CLASS ACT: The magic — and power — of Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Fireworks are just part of the magic of summertime concerts at Hollywood Bowl.

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Tonight and Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Hollywood Bowl
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9. Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait

Most of the classical music world has a great appreciation for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and with good reason. Its instrumentalists play in top form virtually every night of their yearlong concert season. The Phil’s music and artistic director, Gustavo Dudamel, is one of the most charismatic conductors working today and he has matured significantly in his nine years with the orchestra. Moreover, he is signed through the 2021-22 season.

The orchestra’s management has been exemplary and visionary during the past three decades and even though its longtime President and CEO Deborah Borda left this summer to try and work her magic with the New York Phil, the orchestra’s board has two excellent in-house candidates — Gail Samuel and Chad Smith — to replace her, should it so choose.

However, one aspect of the Phil’s life remains unique among the nation’s orchestras: Hollywood Bowl, which this season celebrates its 96th year. Tuesday night Dudamel and the Phil opened their 10-week classical season, which contains concerts nearly every Tuesday and Thursday plus a couple of other days as well.

Many people, including me, got our first significant exposure to classical music from the Bowl’s “cheap seats.” As usual, the $1 seats are sold out but there are plenty of $8 seats available for some of the classical concerts this season, so that “first exposure” rule still holds true in many respects.

However, what makes the Bowl valuable for the Phil is the growing number of pops and movie nights that it hosts each season, numbers that dwarf most of the classical concerts in terms of crowd counts. This weekend Dudamel and the Phil will appear with Tony Bennett and many other pops-style programs will take place this summer. Most, if not all, will draw near the capacity of about 18,000 people. All of these provide a tremendous cash influx for the orchestra and help it to maintain a positive cash flow in its annual budgets while paying its musicians top dollar.

The Bowl’s central location is another bonus for the L.A. Phil. The Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Music Festival takes place each summer, but it 2-3 hours driving west of Boston (into one of the prettiest areas of the country, I’ll grant you). Moreover, its listed seating capacity in its main “shed” is just 5,700, less than a third of the Bowl.

If you haven’t visited the Bowl in a season or two, you’ll be surprised at the changes. Each year something is improved — this year it’s a new Main Plaza and enhanced picnicking areas, along with metal detectors to get into the main gate entrance (there’s also a new “mid-gate” entrance that let’s you avoid the crowd at the main gate). If you don’t enjoy the stacked parking on site, there are several alternative forms of transportation, including Park and Ride buses and a shuttle from the Red Line’s Hollywood/Highland station.

Particularly this summer when the nights have been unusually warm, it all makes for a quintessential summertime magical experience.

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

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Second thoughts on the 2017 Hollywood Bowl season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Karina Canellakis makes her Hollywood Bowl debut on Aug 8, leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an all-Mendelssohn program. Photo credit: Hiroyuki Ito

Signs of the time?

Earlier this week I previewed the upcoming Hollywood Bowl classical season (LINK), noting — among other things — an increase in motion pictures accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A second look offers some other interesting thoughts about this season, and in particular, what we don’t get this summer:

No Mahler works
Not one!

No Brahms concertos
Zip. Nada.

No semi-stage opera
Instead, we get an evening of Wagner choral and orchestral works on July 20, with Dudamel leading the Phil and L.A. Master Chorale, a performance of Sondheim on Sondheim on July 23, with conducting, and the Broadway evergreen hit Mama Mia! on July 28, 29 and 30.

One Tchaikovsky symphony
No. 5, on July 27 conducted by Rafael Payare making his Bowl debut. Payare is another graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema program (which also produced Gustavo Dudamel), winner of the 2012 Malkio conducting competition, and is now chief conductor of the Ulster Philharmonic in Northern Ireland.

One Beethoven piano concerto
No. 1, on Aug. 31, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist and Bramwell Tovey conducting

One Rachmaninoff piano work
Concerto No 3, on August 15, with Behzod Abduraimov as soloist and Krzysztof Urbanski conducting.

One Gershwin program
Without Rhapsody in Blue, although it does close with An American in Paris — on Aug. 17, with Bramwell Tovey

Two Beethoven symphonies
• No. 9, on July 13 and 18, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting
• No. 3 on Aug. 31, with Bramwell Tovey conducting
I can’t remember a season without either the fifth or sixth symphonies.

Two Tchaikovsky concertos
• Piano Concerto No. 1 on Aug. 1, with Beatrice Rana as soloist and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting
Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Thomas Mesa as soloist, as part of “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts on Aug. 18 and 19

Among “traditional” works NOT being presented: Violin concertos by Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue,, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. And, of course, little — if anything — that appropriates that woefully neglected genre: “light” classics.

There’s no nothing to celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s upcoming centennial.

Things we do get:

• A full night of Vivaldi, with Simone Porter soloing in the Violin Concertos, Op. 4, Nos. 3 and 4, and the Pacific Chorale joining forces with Nicholas McGegan for Stabat Mater and Gloria.

• A smattering (just a smattering) of Mozart: his Requiem on Aug. 24, paired with John Adams Harmonimum, with Dudamel conducting the LAPO and L.A. Master Chorale; and an all-Mozart program led by McGegan on the final classical night of the season, Sept. 14.

• Two L.A. Phil commissions: the world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s Violin Concerto (with Pekka Kuusisto making his Bowl debut as soloist; and Alan Fletcher’s Piano Concerto on Sept. 5, with Inon Barnatan as soloist and Ken-David Masur conducting the Phil. Masur made a well-received debut as a last-minute Bowl sub last season.

• The Bowl debut of conductor Karina Canellakis (pictured at the top of this post), who (one hopes) is on a very short list of conductors to replace Jeffrey Kahane after he retires this season at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. She makes her Bowl debut on Aug. 8 in an all-Mendelssohn program. Canellakis, winner of the 2016 Georg Solti conducting competition, came to national attention when she stepped in not once but twice to replace Jaap von Zweden in Dallas Symphony concerts. My guess is that the San Diego Symphony, which is looking to replace Jahja Ling as music director.

One thing I wish had been programmed:
Either John Adams’ Harmonielehre or City Noir.

As indicated before, Bowl 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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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: Richard Strauss performed heroically by Harth-Bedoya and the L.A. Phil at the Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

With management and the musicians of his Ft. Worth Symphony locked an increasingly acrimonious labor dispute, Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s return last night to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl must have been especially sweet.

The 48-year-old Peruvian-born conductor — who has led the Ft. Worth ensemble since 2000 and is also Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in Oslo — was the L.A. Phil’s assistant conductor and then associate conductor from 1998-2004. He returns periodically to lead our local band both at the Bowl and at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

He seemed particularly serene during moments of Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Ein Heldenleben, which comprised the second half of the evening, and no wonder. Nearly all of the principal players were on hand for the performance and the ensemble — swelled by extra brass, horns and an additional harp — was the largest this summer. Even the cicadas seemed larger in number and volume. In addition to the high quality performance of the ensemble, the solo work by Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour and Principal Horn Andrew Bain was breathtaking.

Of course, you couldn’t tell that by the obnoxiously restless audience. I’m always amazed when the Phil elects to program a long symphonic work at the Bowl how many people decide to leave part way through the piece, not to mention those who flee before the work even starts. You’d think their coaches were turning into pumpkins at 9:45 instead of midnight. Didn’t they know ahead of time that the work was 50 minutes long?

The capper for me was the woman with noisy clogs who clip-clopped down the concrete steps, intently gazing at her cell phone (as least she wasn’t talking on it and didn’t fall down the steps). Moments later she returned to her seat, seemingly oblivious to the orchestra’s playing. Oh, and I forgot to mention the foursome in the very front boxes who decided midway through the performance that it was okay to make their exit. Sheesh!

(Full disclosure: I inadvertently contributed to the obnoxiscity when, early on, I turned on my iPad to write a note and accidentally activated Siri — how embarrassing; mea culpa!)

There’s no denying that Ein Heldenleben is long. Most scholars consider the work to be autobiographical (the title translates as A Hero’s Life) and Strauss was a composer with plenty of ego, so one guess as to the Hero was. It’s also my favorite Strauss tone poem, so I confess to bias when I listen to it.

Some conductors like to wallow in the music’s excesses but Harth-Bedoya, thankfully, eschewed such a decision. Instead, he was content to let the music (and the magnificent orchestra) speak without excessive tempo extremes to over-emphasize Strauss’ intentions.

As I noted earlier, the performance by Chalifour of the themes representing Strauss’ wife was exemplary. This was his 49th Bowl solo appearance in his 20 years with the Phil and it was one of his best. In the first half of the evening, Chalifour brought his irresistibly sweet tone and superb musicality to seven short works by violinist Fritz Kreisler. The tone was especially noteworthy in Caprice vennois and when Chalifour was dancing on the E string during Tambourin chinois.

Preceding the music by the Vienna-born Kreisler were two works by that most Viennese of composers, Johann Strauss II: the Emperor Waltz and Thunder and Lightning Polka, both dispatched with panache by conductor and orchestra.

• The classical season wraps up beginning tomorrow, when Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot returns to the Bowl to lead a dance-themed program, with three L.A. dance companies accompanying the music. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring will conclude the evening. INFO
• Morlot also conducts the Sept. 13 program featuring French music. The final classical concert for the season, on Sept. 15, includes Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” not with a violin soloist as is customary but with Israeli-Moroccan mandolinist Avi Avital offering a different perspective on this familiar work. INFO

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: McGegan, L.A. Phil explore “Romantic”-style music at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

McGegan-2016Nicholas McGegan (pictured right) has been coming to Hollywood Bowl as a valued guest conductor for 20 years and we have had the privilege of watching him grow during those two decades. Originally he was advertised as an early-music specialist and, indeed, his all-Handel concert Tuesday night reinforced that image.

However, in the past few years McGegan — especially in his role as Principal Guest Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony —has been pushing his own envelope, expanding his repertoire into the Romantic era, as last night’s program demonstrated.

On paper, the program of Weber’s Overture to Oberon,, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) would seem to have a foot in both camps but the performances placed it squarely in the Romantic style.

That emphasis was aided by two short video conversations between McGegan and Scott Alan, curator of Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau, an exhibit of Rosseau’s paintings showing through September 11 at the J. Paul Getty Museum. In the paintings and commentary — think of them as “preconcert lecture light” — McGegan and Alan discussed the musical pieces that might have influenced Rosseau whose time (1812-1867) almost exactly coincided with Schumann (1810-1856).

The Weber overture proved to be a sparkling opening to the evening, although the video interview — which was played while the piano was being moved onstage for the concerto — focused more on Der Freischutz as opposed to Oberon. Nonetheless, high marks to Jeffrey Fair’s horn solos that opening the evening, Burt Hara’s clarinet solo, and the rhythmic precision of the entire string section.

In the video clip, McGegan encouraged the audience to remember the dark, forest paintings of Rosseau as it listened to the transition from the Weber overture to Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto, one of the darkest in the composer’s repertoire.

Ohlsson-2016After a summer that featured both Lang Lang and Yuja Wang, it was a pleasure to watch and hear Garrick Ohlsson’s performance last night. Unlike his younger counterparts, there is a sense of serene calm to Ohlsson (pictured Left), who sits quietly on the bench while he plays, just letting the music weave its own magic spell. This was especially true in the famous “Romance” middle section, but even in the outer movements Ohlsson continued to project a sense of stillness during his pristine runs, trills and cadenzas.

That atmosphere of serenity was even more apparent in Ohlsson’s exquisite rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2. For the second night in a row the Bowl seemed like an intimate concert hall with the skies opened to the heavens, a rare moment indeed (high marks, also, to Ohlsson for clearly articulating through a microphone the entire title of the Nocturne prior to playing it).

Despite the fact that this was Mozart, the concerto’s performance had a very “Romantic” feel to it. The orchestra was larger than what Mozart used and, of course, the Steinway grand on which Ohlsson played was a long way from the pianofortes that Mozart would have used when he first performed the piece in 1785.

However by the time of Beethoven — according to Susan Key’s program notes this was the only Mozart concerto Beethoven played in public — the piece would surely have sounded different and so it did last night. McGegan emphasized the work’s sweeping lines and dark textures, and the orchestra — with basses placed to the far right of the ensemble and the cellos directly to McGegan’s right — played with its customary level of excellence.

Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony — the subtitle refers to the fact that the composer had just moved to Düsseldorf, a city on the Rhine, in 1850 — continued the Rosseau-inspired theme.

In one sense, the piece looks backward — like Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, Schumann’s “Rhenish” has five movements. However, the work clearly introduces the “Romantic” symphonic concept to the world and McGegan’s take on the piece was, for the most part, straight forward in its concept.

In particular, he invested the fourth movement, Feirlich (“Solemn”) — inspired by the composer’s trip to the recently completed and majestic Cologne cathedral — with the proper sense of brooding awe, which provided a perfect contrast to his perky take on the concluding section. The Phil’s brass section — particularly the horns — were in fine form throughout the performance.

• On Sunday cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble returns to the Bowl for a program of music spanning the globe — no surprise, since the ensemble is comprised of performers and composers from more than 20 countries. INFO

• On Tuesday, Ken-David Masur — son of Kurt, former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra — makes his Bowl debut in a program of Beethoven (Overture to Fidelio and Symphony No. 5 — and Korngold’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham as soloist. Masur is replacing Joana Carneiro, who was originally scheduled to conduct. INFO

• Then on Thursday, Bramwell Tovey returns for the first concert in a two-week stint on the podium, bringing a program of rarely performed movie music by Bernard Hermann, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin, along with Pas de deux, a new double concerto by James Horner to be played by Mari and Håkon Samuelsen, the Norwegian brother/sister duo that commissioned the piece.

Tovey — the British-born conductor who in 2018 completes a 19-year tenure as Music Director of the Vancouver (BC) Symphony — once held the title of Principal Guest Conductor at the Bowl. In reality, he still, has that now untitled position since he is the only conductor to lead more than a week of Bowl concerts. Expect some witty commentary along with the music. INFO

• McGegan will conduct two concerts with the Pasadena Symphony in the upcoming season at Ambassador Auditorium, leading a Baroque program on January 21 and a Schubert-Mozart-Mendelssohn program on March 18. INFO

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

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