www.stjamesla.org



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

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(Revised) PREVIEW: Brian Stokes Mitchell — A Most Wonderful Fella

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

The revision is the list of songs at the end of the story.



Brian Stokes Mitchell
in Recital

Friday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 11 at 4 p.m.

The Broad Stage (Santa Monica

Tickets: $65-$135




There are certain people who when they show up on a schedule
get a big yellow highlighter and/or red-line underline (or their electronic
equivalent) on my calendar. They belong in the “don’t miss this show” category.
Brian Stokes Mitchell is one of those, for me, and he’s coming to The Broad
Stage in Santa Monica Friday night and Sunday afternoon.



Mitchell has been one of the leading stars of musical
theater for decades (he’s now age 54); he has been nominated for four Tony
Awards and won in 2000 for his performance in Kiss Me Kate. However, my experience with Mitchell can trace
directly to a benefit performance of South
in concert at Carnegie Hall that aired in 2006 (the actual
performance took place on June 9, 2005). I stumbled onto it while channel
surfing but, as South Pacific is one
of favorite musicals (perhaps THE favorite), I was hooked.


Mitchell was playing Emile de Becque and Reba McEntire was
Nellie Forbush (pictured right). Not only did they sing wonderfully, they
connected amazingly as a couple. However, what I vividly remember was Mitchell
singing This Nearly Was Mine. I was
shaken when he finished; even today, if I play the DVD, that performance brings
tears to my eyes. Whatever else he sings this weekend, I fervently hope that’s
part of the show. If you’ve never seen the DVD, I highly recommend it; it
remains one of my lifetime musical high points.


Mitchell and McEntire reprised their performances in a
semi-staged production at Hollywood Bowl in 2007. Mitchell returned the
following year to the Bowl to play Javert in Les Misrables and in 2009 portrayed Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls.


For Mitchell, this is a homecoming of sorts. Although he was
born Seattle, he lived in California for nearly 20 years (his father was a
civilian engineer for the U.S. Navy). While a teenager in San Diego, he began
acting in school musicals and when he moved to Los Angeles, his career took off.
“When I moved to Los Angeles,” he said in an interview for a Dallas
performance, “I bought a four-track studio, and it expanded to an eight-tack
studio, and then a 16-track studio and then a 16-track digital studio and now I
have a Pro Tools studio, which is kind of the industry standard, so it has made
me very conscious of sound.”


For his weekend concerts, Mitchell will be accompanied by a
quartet: piano, drums, bass and a woodwind player. Although the program
won’t be set until show time, among the songs he’s scheduled to sing are Some Enchanted Evening, Stars, The Waters of
March, Wheels of a Dream
and The
Impossible Dream.
Within the intimate
acoustics of The Broad Stage, he should sound terrific.



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

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