OVERNIGHT REVEW: Feinstein, Pasadena Pops close season in style

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

Russell-Feinstein
Vocalist Catherine Russell, conductor Michael Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops lit up the night in an arrangement of Gershwin tunes at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. (Photo by Steve Sabel for the Pasadena Pops)
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When the Pasadena Pops hired Michael Feinstein to replace Marvin Hamlisch as its Principal Conductor shortly after Hamlisch died unexpectedly on Aug. 6, 2012, the orchestra was taking quite a gamble. Although Feinstein is a prolific entertainer and musical scholar, he had never conducted an orchestra prior to the Pops’ opening night last June.

To judge by the summer’s results — notably that first concert and Saturday night’s season finale — that gamble has paid off in a jackpot-large way. According to management, attendance at the Los Angeles County Arboretum has been up more than 30 percent and season renewals for next season have increased more than 200 percent. It’s no surprise that the board wasted no time extending Feinstein’s contract through the 2016 season.

Feinstein has worked on the music of George and Ira Gershwin since pianist Oscar Levant introduced Feinstein to Ira in 1977. Since then, Feinstein has been researching, cataloguing and preserving unpublished Gershwin sheet music and rare recordings, including a six-year-sojourn in the Gershwin’s home.

Thus it’s no surprise that last night’s concert, entitled “The Gershwins and Me,” included 20 Gershwin tunes, many of which were performed in arrangements that had not been played before or at least since their premieres.

As has been the case in all Feinstein concerts, his commentary Saturday was erudite, insightful and witty, laced with fascinating factoids drawn from Feinstein’s relationship with the Gershwin family and Hollywood. What was different from the opening concert was how much more comfortable Feinstein seemed on the podium (at least judging from the audience side). His beats were concise, his cutoffs more expert, and he seemed to swing and thoroughly enjoy himself, particularly in the arrangements of four songs that Nelson Riddle made for Ella Fitzgerald.

Catherine Russell was a creamy soloist in that set, which began with Nice Work if You Can Get It and ended with The Man I Love. In the second half of the concert, Tom Wopat emphasized lyrics in a set that opened with Love is Here to Stay and concluded with I Got Plenty of Nuttin, the latter using an arrangement that Riddle wrote for Frank Sinatra.

The JPL Chorus (Donald Brinegar, conductor) offered spritely lyrics to I Got Rhythm and the orchestra delivered lush sounds throughout the evening. Among the instrumental soloists, Aimee Kreston, violin, and Bryan Pezzone, piano, were standouts.

Before the final scheduled number, Feinstein sang a winsome arrangement of They Can’t Take That Away From Me from the piano, which he termed a preview of the 2014 season when Feinstein will conduct and/or sing in four of the five Pops programs beginning June 7, 2014. Judging by the audience’s reaction, that date will be eagerly awaited.
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HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Last night was Feinstein’s 57th birthday; the orchestra and audience serenaded him with Happy Birthday prior to the concert.
• Among the celebrities in the audience, Feinstein introduced before the concert’s end Mark Gershwin and other members of the Gershwin family, Patricia Kelly (widow of dancer-singer-actor-director Gene), Ginny Mancini (widow of composer Henry), singer Debby Boone (also known to us old fogies as daughter of crooner Pat) and actress Betty White, who Feinstein noted is older than Rhapsody in Blue (look it up).
• The camera work was spotty most of the evening. Sometimes they got the correct soloist (albeit a note or two late); at other times they were totally off base, which can be disconcerting for those watching. Directing a concert is an art form in itself.
• The Pops will offer its annual free “Music Under the Stars” concert on Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pasadena City Hall plaza. The orchestra’s resident conductor, Larry Blank, will lead the program. INFO
• The Pasadena Symphony opens its indoor season on Nov. 2 at 2 and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium when newly appointed Music Director David Lockington will lead a program that will include what CEO Paul Jan Zdunek joked last night will probably be the final performance in 2013 of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (this year marks the centennial of the piece’s Paris debut and seemingly every orchestra in Southern California — and probably the world — has programmed it this year). Fortunately, it remains fresh and provocative each time I hear it. INFO
• Brinegar and the JPL Chorus opened the evening with The Star-Spangled Banner, accompanied by snare drum.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Pasadena Symphony names new music director, principal guest conductor

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

Don’t be surprised if the Pasadena Symphony adopts “The British are Coming” as the theme for an upcoming season. In biting England-like weather conditions today in the rotunda of the Pasadena City Hall, the PSO named British-born David Lockington as the orchestra’s next music director and also announced that another Brit, Nicholas McGegan, would serve in the newly created post of principal guest conductor.

Both contracts are for three years. The 56-year-old Lockington (right) was already scheduled to conduct the opening concert of the orchestra’s 86th season Nov. 2 at Ambassador Auditorium, a program that will conclude with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring), and McGegan was slated for his third consecutive appearance with the ensemble on January 11, 2014 (LINK)

The remaining concert this season and the other three concerts next season will be led by previously announced guest conductors. Beginning in the 2014-2015 season, Lockington will conduct three concerts annually and McGegan will lead two.

Lockington is in his 14th season as music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan. Since 2007 has served in a similar capacity with the Modesto Symphony in central California (Paul Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association, came to that position from the Modesto Symphony). Lockington is also principal conductor of Spain’s Orquestra Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias. He said today he would continue in those positions but expects to spend several weeks in Pasadena beyond those when he conducts.

An accomplished cellist before turning to conducting, he and PSO Principal Cellist Andrew Shulman played cello together in the National Youth Orchestra of Britain more than 30 years ago and Lockington once served as assistant principal cellist with the Denver Symphony). Lockington has also been music director of the Long Island Philharmonic, New Mexico Symphony, Cheyenne Symphony and the Ohio Chamber Orchestra.

McGegan, 61, is international renowned as a baroque music specialist but in recent years has been broadening his conducting repertoire. Two years ago he led the PSO in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and earlier this year was on the podium for the PSO’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

For 27 years, McGegan has been music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Philharmonia Chorale. He’s also a familiar face on the Los Angeles Philharmonic podium and will lead the LAPO this August in Hollywood Bowl.

At the media conference, today Lockington called his appointment something of a homecoming. “My wife [concert violinist Dylana Jenson) has relatives in the Valley,” he explained, “so we’ve been coming here for years and we’ve always hoped that we’d establish a professional reason to keep returning.”

At the same time, Lockington said he was excited about the orchestra’s musicians and about reaching deep into the fabric of lives in Pasadena and the surrounding regions. “Those of who love live symphonic music have a responsibility to be forceful advocates for the arts,” he declared. “I’m particularly interested in connecting with young people and making a difference in their lives.” Lockington and his family (he and Jensen have four children) will continue to live in Grand Rapids but he expects to spend several weeks in Pasadena beyond those when he conducts.

While the PSO has been led by a series of guest coductors during the past three seasons (most of whom have acquitted themselves admirably), the orchestra’s boar and musicians were determining the scope of future leadership. “We were looking for someone with leadership, musicianship and inspiration qualities,” said Board President Diane Rankin (a former member of the PSO’s flute section).

Drew Dembowski, the PSO’s principal bass who was one of four musicians on the committee that recommended Lockington, said, “David was the clear choice of the musicians. I cannot ever remember being as excited as I am about this announcement today.”

Lockington has made five recordings with the Grand Rapids Symphony (one was nominated for a Grammy in 2007) and he and Jensen collaborated on a recording of the Shostakovich First and Barber Violin Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2010.

McGegan (*left) has more than 100 recordings to his credit and has garnered both a Gramophone Award and a Grammy nomination. Like Lockington, McGegan was educated at Canbridge (McGegan also studied at Oxford, the English equivalent of attending both USC and UCLA). McGegan received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.

At today’s media conference, Zdunek noted that the two appointments bring to a conclusion a turbulent period that began with the worldwide financial meltdown in 2008. During the past four years, the orchestra has:
• severed its relationship in May 2010 with music director Jorge Mester after a 25-year tenure;
• named James DePreist as artistic director after Mester’s departure; DePreist died last month month at age 76;
• had former Pasadena Pops music director Rachael Worby leave after a 10-year-run;
• appointed legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch as Worby’s successor, only to have him die unexpectedly last August;
• named Michael Feinstein as Hamlisch’s successor beginning this June;
• changed outdoor venues three times (ending at the Los Angeles County Arboretum);
• moved into its new indoor home, Ambassador Auditorium;
• named Peter Boyer as the orchestra’s first composer-in-residence (the orchestra’s final concert this season on April 27 will conclude with the world premiere of Boyer’s Symphony No. 1 (LINK);
• remade its staff and board of directors; and
• retired a $1.2 million debt.

Read Janette Williams’ story in the Pasadena Star-News HERE.

Read the complete PSO media release HERE.

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Two conductors make big news

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

Two conductor announcements thousands of miles apart made news this past week. One has immediate implications for Los Angeles and the other might. One thing’s for sure: the year 2018 has just gained significance in the classical music world.

The immediate impact story
James Conlon has extended his tenure as music director of Los Angeles Opera through the 2017-2018 season. Conlon joined LA Opera in 2006, succeeding Kent Nagano. Among his many accomplishments, Conlon led the company’s first production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2010.

During his tenure with LAO, Conlon has conducted a total of 33 different operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including 18 company premieres and two U.S. premieres. To date, he has conducted 190 performances of mainstage LA Opera productions, more than any other conductor in the Company’s history. He returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion pit on March 9 to lead six performances of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and on March 23 to lead six performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

It’s a measure of Conlon’s versatility that he could handle Wagner’s dramatic account of the sea captain doomed to wander the seas endlessly in his ghost ship and Rossini’s telling of the Cinderella story in the same month. In fact he conducts the two operas within 18 hours of each other on March 23 and 24.

He’s been a joy since he arrived and we’re lucky that this transplanted New Yorker has learned to love L.A. enough to sign on for another five years. Conlon’s commitment is also a reaffirmation of LAO’s continued rebound from the economic crash of 1998.

The longer-range story
Simon Rattle has announced that he will step down as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic when his contract expires in 2018. Sir Simon (he was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1994) will be 64 when he leaves the prestigious post; he was named to succeed Claudio Abbado in 1999 and began his tenure in 2002. When he retires, Rattle will have been in the post longer than all but two other conductors: Arthur Nikisch (1895-1922) and Herbert von Karajan (1954-1989).

In his announcement, Rattle said he gave a long lead-time to allow the orchestra time to name a successor. Most orchestras have a gap — sometimes a long gap — between the end of one tenure and the beginning of another; to cite one example, the Chicago Symphony went four years between the tine Daniel Barenboim left in 206 and Riccardo Muti arrived in 2012. Berlin has a chance to avoid what can be a major problem.

Speculation about Rattle’s successor will, inevitably, center on Gustavo Dudamel, whose contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic currently runs through 2018-2019 (which will be the Phil’s centennial season). Rattle, of course, has a history with the LAPO. He made his North American debut in 1976, conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1979 and was the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor from 1981╨1994. How ironic it would be if Rattle and Dudamel swapped posts.

NEWS FROM AROUND THE MUSICAL WORLD
The Grand Rapid Symphony apparently sounded like Southern California transplants this weekend. David Lockington — the group’s music director who was in town last year to conduct the Pasadena Symphony — led his orchestra in performances of John Adams’ City Noir, the work he wrote three years ago for Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director. Also on the GRS program was The Great Swiftness by Andrew Norman, a Grand Rapids native who is the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. LACO played The Great Swirtnexx earlier this season. You can read what a local music critic had to say about the GRS performance HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Pasadena Symphony unveils 2013-2014 season

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

There are similarities between the current Pasadena Symphony season and the 2013-2014 schedule, but there are also some subtle differences. All five concerts will have performances at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium but, unlike the current season, which began with two concerts in late 2012, the upcoming schedule will begin November 2 and then conclude with four concerts in a five-month-span in 2014.

The orchestra continues to operate without a music director and is now sans a music advisor, as well, following the death last Friday James DePreist (LINK), who had held the latter title for three seasons.

Two of the five conductors will be returnees, including Nicholas McGegan, who appears for the third consecutive season on Jan. 11. His program includes Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with 12-year-old Uni Garrett as soloist (yes, you read that age right; actually, she will be 13 when she appears with the PSO — she becomes a teenager on Aug. 15).

David Lockington, music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, appears for the second consecutive season when he leads the opening concerts on Nov. 2 that feature Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade, Anne Akiko Meyers as violin soloist. May 29, 2013 marks the centennial of the inaugural performance of the Stravinsky/Diaghilev that caused a riot when it opened in Paris.

Outside of McGeghan, the best known of the conductors is Jahja Ling, now in his ninth season as music director of the San Diego Symphony, who will conduct the final concert of the season on May 11, 2014. The blockbuster program will include Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Israeli-born Shai Wosner as soloist.

The other guest maestros are Indiana native Kazeem Abdullah, who will lead the PSO and Donald Brinegar Chorale in Morten Lauridsen’s Midwinter Songs and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on Feb. 15, 2014; and Maryland native Andrew Grams, whose program on March 29, 2014 will include Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra, and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with another precocious teenager, Simone Porter, as soloist.

The annual holiday concert will be held Dec. 14 at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper returns to conduct the orchestra, vocalist Susan Egan, the Donald Brinegar Singers, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and L.A. Bronze handbell choir.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Pasadena Symphony;
David Lockington, conductor

Sawyers: The Gale of
Life.
Elgar: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 (Andrew Shulman, soloist).

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56, (Scottish)

Saturday, January 14, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next concert: Feb. 18, 2012

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

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There was a multiplicity of themes associated with the
Pasadena Symphony concert yesterday afternoon at Ambassador Auditorium (which
was repeated last night). The predominant theme was Britain: two of the three
composers were English, the guest conductor (David Lockington) and cello
soloist (Andrew Shulman) were born in England but now live in the U.S, and the
concluding work on the program was Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish).

 

Prior to the performance, Lockington — music director of the
Grand Rapids and Modesto Symphonies — described the program’s theme as “Looking
Back.” Mendelssohn, who began the symphony at age 21 and completed it 12 years
later, was recalling a trip he made to Scotland as a teenager in 1829. Elgar,
said Lockington, was looking back on the wreckage of World War I when he wrote
his Cello Concerto in 1919 (the program note by Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn said,
“It isn’t a requiem for the war dead, but rather for a lost way of life, the
end of a civilization”). Even Sawyers’ piece, which was composed in 2008, uses
as its text the poem On Wenlock Edge
from the 1896 cycle A Shropshire Lad by
A.E. Housman.

 

A third theme was friendship. Lockington and Shulman played
cello together in the National Youth Orchestra of Britain more than 30 years
ago, and Lockington and Sawyers are now friends. And a final theme was uniform
excellence, as in the performances Lockington, Shulman and the orchestra
delivered throughout the concert.

 

The program’s centerpiece — in placement, as well as in
performance — was Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Shulman captured the work’s aching
melancholy (the first three movements begin Adagio,
Lento
and Adagio) superbly with
his silky tone and expressive musicality, while Lockington and the orchestra
accompanied sensitively.

 

The opening work, The
Gale of Life
a 10-minute
concert overture that ends by alluding to the “Witches’ Sabbath” ending of
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique
received an exuberant reading from Lockington and the ensemble; they brought
out sympathetically all of Sawyers’ musical metaphors of the windy cliffs of
Wenlock’s Edge on the England coast.

 

Lockington displayed an assured feeling about Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, which concluded the
program. He had a score in front of him but rarely seemed to look at it, often
turning multiple pages at a time. His overall concept was to imbue the reading
with stately grandeur; call it “Mendelssohn a la Elgar.” The orchestra was in
top-notch form, playing with impressive rhythmic precision in the second
movement and displaying a lush sound from all sections — but particularly from
the strings — throughout the performance.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

One other tie in the concert concerns Lockington and Paul
Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association. Prior to coming to
Pasadena, Zdunek held a similar position with the Modesto Symphony where one of
his moves was to bring Lockington on board as that orchestra’s music director
in 2007.

With Shulman scheduled to conduct next weekend’s Los
Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts (Jan. 21 at the Alex Theater and Jan. 22 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall), LACO and the PSO took the opportunity to do some cross-promotion
by inserting a flyer with a 20% ticket discount for the LACO concerts. Smart
move, IMHO. Shulman will lead LACO in Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Violin
Concerto No. 3, along with Walton’s Sonata for Strings. A link to my article on
Shulman and the PSO and LACO concerts is HERE.

Emulating LACO’s “Sound Investment” commissioning program,
the PSO has begun its “Fresh Ink Society,” which will commission and make
possible the performance of the Symphony No. 1 by Peter Boyer as part of the
opening concert on the PSO’s 2012-2013 season. One of Boyer’s numerous
compositions, Ellis Island: The Dream of
America,
which was premiered in 2002, was nominated for a Grammy Award for
Best Classical Contemporary Composition. For more information on the “Fresh Ink
Society” or to make a contribution, call 626/793-7172.

Lockington’s “Looking Back” theme got me to recall the
first time I heard Elgar’s Cello Concerto in concert, in 1975, when the great
cellist Gregor Piatigorsky was scheduled as soloist in he concerto at a Los
Angeles Philharmonic concert. Zubin Mehta was the conductor, I think it was
opening night, and I believe the other work on the program was Mahler’s
Symphony No. 5. Ronald Leonard had just been named the Phil’s Principal Cellist
and when Piatigorsky had to cancel at the last minute, Leonard stepped in,
which meant his first notes in his new position were the opening lines of the
Cello Concerto (the soloist begins the piece). As I recall, Leonard played it
beautifully, but I’ll always remember it more for his ability to rise to an
unexpected challenge successfully.

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

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