CLASS ACT: More concerts during a very busy November

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In my biweekly print column, which is now online (LINK), I noted that November is a very busy month for classical music. In addition to the three events I mentioned, here are some others that didn’t make the cut due to space or other reasons.

I’m sorry that due to my ongoing health issues I won’t be able to attend this concert, but you should make every effort to travel to Costa Mesa this weekend. Bruckner’s eighth is one of the pinnacles of the symphonic canon and it has taken Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair more than 30 years before he felt ready to tackle this 90-minute work.

This is also the first PS program I can recall where the orchestra’s Writer-in-Residence, Timothy Mangan, has written so extensively about a program — this one is entitled “Cathedrals of Sound” — on the orchestra’s Blog.

In an interview (LINK) St.Clair notes that “I’ve wanted to conduct this piece for many years, but it’s like Mahler 9, it’s like all the pinnacle works, you have to build up to them. Not only does he, as a conductor, need to build up to Bruckner’s Eighth, but so do the musicians and the audience, he says. Accordingly, St.Clair has added an extra rehearsal for the orchestra. He’s also devised a prelude to the performance of the Eighth that he hopes will prepare the audience to hear the work.

“You can’t white knuckle it down the 5 or the 405 and every time you come to a stop you look at your phone, you text somebody, you send an Instagram, you answer the phone. You valet park, you run in, you slosh down a glass of white wine and you rush to your seat and then you hear the music of Anton Bruckner — it’s impossible,” he says.

Instead, writes Mangan, audience members will enter the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall before the performance as Gregorian chant is sung from the stage by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael Abbey. Organist Christoph Bull will play organ music by Bach and Bruckner. Video artists Nick and Clemens Prokop will project visuals on three screens that evoke the interiors of the majestic St. Florian Monastery in Linz, where Bruckner served as organist and is buried. The lighting will be low.

All of this is to create a more cathedral-like atmosphere of calm and contemplation, “so that the audience can have an opportunity to receive the music appropriately,” St.Clair says.

In addition to this extensive interview, Mangan has a nice video feature (LINK) on the Wagner tuba, that odd-shaped instrument that Bruckner — a Wagnerian of the first order — used in his Symphony No. 8.Mangan uses cute clips from the Berlin Philharmonic’s horn section to illustrate.

Information: Also, make sure you read the music notes ahead of time — LINK.

Considering that he is now age 81, one can’t be sure how many more times we’ll have to see this Swiss-born conductor and he comes with a program of music by Maurice Ravel, one of the composers with which Dutoit made his international reputation at, among other places, the Montreal Symphony.

The program includes Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, the Piano Concerto in G Major, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist, and rarely heard one-act opera, L’heure espagnole.

Incidentally, Dutoit and Thibaudet and London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra journey to Segerstrom Concert Hall on Jan. 25 for a program that includes Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian). Information:

BTW: Ravel’s G-Major concerto also shows up on this weekend’s all-French programs at the San Diego Symphony. Louis Lortie is the soloist and Johannes Debus will be the evening’s guest conductor. On Nov. 10 and 11 at Copley Symphony Hall. Information:

The orchestra’s new music director, Eckart Preu, picked an obvious date for this concert, which features a winning mixture of familiar and less-well-known pieces.

The former include Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

The latter category is headlined by Symphony No. 2, Songs of New Race, by African-American composer William Grant Still.

Somewhere in the middle is a work that was once so well known as to be considered a war horse but now appears rarely on symphonic programs: Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite.



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

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Five Spot: March 17-19, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending.

8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Guest conductor Stéphane Devène leads the Phil in the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (“The Mysteries of Light”) with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist. The program also includes music by Britten, Fauré and Debussy

BONUS: The concerto, which was written for Thibaudet, is based on the five Luminous Mysteries, the most recently added section of the Catholic practice of praying the Rosary.

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.


2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena
Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan leads this program of music by Schubert, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Rachel Barton Pine will be the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”).


4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena
Gregory Norton leads his FUMCP choir and the choir of First United Methodist Church, Glendale, in this sublime work as part of the church’s “Third at First” series. Duruflé composed a version for this 1940s work for orchestra and another for organ. This performance will feature Aaron Shows, organ, and David Garrett, cello.

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering).


8 p.m. March 18 at Alex Theatre, Glendale
7 p.m. March 19 at Royce Hall, UCLA
The world premiere of Julia Adolphe’s Shiver and Bloom (a LACO “Sound Investment Commission”), Sasha Cooke singing Handel, Mozart and Mahler, and Jon Kimura Parker playing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 — Jeffrey Kahane leads this full, rich program.


4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 1, Op. 18, No. 1 and 7, Op. 59, No. 1, and the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s Ponte Musmeci.

BONUS: The Cerrone piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets and themes of patronage in the past and in the present. Cerrone also has a commissioned work that will be played on Jeffrey Kahane’s final concerts as Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Music Director on May 20 and 21 (INFO)

The Broad Stage can be reached by Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the 17th St./SMCC station and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there.


5 p.m. at Rosemead High School, Rosemead
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, one of the hottest conducting properties in the classical-music world at this time, leads the Phil in a concert of music by Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr.

BONUS: Free Admission. However, tickets must be reserved in advance. Call 626/350-4500.


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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Mirga wows another Bowl audience

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

For at least the last ¾ of a century, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has done an exemplary job of finding and nurturing young conducting talent. That list begins, of course, with former Music Director Zubin Mehta and includes two other MDs: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel. But the tally also includes young people who have held various subsidiary titles such as Principal Guest Conductor (Michael Tilson Thomas and Sir Simon Rattle) and Associate Conductor (Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Lionel Bringuier), along with others who have participated in the Dudamel Fellow program and similar efforts.

Three of those alumni are on the Hollywood Bowl roster this summer: former Dudamel fellow Ben Gernon (August 4), Joana Carneiro, a former American Symphony Orchestra League Conducting Fellow with the Phil who is now Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony and Principal Conductor of Orquesta Sinfonica Portuguesa (8/23); and Harth Bedoya, now music director of the Ft. Worth Symphony (9/6).

Mirga_2016_4_WebHowever, not since Rattle — the original frizzy haired tyro — has a LAPO conducting assistant caught the fancy of the music world as has Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), who was a Dudamel Fellow in 2013-2014, became the Phil’s Assistant Conductor in 2014 and will become Associate Conductor this fall. More significantly, earlier this year she was named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the England ensemble that Rattle led for 20 years.

Last night she returned to Hollywood Bowl just a few days shy of her acclaimed debut two years ago, and once again demonstrated the ability that has the music world abuzz. That Bowl concert two years concluded with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Last night she ended with Ravel’s second Daphnis and Chloe suite, which was a marvelous fusion of French impressionism and sweeping power.

Like the Mahler, Daphnis is a piece that is in the L.A. Phil musicians’ DNA but they played with the sort of freshness and attentiveness that means they were very much attuned to the conductor’s every desire. Kudos, in particular, to Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov for his solo work.

Mirga (everyone seems to now call her simply by her first name, in part because her last name isn’t easy to pronounce) is quite something to watch, as the Bowl’s video screens amply demonstrated. She makes great use of her arms, her body moves lithely and, unlike some conductors, doesn’t seem to be inhibited by a music stand on the podium.

She also has a wonderfully expressive face, very much alike but in some ways different than we get from Dudamel. This was readily apparent in the evening’s opening work, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, where she appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself during the five sections, but especially in Empress of the Pagoda and in The Fairy Garden. Top marks to the various wind principals in this performance, as well: Catherine Ransom Karoly, flute; Burt Hara, clarinet; Anne Marie Gabriele, oboe; and Shawn Mouser, bassoon, along with Concertmaster Nathan Cole.

The original program paired the two Ravel pieces together after intermission with two Beethoven works played before the break. As a slip sheet told the good-sized audience, Mirga (presumably) at the last minute decided to break the works up, placing the Leonore Overture No. 3 before Daphnis. This is another familiar work to the players but, as with Daphnis, they were on top of their game. Of course, the audience loved the stellar playing of Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten, who was perched in a speaker tower midway up the Bowl (although it took awhile for the lighting folks to locate him).

Immediately prior to intermission came Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, that strangely quirky work that was premiered on December 22, 1808 in a concert that included the premieres of the composer’s fifth and sixth symphonies and the fourth piano concerto, along with an aria, two excerpts from his in-progress Mass in C, and a solo improvisation (the concert lasted four hours!). As program annotator Herbert Glass noted the debut was “a fiasco” — the composer’s secretary, Anton Schindler, said, that the Chorale Fantasy “simply fell apart” in performance.

No wonder. Why Beethoven called it a “Choral Fantasy” is a mystery. The piece actually begins as a piano concerto with a long solo introduction that is a precursor of the “Emperor” Concerto (and Saint-Saëns’ second piano concerto). Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet sailed through the endless runs and trills with his customary skill and panache and Mirga and the orchestra gave the performance their fullest attention.

If, indeed, Beethoven had left the work as a concerto, things might have been all right. Instead, towards the end he brings in a chorus and no less than six soloists. Perhaps Beethoven felt the chorus being used in the two “Mass” pieces in that premiere concert needed something else to occupy its time. Naturally, the listener immediately thinks of the “Ode to Joy” ending of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 when hearing this work.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale sang last night with its customary brilliant power in both the Beethoven and Daphnis although the Bowl’s sound engineers had the orchestra somewhat overpowering the singers (listed as 81 in the program) at the beginning of their section.

The sextet was excellent but I was left wondering why the Phil bothered to bring in such big names as soprano Janai Brugger and mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell for such a small amount of work (for the record, the others were soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, tenors Rafael Moras and Kevin Ray and bass Colin Ramsay). Surely the soloists got their highest pay, at least on a per-minute basis, since they were starting out in the profession.

• The Bowl has taken to provide movement titles on the digital screens, which was particularly helpful to the casual observer in both Ravel pieces Daphnis is four connected movements, so it’s particularly helpful to know what is what.
• Tomorrow night’s concert is a mixture of old and new. Guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru (Conductor-in-Residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra) returns to the Bowl with a program that opens with Aaron Copland’s An Outdoor Overture and concludes with Copland’s Symphony No. 3. In between is the West Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, written for violinist Nicola Benedetti, who will be the soloist.
• Always nice to have the Master Chorale aiding the audience in singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Even the high note at the end sounded beautiful.

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 5, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday morning, I list five events that pique my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:



Today at 8 p.m., Tomorrow
at 11 a.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles

Miguel-Harth Bedoya,
conductor; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist

The L.A. Phil swings back into action with a program of 19th
century music that includes Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Saint-Sans
Symphony No. 3 (Organ). My preview
article on the concert is HERE. Information:


Friday at 8 p.m. at
Alan Goldman’s Mt. Washington Performance Space

Piano Theater:
Elizabeth and Soya Schumann

Both of these pianists have won competitions and Elizabeth
Schumann received a Gilmore Award so their credentials seem well
established.  The program includes
Saint-Sans Carnival of the Animals. I
have no idea what the performance space is but it sounds intriguing. The duo
has other Southland performances listed on the flyer. Information:


Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 9

New Year’s celebrations mean Strauss waltzes in Vienna and Auld Lang Syne in NYC’s Times Square,
but in Japan it means hundreds of performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Jeffrey Bernstein hopes to recreate the magic by joining his Pasadena Master
Chorale with the Los Angeles Daiku Orchestra (“The Japanese word ‘daiku’
is translated literally as ‘the great nine’ and often refers to Beethoven’s 9th,”
says Bernstein) for a performance of this most famous of symphonies. BTW: you
may know the venue as the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium; it’s been renamed. Information:


Ongoing at Geffen
Playhouse, Westwood

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

This 75-minute performance by Kathleen Turner includes many
of the famous stories and lines that made the late, legendary, liberal
newspaper columnist beloved of those whose political bent leans to the left. If
you’re of that persuasion and don’t know who the saucy, bawdy Texan was (she
died in 2007), it’s a chance to see what you missed for decades. If you’re a
Republican who loved Ronald Reagan and George Bush (Sr. and “Shrub,” as Ivins
termed George W.), you won’t appreciate it nearly as much. The show runs
through Feb. 12. Information:


And the weekend’s “free admission” program …


Friday at 9 p.m.
and Sunday at 11 p.m. on PBSSoCal (formerly KOCE) television

Los Angeles
Philharmonic Gala Concert

This “Great Performances” telecast features the L.A. Phil’s
gala concert that opened the 2011-2012 Disney Hall season last September. The
program is all-Gershwin: An American in
and Rhapsody in Blue, with
jazz legend Herbie Hancock as the soloist. The TV schedule says that the
program will also include one of the two improvisations on Gershwin tunes (Someone to Watch Over Me) that Hancock
performed in September. Apparently the one-hour telecast will not include the Cuban Overture that opened the gala or
the other improv (Embraceable You)
that Hancock played that night. Information:



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



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PREVIEW AND LINKS: L.A. Philharmonic returns to Disney Hall this weekend

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Dvorak: Hussite
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, soloist)

Saint-Sans: Symphony No. 3 (Organ)

Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 8 p.m.,
and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Preconcert lectures by Alan Chapman at 7 p.m., 9:45 a.m., 7
p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively




With the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project” looming
on the horizon (beginning Jan. 13), it’s easy to forget that the Phil actually
returns to the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage this week. That’s a pity because
there are several interesting things to note about this weekend’s performances.


First, the concerts mark a homecoming for Miguel
Harth-Bedoya, who was the orchestra’s assistant and then associate conductor
from 1998-2004. During that stretch, he won the prestigious Seaven/NEA
Conductors Award. Now age 43, the Peruvian-born Harth-Bedoya has been music
director of the Ft. Worth, Tex. since 2000 after previously heading orchestras
in Auckland, New Zealand, Lima, Peru, and Eugene, Ore.


BTW: Harth-Bedoya’s bio (LINK) on his Web site is one of the
most informative and readable of any conductor I’ve researched. Also, when I
first clicked on his site’s home page (LINK), the first photo that appeared was
of the conductor standing outside Disney Hall.


Second, the concerto brings back a Philharmonic favorite
(and local resident): pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, as soloist in Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 2. In November Thibaudet was heavily involved in recording the
score for the motion picture Extremely
Loud & Incredibly Close.
James C. Taylor has a story HERE about that in
the Los Angeles Times.


Third, the concert concludes with the most famous orchestral
work that makes significant use of the organ: Saint-Sans’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). The Phil has never known quite
what to do with its massive Disney Hall organ (with 72 stops, 109 ranks, and
6,125 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern California). The
organ’s distinctive wooden pipes do look like an overturned bag of McDonald’s
French fries and the instrument has quite a wide array of sounds available, but
it usually sits silent, looming above the stage.


The Phil does sponsor an organ recital series that this
season features six concerts (including Clark Wilson accompanying a silent film
on Halloween and a Christmas-season concert). Occasionally orchestra programs
include a piece that uses the instrument (e.g., Strauss’ Also Sprach Zaruthustra, Elgar’s Enigma Variations), but neither Esa-Pekka Salonen nor Gustavo
Dudamel has seemed much interested in organ music.


The organ dedication concerts in 2004 included Lou
Harrison’s Organ Concerto and the first performances of James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary but I don’t think
either has surfaced since. Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Organ has been played a
couple of times and the Phil did commission an “organ” symphony from Stephen
Hartke for May 2010 but it never materialized.


Thus, an occasional performance of Saint-Sans Organ Symphony is just about it for
organ/orchestra lovers (I think this marks the third time the piece has been
played since 2004). It’s actually quite an inventive piece with the standard
four symphony movements compressed into two (you can tell where the second and
fourth sections begin because that’s when the organ comes in, quietly in the
second section and with a thunderous C major chord to begin the fourth).


Joanne Pearce Martin, the Phil’s principal keyboardist, will
play the organ; her husband, Gavin Martin, and well-known local pianist Vicki
Ray will play the piano four-hand parts. One other note: Saint-Sans later
dedicated the symphony to Liszt, who died in 1886, the year the symphony


Finally, one would think it impossible to find a Dvorak
orchestra piece that the L.A. Phil hasn’t played but the Hussite Overture, which will open this weekend’s concerts, is
receiving its first LAPO performances.



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

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