Nine symphonies for a desert island

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Daily News/Daily Breeze/Long Beach Press-Telegram

CK Dexter Haven, who writes “All is Yar,” one of my favorite classical music Blogs, has presented a nice challenge HERE: Choose nine symphonies for a “desert island survival kit.” He hooked me with his choice of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 (see my reasons below) and he threw in a few interesting rules:

• You can only pick one symphony per composer
• You must choose numbered symphonies 1 through 9 only. No Symphonie fantastique, Symphony of Psalms, Symphonic Dances, etc.
• Once you choose a numbered symphony, you cannot choose another similarly numbered symphony by a different composer (i.e. no choosing both Beethoven’s 7th and Sibelius 7th).
• Use only current numbering conventions; so if you were to pick the New World Symphony by Dvořák, you’d have to put it in the 9th Symphony spot, not the 5th Symphony where some folks 50 years ago may have put it.

Bonus point for including symphonies by composers who actually composed at least nine numbered symphonies.

Many people have chimed in and here’s my list. Remember, these are for a “desert island survival kit,” which doesn’t necessarily mean they are “the best,” whatever that means. Moreover, I would certainly eliminate some of these for choral works, concertos, and unnumbered symphonic works.

1: As noted above, Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 (“Of Rage and Remembrance”), which narrowly edges out Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 1 (“A Sea Symphony”). I settled on the Corigliano because of its emphasis on the AIDS crisis, which at the time it was written 1988-89 was just coming to the forefront of consciousness. Plus I really want my choice for No. 5.
2. Howard Hanson Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”). I have loved this piece since I first heard it more than a half-century ago. It was one of the pieces that hooked me on classical music.
3. Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Indelibly etched in my mind is a performance with Zubin Mehta leading the L.A. Philharmonic; the ending left me breathless! I’ve never lost my love for the piece since then.
4. Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, particularly for the percussion sections.
5. Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5, for its sheer melodic beauty, particularly in the final movements. However, I hate to leave off Tchaikovsky’s 5th, which is my favorite of his works.
6. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”), narrowly over Beethoven’s “Pastoral.”
7. Shostakovich No. 7 (“Leningrad”). The first movement always blows me away and the rest is also gripping.
8. Dvorak No. 8 with Giulini conducting the Chicago Symphony or Bruckner No. 8, especially the last time Mehta conducted the work with the L.A. Phil in Disney Hall. Probably the best Mehta concert I’ve ever heard, even more than Mahler’s 3rd, which was in the Pavilion. I know, this violates C.K.’s rules — too bad!
9. Dvorak’s No. 9 or Bruckner No. 9 (depending on the choice for the 8th). But either of these would be the first off the island in favor of some choral works or concertos.

One bonus work: Gustavo Dudamel conducting his Simón Bólivar kids in “Mambo” from “West Side Story.” Sheer magnetism.

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

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HEADS UP: Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony tonight in Costa Mesa

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


Although this weekend is ultra-full, one of the concerts
that I missed in my “Five Spot” post yesterday (LINK) was an oversight. The
Chicago Symphony Orchestra comes to the Rene and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
tonight for the first of three Southern California concerts (next week, the CSO
is in Palm Desert and San Diego).


Riccardo Muti, now in his second year as the CSO’s music
director, brings an interesting program, especially considering that it’s for a
tour: Honegger’s: Pacific 231 (Mouvement
symphonique No. 1)
, a piece based on railroads; Alternative Energy, a new work by Mason Bates, the CSO’s
Composer-in Residence; and Franck’s Symphony in D minor, which used to be
played often but has in the past couple of decades has slipped into obscurity.


Timothy Mangan on his Blog Classical Life (LINK) and CK Dexter Haven in All is Yar (LINK) have posted this week on the CSO’s visit to the
Southland. Concert information:



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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: “The Little Orange Dress” … and other items

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of this
article was first published today in the above papers. See the end of the post
for several additions to the printed piece.



Summertime often becomes silly season, even in the
supposedly serious realm of classical music. Consider, for example, the case of
“The Little Orange Dress” (aka, “The Little Red Dress” — some have called the
dress red but I think it was orange).


Last month, Yuja Wang walked onto the stage of Hollywood
Bowl to perform as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto with the Los
Angeles Philharmonic. The 24-year-old native of Bejing is an electrifying
talent who can blaze through octaves and runs with breathtaking speed, as she
amply demonstrated during her Bowl performance (her hands were moving so fast
that they appeared to be a blur on the Bowl’s video screens). My review is


However, what caused a great deal of notoriety wasn’t how
she played but what she wore: what has now become known as “The Little Orange
Dress.” Ms. Wang is a slender, attractive woman and her attire wouldn’t be
unusual on any street in any American city these days, but when she walked
onstage at the Bowl, she created quite a stir from those in the audience.


What led to the most commotion on the Internet wasn’t so
much the dress but that two professional critics in attendance commented on it
in their reviews. In my review I wrote, “It also may (or may not) be worth
mentioning that she came on stage last night wearing the shortest dress I’ve
ever seen a female pianist wear, an orange sheath that elicited gasps from the


My colleague, Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times, devoted four paragraphs of his review to Ms.
Wang’s attire (LINK — which includes a photo). The line
most frequently quoted was: “Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had
there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict
admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult.” It should
also be noted Mark devoted the next few paragraphs to her performance, which he
called “downright magical.”


The debate in the classical music blogosphere has centered
around whether it’s appropriate for a music critic to comment on “non-musical”
things, such as attire (Lisa Hirsch, a San Francisco-based Blogger who writes
under the nom d’computer of “Iron
Tongue of Midnight,” offers a listing of several of the Bloggers/reviewers
comments HERE).


One she listed was Anne Midgette, the well-respected music
critic of the Washington Post, who
wrote a lengthy post on the issue (LINK). The others,
including the comment threads of responders, make for interesting reading. My
attitude (as expressed in several comments to posts) is that attending a
concert is both an aural and visual experience and something like “The Little
Orange Dress” was worth at least a mention — my guess is that many in the
audience can’t remember today how well she played but they certainly remember
the dress. If you agree or disagree with my stance, feel free to post a comment


Late adds:

Mark Swed
weighs in on the issue HERE and the L.A. Times has a separate article on
concert dress that includes an interview with organist Cameron Carpenter HERE,
along with three photos of “The Little Orange Dress.” Carpenter’s sequined tee
shirts and jeans are undeniably part of his total concert package and are often
mentioned in stories and reviews.


Timothy Mangan,
music critic of the Orange County
(who didin’t attend the concert), offers his comments HERE.



Anne Midgette offers
a good basic primer on contemporary music for those who wonder how to get into
this genre. There’s nothing earth-shaking in her assessments and you may not
agree with all of them but I found it well worth reading. MORE


CK Dexter Haven
has begun a new Blog entitled “All is Yar” and he has an interesting post on
the subject of guest conductors HERE.



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

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