NEWS (LATE): Michael Tilson Thomas to retire as San Francisco Symphony music director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

By now you’ve probably heard the news that Michael Tilson Thomas will retire as music director of the San Francisco Symphony at the end of the 2019-2020 season. He will be age 75 at that point and will have served 25 years in the post (LINK).

Those of who have grown up in Los Angeles cannot think of M.T.T. without considering his strange stint as principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1981-1985 (Sir Simon Rattle held the same position at approximately the same time).

However, despite Thomas’ precocious and prodigious talent, Ernest Fleischmann, the Phil’s executive director, preferred Esa-Pekka Salonen to succeed André Previn as the orchestra’s music director and so Thomas moved on, first to head up the London Symphony Orchestra and then San Francisco.

It’s a case of what might have been, but things did seem to work out for all concerned.

Incidentally, one of the names being bandied about in the media as M.T.T.’s replace is Susanna Mäkki, the Finnish maestro who is now the Phil’s principal guest conductor.

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

FIVE-SPOT: April 6-9, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending.

8 p.m. at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
Music Director Carl St.Clair leads the Pacific Symphony in the orchestra’s annual American Composers Festival, which this year features Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, along with John Adams’ The Darma at Big Sur and Frank Tichelli’s Blue Shades. Alan Chapman offers a preview one hour before each performance.

BONUS: The April 7 and 8 performances are being taped for a future broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances” series. The Boyer piece will be played as a stand-alone program on April 9.

For an excellent preview by OC Register staff writer Paul Hodgins, click HERE.


8 p.m. on April 6. 2 p.m. on April 8 and 9
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Former L.A. Phil Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (now the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate) leads the Phil in an all-Sibelius program: Symphony Nos. 6 and 7; Finlandia; and Six Humoresques, Op. 89, with Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.


April 7 at 8 p.m. at Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Oxnard
April 8 at 8 p.m. at Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks
Kynan Johns, the latest in a line of guest conductors vying to become the orchestra’s next music director, leads Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique; and Poulenc’s Gloria, with soprano So Young Park and the Cal Lutheran University Choral Ensembles.


2 p.m. at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, La Cañada
Music Director Jack Lantz leads his choir and orchestra (each of which numbers 60 performers) in a concert of famous American hymns, songs and spirituals. Disclaimer: my wife and I sing in the choir, so feel free to take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt, as the late, great Molly Ivins used to say.

Seven of the spirituals were arranged by English composer John Rutter, who is far better known for his Christmas carol settings, but these arrangements are a winner!

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering with a suggested donation of $20; everyone who donates any amount and fills out a form will receive a CD of the concert later).


4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 2, Op. 18, No. 2 and 8, Op. 59, No. 2, and the world premiere of Andrew McIntosh’s wrestle, stain, whistle and pound.

BONUS: The McIntosh piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets.

The Broad Stage can be reached via Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the 17th St./SMCC station and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there.


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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

NEWS: Parsing the L.A. Phil’s 2017-2018 season — Part 2

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” will be part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season. The above image is the first page of the work, which is subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers.”

In PART 1 of this post, I discussed some of the people and ensembles who will be performing in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season, the orchestra’s 99th. In this portion, let’s unpack some of the programming that will take place during the season’s nine months, which as I said in Part I, “is the most exciting, interesting collection of programs that I can ever remember from an orchestra.”

There’s enough familiar music sprinkled throughout the season to keep even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist from revolting. The season will begin with a gala concert on Sept. 26 and two weeks of subscription concerts beginning Sept. 29 featuring music written by Mozart in 1791, the last year of his life. This is, apparently, a Mozart year for LAPO Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, who will also conduct Mozart’s Requiem this summer in Hollywood Bowl.

The season will conclude with Dudamel leading a three-week cycle of music by Robert Schumann, including all four symphonies, and the piano and cello concertos. The final concert will be the rarely performed oratorio Das Paradies und Die Pierl. Peter Sellars and video artist Refik Anadol will stage the oratorio in a production inspired by China’s Dunhuang Caves, which reportedly were Schumann’s inspiration in writing this work.

In between the beginning and ending concerts will be three Beethoven symphonies (Nos. 2, 7 and 9), Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, plenty of Brahms, three Mahler symphonies and other familiar works.

BTW: this is an unusually strong year for choral works. In addition to the Schumann oratorio, the season includes Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus; Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Mass; a world premiere by Andrew Norman; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

However, this is a season that skews heavily toward music written in the 20th century and later. Lisa Hirsch writes on her Blog, “Iron Tongue of Midnight,” that among the 81 composers on the schedule for the various components of the Phil’s season, 31 of them are alive and at least 17 others were composing in the 20th century.

The LAPO’s media release lists 23 commissions, 22 world premieres, six U.S. premieres and two west coast premieres during next season. Obviously, some of those will appear in the “Green Umbrella” series and five of the premieres will take place during a reprise of this seasons’ “Noon to Midnight” on Nov. 18, but contemporary works abound throughout the season.

The Phil’s conductor laureate, Esa-Pekka Salonen, will be spotlighted not just as a conductor but also for his compositions. On Feb. 8 he will conduct the west coast premiere of his Cello Concerto, with Yo-Yo-Ma. The Feb. 9 and 10 programs will feature Salonen’s Piano Concerto, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist, and the Feb. 11 will feature violinist Leila Josefowicz as soloist in Salonen’s Violin Concerto. All three of the concerts will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

The following weekend, Salonen will conduct the revised version of his Wing on Wing, which was written for Disney Hall, along with selections from Mozart’s The Impresario, K. 486 and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

Since 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, it should be no surprise that his music will be well represented: Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”), Chichester Psalms, (paired with Beethoven’s Ninth), and Mass, which is subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” and was written in 1971 for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. All of these, except for Serenade, will be conducted by Dudamel.

The performances of Mass present an interesting scheduling conumdrum because the dates (Feb. 1, 2 3 and 4) overlap LA Opera’s performances of Bernstein’s Candide. In fact, on Saturday, Feb. 3, while Candide is playing in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mass will be performed across 1st St. at Disney Hall. Fortunately, Candide has enough dates so that Bernstein lovers can work around the conflict.

Screenings of the 1961 movie of Bernstein’s West Side Story on Nov. 24 and 26 will round out the Bernstein celebration. This will be one of several movies that will appear on the schedule as part of the Phil’s inSIGHT series. Another in that series will take place on Feb. 28 (the Wednesday before the Oscars) when Thomas Wilkins, principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, will lead the Phil as it plays portions of the the nominated scores accompanied by videos.

Yet another screening, last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, The Birdman, will be part of a 10-day festival entitled “CDMX: Music from Mexico City, which will be presented as part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” held in conjunction with The Getty and other arts institutions across Southern California. L.A.

As L.A. Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda explains: “Among the 2017/18 season goals is to bring communities together through the shared experience of live music, building bridges and dissolving borders, and to find common threads and musical moments.:

The Phil’s Artist-Collaborator Yuval Sharon will be active on several fronts including a staging of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde; and a new work by Annie Gosfield, War of the Worlds, which will be based on the 1898 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells and the infamous 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Wells and his Mercury Theatre Players. The Gosfield work will take place not only in Disney Hall but at various sites around Los Angeles.

Dudamel will conduct the world premiere of Ted Hearne’s opera, Place, produced in conjunction with Beth Morrison Projects, which will not only play at Disney Hall but will be taken on the road during the orchestra’s spring tour.

I know I’ve left out a few things, but you get the idea. You can read all the details in the complete 2017-2018 media kit HERE. The chronological listing of programs is HERE.

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Salonen, L.A. Phil premiere Saariaho’s organ work

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Janáček: Sinfionetta; Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite
Saariaho: Maan varjot (Earth’s Shadows) (U.S. premiere); Olivier Latry, organist
Next performances: Tonight at 8 p.m. Tomorrow at 2 p.m.

EThe Los Angeles Philharmonic has never seemed to quite know how best to use the pipe organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Nonetheless, the orchestra is celebrating the instrument’s 10th anniversary throughout this season (it took all of the hall’s first season to fine-tune the organ; thus its debut was a year after the hall debuted). Perhaps after several orchestral concerts and recitals in 2014-2015, that best use will emerge. For now, we can simply delight that we are hearing a real pipe organ in a concert hall.

The first of several orchestral concerts this season celebrating the organ are being conducted by the orchestra’s conductor laureate, Esa-Pekka Salonen (pictured above), who was instrumental (pun intended) in the design and creation of Walt Disney Concert Hall, including the imposing, intriguing instrument that was later nicknamed “Hurricane Mama” by organist and composer Terry Riley.

To celebrate the organ, it’s certainly no surprise that Salonen chose a work by Kaija Saariaho. She, like Salonen, is a Finnish composer and Salonen has conducted many of her works with the Phil. Her music is an acquired taste and I freely admit that I haven’t found the key to enjoying it fully yet.

Maan varjot (Earth Shadows) received its U.S. premiere last night at Disney Hall. The Finnish title comes from lines in Shelley’s ode to John Keats:
“The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly.”

The 15-minute work was commissioned the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and three European organizations. The world premiere took place in Montreal last May — like Disney Hall, that organ (created and built by Casavant Frères of nearby Saint-Hyacinthye, Quebec) was inaugurated in the second season of the city’s new concert hall. The soloist was French organist Olivier Latry and Kent Nagano conducted the OSM.

Latry was on hand here last night, as well; in fact, no other soloist has played the work, with good reason — the technical requirements for both organist and orchestra will probably limit its reception.

Although Saariaho grew up playing the organ, this is one of the first pieces she has written for the instrument. The three-movement work is not really an organ concerto, as she explains in the program note: “I didn’t want to create a duel of decibels. Rather, it is a work with a prominent solo organ part, some kind of a fruitful and inspiring companionship, in which two strong but civilized personalities can co-exist without having to fight too much for the place in the sun.”

The first movement featured mysterious, dissonant tones with Latry weaving the organ in and out of the orchestral fabric; deep organ bass notes resonated from the instrument’s distinctive wooden pipes throughout the building (see Hemidemisemiquavers below for info on the Disney Hall organ).

In the preconcert lecture Saariaho said the second movement is the heart of the piece and, consequently, this is the one section where the organ is most prominent.

The third movement wandered between the wild, the weird and the wacky as Sarriaho gave Latry the biggest opportunity to show off both his considerable technical skill and the instrument’s varied colors.

Salonen conducted the piece without a baton and the orchestra handled the difficult writing with aplomb. After its conclusion, much of the audience gave everyone involved — organist, composer, orchestra and conductor — effusive applause.

The organ work was bracketed by two muscular orchestral pieces from the early 20th century that rank high on my list of unjustly neglected works (technically Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite was begun in 1893 but it was revised several times up to its final version, which wasn’t published until 1954).

Leoš Janáček’s Sinfionetta is worth discovering if only for its and the composer’s backstories. Janáček wrote the piece at age 72, the result of a dozen-year correspondence of some 700 letters between Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, a young married woman 38 years his junior, who would become his muse.

In 1925 they heard a military band concert in which the musicians played standing. So taken with the idea was Janáček that the first movement of this 25-minute work features 13 brass players (nine trumpets and four other horns) who for this concert were standing in the first row of the bench seats behind the orchestra. The balance of the work is, in effect, a standard four-movement symphony.

The Phil played with equal mixtures of rhythmically crispness and luxuriant tones and Salonen conducted exuberantly. Hearing Sinfionetta again was a genuine pleasure and the audience’s response was enthusiastic, particularly for the first work of a concert.

After intermission, Salonen turned to Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite. The story of Salonen resisting the music of his countryman early in his conducting career is well known but this four-movement, 50-minute work — based on portions of the Nordic legend, The Kalevala — was an exception. Salonen was age 22 when he led the first complete LAPO performance of the work in 1991, a year before he officially became the Phil’s 10th music director. He and the orchestra subsequently recorded it (amazingly for a 23-year-old recording, it’s still available).

Last night was a richly rewarding performance, demonstrating again the exquisite acoustics of Disney Hall and reinforcing the joy of hearing a work played live as opposed to a recording. This was particularly true in the work’s best-known section, The Swan of Tuonela, which featured a stunningly soulful performance by Carolyn Hove on English horn. We’ve become so used to hearing Hove’s beautiful playing since she joined the Phil in 1988 that we sometimes take it for granted but on this night she was extraordinary.

Salonen conducted this movement without a baton (he used a stick in the other three) and he and the orchestra rose to the heights of Hove’s gorgeous solo work. The audience responded with a thunderous, and well-deserved, standing ovation.

• This week’s preconcert lecture host was Eric Bromberger, a violinist with the La Jolla Symphony who writes program notes for several different organizations including the San Diego Symphony and the Washington Performing Arts Center at the Kennedy Center.

He began by interviewing Saariaho and Latry. I wished he had asked Latry the differences between the new Montreal organ and the Disney Hall instrument but no such luck. Latry did say that the Disney Hall instrument has grown in its 10 years of existence but didn’t elaborate on what he meant.

After the short interview Bromberger discussed the Janáček and Sibelius works with skill and enthusiasm. In part because he was wearing a headset microphone he was clearly understandable even in the back of BP Hall, and he handled the iPod technology smoothly (something that doesn’t always happen). Overall this was one of the best preconcert lectures I can remember attending.
• This week’s concerts are among those offering $20 seats for selected seats, in addition to student and senior rush tickets (INFO). The lower prices didn’t seem to help; there were more empty seats than at any LAPO Disney Hall concert I can ever remember.
• The next orchestra concerts in the organ celebration are Nov. 20, 21, and 22l, with LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conducting. These are also scheduled to feature a first hearing — this one the world premiere of the long-delayed Symphony No. 4 (“Organ”) by Stephen Hartke — along with the most famous work for organ with orchestra: Saint-Säens’ Symphony No. 3. Organist Cameron Carpenter will be the exemplary soloist. LINK
• After those three concerts Dudamel, Carpenter and the orchestra journey to Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa for what we used to call a “run-out” concert. This will give people a unique opportunity to compare the Disney Hall organ with the C.B. Fisk instrument in the Orange County hall. Incidentally, the Hartke symphony was commissioned by former Orange County Philharmonic Society Board Chairman Edward Halvajian (1935-2009). LINK
• In an organ concert of a different stripe, theatre organist Clark Wilson returns to Disney Hall for his annual Halloween concert on Oct. 31, this one with music accompanying the 1922 silent film landmark Nosferatu, the first film so-called Vampire film. Feel free to come in costume but take note of the restrictions outlined in the LINK
• The Disney Hall organ — 6,145 pipes (72 stops, 109 ranks), ranging in size from a pencil to a telephone pole — is one of the larger and most impressive instruments in Southern California. Frank Gehry, the Disney Hall architect, and organ builder Manuel Rosales, Jr. collaborated on the unusual visual design, including the curved wood façade pipes made of Douglas fir — I liken their look to an overturned bag of French fries. Rosales and Glatter-Götz Orgelbau of Germany built the mechanical design, construction, tuning and voicing. Behind the façade are three levels of pipes, including metal pipes made of tin and lead alloys and wood pipes made of Norwegian pine. (More info HERE)

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email