NEWS: End of an era: Cal Phil announces final outdoor summer season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The California Philharmonic will end 20 years of summer outdoor concerts with a season of three performances beginning July 23 at Santa Anita Racetrack’s performing arts venue. The orchestra will also play four concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall beginning July 10. Music Director Victor Vener is scheduled to lead all performances.

The outdoor season represents a reduction from the five concerts that have been held since Cal Phil shifted from the Los Angeles County Arboretum to Santa Anita Racetrack five years ago. The orchestra’s media release offered no explanation as to why this would be the last outdoor season but did say that the orchestra would continue perform in the summer at Disney Hall.

One of the things that has made Vener unique is that he mixes classical and pops repertoire for each of his concerts; other groups tend to play one genre or the other in their programs. For example, the July 23 Cal Phil concert will meld Scheherazade and Haydn’s “Miracle” Symphony with music from Prince, Queen, David Bowie and Michael Jackson.

When the Cal Phil shifted from the Arboretum to Santa Anita five years it marked the sixth outdoor venue in which Vener had worked — others included Descanso Gardens in La Cañada, the Rose Bowl, Starlight Bowl in Burbank and the steps of the Pasadena City Hall. Vener and the Cal Phil have also performed at Disney Hall every summer since it opened more than a decade ago.

Details on the upcoming season: 626-304-0333;

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Cal Phil, Pasadena Pops perform Saturday in Arcadia

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
This column was published today in the above papers.

Summertime … and the classical music season warms up along with the temperatures. Arcadia is the place to be on Saturday as the California Philharmonic begins its 2014 summer season at Santa Anita Racetrack, while a few hundred yards away at the Los Angeles County Arboretum the Pasadena Pops continues its summer schedule.

• Music by John Williams headlines the Cal Phil’s opening concert, as Victor Vener leads his ensemble in the first of five concerts at the performing space in the infield of the famed racetrack. Among the selections will be a violin/cello arrangement of the theme from Schindler’s List, with father and son duo Dennis Karmazyn on cello and Max Karmazyn on violin as soloists. The program will also include Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Orff’s Carmina Burana, with the Cal Phil Chorale assisting in the latter.

Other 2014 concerts are:
July 12 — “Copland and Cowboys”
July 26 — “Music, Fantasy and Adventure”
Aug. 9 — “Movie Masterpieces
Aug. 23 — “Broadway and Bolero”
As usual, each outdoor program is repeated the following afternoon in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Information:

• Broadway is on the Pasadena Pops agenda Saturday night, as resident conductor Larry Blank leads the orchestra in a potpourri of selections from famous Broadway shows. Soloists include vocalists Susan Egan, Valerie Perri, Christina Saffran, Lisa Vroman, and David Burnham. Among the shows featured will be Cabaret, Evita, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, The Music Man, Wicked and West Side Story.

This is the only concert of the five-event Pops season that will go head-to-head with the Cal Phil, but as is usual when that happens, traffic issues can arise. This is also the only Pops concert of the season where Principal Conductor Michael Feinstein will not appear. Information:

Got a bunch of money? If you hurry you can still find an orchestra that will put your name on its music director position. The Chicago Symphony was the latest to join the naming craze when a gift of $17 million from the Zell Family Foundation bought perpetual naming rights to the orchestra’s music director position, currently held by Riccardo Muti.

If the name “Zell” sounds familiar, it’s because Sam Zell bought The Tribune Co. (including the Los Angeles Times) in April 2007 and then took it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy 20 months later.

The CSO joins the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where Gustavo Dudamel holds the title of “Music Director, Walt and Lily Disney Chair” (which is amusing since Dudamel only sits on a chair during rehearsal), and Los Angeles Opera, where James Conlon is the “Richard Seaver Music Director.” Upon checking their Web sites, it appears that both the Pasadena Symphony and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra are still open.

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

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

The following items come the hundreds of emails that land in my inbox each week … along with material from other Blogs and stories.

The Cal Phil has struggled financially for several years, so the CalPhil Foundation has declared bankruptcy. The orchestra will now be owned and run by Pasadena Entertainment, a local, for-profit company headed by André Vener, who has been President and CEO of the Foundation for 10 years and is the son of Music Director Victor Vener.

Among the highlights of the announcement:
• Pasadena Entertainment has paid all back wages owed to the musicians and a new collective bargaining agreement has been signed. Presumably all other debts incurred by the orchestra will be handled through the CalPhil Foundation bankruptcy.
• The 2014 season has been set, with outdoor concerts continuing at Santa Anita Racetrack and the indoor season taking place at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
• According to the release “close to 20,000 people” attended the five “Festival on the Green” concerts at Santa Anita this past summer and “10,000 fans” attended the five “sold out” Disney Hall concerts.

(The complete media release is at the bottom of this post.)

Larry Blank will conduct the orchestra in this annual concert with soloists Susan Egan, Vicki Lewis and David Burnham and the JPL Chorus singing. The free program begins at 7:30 p.m. DETAILS

Carl St.Clair, music director of the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa for 25 years, will become music director of the National Symphony of Costa Rica for one year beginning in 2014. He will continue with his Pacific Symphony post. Read the Los Angeles Times story HERE.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has named the latest class of young conductors who will work with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and the orchestra during the upcoming season: David Cohen, Ben Gernon and Antonio Méndez. DETAILS

Many of us thought that the day would never come given the serious of Maestro Levine’s health issues, but by the press accounts his return as conductor of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte was triumphant.
New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)
Financial Times (Martin Bernheimer)
Los Angeles Times (James C. Taylor)
Washington Post (Anne Midgette)

• FASTNOTES: A great L.A. Phil tradition continues
I got the first edition of “FastNotes” for the upcoming season in my inbox this week and once again I highly recommend them to any classical music lover. “FastNotes” are an email glimpse at each upcoming concert with an overview of the program, notes about each of the composers, links to ticket purchasing options, and links to the programs notes and excerpts of the pieces to be played (or, as is the case this week, when a piece is a premiere, excerpts from the composer’s other works — there may be a fee for the excepts). You can sign up for this through the Phil’s E-Newsletter section HERE. Even if you’re not going to attend a concert, I find them very informative.

(From the post above, here’s the complete Cal Phil media release)


Local 47 Musicians Union Issues Statement Of Support As California Philharmonic Moves Forward With New Ownership And Operations Under Pasadena Entertainment

Pasadena – With the dynamic conclusion of California Philharmonic’s 2013 summer season comes exciting news for the world class orchestra. And, as it begins the next phase of its legacy, now owned and operated by Pasadena Entertainment, California Philharmonic is moving full steam ahead with the announcement that both of its summer homes, iconic venues Santa Anita Race Track and Walt Disney Concert Hall, are on board for 2014 and beyond.

“It’s been our pleasure to work with Pasadena Entertainment since 2009,” says Sharon Stewart, Director of Scheduling and Events for the Music Center of Los Angeles County. “We look forward to working with them in future summers, and to another successful summer classical music series.”

Pasadena Entertainment has served as the production and marketing firm for the California Philharmonic and its concert series for the past four years.

“We value the professionalism of Pasadena Entertainment as part of our marketing and production team,” said Pete Siberell, Director of Special Projects for Los Angeles Turf Club. “Teaming up with California Philharmonic has been a great opportunity to develop Santa Anita Race Track as a premier concert venue.”

And the close to 20,000 people who attended California Philharmonic’s 2013 Festival on the Green at Santa Anita Race Track couldn’t agree more. Equally enthusiastic, are the 10,000 fans who filled last season’s sold out concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall and showed their appreciation of the revered orchestra with an unprecedented five standing ovations during the final performance of the season.

The transition of California Philharmonic to Pasadena Entertainment from the non-profit CalPhil Foundation began earlier this year. CalPhil Foundation (not the California Philharmonic), will phase out through bankruptcy.

Under its new organization, all past and present professional obligations with California Philharmonic musicians have been met. A new collective bargaining agreement has been set and California Philharmonic is moving forward with the Musicians Union and its members in good standing.

“AFM, Local 47 is pleased to announce that all back wages owed to California Philharmonic musicians for services rendered have been paid,” comments John Acosta, Vice President of Local 47. “Pasadena Entertainment has stepped up to take on the proud tradition of California Philharmonic, providing summer concerts in Los Angeles County. Local 47 and its new partner Pasadena Entertainment look forward to a long and successful relationship!”

The musicians echo the excitement for the future of California Philharmonic along with the Union, the orchestra’s ever-growing loyal fan base and the venues.

“Maestro Vener and California Philharmonic create the kind of energy that John Mauceri, Arthur Fiedler and Leonard Bernstein brought to the concert stage,” says Dennis Karmazyn, California Philharmonic’s principal cellist. “California Philharmonic takes the audience on a musical journey.”

Subscriptions and tickets are available for the 2014 summer season.


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

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(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Cal Phil presents Rodgers & Hammerstein and Gershwin at Santa Anita Racetrack

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
The changes are the principal trumpet and the fact that Mr. Pezzone’s “Rhapsody in Blue” cadenzas were an addition to, not a substitute for Gershwin’s cadenzas, as originally stated.

California Philharmonic; Victor Vener, conductor
“Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin”
Saturday, August 11 • Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia
Next performances: today at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Rodgers and Hammerstein and George Gershwin wrote some of history’s greatest music and combining the two always guarantees boffo box office, so it’s no surprise that a good-sized crowd came to Santa Anita Racetrack’s performance area on a balmy evening last night to hear Victor Vener, the California Philharmonic and three soloists perform some of the best-loved tunes from these three 20th century musical giants.

Unlike most Cal Phil concerts, Vener limited his commentary particularly in the post-intermission portion of the concert, and left the wandering spotlights on singers Kim Huber and James Barbour, each of whom displayed rich, powerful voices as they sang “greatest hits” from The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, The Sound of Music, and Oklahoma.

The singing was almost all loud and — except for the last line of People Will Say We’re in Love and the encore, the title song from Oklahoma, Barbour and Huber sang independently; it would have been nice to have them sing another duet or two. Barbour’s rendition of the Soliloquy from Carousel and Huber’s My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music were among the evening highlights. Vener and the Cal Phil accompanied everything with gusto.

Prior to intermission, Vener and the orchestra opened with The Carousel Waltz and then offered a straightforward performance of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, both of which were marred by smudgy openings and a couple of rough transitions.

They were then joined by pianist Bryan Pezzone for a somewhat overwrought performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which was notable for two cadenzas that Pezzone added to Gershwin’s own work. This seems to have become prevalent in recent performances that I’ve heard of this well-worn piece. I’m not sure it’s a positive trend, but Pezzone’s cadenzas were mildly interesting and not overly long (the second used strains of Summertime). His playing of Gershwin’s actual music had several rough passages but overall caught the piece’s jazzy nature. Principal Clarinet Michael Arnold got the performance off to a great start with his bluesy opening measures.

Vener did a good job introducing both pieces. His analysis of An American in Paris as a “symphony” with four connected movements, with demonstrations from the orchestra (in particular, Principal Trumpet Bob Feller), was an excellent way to get people to listen to the work with new ears.

• Blessedly there were no announcements at the concert’s opening and Vener opened with God Bless America instead of The Star Spangled Banner. Except for the somewhat lethargic tempo of God Bless America, this seemed to be a popular decision.
• Pezzone improved on themes by Led Zepplin and Gershwin (I Got Rhythm) as an encore to Rhapsody in Blue. Judging by the tepid applause, it was unnecessary.
• The sound system was quite good; from my table it was loud but that’s necessary to carry to the back sections of the 4,000 or so who attended.
• On the other hand, the camera work was atrocious and the flittering geometric images on the inside of the shell (some of which may have represented birds) and the other light effects were distracting and often silly in their implementation. The changing shell lights also played havoc with the camera skin tones.
• In between People Will Say We’re in Love and the title song from Oklahoma, Vener inserted a march tune as an encore. Ask not why on an evening devoted to R&H&G.
• My wife loved the racetrack’s permanent bathrooms (as opposed to porta-potties).]

Not so hemi-demi-semi:
Having concerts at both Santa Anita Racetrack and the Los Angeles County Arboretum (the Pasadena Pops) makes for traffic jams exiting both events. Moreover, the City of Arcadia won’t be nominated for the “Best Welcoming City” award for their lack of traffic control around the area. The Arcadia PD did have someone directing traffic for those exiting the Cal Phil concert but certainly could have used some help at the point where the Cal Phil folks get onto Baldwin Ave. prior to heading to the freeway. The signage ranges from poor to non-existent and, considering that you get onto Baldwin Ave. in a different location than you got off, anyone unfamiliar with the setup can easily get disoriented. The PD did have have a car with an officer who flagged down a motorist who got confused figuring out the lanes for east and west leading to the 210. That, I suppose, makes money for the PD but surely left a bad taste in the mouth of one concertgoer. I left thinking, “I wish that officer had been directing traffic instead.”

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

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PREVIEW: Cal Phil, Pasadena Pops perform tomorrow night

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

California Philharmonic: Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin
Saturday, August 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia
Sunday, August 11 at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

Pasadena Pops: Classical Mystery Tour
Saturday, August 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia

There’s an interesting synergy between the two local orchestra concerts taking place tomorrow night in Arcadia: the Cal Phil at Santa Anita Racetrack and the Pasadena Pops at the L.A. County Arboretum.

The Cal Phil concert features music by George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Pops concert (entitled “Classical Mystery Tour”) features music of The Beatles, with four mop-top singers who simulate the famous English quartet. I have no idea what “Classical Mystery Tour” means but it’s obviously a popular show with one or two bookings each month during this year and next throughout the country.

The synergy is the timing. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last musical, The Sound of Music, debuted on Broadway in 1959 and the movie version was released in 1965. The Beatles came together in 1960 in Liverpool and made their U.S. debut in 1964 when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Subsequent tours brought them to Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965.

Although the musical styles of R&H and The Beatles were dramatically different, they were hugely influential in their own eras and, as evidenced by these concerts and others this summer, remain so today.

Just so, the music and musical influence of George Gershwin remains significant today. Thus, Music Director Victor Vener’s decision to pair Gershwin with R&H makes a lot of sense both from a musicology and box office point of view.

The Cal Phil concert will open with Gershwin’s An American in Paris and will continue with Rhapsody in Blue, with well-known Southern California pianist Bryan Pezzone as soloist. Broadway soloists Kim Huber and James Barbour will join Vener and the Cal Phil for music from Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel and The Sound of Music.
BTW: if both concerts intrigue you, you can catch the Pasadena Pops at the Arboretum on Saturday and Cal Phil Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, with a preconcert lecture by Vener at 1 p.m.

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

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