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

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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

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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.

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(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.

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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

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(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

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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:

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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

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