CLASS ACT: More concerts during a very busy November

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In my biweekly print column, which is now online (LINK), I noted that November is a very busy month for classical music. In addition to the three events I mentioned, here are some others that didn’t make the cut due to space or other reasons.

I’m sorry that due to my ongoing health issues I won’t be able to attend this concert, but you should make every effort to travel to Costa Mesa this weekend. Bruckner’s eighth is one of the pinnacles of the symphonic canon and it has taken Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair more than 30 years before he felt ready to tackle this 90-minute work.

This is also the first PS program I can recall where the orchestra’s Writer-in-Residence, Timothy Mangan, has written so extensively about a program — this one is entitled “Cathedrals of Sound” — on the orchestra’s Blog.

In an interview (LINK) St.Clair notes that “I’ve wanted to conduct this piece for many years, but it’s like Mahler 9, it’s like all the pinnacle works, you have to build up to them. Not only does he, as a conductor, need to build up to Bruckner’s Eighth, but so do the musicians and the audience, he says. Accordingly, St.Clair has added an extra rehearsal for the orchestra. He’s also devised a prelude to the performance of the Eighth that he hopes will prepare the audience to hear the work.

“You can’t white knuckle it down the 5 or the 405 and every time you come to a stop you look at your phone, you text somebody, you send an Instagram, you answer the phone. You valet park, you run in, you slosh down a glass of white wine and you rush to your seat and then you hear the music of Anton Bruckner — it’s impossible,” he says.

Instead, writes Mangan, audience members will enter the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall before the performance as Gregorian chant is sung from the stage by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael Abbey. Organist Christoph Bull will play organ music by Bach and Bruckner. Video artists Nick and Clemens Prokop will project visuals on three screens that evoke the interiors of the majestic St. Florian Monastery in Linz, where Bruckner served as organist and is buried. The lighting will be low.

All of this is to create a more cathedral-like atmosphere of calm and contemplation, “so that the audience can have an opportunity to receive the music appropriately,” St.Clair says.

In addition to this extensive interview, Mangan has a nice video feature (LINK) on the Wagner tuba, that odd-shaped instrument that Bruckner — a Wagnerian of the first order — used in his Symphony No. 8.Mangan uses cute clips from the Berlin Philharmonic’s horn section to illustrate.

Information: Also, make sure you read the music notes ahead of time — LINK.

Considering that he is now age 81, one can’t be sure how many more times we’ll have to see this Swiss-born conductor and he comes with a program of music by Maurice Ravel, one of the composers with which Dutoit made his international reputation at, among other places, the Montreal Symphony.

The program includes Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, the Piano Concerto in G Major, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist, and rarely heard one-act opera, L’heure espagnole.

Incidentally, Dutoit and Thibaudet and London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra journey to Segerstrom Concert Hall on Jan. 25 for a program that includes Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian). Information:

BTW: Ravel’s G-Major concerto also shows up on this weekend’s all-French programs at the San Diego Symphony. Louis Lortie is the soloist and Johannes Debus will be the evening’s guest conductor. On Nov. 10 and 11 at Copley Symphony Hall. Information:

The orchestra’s new music director, Eckart Preu, picked an obvious date for this concert, which features a winning mixture of familiar and less-well-known pieces.

The former include Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

The latter category is headlined by Symphony No. 2, Songs of New Race, by African-American composer William Grant Still.

Somewhere in the middle is a work that was once so well known as to be considered a war horse but now appears rarely on symphonic programs: Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite.



(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic, Charles Dutoit at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Charles Dutoit, conductor

Stravinsky: Symphonies
for Wind Instruments;
Debussy: La Mer

Prokofiev: Suite from Romeo
and Juliet

Friday, February 24, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.




Los Angeles Philharmonic management earns a gold star for
its scheduling prowess this week. After a grueling, month-long traversal of
Gustav Mahler’s 9.5 symphonies twice, including a trip to and from Caracas,
Venezuela, the Phil returned home Sunday and got right back into playing at
Walt Disney Concert Hall.


Music Director Gustavo Dudamel is taking a four-week hiatus
from conducting, presumably getting some rest and reacquainted with his wife
and baby son, but for the orchestra members, there are two more weeks of
concerts before taking a one-week vacation.


A 10-week-run of guest conductors began this week not with a
young tyro (that happens next week when 34-year-old Spaniard Pablo Heras-Casado
returns to Disney Hall) but with a welcome veteran presence: Charles Dutoit,
who is about as far away from Dudamel and Heras-Casado as one could imagine.


Now age 75 (although he doesn’t look it), Dutoit is tall and
slender, with a quizzical, patrician look as he calmly strolled on stage this
morning to lead a program a long ways removed from Mahler. Unlike Dudamel (who
conducts nearly everything from memory), Dutoit used a score for all three
works. He reordered Dudamel’s seating pattern, placing the cellos on his far
right with the basses next to them and the violas in the middle. Following
performances, he took bows with an ironic grin from in front of or beside the
conductor’s podium rather than from deep within the orchestra, as does Dudamel.


Dudamel is currently finishing up his four-year tenure as
chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and for 25 years he was artistic
director of the Montreal Symphony (although that sojourn ended in acrimony).
Nonetheless, Dutoit is a welcome annual guest-conducting presence on the podium
in Los Angeles, not least because he gets excellent results from the LAPO, this
week on even shorter rehearsal time than normal.


That was evident again this morning, beginning with
Stravinsky’s quirky Symphonies for Wind
which opened the program. In his book, An Autobiography, Stravinsky said. “[Symphonies for Wind Instruments] is not meant ‘to please’ an
audience or rouse its passions.” To these ears, his assessment was correct; the
nine-minute work juxtaposes angular, rhythmic measures with sonorous chords,
but while the orchestra (in this case, the term “wind instruments” included the
brass section) played the piece with dispatch, the work served as no more than
an introduction to the balance of the program.


Dutoit, who was born in Lausanne, Switzerland (the French
quadrant of the country, has always had an affinity for French music and it was
on full display with today’s performance of Debussy’s La Mer. If the Stravinsky was a symphony in name only, La Mer is the closest Debussy came to
writing a symphony. Written in 1903-1905 (the same time Mahler was composing
his sixth and seventh symphonies), La Mer
is eons away Mahler, being instead an impressionistic work inspired by the


Dutoit led the work with just the right amount of tension
and sweep and the orchestra responded to his every gesture. As is usual, Dutoit
got the strings to play with a lean, clean sound and the brass maintained the
mellow power it displayed during the Mahler performances. The surging sea was ever-present
in the 25-minute performance.


After intermission, Dutoit turned to a suite of eight
selections from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo
and Juliet.
The orchestra seemed to catch fire in this 45-minute
performance, playing with razor-sharp precision when called for and with
elegant sweep the rest of the time. The entire performance was exhilarating. Along the way, David Buck, flute; Michelle
Zukovsky, clarinet; Ben Hong, cello; and James Rotter on saxophone delivered
polished solos.




Although Thursday night’s concert was dedicated to
Co-Principal Clarinet Lorin Levee, who died Wednesday at the age of 61 after
battling a blood disorder, there was no mention this morning of the man who
held the LAPO principal position from 1981 (Michelle Zukovsky remains as the
orchestra’s other principal clarinet). Levee played his last concert with the
Phil on Jan. 8 but didn’t participate in “The Mahler Project.” A Los Angeles Times article on Levee is

Heras-Casado, who last December was named principal
conductor of New York City’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s, returns to the Phil next
weekend leading Richard Strauss’ Ein
and the west coast premiere of James Matheson’s Violin
Concerto, with LAPO Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist. Friday
is a “Casual Friday” concert; the Saturday and Sunday performances add
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Information:



(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 February 23, 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:



Tonight at 8 p.m., Tomorrow
at 11 a.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Charles Dutoit, conductor

We’ll soon find out whether the Los Angeles Philharmonic has
jet lag after returning from Caracas following a very hectic week playing in
the Venezuelan portion of “The Mahler Project.” The Phil returns to be led by a
familiar guest conductor, Charles Duoit (currently finishing up his tenure as
chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and for 25 years music director
of the Montreal Symphony). This weekend’s program is mostly familiar Dutoit
fare: Stravinsky’s Symphony of Wind
Debussy’s La Mer, and
a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.


Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge)

Wroclaw Philharmonic
Orchestra; Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Artistic Director Jacek Kaspszyk leads The National Forum of
Music Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra (to give the ensemble its formal name) at
VPAC on tour with a program that includes Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 and Chopin’s
Piano Concerto No. 2, with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist. Information:


Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera: Albert Herring

Los Angeles Opera brings this “coming of age” work by
Benjamin Britten, using a production from Santa Fe Opera that will be conducted
by James Conlon, who will also deliver a lecture one hour before each
performance. Tenor Alex Shrader makes his Los Angeles debut in the title role.
Brian in “Out West Arts” has one of his familiar “10 Questions” profile with
Shrader HERE. David Mermelstein previews the opera in his Los Angeles Times article HERE. Information:


Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

For the past several years in what he calls the “Discover
Series,” Music Director Jeffrey Kahane has picked a single piece to first
discuss and then perform. The choice Saturday night is one of the landmarks of
choral repertoire: Bach’s Magnificat,
with a text drawn from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.


Joining Kahane and LACO are The University of Southern California
Thornton Chamber Singers, directed by Jo-Michael Scheibe; and five soloists:
Charlotte Dobbs, soprano, Zanaida Robles, soprano, Janelle DeStefano, mezzo
soprano, Ben Bliss, tenor, and Daniel Armstrong, baritone.




Two of the other
offerings are opera holdovers:

San Diego Opera’s production of Moby-Dick wraps up its
run on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the San Diego Civic Theatre. My
review is HERE. Information:


LA Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra plays Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion. My review is HERE. Information:


Also, the “encore performance” of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s Mahler 8 concert in
Caracas earlier this month will be shown Wednesday at 7 p.m. (local time) in
four Los Angeles-area theaters along with a couple in Orange County. Information:


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


Tuesday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Vor Frue Kirkes
Drenge-Mandskor and Vanse Guttekor-Deo Gloria

Two internationally renowned boys’ choirs appear as part of
a Southland tour with a selection of Norwegian, Danish and American music
concluding with Jonah — a Liturgical



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

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