OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Tovey conducts Bernstein, Gershwin at the Bowl

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

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Bernstein and Gershwin
Branwell Tovey, pianist and conductor; Dee Dee Bridgewater, vocalist
Thursday, July 10 • Hollywood Bowl
_____________________

Leonard Bernstein, Gershwin, Bramwell Tovey and the Los Angeles Philharmonic — four names inextricably linked with Hollywood Bowl — combined for an occasionally quirky but ultimately satisfying concert last night at the Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre. The pairing was certainly popular: 11,875 people showed up, 4,155 more than attended Tuesday night’s classical-season opener of this, the 93rd season at the famed outdoor venue.

The Phil apparently can’t decide how to describe its relationship with Tovey, the British-born composer-conductor-pianist who turns 61 today (which also happens to be the 77th anniversary of Gershwin’s untimely death). Although none of the preconcert media releases list any local title for Tovey (since 2000 he has been music director of the Vancouver Symphony), the printed program continues to list him as Principal Conductor at the Hollywood Bowl. Whatever; he’s a welcome presence. With his conducting skills and erudite comedy that last night played to and off of the audience, various orchestra members and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, Tovey remains the pinnacle of outdoor maestros both for his musical and raconteur skills.

Last night he showed off another of his many facets by doubling as pianist and conductor in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Most people who attempt this dual role remove the piano lid and shove the piano into the middle of the orchestra (over the conductor’s podium, in effect). Tovey, instead, placed the piano in its usual concert position with the lid raised to its full extension, which meant that a goodly number of players couldn’t see Tovey while he was playing.

Tovey solved this problem (sort of) by beginning the introduction — with Michele Zukovsky’s slinky, sumptuous clarinet solo — on the podium and then sitting down to play. The orchestra had a tendency to bog down a bit until Tovey would get off the bench and whip the tempo back to what he considered acceptable. It was all a bit disconcerting. Considering that Tovey doesn’t make his living as a pianist, he was remarkably dexterous in the solo portions, although the performance certainly wasn’t note-perfect. The audience had a good time; they gave Tovey and the orchestra a thunderous ovation at the end.

Prior to Rhapsody in Blue, Tovey and Co. offered a fiery rendition of Bernstein’s Candide Overture and four pieces from the 1944 musical On the Town. The three-movement orchestral suite from the musical was notable for, among other things, melancholy solos by James Wilt on trumpet and Carolyn Hove on English horn in the second movement and the car-horn effect in the first movement, appropriate since Gershwin’s An American in Paris was the concert finale.

Following the suite, Alysha Umphress and Jay Armstrong Johnson raced onstage to perform the saucy I Can Cook, Too as a plug for a Broadway revival this fall at New York City’s Lyric Theatre. Of a review of the 2013 production in Vermont, New York Times critic Ben Brantlee wrote: “John Rando’s production of On The Town … is one of those rare revivals that remind us what a hit show from long was originally all about. The joy of Mr. Rando’s production is in its air of erotic effortlessness.” It would be hard to term last night’s “tease” as “effortless” but “erotic” it certainly was; this number (for which Bernstein wrote the lyrics) must have ruffled more than a few feathers in 1944.

After intermission, Bridgewater joined Tovey (at the piano) and the orchestra for arrangements of four Gershwin songs that Tovey orchestrated in 2000. Whether she genuinely had a brain cramp that left her totally clueless as how to begin A Foggy Day in London Town or was grinding through a grossly overdone shtick between her and Tovey, Bridgewater’s breathy renditions of Foggy Day, The Man I Love, They Can’t Take That Away From Me and Fascinating Rhythm gave little, if any, sense of Gershwin’s genius in this genre.

There’s no programming genius required to conclude this kind of concert with An American in Paris, but Tovey’s humorous introduction (one wonders how a felt hat draped over a trumpet bell really affects the sound) led to a solid, forthright performance of this Bowl and L.A. Phil staple, which sent everyone home happy.

Bernstein, Gershwin, Tovey and the L.A. Phil under a full moon and basking in delightfully cool evening temperatures — this is why people keep coming back year after year.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• The brightest sign of the $2.8 million renovations to the Bowl this year this is the addition of new Alaskan cedar benches, which replaced ones that had been in use since 1982. “Over time,” writes Ross Guiney, LA County Department of Parks and Recreation Director, “the wood will naturally weather in the beautiful silvery-gray color with which Bowl-goers are familiar.”
• C+ to the camera operators, who weren’t always on cue with which orchestra player was being featured in a solo lick. On the other hand, the color quality was superb and the sound system has become first-rate.
• On Tuesday, conductor James Gaffigan leads the Phil in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Behzod Abduraimov, who is making both his Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl debuts, as soloist in the concert. They replace Esa-Pekka Salonen and Yefim Bronfman, who were originally scheduled to perform. Salonen, former LA Phil music director and now conductor laureate, cancelled “due to unforeseen personal reasons,” says the Phil announcement, while Bronfman is bowing out “due to the unavoidable scheduling of a minor medical procedure.” (LINK)
• Next Thursday, Salonen will return to the Bowl for the first time since 2009, conducting first piano concertos and first symphonies of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Yuja Wang will be the piano soloist in both concertos; joining her for the Shostakovich will be LAPO Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten.
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Hollywood Bowl, L.A. Master Chorale announce upcoming seasons

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

Schedules for 2014-2015 continue to flow in:

• Three different versions of hair are among the highlights of the 93rd Hollywood Bowl season, which was announced Tuesday. The 2014 season begins June 14 and 15 with the 36th annual Playboy Jazz Festivals and spans 15 weeks through September.

Amid a dizzying number of pops, jazz, world music and movie nights, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will have its 10-week-long classical season, which begins July 8 and concludes September 11. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, he of the curly hair, will lead four programs over five evenings, including another segment of his “Americas & Americans” series, an evening entitled “Noche de Cine” that will include a suite from Dudamel’s score to the movie Libertador on July 31.

The other hair-related programs will be a 50th anniversary re-creation of The Beatles appearance at Hollywood Bowl that will take place August 22, 23 and 24, and a production of the 1968 Broadway musical, Hair, on August 1, 2 and 3. Since the listing for Hair includes the words “contains mature subject matter and brief nudity,” one can assumed this will be a virtually complete production.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Phil’s Conductor Laureate, is among the conductors who will lead the Phil. He has programs scheduled on July 15 and 17.

Read the complete schedule HERE.
The entire Hollywood Bowl press kit is HERE.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 51st season will have Music Director Grant Gershon leading 10 concerts (14 performances) in Walt Disney Concert Hall that feature world premieres by Shawn Kirchner and Nack-Kum Paik. Nearly half of the 20 composers represented in the schedule are alive.

One who isn’t alive (literally, at any rate) is Johann Sebastian Bach whose St. Matthew Passion will be featured twice: the Chorale, along with the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, will offer Bach’s version on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, while Tan Dun’s Water Passion after St. Matthew will be sung April 11 and 12, 2015. Dun’s piece was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death in 2000.

Another “Passion” oriented work will open the season on Oct. 19 when the Chorale presents Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light/The Passion of Joan of Arc. Written for chorus, soloists and orchestra, the piece accompanies Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The season announcement also reveals a bit about the upcoming Los Angeles Philharmonic season as the Chorale will sing in performances of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and John Adams’ Harmonium led by Gustavo Dudamel October 9-12; for performances of Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen November 7-9; and in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis to be led by Michael Tilson Thomas January 9-11, 2015.

Details on the Master Chorale season are HERE.
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Dudamel returns to the Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
This article was first published today in the above papers.

Hollywood Bowl occupies a significant place in the life of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For nearly a century, concerts have been ongoing in the venerable Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre, which has undergone major facility renovations throughout that time.

The Bowl is a Southern California tradition and an iconic symbol of Los Angeles. Moreover, revenue from the outdoor season gives the orchestra the financial flexibility to keep moving forward as one of the world’s most progressive ensembles.

Some of the Phil’s music directors have barely tolerated performing at the Bowl, but Gustavo Dudamel — the ensemble’s 11th and current leader — is decidedly different. The Bowl was where Dudamel made his U.S. debut on Sept. 13, 2005 and where four years later, he first conducted the Phil as its music director in a free, eclectic concert that concluded with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

He speaks often and lovingly about making music for large masses of people under the stars at the Bowl and each summer he has returned to conduct there. Moreover, he has revived a tradition of opera at the Bowl that is nearly as old as the facility itself. His first concert this season next Sunday will be a performance of Verdi’s Aida, a logical choice since 2013 is the bicentennial of the Italian composer’s birth.

Kiev native Liudmyla Monastyrska will sing the title role, aided by a strong supporting cast including Jose de León as Radames, Eric Owens as Amonasro and Michelle DeYoung as Amneris. The Los Angeles Master Chorale will supply the important choral sections.

The concerts on Aug. 13 and 15 will be performances of Verdi’s Requiem, with Dudamel leading the Phil and Master Chorale, along with soloists Julianna Di Giacomo, soprano, Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano, Vittorio Grigolo, tenor, and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, bass.

The Aug. 16 and 17 concerts represent another Bowl tradition: the annual “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” concerts. Begun nearly a half-century ago, these were where the Phil’s management discovered the lucrative draw that fireworks concerts represent. Few, if any, groups do pyrotechnics choreographed to music better than the Phil and its technical team, now headed by Paul Souza.

However, the “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” tradition seems to be struggling a bit. True, the program will conclude, as always, with the 1812 Overture, aided by the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps, and Pacific Crest, marching bands. However, as of last Thursday, the balance of the program had not been announced and the conductor, Robert Moody, is a relatively young (46), relatively unknown (at least on this coast) maestro. On the other hand, that’s what we all thought about a young Venezuelan conductor named Gustavo Dudamel when he made his Bowl debut nearly eight years ago.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Movie music with a twist

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
This article was first published today in the above papers.

No genre dominates summer music programs quite like movie music. Nearly every presenting organization uses film scores as the basis for at least one of its summer programs; in the case of Hollywood Bowl, music from motion pictures shows up several times this season.

So it’s no surprise that Saturday night’s concert by Muse-ique at Caltech’s Beckman Mall would use this venerable format, but trust conductor Rachael Worby to come up with something beyond the ordinary for her concept, which she describes as “one of Muse-ique’s most ambitious curatorial adventures to date.”

Many of the composers will be familiar but the selections will not. For example, John Williams will be represented not by music from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T. but with the Love Theme from Heidi — no, not the famous version with Shirley Temple that was released in 1937, when Williams was age 5, but a film made for TV in 1968, a year after Williams received his first Oscar nomination for scoring Valley of the Dolls.

Williams and many others trace their inspiration to Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s in part to score motion pictures. Saturday’s Muse-ique program will feature cellist Matt Haimovitz as soloist in Korngold’s Concerto in C, which was used in the 1946 movie Deception. Haimovitz will solo Saturday in the world premiere of Sleepwalking, a work with images by Peter Golub, composer and director of the Sundance Film Festival.

Other soloists for the evening will include Wendie Mallick (Hot in Cleveland), who will narrate what’s termed as a “humorous new presentation” of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which was included in last year’s movie Moonrise Kingdom. This also gives Worby a chance to salute the upcoming centennial of Britten’s birthday, which takes place Nov. 22, 2013.

Information: www.muse-ique.com

Speaking of centennials, 2013 marks the 100th year of the debut of the score that Igor Stravinsky wrote for the ballet The Rite of Spring, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic offers yet another performance of this iconic piece on Tuesday night at Hollywood Bowl. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos will lead the LAPO; the program also includes Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with Augustin Hadelich as soloist.

The venerable Spanish conductor returns Thursday for a program that includes Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome by Respighi and Liszt’s Les Preludes and Totentanz, with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist a work that translates as Dance With Death.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: McGegan returns to conduct Pasadena Symphony; Hollywood Bowl season announced

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.

Most conductors gravitate to composers with whom they develop a special affinity. In my hearing, examples would include Zubin Mehta with Anton Bruckner, Carlo Maria Giulini with Giuseppe Verdi, André Previn with Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Esa-Pekka Salonen with Witold Lutoslawski.

In some cases, the tie is so strong that the conductor becomes pigeon-holed into a particular composer or era of music. One of those seemed to be Nicholas McGegan, the British-born harpsichordist and conductor who has been one of the major players in the fields of baroque and other early music, chiefly as music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

However, in recent years McGegan has broadened his repertoire and the Pasadena Symphony has been one of the happy beneficiaries of that decision. Last year, McGegan made his PSO debut leading a concert that concluded with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica).

On Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., McGegan will take an even bigger repertoire step, leading the PSO in program that concludes with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The program opens with Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with the orchestra’s long-time principal clarinetist, Donald Foster, as soloist.

The fourth is one of Mahler’s shortest symphonies (lasting about an hour) and is the most lyrical. The final movement features a soprano soloist (in this case, Russian Yulia Van Doren) singing texts from the poem Das himmlische Leben, a portion of Das Knaben Wunderhorn that Mahler also used in one of his great song cycles.

Even without the McGegan backstory, this concert would be worth attending for the pleasure of hearing Foster as soloist in the Copland Concerto, one of the pinnacles of the clarinet repertoire. Foster is principal clarinet of both the Pasadena Symphony and Santa Barbara Symphony and has been played on soundtracks for hundreds of film and television scores and commercials.

BTW: McGegan will also be the featured speaker at a dinner/conversation at Noor’s Restaurant in Pasadena on Tuesday beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m.

Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Details of the 2013 Hollywood Bowl season have been announced and “predictability” is the operating word. The 10-week classical season contains the usual assortment of popular symphonies and concertos, although there is the West Coast premiere of a new work by Adam Schoenberg (no relation to the famed composer Arnold Schoenberg although, ironically, he does teach at UCLA in the Schoenberg Music Building).

The opening classical event on July 9 will see Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

Music Director Gustavo Dudame will lead just one week this summer with only two programs, both of which pay homage to the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth: a concert performance of Aida on Aug. 11 and performances of Verdi’s Requiem on Aug. 13 and 15.

Other guest conductors beside MTT include McGegan, who will conduct programs on , Bramwell Tovey, Rafael Frubeck de Burgos, Bernard Labadie, James Gaffigan, Leon Bottstein, David Afkham, John Williams and Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Among the soloists will be pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Paul Lewis, Hélène Grimaud, and Katie and Marielle Labèque; and violinists Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Jennifer Koh, Augustin Haedelich, LAPO Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour.

In one of the more intriguing programs, the Los Angeles-based dance group Diavolo will complete their triptych of works created especially for the Hollywood Bowl with Fluid Infinities, set to the music of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3.

The entire 92nd season (67 performances), runs from June 22 through Sept. 22. Season tickets are now on sale; single-ticket sales begin in early May. Information: 323/850-2000; www.hollywoodbowl.com
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

STORY AND LINKS: 2012 Hollywood Bowl season announced

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

Reflecting the economic reality of ticket sales, the 2012
Hollywood Bowl season, officially announced today, continues to add
non-classical programs to what will again be a 14-week season. The Cahuenga
Pass amphitheatre’s 91st season begins June 22 with the annual
Hollywood Bowl of Fame induction concert and concludes Sept. 22 with the
now-traditional Sing-A-Long Sound of
Music
screening of the iconic film.

 

All but one of the Friday-Saturday programs are in the
non-classical category (the exception is the annual “Tchaikovsky Spectacular”
programs on Sept. 7 and 8) and just two of the Sunday concerts are classically
oriented, both conducted by LA Phil Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.

 

There’s nothing nefarious about this slow creep. Proceeds
from Bowl ticket sales account for a significant portion of the Phil’s annual
income stream and “pops” fare sells better than classical. This year’s
non-classical concerts include jazz, world music, movie music and Broadway
shows and other popular genres; among the artists are Herbie Hancock, Barry
Manilow, and Liza Minnelli. Along with The
Sound of Music,
the movie evenings include a tribute to Paramount Pictures’
100th anniversary and an program of music from Pixar films (e.g., Toy Story).

 

The 10-week classical season of Tuesday and Thursday
concerts begins July 10 and has several big-name soloists on the agenda. As he
did last summer, Dudamel will conduct two weeks of concerts. The last two
people to hold the title of Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl — Leonard Slatkin and Bramwell Tovey — will
lead concerts along with the Phil’s Resident Conductor, Lionel Bringuier.

 

Returning guest maestros will be Ludovic Morlot, Rafael Frubeck
de Burgos, Stphane Denve, and Nicholas McGegan. The one debut conductor is 28-year-old
Krysztof Urbanski, who began this season as music director of the Indianapolis
Symphony.

 

Dudamel will reprise his “Americas and the Americans” concept that was part of his first Walt
Disney Concert Hall season in 2010 with concerts on Aug. 14 and 16. Thomas
Wilkins, principal guest conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and the HBO
will appear as part of this survey on Aug. 17 and 18 and Dudamel will conclude
the “festival” and his two-week Bowl stint on Sunday, Aug. 19, leading the Phil
in a concert that will feature Plcido Domingo as soloist.

 

The week before, Dudamel will lead the Phil on Aug. 7 in a
program of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Schumann’s Cello Concerto, with
Yo-Yo Ma as soloist. The Aug. 9 concert will pair Tchaikovsky’s 4th and his
first piano concerto with Yuja Wang as soloist. The Aug. 12 “Sunday Sunset”
concert will be a concert performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto, with eljko Lui singing the title role.

 

You can get the complete schedule HERE (when you click on an
individual concert, you’ll see more details about each performance). There’s
also a print icon at the top of the page.

 

New season subscription sales begin today (renewals were
sent earlier); single tickets go on sale May 5. Season subscribers get first
crack at the non-subscription concerts before tickets to the latter are offered
to the general public. Information: 323/850-2000;
www.hollywoodbowl.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: “The Little Orange Dress” … and other items

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. See the end of the post
for several additions to the printed piece.

______________________

 

Summertime often becomes silly season, even in the
supposedly serious realm of classical music. Consider, for example, the case of
“The Little Orange Dress” (aka, “The Little Red Dress” — some have called the
dress red but I think it was orange).

 

Last month, Yuja Wang walked onto the stage of Hollywood
Bowl to perform as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto with the Los
Angeles Philharmonic. The 24-year-old native of Bejing is an electrifying
talent who can blaze through octaves and runs with breathtaking speed, as she
amply demonstrated during her Bowl performance (her hands were moving so fast
that they appeared to be a blur on the Bowl’s video screens). My review is
HERE).

 

However, what caused a great deal of notoriety wasn’t how
she played but what she wore: what has now become known as “The Little Orange
Dress.” Ms. Wang is a slender, attractive woman and her attire wouldn’t be
unusual on any street in any American city these days, but when she walked
onstage at the Bowl, she created quite a stir from those in the audience.

 

What led to the most commotion on the Internet wasn’t so
much the dress but that two professional critics in attendance commented on it
in their reviews. In my review I wrote, “It also may (or may not) be worth
mentioning that she came on stage last night wearing the shortest dress I’ve
ever seen a female pianist wear, an orange sheath that elicited gasps from the
audience.”

 

My colleague, Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times, devoted four paragraphs of his review to Ms.
Wang’s attire (LINK — which includes a photo). The line
most frequently quoted was: “Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had
there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict
admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult.” It should
also be noted Mark devoted the next few paragraphs to her performance, which he
called “downright magical.”

 

The debate in the classical music blogosphere has centered
around whether it’s appropriate for a music critic to comment on “non-musical”
things, such as attire (Lisa Hirsch, a San Francisco-based Blogger who writes
under the nom d’computer of “Iron
Tongue of Midnight,” offers a listing of several of the Bloggers/reviewers
comments HERE).

 

One she listed was Anne Midgette, the well-respected music
critic of the Washington Post, who
wrote a lengthy post on the issue (LINK). The others,
including the comment threads of responders, make for interesting reading. My
attitude (as expressed in several comments to posts) is that attending a
concert is both an aural and visual experience and something like “The Little
Orange Dress” was worth at least a mention — my guess is that many in the
audience can’t remember today how well she played but they certainly remember
the dress. If you agree or disagree with my stance, feel free to post a comment
below.

 

Late adds:

Mark Swed
weighs in on the issue HERE and the L.A. Times has a separate article on
concert dress that includes an interview with organist Cameron Carpenter HERE,
along with three photos of “The Little Orange Dress.” Carpenter’s sequined tee
shirts and jeans are undeniably part of his total concert package and are often
mentioned in stories and reviews.

 

Timothy Mangan,
music critic of the Orange County
Register
(who didin’t attend the concert), offers his comments HERE.

 

MORE FROM THE WEB:

Anne Midgette offers
a good basic primer on contemporary music for those who wonder how to get into
this genre. There’s nothing earth-shaking in her assessments and you may not
agree with all of them but I found it well worth reading. MORE

 

CK Dexter Haven
has begun a new Blog entitled “All is Yar” and he has an interesting post on
the subject of guest conductors HERE.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Walt Disney’s Fantasia

Hollywood Bowl
Orchestra, John Mauceri, conductor

Friday, August 19 Hollywood Bowl

Next performances: Tonight at 8:30; tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

______________________

 

John Mauceri returned to Hollywood Bowl last night leading
the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra — the ensemble he founded 20 years ago — in the
same program with which he left the HBO five years ago to become Chancellor of
the University of North Carolina School of the Arts: Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

 

Technically that’s not correct. Last night wasn’t Fantasia, nor was it what we saw five
years ago. Rather, it was an evening that used portions of segments from the
1940 movie that was originally a financial failure but is now considered a
landmark, along with other elements. They coalesced into a program that absolutely
honored Walt’s spirit, since Disney had envisioned Fantasia as a movie that, as Mauceri said last night, would always
be something new with segments being added and replaced each time it was shown.

 

One reason this program works so well is Mauceri, who
received a standing ovation when he came onstage from many of the 13,580 in
attendance. The 66-year-old New York native remains the platinum standard in
conductors who converse with the audience, delivering important information
with erudite wit. Throughout the evening his comments enlightened the audience
as to the movie’s importance in a multitude of areas (e.g., the fusion of music
and animation, the film’s technical achievements, and its history). He also offered
several interesting tidbits about conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was a major
contributor to the film and with whom Mauceri studied when he was 27 and
Stokowski was 90.

 

The most interesting parts of the evening were four segments
that didn’t make it into the 1940 movie.

 

Debussy’s Claire de
Lune
had been completed in 1942 and eventually appeared in a 1946 Disney
feature entitled Make Mine Music. The
original animation was discovered 50 years later and animators’ use of two
egrets in moonlit water combined with Debussy’s ethereal music proved to be
magical, although to these ears it might have been even more effective using
the composer’s original piano score rather than Stokowski’s orchestral
arrangement.

 

The animation for Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela was never completed but the chalk and pastel
storyboards, shown while the orchestra (with Cathy Del Russo on English horn)
played Sibelius’ tone poem with touching tenderness, were gorgeous and, as
Mauceri pointed out, demonstrated part of the pains-taking, hand-drawn
animation process employed in the era before computers.

 

The backstory to Destino
is even more convoluted. In 1946, Disney, Spanish surrealist painter Salvador
Dali and Disney artist John Hench collaborated on this project, using the music
of Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez. The piece lay forgotten until Roy E.
Disney resurrected it and produced a six-minute film in 2003 that was nominated
for an Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film.” As might be expected with
a Dali project, the art was, indeed, surreal but the music — which used the
soundtrack singing of Dora Luz while the orchestra played the accompaniment –
proved to be haunting.

 

The fourth segment came in the form of an encore: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblee, another of the shelved segments that was later
adapted into the Bumble Boogie
segment of the 1948 cartoon Melody Time.

 

To no one’s great surprise, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours seemed to be the most popular with the audience;
Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring were
truncated even more than the original film segments. The opening, Stokowski’s
bloated arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and
Fugue in D Minor,
appeared to be the hardest for Mauceri and the orchestra
to synch with the film; overall, however, they held together amazingly well
throughout the evening.

 

The printed program ended with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, with the final
segments accompanied (or, in the case of Waltz
of the Flowers)
overpowered by fireworks. I yield to no one in my
admiration for the Souza Group’s pyrotechnic wizardry, fireworks do sell
tickets, and much of the audience seemed to enjoy the aerial display thoroughly
but if you were interested in the music (and the animation), forget it. On the
other hand, there really isn’t a section that lends itself to fireworks with
the possible exception of Stravinsky’s Firebird
Suite
from Fantasia 2000. Even
Walt couldn’t envision Fantasia being
accompanied by fireworks at the Bowl in 1940.

 _______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquaver:

When I first saw this program’s Sunday start time listed
at 7:30 p.m. start time, I wondered if it would be dark enough at the Bowl to
make it work. The answer is yes.

The often-changing hues of the Bowl’s iconic shell offered
a colorful backdrop to the program although, ironically, they made me think more of
Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, rather
than Disney.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: “Fantasia” — sort of — to play at Hollywood Bowl this weekend

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Walt Disney’s Fantasia

Hollywood Bowl
Orchestra, John Mauceri, conductor

Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20 at 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Hollywood Bowl

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

54669-Mickey-Sorcerer.jpg

Mickey Mouse as The
Sorcerer’s Apprentice
in Walt Disney’s 1940 landmark Fantasia.

______________________

 

Year in and year out some of the best Hollywood Bowl
programs involve motion pictures being projected on the Bowl’s large screens
(including one suspended over the orchestra), often while an orchestra plays
the movie’s musical scores. This weekend offers what may be one of the more unique
uses of that format with a program based on the 1940 Walt Disney movie Fantasia.

 

John Mauceri returns to conduct the Hollywood Bowl
Orchestra, an ensemble he founded 20 years ago, playing selections from the
score of a movie that Walt Disney at one point considered a failure but today
is considered a landmark for its daring blend of classical music and animation
and for its innovative melding of art and technology.

 

For those who have never seen Fantasia, the movie is a series of animated segments set to
classical music. However, what you’ll see this weekend is not the entire work
and not in order. Six of the seven segments will be screened: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the first
movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral
Symphony,
an extract from Stravinsky’s The
Rite of Spring,
Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s
Apprentice,
and Ponchielli’s Dance of
the Hours.
A suite from Tchaikovsky’s The
Nutcracker
will conclude the evening, accompanied by fireworks. What’s
missing are the Night on Bald
Mountain/Ave Maria
sequence, the Meet
the Soundtrack
intermission section, and the narration by Deems Taylor.

 

However, the evening will include two segments — Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela and Debussy’s Claire de Lune — that had been prepared
in 1940-41 for an update of Fantasia (in
fact, Walt Disney originally envisioned that the movie would be updated
frequently but financial problems from the movie’s opening, along with World
War II, torpedoed that idea during Walt’s lifetime).

 

The program will also offer Destino, a six-minute animated short made by the Walt Disney
Company in 2003 but originally conceived in 1946 as a collaboration using art
by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali and Disney artist John Hench set to
music by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez (Bette Midler refers to this
section in her narration sequence in Fantasia
2000). Destino
was nominated in 2003 for an Academy Award for Best Animated
Short Film.

 

Fantasia was
groundbreaking when it opened in 1940 (Bosley Crowther, in his New York Times review, wrote, “motion
picture history was made last night”). 
Not everyone was enthralled; classical music purists often object to the
cartoon sequences and, indeed, it is hard to hear The Sorcerer’s Apprentice without seeing Mickey Mouse (pictured at
the top of this post) in your mind.

 

Part of Fantasia’s importance
was in its use of technology. Disney had already developed the multiplane
camera and used it for Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs,
but Fantasia gave it
an even more extensive test.  Fantasia was also the first motion
picture to employ multi-point stereophonic sound to give the moviegoer a sense
of being surrounded by a live symphony orchestra.

 

When the movie was originally released in 1940 and 1941 it
played in just 13 cities with limited showings using a specially designed
system called “Fantasound.” Ultimately, World War II and the cost of erecting a
“Fantasound” system in any given theater or playhouse made the original release
of Fantasia a financial loser.

 

However, the movie was re-released in several versions as
new technologies in both projection and sound were able to improve the viewing
experience and ultimately, it became a moneymaker for Disney.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.