AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Pasadena Symphony resumes youth movement

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this story was printed today in the above newspapers.
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Pasadena Symphony; Andrew Grams, conductor, Simone Porter, violin
March 29 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Preview one hour before each performance.
Ambassador Auditorium; 131 South St. John Ave., Pasadena
Tickets: $35-$105.
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Simone_Porter_4_WebFor more than a quarter-century the Pasadena Symphony has distinguished itself by discovering young, talented soloists. Earlier this year 13-year-old pianist Umi Garrett soloed in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. For the PSO’s programs on March 29 at Ambassador Auditorium, a “grizzled veteran,” 17-year-old violinist Simone Porter (pictured right), will join the orchestra and guest conductor Andrew Grams for a performance of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. The concerts will open with William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra and will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Porter’s PSO appearance is one of several important local concerts for her this year. On April 27 she will play Beethoven’s Romances 1 & 2 with the Pacific Symphony, led by Carl St.Clair, at the SOKA Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. On Sept. 4 she will make her Hollywood Bowl debut as soloist in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot.

A native of Seattle, Porter studies with Robert Lipsett at The Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles. She is also part of Colburn Artists, a program created in 2012 by The Colburn School to provide professional management services to its most-accomplished students.

The PSO’s “youth movement” also includes its guest conductor. Grams, a 36-year-old Maryland native, last fall became music director of the Elgin Symphony just outside of Chicago, an ensemble that is similar in many respects to the Pasadena Symphony. In January he conducted the Baltimore Symphony in a concert that elicited from Tim Smith, music critic of The Baltimore Sun, the following: “The year is not even a week old, and there’s a contender for highlight of the 2014 music season in Baltimore.”

Meanwhile, two area choral groups resume their seasons this week.

• Jeffrey Bernstein leads the Pasadena Master Chorale in “The Voice of California” on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and next Sunday at 4 p.m. at Altadena Community Church. The program features music by Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen, along with premieres by Los Angeles-based composers Matt Brown and Reena Esmail. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

• Artistic Director John Sutton will lead his Angeles Chorale in “Romancing the Soul,” an evening of Brahms love songs on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena’s First United Methodist Church and March 30 at 4 p.m. at Northridge United Methodist Church. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

• This evening at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Grant Gershon leads 48 members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in music by famed Southern California composer Morten Lauridsen. The program will include Mid-Winter Songs, Ave Dulcissima Maria, Canticle/O Vos Omnes, O Magnum Mysterium, , Madrigali, Nocturnes and Les Chansons des Roses (Lauridsen will accompany the last two pieces on the piano). Ironically, the only major piece the Chorale won’t be singing is Lux Aeterna, which has become a choral landmark since it was premiered and recorded by the Master Chorale in 1997. Information: www.lamc.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: Free concerts abound

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

Several local organizations that sponsor admission-free concerts are unveiling their seasons during the next couple of weeks. Of course, few — if any — concerts are actually free; expenses are incurred, so whether it’s through a donation envelope, offering plate, sponsorship support or any combination of the three, all who can afford to do so are encouraged to contribute something — every little bit helps.

In chronological order, here is an admittedly incomplete list of some of the offerings :

• Rio Hondo Symphony; Kimo Furumoto, conducting
Today at 3 p.m. • Vic Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High School), Whittier
Information: www.riohondysymphony.org

Rio Hondo Symphony opens its 81st season of four free-admission concerts this afternoon with an all-Beethoven concert. Music Director Kimo Furumoto, beginning his fifth season, will conduct the Fidelio Overture, Symphony No. 5, and Piano Concerto No. 3, with Ben Hopkins as soloist. Hopkins, a 21-year-old Rochester, NY resident, was the piano winner of the orchestra’s Young Artists’ Competition last January.

• Rudy de Vos, organist
Friday at 7:30 p.m. • Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Pasadena
Information: www.ppcmusic.org

De Vos will open the church’s 2013-2014 Friends of Music season with a program of music by Marcel Languetuit, Charles Tournemire, Louis Vierne, Guy Bovet, César Franck, Maurice Ravel, Edwin Lemare, Joseph Bonnet and Maurice Duruflé.

A native of South Africa (and the son of a Dutch Reformed Pastor), de Vos has been organist and director of music at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland since 2009. A laureate of the prestigious St. Albans International Organ Competition, he has appeared with the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, Artium Symphony, Natal Symphony and the Eastman School Symphony.

In addition to the eight concerts (two choral, three organ, one chamber music, one with vocal soloists and one jazz), the church sponsors its “Music at Noon” series of free concerts every Wednesday from 12:10 to 12:40 p.m.

• Los Angeles Philharmonic and Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA)
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Sunday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall and Grand Park
Information: www.laphil.com

This free concert begins a season-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of Disney Hall (I’ll have more on this in my column next Sunday). Next Sunday’s concert will feature the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. For those not in the know, YOLA is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s project to bring music to under-served neighborhoods, similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Másrquez. Legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia ensemble will be the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St.

• American Youth Symphony • Alex Treger, conductor
Sunday, Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. • Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.aysymphony.org

Traditionally one of the finest ensembles of young orchestral musicians in the nation, the AYS opens its season at 5:30 p.m. by screening the San Francisco Symphony’s “Keeping Score” program on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, led by the SFS’s music director, Michael Tilson Thomas. Then at 7 p.m., Alex Treger leads his young charges in a performance of this famous and familiar work, along with the West Coast premiere of Timo Andres’ Bathtub Shrine and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Alan Steele as soloist.

• Mus/ique: Free for All; Rachael Worby, artistic director
Friday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. • Pasadena Civic Center plaza
Information: muse-ique.com

This free family-oriented program will mash up hip-hop and orchestra in a way that only Rachael Worby can conjure. The concert is being held in conjunction with Pasadena’s “ArtNight,” a citywide celebration of the arts.

• Pasadena Master Chorale; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Altadena Community Church, Altadena
Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

Normally the Pasadena Master Chorale charges for its concerts but the opening program on its fifth season features an interesting challenge. Patrons are invited to hear the all-Britten program and then ante up whatever they think the concert was worth.

The program — which commemorates the centennial of the English composer’s birth on Nov. 22, 1913 — will include Jubilate Deo, Festival Te Deum, Hymn to St. Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb. James Walker, organist/music director at All Saints Church, Pasadena, will accompany the concert on the church’s recently renovated 3-manual, 27-stop pipe organ, which was made by Casavant Brothers, Ltd. of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, one of the best-known organ builders in North America.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Choral music takes center stage

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.

The combination of Christian Holy Week and Jewish Passover usually brings a number of major choral concerts and this year is no different except for the fact that the Los Angeles Master Chorale (which would normally have a concert during this time frame) is in Europe touring John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

On the local front:

• Jeffrey Bernstein will lead his Pasadena Master Chorale in a performance Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil this afternoon at 4 p.m. at Altadena Community Church. Fortunately, the work does not last all night (the 15-movement work lasts just over an hour). The name comes from the Russian chants that occur during the all-night liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Information: 626-208-0009; www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

Pasadena Presbyterian Church’s 16th annual Good Friday concert focuses on music influenced by Gregorian chant: Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Four Motets on Gregorian Themes and Meditation for solo organ, along with Paul Creston’s Gregorian Chant for String Orchestra. Timothy Howard will conduct the Kirk Choir, community singers, soprano Judith Siirila, baritone Michal Dawson Connor, organist Meaghan King, and the Friends of Music Orchestra. The concert is free, take place Friday at 7:30 p.m. and I’m giving a preconcert lecture at 7 p.m. Information: 818/209-4635; www.ppcmusic.org

• The centerpiece of the 76th Whittier Bach Festival will take place on April 6 at 4 p.m. at Whittier College’s Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts when Chorale Bel Canto sings two Bach settings of the Song of Mary: Magnificat in D Major and Cantata BWV 10, Meine selle ehebt den Herrn. Stephen Gothold will conduct the Chorale and Corey Carleton, soprano; Laura Harrison, mezzo-soprano; Daniel Babcock, tenor; and Chung Uk Lee, bass. Information: 888-460-9222; www.choralebelcanto.org

• Stephen Grimm will conduct his Pasadena Pro Musica as it offers a concert of motets by Bach, Brahms, Heinrich Schütz and Henryk Gorecki on Easter Sunday at 4 p.m. at Pasadena Neighborhood Church. Information: 626/628-2144; www.pasadenapromusica.org
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Master, Los Angeles Daiku present Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 to kick off New Year

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Pasadena Master
Chorale, Los Angeles Daiku, L.A. Daiku Orchestra; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

Saturday, January 7, 2012 San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

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Viennese ring in the New Year with Strauss waltzes. Revelers
around the world sing Auld Lang Syne, but
in Japan they celebrate the turning of the calendar with a most un-Japanese
piece of music, as hundreds of organizations perform Beethoven’s Symphony No.
9.

 

Last night, Jeffrey Bernstein began what he hopes will be an
annual tradition by joining two groups for which he’s the artistic director,
Los Angeles Daiku and the Pasadena Master Chorale, in what turned out to be a
quite-credible performance of Beethoven’s final symphony at the San Gabriel
Mission Playhouse as the first week of the new year drew to a close.

 

Los Angeles Daiku (“The Japanese word ‘daiku’ is
translated literally as ‘the great nine’ and often refers to Beethoven’s 9th,”
says Bernstein) was formed in 2009 specifically to rehearse Beethoven’s 9th;
47 singers from that group were on stage last night along with 49 singers of
the PMC, 51 instrumentalists (most of whom are familiar as members of ensembles
such as the Pasadena Symphony and Los Angeles Opera Orchestra) and four
soloists.

 

Bernstein set brisk tempos throughout the performance and
did a nice job of drawing nuanced playing out of his orchestra. What the
performance lacked was Beethoven’s Olympian fury, most noticeably in the
opening of the final movement. However, Bernstein recovered nicely from a
ragged beginning of that movement to shape the main theme lovingly and finished
the chorale finale with a flourish.

 

The 96 singers sang with a nice blend and attention to
musical line, although they hampered by the Playhouse stage’s poor acoustics,
which made the singers sound far less powerful than they probably were.  Baritone Cedric Berry got the famed Ode to Joy choral section off to a
somewhat shaky start and tenor Arthur Rishi was nearly inaudible. Soprano
Krystle Casey and mezzo-soprano Jessica Marney filled out the quartet solidly.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Bernstein elected to begin the proceedings with a few
comments and then had an actor read Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament, which was written to his brothers in 1802
as the scope of Beethoven’s deafness was becoming apparent to the composer.
Unfortunately, Bernstein failed to explain why this letter was important to the
context of this particular performance.

The printed program contained the texts but the lights
were dimmed to the point where they were unreadable.

The booklet also contained no information about L.A. Daiku
and its purpose or the Pasadena Master Chorale, although there was a full-page
bio of the conductor, short bios of the soloists, and names of the choristers
and instrumentalists.

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

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

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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:

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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

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

 

 

SAME-DAY REVIEW: Pasadena Master Chorale’s 9/11 concert at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Pasadena Master
Chorale; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor

Sunday, September 11, 2011 La Crescenta Presbyterian
Church

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People looking for solace and hope in times of grief often
turn to music and Jeffrey Bernstein, artistic director of the Pasadena Master
Chorale capitalized on that longing on the 10th anniversary of the
9/11 terrorist attacks with a 70-minute concert this afternoon before a
nice-sized audience at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church.

 

The centerpiece of the afternoon was a performance of Faur’s
Requiem, which, as Bernstein noted in a brief talk, is one of the more
hope-filled pieces written in this genre based on the Roman Catholic funeral
liturgy.  However, Bernstein
negated much of the effect of the texts that Faur used by electing to not
provide either printed translations or projections of the Latin and Greek text.

 

Instead, Bernstein concentrated on the composer’s
often-graceful score and led a performance that was usually credible and
occasionally more than that, especially in the Sanctus and In Paradisum movements
where the sopranos sounded quite angelic in their floating lines. Bernstein
also built long arcs of sound in the broader sections, although moments of
intonation insecurity crept in occasionally.

 

The two soloists were exemplary. Soprano Krystle Casey poured
out a lusciously creamy tone in her thoughtful Pie Jesu, while baritone Cedric Berry delivered clear, clarion tone
in his solos during the Offertory and
Libera Me sections. Although the
balance of the program was a cappella, organist Edward Murray was a
disappointingly sloppy accompanist for the Requiem.

 

After opening the concert with the presentation of colors
and the Chorale singing Bernstein’s gentle arrangement of America the Beautiful, Bernstein led three pieces that, as he said,
covered different corners of the American spirit.

 

The simple setting of By
the Waters of Babylon
by Don McLean in his American Pie album was accompanied by 9/11 images assembled by
artist Alex Lopez. A muscular rendition of Virgil Thomson’s arrangement of My Shepherd Will Supply My Need was
notable especially for the Chorale’s diction. Unfortunately, the text was less
understandable in the performance of Ross Lee Finney’s canonic anthem Words to be Spoken. Following the
Requiem, Bernstein and the Chorale curiously elected to encore with Paul
Simon’s America. The performance was
affectionate but, once again, texts would have been helpful.

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Of 9/11 … and other things musical

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of
this column was published today in the above papers.

 

Normally this weekend is one of the two “transition zones”
in the classical-music year — in this case, from summer to fall-winter-spring.
However, this year also includes the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist
attacks and there are at least a couple of musical programs commemorating that
event that are worth noting.

 

Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein will lead his Pasadena
Master Chorale
next Sunday at 4 p.m. in La Crescenta Presbyterian Church with a
program highlighted by Faur’s Requiem. The afternoon will also contain three a
cappella works that accentuate the “remembrance” theme — a setting of Psalm
137, Virgil Thompson’s My Shepherd Will
Supply My Need,
and Ross Lee Finney’s Words
To Be Spoken
— along with Bernstein’s arrangement of America the Beautiful. Organist Edward Murray will accompany;
soloist will be soprano Krystle Casey and baritone Cedric Berry. Information:
626-208-0009; www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

 

The PMC will be doing double duty that day, shifting over
to the Pasadena Convention Center Plaza at 7 p.m. where it will join forces
with Muse-ique for a free hour-long concert of music ranging from Bach and
Tchaikovsky to Paul Simon and George Gershwin. Rachael Worby, Muse-ique’s
artistic director, will conduct. Information: 626/795-9311; www.muse-ique.com

 

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concert at
Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 13 has Bramwell Tovey leading the Phil, Los Angeles
Master Chorale and soloists in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem. This is one of four
programs during the next fortnight that will be led by Tovey, who spent the past
three seasons as the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor at the Bowl. Info: 323/850-2000;
www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

Los Angeles Opera opens its 2011-2012 season on Sept. 17
at 7:30 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the first of six
performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Onegin.
The following day at 2 p.m. comes Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, also the first of six performances. LAO Music
Director James Conlon will conduct both productions. Both opening performances
will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5-FM) and kusc.org. Information: (213)
972-8001; www.laopera.com

 

Speaking of L.A. Opera, both it and the Long Beach
Symphony
(LINK) have unveiled new Web sites. The LBSO opens its 2011-2012
season on Oct. 1 when Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke (beginning his
11th season at the orchestra’s helm) will lead a program of Wagner’s Prelude and Liebstod from Tristan und
Isolde,
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, and Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever as soloist. Info: www.lbso.org

 

The Rio Hondo Symphony will open its 78th season of free
concerts on Sept. 25 when Music Director Kimo Furumoto leads Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 3 (Eroica), Rossini’s William Tell overture and Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 1, with Alison Edwards as soloist. The other concerts are Oct. 30,
Feb. 5 and May 6. All concerts are at 3 p.m. in Whittier High School’s Vic
Lopez Auditorium. Information: 562/698-8626; www.riohondosymphony.org

 

E. Jason Armstrong has been named Artistic Director and
Conductor of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Armstrong most recently
completed his doctoral class work at the University of Southern California
Thornton School of Music, where he served as the conductor for the USC Thornton
Apollo Men’s Chorus and as assistant conductor for the USC Thornton Concert
Choir. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, Armstrong spent 15 years as
director of choral activities at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Florida.

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