REVIEW: Nicholas McGegan leads Pasadena Symphony in joyful concert

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

Pasadena Symphony; Nicholar McGegan, conductor
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto (Donald Foster, soloist)
Mahler: No. 4
Saturday, February 9, 13 • Ambassador Auditorium
Next concert: April 27, 2013 • 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.


Few conductors in the world look as joyful when they’re on the podium as Nicholas McGegan, who returned for a second straight year last Saturday to conduct the Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium. His beaming smile is infectious to the musicians and to the audience.

Consequently, even on a day that should have been a somber occasion for the orchestra (coming as it did a day after its music advisor, James DePreist, passed away — LINK), the afternoon was instead with suffused with joy and lightness and, oh yes, excellence.

Although McGegan has made his considerable reputation in the fields of Baroque and other genres of early music, in recent years he has been broadening his repertoire. Last season, he led the PSO in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and he will return again for a third consecutive season next year to lead a program that concludes with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6.

Saturday afternoon he concluded proceedings with a light, transparent reading of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Of all nine Mahler symphonies, the fourth seems best suited to McGegan’s ebullient style, and even though this wasn’t the most compelling rendition I’ve every heard, the orchestra played the 52-minute performance exquisitely.

Russian-American soprano Yulia Van Doren sang the fourth-movement text on heavenly light gracefully, employing creamy top tones and excellent diction. McGegan’s tempi seemed a little rushed but the movement concluded in a wonderfully wistful manner.

Prior to intermission, PSO Principal Clarinetist Donald Foster was an exemplary soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. McGegan conducted with leisurely tempi — perhaps a shade too leisurely; a little bit more bite would have been welcome — but Foster played with elegance and superb breath control throughout. He’s one of the Southland’s premiere musicians and it was a pleasure to hear him in front of the orchestra, instead of the ensemble.

• Prior to the concert, the Women’s Committee of the Pasadena Symphony Association presented a check $100,000 to the association representing funds raised during their 2012 Holiday Look In Home Tour.

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: McGegan returns to conduct Pasadena Symphony; Hollywood Bowl season announced

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.

Most conductors gravitate to composers with whom they develop a special affinity. In my hearing, examples would include Zubin Mehta with Anton Bruckner, Carlo Maria Giulini with Giuseppe Verdi, André Previn with Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Esa-Pekka Salonen with Witold Lutoslawski.

In some cases, the tie is so strong that the conductor becomes pigeon-holed into a particular composer or era of music. One of those seemed to be Nicholas McGegan, the British-born harpsichordist and conductor who has been one of the major players in the fields of baroque and other early music, chiefly as music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

However, in recent years McGegan has broadened his repertoire and the Pasadena Symphony has been one of the happy beneficiaries of that decision. Last year, McGegan made his PSO debut leading a concert that concluded with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica).

On Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., McGegan will take an even bigger repertoire step, leading the PSO in program that concludes with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The program opens with Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with the orchestra’s long-time principal clarinetist, Donald Foster, as soloist.

The fourth is one of Mahler’s shortest symphonies (lasting about an hour) and is the most lyrical. The final movement features a soprano soloist (in this case, Russian Yulia Van Doren) singing texts from the poem Das himmlische Leben, a portion of Das Knaben Wunderhorn that Mahler also used in one of his great song cycles.

Even without the McGegan backstory, this concert would be worth attending for the pleasure of hearing Foster as soloist in the Copland Concerto, one of the pinnacles of the clarinet repertoire. Foster is principal clarinet of both the Pasadena Symphony and Santa Barbara Symphony and has been played on soundtracks for hundreds of film and television scores and commercials.

BTW: McGegan will also be the featured speaker at a dinner/conversation at Noor’s Restaurant in Pasadena on Tuesday beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m.

Information: 626/793-7172;

Details of the 2013 Hollywood Bowl season have been announced and “predictability” is the operating word. The 10-week classical season contains the usual assortment of popular symphonies and concertos, although there is the West Coast premiere of a new work by Adam Schoenberg (no relation to the famed composer Arnold Schoenberg although, ironically, he does teach at UCLA in the Schoenberg Music Building).

The opening classical event on July 9 will see Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

Music Director Gustavo Dudame will lead just one week this summer with only two programs, both of which pay homage to the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth: a concert performance of Aida on Aug. 11 and performances of Verdi’s Requiem on Aug. 13 and 15.

Other guest conductors beside MTT include McGegan, who will conduct programs on , Bramwell Tovey, Rafael Frubeck de Burgos, Bernard Labadie, James Gaffigan, Leon Bottstein, David Afkham, John Williams and Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Among the soloists will be pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Paul Lewis, Hélène Grimaud, and Katie and Marielle Labèque; and violinists Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Jennifer Koh, Augustin Haedelich, LAPO Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour.

In one of the more intriguing programs, the Los Angeles-based dance group Diavolo will complete their triptych of works created especially for the Hollywood Bowl with Fluid Infinities, set to the music of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3.

The entire 92nd season (67 performances), runs from June 22 through Sept. 22. Season tickets are now on sale; single-ticket sales begin in early May. Information: 323/850-2000;

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