OVERNIGHT REVIEW: A musically and visually superb “Creation”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Alberto Arvelo, video artistdirector
James F. Ingalls, lighting designer
Rachele Gilmore, soprano
Joshua Guerrero, tenor
Johannes Kammler, baritone
Next performances: today at 2 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. (without videos)
Information: www.laphil.com

We are in the midst of a 10-day stretch when the Los Angeles Philharmonic has programmed three different oratorios, each performance with its own unique twist.

Next Thursday and Saturday, noted French-Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie is scheduled to lead the Phil in performances of Handel’s Messiah, with Labadie’s own choral ensemble, La Chapelle du Québec, singing the choral parts.

Next Friday and Dec. 18, the Phil and Los Angeles Master Chorale will perform a 21st century telling of the nativity story, El Niño, with the composer, John Adams, conducting both performances as part of the Phil’s year-long celebration of Adams’ 70th birthday, which actually occurs on Feb. 15.

Last night brought Haydn’s 1797 oratorio, The Creation, with LAPO Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel conducting 62 members of the Master Chorale and an orchestra reduced to equally appropriate numbers — both ensembles performing with their customary excellence — and three superb vocal soloists: soprano Rachele Gilmore, tenor Joshua Guerrero and baritone Johannes Kammler.

However, what made the evening unusual were that Dudamel’s Venezuelan counterpart, Alberto Arvelo, and lighting designer extraordinaire James F. Ingals combined to create a highly evocative video accompaniment to Haydn’s musical-portrait music.

Only once or twice have I experienced a program where the visuals added measurably to the enjoyment; more often, they’ve been a detriment or, at best, a confusion. Last night was the exception.

It began with the setting. Orchestra and chorus members were dressed in all black, as was Dudamel. The choristers were seated not in the choral benches but on risers directly behind the back row of the orchestra. Lighting for all was subdued.

The soloists were in between the two ensembles and were dressed in all white. That allowed Ingals’ subtle lighting changes to gently spotlight the soloists without having to be overbearing. Throughout the evening, the lighting cast a provocative mood over the entire proceedings.

Meanwhile, Arvelo used the ceiling, sides, and the seats and organ pipes above the empty choral bench seats as the backdrop for his shifting images to illustrate the texts and, in the case of the opening orchestral movement, the earth before creation, or as Haydn called it The Representation of the Chaos. Throughout the evening Arvelo used creation images from cultures around the world, including Africa, Japan, South America and native Californians.

In the preconcert lecture, Arvelo (a film maker whose work includes The Liberator, for which Dudamel wrote the score) noted that the creative process was turned upside down from his normal working procedure. “Instead of creating the movie and adding in the music,” he said, “in this case I had the music and texts and added the visual metaphors; they became poetry of images.” However you describe it, the entire visual integration was exemplary from beginning to end.

By the way, if you are dead-set against the use of projections, Sunday afternoon’s performance will be without the visuals.

The texts were in English. Haydn used simultaneous English and German versions of the texts, which — as program annotator John Magnum — noted made this the first major work printed with bilingual texts. The words — from the first two chapters of Genesis in the Bible, portions of the Psalms and some sections from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, may have been intended originally for Handel.

Although the texts last night were projected on the edges of the front balconies, most of the time the supertitling was unnecessary as both chorus and soloists sang with excellent diction.

All three soloists were excellent individually and they blended well in their trios. Gilmore was impressive both for her tone and in her melissmas, Guerrero’s tenor line was clean and effortless and Kammler’s voice was bright throughout his many solos.

Dudamel conducted with a score but did not use a baton. Instead, he used his expressive hands to encourage his singers — if Master Chorale Artistic Director Grant Gershon ever decides to take a sabbatical, Dudamel would make an excellent replacement. Even for, or perhaps especially for, those of us who have sung this work, it was an impressive performance.

• The first LAPO performance of The Creation was conducted in 1960 by Sir Georg Solti in (I presume) Philharmonic Auditorium. It was probably one of Solti’s last performances with the Phil; a year later Dorothy Chandler named Zubin Mehta as assistant conductor without bothering to inform Solti ahead of time. Thus the Hungarian conductor’s appointment as LAPO Music Director ended before it even began and the Mehta era came to pass, instead.
• Information on the Phil’s Messiah performances is HERE. Information on the El Niño performances is HERE.

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on December 15, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday morning, I list five events that pique my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). Because of the holidays, this will be my last “Five Spot”
post until January 4, although I do plan on posting columns and other items
over the next three weeks.


Here’s today’s grouping:



Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

A Chanticleer

The San Francisco-based, all-male chorus makes what has
become an annual visit to Disney Hall. This is one of those must-see concerts,
particularly if you’ve never seen this group. Information: www.laphil.com

Tomorrow at 11 a.m.,
Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Bernard Labadie, conductor

The Qubec native, who is founding director of Les Violons
du Roy and La Chapelle du Qubec, is considered a Mozart specialist so his
all-Mozart program this weekend with the L.A. Phil plays to his strength. It
includes Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) and
Piano Concerto No. 27, K. 595, with Benedetto Lupo as soloist. These were the
last symphony and last piano concerto that Mozart wrote. David Mermelstein had
a profile of Labadie in yesterday’s Los
Angeles Times
(LINK). Information: www.laphil.com


Saturday at 8 p.m.
and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Alex Theatre, Glendale

Gay Men’s Chorus of
Los Angeles holiday program

The 200-voice chorus will perform an eclectic program of
music under the banner of “Naughty and Nice,” led by its new artistic director,
E. Jason Armstrong, and feature Melissa Manchester as soloist. Information: www.gmcla.org


Sunday at 4 p.m. at
Neighborhood Church, Pasadena

Pasadena Pro Musica:
Christmas Madrigal Music

Music Director Stephen Grimm leads his chorus in a program
of music from the Renaissance. Information:


Note: I would
have listed the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s performance of Handel’s Messiah on Sunday at Disney Hall but the
LAMC Web site says it’s sold out (although a cancellation list is available).


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


It isn’t this weekend and it isn’t a program in the strict
sense, but on December 24, set your alarm clock for 7 a.m. (West Coast time)
for the worldwide broadcast of A Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols
live from King’s College, Cambridge, England
(locally, it’s on KUSC 91.5-FM and www.kusc.org).  Begun in 1918 and first broadcast 10 years later, this
traditional service features scripture readings, carols and choir anthems that
tell the story of Jesus from creation to his birth. Since 1982, the service has
featured a commissioned carol; this year, it’s Christmas Eve, with words by Christina Rossetti and music by young
British composer Tansy Davies (here’s a LINK to the news release about the new


You can get voluminous details about the service, including
its history, HERE. You can also download the service booklet as a .pdf file but
be forewarned: it’s 50 pages long! The entire service takes about 90 minutes
and it’s one of my holiday traditions (a visit to the service itself has long
been on my “bucket list”).



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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Of 9/11 … and other things musical

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of
this column was published today in the above papers.


Normally this weekend is one of the two “transition zones”
in the classical-music year — in this case, from summer to fall-winter-spring.
However, this year also includes the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist
attacks and there are at least a couple of musical programs commemorating that
event that are worth noting.


Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein will lead his Pasadena
Master Chorale
next Sunday at 4 p.m. in La Crescenta Presbyterian Church with a
program highlighted by Faur’s Requiem. The afternoon will also contain three a
cappella works that accentuate the “remembrance” theme — a setting of Psalm
137, Virgil Thompson’s My Shepherd Will
Supply My Need,
and Ross Lee Finney’s Words
To Be Spoken
— along with Bernstein’s arrangement of America the Beautiful. Organist Edward Murray will accompany;
soloist will be soprano Krystle Casey and baritone Cedric Berry. Information:
626-208-0009; www.pasadenamasterchorale.org


The PMC will be doing double duty that day, shifting over
to the Pasadena Convention Center Plaza at 7 p.m. where it will join forces
with Muse-ique for a free hour-long concert of music ranging from Bach and
Tchaikovsky to Paul Simon and George Gershwin. Rachael Worby, Muse-ique’s
artistic director, will conduct. Information: 626/795-9311; www.muse-ique.com


Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concert at
Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 13 has Bramwell Tovey leading the Phil, Los Angeles
Master Chorale and soloists in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem. This is one of four
programs during the next fortnight that will be led by Tovey, who spent the past
three seasons as the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor at the Bowl. Info: 323/850-2000;


Los Angeles Opera opens its 2011-2012 season on Sept. 17
at 7:30 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the first of six
performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
The following day at 2 p.m. comes Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, also the first of six performances. LAO Music
Director James Conlon will conduct both productions. Both opening performances
will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5-FM) and kusc.org. Information: (213)
972-8001; www.laopera.com


Speaking of L.A. Opera, both it and the Long Beach
(LINK) have unveiled new Web sites. The LBSO opens its 2011-2012
season on Oct. 1 when Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke (beginning his
11th season at the orchestra’s helm) will lead a program of Wagner’s Prelude and Liebstod from Tristan und
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, and Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever as soloist. Info: www.lbso.org


The Rio Hondo Symphony will open its 78th season of free
concerts on Sept. 25 when Music Director Kimo Furumoto leads Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 3 (Eroica), Rossini’s William Tell overture and Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 1, with Alison Edwards as soloist. The other concerts are Oct. 30,
Feb. 5 and May 6. All concerts are at 3 p.m. in Whittier High School’s Vic
Lopez Auditorium. Information: 562/698-8626; www.riohondosymphony.org


E. Jason Armstrong has been named Artistic Director and
Conductor of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Armstrong most recently
completed his doctoral class work at the University of Southern California
Thornton School of Music, where he served as the conductor for the USC Thornton
Apollo Men’s Chorus and as assistant conductor for the USC Thornton Concert
Choir. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, Armstrong spent 15 years as
director of choral activities at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Florida.



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

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