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.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

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.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

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:

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:

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:

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:

• 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:


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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

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

Long Beach Symphony; Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor
Terrace Theatre, Long Beach
Next concert: March 8

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.

• 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).


(c) Copyright 2014, 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 March 8, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



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



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

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:


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


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




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:


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;


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:



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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email