REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic open 2014-2015 season with scintillating Mahler

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

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Oct. 2 at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Lang: man made; Sō Percussion, soloists
Mahler: Symphony No. 5
Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com
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My review of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s season-opening concert is online at our papers’ Web site HERE.

Following are some of my additional thoughts on the concert:
• Taking bows continues to be an art form for Dudamel at Disney Hall, but each concert is different. Last night he waded into the orchestra and shook Neil’s hand first. In a later bow, he asked Hooten, Bain and other principals to stand, then sections — even some of the string sections were singled out (an unusual touch). Of course, Dudamel and the orchestra turned to those in seats behind the stage; the audience always loves that.

• Mark Swed’s review in the Los Angeles Times is HERE and Timothy Mangan’s take in the Orange County Register is HERE. Obviously they liked David Lang’s piece more than I did. That’s the fun of reading multiple reviews.

• Dudamel will lead the second week of concerts on Oct. 9, 10, 11 and 12 in a program of John Adams’ Harmonium, along with Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor). Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will be the soloists. INFORMATION: www.laphil.com

• Following those concerts Dudamel, who had an extremely busy summer, apparently will take a vacation from conducting for a month before returning to lead the Phil Nov. 20-23 (His Web site lists no concerts between the LAPO programs). INFO
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: L.A. Phil and others open 2014-2015 seasons

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.

Dudamel-9-29-13Less than three weeks after concluding its Hollywood Bowl summer season, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will open its 2014-2015 season this week at Walt Disney Concert Hall as Music Director Gustavo Dudamel (right) leads the annual gala concert on Sept. 30 and the first two weekends of subscription concerts beginning Oct. 2.

During his sixth season as the Phil’s music director, Dudamel, now age 33, will conduct 12 subscription programs during the upcoming season along with Tuesday’s gala. Dudamel will also lead the orchestra on an Asian tour in March 2015.

The gala (which benefits the musicians’ pension fund) will honor legendary movie score composer John Williams, whose 49 Academy Awards are second only to Walt Disney. Dudamel will conduct music ranging from familiar (Star Wars) to less-well-known scores (The Adventures of Tintin). Violinist Itzhak Perlman will be the soloist in excerpts from Schindler’s List and Fiddler on the Roof.

Information: www.laphil.com

The opening week of LAPO subscription concerts (Oct. 2, 3, 4 and 5) will begin with the U.S. premiere of man made by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang. The quartet “Sō Percussion” will be the soloist in the concerto, a L.A. Phil co-commission that was written for the quartet and premiered last May in London. This will be one of 10 L.A. Phil-commissioned works in the upcoming season.

So_Metronomes_smallIn his program note, Lang wrote: “I have worked with Sō Percussion (pictured left) for a very long time now. They are frequently theatrical, they invite found objects into their performances, they build their own instruments, etc. I wondered if I could make the unusualness of their musicality the centerpiece of this concerto, but how could an orchestra of ‘normal’ instruments doing mostly ‘normal’ things find common ground with them?”

“My solution,” continues Lang, “was to set up a kind of ecology between the soloists and the orchestra, using the orchestral percussionists as ‘translators.’ An idea begins with the soloists on an invented instrument, the percussionists in the orchestra hear the solo music and translate it into something that can be approximated by more traditional orchestral percussion, the rest of the orchestra hears and understands the orchestral percussion, and they join in.

“The opening, for example begins with the soloists snapping twigs, which the orchestral percussionists translate into woodblocks, marimba, and xylophone, which the orchestra takes up and embellishes, eventually overwhelming the soloists. This process of finding something intricate and unique, decoding it, regularizing it, and mass producing it reminded me of how a lot of ideas in our world get invented, built, and overwhelmed, so I decided to call it man made.”

This weekend’s concerts will conclude with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, a work that Dudamel has conducted and recorded with his Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. However, this marks the first time that he has conducted it with the Phil.

KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen has a concert preview HERE.

Information: www.laphil.com

The second week of subscription concerts (Oct. 9, 10, 11 and 12) will find Dudamel conducting John Adams’ Harmonium, along with Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor). Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will be the soloists.

INFORMATION: www.laphil.com

Two other L.A. Phil series begin during the upcoming fornight. Sō Percussion and LAPO percussionists will open the Phil’s “Green Umbrella” series of new-music concerts on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Disney Hall, performing music by David Lang and Michael Gordon, co-founders of the group “Bang on a Can.”

Information: www.laphil.com

Meanwhile, the Phil’s organ series, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Disney Hall instrument, will open Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. Organist Christopher Houlihan, LAPO Principal Timpanist Joseph Pereira and members of the orchestra’s brass section will offer a selection of music ranging over four centuries.

Information: www.laphil.com

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• The “Green Umbrella” and organ recital concert are part of a new Phil new ticketing policy where a limited number of seats are offered for $20. They are available online, by phone and in person at the box office. INFO

• The opening concerts also mark the resumption of “FastNotes,” the orchestra innovative informational effort. You sign up for a Phil email account (no charge) and a few days before each concert you get an email with program notes, bios, links, audio samples and ticketing information about the event. A few other organizations have similar programs but none as good as the Phil’s. LINK

• The Phil has also announced that Danish conductor Christian Kluxen and New Zealand native Gemma New will participate in this season’s Dudamel Fellowship Program. This program has shrunk during the past two years, going from four Fellows in 2012-13 to three last season and now two. However, LAPO Director of Public Relations Sophie Jeffries reports: “There is no fixed number for how many Dudamel Fellows are announced each year. It has to do with identifying young conductors to take part and also their availability.”

Lluxen leads the Philharmonia of London’s “iOrchestra” project and just finished a three-year stint as Assistant Conductor of the Royal Scottish Orchestra. New is Associate Conductor of the New Jersey Symphony and Founder and Director of the Lunar Ensemble, a contemporary music collective in Baltimore.

Read the media release HERE.

• The Phil also recently named Lithuanian native Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, a Dudamel Fellow two seasons ago, as the orchestra’s Assistant Conductor. Read the media release HERE.

ALSO UPCOMING:
Two of the Southland’s — indeed, the nation’s — premiere youth orchestras open their seasons during the next fortnight.

• Roger Kalia begins his final season as music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra on Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aratani/Japan American Theater in Little Tokyo. The program, which celebrates 60 years for the YMF, will feature flutist Catherine Baker and soprano Solène Le Van as soloists; both were Special Recognition winners in the recent YMF Debut Concerto Competition. Tickets are $5. Information: www.ymf.org

• Meanwhile, the American Youth Symphony kicks off its 50th anniversary season with a free concert on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Music Director Alexander Treger leads his ensemble — 107 musicians, ages 15 to 27, representing 26 schools — in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and the world premiere of Henri Lazarof’s Cello Concerto No. 4. Alan Steele, who at age 21, departed the AYS to become principal cellist of the Fort Worth Symphony, will be the concerto soloist. Information: www.aysymphony.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: A big opening classical-music month for Hollywood Bowl

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.

Although classical concerts fill only about a third of the increasingly busy Hollywood Bowl season, for us old codgers summer at the Bowl doesn’t really begin until the classical season opens July 8 with Tuesday and Thursday night concerts continuing until Sept. 11.

There’s an unusually interesting mix of programs and conductors in this, the 93rd season at the venerable Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre. Any season where we can see Gustavo Dudamel and Esa-Pekka Salonen in consecutive weeks rates as noteworthy.

Bramwell Tovey, who for several years held the title of Principal Conductor at the Bowl but now is just a frequent albeit welcome guest, leads the July 8 program, which is definitely not your typical classical-season opener. Instead it’s a delightful hodge-podge featuring violinists Joshua Bell and Phillippe Quint, the ensemble Time for Three, vocalist Frankie Moreno and actress Glenn Close, performing music ranging from Franz Waxman to Edgar Meyer and Igor Stravinsky (the 1919 Firebird Suite).

Tovey will be both conductor and pianist on July 10 in music by Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin, including Rhapsody in Blue. Jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater will sing Gershwin songs during the concert.

Things shift into hard-core classical programming after that. In the second week Salonen — the Phil’s former music director and now conductor laureate — makes rare Bowl appearances. The July 15 program pairs a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto; one of Salonen’s favorite collaborators, Yefim Bronfman, will be soloist.

The July 17 program is subtitled “Russian First” with good reason. It pairs the first symphonies of Prokofiev and Shostakovich with both composers’ first piano concertos. One of our era’s most exciting pianists, Yuja Wang, will return to the Bowl as soloist in the concertos and LAPO Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten will do the honors in the Shostakovich (indeed, hearing Yang and Hooten in the Shostakovich should be worth the price admission by itself).

LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel takes the Bowl podium for the next two weeks. The July 22 and 24 programs are duplicate performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and his rarely performed Triple Concerto, featuring Renaud Capuçon, violin, Gautier Capuçon, cello and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano.

The duplication gives the Phil extra time to rehearse for what has become the now-annual opera night, which this year features the traditional pairing of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana on July 27.

Dudamel and the Phil continue the summer’s crossover programming on July 29 with Marquez’s Danzóns Nos. 4 and 8 and Kauderer’s Symphonic Tangos joined by Latin-jazz songs of from Rubén Blades.

The final July concert will conclude this summer’s edition of Dudamel’s “Americas and Americans” theme as the orchestra screens film clips accompanied by music from a number of composers including Gustavo Santaolalla (e.g., The Motorcycle Diaries) and concluding with a suite from Dudamel’s score to Libertador, a Simón Bolivár biopic that is scheduled to open in the U.S. Aug. 22.

That, my friends, counts as quite a month of music making!

INFORMATION: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: A new direction for opera?

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.

ARenée Fleming stars as Blanche DuBois in André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” being presented May 18, 21 and 24 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Todd Rosenburg, Lyric Opera, Chicago.

Los Angeles Opera: André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire
May 18 at 5 p.m.; May 21 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Information: www.laopera.org

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Mozart’s Così fan tutte
May 23 and 29 at 7:30 p.m.; May 25 and 31 at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Information: www.laphil.com
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Although unintended, it’s ironic that as San Diego Opera continues to struggle with the question of how or even whether it should move forward, Los Angeles during the next couple of weeks offers two notable examples of what the future might look like not only for San Diego but for other opera companies, as well.

On May 18, 21 and 24 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Los Angeles Opera presents an innovative staging of André Previn’s opera A Streetcar Named Desire with superstar soprano Renée Fleming in the role of Blanche DuBois. Then on May 23, 25, 29 and 31 the Los Angeles Philharmonic will conclude its three-year cycle of Mozart/Da Ponte operas when Gustavo Dudamel conducts Così fan tutte at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

On March 19 San Diego Opera’s board of directors voted to close the company following the completion of this, its 49th season, due to dwindling financial support. Since then plans are moving forward cautiously to (a) find a way to finance a 50th anniversary season and (b) discover a new future direction. Fundraising will be a key to both decisions. For the past year San Diego Opera’s budget was reportedly about $15 million annually and it presented four operas.

If San Diego Opera closes, it will follow in the footsteps of Opera Pacific in Orange County and New York City Opera, each of which shuttered its doors. If SD Opera continues, it will undoubtedly be as a different, probably smaller, company.

Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera’s chief executive officer, says he has no inside knowledge of the San Diego Opera struggles, but he can relate to them. “When the 2008 worldwide crisis hit,” he remembers, “we at LA Opera had to pivot to become a much different company, going from a $60 million budget to $40 million. It wasn’t easy.”

What’s important, say Koelsch and other arts organization leaders, is that companies must be in constant dialogue with their communities as organizations determine what programming can and should be presented. A key word that Koelsch uses frequently is “diversity,” a word that relates both to audiences and programming.

“The traditional subscription model of selling tickets is breaking down,” says Koelsch. “Instead of one large audience, we now have audiences breaking down into smaller niches. It’s not that we’re totally abandoning the idea of presenting grand operas in a house the size of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But we’re constantly trying find ways to demystify the art form so that we can broaden our overall appeal.”

Earlier this spring, LAO presented another in its family opera programs, the world premiere of Jonah and the Whale at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels diagonally across the Temple St. and Grand Ave. corner from the Music Center. Thousands of people attended the free performances; many had never seen an opera before.

A Streetcar Named Desire is another example of reaching out to different audiences. The original work was a play written in 1947 by Tennessee Williams, for whom it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. Three years later, Elia Kazan’s searing film adaptation won Academy Awards for Vivian Leigh (best actress), Karl Malden (best supporting actor) and Kim Hunter (best supporting actress). Marlon Brando, who played Stanley Kowalski, lost out to Humphrey Bogart (The African Queen) for the Best Actor Oscar.

Previn — who, although he has composed extensively, is better known for his work in motion pictures and as an orchestra conductor — used a libretto by Philip Littell to adapt the play into an opera; it was premiered in San Francisco in 1998. However, rather than using the elaborate original production, LAO is using Brad Dalton’s intriguing staging that puts the costumed cast at the front of the stage, with the orchestra on stage behind the action. The production has played to strong reviews at Carnegie Hall in New York City and Lyric Opera Chicago.

Koelsch cautions that creating a show with a “much smaller footprint” from a larger version may not always be feasible, but it’s one way for companies such as LAO to bring contemporary operas into the company’s increasingly large repertoire.

Of course it helps that Fleming is portraying the one of the starring roles in Streetcar. “I’ve been eager to bring Renée to Los Angeles as Blanche DuBois for more than a decade,” says LAO’s General Director Plácido Domingo, Fleming’s only rival for operatic superstar status. Ironically, Domingo is appearing onstage in Jules Massenet’s Thais, which is running in tandem with Streetcar. The opportunity to present Streetcar came together at the last minute, as least in opera company terms. It didn’t materialize until LAO had already announced its current season last year.

The L.A. Phil’s Così follows in the footsteps of Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro to be presented on stage at Disney Hall during the past two years. In each case, the director and stage designer had to find innovative ways to cope with the fact that Disney Hall was built for orchestra and choral groups, not operas. That means there is no proscenium or ways to hang scenic backdrops. Overall, the two Mozart productions successfully managed that challenge.

Well-known opera director Christopher Alden will lead the Cosí fan tutte production, which has been created by architect Zaha Hadid, winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 (the previous productions were also designed by architects; Frank Gehry handled Don Giovanni, while Jean Nouvel did the “installations” for The Marriage of Figaro). Hussein Chalayan has designed the Cosí costumes.

As is the case with LAO, the Phil is using this unique combination of talents to reach out to new audiences, as well as to traditional opera and symphony fans.

Next season LAO continues its broadening trend in two radically different ways. For its production of Hercules vs. Vampires in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the company will synchronize live music with the 1961 cult fantasy film. When actors on the screen open their mouths to speak, the audience will instead hear their lines sung by members of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, accompanied by a 26-piece orchestra.

The company’s final offering of the 2014-2015 season will be David T. Little’s Dog Days, which will be presented at Disney Hall’s The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT), which seats less than 300 people.

This is definitely not your grandfather’s opera company.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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ANALYSIS: Doors close and open at local orchestras

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

Like any business and top executives, orchestras and their music directors undergo cyclical lives — it’s just that when an orchestra changes its music director it’s newsworthy, at least in its hometown or region.

In Los Angeles, we’ve gotten a bit spoiled because both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra have enjoyed great longevity in their musical leadership. Esa-Pekka Salonen served as the L.A. Phil’s music director from 1992 through 2009 and his successor, Gustavo Dudamel, came on board immediately after Salonen stepped down.
Kahane
Jeffrey Kahane (right) has been LACO’s music director since 1997 but recently announced that the 2016-2017 season will be his 20th and final season at LACO’s helm. Meanwhile, earlier this season, Enrique Arturo Diemecke announced that he would not return as the Long Beach Symphony’s music director.

On the other side of the coin, the Pasadena Symphony has now settled its musical leadership team. Michael Feinstein returns this summer for his second season as the Pasadena Pops’ principal conductor, and Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan will divide duties for the PSO’s upcoming season as they begin their tenures with the orchestra.

In some ways, Long Beach’s situation parallels the Pasadena Symphony when it severed relationships with its long-time music director, Jorge Mester, in 2010. The LBSO management situation appears more stable than the turmoil that had enveloped the PSO four years ago, so it may not take the length of time that it took the PSO to get its new Lockington-McGegan-Feinstein music leadership team on board but it will undoubtedly take some time to find the right replacement for Diemecke, who has led the LBSO for 10 years.

LACO has more than three years to find Kahane’s replacement but they may need every month . For one thing, Kahane brought unique combination of skills to the position. Among his predecessors, only Sir Neville Marriner and Christof Perick could have been classified as “pure” conductors. Gerard Schwarz was well known for his trumpet skills as for his conducting prowess and Iona Brown did most of her conducting from the first violin chair. Kahane came to LACO with a modest, albeit growing, reputation as a conductor but he was — and is — a high-profile pianist, something he hopes to continue in his post-LACO life.

Moreover, LACO has several musical streams beyond its orchestral series, including its “Baroque Conversations” and “Westside Connections” series. Concertmaster Margaret Batjer has curated the latter series; what influence or changes will a new music director want to make in either or both of these series will be part of the questions involved in naming Kahane’s successor.

In contrast to LACO and Long Beach, the Pasadena Symphony is looking forward eagerly to its new era. Some music directors come to new positions with great overarching themes, but Lockington’s first season as Pasadena Symphony music director has a series of themes interwoven throughout the five programs, each of which will be presented in two concerts at Ambassador Auditorium.

Lockington-small4Web“I suppose if I had to pick one adjective for the season,” said Lockington (right) recently, “it would be ‘colorful.’ “ The PSO’s 2014-2015 season includes a wide range of music, from Baroque to contemporary, with a healthy selection of American music sprinkled throughout the five programs.

Lockington and McGegan will alternate in leading the five programs. The opening concerts on Nov. 1 will feature an all-American program that says Lockington, “focuses on popular, virtuosic styles” using music by Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.

The program opens with Ceremonial Fantasy Fanfare, which Lockington wrote in 2009 for the Grand Rapids Symphony (where he remains music director) in conjunction with a project he championed entitled “ArtPrize.” “The piece features church bells,” says Lockington, “and when we performed it in Grand Rapids the city’s churches rang their bells to coincide with the music.” Unfortunately, Ambassador is too far from Pasadena’s churches to achieve the same effect.

The Nov. 1 concerts will also feature pianist Terrence Wilson as soloist in Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Lockington has never conducted the young African-American pianist but he likes what he has heard. “He plays with great panache,” says Lockington, “with a clear, precise king of brilliance.”

Perhaps the most interesting program is the Feb. 14 concerts, which will be the second that Lockington will conduct. It features Dylana Jenson (who is also his wife and mother of their four children) as soloist in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

Lockington’s decision to feature his wife as soloist on Valentine’s Day may seem to smack of nepotism but nothing could be further from the truth. A Los Angeles native, Jenson was a child prodigy who studied under Nathan Milstein (among others), shared silver medal in the 1978 Tchaikovsky International Competition, and made Carnegie Hall debut two years later with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Shostakovich first violin concerto is a work that Lockington and Jenson recorded in 2008 (along with the Barber Violin Concerto) with the London Symphony Orchestra to great acclaim several years ago.

The program will open with Enter Light, a work by Joel Scheckman, a California native who is a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony clarinet section. “It’s about an eight-minute piece that works beautifully as a lead-in to the violin concerto,” says Lockington. The concert concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Seminal works anchor McGegan’s two concerts: Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral). The cheeky January 17 concerts open with Peter Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise, and also feature Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos with Esther Keel and her mother, Mihyang Keel, as soloists.

So as LACO and the Long Beach Symphony move forward into uncertain futures, the Pasadena Symphony and Pops appear to be on the threshold of new chapters of stability. Just remember: in a few years (or, if the stars align, decades), the cycles will undoubtedly turn over again.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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