REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil, Yuja Wang conclude Disney Hall season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

This past weekend Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and pianist Yuja Wang concluded a mini-series that revolved around the three piano concertos of Hungarian composer Béla Bartok. The first concerto was the centerpiece of last week’s concerts (my review is HERE). The series — the second of two, following a Schubert-Mahler cycle earlier in May — also concluded the Phil’s 98th season and 15th in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The second and third Bartók piano concertos are quite different, in part because Bartók was suffering from incurable leukemia as he wrote his final concerto (in fact, the last 17 measures were orchestrated by Tibor Serly, one of Bartók’s friends and pupils).

Moreover, while Bartók wrote his second concerto knowing that he would be the soloist, he composed the third for his second wife, Ditta Pásztory, although she did not play it for nearly 20 years. György Sándor played the premiere on Feb. 8, 1946 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In an interesting historical twist, Sándor was the soloist when the L.A. Phil gave its first performance of the second concerto on December 20, 1962 with Zubin Mehta conducting.

Now age 30, Wang is one of the most dazzling pianists on the world stage today. After her performance of the second concerto Friday afternoon she encored with Bizet’s “Variations on a Theme From Carmen,” as arranged by Vladmir Horowitz, and her bravura rendition of that work was certainly reminiscent of the great Russian pianist.

For the record, she played three (!) encores on Thursday night: her own shared arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo “alla Turca” from Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331; the Russian Dance from Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka, and Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, D.118.

She added two more powerhouse encores Sunday afternoon — this curmudgeonly critic wishes she had played something akin to the Schubert simply for contrast, although Bartók’s third concerto is less an endurance contest for iron fingers and far more lyrically romantic than either of the first two.

Which doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of moments for Wang to show off — quite the opposite. The audiences on Friday morning and this afternoon were enthralled both with her playing and her dress (what, you expected me to ignore the lime-green with the slit-all-the-way-up-the front on Friday and the shimmering black VERY short dress this afternoon? No chance).

Her virtuosity continues to be dazzling. It’s hard to believe that anyone could write anything as complex as what Bartók composed and that anyone could play it with the speed with which Wang negotiated the flying powerful octaves, runs and trills. Yet, again, for this critic, what was equally impressive was how Wang delivered the delicate, lyrical passages in the third concerto.

Dudamel surrounded both concertos with Stravinsky’s Symphonies for Wind Instruments and Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta. The former is a nine-minute series of craggy fragments for the woodwinds balanced by melodic (for Stravinsky, at any rate) brass chorales. Dudamel, who conducted without a baton but with a score, led the meanderings with panache and the orchestra played it skillfully.

Janáček’s Sinfonietta is a 22-minute work comprised of five short movements, the first and last of which are brass fanfares played by 13 instrumentalists (11 trumpets and two Wagner tubas) that, on Friday, were arrayed along the front row of the choral benches. The performance proved to be a great showpiece for the entire brass section and Principal Timpanist Joseph Peirera.

Next stop: Hollywood Bowl, beginning (for classical music lovers) on July 9 with Dudamel leading the Phil and several dancers, including Missy Copeland, in selections from ballets by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Adolphe Adam. Information:

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

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FIVE SPOT: June 1-4, 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.

JUNE 1, 2, 3 and 4: BARTOK CYCLE
8 p.m. on June 1 and 3
11 a.m. on June 2; 2 p.m. on June 4
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic conclude their 2016-17 subscription season by completing a cycle revolving around Bartók’s three piano concertos. Yuja Wang will be the soloist in the second concerto on Thursday and Friday and the third concerto Saturday and Sunday. On all four days, the accompanying pieces will be Stravinsky’s Symfonies of Wind Instruments and Janáček’s Sinfonietta. (The first concerto was last week — review link HERE).

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s 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.


Various times and days, through June 25
at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts; La Mirada
The long-time Broadway hit musical is the final production in the 2016-2017 McCoy Rigby Entertainment series at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Davis Gaines — one of the most popular performers in the title role of ZZZPhantom of the Opera — stars as the chivalrous knight Don Quixote.


8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday
at La Cañada Presbyterian Church; La Cañada
Since I’m a member at LCPC (although I’m not singing in this concert) you can take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt, as the late, great Molly Ivins used to write. This annual Pops program focues on music and films beloved by children of all ages, including Shrek, Mary Poppins, and Seussical the Musical, among others. The church’s choir and soloists are accompanied by the Jack Lantz Little Big Band; Jack Lantz conducts.


8 p.m. at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; Costa Mesa
Pacific Symphony Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman leads this program of music covering a healthy slice of Williams’ motion picture scoring career.


8 p.m. at Centennial Plaza; Pasadena
In advance of its summer season at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the Pasadena Pops offers its annual free concert on the steps of the city’s iconic City Hall. Resident Conductor Larry Blank will lead music from Broadway, Hollywood and the “Great American Songbook,” accompanied by soloists Kiki Ebsen, Valerie Perri and Christina Saffran, as well as the JPL Chorus.

BONUS: Free admission; gates open at 6 p.m.

The Plaza is easily reachable via Metro’s Gold Line. Exit at the Memorial Park Station walk up three blocks east to reach the City Hall and Centennial Plaza.


7 p.m. at Wilshire United Methodist Church; Los Angeles
Music Director Sue Fink leads her choir of 160+ in a program that mixes music from several centuries and genres with elements of cyberspace. The program will feature the premiere of a new song, A Vibration, by Los Angeles-based composer and ACC choir member Andrew Cheeseman.


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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Bartók, Janáček dominate L.A. Phil’s Disney Hall concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Next performances: Today and tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Yuja Wang was the soloist in Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic last night in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

As we drove home following the concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall, fireworks blazed in the sky over Dodger Stadium. They paled compared to the fireworks that exploded inside Disney Hall.

Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic began a two-week series last night that will conclude the Phil’s 2016-2017 indoor subscription season. The cycle revolves around the three piano concertos of Bela Bartók, with Yuja Wang as the soloist. Dudamel is surrounding each concerto with music by Igor Stravinsky and Leoš Janáček — this weekend it’s two rarely heard and disparate pieces based on Roman Catholic liturgy: Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Since her Phil debut at Hollywood Bowl in 2011, Wang has been one of the most enjoyable pianists at Phil concerts and recitals both for her playing and what she wears. In her Los Angeles Times profile of Wang yesterday (LINK), Deborah Vankin wrote: “Wang says she has outgrown some lifestyle choices for which she’s known. Of fashion, once an obsession, she says, ‘Oh, it was a phase.’ ” Based on the long, purple slit dress she wore last night (see photo above), Wang clearly had her tongue in her cheek during the interview.

However, as usual, Wang playing was the real story. Although she has performed the Bartók concertos individually during this season, this will mark the first time she will play them in a cycle. Somewhat surprisingly, last night she used a score for the complex, percussive score (given the number of notes, I was glad I wasn’t turning pages). She tore through the music with the virtuosity for which she is well known, pausing along the way to let more delicate passages drip off of her fingers.

Dudamel, who also used a score — in fact, for the first time I can remember he used scores on all three of the evening’s pieces — and the Phil were on their rhythmic toes throughout the performance, for which all concerned received an especially lengthy standing ovation.

Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles was the last major work the composer wrote, five years before he died in 1971 (in what was probably a cut-and-past error, the printed program managed to bogey all of Stravinsky’s birth and death information).

Although scored for a massive orchestra, chorus and two soloists, Requiem Canticles is just 15 minutes long, uses only 24 lines of the Roman Catholic Requiem liturgy (Stravinsky termed it his “first mini- or pocket-requiem”), and never has the full orchestra playing — often just a few instruments cover the singers.

It remains a perplexing work for the hearer, full of the dissonances and serialism that Stravinsky was using at the time. The Los Angeles Master Chorale, which numbered 92 according to the printed program, sang with delicate precision, mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova delivered “Lacrimosa” lines with creamy, luxurious tones, and bass Stefan Kocan was properly stentorian in the “Tuba Mirum” section, aided expertly by Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten.

If Requiem Canticles is at the mini-end of the musical scale, Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass stands at the opposite extreme. It was written in 1926 and revised in 1928, the same time frame as the first Bartók piano concerto. Janáček was age 73 at the time and his textual choice remains perplexing.

In his program notes: Herbert Glass wrote:

“ ‘The ageing composer [Janáček] had a positive aversion to organized religion, even to churches. He would not go into one even to get out of the rain,’ his niece wrote. ‘The church to me is the essence of death,’ Janáček observed, ‘graves under the flagstones, bones on the altars, all kinds of torture and death in the paintings. The rituals, the prayers, the chants – death and death again! I won’t have anything to do with it.

“Yet after the first performance of the Glagolitic Mass in Brno (in a church), in the composer’s native Moravia, in December of 1927, a Czech newspaper critic wrote: ‘The aged master, a deeply devout man, has composed this Mass out of passionate conviction that his life’s work would be incomplete without an artistic expression of his relation to God.’ Janáček was outraged and wrote in return a postcard with a four-word response: ‘Neither aged, nor devout.’ ”

Rather than religious, Janáček conceived the work as a pantheistic, patriotic work, using for the text — instead of Latin — Old Slavonic (whose written characters are in Glagolitic, thus the work’s title). The words were the same Missa Solemnis text used by Beethoven in his Op. 123 work written near the end of his life.

Like Requiem Canticles, the Glagolitic Mass is scored for giant-sized orchestra and full chorus, but unlike Stravinsky Janáček uses them in full-throated glory. Dudamel conducted the work with an irresistible swagger, the orchestra’s strings were notable for their lean sound, and the full brass section was glorious throughout. The Master Chorale sang the difficult text superbly. In addition to Kolosova and Kocan, soprano Angela Meade sang gloriously with full operatic fervor, while Ladislav Elgr’s clarion tenor voice soared over the orchestra and chorus with seeming ease.

The orchestral score includes a pipe organ and, after the final choral section, Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna put a virtuosic cap on the proceedings using the Disney Hall organ in the “Varhany” solo movement (the word means “organ” in Czech), which concludes with a pedal-solo flourish.

The 1928 version has Glagolitic Mass concluding with a short, dramatic orchestral movement, “Intrada,” which preconcert lecturer Eric Bromberger noted might be thought of as a recessional rather than an introit (the original 1926 version had the movement at the beginning). As an organ lover I might have opted for the earlier version.

• The two-week Bartok cycle concludes next week with the second piano concerto on June 1 and 2 and the third concerto on June 3 and 4. Both concertos are surrounded by Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Information:
• The final concert of the Disney Hall season is a “Green Umbrella” performance of Lou Harrison’s opera Young Caesar on June 13, with the L.A. New Music Group conducted by Mark Lowenstein, and the production staged by Yuval Sharon in collaboration with his group, The Industry. This year marks the centennial of Harrison’s birth. Information:

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

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil conclude Schubert symphony cycle elegantly

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In his nine years as Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel has led several symphony cycles. The most famous was his “Mahler Project” in 2012, when Dudamel conducted the L.A. Phil and his Simón Bólivar Symphony Orchestra in all nine symphonies by Gustav Mahler (plus assorted other works). During his tenure, Dudamel has also led cycles of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky symphonies.

However, when Dudamel programmed the entire symphonic output of Franz Schubert for this season, many were left scratching their collective heads. How many Schubert symphonies have you heard before this month? Two, of course — Nos. 8 and 9. No. 5, perhaps. Beyond that? In her preconcert lecture this afternoon, Dr. Lorraine Byrne Bodley, one of the world’s foremost Schubert experts, made a point of saying how impressed she was that Dudamel and the Phil would program all eight Schubert symphonies in a two-week stretch. “Some of the early works, in particular,” she noted, “are almost never played.”

The cycle concluded this afternoon at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the two most famous Schubert symphonies: No. 8 (“Unfinished”) and No. 9 (“The Great C-Major”). What made the day special was not just the orchestra’s superb playing nor Dudamel’s sensitive conducting. Instead, it was the fact that those who have been in attendance for the first three programs over a two-week period got to hear these last two within the context of what had come before.

In the space of just 11 years, beginning in 1813 when Schubert was age 16, he grew from teenage prodigy to the harbinger of the Romantic era to come, in particular the music of Brahms, Schumann and, yes, even Gustav Mahler whose song cycles Dudamel programmed in between each pair of Schubert’s works. Next season Dudamel tackles Robert Schmann’s symphonies, plus the composer’s concertos and a rarely performed stage work. It’s a fitting follow up to this cycle.

The gap between 1818, when Schubert completed his sixth symphony, and 1822, when No. 8 was “finished” was curiously wide, yet the maturity, complexity and brilliance of No. 8 stands worlds apart from his first six efforts (a seventh symphony was begun, but apparently never completed).

Yet, as the Phil’s cycle showed us, the eighth was, indeed, an outgrowth of his earlier works, albeit richer than the first six. The orchestral scoring for each symphony grew gradually and for the eighth symphony he added three trombones, which made for greater sonority. Moreover, in the Phil’s performances Principal Timpanist Joseph Periera eschewed the bright kettledrums he had used for the early symphonies in favor of the now-standard timpani used in the Mahler songs.

The eighth continues Schubert’s penchant of playing the winds against the strings. Dudamel — conducting without a score as he has done for all the symphonies — began the proceedings with a brisk tempo but relaxed as the measures spun out and highlighted that nearly constant dialogue between winds and strings. He received elegant playing from Principal Clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan and the entire cello section in the two principal themes. The second movement, particularly the horns, had a sonorous, rich feeling with Dudamel quietly urging the work forward to its ambiguous end.

Much continues to be made as to why Schubert left this work unfinished — if, indeed, he did. There are piano sketches of a third movement and many scholars believe that the intra-act music of the opera Rosamunde may have been originally intended as a fourth movement for this symphony. Some believe that Schubert simply laid the work aside to continue other compositions. Others postulate that his battle with the effects of syphilis caused him to lay aside the 8th.

Yet every time I hear a performance as loving and lovely as we heard today, I remain tantalized by the thought that for Schubert the work was finished. He must have realized how great piece it was, although it’s inconceivable that he could have dreamed that 100 years after its composition it would be his most famous work.

As was the case on Thursday and Friday, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke was the soloist today, this time in four of Mahler’s songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn. As was the case Thursday night she sang with a luxurious tone and she was more animated and even playful in the first song than had been the case Thursday. As has been the case with all four song cycles, the last movement — this time with limpid oboe and trumpet solos — held the audience spellbound.

Symphony No. 9, which was completed in 1826, three years after the eighth, was yet another quantum leap forward in Schubert’s symphonic style. Schubert’s first six symphonies, in large measure, look backwards to his great idols: Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. His ninth, as I wrote earlier, looks forward, although Jeffrey Kahane made an impressive case last night for looking backwards, as well, when he led the Symphony No. 9 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LINK).

Partly due to the wonderful resonance of Disney Hall, the almost inaudible opening measures set the bar high for this superb performance. The Phil produced a deep luxuriant tone throughout the opening movement, aided immeasurably by burnished playing from horn player Amy Jo Rhine.

The second movement featured elegant solo work from Associate Principal Oboe Marion Arthur Kuszyk and the entire cello section.

The third movement was the one section in the entire cycle when Dudamel indulged his penchant for dancing on the podium, although as I have often noted he never makes a sway, swoop or gesture that doesn’t serve the music.

The final movement was taken at a majestic tempo. Dudamel built the performance inexorably to a grand conclusion that brought forth a fully justified standing ovation. He seemed particularly pleased with the playing today but really the smiles were for the entire two-week cycle.


• As if the Schubert cycle wasn’t enough, Dudamel and the Phil conclude their 2016-2017 indoor season with a cycle of the three Bartok piano concertos, with Yuja Wang as soloist.

The concerts this Friday, Saturday and Sunday include the first piano concerto, paired with Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. The latter two pieces feature the Los Angeles Master Chorale, soloists and organist Ivet Apkalana. Informatioon:

The concerts on June 1 and 2 feature Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2, while the programs on June 3 and 4 revolve around his Piano Concerto No. 3. Both programs include Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Information:

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

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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

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:
• 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:
• 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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