OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Worby and Muse-ique open season with piano fest

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Muse-ique; Rachael
Worby, host/conductor

Monday, March 19, 2012 Pasadena Civic Auditorium

Next event: April 9 at Autry National Center (Griffith Park)

Information: www.muse-ique.com

59226-Muse-ique 2.jpg

Three pianos (and six pianists were at the center

of Muse-ique’s program last night at the

Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

____________________

 

Rachael Worby’s new organization, Muse-ique, began its first
full season last night. This summer they will play three outdoor concerts
(including two at the Olive Garden at Caltech) but the four “Uncorked” events
are the heart of what Worby hoped to accomplish when she founded this new
program last year.

 

Each of these events (don’t call them concerts) will be in a
different, unusual location; last night, everyone — performers and the audience
– was on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. With tables and chairs grouped
around three grand pianos, the venue felt like a nightclub or perhaps a large
living room of a century ago. Worby even encouraged people to turn ON their
cell phones to Tweet or provide Facebook updates and take pictures (she even
announced a video contest) — this is definitely not your standard concert or
recital.

 

Each of the “Uncorked” programs lasts about 90 minutes; last
night began with 30 minutes of cocktails and schmoozing and the musical portion
of the program lasted 75 minutes. Worby (who for 10 years was music director of
the Pasadena Pops Orchestra) acted as host, raconteur (something she does
exceedingly well) and musical guide through snippets of the history about the
piano (thus the title, “Ebony Meets Ivory”).

 

She was joined by six local pianists who performed
individually, in two-piano settings, and using four-hand and even six-hand
arrangements. For the grand finale, all six played on the three pianos in Stars and Stripes Forever.

 

The evening began with writer-actress-pop culture analyst
Sandra Tsing Loh reading Ogden Nash’s sardonic poem Piano Tuner: Untune me that Tune, which morphed (naturally) into
Worby and a youngster playing Chopsticks (if you don’t know why that would be
“natural,” you can read the poem HERE). From there, Worby began with Bach and took the
audience through a quick history lesson, touching on piano music through the
centuries.

 

None of the selections in Worby’s eclectic format are
lengthy but there were pleasures aplenty. Joanne Pearce Martin, principal
keyboardist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and her husband, Gavin, began with
a pristine, graceful two-piano arrangement of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Joanne returned for a spritely
rendition of Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song.

 

Markus Pawlik played the first movement of Beethoven’s
“Moonlight” Sonata with gentle sonority, and Caltech professor Julia Greer
reprised her performance from last summer, playing Bach while trying to explain
what exactly it is that she does in the laboratory. It’s hard to decide which
is more difficult, although Greer demonstrated anew that she is quite an
accomplished pianist. Pawlik and Greer then joined for a four-hand arrangement
of music by Ravel.

 

Bryan Pezzone and Kirk Wilson offered different styles of
improvisation. Pezzone created his version of We Shall Overcome through the lens of Beethoven with an occasional
foray into jazz, while Wilson played jazz riffs while Loh read Carl Sandburg’s Jazz Fantasia.

 

The highlight of the evening came when the Martins offered a
gripping rendition of Lutoslawski’s Paganini
Variations.
Both Worby and Gavin Martin provided the backstory.

 

To
earn a living during World War II, Lutoslawski played piano-duos in cabarets
with fellow composer Andrzej Panufnik. One of their arrangements was of
Paganini’s famous 24th Caprice (far better known for its inclusion
in Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of
Paganini).
When Lutoslawski fled Warsaw just before the 1944 uprising, this
was his only piece that survived the destruction.
Unlike
Rachmaninoff’s dreamy arrangement, Lutoslawski’s version is more jagged and
angular; the Martins played it superbly. Pasadena Symphony concertmaster Aimee
Kreston introduced the tune on her violin, which helped people understand from
the variations came.

 

To conclude the evening, Martin & Martin joined with the
other four pianists for a splashy rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever, which — if nothing else — proved that
Sousa’s piece is indestructible.

_______________________

 

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

SAME-DAY REVIEW: Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Jean-Yves Thibaudet with L.A. Philharmonic at Disney Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Dvorak: Hussite
Overture;
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major (Jean-Yves Thibaudet,
soloist)

Saint-Sans: Symphony No. 3 (Organ)

Friday at 11 a.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Preconcert lectures by Alan Chapman at 7 p.m. and 1 p.m.,
respectively

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

Some concerts are notable for their profundity. Others stand
out for cutting-edge new music. Still others offer rarely heard masterworks.
And then there are those that do no more than offer solid, high-quality music,
expertly played. This weekend’s Los Angeles Philharmonic fit squarely in that
last category and that’s just fine, from my perspective.

 

None of the pieces played are at classical music’s apex (one
is such a rarity that the Phil has not played it before this weekend). However,
in the right hands all three can be thoroughly enjoyable — even stirring — and
this weekend’s performances are definitely in capable hands (feet, brains,
etc.).

 

The concerts are also a homecoming for Miguel Harth-Bedoya,
who was the Phil’s assistant and then associate conductor from 1998-2004 and
who since 2000 has been music director of the Ft. Worth (Tex.) Symphony. Now
age 43, the Peruvian native has an athletic conducting style and alternates
between infectious grins and Zubin Mehta-like scowls (fortunately, more of the
former than the latter) on the podium. He led with solid assurance, and (an
occasional shoddy attack notwithstanding) the orchestra played at a high level
for him.

 

When an ensemble like the L.A. Phil is playing a 19th
century piece from a well-known composer for the first time, one has to wonder
if the work has any merit. Happily, Dvorak’s Hussite Overture, which opened the proceedings this morning, proved
to be a solid, if not extraordinary, 15-minute piece. It was obviously familiar
to Harth-Bedoya; he conducted it without a score.

 

Written in 1883 for the opening of Prague’s National
Theater, the overture was part of a trilogy of works based on the life of 15th
century Bohemian religious leader Jan Hus, and the two hymn-chorales used by
Dvorak helped provide a nice mixture of religiosity and stately celebration,
which Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra carried off well.

 

Unlike the Dvorak, the Phil first played Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 2 almost exactly 90 years ago (Jan. 14, 1921, to be exact) and has
performed it as recently as last summer in Hollywood Bowl (when Andr Watts was
the soloist). However, any time it brings pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet back to
the Disney Hall stage, it’s worth hearing again.

 

Most pianists emphasize the concerto’s thunder but Thibaudet
isn’t your average pianist. Although the Lyon native (who now lives in Los
Angeles) can produce plenty of pyrotechnics, what caught my ear were how
elegantly he handled the many poetic passages that alternate with the
fireworks. The interplay between Thibaudet and principal cellist Ben Hong was
particularly notable both for its musicality and also how closely the two were
looking at each other during what amounts to a duet.

 

After intermission came Saint-Sans Symphony No. 3,
popularly known as the “Organ Symphony” although it’s worth noting that the
title in French — Symphonie No. 3, “avec orgue” (with organ) — is a better way
of describing the 35-minute work. Happily both Harth-Bedoya and Joanne Pearce
Martin, the Phil’s principal keyboardist, chose that collegial emphasis.

 

Saint-Sans crafted this work imaginatively by taking the
standard four movements of a symphony and compressing them into two. The first
movement begins, as Alan Chapman said in his preconcert talk, with shimmering
strings that evoke Wagner’s Tristan und
Isolde.

 

The organ appears stealthly to begin the second section (of
the first movement) and Martin sensitive registrations made organ just one of
90+ instruments in the ensemble. Harth-Bedoya emphasized the strings’ lush
tones and the entire section was so spellbinding that the audience took quite
some time unwinding before the performance continued with the Allegro moderato.

 

The organ introduces the final Maestoso: Allegro section with a thunderous C-major chord and
Harth-Bedoya didn’t give away the surprise (for those who have never heard this
symphony). If he cued Martin at all, it was with a nearly imperceptible
movement or a lifted eyebrow, but he took charge immediately and introduced
some interesting tempo variations throughout the finale. Martin’s registrations
were still a model of rectitude — only in the final measures did the organ
finally emerge with full-throated vigor. I’ve never heard the registrations
done any better.

 

Any conductor lucky enough to conduct the L.A. Phil and its
superb pipe organ in the amazing Disney Hall acoustics must feel like he (or
she) is approaching heaven. At the end, Harth-Bedoya held the final chord for
as long as possible, seemingly unwilling to let go. I understand how he felt.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Creating a nice programming tie, Saint-Sans had dedicated
the symphony to Liszt, who had died shortly after the work was completed in
1886.

In an excess of compositional zeal, Saint-Sans included a
few measures of piano four hands in the final section. Joanne Pearce Martin’s
husband, Gavin, and noted local pianist Vicki Ray did the honors.

I met two ladies outside at intermission who told me they
had trained up from San Diego for the concert. We all basked in the 80-degree
sunshine beside the Delft-china fountain that Frank Gehry created in honor of
Lillian Disney. Ah, the joys of living in Southern California in January.

_______________________

 

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

PREVIEW AND LINK: Camerata Pacifica opens 22nd season in September

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

For more than two decades, Camerata Pacifica has achieved an
enviable reputation both for the quality of its performances and the mileage it
puts on its cars. The chamber-music group performs five concerts in four
locales from Santa Barbara to Pasadena each month from September through May
(except for December).

 

Its 22nd season will begin next month (including recitals
on Sept. 20 at The Huntington Library in San Marino and Sept. 22 at The Colburn
School’s Zipper Hall) with a program that features Joanne Pearce Martin,
principal keyboardist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who was a Camerata
Pacifica member for 10 years.

 

Martin will join with another acclaimed local pianist, Vicki
Ray, CP Artistic Director Adrian Spence on flute, cellist Ani Aznavoorian, and
percussionists Ji Hye Jung, Doug Perkins, Michael Zell and Svet Stoyanov for
music by Rachmaninoff, Crumb, De Mey and Reich.

 

The October concerts (including Oct. 18 at The Huntington
and Oct. 20 at Zipper Hall) will celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of
Franz Liszt (on Oct. 22) with pianist Adam Neiman discussing and playing the
composer’s Transcendental Etudes.

 

For information on the season’s other six concerts and
details on the opening program, click HERE.

______________________

 

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email