FIVE SPOT: March 2-5, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending.

March 2 at 7:30 p.m. March 5 at 2 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

This revival of LAO’s 1986 production stars Patricia Racette as the Biblical princess who wants only to get a-head. James Conlon conducts the LAO orchestra. See my review HERE. Other reviews are on the “Learn More” tab at the LAO Web site HERE. Other performances March 16 at 7:30 p.m. and March 19 at 2 p.m.

BONUS: The LAO Web says that the March 2 performance has lowest prices and best available. Also, the Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk west two blocks to reach the hall. Information:


March 3 at 8 p.m. March 5 at 2 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles

As part of the L.A. Phil’s season-long celebration of the 70th birthday of composer John Adams, who also serves as the orchestra’s Creative Chair, the Phil presents Adams’ best-known (if not necessarily his best) full-length opera, about President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972. Adams will conduct the Phil, Elkhanah Pulitzer directs and Bill Morrison is the video designer. Extensive music notes by the composer/conductor are HERE.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall. Information:


8 p.m. at Terrace Theatre; Long Beach

Paul Polivnick conducts the LBSO in Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, and Lebrun’s Oboe Concerto No. 2, with Rong-Huey Liu as soloist. Polivnick was originally one of the candidates for LBSO music director before Eckhart Preu was chosen late last year.

BONUS: Easily reachable via Metro’s Blue Line (exit at 1st St. and walk two blocks south to the theatre). Check to make sure there aren’t construction activities that might foul up the trip. Information:


8 p.m. at Musco Center for the Performing Arts (Chapman University); Fullerton

If he doesn’t get caught in a traffic jam coming from LA Opera’s performance of Salome, LAO Music Director James Conlon will lead this top-notch ensemble — Colburn is the west coast equivalent of The Juilliard School or Curtis Institute of Music on the east coast. The program is Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Jongyun Kim as soloist.

BONUS: The concert is a chance to hear the newly opened Musco Center, which has earned high praise for its acoustics and ambience.


7:30 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Jensen, a well-known organist and former of organ at Indiana University, and Bye, who has performed often with Jensen, perform music by composers ranging from Handel to Hurwitz (Audition from LaLa Land). The church’s Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ is one of the largest and most important instruments in Southern California.

BONUS: Free admission (freewill offering) and free parking nearby.


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

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CLASS ACT: Some last-minute gift ideas for your classical music lover

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each year about this time, people call or email me asking what to get as a holiday present for their favorite classical music lover. My answer this year remains the same: tickets. Technological innovations notwithstanding, attending a concert in person is still the best way to experience the full scope of classical music.

If you plan ahead, you can obtain tickets at reasonable prices, especially if the recipient of your gift is a senior or student. Better still, plan on attending the concert with the person to whom you provide the tickets.

Here are a few opportunities among hundreds in genres ranging from orchestras to chamber music to choral programs and beyond:
• Earlier this year the Long Beach Symphony named Eckart Preu (pictured) as its next music director. You will have a chance to experience his podium presence on Feb. 4 when Preu makes his only appearance this season with the LBSO (he takes over the orchestra’s podium next season). His all-French program concludes with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Information:

• This season is Jeffrey Kahane’s last as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and he’s going out with a bang, curating a two-week series in January entitled “Lift Every Voice.” I’ll detail the proceedings in my January 1 column (which includes an interview with Kahane) but there are several events worthy of your attention during this series that might make great gifts: Information:

• If sweeping Romantic music is your forte, consider the Pasadena Symphony’s Feb. 18 concerts. Music Director David Lockington will conduct Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique) and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Natasha Paremski as soloist. On the other hand, if your tastes run to the baroque, the PSO’s January 21 concerts feature music of Bach and Handel led by Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan. Information:
• Carl St.Clair (pictured), music director of the Pacific Symphony in Orange County, will lead the USC Thornton School of Music Symphony on Jan. 22 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program is micro and macro: Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos (with Bernadene Blaha and Kevin Fitz-Gerald as soloists) and Richard Strauss’ sprawling musical depiction of a day the country, An Alpine Symphony.

This appearance is part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series, which offers top-quality student ensembles at reasonable prices: $30-$44 each. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing a concert in Disney Hall, this is a splendid opportunity for superb music in a great setting. Information:

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Long Beach Symphony names Eckart Preu as next music director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Preu-2016After a two-year-long search, East German native Eckart Preu has been named the eighth Music Director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra. He replaces Enrique Arturo Diemiecke, who resigned at the end of the 2013-2014 season.

Preu (whose name rhymes with “joy” — a singularly good omen for a conductor) signed a three-year contract effective with the 2017-2018 season when he will program and conduct all six classical series concerts, all youth concerts and one Pops concert annually. He will be Music Director Designate for the upcoming season and will lead the Feb. 4, 2017 in Long Beach’s Terrace Theatre, which will include performances of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Saint-Säens’ Danse Macbre, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. INFO

Preu, who turns 47 on Thursday, has been Music Director of the Spokane (WA) Symphony since 2004 and of the Stamford (CT) Symphony since 2005. He will relinquish the latter role when he assumes the LBSO Music Director position in 2017.

Read Richard Guzman’s article in the Long Beach Press-Telegram HERE

The full LBSO media release follows:


LONG BEACH, CA, August 19, 2016 – Following a 2-year search that brought 9 guest conductors to the stage of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Long Beach Symphony proudly announces today that it has selected Eckart Preu (rhymes with “joy”) to take the helm under a 3-year contract beginning with its 2017-18 season.

Commenting on the decision, Symphony Board President, Irv Miller, said, “Eckart Preu’s execution of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 at our June 4 Finale not only elevated the overall concert experience for our audience that night, but also excited our orchestra players. Maestro Preu’s genuine spirit of collaboration, partnership, and adventure makes us confident that we have identified a Music Director who can take our Symphony to the next phase of its development.”

Maestro Preu says he decided to accept the position with Long Beach Symphony “because of its pure excellence – an excellence that extends not only to the amazing quality of its musicians, but also to the excellence in how its staff and volunteers run the organization. He looks forward to getting to know the wider Long Beach community, including its inspired arts leaders, musicians, and supporters and relishes the opportunities that a community as large and impressive as Long Beach can bring.

When asked for comment on the appointment, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia expressed his approval saying, “The Symphony and the arts play a crucial role in our thriving community. The City of Long Beach wants to be among the first to welcome our talented new Maestro!

Maestro Preu will serve as Long Beach Symphony’s Music Director Designate during the 2016-2017 season, returning to Long Beach to conduct the Symphony Concerts for Young People on February 1 and 2, 2017 for over 12,000 Long Beach Unified 4th and 5th graders. Within that same week, he will conduct Berlioz’s magnificent Symphonie fantastique and Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre as well as Dukas’ classic, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice at the February 4, 2017 Classical concert at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Terrace Theater. Tickets will be released on sale on September 10, 2016. Maestro Preu will continue to serve as Music Director of the Spokane Symphony (WA), but will step down from his current position with the Stamford Symphony (CT) next year.

Commencing in the 2017-2018 season, he will take on his full time Music Director position, and will program and conduct all six Classical series concerts, all Youth Concerts and one POPS! concert annually.

Maestro Preu’s philosophy on classical music complements the demographic make-up and cultural vibrancy of the Long Beach community. Paralleling the Symphony’s current efforts to reach out to diverse segments of the City with its Sounds and Spaces program, Maestro Preu believes that classical music can be accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

Long Beach Symphony Executive Director, Kelly Ruggirello remarked that “in Eckart Preu, I have found a partner who shares a vision for a future that will deepen our programming, provide greater access to more residents, and further our artistic excellence.”

When he first began his tenure as Music Director of the Spokane Symphony, Maestro Preu led a night of cultural sharing through a Spokane Symphony performance with Spokane Tribal members. More recently, in March 2016, Maestro Preu collaborated with a local Washington state hip-hop collective, electro-pop duo, and singer-songwriters to mix their own original works with the Spokane Symphony’s performance of Peter and the Wolf. “The idea was to do something unpredictable, and to mesh things that, at first glance, don’t go together,” Preu said. “It’s getting down to the roots of music – we all play with the same notes, just in different ways and with different approaches. … It’s bringing all these genres together that usually don’t play in the same sandbox, and we basically just provide the sandbox.”

Eckart Preu was born in Erfurt, a town that was, at that time, part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). He and his older brother grew up with a musically-inclined father who started them on music lessons early in life. At age 10, they were enrolled in the Dresdner Kreuzchor (Dresden Boys’ Choir), one of the world’s oldest and most famous boys’ choirs and boarding schools. Preu studied there for 8 years, eventually becoming a soloist, rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor. Subsequently, he earned a master’s degree in conducting from the Hochschule fuer Musik in Weimar and then went to Paris for two years to study at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique, where he also served as Music Director of the Orchestre International de Paris from 1993-95.

Then in 1996, Preu won the National Conducting Competition of the German Academic Exchange Service, which afforded him the opportunity to come to the United States for graduate studies at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut. Upon completion of his studies there, Preu became Assistant Conductor for the American Symphony Orchestra, a position he held from 1997-2004. During these years, he also held posts as principal conductor of the New Amsterdam (NY) Symphony Orchestra and associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, among others.

In 2004, Preu decided to make a fresh start by moving to the state of Washington to accept the position of music director with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. To welcome him to the area, the Symphony put up billboards around town bearing Preu’s image. As the story goes, a young woman who drove by took one look at his fetching visage and instantly decided that was the man she was going to marry. The rest, as they say, is history. Eckart and that same woman, his wife, Neeley, currently reside in Spokane with their two daughters, ages 8 and 5.

Though his rigorous schedule, community involvement and young family do not leave much time for R&R, when he does manage to carve out some time for himself, Preu seeks quiet. “I am around music all day, so at the end of the day, I relish quiet. It is sacred to me.” It is partly for this reason that he has recently taken up golf. He enjoys the peacefulness of the golf course and the opportunity to commune with nature. And, in seemingly diametric opposition to that, Preu also loves action movies!

• The LBSO has also rounded out its conducting roster for the upcoming season. Mei-Ann Chen, who has appeared with the Pasadena Symphony and Pacific Symphony locally, will conduct a program of Glink, Rachmaninoff and Respighi on Nov. 19, while Paul Polivnick will lead an evening of Beethoven, Lebrun and Dvorak on March 8. Full-season INFO.

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: New West Symphony’s Marcelo Lehninger named music director of Grand Rapids (MI) Symphony

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Sometimes the classical world can seem very large. At other times, it’s amazingly small.

Four years ago David Lockington was named music director of the Pasadena Symphony. In taking that position he wound up his 16-year tenure with the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan (he is now that ensemble’s Conductor Laureate).

After a three-year search, the Grand Rapids Symphony has named Lockington’s successor and the orchestra found its man about 45 minutes west of Ambassador Auditorium, the PSO’s home. He is Marcelo Lehninger, who for the past four years has been the music director of the New West Symphony, which plays concerts in Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and Oxnard. The Brazilian-born Lehninger was also first assistant conductor and then associate conductor of the Boston Symphony for several years.

Lehninger is the 14th music director in the 86-year history of the Grand Rapids Symphony, which runs a 40-week season. Beginning with the 2017-18 season, he reportedly will lead a majority of concerts on the GRS’s classical series and will make podium appearances at other symphony series as well.

Just to add a further twist, the Web site “Slipped Disc” lists Lehninger as one of two Brazilian candidates to be the next music director of the New Mexico Philharmonic (LINK). That’s the ensemble born out of the 2011 bankruptcy of the New Mexico Symphony, where Lockington was music director from 1996-2000. Lehninger will conduct the New Mexico Philharmonic in a concert on Dec. 10 that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).

Meanwhile, New West Symphony begins its search for a new music director with guest conductors leading each of the six concerts in the upcoming season, which opens September 30 and October 1 with Tania Miller, the only woman among the six, on the podium (INFO).

Yet to be heard from is the Long Beach Symphony, which has been in a music director-search process for more than three years. The orchestra has released programs and dates for its upcoming season but only three of the six classical concerts have conductors listed.

Ironically, two of the three are connected with the Virginia Symphony. The 2016-2017 season will conclude on June 10 when former LBSO Music Director Joann Falletta returns to Long Beach to lead her former orchestra. Falletta is now music director of both the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony. The LBSO season will open on October 1 when Benjamin Ruffalo, the Virginia Symphony’s resident conductor, leads a program of music by Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Prokofiev.

The third conductor on the LBSO season is Robert Istad, newly appointed artistic director-designate of the Pacific Chorale, who will lead an all-Mozart program that will include the Requiem in D Minor, with the Long Beach Camerata Singers, which Istad also directors, joining the orchestra. INFO

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: There’s more to orchestras than the L.A. Phil

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

Somewhat overshadowed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s opening this week (LINK) are a handful of other openings that should be noted.

The Long Beach Symphony opens its 80th anniversary season Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Long Beach’s Terrace Theatre. Richard Guzman’s preview article on our papers’ Web site is HERE.

The orchestra’s board announced today that it has extended Kelly Ruggirello’s contract as the LBSO executive director through the 2017. Ruggirello took over the post 18 months ago and this announcement means, presumably, that she will be leading the orchestra through its music director transition. Enrique Arturo Diemecke resigned abruptly last season after 13 years as the LBSO’s music director.

Concert information:

The London Philharmonic Orchestra will make a stop at California State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center on Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski will lead the program of Dvorak’s The Noonday Witch, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”) and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist. Incidentally, the LPO announced yesterday that Jurowski’s contract has been extended through at least 2018 (LINK).


The following day, the LPO moves down the 405 Freeway to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa when it opens the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s 2014-2015 season on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. with the same program and performers as at VPAC. Information:

If you’re so inclined, you can comparison performances of the concerto because Behzod Abduraimov will be the soloist when the Los Angeles Philharmonic pairs Prokofiev’s third concerto with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in a “Casual Friday” concert on Oct. 17. Basque conductor Juanjo Mena will conduct. The concerts on Oct. 18 and 19 add Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony to the aforementioned two. Information:

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

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