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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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 26, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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

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Tonight at 8 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No.
5

This was one of the works with which Gustavo Dudamel
introduced Los Angeles to this dynamic orchestra in 2007. Thus, part of the
intrigue will be to see what changes have occurred in Dudamel’s interpretation
and in the orchestra’s playing. The Bolivrs conclude their individual portion
of the cycle on Tuesday with Symphony No. 7 Information: www.laphil.com

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Zipper Hall (The Colburn School)

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra’s Baroque Conversations

LACO begins its season of baroque chamber-music programs
when Principal Oboist Alan Vogel leads five of his colleagues and soprano
Elissa Johnston in a program of music by J.S. Bach and Heinrich Ignaz Franz
Bieber. Information: www.laco.org

 

Friday and Saturday
at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No.
6

The Phil swings back into action with what is perhaps the
darkest of Mahler’s symphonies. Information:
www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at AT&T Center Theatre, Los Angeles

Sunday at 3 p.m.,
First Presbyterian Church, Santa Monica

Musica Angelica:
Pergolesi/Bach: Stabat Mater

Although Giovanni Pergolesi set a version of Stabat Mater, the work is at least as
well known through its German edition when J.S. Bach put different German text
atop Pergolesi’s music (composers during that time were freer about “borrowing”
music both from themselves and others). Martin Hasselbck will lead his
top-notch period-instrument ensemble along with soloists Dame Emma Kirkby,
soprano, and countertenor Daniel Taylor. Sacred arias by Bach and Handel will
fill out the program.

 

The Saturday performance will be the group’s first time in
the AT&T Center Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Old-timers will recognize
this as the old Transamerica Life headquarters. Radio station KUSC 95.1 FM
recently moved to the AT&T Center. Originally used as a conference hall,
the performing space reportedly has been acoustically retrofitted by KUSC to
accommodate small- and medium-size musical groups.

 

Information: www.musicaangelica.org

 

Sunday at 4 p.m. at
Neighborhood Church, Pasadena

Pacific Serenades

For more than a quarter-century, Pacific Serenades has been
known for (a) beginning its season after the New Year holiday and (b)
commissioning new works. The inaugural concert of its 2012 season will feature
its 103rd commissioned work: the world premiere of Different Lanes for string quartet and
iPad by Los Angeles native and Emmy-award winning composer Laura Karpman (the
title refers to five L.A. freeways) The program will also include Beethoven’s
String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3, and Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and
Cello (2001).

 

Information:
www.pacser.org

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Friday at 8 p.m. at
First Church of the Nazarene, Pasadena

Pasadena Community
Orchestra; Alan Reinecke, conductor

PCO opens its 28th season with a program of
Smetna’s Sarka (from Ma Vlast), Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, and
Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, with Joyce Pan as soloist. Pan is a member
of the orchestra’s violin section; in her “other” life, she’s a technical
director for Dreamworks Animation. Information:
www.pcomusic.org

  

OPERA NOTES

Both Long Beach Opera and San Diego Opera open their seasons
this weekend. Long Beach presents Maria
de Buenos Aires
by Astor Pizzola and Horacio Ferrer on Sunday at 2 p.m. and
Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. at The Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. Information: www.longbeachopera.org

 

San Diego Opera begins with Richard Strauss’ Salome, which opens Saturday at 7 p.m.
and also plays Tuesday at 7 p.m., Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. Lise
Lindstrom sings the title role. Information:
www.sdopera.com

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Look ahead to 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last week I looked back at some of the memorable events of
2011 (LINK). Today I look forward, and “bulging” is the most appropriate word I
can think of when describing the classical music calendar in the first quarter
of 2012 (I won’t even attempt to list everything that I think is important for
all of next year). Among the major programs scheduled in the next few months
are:

 

ORCHESTRA

The Mahler Project

The Los Angeles Philharmonic kicks off its nearly month-long
survey of Gustav Mahler’s music in mid-January. Gustavo Dudamel will lead two
of the orchestra he heads — the L.A. Phil and Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra
of Venezuela — in 17 performances from January 13 through February 4 at Walt
Disney Concert Hall and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The sweeping
enterprise will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of
the great Austrian composer-conductor Gustav Mahler (which actually took place
on May 18, 1911).

 

Dudamel (who turns age 31 on Jan. 26) will lead every
performance. The Bolivrs will play four of the symphonies, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic will play four, and the two ensembles will combine and join with
more 800 choristers and eight soloists for the Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 4 at the
Shrine Auditorium, one of the few times in history when that work’s subtitle, “Symphony
of a Thousand,” will be fact as
opposed to appellation.

 

Following the Los Angeles concerts, the entire cycle will be
performed again in Caracas, Venezuela; the Feb. 18 performance of “Symphony of
a Thousand” will be telecast live from the Venezuelan capital at 2 p.m. (PST)
in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada (LINK). “Mahler Project” information: www.laphil.com

 

Andrew Shulman
doubles down with PSO and LACO

Shulman is principal cellist of the Pasadena Symphony
Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. On Jan. 13 he will appear as
soloist with the PSO at Ambassador Auditorium playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
The following weekend (Jan. 20 and 21), he will conduct LACO in a program that
will include former Colburn School student Nigel Armstrong as soloist in
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 (Armstrong won fourth place in last June’s
Tchaikovsky Violin Competition.

PSO information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

LACO information: www.laco.org

 

The Colburn Orchestra

This top-notch student ensemble wraps up its season at
Ambassador Auditorium with concerts on Feb. 4 and March 3. The latter will be
led by Bramwell Tovey, music director of the Vancouver and principal guest
conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl for the past three
summers. The Colburn Orchestra’s free concerts go through their ticket
allotments quickly so now is the time to log on and secure your seats (you
print the tickets when you make the reservation).

Information: www.colburnschool.edu

OPERA

San Diego Opera

San Diego Opera grabs the spotlight beginning Feb. 18 when
it presents the West Coast debut of Moby
Dick
by Jake Heggie (best known, until now, for his opera Dead Man Walking). This production got
mostly rave reviews when it debuted at Dallas Opera in May 2010 (LINK with
reviews) and the San Diego production includes Canadian tenor Ben Heppner
reprising his title role performance in San Diego. SD Opera Resident Conductor
Karen Keltner will conduct. It’s sung in English with supertitles. The company
will also present a production of Richard Strauss’ Salome beginning Jan. 28, with Lise Lindstrom in the title role. Information: www.sdopera.com

 

Los Angeles Opera

February will be a busy opera month. Los Angeles Opera
resumes its 2011-2012 season with productions of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra beginning Feb. 11 in the first of seven
performances and Britten’s Albert
Herring,
which opens Feb. 25 and continues with five performances in March.
LA Opera Music Director James Conlon will conduct both operas.

 

Simon Boccanegra
is significant because Plcido Domingo is in the title role, a part that was
written for a baritone (Domingo, of course, has spent nearly all of his career
as a tenor, although he now appears to be more comfortable in lower ranges).
This production originated at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Albert Herring is
the latest in a string of Benjamin Britten operas that the company is
presenting in a lead-up to the composer’s birth centennial in 2013. Although
LAO mounted Albert Herring early in
the company’s history, this production originated at Santa Fe Opera. Alek
Shrader makes his LAO debut in the title role. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Long Beach Opera

This intrepid company explores the world of the tango with a
production of Maria de Buenos Aires,
composed by Astor Piazzolla to a libretto by poet Hoarcio Ferrer. Sung in
Spanish with English supertitles, it plays Jan. 29 and Feb. 4 at the Warner
Theater in San Pedro. Information: www.longbeachoperea.com

IN MOVIE THEATERS

On the big screen, the Metropolitan Opera continues its High
Definition telecasts into movie theaters with three screenings in January and
February, including its new production of Wagner’s Gtterdmerung on Feb. 11. Information:
www.metopereafamily.org

 

CHORAL MUSIC

Although choral music concerts occur frequently, the
three-week span from March 17-April 6 has an unusually large number of notable
events.

 

Chorale Bel Canto will
sing Bach’s Mass in B Minor on March 17 at Whittier College as the major event
in the 75th annual Whittier Bach Festival. Stephen Gothold conducts
the CBC (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year),
soloists and orchestra in this monument of choral literature. Information: www.choralebelcanto.org

 

Angeles Chorale
will celebrate what conductor John Sutton calls “America’s most significant
musical story — gospel and jazz; the stories of our lives; and musical depictions
of the human experience” on March 24 at First United Methodist Church,
Pasadena. The featured work will be Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Los Angeles Master
Chorale,
which will present a concert of Bruckner and Stravinsky on Feb.
12, returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 31 and April 1 for a
performance of Bach’s St. John Passion. Grant
Gershon conducts both programs; the Bach features the area’s foremost
period-instrument ensemble, Musica Angelica. Information: www.lamc.org

 

As an added note:
my weekly “Five Spot” posts will return on Jan. 5. Each week, I list five notable
concerts for the upcoming weekend including, ideally, one that is either free
admission or very low cost. Have a safe and happy new year.

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

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