MUSIC NOTES: On Feinstein, classic movies, and “Tchaikovsky Spectaculars”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

• IF YOU’RE A FAN of Turner Classic Movies (as I am), you may have been surprised to see the guest host of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” series at 5 p.m. (PDT) this month: Michael Feinstein, principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops orchestra, who introduces a different star each night (Wednesday is Bing Crosby). INFO

• FRIDAY AND SATURDAY nights mark the 48th edition of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” at the Hollywood Bowl. Actually, there have been more than 48. In 1931, Artur Rodzinski led the Phil in a program that was entitled “An All Tchaikovsky Concert.” The program back then was the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, Symphony No. 6, Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Nicolai Ochi-Albi as soloist, and the 1812 Overture.

Fast forward to 1969 when Zubin Mehta led the first Bowl concert to be termed a “Tchaikovsky Spectacular.” The program was Marche Slave, Opus 31, the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, Piano Concerto No. 1, with Mischa Dichter as soloist, and — of course — the 1812 Overture, with the 562nd California Air National Guard Band.

This year’s program — to be led by current LAPO Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel — features the Capriccio Italien, orchestral selections and two dance sequences fron Swan Lake, and the 1812, with the USC Trojan Marching Band joining forces with the Phil. One thing hasn’t changed in 48 years: the firework pyrotechnics are by the same firm, now called Souza.

BTW: This is the third program this week that relies on dance, following Tuesday night’s “Tango” program and Thursday’s concert featuring Stravinsky’s The Firebird. These are also Dudamel’s last Bowl programs for the season. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil, Lang Lang open Hollywood Bowl’s classical season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

It’s been more than a decade since we first encountered conductor Gustavo Dudamel and pianist Lang Lang. Two of the more interesting aspects of hearing them together in concert last night at Hollywood Bowl were (a) how they together would fare as a box-office draw and (b) how they have matured in the past 10 or so years.

They came together in that most ubiquitous of Bowl pieces: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which along with another favorite, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, opened the Bowl’s 10-week classical season.

First the crowd: although no official count was released, the Bowl appeared to be very full, (13,000-14,000?) especially for a Tuesday night. Those who came definitely got their money’s worth!

Perhaps it’s because we’ve gotten used to Lang Lang’s performing antics, but last night was notably light on over-the-top flourishes. Nonetheless it was a performance that had most of the audience spellbound and made us consider carefully what we were hearing, no mean feat for those who have heard this piece hundreds of times.

Dudamel (who conducted without a score) and the Phil held the proceedings together with a sure hand. He took magisterial tempos in the first movement while Lang Lang provided a breathtakingly wide range of dynamics and used the cadenza-like sections to stretch the tempos to (but not beyond) the breaking point. The pianist also appeared to interpolate his own thoughts into the cadenzas, again just enough to make us sit up and ask ourselves, “Did we just hear that?”

By comparison, the second the third movements emerged in relatively straightforward manners, apart from Lang Lang’s lighting-fast tempos in the final sections of each. The finale concluded with a Niagara Falls-like waterfall of thunderous octaves that had Dudamel and the orchestra hanging on for the wild ride. It also produced the predicatable standing ovation from the audience but there were no encores.

After intermission, Dudamel and the Phil offered a rich, luxurious rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Here was a good chance to see the increasingly mature Dudamel, who led tempos that were unhurried and allowed for the orchestra as a whole and the individual section principals to shine with jewel-like luminescence.

Dudamel continues to be a joy to watch on the podium; in fact, there were times when I wished the video screens were split so we could keep a constant eye on the now 35-year old maestro. He conducted without a score; he continues to be economical in his gestures, with almost no superfluous motions; he still takes bows from deep within the ensemble, surrounded by his colleagues; and, most importantly, he continues to radiate a genuine joy in making music.

Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour was radiant in his solos depicting the Arabian princess spinning her tales, but kudos also to (among many) Principal Cellist Robert deMaine, harpist Lou Anne Neill, Associate Principal Oboe Marion Arthur Kuszyk and Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov.

Overall, this was one of the most satisfying performances of this work that I have ever heard and a splendid way to begin the summer Bowl season.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• With flags at half staff, Dudamel and Co. opened the evening with a somber performance of The Star-Spangled Banner.
• Very good camera work for the most part, the sound system was in fine form, especially considering that this was the first classical concert of the season, and there were minimal aerial intrusions. You can’t ask for much more than that at a Bowl concert.
• The video screens included the numbers and titles of each piece’s movements, which was particularly helpful in the dark ambience of the Bowl’s seats.
• Whether it was the stage lighting or just a sign of age, Dudamel appears to now have touches of gray in his hair.
• Tomorrow night and next Tuesday Dudamel and the Phil present a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a work embedded into Dudamel’s DNA. It was with the “Mambo” portion of “WSS” that Dudamel burst onto the scene with his Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at the Lucerne Festival and the London Proms in 2007 (LINK).

The two Bowl West Side Story performances are being billed as “concert performances,” with a cast of 12 soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining with Dudamel and the LAPO. Although some will miss Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking dance sequences, the concert performance will put the emphasis squarely on the music, instead. Solea Pfeiffer, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will portray Maria and Jeremy Jordan, a Tony and Grammy-nominated actor and singer, will sing the role of Tony. A link to Catherine Womack’s Q&A with Pfeiffer in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. (INFO)
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: (Revised) Dudamel, L.A. Phil open Bowl classical season on July 12

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

NOTE: This column has been revised to include date changes and a link to an article on Solea Pfeiffer.

Dudamel-HB-2016Although Hollywood Bowl has been going strong for several weeks, its 10-week classical music season opens July 12 when Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel (pictured above) leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a blockbuster program pairing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist in the concerto. (INFO)

Unlike most of his music director-predecessors — who, at best, tolerated the Bowl’s outdoor distractions — Dudamel revels in the opportunity to present music to great numbers of people, many of whom may be attending a classical concert for the first time. Beginning with this year’s opening night Dudamel will conduct eight programs during the season, concluding with the “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts on August 5 and 6. (INFO)

The July 14 and 19 programs will see Dudamel leading a work that is embedded in his DNA: Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. It was with the “Mambo” portion of “WSS” that Dudamel burst onto the scene with his Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at the Lucerne Festival and the London Proms in 2007 (LINK).

The two Bowl West Side Story performances are being billed as “concert performances,” with a cast of 12 soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining with Dudamel and the LAPO. Although some will miss Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking dance sequences, the concert performance will put the emphasis squarely on the music, instead. Solea Pfeiffer, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will portray Maria and Jeremy Jordan, a Tony and Grammy-nominated actor and singer, will sing the role of Tony. A link to Catherine Womack’s Q&A with Pfeiffer in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. (INFO)

The July 21 concert features another superstar Chinese pianist, Yuja Wang, in not one but two concertos: Ravel’s Concerto in G and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Dudamel and the Phil will open the evening with Gershwin’s “Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess” and conclude the proceedings with Ravel’s Bolero. (INFO)

The summer’s now-annual opera production will be Puccini’s Tosca on July 24, with Dudamel leading the LAPO, L.A. Master Chorale, L.A. Children’s Chorus and a cast of soloists headed by Santa Monica native Julianna Di Giacomo in the title role. (INFO)

What makes the Bowl classical season important? For many of us, Hollywood Bowl was among our first exposures to classical music. I remember being mesmerized by the gigantic Bowl with its thousands and thousands of seats under a canopy of stars (if they were visible through the smog) and for one of the first times hearing the L.A. Phil playing glorious music live.

Although each year I kvetch about the orchestra’s management not being more aggressive in making more seats in the upper tiers available at lower prices, you can buy seats at $8 and $12 for some concerts, which is cheaper than attending a movie these days. Moreover, the enhanced sound system and gigantic digital monitors make the experience far better than when I was a kid a half century ago. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere.

Information on the entire summer schedule is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Dudamel’s contract extension affects orchestras in Berlin, New York

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

With prestigious orchestras — the New York Philharmonic and Berlin Phil — and others searching for new music directors, today’s announcement (LINK) that Gustavo Dudamel’s contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been extended through the 2021-22 season may have put a spoke into several wheels.

Along with the extension — which means the now-34-year-old Dudamel will lead the LAPO for at least 13 seasons — he has added the title of Artistic Director to his current Music Director post. No financial terms were detailed; the Los Angeles Times reported that Dudamel was paid $1.44 million in 2012, according to tax returns. The announcement came during the final leg of LAPO’s Asian tour, which wraps up Sunday in Tokyo.

Given that Dudamel seems fully invested as music director of the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra (flagship of Venezuela’s El Sistema program), it seems unlikely that he could maintain that post, the LAPO position, and a music directorship in either Berlin and/or New York unless he wants to be the reincarnation of Valery Gergiev, the world’s most peripatetic maestro these days.

Alan Gilbert has announced that he will leave his post as New York Philharmonic in 2017 (LINK). Simon Rattle will leave his post with the Berlin Philharmonic a year later and become music director of the London Symphony (LINK).

The same situation would seem to be the case with another high-profile conductor, Yannick Nezét-Seguin, who recently re-upped with the Philadelphia Orchestra through 2022.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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LA Opera announces 2015-2016 season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
The Los Angeles News Group
San Francisco Opera, Moby Dick,
Jake Hegge’s opera “Moby-Dick” will be part of the 2015-16 Los Angeles Opera season.
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There’s a healthy dose of the familiar to Los Angeles Opera’s 30th anniversary season, which was formally unveiled yesterday, but enough new and/or interesting to make the 2015-2016 schedule worth considering when laying out your long-range plans.

The season will have six productions, totaling 38 performances, and two recitals — including a 30th anniversary gala pairing of Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming on March 16, 2016 with James Conlon conducting the LA Opera Orchestra — in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There will also be five offerings (13 performances) in the company’s “Off Grand” series (i.e., locales outside the Pavilion).

As has been the case in recent years, LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct four of the six Pavilion productions. He won’t be leading the opening offering — Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci — nor the last production, Puccini’s La Boheme (see below for details on these).

Among the Pavilion highlights:
• The Los Angeles premiere of Jake Hegge’s Moby-Dick, with Jay Hunter Morris singing the title role. This was originally a co-production of five companies, including San Diego Opera — I loved it when I saw it there. Opens Oct. 31 for six performances.
• A revival of the highly successful 2013 Barrie Kosky production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, featuring sets that evoke the silent-film movie era. Opens Feb. 13, 2016 for six performances. Another in the “don’t-miss” category.
• The season-opening double bill will revive the company’s Woody Allen production of Gianni Schicchi, with Domingo singing the title and Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor, leading the orchestra. After intermission, in an idea that only Domingo would think of, he will change clothes, wipe off makeup and pick up the baton to conduct Pagliacci. Opens Sept. 12 for six performances.
• The season concludes with Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel making his company debut leading the final two performances of La Boheme on June 10 and 12, 2016. Italian born conductor Speranza Scappucci makes her company debut leading the first four performances. Opens May 14 for eight performances.

Among the “Off Grand” productions
• Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet will perform Glass’ score to the classic 1931 film Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi) Oct. 29-31 at the recently restored Theatre at Ace Hotel, a 1927 Spanish Gothic movie palace in downtown Los Angeles that was once a United Artists flagship movie theatre.
• The world premiere of Anatomy Theatre by PulitzerPrize-winning composer David Lang and visual artist Mark Dion will mark the second collaboration between LAO and the Beth Morrison Projects at REDCAT (the Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theatre) located in the Disney Hall complex. June 16-19, 2016. Incidentally, the first of these collaborations, Dog Days, opens June 11 (2015). Information: www.laopera.org

Read the 2015-2016 media release HERE.

LAO’s 2015-2016 Web site is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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