NEWS: Parsing the L.A. Phil’s 2017-2018 season — Part 2

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” will be part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season. The above image is the first page of the work, which is subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers.”

In PART 1 of this post, I discussed some of the people and ensembles who will be performing in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season, the orchestra’s 99th. In this portion, let’s unpack some of the programming that will take place during the season’s nine months, which as I said in Part I, “is the most exciting, interesting collection of programs that I can ever remember from an orchestra.”

There’s enough familiar music sprinkled throughout the season to keep even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist from revolting. The season will begin with a gala concert on Sept. 26 and two weeks of subscription concerts beginning Sept. 29 featuring music written by Mozart in 1791, the last year of his life. This is, apparently, a Mozart year for LAPO Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, who will also conduct Mozart’s Requiem this summer in Hollywood Bowl.

The season will conclude with Dudamel leading a three-week cycle of music by Robert Schumann, including all four symphonies, and the piano and cello concertos. The final concert will be the rarely performed oratorio Das Paradies und Die Pierl. Peter Sellars and video artist Refik Anadol will stage the oratorio in a production inspired by China’s Dunhuang Caves, which reportedly were Schumann’s inspiration in writing this work.

In between the beginning and ending concerts will be three Beethoven symphonies (Nos. 2, 7 and 9), Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, plenty of Brahms, three Mahler symphonies and other familiar works.

BTW: this is an unusually strong year for choral works. In addition to the Schumann oratorio, the season includes Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus; Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Mass; a world premiere by Andrew Norman; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

However, this is a season that skews heavily toward music written in the 20th century and later. Lisa Hirsch writes on her Blog, “Iron Tongue of Midnight,” that among the 81 composers on the schedule for the various components of the Phil’s season, 31 of them are alive and at least 17 others were composing in the 20th century.

The LAPO’s media release lists 23 commissions, 22 world premieres, six U.S. premieres and two west coast premieres during next season. Obviously, some of those will appear in the “Green Umbrella” series and five of the premieres will take place during a reprise of this seasons’ “Noon to Midnight” on Nov. 18, but contemporary works abound throughout the season.

The Phil’s conductor laureate, Esa-Pekka Salonen, will be spotlighted not just as a conductor but also for his compositions. On Feb. 8 he will conduct the west coast premiere of his Cello Concerto, with Yo-Yo-Ma. The Feb. 9 and 10 programs will feature Salonen’s Piano Concerto, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist, and the Feb. 11 will feature violinist Leila Josefowicz as soloist in Salonen’s Violin Concerto. All three of the concerts will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

The following weekend, Salonen will conduct the revised version of his Wing on Wing, which was written for Disney Hall, along with selections from Mozart’s The Impresario, K. 486 and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

Since 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, it should be no surprise that his music will be well represented: Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”), Chichester Psalms, (paired with Beethoven’s Ninth), and Mass, which is subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” and was written in 1971 for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. All of these, except for Serenade, will be conducted by Dudamel.

The performances of Mass present an interesting scheduling conumdrum because the dates (Feb. 1, 2 3 and 4) overlap LA Opera’s performances of Bernstein’s Candide. In fact, on Saturday, Feb. 3, while Candide is playing in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mass will be performed across 1st St. at Disney Hall. Fortunately, Candide has enough dates so that Bernstein lovers can work around the conflict.

Screenings of the 1961 movie of Bernstein’s West Side Story on Nov. 24 and 26 will round out the Bernstein celebration. This will be one of several movies that will appear on the schedule as part of the Phil’s inSIGHT series. Another in that series will take place on Feb. 28 (the Wednesday before the Oscars) when Thomas Wilkins, principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, will lead the Phil as it plays portions of the the nominated scores accompanied by videos.

Yet another screening, last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, The Birdman, will be part of a 10-day festival entitled “CDMX: Music from Mexico City, which will be presented as part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” held in conjunction with The Getty and other arts institutions across Southern California. L.A.

As L.A. Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda explains: “Among the 2017/18 season goals is to bring communities together through the shared experience of live music, building bridges and dissolving borders, and to find common threads and musical moments.:

The Phil’s Artist-Collaborator Yuval Sharon will be active on several fronts including a staging of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde; and a new work by Annie Gosfield, War of the Worlds, which will be based on the 1898 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells and the infamous 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Wells and his Mercury Theatre Players. The Gosfield work will take place not only in Disney Hall but at various sites around Los Angeles.

Dudamel will conduct the world premiere of Ted Hearne’s opera, Place, produced in conjunction with Beth Morrison Projects, which will not only play at Disney Hall but will be taken on the road during the orchestra’s spring tour.

I know I’ve left out a few things, but you get the idea. You can read all the details in the complete 2017-2018 media kit HERE. The chronological listing of programs is HERE.

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony opens 87th season with dazzling concert

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

My review from last Saturday’s concert is online HERE and has been published in the print editions of the above newspapers.

Additional Thoughts and Musings:
• While I was looking at the piano Saturday afternoon, it appeared to have a fabric cover on top of the lid. Since neither Terrence Wilson nor David Lockington took it off, I assumed that it was on intentionally. Correct, says President/CEO Lora Unger, who reported that the cover was on because the light reflecting on the wood (ebony) results in a glare in the orchestra members’ eyes, which prevents them from seeing.

• I’m still processing the wealth of emotions that I experienced during the superb performance of the West Side Story Symphonic Dances delivered by David Lockington and the PSO.

For someone who grew up during the time that West Side Story came to fruition, the work remains a seminal moment in my musical life. From the passage of time many historians realize that WSS was a landmark in musical theatre but those of us who lived the experience knew it from the start. “The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning,” wrote Walter Kerr in his New York Herald Tribune review after the official premiere. I was 12 at that time and even living in the “foreign country” of Los Angeles I knew what was happening. I was 16 when the movie version appeared and, like many teenagers, was entranced by the great love songs: Maria, One Hand, One Heart and Tonight. You can get some background from a recent New York Philharmonic program note HERE.

Although Lockington didn’t explain the history of why Bernstein wrote the West Side Story Symphonic Dances (nor did the printed program), the backstory of West Side Story that he offered was fascinating.

In 1961, the New York Philharmonic was planning a pension fund benefit concert entitled “A Valentine for Leonard Bernstein” on the day before Valentine’s Day. The program was to celebrate Bernstein’s tenure as NYPO music director, which began in 1958, and also the fact that he had just signed a contract to renew that position for another seven years. Lukas Foss conducted the premiere.

Bernstein pulled together nine dances from his iconic musical, which had debuted on Broadway in 1957 and ran there for nearly two years. WSS was made into a movie in 1961. It won 10 Academy Awards out of 11 nominations, including Best Picture, and also won a special award for choreographer Jerome Robbins. BTW: the one nomination that didn’t turn into an award was Best Adapted Screenplay, where Ernest Lehman’s work lost out to Abby Mann for Judgment at Nuremberg.

As nearly everyone knows, West Side Story was a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What isn’t as well known is the backstory: in 1947, Robbins approached Bernstein and author Arthur Laurents about a Romeo and Juliet-style work. Robbins wanted it to be about an Irish-Catholic family and a Jewish family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and its original title was to be East Side Story.

The idea never got any traction but, according to Lockington, Laurents met Bernstein when the latter was conducting at Hollywood Bowl in 1956 and tried to re-pitch the idea. Someone suggested moving the locale to Los Angeles but Laurents was more familiar with Puerto Rican turf wars in New York, so eventually the setting was shifted back to New York City, but this time on the west side of Manhattan — in fact, the setting was in the area now occupied by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

“Casting was another problem,” wrote Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn in their program notes. “The perfectionist Robbins wanted a cast of 38 who could both dance and sing — a nearly impossible demand in those days, but now the rule rather than the exception. A choreographer first and foremost, Robbins finally settled on dancers who could sing — as opposed to singers who could dance.”

Ultimately Bernstein, Laurents, Robbins and Stephen Sondheim (who wrote the lyrics) became the creative team and, after nearly every Broadway producer turned down the project, Harold Prince and Robert Griffiths took it on.

Lockington brought out two other points in his preconcert talk. Tonight, which became the famous balcony-scene song, was not the original choice for that pivotal moment. The original idea choice was One Hand, One Heart but that was ultimately moved to the wedding scene. And because the musical leaned so heavily on the tragic nature of the work, the creative team swiped a song from another Bernstein musical, Candide, and turned it into Officer Krupke.

What the West Side Story Symphonic Dances showed was the fragility of Bernstein’s score. The dance suite left out Tonight, Maria, Something’s Coming and Officer Krupke — the “happiest” parts of the musical — and also the sardonically witty America. What emerged was a suite that, while powerful, emphasized the work’s “darker” side. As I noted in the review, the audience didn’t know how to respond to what was a wonderful performance.
(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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