AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: March coming in like a lion

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

Even with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on tour during the next three weeks, March is a very busy month for classical music lovers. Among the offerings are:

• To be accurate, the Phil is in town this weekend with Gustavo Dudamel conducting John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. My preview story is HERE.

• If meaty Brahms is your idea of a musical feast, then make a reservation for the Long Beach Symphony concerts tomorrow night at 8 in that city’s Terrace Theatre. Enrique Arturo Diemecke, who is completing his 14-year-tenure as the LBSO’s music director, will lead Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Piano Concerto No. 2; the latter features Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio. (Hint: arrive early; no matter which piece gets played first, the initial movement is long and you don’t want to wait in the lobby for late seating.) INFO: www.lbso.org

Two organists are on the agenda this week.

Ann Elise Smoot, 1998 winner of the American Guild of Organists’ National Young Artists Competition in Organ Performance, makes her Disney Hall debut on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with a program of music by J.S. Bach, Reger, Jehan Alain and others including the U.S. debut of Solomon’s Demos by Joanna Marsh, a British composer who has lived in Dubai since 2007. INFO: www.laphil.com

Timothy Howard will present a free recital at Pasadena Presbyterian Church on March 15 at 7:30 p.m. Playing on the church’s Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, Howard will be assisted by organist Meaghan King and soprano Judith Siirila Paskowitz in a program of music by J.S. Bach, Marcel Dupré, Paul Halley, William Mathias, Giacomo Puccini and Louis Vierne. INFO: www.ppcmusic.org

On the choral front:

Pasadena Pro Musica continues its 50th anniversary season on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church as Artistic Director Stephen Grimm leads a program of music by Flemish Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso: De profundis clamavi, Primi diei from Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes, and Prophetiae Sibyllarum. INFO: www.pasadenapromusica.org

• Janet Harms will lead the combined forces of the Windsong Southland Chorale and the United Methodist Church of La Verne Choir, in “Sacred Utterances” on March 15 at 7 p.m. at the UMLV, 3205 “D” Street, La Verne. The program will include O, Gracious Light (Phos hilaron) by Timothy Sharp, The Lord is My Light by Hank Beebe, True Light by Keith Hampton, I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light by Kathleen Thomerson, Magnificat by Charles Villiers Stanford and others.

This concert will be a reprise of the same program Windsong sang when it participated in an annual choral festival on February 16 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

Hollywood Master Chorale will present an afternoon of Dvorak’s Mass in D Major, Op. 86 and Te Deum on March 16 at 4 p.m. at Hollywood Lutheran Church. Artistic Director Lauren Buckley will conduct. The Te Deum was written in 1892 on the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing on the American shore. Mass in D Major was composed two years before. INFO: www.hollywoodmasterchorale.org

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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Long Beach Symphony begins farewells to Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Long Beach Symphony; Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor
Terrace Theatre, Long Beach
Next concert: March 8
Information: www.lbso.org
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For the past quarter-century the Long Beach Symphony has grown steadily in terms of artistic quality while, apparently, also achieving financial stability. In the process, it has consigned to ancient history a turbulent era that included cancelling most of the 1984-1985 season while the ensemble reorganized following bankruptcy.

In 1989 JoAnn Falletta began an acclaimed 12-year-tenure as the orchestra’s music director before moving on to bigger vistas in Buffalo, New York and Virginia. In 2001 Enrique Arturo Diemecke, a dynamic Mexican conductor, succeeded Falletta and he has continued the orchestra’s growth.

However, last November Diemecke — somewhat suddenly and mysteriously — announced that this current season would be his last. Beyond the original release, neither the orchestra nor Diemecke has said much about the decision. The orchestra has formed a search committee for a new music director and its recently announced 80th anniversary season in 2014-2015 will have each of the six concerts led by a different guest conductor, at least some of whom, presumably, could be candidates succeed Diemecke.

Meanwhile, the orchestra is trying to send Demiecke off with panache (the formal celebration will come in the last concert on May 31). Last night’s concert featured him not only as a conductor but as a composer, since the final work on the program, Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas, features a cadenza for 12 percussionists that Diemecke wrote 15 years when he was conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México.

In another nod to the birth centennial of English composer Benjamin Britten, the concert opened with an exuberant performance of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or, as it is sometimes called, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell. The piece was also the centerpiece of the orchestra’s free education program for youth, which took place during the week prior to the concert.

In the mid-17th century, Purcell composed incidental music to the play Abdelazar (The Moor’s Revenge), and Britten used Purcell’s hornpipe melody as the basis for music that he composed for a 1946 film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra.

Diemecke took the opening theme in a lush, stately manner, and the 13 variations showed off solo instruments and sections of the orchestra. The concluding fugue was brisk and built inexorably to a grand finale. Perhaps more than anything, the piece demonstrated the value of hearing music live, as opposed to via recording. Seeing and hearing the variations passed from one section to another added to the enjoyment.

Post-intermission, Diemecke and the orchestra offered a boisterous performance of La Noche de los Mayas, a piece that began as a score for a 1939 movie filmed in the jungles of the Yucatan and ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico. In 1960, composer-conductor José Yves Limatour created a four-movement suite from the film score and, with Diemecke’s cadenza for the 12 percussionists who highlight the final movement, this is the version played by most ensembles today.

This is one of the few film scores that have made it into mainstream classical programs and it has been played by many Southern California orchestras, despite the resource required both in terms of extra percussionists and the instruments they play, which include a native log-like drum and a conch shell.

Diemecke, who was born in Mexico of German parents, clearly relishes this 36-minute work, and the orchestra rose to the challenge not only in the athletic portions but also in the lyrical moments during the two inner movements. As often happened, the audience sat stunned after the final cadence before erupting into a thunderous standing ovation.

Acting as a sandwich between the Britten and Revueltas pieces was Burleske for piano and orchestra, written when Richard Strauss was just 21 years old. If any orchestra has to program this vulgar, 17-minute piece then it might was well engage someone like pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine as soloist to make it at least endurable or, to most in the audience, enjoyable.

The 33-year-old Moutouzkine, who was born in Russia but completed a Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, has the kind of piston-like fingers that are indispensable in this piece, which program annotators Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn described as “a grand waltz fantasy in the flamboyant style of Franz Liszt.” Actually, the way that Moutouzkine threw himself around the piano bench, one could easily have pictured a reincarnation of Liszt if Moutouzkine had the Hungarian composer’s wild hairstyle. An enthusiastic standing ovation brought forth a jazzy encore that proved to be more of the same. One can only hope that there is more than pyrotechnics to Moutouzkine’s musical makeup.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Diemecke offered short commentary before each half of the program. His thick accent makes it hard for those who aren’t concert regulars to understand him completely, but his infectious enthusiasm comes through clearly as it does on the podium, where he conducts without a baton, depending instead on whirling hands and bouncy athleticism.

The 2014-15 lineup of guest conductors includes
John DeMain, formerly Music Director at Opera Pacific in Orange County who now leads the Madison (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra (Oct. 4);
• Santa Monica native Edwin Outwater, Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Ontario, Canada (Nov. 8);
Bruce Kiesling, assistant conductor of the Pasadena Symphony who is also leading YOLA, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (Jan. 31, 2015;
William Eddins, Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony (March 7, 2015);
Lucas Richman, Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony and Bangor Symphony (April 25, 2015); and
Edward Cumming, former Music Director of the Hartford Symphony (May 30, 2015).

Information: www.lbso.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on March 8, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Each Thursday, 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:

NOTE: Daylight
Saving Time begins Sunday morning at 2 a.m. Don’t be late for the Sunday
performances!

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Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa
Monica

Brian Stokes Mitchell in recital

This great Broadway musical star
appears in the intimate confines of The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. My preview
story is HERE. Information: www.thebroadstage.com

 

Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Bovard Auditorium (University of Southern
California), Los Angeles

Sunday at 7 p.m. at Zipper Hall (The Colburn School), Los Angeles

Piatigorsky International Cello Festival

This multi-faceted series from
March 9-18 is cosponsored by the USC Thornton School of Music, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, The Colburn School and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. It brings
more than two-dozen artists from 12 countries to Los Angeles. The events
include concerts, recitals and master classes at USC, Zipper Hall and Walt
Disney Concert Hall.

 

The opening concert Friday night
features the “Festival Orchestra,” which is comprised of the LACO principal
players and students from the USC Thornton School of Music led by conductor
Hugh Wolf playing cello concertos and double concertos. Among the soloists is
Narek Hakhnazaryan, who won the gold medal in last summer’s Tchaikovsky
International Competition; he will be soloist in Saint-Sans’ Cello Concerto
No. 1 in A Minor.

 

Sunday evening’s recital in Zipper Hall features the six
Bach solo cello suites played by six different cellists. The L.A. Phil plays
concerts on March 15, 17 and 18 (we’ll cover them in next week’s post).

 

The festival honors Gregor Piatigorsky, one of history’s
greatest cellists and pedagogues, who taught at USC from 1962 to 1974. As a
basically clueless sophomore at USC in 1965, I listened to Piatigorsky and the
equally legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz play recitals in Hancock Auditorium,
not realizing how significant that was (to be honest, I went because my date –
who would later become my wife — was studying piano. She appreciated who
Heifetz and Piatigorsky were far more than I did at that point).

 

Among the 24 cellists performing are the three living
holders of the Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello at the USC Thornton School of
Music: Lynn Harrell, Ronald Leonard and Ralph Kirshbaum. USC established the chair
in 1974, two years before the death of its namesake. Harrell held the position
from 1986-1993, and Leonard succeeded him, serving from 1993-2003 (formerly the
L.A. Phil’s Principal Concertmaster, Leonard now teaches at The Colburn School).
From 2004-2007, the late Eleonore Schoenfeld taught as the Piatigorsky Chair
holder and the Festival’s artistic director, Ralph Kirshbaum, succeeded her in
2008.

 

The Los Angeles Times has
a cute article on the festival HERE.

 

Information: piatigorskyfestival.com

 

Saturday night at 8
p.m. at Terrace Theatre, Long Beach

Long Beach Symphony;
Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor

The LBSO continues its season with performances of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances Nos. 1 + 4; Schubert’s
Symphony No. 9, D 944, the “Great C Major” symphony; and Mendelssohn’s
evergreen Violin Concerto with the orchestra’s principal second violinist,
Katia Popov, as soloist. Information: www.lbso.org

 

Sunday at 7 p.m. at
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena

performances la
carte: “Winter’s Thaw”

This new group debuts with what’s described as a “multimedia
concert weaving the literary, musical and visual arts.” The musical selections
will include pieces by Eric Whitacre, David Downs, Carole Bayer-Sager and Ennio
Morricone. Performers will include the group’s founder, Jamie Perez, soloists,
instrumentalists, and choristers from five area churches.

 

If you’ve never seen Westminster Presbyterian Church (which
is located on North Lake Avenue), its sanctuary’s gothic look and feel,
inspired by several French cathedrals, is worth the trip (because Daylight
Savings Time starts Sunday, the stained glass windows will really sparkle).
This is a benefit concert; net proceeds will go to Elizabeth House. Information: 626/710-8639; performancesalacarte.org

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Sunday at 6 p.m. at
St. James Church, Los Angeles

John Scott, organist

John Scott is Organist and Director of Music at St. Thomas
Church, NYC; before that he was in the same capacity at London’s St. Paul’s
Cathedral. His program will be music by Handel, Bach, Vierne, Locklair, Bolcom,
Fagiani and Sweelinck. The recital follows an Evensong service at 4:30 p.m.,
which — in a nice touch — will include music by Gerre Hancock, whom Scott
succeeded at St. Thomas Church in 2004 (Hancock died earlier this year).

 

Sunday’s recital will be played on St. James’ historic David
John Falconer Memorial Organ, one of the only remaining organs built by the
Murray Harris Company (the instrument dates from 1911 — read about its history
is HERE).

 

The church is located on Wilshire Blvd. in the mid-Wilshire
area and is within walking distance of Metro Rail Purple Line’s
Wilshire/Western station. Information: www.stjamesla.org

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Five orchestra to open 2011-2012 seasons … and more

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.

 

Five of the Southland’s top orchestras — including the Los
Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra — open their 2011-2012
seasons within the next fortnight. In chronological order:

 

The Pacific Symphony
begins its 33rd season Thursday through Sunday at Segerstrom Concert
Hall in Costa Mesa. Carl St.Clair begins his 21st season as the
orchestra’s music program with a program of music by Berlioz, Respighi and
James Newton Howard. Sarah Chang will be the soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin
Concerto. Information: 714/755-5799; www.pacificsymphony.org

 

* The Colburn
Orchestra,
flagship ensemble of one of the nation’s premiere music schools,
will play all five of its free concerts this season at Ambassador Auditorium in
Pasadena. Music Director Yehuda Gilad leads the opening program Saturday night
with music by Berlioz, Mussorgsky/Ravel (Pictures
at an Exhibition)
and Dvorak. Colburn School student Francesca dePasquale
will be the soloist in Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. More on this in Thursday’s “Pasadena
Scene” magazine and on my Blog. Information: 213/621-1050;
www.colburnschool.edu

* The L.A. Chamber
Orchestra’s
43rd season begins Saturday night in Glendale’s Alex
Theater and Sunday evening at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Jeffrey Kahane, celebrating
his 15th anniversary as LACO’s music director, opens with a
typically eclectic program that concludes with Kahane playing and conducting
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. There will also be two West Coast premieres,
including Wiek Hijmans as soloist in Ritornello
for electric guitar and orchestra
(yes, you read that correctly) by Derek
Bermel, who is LACO’s composer-in-residence. More on this in my Blog Tuesday.
Information: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

 

* Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to Walt Disney
Concert Hall as the L.A. Philharmonic
opens its 93rd season with the now-traditional “gala concert” on
Sept. 27. The all-Gershwin program includes An
American in Paris
and features jazz legend Herbie Hancock as soloist in Rhapsody in Blue. Subscription concerts
begin Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and 2 when Dudamel conducts music by John Adams,
Argentine composer Esteban Benzecry, and Berlioz (Symphonie Fantastique). Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

 

The Long Beach
Symphony
opens its 2011-2012 season in Long Beach’s Terrace Theater as
Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke leads a program of Wagner, Tchaikovsky
and Mahler (Rckert Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever
as soloist). Information: 562/436-3203; www.lbso.org

 

There are also two other free orchestral concerts to
highlight, both next weekend.

 

The Pasadena
Symphony and Pops
play their annual “Music Under the Stars” concert
Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on the steps of the Pasadena City Hall’s newly
refurbished Centennial Square. Three-time Tony nominated conductor Larry Black
will lead the orchestra in a program of music from the Broadway stage. Lisa
Vroman, Christina Saffran and Norman Large are the soloists and the Donald
Brinegar Singers will also perform. The concert is free but patrons are
encouraged to bring their own chairs and/or blankets. Information:
626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

The Rio Hondo
Symphony
will open its 78th season of free concerts on Sept. 25 at 3 p.m.
in Whittier High School’s Vic Lopez Auditorium. Music Director Kimo Furumoto
leads Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica),
Rossini’s William Tell overture and
Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Alison Edwards as soloist.: 562/698-8626; www.riohondosymphony.org

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Of 9/11 … and other things musical

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of
this column was published today in the above papers.

 

Normally this weekend is one of the two “transition zones”
in the classical-music year — in this case, from summer to fall-winter-spring.
However, this year also includes the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist
attacks and there are at least a couple of musical programs commemorating that
event that are worth noting.

 

Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein will lead his Pasadena
Master Chorale
next Sunday at 4 p.m. in La Crescenta Presbyterian Church with a
program highlighted by Faur’s Requiem. The afternoon will also contain three a
cappella works that accentuate the “remembrance” theme — a setting of Psalm
137, Virgil Thompson’s My Shepherd Will
Supply My Need,
and Ross Lee Finney’s Words
To Be Spoken
— along with Bernstein’s arrangement of America the Beautiful. Organist Edward Murray will accompany;
soloist will be soprano Krystle Casey and baritone Cedric Berry. Information:
626-208-0009; www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

 

The PMC will be doing double duty that day, shifting over
to the Pasadena Convention Center Plaza at 7 p.m. where it will join forces
with Muse-ique for a free hour-long concert of music ranging from Bach and
Tchaikovsky to Paul Simon and George Gershwin. Rachael Worby, Muse-ique’s
artistic director, will conduct. Information: 626/795-9311; www.muse-ique.com

 

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concert at
Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 13 has Bramwell Tovey leading the Phil, Los Angeles
Master Chorale and soloists in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem. This is one of four
programs during the next fortnight that will be led by Tovey, who spent the past
three seasons as the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor at the Bowl. Info: 323/850-2000;
www.hollywoodbowl.com

 

Los Angeles Opera opens its 2011-2012 season on Sept. 17
at 7:30 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the first of six
performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Onegin.
The following day at 2 p.m. comes Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, also the first of six performances. LAO Music
Director James Conlon will conduct both productions. Both opening performances
will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5-FM) and kusc.org. Information: (213)
972-8001; www.laopera.com

 

Speaking of L.A. Opera, both it and the Long Beach
Symphony
(LINK) have unveiled new Web sites. The LBSO opens its 2011-2012
season on Oct. 1 when Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke (beginning his
11th season at the orchestra’s helm) will lead a program of Wagner’s Prelude and Liebstod from Tristan und
Isolde,
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, and Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever as soloist. Info: www.lbso.org

 

The Rio Hondo Symphony will open its 78th season of free
concerts on Sept. 25 when Music Director Kimo Furumoto leads Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 3 (Eroica), Rossini’s William Tell overture and Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 1, with Alison Edwards as soloist. The other concerts are Oct. 30,
Feb. 5 and May 6. All concerts are at 3 p.m. in Whittier High School’s Vic
Lopez Auditorium. Information: 562/698-8626; www.riohondosymphony.org

 

E. Jason Armstrong has been named Artistic Director and
Conductor of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Armstrong most recently
completed his doctoral class work at the University of Southern California
Thornton School of Music, where he served as the conductor for the USC Thornton
Apollo Men’s Chorus and as assistant conductor for the USC Thornton Concert
Choir. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, Armstrong spent 15 years as
director of choral activities at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Florida.

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