AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: John Adams’ “Ceiling/Sky” finally makes it to Los Angeles

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.
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I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky
Southern California premiere by Long Beach Opera
Aug. 23, 8 p.m.
John Anson Ford Theatre; 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East; Hollywood
Ticket prices: $60-$125
Information: www.longbeachopera.org
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Ceiling:Sky imageJohn Adams is America’s foremost living composer and, as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Creative Chair, certainly looms large on the Southern California classical music scene. So it’s somewhat surprising that two of his major works have yet to be performed locally.

Adams’ Dr. Atomic debuted in 2005 in San Francisco, but the sheer size and scope of the opera will make it difficult to perform anywhere, let alone in Los Angeles. However there are different issues surrounding I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, which will make its Southern California debut courtesy of Long Beach Opera on August 23 at 8 p.m. in the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in the Cahuenga Pass (directly across the Hollywood Freeway from Hollywood Bowl).

Perhaps the biggest problem with “Ceiling/Sky” is “What exactly is it?” Using a libretto by the late poet June Jordan, Adams composed the work following the Northridge earthquake in 1994; the title (a quote from the Los Angeles Times) quotes someone who experienced the quake firsthand.

Even Adams isn’t sure how to describe his musical version of Jordan’s text. The work has variously been called an “earthquake romance,” a “song play” and an “opera-musical theatre hybrid.” Adams compares the spirit of the work — performed by several musical theater singers, accompanied by three keyboards and a rock band formation — to Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. The Boston Globe described “Ceiling/Sky” as some of “the most successful crossover music written in our time.”

As Adams relates, “After composing two grand operas, Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, I’d realized that the only truly indigenous form of American musical theater was what we call, for lack of a more precise term, the ‘musical.’ ‘Ceiling/Sky’ is essentially a polyphonic love story in the style of a Shakespeare comedy. The characters, all inner-city young people in their twenties, play out their personal dramas against the backdrop of specific social and political themes.”

For more, hear a 1995 podcast from WQXR in New York City where John Schaefer interviews Adams about his then-new work. LINK

“Ceiling/Sky” premiered in Berkeley in 1995 and later played in New York, Montreal, Helsinki, Paris, Hamburg and Edinburgh — everywhere but in Los Angeles where it is set. “We’re righting a wrong with this performance,” says Long Beach Opera Artistic Director Andreas Mitisek, who will conduct the Ford Theatre performance.

This marks the second local major Adams premiere for LBO in the past six months; the company presented Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer last March.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: L.A. Phil and others fire up the “Minimalist Jukebox”

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.

Eight years ago the Los Angeles Philharmonic curated a landmark, multiweek festival entitled “Minimalist Jukebox,” devoted to the era of minimalism, the compositional genre that began in the 1960s and was led by composers including Terry Riley and John Adams.

“Over the past 40 years,” says Adams, “Minimalism has brought about a revolution in aesthetic sensibilities, changing the way we experience the flow of musical time and the feel of its rhythm. It has not only revitalized harmony and enabled composers to once again think big thoughts, but it has seen its influence felt in genres as far afield as rock, electronic, and film scoring.”

Whether you believe that to be the case or are among those who see Minimalism as a quarter-century-long genre now consigned thankfully to the history books, for the second incarnation of this festival concept the Phil and other local organizations will join forces for 14 programs (20 performances) from April 5 through May 4 at locations from the west side to downtown Los Angeles and into Pasadena.

Adams — the Phil’s creative chair and composer of operas such as “Dr. Atomic” and numerous other works — will be very much at the forefront of the entire month both as curator and conductor. Everyone will have their favorite concerts but here are two of my must-see events:

• April 6 at Walt Disney Concert Hall:
Grant Gershon conducts 32 singers of his Los Angeles Master Chorale and an instrumental ensemble in David Lang’s Pulitzer-Prize winning the little match girl passion and Steve Reich’s You Are (variations), which the Master Chorale premiered in 2004. Information: www.lamc.org

• April 11, 12 and 13 at Disney Hall:
Adams will conduct the Philharmonic in his own Naïve and Sentimental Music, Michael Gordon’s Sunshine of Your Love, and the world premiere of At the Royal Majestic, Riley’s new concerto with organist Cameron Carpenter as soloist.

Riley’s In C, written in 1964, is often considered the beginning of the minimalist movement. It was played during the 1986 “Minimalist Jukebox” festival and will be performed this time around on April 5 and 12 at The Hammer Museum in Westwood.

Naïve and Sentimental Music, a 45-minute symphony in all-but-name, was written by Adams on a L.A. Phil co-commission in 1999 and premiered by the Phil conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Ironically, it was the major work with which Adams liberated himself from the minimalist style that he had used in much of the music he had written before then. It remains one of most important and beautiful compositions.

Information: www.laphil.com

Several of the “Minimalist Jukebox” programs will involve portions of The CIVIL warS, an opera created by director Robert Wilson using music by Philip Glass, David Byrnes and others. The concept was for a daylong piece of music theatre. Six composers were to write sections and the entire work was to have been performed during the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival in 1984. Funding woes derailed the complete presentation and only four sections ultimately were completed.

Details, schedules and other information on the entire “Minimalist Jukebox” series can be found HERE.
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• Michael Feinstein will participate in four of the five Pasadena Pops concerts this summer, beginning on June 7 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Feinstein, beginning his second season as the Pops principal conductor, will lead that concert along with programs on August 16 and September 6, and will be the featured vocalist in an all-Gershwin program on July 19. Details are HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic unveils adventureous 2014-2015 season

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

For the past two decades (at least) the Los Angeles Philharmonic has led the world in creating innovative programs for orchestras, but the 2014-2015 schedule at Walt Disney Concert Hall — entitled, appropriately, “Moving Music Forward” and announced officially yesterday — takes that concept into stratospheres never before envisioned, at least in a single season.

The various initiatives are complex enough that they can’t be fully grasped in one reading. Following is my first take on what’s ahead. In addition to the chronological schedule (HERE), you may want to download much of the press kit (HERE) and take some time to study what it contains.

Several sets of programs feature multiple disciplines, including three that combine video with music. LA Phil Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will combine with artist Refik Anadol in a program that incorporates a new video into Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet Nov. 6, 7 and 9. Salonen and the Phil will be joined by three soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The Friday program will inaugurate the Phil’s new “in/Sight” series of music and videos. The other programs include Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis on Jan. 9, to be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (part of a series of events celebrating MTT’s 70th birthday); a staged production of Unsuk Chin’s opera, Alice in Wonderland on Feb. 27 and 28, 2015; and a program featuring music by Steve Mackey and Steve Reich on May 29 and 31. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the last two programs; all four programs will be repeated on days surrounding Friday.

The Romeo and Juliet program will be one of three sets of concerts that Salonen will conduct during the upcoming season. On Oct. 24, 25 and 26, Salonen and organist Olivier Latry will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Disney Hall organ with a program that includes the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Maan varjot (Earth Shadows).

The upcoming season will feature the largest emphasis on the Disney Hall organ since the instrument made its debut in 2004. Dudamel will conduct programs on Nov. 20, 21 and 22 that will feature organist Cameron Carpenter in the long-delayed world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 4 (Organ), originally slated to debut in May 2010, along with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). Carpenter will also play his own arrangement of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2. There will also be five organ recitals during the upcoming season.

Another new Friday series will be “Inside the Music with Brian Lauritzen,” four programs hosted by the KUSC radio personality. Each concert will include a Lauritzen-produced video sent to audience members ahead of time, along with pre- and post-concert discussions with the hosts and artists and an online forum. Dudamel will conduct two of the four programs, one of which will be the organ program noted above.

In his sixth season as the Phil’s music director, Dudamel will conduct 12 subscription programs during the upcoming season, along with the annual Opening Night gala concert, which will feature violinist Itzhak Perlman and the music of John Williams. In December Dudamel will lead a program celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Music Center that will include a performance of Salonen’s Helix, with the music being relayed live into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where it will accompany a world-premiere presentation from LA Dance Project.

Dudamel will also lead the orchestra on an Asian tour in March 2015 that will visit Hong Kong, Bejing, Seoul and Tokyo. The programs will include Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World), Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, and John Adams’ City Noir, which was composed for Dudamel’s inaugural gala program in 2009.

Another new series, “Next on Grand,” is being described as “a recurring festival that converges upon a creative force or cultural element.” Next season’s focus will be on contemporary Americans ranging from “old-timers” such as Phillip Glass, Adams and Reich to relative compositional newcomers such as Bryce Dessner, guitarist for the band, the National, and Chris Cerrone.

As part of this venture, the Phil will collaborate with L.A. Opera in a production of David T. Little’s Dog Days at REDCAT, the black-box theatre inside Disney Hall, and will also produce John Adams’ Available Light at Disney Hall with Frank Gehry designing the sets and Lucinda Childs creating choreography.

Overall the season will have 10 commissioned works, eight world premieres, five U.S. premieres and seven West Coast premieres. Orchestras along with the Phil will be the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas on March 24, 2015 and the Seoul Philharmonic, led by Myun-Whung Chun on April 15, 2015. The “Sounds About Town” series has been bumped back up to three local orchestras: The Colburn Orchestra (led by Sir. Neville Marriner), USC Thornton Symphony, and the American Youth Symphony. There are also numerous other programmatic genres; as noted at the top of this Blog, there’s almost too much to absorb in one reading.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Two conductors make big news

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

Two conductor announcements thousands of miles apart made news this past week. One has immediate implications for Los Angeles and the other might. One thing’s for sure: the year 2018 has just gained significance in the classical music world.

The immediate impact story
James Conlon has extended his tenure as music director of Los Angeles Opera through the 2017-2018 season. Conlon joined LA Opera in 2006, succeeding Kent Nagano. Among his many accomplishments, Conlon led the company’s first production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2010.

During his tenure with LAO, Conlon has conducted a total of 33 different operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including 18 company premieres and two U.S. premieres. To date, he has conducted 190 performances of mainstage LA Opera productions, more than any other conductor in the Company’s history. He returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion pit on March 9 to lead six performances of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and on March 23 to lead six performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

It’s a measure of Conlon’s versatility that he could handle Wagner’s dramatic account of the sea captain doomed to wander the seas endlessly in his ghost ship and Rossini’s telling of the Cinderella story in the same month. In fact he conducts the two operas within 18 hours of each other on March 23 and 24.

He’s been a joy since he arrived and we’re lucky that this transplanted New Yorker has learned to love L.A. enough to sign on for another five years. Conlon’s commitment is also a reaffirmation of LAO’s continued rebound from the economic crash of 1998.

The longer-range story
Simon Rattle has announced that he will step down as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic when his contract expires in 2018. Sir Simon (he was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1994) will be 64 when he leaves the prestigious post; he was named to succeed Claudio Abbado in 1999 and began his tenure in 2002. When he retires, Rattle will have been in the post longer than all but two other conductors: Arthur Nikisch (1895-1922) and Herbert von Karajan (1954-1989).

In his announcement, Rattle said he gave a long lead-time to allow the orchestra time to name a successor. Most orchestras have a gap — sometimes a long gap — between the end of one tenure and the beginning of another; to cite one example, the Chicago Symphony went four years between the tine Daniel Barenboim left in 206 and Riccardo Muti arrived in 2012. Berlin has a chance to avoid what can be a major problem.

Speculation about Rattle’s successor will, inevitably, center on Gustavo Dudamel, whose contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic currently runs through 2018-2019 (which will be the Phil’s centennial season). Rattle, of course, has a history with the LAPO. He made his North American debut in 1976, conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1979 and was the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor from 1981╨1994. How ironic it would be if Rattle and Dudamel swapped posts.

NEWS FROM AROUND THE MUSICAL WORLD
The Grand Rapid Symphony apparently sounded like Southern California transplants this weekend. David Lockington — the group’s music director who was in town last year to conduct the Pasadena Symphony — led his orchestra in performances of John Adams’ City Noir, the work he wrote three years ago for Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director. Also on the GRS program was The Great Swiftness by Andrew Norman, a Grand Rapids native who is the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. LACO played The Great Swirtnexx earlier this season. You can read what a local music critic had to say about the GRS performance HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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COMMENTARY AND LINK: On hearing pieces more than once

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

On Monday I uploaded a long post on the 2012-2013 Los Angeles
Philharmonic season at Walt Disney Concert Hall (HERE). In reading back over
the schedule, one concert stood out — but not, perhaps, for the reason you
might expect. It’s the program scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 when Esa-Pekka
Salonen will lead the LAPO in a concert that includes Witold Lutoslawski’s
Symphony No. 4.

 

It was an “aha” moment not because Salonen will be
conducting, although I always enjoy hearing what Esa-Pekka does with the Phil.
Moreover, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting just 10 subscription weeks next
season (barely more than a third of the schedule) the LAPO needs to have a very
strong core of guest conductors, and Esa-Pekka is one of those (as noted
yesterday, next season’s guest conducting list is quite strong).

 

Nor did I zoom in on these concerts because I’m in love with
Lutoslawski’s music. I acknowledge that he’s an important 20th
century composer but recordings of his music don’t fill my CD shelves. What I
appreciated was that Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4 is coming back to the Phil’s
repertoire; the composer conducted the world premiere with the LAPO in 1994.

 

One reason that the L.A. Phil is a world-class orchestras is
its commitment to new music, which began during the tenure of Zubin Mehta
(1962-1978), really picked up steam during Salonen’s reign as music director
from 1992-2009, and has continued under Dudamel’s leadership. Next season the
Phil will present nine commissions, seven world premieres, three U.S. premieres
and four West Coast first performances in its 29-week season, and those numbers
are consistent with the past several seasons. Few, if any, orchestras in the
world can match that level of commitment to contemporary compositions.

 

However, what’s missing are second and third performances of
these works. A little over two years ago, for example, the Phil commissioned
John Adams’ City Noir as part of
Gustavo’s opening gala concert as LAPO music director. They played it again a
couple of months later on a subscription program and took it on the orchestra’s
cross-country tour the following May. I thought it was a terrific piece, but it
hasn’t shown up again on a Phil program (or anywhere else locally, for that
matter).

 

Obviously everyone’s tastes are different but as I think
back over the past decade or so, I remember Nave
and Sentimental Music
and Wing on
Wing
by Salonen as two examples of works that deserve multiple hearings (we
did get to hear his LA Variations in
2009). Salonen’s Violin Concerto just won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for
new compositions and his piano concerto was equally stunning. Have we have
heard them since their premieres? Don’t think so. Readers are invited to add
others to my list by commenting below.

 

AT&T once sponsored a program entitled the “American
Encore” series, which was designed to provide “second” hearings to works that
got premieres and then had languished in obscurity. One of those pieces was Symphony for Classical Orchestra,
written in 1947 by Harold Shapero. Andr Previn and the Phil played it in 1986
and I remember the reaction being “where has this piece been all along?”
Unfortunately, like the sunken cathedral that inspired one of Debussy’s
preludes, Shapero’s work fell back beneath the waves of newer compositions.
Let’s hope that City Noir, Nave and Sentimental Music and others
listed above don’t suffer the same fate.

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

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