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.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• 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.
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(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
News

______________________

 

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
Philharmonic

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:
www.laphil.com

  

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: www.palosverdes.com

 

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: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

 

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: www.geffenplayhouse.com

 

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
Paris
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:
www.pbs.org

_______________________

 

(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
News

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Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Dvorak: Hussite
Overture;
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

Information: www.laphil.com

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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
debuted.

 

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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Cleaning out the inbox, checking out other Blogs, etc.

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

ON THE SMALL SCREEN

Orchestral music gets a healthy dose of television
prime-time exposure during the next week with three major programs scheduled on
some local public broadcast stations. They’ll also be streamed on the Web after
the telecasts.

 

At 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, PBSSoCal (formerly KOCE), will
telecast the “Live from Lincoln Center” New York Philharmonic New Year’s Eve
concert, which features music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein under
the baton of Music Director Alan Gilbert. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be
the soloist in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in
Blue
and Concerto in F. The orchestra will also play Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Information: www.pbs.org

 

BTW: Thibaudet will join with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
at Walt Disney Concert Hall on January 5, 6, 7 and 8 as soloist in Liszt’s
Piano Concerto No. 2. Former LAPO Associate Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya will
also lead Dvorak’s Hussite Overture
and Saint-Sans’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). There’s
an interesting tie, as John Henken writes in his program note for the symphony.
Saint-Sans dedicated the piece (which, in addition to its organ part, is
scored for piano four-hands) to Liszt, who died in 1886, the year the symphony
was composed. Information: www.laphil.com

 

On January 1 at 6 p.m., PBSSoCal will air the “Great Performances”
telecast of the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Concert. Mariss Jansons
will lead the orchestra in the city’s famed Musikverein with a frothy program
of music by the Strausses (Johann, Johann Sr. and Edward), Tchaikovsky and
others. Julie Andrews will be the host. Information
(with the complete program listing):
www.pbs.org

 

PBSSoCal comes back on January 6 at 9 p.m. with a “Great
Performances” telecast of 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 Paris 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: www.pbs.org

  

Following the concert telecast, PBSSoCal will repeat an
interview between Tavis Smiley and Dudamel.

 

DUDAMEL ON VINYL?

Norman Lebrecht is reporting on his Blog, Slipped Disc, (LINK) that Gustavo
Dudamel’s next recording on the Deutsche Grammophon label will be a vinyl
pressing, scheduled for release in May, of the Venezuelan maestro conducting
the Vienna Philharmonic as it plays Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish. It should also be noted that
neither DGG nor Dudamel have officially commented on the subject (at least that
I can find).

 

In Lebrecht’s comment section, there are predictably joyous
reactions from those who love vinyl recordings as opposed to CDs, although as
some responders point out there are questions as to the recording format to be
used. I wonder (a) are there enough vinyl lovers in the world to make this
commercially viable or will be there also be CD and iTunes versions available;
(b) how many people can really tell the difference in recording formats; and
(c) if they can, will they be willing to invest in the high-quality equipment
necessary to make the difference audible? (My answers are “I doubt it,”
“relatively few,” and “I can’t afford it.”). Stay tuned … so to speak.

 

The thing that interested me about this recording is that
the Scottish Symphony will (if you
judge by the cover Lebrecht posted) be the only piece on the LP. When Dudamel
and the L.A. Phil played it last October, the symphony clocked in at about 40
minutes, which seems pretty short for a record.

 

ANNE MIDGETTE

Anne is the Washington
Post’s
classical music critic and her Blog, The Classical Beat, is one of my favorite reads. However, her last
Blog post was Nov. 1 and I wondered whether that newspaper had joined the list of publications to deep-six their classical
music reviews or whether she was ill. Neither, fortunately, is the case. She’s
on maternity leave and will be back on the “beat” in mid-January. Good for her
and for us, too.

 

WYNTON MARSALIS

This isn’t exactly news — CBS News released it on Dec. 15 —
but I’m not on its distribution list so I just caught up with it via a post on
Peter Dobrin’s Blog (LINK). Trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis has been
named Cultural Correspondent for CBS News, appearing on CBS This Morning and CBS
Sunday Morning.
His first CBS News gig will be on Monday, Jan. 16 (natch) —
the day that the nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. A link
to the media release is HERE.

_______________________

 

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

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