“I’m back!”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

My “regular” job as Director of Administration and a member of the pastoral staff at Pasadena Presbyterian Church has caused me to lay aside my music critic/columnist role during an ultra-busy holiday season but I’m back on a semi-regular basis now.

During my hiatus, we’ve lost some musical giants to death — including Kurt Masur and Pierre Boulez — and retirement — Michelle Zukovsky (LINK).
In addition, the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C. has made a fascinating choice for its next music director in Gianandrea Noseda (LINK)

Meanwhile, our ultra-busy musical life plunges ahead here in Southern California.

During the past several seasons, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has played a single concert at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena (which long ago was its home). During these “Discover” concerts, Music Director Jeffrey Kahane takes the first half of the evening to explain a major work and then leads the orchestra in a complete performance of the work.

This year’s 8 p.m. concert tomorrow will feature Bach’s Cantata No. 140, known as Sleepers Awake because of the Advent-themed tune that dominates the work. For tomorrow night’s performance, LACO will be joined by the USC Thornton School Chamber Singers, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and three soloists.

Information: www.laco.org

For a choral experience of a totally different sensation, consider the Los Angeles Master Chorale performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” on January 30 at 2 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Artistic Director Grant Gershon will lead 110 choristers, four soloists and an orchestra in this monumental work with dynamics ranging from the softest solos to roof-rattling full-ensemble climaxes.

The latter will be accentuated by antiphonal trumpets placed around Disney Hall and a custom-built double bass drum to be used in the Dies Irae section. True confessions: while singing the Verdi Requiem would be a real treat, what I always wanted to do was whack that double bass drum.

Information: www.lamc.org

Speaking of rattling the Disney Hall rafters, organist Paul Jacobs and soprano Christine Brewer will make an unusual combination in a duo-recital at Disney Hall on this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Among the unusual choices of repertoire will be several pieces by Nadia Boulanger, who was better known as a teacher in the early 20th century than for her compositions.

The program comes from a recently released recording, “Divine Redeemer,” by the artists who will sign copies of the CD after the concert. For organ traditionalists, the evening will end with Jacobs playing the famous “Toccata” from the Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor.

Information: www.laphil.com

Among the notable orchestral concerts coming up, Music Director Marcelo Lehninger will lead his New West Symphony in concerts tomorrow night in Oxnard, Saturday night in Thousand Oaks and Sunday afternoon in Santa Monica. The program will feature music by George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel. Finnish pianist Denis Kozhukhin will be the soloist in Ravel’s G Major Concert.

Information: www.newwestsymphony.org

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic Conductor Laureate, returns to Disney Hall for a nearly month-long series of concerts that begins Jan. 29, 30 and 31 when he leads the Phil in performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with another familiar figure, pianist Yefim Bronfman as soloist.

It would be tempting to call this a program of “firsts,” except that the concerto was actually the second that Beethoven wrote. Since it was published before the B-flat major concerto, the C Major concerto became listed as No. 1.

Information: www.laphil.com

Salonen will return to lead the Phil during mid-February in two programs as part of his “City of Light” festival, which features French music spanning a century. Among the other programs in the festival will be Music Director David Robertson leading his St. Louis Symphony in a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles, a 90-minute work inspired by Utah’s national parks, including Bryce Canyon.

Information: www.laphil.com

Full information on the “City of Light” festival is HERE.

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW, Christine Brewer in Pasadena Symphony concert at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

59959-Brewer-Shustak Web.jpg

Christine Brewer was the soloist in Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs in yesterday’s Pasadena
Symphony concert at Ambassador Auditorium with Michael Stern conducting. Photo
by Ivan Schustak for the Pasadena Symphony.

_________________________

 

Normally when you hear that Christine Brewer is going to
appear with an orchestra in Southern California, you’d expect that the ensemble
would be the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Not this year. For the final concert of
its 2011-2012 season, the Pasadena Symphony engaged the well-known American
soprano and had the good sense to ask her to sing one of her signature pieces:
Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs in
two concerts yesterday at Ambassador Auditorium.

 

Actually, Brewer is better known for her Wagnerian roles
(she was a stellar Isolde in the L.A. Phil’s “Tristan Project” under Esa-Pekka
Salonen several years ago) but these were the 81st and 82nd
times she has performed Strauss’ magnificent look back on his 84 years of
living. She sang them sumptuously yesterday afternoon.

 

When Strauss wrote the songs, he was looking back to a
musical era — 19th century Romanticism — that had vanished amid the
wreckage of what World War II had done to Germany and, in particular, its
artistic life. Although there’s no evidence that Strauss intended to group the
songs (that was done after his death by his publisher), Strauss used a poem by
Joseph von Eichendorff and three by Hermann Hesse for his evocative texts.

 

Brewer’s lustrous voice swept over the four songs like a
soothing balm. The opener, Spring, was
bright and the second, September, was
wistful. In Going to Sleep,
Concertmaster Aimee Kreston’s rich solo line was a perfect complement to
Brewer’s singing, and the final song, In
the Twilight,
was full of aching melancholy.

 

The orchestra, under the sure hand of guest conductor
Michael Stern (music director of the Kansas City Symphony), delivered rich,
sumptuous accompaniment for Brewer. Together, it was a memorable performance.

 

Stern (who by the way, is the son of legendary violinist
Isaac Stern) was subbing for the PSO’s music advisor, James DePreist, who is
recovering from recent heart bypass surgery. Stern kept the original program,
which began with Dawn and Siegfried’s
Rhine Journey
from Wagner’s Gtterdmerung,
the sort of music for which Strauss was longing in his Four Last Songs. Stern led a brisk rendition of Engelbert
Humperdinck’s concert version of Wagner’s music, highlighted by James
Thatcher’s horn solos.

 

After intermission, Stern concluded the program with
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. Stern obviously knows this piece well (he conducted
without a score) and offered a distinctive reading of this four-movement work
that Stern, in his preconcert discussion, characterized as another of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances. You might not have
fully agreed with Stern’s push-and-pull tempos but the orchestra played
gorgeously and he made me think about what was being played — altogether, not a
bad combination for a very familiar work.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although the classical season officially ended yesterday,
two free concerts have been added next Saturday at Ambassador Auditorium. At 2
p.m., Jack Taylor will lead his Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra in music by
Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov, Copland and others that will be a preview of the
ensemble’s upcoming European tour. At 7:30 p.m., Donald Brinegar will lead a
new chorus that has been formed at Jet Propulsion Laboratory along with the
Pasadena City College Chamber Singers in music by Britten, John Lennon and Paul
McCartney, Faur and others. Information:
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

The Pasadena Pops opens at its new home, the Los Angeles
County Arboretum, on June 16 when Marvin Hamlisch leads a concert version of
his own musical, They’re Playing Our
Song,
with Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein as soloists. The evening will also
include a tribute to Arnaz’s parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

_______________________

 

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

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