AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Looking back on 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

With Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday church services
coming on the weekend this year, I’m going to post my “End of the Year Wrap-up”
column today so I don’t forget to do so. I hope all of you will find time to
attend a service, listen to the annual Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols
from King’s College Cambridge (locally on KUSC,
91-5 FM, at 7 a.m. Saturday), and have a blessed and joyous Christmas.

 

Looking back on the classical music year 2011 brought a
fascinating flood of remembrances. I discovered that (counting this column) I
have posted 236 times during the year on subjects as diverse as the genre. Some
of these posts also appeared in the above newspapers but — newsprint space
being what it is — obviously this Blog gives you much more. Following are some
of the significant occurrences of 2011, listed in sort-of-alphabetical order.

 

AMBASSADOR AUDITORIUM

The Pasadena hall with great acoustics will never approach
the number of events it hosted when it was built in 1974 but HRock Church
(which now owns the auditorium) has made it available to a number of performing
groups, including the Pasadena Symphony, Colburn Orchestra and, for one concert
a year, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

 

ANNIVERSARIES

Grant Gershon celebrated his 10th anniversary as
music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale last season. This fall Jeffrey
Kahane began his 15th season as music director of the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra. Both men — and both organizations — are among the reasons
why the Southern California music scene is so vibrant.

 

NIGEL ARMSTRONG and
NAREK HAKHNAZARAYAN

Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, a 22-year-old Armenian who in
January played the Dvorak Concerto with the Pasadena Symphony, won the gold
medal in the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition in June. Meanwhile,
Nigel Armstrong, a 21-year-old graduate of The Colburn School, won fourth place
in the violin portion of the competition. Earlier, Armstrong — who studied with
Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School — won an award for his performance of Stomp by American composer John
Corigliano.

 

BTW: Armstrong (who is now a grad student at The Curtis
Institute in Philadelphia) will return to Los Angeles to perform with the Los
Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Jan. 21 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and Jan. 22 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall (LINK).

 

AWARDS

Los Angeles Philharmonic Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka
Salonen won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. The work
was premiered in April 2009 with Salonen conducting the L.A. Phil and soloist
Leila Josefowicz (who grew up in Los Angeles and, like Nigel Armstrong, studied
with Ronald Lipsett at The Colburn School).

 

The award also spotlighted the Phil as America’s premiere
orchestra for commissioning and performing new music, another legacy of
Salonen’s 18-year-tenure as LAPO music director. The Phil is the only orchestra
to have commissioned and premiered two Grawemeyer Award compositions (Peter
Lieberson’s Neruda Songs in
2005 was the other) and Salonen is the only conductor to have led the first
performances of two winning scores (Neruda
Songs
and his own concerto).

 

Martin Haselbck, music director of Musica Angelica — the top-notch
Los Angeles-based period instrument ensemble — won a Grand Prix International
du Disque award for a recording he made with his other ensemble, the Vienna
Academy Orchestra, entitled The Sound of
Weimar: Franz Liszt; The Complete Works for Orchestra, Vol. 1.

 

CLASHING PROGRAMS

Each
year often brings one or two pieces that seemingly everyone wants to present,
and this year was no exception. There were four performances of Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No. 5 within a 16-day span in October (and two more to come next
month). Fortunately, several of the performances (Gustavo Dudamel with the L.A.
Phil, Yuja Wang) rose to exalted levels. Runner-up in this category was to
multiple performances of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (at least four in
four months) and an unusually large number of performances of Handel’s
Messiah in December.

 

DEATHS

Although the death of Steve Jobs on Oct. 5 dominated the
year’s obituaries, bringing to an untimely end the career of a man whose
inventions such as iTunes and iPod revolutionized the music industry, there
were other notable passings in our field, as well, including:

Daniel Catn died unexpectedly on April 8 at the age of
62. Although he composed many works, Catn was riding high after his opera Il Postino (The Postman) received its
world premiere in September 2010 by Los Angeles Opera.

Peter Lieberson (April 23), whose compositions included Neruda Songs, which (as noted above) was
premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005. The
soloist for whom the Grawemeyer Award-winning piece was written was Lorraine
Hunt Lieberson, the composer’s wife, who died the following year.

Sidney Harth (Feb. 16) was concertmaster of the Los
Angeles Philharmonic during the Carlo Maria Giulini era in the 1980s. He later
became a conductor, most notably with the Jerusalem Symphony.

Kurt Sanderling (Sept. 17) was a beloved guest conductor
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the 1980s and 1990s.

 

One other note: Salonen and Pierre Boulez returned to Los
Angeles on March 29 for a poignant tribute concert to the life and legacy of
Ernest Flesichmann, the orchestra’s longtime managing director who died in June
2010. It was a concert that Fleischmann would have loved, both for its
innovative programming and the quality of the performances.

 

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL

Now that the hoopla surrounding the now-30-year-old
Venezuelan’s debut as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director has subsided
somewhat, we’re watching this remarkable conducting talent mature as each year
passes. Although the Phil’s “Brahms Unbound” cycle devolved to “Brahms Unbound”
as illness, death and tardiness conspired to eliminate most of the new
compositions originally scheduled for the five-week-long “festival,” Dudamel
and the Phil delivered some superb performances of Brahms and newer works, as
well. Next month comes an even bigger challenge: The Mahler Project (more on
that next week and in January).

 

LOS ANGELES OPERA

Two years after presenting Wagner’s Ring cycle, LA Opera has put together a string of very successful
productions, including Verdi’s Rigoletto,
Rossini’s The Turk in Italy and
Britten’s The Turn of the Screw
earlier this year and then Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Onegin.
Gounod’s Romo et Juliette and,
in particular, Mozart’s Cos Fan Tutte
to open the current season.

 

Although it occurred in 2010, the world premiere of Daniel
Catn’s Il Postino (The Postman) continued
to resonate this year, in part because of the untimely death of the composer
and also because PBS’s “Great Performances” series telecast the world-premiere
production earlier this month.

 

LA PHIL LIVE

The jury is still out as to whether live telecasts of
orchestra concerts will attain the same level of popularity as the Metropolitan
Opera’s HD telecasts, but Dudamel and the Phil offered persuasively for the new
format in four concerts during 2011. The interviews and rehearsal footage are
worth the price of admission.

 

The one telecast that really stood out for me was the
concert that melded readings from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Tempest and Romeo
and Juliet
with music that Tchaikovsky wrote inspired by each play. The
actors performing the sketches were much easier to follow on the telecast as
opposed to being in Disney Hall. For the first concert of the current season,
Dudamel did a surprisingly good job acting as both host and conductor. The next
telecast is Feb. 18, a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 live from
Caracas, Venezuela.

 

MUSE-IQUE

A year after stepping down as music director of the Pasadena
Pops Orchestra, Rachael Worby returned with her life-long dream of a group that
would provide innovative and flexible programs. The opening event was an
orchestra concert on the lawn adjacent to Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium that
featured soprano Jessye Norman as the soloist. Both the locale and the program
proved to be quite special. Two small-ensemble programs followed in the fall.
Stay tuned in 2012.

 

THE OUTDOOR CONCERT
VENUE BATTLE

Springtime erupted when the Los Angeles County Arboretum
announced that it had selected the Pasadena Pops to replace the California
Philharmonic at the Arcadia venue beginning summer 2012. After much angst and
anger, the Cal Phil then decided to move slightly east to a venue that might –
if early projections actually come to pass — prove to be a more congenial home:
Santa Anita Racetrack.

 

Hollywood Bowl provided its usual solid set of programs, a
handful of which were noteworthy. Gustavo Dudamel concerted three concerts to
open the Bowl’s classical season, notable perhaps for the fact that less people
showed up than appeared the previous year. The Internet hoopla over Yuja Wang’s
“little orange dress” overshadowed her breathtaking performance of
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3; when she appeared at Disney Hall this
fall, she was dressed less flamboyantly and everyone could focus on her
extraordinary talent as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. As one
person summed up at the Disney Hall concert I attended, “She’s more than a
dress.”

 

PASADENA SYMPHONY AND
POPS

Now into its second season without a music director and,
seemingly, satisfied with that situation, the PSO welcomed a series of lively,
young guest conductors — including Tito Muoz, George Stelluto and Mei-Ann Chen
– to its new home, Ambassador Auditorium. Stelluto and the PSO also unveiled
one of the genuine “finds” of the season: a Kanun concerto by Khachatur
Avetisyan, played with sparkle and grace by Karine Hovhannisyan.

 

Meanwhile, as the Pops prepared to move to the Arboretum
this fall (see above), it welcomed a new principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch,
who proved to be a master at the pops-concert genre.

 

VALLEY PERFORMING
ARTS CENTER

At long last, the San Fernando Valley has a major performing
arts center located on the campus of Cal State Northridge. The hall is visually
attractive and acoustically solid, as was demonstrated by the appearance of
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia.
Now comes the hard part: finding and successfully marketing high-quality
performances.

 

Several other cities also opened new halls, including the
Soka University in Aliso Viejo, the New World Center in Miami Beach (complete
with a stunning outdoor video wall), and Maison
Symphonique de Montreal
in that Canadian city.

 

Next week: looking ahead at 2012.

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on December 8, 2011

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). This weekend offers a plethora of opportunities, so
there’s more than five listed.

______________________

 

Tonight and
tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Thomas Wilkins, conductor

The Getty Museum has spearheaded a major collection of
events under the umbrella of “Pacific Standard Time” and these concerts are the L.A. Phil’s contribution. Wilkins, who
is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, leads a program of
music ranging from Eric Wolfgang Korngold to John Williams. Zull Bailey will be
the soloist in Korngold’s Cello Concerto (which was featured in the Bette Davis
film, Deception). This is a rare
opportunity to hear movie music played in the wonderful Disney Hall acoustics. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Pasadena Playhouse

Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Opera Posse picks up from the now-shuttered Intimate Opera
Pasadena in presenting this familiar one-act opera, written by Gian Carlo
Menotti in 1951 for NBC television. Last year’s presentation was one of the
season’s highlights and this year’s production features most of the artists who
brought it to life, including Director Stephanie Vlahos and set designer John
Iacovelli. The cast includes noted mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmn as the mother
and Caleb Glickman in the title role. As was the case last year, actor Malcolm
McDowell will intro the opera by reading Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Michelle J. Mills’ article in last
week’s Star-News is HERE. Concert Info: www.operaposse.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Alex Theater (Glendale); Sunday at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

Kahane returns to the LACO podium to lead a program that
includes music by Ravel, Respighi and Thomas Ades. Cellist Ralph Kirshbaum will
be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations
on a Rococo Theme.
This is the first of two major appearances by Kirshbaum
this season; he will also be on a Los Angeles Philharmonic program March 15
playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto as part of the Piatagorsky International
Cello Festival (LINK). LACO info: www.laco.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Boston Symphony
Orchestra; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

The famed BSO makes its first Los Angeles appearance in 20
years bringing a program of music by John Harbison, Ravel and Brahms. Gil
Shaham will be the soloist in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. It’s also a chance to
take the measure of Morlot, who took over the season as music director of the
Seattle Symphony from retiring Gerard Schwarz and may be a candidate to succeed
James Levine as the BSO’s music director. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Handel’s Messiah

There are several opportunities this season to partake of
this ultra-familiar but still beloved oratorio that tells the story of the life
of Jesus Christ. A (not complete) list includes:

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena

Angeles Chorale and Da Capo Players Chamber Orchestra,
conducted by Donald Neuen. Info: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Sunday at 3 p.m. at
Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale; Christian Knapp,
conducting. Info: www.pacificsymphony.org

 

Monday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master Chorale “Messiah Sing-Along.” If you’ve never done one of these, it’s a
fantastic way to experience this famous work. The audience joins with the
Master Chorale in the choruses — or you can just listen and be surrounded by
sound. Bring your own score or buy one for $10. Info: www.lamc.org

 

Tuesday and
Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Philharmonia Baroque and Philharmonia Chorale; Nicholas
McGegan, conductor. Info: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

66th
annual Candlelight and Carols Concert

All of the church’s choirs participate in this annual event,
which also features plenty of audience caroling. The featured work on the
program is Veni Emmanuel by local
composer Elizabeth Ann Sellers, with the Kirk Choir and Friends of Music
Orchestra conducted by Timothy Howard. (Full disclosure: I sing in two of the
choirs participating.) Information: www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Orchestras in the holiday season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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

______________________

 

Because the holiday season is dominated by choral music,
orchestras have, in the past, tended to shy away from programs in December
unless they were holiday-theme oriented (e.g., Handel’s Messiah). This year, things are different.

 

Esa-Pekka Salonen, who music director of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic for 17 years, is in town for two weeks of concerts with his old
band (his L.A. Phil title is now Conductor Laureate). Today he’s leading
Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 2, with an old
friend, Emmanuel Ax, soloing in the concerto (which, despite its number, was
actually the first piano concerto that Beethoven wrote).

 

The second half of the program is Sirens by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. Soprano Hila Plitmann
and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter join the orchestra and Los Angeles
Master Chorale in the work, which is based on The Siren Song from Homer’s The
Odyssey
and is receiving its world premiere this weekend. (Read my review
of Friday’s performance HERE.)

 

Salonen is leading another world premiere Friday, Saturday
and next Sunday: the Prologue to Shostakovich’s Orango, an unfinished satirical opera that the composer sketched in
1932 while he was writing his opera Lady
Macbeth of the Mtsensk District
. Only the 40-minute Prologue was
completed in piano vocal score, which was discovered in 2006. The Phil, a large
group of soloists, and the Master Chorale will present the work, orchestrated
by English composer Gerard McBurney and staged by Peter Sellars. The program
concludes with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4.  I have more on this concert at the bottom of the review
posted above and I’ll add more details on my “Five-Spot” post on Thursday.

 

On Dec. 8, 9 and 10, Thomas Wilkins — principal conductor of
the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra — leads the Phil in a program of movie music as
the orchestra’s contribution to the “Pacific Standard Time” series under the
auspices of the Getty Museum. Information: www.laphil.com

 

Elsewhere on the orchestral front:

The Pasadena
Symphony
will get into the holiday spirit with a candlelight program
Saturday at 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper, artistic
director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony, will conduct the PSO,
vocalist Lisa Vroman, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Donald Brinegar
Singers and L.A. Bronze (a handbell ensemble) in an eclectic program of holiday
music. Information:
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

The Colburn
Orchestra
continues its season next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Ambassador
Auditorium as guest conductor Gerard Schwarz leads the ensemble in Mahler’s
Symphony No. 5 and Takemitsu’s From Me
Flows What You Call Time,
with a local percussion ensemble, Smoke and
Mirrors, as soloists in the Takemitsu piece. For Schwarz, it’s something of a
homecoming. Prior to becoming music director of the Seattle Symphony, Schwarz
held a similar position with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which used to
perform in Ambassador. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

 

Music Director Jeffrey Kahane will lead his Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Dec.
10 at the Alex Theater in Glendale and 11 at Royce Hall, UCLA. Cellist Ralph
Kirshbaum will be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra. The program
also includes music by Ravel, Respighi and Thomas Ads. Information: www.laco.org

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and soprano Karina Gauvin at Alex Theater

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor; Karina Gauvin, soprano

Dvorak: Nocture in B
Major;
Britten: Les Illuminations,
Now sleeps the crimson petal

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)

Saturday, October 15, 2011 at Alex Theater

Next concert: Tonight at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA

Information: www.laco.org

______________________

 

Last night’s concert by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
was not only illuminating and well played, it also proved to be a
quintessential example of the rich diversity of orchestral music that regularly
pops up in Southern California.

 

Friday night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic — with 90 or so
musicians on stage — began with the swirling mists of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2 and ended
with the smashing chords of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Last night, LACO –
with two-dozen string players on the Alex Theater stage — began with a single
cello line (played elegantly by Andrew Shulman), the opening notes of Dvorak’s Nocture in B Major. We knew immediately
that we weren’t in Russia anymore (or in Walt Disney Concert Hall, either).

 

Such diversity is, of course, one of the great strengths of
LACO, which for 43 years — and particularly in the last 15 with Jeffrey Kahane
as music director — has carved out a distinct niche in the local (and national)
landscape with innovative programs beautifully played. Last night was a prime
example of both qualities.

 

After Dvorak’s meanderings set a quiet, shimmering prologue,
French-Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin came onstage as the ravishing soloist in
Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations. This
work, which LACO was playing for the fifth time, is the English composer’s 1939
setting of nine of 42 poems written by French poet Arthur Rambaud who Kahane,
in his preconcert lecture, called the “Father of Modernism” (as Christine Lee
Gengaro noted in her program-book essay, Rimbaud influenced such disparate 20th
century artists as Pablo Picasso, Allen Ginsburg, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan and
Jim Morrison).

 

Gauvin, a tall, statuesque blond, sang the poems with a rich
middle register and gleaming top. She also invested the set with great emotion,
especially in Royaut and Parade. The final poem, Dpart, which comes immediately after Parade, was hauntingly beautiful as
Gauvin intoned the lines “Seen enough … Had enough … Known enough … Leaving for
new affection and noise” with poignant reflection.

 

After Les
Illuminations,
Gauvin returned for what amounted to a planned encore:
Britten’s setting of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Now sleeps the crimson petal. Gauvin (who had sung Les Illuminations from memory but used a
score for the Tennyson poem) was equally impressive in this five-minute work,
which was being performed by LACO for the first time. In both pieces, Kahane
and the strings offered delicate, evocative accompaniment for Gauvin, aided in Now sleeps the crimson petal by David
Everson on French horn (Britten originally wrote the piece to be part of his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings but
it was ultimately not included in that work).

 

After intermission, Kahane and Co. turned to Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). This was
part of Kahane’s inaugural concert as LACO in music director in 1997 as the
curly haired conductor was determined to send LACO beyond the “traditional”
chamber orchestra repertoire of baroque and early classical period music.
Actually, as Kahane noted in his preconcert lecture, the 39 musicians on stage
last night represented about the size of orchestra that Beethoven would have
used in the first performances of this landmark symphony, which was completed
in 1804.

 

Although the smaller-sized ensemble means a reduction in the
kind of weight and heft we normally associate with contemporary performances of
the Eroica, the ultra-brisk tempos
that Kahane prefers for his Beethoven performances sound better with reduced
forces anyway. The first movement emphasized the brio in the Allegro con brio tempo
marking and the third movement was ultra-vivace.
Even the second movement was more of a brisk jog rather than a funeral march. In the final movement,
things broadened out just a touch and the entire performance finished with a fine
sense of majesty. The orchestra seemed to take all of this calmly in stride,
bringing a sense of crisp lan to the entire performance, which elicited a
thunderous ovation from the audience.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Classical music schedule — overload or overjoy?

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of this
article will be published tomorrow in the above papers.

______________________

 

In every classical-music season there are one or two weeks
where the operating word is “overload.” The upcoming fortnight counts as one of
those blocks, especially as it comes on the heels of an extremely busy weekend.
Chronologically, here are some of the major upcoming events (check my Blog for
additions, updates, more details and reviews):

 

Tonight (Saturday)
at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theater, Glendale; tomorrow (Sunday) at 7 p.m. at Royce
Hall, UCLA

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra

Music Director Jeffrey Kahane leads his ensemble in
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica).
Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin will be the soloist in Britten’s Les illuminations and Now sleeps the crimson petal. Info: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

 

Tomorrow (Sunday)
at 7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

Los Angeles Master
Chorale

Music Director Grant Gershon leads the Chorale in the
opening concert of its 48th season with the U.S. premiere of Music for a big church; for tranquility
by Swedish composer Thomas Jennefelt and Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, one of the most popular
compositions of the last quarter century. Paul Meier accompanies on the Disney
Hall organ. Info: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org

 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Valley Performing Arts Center, Northridge

Mariinsky Theater
Orchestra

Valery Gergiev leads this famed Russian orchestra (formerly
known as the Kirov) in a program of Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Alexander
Toradze will be the soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Info: 818) 677-3000; www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

 

Thursday and Friday
at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic

Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conducts music by John Adams
and Prokofiev. Johannes Moser will be the soloist in the world premiere of Magnetar, concerto for electric cello by
Mexican composer/guitarist Enrico Chapela. “What,” you ask, “is an electric
cello?” Read all about it and the piece in the words of the composer HERE. Info: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Cappella Gloriana

This San Diego professional chorale opens the church’s Friends of Music series of nine free
concerts performing music by its founder and director, Stephen Sturk, with
organist Martin Green and the San Diego Harmony Ringers Handbell Choir. Info: 626/793-2191; www.ppc.net

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn Orchestra

Music Director Yehuda Gilad leads his excellent ensemble in
Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 and Shostakovich’s Festive
Overture
and Cello Concerto No. 1. Colburn student Estelle Choi will be the
soloist in the concerto. The concert is free but tickets must be downloaded
through the school’s Web site. Info: www.colburnschool.edu

 

October 23 at 6
p.m. at Royce Hall (UCLA)

American Youth
Symphony

Music Director Alexander Treger leads another of the
region’s top-notch training orchestras in Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No. 5. Rod Gilfry will be the soloist in selections from CarouselWest Side StorySweeney Todd and The Most Happy Fella. The concert is free (although a
$10 donation is suggested); make reservations through the orchestra’s Web site.
Info: aysmphony.org

 

October 28 and 29
at 8:30 p.m. and 30 at 7 p.m. at REDCAT (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

Southwest Chamber
Music

The Golden Quartet helps SWCM open its 25th season
with Wadada Lee Smith’s Ten Freedom
Summers,
which takes three evenings to perform and is inspired by the
1954-64 years of the Civil Rights Movement. Get details on the composition HERE.
Concert and ticket info: www.swmusic.org

 

Oct. 29 at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena

Pasadena Symphony

Rising conducting star Mei-Ann Chen leads the PSO in its
opening concerts with a program that concludes with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.
5. James Ehnes will be the soloist in Korngold’s Violin Concerto. My profile of
Chen is HERE. Info: 626/793-7172;
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

Oct. 29 at 4 p.m.
at Downey Civic Theatre

Chorale Bel Canto and
Opera a la Carte

The Whittier-based chorus opens its 30th season
by joining with Opera a la Carte in an unusual program (for CBC, that is):
Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of
Penzance
. Richard Sheldon, who founded Opera a la Carte in 1970, stars as
the Modern Major General. Info:
562/861-8211; www.choralebelcanto.org

_____________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on October 13, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

With the classical music season back in full swing, it’s
time to revive my “Five Spot” column. Each Thursday morning, I list five events
that peak my interest, Usually there’s at least one with free admission (or, at
a minimum, inexpensive tickets) but this week’s listing omits the free event
because (a) nothing in that category jumped out at me today and (b) of the
large number of important ticketed concerts. I’ll have a couple of
free-admission events next week.

 

Here is today’s grouping:

______________________

 

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

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Dudamel and and Bronfman

Life comes full circle, in a sense, for Gustavo Dudamel, who
made his American debut in 2005 conducting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 at
Hollywood Bowl. That famous work concludes this weekend’s Phil concerts and is
one of several performances of this work being done locally within the next
fortnight (LINK).

 

Tonight, Saturday and Sunday, the program opens with
<EM>Orion </EM> by French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier and
includes Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2. The program was supposed to feature
Yefim Bronfman soloing in Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3 but he withdrew after
breaking a finger (presumably not when practicing the concerto, although it
would not be surprising if that were the case, since this a concerto often
described as “finger-busting”).

The choice of the Ravel is interesting; perhaps Gustavo will
explain it tomorrow, which is one of the highly popular “Casual Friday”
programs, The Orion gets deep-sixed in favor of a preconcert talk, usually by
an orchestra member, and an after-concert Q&A session that normally
features Dudamel and the preconcert lecture host, in this case, violinist Eric
Bromberger. Info: www.laphil.com

 

Tonight and Monday
night at 8 p.m. at Rene and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

Mariinsky Theatre
Orchestra; Valery Gergiev, conductor

As part of a cross-country tour, one of Russia’s finest
ensembles (which used to be called the Kirov) makes appearances with two
different all-Tchaikovsky programs in Costa Mesa under the auspices of the
Orange County Philharmonic Society. Tonight is Symphonies Nos. 2 (Little Russian) and 5. Monday night
brings the third and fourth symphonies. Performances conducted by Gergiev can
be “wild and wooly” on occasion but they’re also full of electricity. See also
my Tuesday listing below for another Mariinsky concert. Information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Alex Theater, Glendale; Sunday at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

Kahane leads his band in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). This was one of the first
symphonies Kahane conducted with LACO which demonstrated that a chamber
orchestra could think outside the box (i.e., beyond music from the baroque and
early classical eras) when it comes to programming. The evening opens with
Dvorak’s Nocture in B Major, Op. 40
and includes Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin singing Britten’s Les Illuminations and Now sleeps the crimson petal. Info: www.laco.org

 

Sunday at 7 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master
Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor

In the opening concert of the Chorale’s 48th season, Gershon
leads 115 singers and organist Paul Meier in a program that includes the U.S.
premiere of Music for a big church; for
tranquility
by Swedish composer Thomas Jennefelt; Heavenly Home, a “bluegrass triptych” by Chorale member Shawn
Kirchner; and one of the landmark choral works of the last quarter century,
Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. Info: www.lamc.org

 

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Valley Performing Arts Center, Northridge

Mariinsky Theatre
Orchestra; Valery Gergiev, conductor

Gergiev and his busy band journey to Cal State Northridge
where the new VPAC will get its biggest acoustic test to date from the Russian
musicians in a program that includes Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite; Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1; and Prokofiev’s
Piano Concerto No. 3, with Alexander Toradze as soloist. Info: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

_______________________

 

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

 

 

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Music Director Jeffrey Kahane open new season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor; Wiek Hijmans, electric guitar

Mozart: Magic Flute
Overture; Osvaldo Golijov: Sidereus; Derek
Bermel: Ritornello (for electric
guitar and orchestra); Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 Royce Hall (UCLA)

Next concerts: Oct. 15 (Alex Theater, Glendale) and 16
(Royce Hall)

Information: www.laco.org

______________________

 

55422-Kahane.jpg

It seems like it was only yesterday when a young, curly
haired pianist/conductor became the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s fifth music
director, but Jeffrey Kahane (pictured right) — with a little less of the curly
hair and a lot more experience — began his 15th season as LACO
leader with concerts this weekend at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and UCLA’s Royce
Hall. Before Sunday’s performance, Principal Oboist Alan Vogel, speaking on
behalf of the orchestra, praised Kahane’s musical and personal qualities and
said, “This is the ‘Golden Age’ of LACO.”

 

The qualities that make d LACO one of the nation’s finest chamber
ensembles and Kahane’s penchant for building eclectic programs were both on
display Sunday night. He led a superbly played evening bookended by two of
classical music’s benchmarks that surrounded the west coast premiere of two
contemporary pieces. All four works were gems, played splendidly.

 

The program began with not one but two overtures: a
crackling, sparkling, precise reading of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, followed by
Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Sidereus.

 

The latter was a complicated commission for Golijov because
it came from 35 orchestras of different sizes who asked for an overture-like
piece to honor Henry Fogel, former president and CEO of the League of American
Orchestras. The title refers to a 1610 treatise, Sidereus Nuncis, by the astronomer Galileo and records his early
observations of Jupiter, our moon and stars through his telescope.

 

According to Christine Lee Gengaro’s program note, Golijov
said the opening should be “ominous, massive, suspended in time and space.”
That’s exactly how it sounded, in part because Kahane emphasized the deep
sonorities by seating the trombones and tuba stage right, just behind the
violins and close to the front of the stage. It was an unusual seating plan but
one cannily gauged for this piece, which turned out to be engrossing in both
its construction and sonic effects; one could easily imagine this overture
being used in some future deep-space-themed movie.

 

The other premiere was Ritornello
(for electric guitar and orchestra) by Derek Bermel, who is completing his
three-year stint as LACO’s composer-in-residence. Wieck Hijmans journeyed from
the Netherlands to play the work, the eighth time in five months that he’s
played the 14-minute piece. It begins with a catchy little cadenza that sounds
as if Andres Segovia had been exhumed to play an amplified guitar. That’s the
first of three cadenzas — the final one allows Hijmans to exercise his heavy
metal, rock and roll proclivities to interesting, albeit somewhat weird effect –
and the work ends as quietly as it began with the same catchy tune that harkens
back to the Baroque era. Hijmans was scintillating as the soloist; Kahane and
the orchestra accompanied skillfully.

 

After intermission, Kahane was the soloist and conducted
from the keyboard in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, a work that he has
played often with LACO — the first time was in 1989, eight years before he
became the orchestra’s music director. 
Since then he has played and conducted the piece three times and led
Andr Watts in another performance.

 

As far as I’m concerned, Kahane — who celebrated his 55th
birthday two weeks ago — can play and conduct this work as often as he wants if
he and LACO can match last night’s scintillating performance. Kahane’s
crystalline tone focused on clarity and he maked the piano an integral part of
the ensemble, which responded last night with perfectly couched chemistry (so
together are Kahane and his colleagues that he appeared not to be conducting at
all at the beginning of the second movement, sitting motionless as if in
meditation). The cadenzas (written by Beethoven) and the ultra-fast third
movement gave Kahane plenty of chances to demonstrate his virtuosity but what
impressed me the most was the entire sense of a community making music.

 

As if to emphasize that collegial spirit, Kahane encored not
with a solo piece but with the Adagio
Assai
movement of Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto; he and his colleagues
gave it a sensitive, elegant reading. As Alan Vogel said at the concert’s
beginning, this is, indeed, a golden age for LACO.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

One of the pleasures of attending a concert are the
erudite program notes and the material contained in the printed booklet, which
includes the orchestration, estimated duration and LACO’s performance history
with each of the pieces. Other ensembles would do well to emulate what I could
consider to be an important part of attending a concert.

Although I wasn’t able to attend because I was traveling
from the Rio Hondo Symphony concert (LINK) to Royce Hall, another plus to LACO
concerts Beethoven — in this case, the Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) – is also on the agenda for the Oct. 15 and 16 concerts.
This was one of the symphonies with which Kahane sought to broaden the
audience’s understanding of what a “chamber orchestra” could play (i.e., not
just small, Baroque works). The program also includes Canadian soprano Karina
Gauvin as soloist Britten’s Les
Illuminations,
Op. 18, and Now sleeps
the crimson petal.

 

_______________________

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

PREVIEW: Electric guitar (yes, you read that right) to be featured at Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra opening concerts

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor, Wiek Hijmans, electric guitar

Mozart: Magic Flute Overture;
Osvaldo Golijov: Sidereus (West Coast
premiere); Derek Bermel: Ritornello for electric guitar and orchestra (West
Coast premiere); Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major

Saturday, September 24, 8 p.m. Alex Theatre, Glendale

Sunday, September 25, 7 p.m. Royce Hall, UCLA

Preconcert lectures one hour before each program.

Information: www.laco.org

 

55303-Wiejmans-ocean.jpg

Electric Guitarist
Wiek Hijmans will be the soloist in this weekend’s season-opening concerts by
the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (details above). Photo credit: Tom Weerheijm

________________________

 

Beethoven and The Beatles? Well, The Fab Four won’t be appearing at this weekend’s Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra concerts — the opening programs in the ensemble’s 43rd
season — but one of the featured works on the program will certain channel the
boys from Liverpool … and the concert will conclude with one of Beethoven’s most
sublime piano concertos.

 

Jeffrey Kahane will begin his 15th season as
LACO’s music director with an eclectic program that seems wildly exotic but, in
fact, is tightly knit by tradition. Kahane will open and close with two
cornerstones of classical music: Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, in
which Kahane will both be soloist and conduct from the keyboard.

 

In between will come two West Coast premieres: Sidereus, an overture-like work by
Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov that was premiered a year ago by the Memphis
Symphony, and — most intriguingly — Ritornello
for Electric Guitar and Orchestra
by LACO Composer-in-Residence Derek Bermel.
Dutch musician Wiek Hijmans, for whom the latter piece was written, will be the
soloist.

 

Don’t be put off by the solo instrument, says Hijmans. “Ritornello [Encyclopedia Britannica calls
the title 'a recurrent musical section that alternates with different episodes
of contrasting material'] is written in a very classical form,” he explains, “with
very beautiful and even catchy material. Audiences come away whistling the
tunes.”

 

For both the composer and soloist, electric guitars were
seminal influences in their musical upbringing. “As a teenager,” writes Bermel (who,
like Hijmans, was born in 1967), “I was an avid fan of the prog-rock band “King
Crimson” in its second incarnation, which featured the great electric guitar
duo Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew. When I set out to write this concerto, their
mesmerizing contrapuntal textures came to mind. As the piece evolved, the
material seemed connected to the Baroque concerto
grosso,
both in style and form exemplified by composers
such as Corelli and
Vivaldi.”

 

As with many concerto
grosso
works, Bimel has left spaces in the 14-minute piece for
improvisation. “Knowing
that Wiek Hijmans is a
formidable improviser,” says Bimel, “I left room
for him to explore further musical possibilities, separating the ritornello sections with ‘French
Overture’ interludes (exemplified by composers such as Lully), the second one
overlaid with a thrash-metal (Metallica, Slayer, et al.) solo that likewise
evokes the Baroque aesthetic in its mannered, epic style.”

 

If
that all sounds a bit formidable, relax, says Hijmans. “The cadenzas are a very
old form, and they give me the chance for me to meld classical and electric
guitar sounds,” he explains. “Moreover, each time I play the piece it’s a
different experience. I develop the cadenza in concert, as it were, feeding off
of each audience and each hall; I can’t tell you now exactly what it will sound
like. Things like the size of the hall and the reaction of the audience make a
difference.”

 

Hijmans has been able to grow into the work, which was
premiered May 21 by David Allen Miller and the Albany [NY} uSymphony Orchestra.
A month later came the European premiere with the Netherlands Jeugdorkest
(Youth String Orchestra) in Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw concert hall. “I’ve
played the piece five times with the Netherlands YSO,” says Hijmans. “It’s
quite exceptional that a new piece for orchestra has been played eight times in
five months.”

 

The 44-year-old Hijmans has been working to this moment for
most of his life. His parents were trained in classical music. “However,” he
says with a chuckle, “I grew up listening to The Beatles (which my sister
introduced into our house). I was totally psyched by their music and from a
very early age, I felt the urge to merge Western classical music sounds with
rock music.”

 

Although Hijmans lived in what he termed “quite a boring
town in southwest Holland,” he did attend new music festivals that featured
composers such as Morton Feldman and John Cage. Hijmans played percussion in
the school orchestra and electric guitar and experimented with the improvisational
sounds and styles of jazz

 

He eventually went on to the Sweelinck Conservatory of
Amsterdam because, as he wryly notes, “there was no rock academy where I could
study.” He studied genres such as Palestrina counterpoint along with classical
guitar, where a progressive teacher allowed him to use his electric guitar
during lessons. During that time, he and several students formed improvisatory
ensembles that performed music ranging from Stockhausen to rock.

 

Hijmans eventually won a Fullbright Scholarship to study
with David Starbio at the Manhattan School of Music. One of the members of the
Fullbright jury was Bermel and the two struck up a friendship that is reflected
in this new concerto.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Five orchestra to open 2011-2012 seasons … and more

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.

 

Five of the Southland’s top orchestras — including the Los
Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra — open their 2011-2012
seasons within the next fortnight. In chronological order:

 

The Pacific Symphony
begins its 33rd season Thursday through Sunday at Segerstrom Concert
Hall in Costa Mesa. Carl St.Clair begins his 21st season as the
orchestra’s music program with a program of music by Berlioz, Respighi and
James Newton Howard. Sarah Chang will be the soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin
Concerto. Information: 714/755-5799; www.pacificsymphony.org

 

* The Colburn
Orchestra,
flagship ensemble of one of the nation’s premiere music schools,
will play all five of its free concerts this season at Ambassador Auditorium in
Pasadena. Music Director Yehuda Gilad leads the opening program Saturday night
with music by Berlioz, Mussorgsky/Ravel (Pictures
at an Exhibition)
and Dvorak. Colburn School student Francesca dePasquale
will be the soloist in Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. More on this in Thursday’s “Pasadena
Scene” magazine and on my Blog. Information: 213/621-1050;
www.colburnschool.edu

* The L.A. Chamber
Orchestra’s
43rd season begins Saturday night in Glendale’s Alex
Theater and Sunday evening at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Jeffrey Kahane, celebrating
his 15th anniversary as LACO’s music director, opens with a
typically eclectic program that concludes with Kahane playing and conducting
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. There will also be two West Coast premieres,
including Wiek Hijmans as soloist in Ritornello
for electric guitar and orchestra
(yes, you read that correctly) by Derek
Bermel, who is LACO’s composer-in-residence. More on this in my Blog Tuesday.
Information: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

 

* Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to Walt Disney
Concert Hall as the L.A. Philharmonic
opens its 93rd season with the now-traditional “gala concert” on
Sept. 27. The all-Gershwin program includes An
American in Paris
and features jazz legend Herbie Hancock as soloist in Rhapsody in Blue. Subscription concerts
begin Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and 2 when Dudamel conducts music by John Adams,
Argentine composer Esteban Benzecry, and Berlioz (Symphonie Fantastique). Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

 

The Long Beach
Symphony
opens its 2011-2012 season in Long Beach’s Terrace Theater as
Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke leads a program of Wagner, Tchaikovsky
and Mahler (Rckert Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever
as soloist). Information: 562/436-3203; www.lbso.org

 

There are also two other free orchestral concerts to
highlight, both next weekend.

 

The Pasadena
Symphony and Pops
play their annual “Music Under the Stars” concert
Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on the steps of the Pasadena City Hall’s newly
refurbished Centennial Square. Three-time Tony nominated conductor Larry Black
will lead the orchestra in a program of music from the Broadway stage. Lisa
Vroman, Christina Saffran and Norman Large are the soloists and the Donald
Brinegar Singers will also perform. The concert is free but patrons are
encouraged to bring their own chairs and/or blankets. Information:
626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

The Rio Hondo
Symphony
will open its 78th season of free concerts on Sept. 25 at 3 p.m.
in Whittier High School’s Vic Lopez Auditorium. 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.: 562/698-8626; www.riohondosymphony.org

______________________

 

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

LINKS: Two good reads on a Sunday

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

As the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra prepares to begin its
43rd season, Los Angeles Times
Music Critic Mark Swed delivers a nice article on LACO Music Director
Jeffrey Kahane HERE. Kahane, who celebrates his 55th birthday
tomorrow, is celebrating his 15th anniversary as LACO’s most recent music
director.

 

Next week, I’ll offer a profile of Holland native Wieck
Hijmans, who will be the soloist in Ritornello
for Electric Guitar and Orchestra
(yes, you read correctly, electric
guitar) by LACO’s composer-in-residence, Derek Bermel, which will be part of
the opening program on Sept. 24 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and September 25 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall (LINK).

 

Meanwhile, in today’s Orange
County Register
and online, Timothy Mangan, the Register’s music critic, offers his retrospective HERE of the
Segerstrom Center for the Arts (originally called the Orange County Performing
Arts Center) in Costa Mesa as the Center celebrates its 25th
anniversary.

 

Among other performances to open the anniversary season will
be the Pacific Symphony’s opening concerts Sept. 22-25 (LINK) and a free
recital by organist Cameron Carpenter on Oct. 2 (LINK), both at Segerstrom
Concert Hall, which opened five years ago adjacent to the original OCPAC
building. Tim’s article touches on the many contributions of Henry Segerstrom
and his family in the Center’s quarter-century of growth.

_______________________

 

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