OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil continue Schubert/Mahler cycle; Borda honored

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Schubert: Symphony Nos. 5 and 6; Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder; Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Thursday at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Next performance: Tonight at 8 p.m. (see also Hemidemisemiquavers at the bottom of this review
Information: www.laphil.com

On a night at Walt Disney Concert Hall when the Los Angeles Philharmonic honored outgoing Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s music making was more important than the accolades for its outgoing President and Chief Executive Officer. That was only appropriate. As Borda noted in her remarks, “It all begins with the orchestra.”

The evening was the third of four programs pairing symphonies by Franz Schubert with a song cycle by Gustav Mahler, a series that Linda Shaver-Gleason noted, “features symphonies from a prolific songwriter and songs from a prominent symphonist, two figures on the end of the Romantic era.” In this case, the program was Schubert’s Symphony Nos. 5 and 6 with Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder.

Last night’s performance revealed just how far the young Schubert had come in the art and craft of the symphony — despite the fact that he was 19 when he wrote his fifth symphony and 21 when he completed his sixth. That maturation had been increasingly evident in the first four symphonies. In the fifth he took a radical turn. Heavily influenced by Mozart, Schubert’s fifth has no clarinets, trumpets or timpani and just one flute — as Dr. Lorraine Byrne Bodley noted in her thoughtful preconcert lecture, that’s the same scoring as Mozart used in his Symphony No. 40.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 is a light, airy work that was intended not for a concert hall but for a salon. Dudamel and the Phil made Disney Hall sound as intimate as a Viennese living room and Dudamel, conducting without a score as has been the case throughout the cycle, allowed the interplay between strings and winds to shine through clearly.

The tributes to Borda (pictured left) — who will become New York Philharmonic’s President/CEO on Sept. 15 — came between Schubert’s fifth and the Mahler, appropriate since the full-sized Phil was onstage for the latter. LAPO Board Chair Jay Rasulo made appropriate and brief remarks while Dudamel and Borda exchanged deeply felt words about her tenure with the orchestra, one of the highlights of which was her decision to hire Dudamel to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as the Phil’s music director in 2009.

Left unspoken was what was in a printed brochure distributed with to patrons that gave Borda’s bio and a timeline of her — and the orchestra’s — accomplishments since she was hired in 1999. On the back of the brochure was the announcement that the Phil has established the “Debora Borda Women in the Arts Initiative,” to “support the participation of emerging female artists — conductors, musicians, vocalists and designers — in LA Phil performances and on its artistic staff.” This sort of seems like bringing coals to Newcastle, but it’s nice to formalize efforts that have been ongoing throughout Borda’s tenure.

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke was the soloist in Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder last night; she was a last-minute replacement for Elīna Garanča, who withdrew for “personal reasons.” Fine by me — Cooke’s reading of Mahler’s treatment of Frederich Rückert’s texts was appropriately understated, delivered with a lusciously creamy voice.

Dudamel and the Phil provided sensitive accompaniment and, as was the case with the first two song cycles in this series, the final movement — “In bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” with Carolyn Hove’s elegant solos on the oboe d’amore — left the audience spellbound.

Schubert originally called his Symphony No. 6 his “Grosse Sinfonie in C” but dropped the appellation after writing his final symphony, which became known by that title. In what we now know as “The Little C-Major,” Schubert returned to the scoring he had used in his Symphony No. 4, adding back in two clarinets, two trumpets and timpani (Principal Timpanist Joseph Peirera used the same period instrument-style kettle drums that he has employed for the cycle).

In writing his sixth symphony, Schubert was influenced by the Italian music style that was prevalent in Vienna during the second decade of the 1800s, particularly Antonio Salieri (with whom Schubert studied), and Rossini, who was extremely popular during that time. Dudamel and the orchestra delivered the work with sparkle and wit.

• After this program repeats tonight, the cycle concludes Saturday and Sunday with performances of Schubert’s eighth and ninth symphonies, paired with Mahler’s Songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, with Cooke as soloist. Information: www.laphil.com
• If you like to compare and contrast, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 is also on the program for this weekend’s Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra programs, Jeffrey Kahane’s final concerts as LACO music director. As I noted in my “Five Spot” post (LINK), you can either catch Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 played by LACO on Saturday and the L.A. Phil on Sunday, or you’ve even got time to hear both ensembles on Sunday. Information: www.laco.org
• For those keeping track of numbers, there is no completed edition of Schubert Symphony No. 7 (LINK), although some people renumber Symphony Nos. 8 and 9 as Nos. 7 and 8.

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

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LINKS: Two views of the L.A. Phil from the east coast

Alex Ross in the New Yorker HERE and Zachary Woolfe in the New York Times HERE sing the praises of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, while hoping that LAPO President and CEO Deborah Borda’s transfer to a similar job at the New York Philharmonic will lead a revitalization of that important ensemble.

The headline on Woolfe’s article — “Los Angeles Has America’s Most Important Orchestra. Period.” encapsulates the article’s thrust. Ross’ article from a month ago includes this quote: “The L.A. Phil’s 2017–18 season, just announced, is so far ahead of that of any rival, in America or around the world, that the orchestra is mainly competing with itself.” Both articles give the LAPO a lot to live up to.

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More on Deborah Borda’s leaving the L.A. Phil

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

As you can see by the post ABOVE Deborah Borda (pictured left) is leaving her position as President and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to take a similar position with the New York Philharmonic, effective Sept. 15.

It is a move that has rocked the classical music world, but in reading the various press reports I was struck by two reasons she advanced.

First, the move means that she and her partner, Coralie Toevs, assistant general manager for development at the Metropolitan Opera, will now be able to live in the same city as opposed to being 2,500 miles apart. Second was this quote: “This is an opportunity,” she said [to L.A. Times critic Mark Swed), “that won’t come up again.”

That’s undeniably true. At age 67, Borda would not likely have the chance to return to her native New York City and take on the NYPO challenge (one that she had already tried before coming to Los Angeles). So if that floats her boat, my feeling upon reading the news was, “You go, girl!”

If the news was shocking to the music world, one presumes that it wasn’t completely unthinkable to the L.A. Phil board, at least not if that group was doing its normal due diligence. Executives leave for any number of reasons when they reach her age and, one hopes, the LAPO board has had in place some sort of succession plan. In the short term, the Phil’s management seems very strong and capable of moving forward while the board undertakes its search for Borda’s successor. Various reports indicate that planning for the orchestra’s centennial season in 2018-2019 is well underway.

Nonetheless, the news brings to an abrupt close a magnificent chapter in the Phil’s history. During Borda’s 17-year-tenure she has balanced budgets, helped increase the orchestra’s endowment from $45 million to about $276 million, led the organization as it achieved remarkable labor relations with its musicians (there hasn’t been a work stoppage in half a century), was integrally involved in the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003, and — in perhaps her greatest decision — gambled on a very young Gustavo Dudamel to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as the L.A. Phil’s music director.

Borda has also been instrumental in continuing and expanding the Phil’s emphasis on creating new music, something that has made the LAPO the envy of the classical music world. In addition, she has nurtured an extensive number of young conductors who have moved on to major roles around the world, including Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Lionel Bringuier and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. In the upcoming season, Susanna Mälki will become the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor, a title not used for more than 20 years at the Phil.

She certainly faces major challenges with the New York Philharmonic. The current music director, Alan Gilbert, leaves after this season and his replacement, Jaap van Zweden, doesn’t officially start until the 2018-2019 season. The Phil’s current home, David Geffen Hall (aka Avery Fisher Hall) will undergo a major renovation if Borda and her new board can manage to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million.

During the reconstruction the NYPO will be homeless for at least two years, although I suspect that Board will solve this problem with her usual innovative skills — in fact, I believe this will turn out to be the capstone of her tenure in New York.

I have only met Borda a couple of times and only, then, to say hello. Nonetheless, I — like everyone who has attended a Phil concert — owes her a huge “thank you” for her work here during the past 17 years. I hope for her sake and for the NYPO’s that she will be able to prove Thomas Wolfe wrong!

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

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NEWS: LA Philharmonic and its musicians reach new labor accord

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

The big news that came out of the announcement from the Los Angeles Philharmonic yesterday wasn’t the positive but what might be termed in linguistic terms the double negative.

The orchestra and Professional Musicians, Local 47 (the union that represents the orchestra’s instrumentalists) reached a new four-year agreement effective immediately and two weeks in advance of the opening of the Phil’s 2014 season. The old contract had expired Sunday.

The agreement meant that the two sides avoided the sort of acrimony that has plagued orchestras across the U.S. during the past years, bitterness that has seen strikes at symphony orchestras in San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit, a lengthy bankruptcy battle at the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a now-months-long lockout at the Minnesota Orchestra.

The new agreement calls for salary increases totaling 3.8% over the four years, bringing the annual base pay up to $154,336 in the final year of the contract (according to a Los Angeles Times report HERE, the base in the old contract ended at $148,700). As is the case with most orchestras, many members make far more than the base. The last contract had increased musicians’ salaries 17% over four years.

However, the most intriguing line in the release was the inclusion of a “housing allowance” (undefined and unspecified as to amount), which would help compensate for the relatively modest salary increases. According to the Phil’s release, the new agreement also includes “managing the Association’s healthcare expenses through restructured healthcare plan offerings” and “new contributions to a 403(b)” (the nonprofit equivalent to the more familiar 401(k).

The new contract announcement comes on the heels of a LA Times report (HERE) that detailed significant compensation increases for Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda and a generally robust financial picture for the orchestra, particularly when compared with other arts organizations.

The Phil’s 95th season opens Sept. 29 with a free concert where tickets are already gone but which will be simulcast on the new Grand Park lawn just south of the Music Center. The annual gala concert takes place on Sept. 30 and the first subscription concerts are Oct. 3-6. This season marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Details HERE.

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

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NEWS AND LINKS: Second “LA Phil Live” season to debut Oct. 9

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


The Los Angeles Philharmonic will present a second season of
its “LA Phil LIVE” movie-theater telecasts with three programs, including one
from Caracas, Venezuela. Tickets go on sale tomorrow ONLINE and at some participating
theater outlets.


All three concerts will be telecast at 2 p.m. (Pacific
Time). The 2011-2012 series will begin on Sun., Oct. 9, with Music Director
Gustavo Dudamel leading an all-Mendelssohn program: Hebrides Overture, Symphony No. 3 (Scottish), and the Violin Concerto, with acclaimed Dutch violinist
Janine Jansen as soloist.


The most intriguing offering will be a telecast of Mahler’s
Symphony No. 8 on Sat., Feb. 18 from Caracas when Dudamel will lead the
combined forces of the L.A. Phil and the Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of
Venezuela, along with eight soloists and enough choristers to make the
sprawling work live up to its moniker, Symphony
of a Thousand.


(On Feb. 4, the Phil and SBOV will join with Southland choral
forces for a performance of this piece at the Shrine Auditorium (LINK) as part
of the LAPO’s “Mahler Project,” which will see Dudamel conducting all nine
completed Mahler symphonies plus other works using both orchestras.)


The third telecast is simply listed as “Spring 2012” with
details TBA. If it is going have Dudamel conducting at Walt Disney Concert Hall
on a Sunday afternoon, the options would appear to be the scheduled
presentation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni on
May 20, a Grieg/Tchaikovsky/Sibelius
concert on May 27 (with as yet-unnamed soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin
Concerto), or John Adams’ new oratorio, The
Gospel According to the Other Mary,
on June 3. This is one time to take
seriously the disclaimer that artists and programs are subject to change.


As was the case last year, the telecasts will feature
interviews with Dudamel, soloists and other “backstage” features. Hosts for
each program will be announced in the future. The programs are broadcast in
high definition with 5.1 digital surround sound; the two I attended last year
were quite compelling and certainly offer a cost-effective way to experience the
Phil in concert.


Although the Phil termed the inaugural season of this
pioneering venture a success, no details on attendance or income were offered
(in a Los Angeles Times article, LAPO
President Deborah Borda was quoted as saying that the contractual agreement
with NCM Fathom — one of the Phil’s partners in the project — prohibited
disclosing ticket sales).


The media release indicated 430 theater outlets in the U.S.
for the upcoming season, down slightly from last season’s reported number of
450 (a list of theaters by city is HERE).


At this point there are 415 U.S. outlets listed on Fathom’s
Web site for the Mendelssohn telecast but theaters tend to be added as the date
nears. There are only 256 theaters currently listed for the Mahler telecast, but
a spokesperson for NCM Fathom said that it’s too early for some theaters to
commit for a February date and many more would undoubtedly climb on board as
the date approaches. She also said that NCM Fathom’s suggested ticket prices
are the same as the first season, although individual theater outlets can
adjust those as they wish.


View the “LA Phil LIVE” Web site HERE.



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

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