PREVIEW: Free concerts abound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall and Grand Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 2, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday morning, I list five events that pique my
interest, including (ideally) at least one (two today) with free admission (or,
at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:



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

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 9

The L.A. Phil’s “Mahler Project” winds up this weekend with
these two concerts and Saturday’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 at the
Shrine Auditorium. Information:


Saturday at 8 p.m.
at the Shrine Auditorium

Mahler’s “Symphony of
a Thousand”

Gustavo Dudamel conducts 99 instrumentalists from the Simn
Bolivr Symphony Orchestra and 91 from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, eight
soloists and more than 800 choristers in this performance of Mahler’s Symphony
No. 8 that will live up to its nickname. The concert has been announced as a
sellout for some time; check the Phil’s box office (323/850-2000) for updates. Information:


Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn
Orchestra; Yehuda Gilad, conductor

The orchestra’s music director leads a program that
concludes with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke will be the
soloist in “Am I In Your Light” from John Adams’ opera Dr. Atomic and Mahler’s Rckert


And the weekend’s
“free admission” programs


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

John Weaver Hymn

For 35 years, John Weaver was organist/music director at
Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and also headed the organ departments at the
Curtis Institute and Juilliard School for many years. His program Saturday
night will include him playing pieces he’s written based on hymn tunes; the
audience and the church’s Kirk Choir will sing the hymns. Information:


Sunday at 3 p.m. at
Whittier High School

Rio Hondo Symphony;
Kimo Furumoto, conductor

In a program entitled (somewhat oddly) “No Strings
Attached,” Kimo Furumoto leads the orchestra’s string sections in music by
Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Holst and Tchaikovsky. Information:



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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on October 27, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday morning, I list five events that peak my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). This week it was hard to get down to five. Here’s today’s



Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8:30 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m. at REDCAT (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

Southwest Chamber
Music: Ten Freedom Summers

To open a season celebrating its 25th anniversary, Pasadena-based
Southwest Chamber Music joins forces with the Golden Quartet to present the
world premiere of Ten Freedom Summers
by composer and jazz trumpeter Wadada Lee Smith.


The composition — which was inspired by the Civil Rights
movement from 1954-1964 and August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, in which each play
chronicles a decade of African-American life in the 20th century — also uses
archival news footage from the era and other cinematic effects. The piece will
take three evenings to perform; you’re encouraged to attend all three nights to
get the full effect but SCM tells me that each evening stands on its own musically.


Get more
information on the composition HERE and by downloading the media  release.


A link to an article by Greg Burk in the Los
Angeles Times
is HERE.


General admission tickets are $38 for each program. Concert information:


Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel and Richard Goode

Conductors love micro-macro programs and Gustavo Dudamel is
no exception. Tomorrow night’s Los Angeles Philharmonic “Casual Friday” program
begins with Goode as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466, and
concludes with Richard Strauss’ tone poem Also
Sprach Zarathustra.
The latter is an
eight-movement work that many people know only because of the opening section, Sunrise, which was the theme music for
Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1968 motion picture 2001: A Space Odyssey. That dramatic opening sounds particularly impressive
in Disney Hall because the hall’s pipe organ adds grandiose weight to the
climactic measures, but there’s a lot more to come in the succeeding 30 or so


The Saturday and Sunday programs add Gyrgy Kurtg‘s
Grabstein fr Stephan as the opening
work. These concerts mark Dudame’s final appearances locally until “The Mahler
Project” begins next January. Info:


Saturday at 2 and 8
p.m. Ambassador Auditorium

Pasadena Symphony;
Mei-Ann Chen, conductor; James Ehnes, violin

Chen, one of the fastest-rising conducting stars today,
leads the Pasadena Symphony in its season-opening concerts, which will
conclude with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Ehnes will be the soloist in
Korngold’s Violin Concerto (his recording of the Korngold, Walton and Barber
violin concertos, with Bramwell Tovey conducting the Vancouver Symphony, won
the 2008 Grammy and Juno awards). For my Pasadena
profile on Chen, click HERE. Concert


Saturday at 4 p.m.
at Downey Theater

Chorale Bel Canto and
Opera a la Carte

The Whittier-based chorus Chorale Bel Canto 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:


And the weekend’s “free admission” program …


Sunday at 3 at Vic
Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High School)

Rio Hondo Symphony;
Kimo Furumoto, conductor

The Rio Hondo Symphony focuses on small pieces Sunday with a
program entitled “Good Things: Small Packages.” The program will begin with Mozart’s
dramatic Overture to Don Giovanni and
will also include Bartok’s Romanian Folk
Dances Suite
, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella
and Dvorak’s Czech Suite. Info:



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



Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Rio Hondo Symphony opens 79th season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Rio Hondo Symphony; Kimo
Furumoto, conductor; Alison Edwards, piano

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)

Rossini: William Tell Overture;
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 Vic Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High

Next concert: Oct. 30




When Kimo Furumoto was named music director of the Rio Hondo
Symphony three years ago and announced “The Beethoven Project” — wherein the
orchestra would play all nine of the composer’s symphonies, one a year — it
seemed obvious that this year would be the first real test. Although the first
two symphonies are not easy to play, the Symphony No. 3 is one of the monuments
of symphonic literature, a 50-minute work that can challenge the best ensembles.


Thus it’s no surprise that at yesterday’s concert — the
opening event in the RHS’s 79th season — the community orchestra
gave a valiant, albeit troubled effort of the mighty Eroica. Fortunately, the balance of the concert proved to be more
satisfying for the large crowd that showed up at Whittier High School’s Vic
Lopez Auditorium.


Whether Furumoto helped his orchestra or the audience by
scheduling the symphony as the program’s opening work is debatable. The players
were certainly freshest at that point and given that they seemed to tire
noticeably in the final two movements, that was probably foremost in the
conductor mind but it made for an unusual alignment. Furthermore, Furumoto
elected to talk briefly before each of the first three movements, thus
hampering the work’s continuity and flow.


On the podium, Furumoto was very fussy in his gestures and
took the first movement at a brisk clip. There was little grandeur in “Funeral
March” second movement and the final two movements plodded inexorably to the
end. The orchestra had moments when they played nicely and others where they
seemed overmatched by Beethoven — not the first orchestra to suffer that fate.


After intermission, Furumoto came on stage wearing a white
hat, black mask and red bandana, all of which brought a big laugh from the
audience. The reason, of course, was Rossini’s William Tell Overture, whose final section includes the theme music
for the long-ago radio and television show The
Lone Ranger.
I found it interesting that neither the printed program nor
Furumoto actually explained the allusion; given the average age of the audience
perhaps no one figured it was necessary but there was a big laugh of
recognition when Trumpeter Chris Price launched into the famous theme, which
seemed to indicate that not everyone understood the joke.


If the William Tell overture
shows up at all these days, it’s usually outdoors, so it was nice of Furumoto
to program it in a hall with at least somewhat reasonable acoustics. Aside from
the fact that many of the themes beyond The
Long Ranger
were staples of American television cartoons in the 1950s — the
overture’s lack of play is regrettable because it’s actually an inventive piece
that spotlights many of the orchestra’s principals. Kudos to Price, Cellist
Carolyn Litchfield, the wind principals — Laura Stone, oboe, Laurel
Myers-McKenzie, flute, Anne Young, clarinet, and Eric Johnson, bassoon — and
the brass section for shining in the performance.


Putting the Eroica
at the beginning of the program meant that the finale was Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, which ended up making a satisfying conclusion (the
concerto also took note of the composer’s bicentennial, which takes place on
Oct. 22). The concert’s theme was “Heroes” and Furumoto took the time to note
that Liszt’s heroic gesture was to give up his fabled concert career to become
a teacher. Furumoto then asked the teachers in the audience to stand and be
recognized as modern-day heroes (the number of those who stood was impressive)
— a nice touch.


Alison Edwards (who, like the conductor, teaches at Cal
State Fullerton) was the soloist. She luxuriated in the poetic portions and, some
smudges aside, was impressive in the bravura sections, as well. Furumoto did
his best to follow her willful tempo shifts (which wasn’t easy). The orchestra
accompanied with gusto.



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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email