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.

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NEWS: Parsing the L.A. Phil’s 2017-2018 season — Part 1

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Susanna Mälkki makes her debut as L.A. Phil principal guest conductor with three weeks of concerts in the 2017-18 season.

There’s so much to digest in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season that it will probably take me at least two Blog posts to unpack even most of it — three if you count the “Calendar Alert” post I put up earlier this morning (LINK). Bottom line: the orchestra’s 99th season is the most exciting, interesting collection of programs that I can ever remember from an orchestra.

Some of this comes through the flowering of several initiatives that have been planted during the past few seasons — e.g., inSIGHT, Casual Fridays, the Oscars. Others are the continuing maturation of projects that are the envy of many ensembles around the country, especially the “Green Umbrella” series.

Moreover, there are conductor relationships that the Phil has been nurturing for decades, beginning with Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel who will conduct 12 weeks next season, his ninth heading the orchestra, plus the annual opening gala concert.

Dudamel will also lead the Phil on a tour to the east coast, London and Paris next spring. In addition to the Phil, members of YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) will journey to London to work with young musicians from Great Britain as part of a national youth orchestra conference.

Meanwhile, Susanna Mälkki, the orchestra’s new principal guest conductor, will lead three weeks of subscription concerts, including two consecutive weeks early in the season. The guest conductor list also includes two former LAPO music directors, Zubin Mehta and Esa-Pekka Salonen (but not, regrettably, André Previn, who will conduct the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa.). Mehta’s program will conclude with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9.

The Phil’s maestros next season also include current associate conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, two former associate conductors, Lionel Bringuier and Miguel Harth-Bedoya; and several guest favorites, including (but not limited to) Charles Dutoit and James Conlon.

Incidentally, four of the season’s conductors will be women — Mälkki, Gražinytė-Tyla, Emmanuelle Haïm and Xian Zhang — which may be a record for the Phil and is light years ahead of most U.S. orchestras.

The soloist list is headed by violinist Gidon Kremer playing Moisey Weinberg’s Violin Concerto with Gražinytė-Tyla conducting; and pianist Mitsuko Uchida playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto as part of a three-week Schumann festival to conclude the season.

The season will also include three top-flight visiting orchestras, the first two making their Disney Hall debuts: the Chicago Symphony on Oct. 22, with Ricardo Muti leading Brahms’ second and third symphonies; the Marinsky Orchestra on Nov. 1, with Valery Gergiev conducting music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Scriabin; and Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on March 27, playing Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Berg’s Violin Concerto, with Gil Shaham as soloist.

What about programming, you ask? That’s for my next post, but here’s a teaser: although there’s a healthy sampling of music for traditionalists, 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 Phil’s media release lists 23 commissions, 22 world premieres, six U.S. premieres and two west coast premieres during next season.

More on all of that in my next post (probably tomorrow).

The complete 2017-2018 media kit is HERE.
The chronological listing of programs is HERE.
(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CALENDAR ALERT: February 3 will be a big Leonard Bernstein bash

The year 2018 marks the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth (the actual date is August 25). For Angelenos, Feb. 3 will be a major celebration date.

Los Angeles Opera will present Bernstein’s Candide on Jan. 27, February 3, 8, 11 and 25 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center. James Conlon will conduct and Francesco Zambello will direct the production.

Meanwhile, Gustavo Dudamel will be leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus in a staged performance of Bernstein’s Mass on Feb. 1, 2, 3 and 4 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Thus, both groups will be performing Bernstein on Feb. 3 across the street from each other! Fortunately as you can see, both performances have alternative dates but traffic around 1st and Grand Ave that night will probably be fierce.

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NEWS: Hollywood Bowl 2017: more movies, more Dudamel

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The 2017 Hollywood Bowl season, formally introduced via a media release this morning, extends the Bowl’s presence of showing movies on a big screen with the Los Angeles Philharmonic providing live accompaniment, offers more concerts led by Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, and provides several notable differences from the “traditional” outdoor music concerts.

The movie screenings begin with what has become an annual (and sold-out) event: The “Sing-Along Sound of Music, on June 24.

On the heels of last summer’s screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, (pictured above) the Phil will present the next two segments in the popular series: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on July 6 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on July 7. On both occasions, Justin Freer will lead the orchestra.

Another John Williams movie score will be front and center when the Bowl screens Raiders of the Lost Ark on August 4 and 5, with David Newman conducting the Phil. Newman will again lead the orchestra when it accompanies Singin’ in the Rain on Sept. 7 and he will join with John Williams to lead the Phil in the annual “John Williams: Maestro of the Movies” program on Sept. 1, 2 and 3, with accompanying film clips.

Williams the composer also shows up on the 10-week classical series, on July 25 when violinist Gil Shaham will be the soloist in Williams’ Violin Concerto. In addition to accompanying Shaham, Stéphan Denève leads the Phil in Sound the Bells, which Williams originally composed in 1993 for a Boston Pops tour of Japan, along with Respighi’s Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome.

Not only does Dudamel (pictured above) have more appearances scheduled this summer but, for a change, they aren’t all concentrated in the first couple of weeks. He will be on hand for the initial set of classical programs, which begins on July 11 with a program of ballet music featuring dancers Missy Copeland, Marcello Gomes, Sergei Polunin and Natasha Osipova.

The July 13 and 18 programs will be duplicates: Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists Amanda Majeski, J’Nai Bridges, Issachah Savage and Ryan Speedo Green joining Dudamel the Phil. All of the soloists will be making their Bowl debuts.

The Master Chorale returns on July 20 when Dudamel leads a program of Wagner’s choral and instrumental music

In between those weeks, Dudamel leads the Phil in accompanying Tony Bennett on July 14 and 15 (ask not why) and then combines the Phil and YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) in a performance of “Sondheim on Sondheim” — the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim — on July 23.

Dudamel returns to the Bowl on Aug. 22 with a program that includes the world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s Violin Concerto (with Pekka Kuusisto making his Bowl debut as soloist) and Holst’s The Planets. Dudamel also leads the Aug. 24 concert, which pairs John Adams’ Harmonium and Mozart’s Requiem. The Pacific Chorale provides the choral forces.

Among the other notable guest conductors are Bramwell Tovey, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), Vasily Petrenko, Karina Canellakis and Nicholas McGegan. Among the soloists are violinist Joshua Bell, trumpeter Alison Balsom, pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Jean-Yves Thibaudet; and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who will play all six Bach unaccompanied cello sonatas on Sept. 12.

Subscription tickets, in a variety of combinations are now on sale. Single tickets go on sale May 7.

The complete season schedule is HERE. The full media kit is HERE.

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

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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)

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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