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:
Preu-2016
• 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: www.longbeachsymphony.org

• 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: www.laco.org

• 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: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
usc-st-clair
• 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: www.laphil.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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“I’m back!”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

My “regular” job as Director of Administration and a member of the pastoral staff at Pasadena Presbyterian Church has caused me to lay aside my music critic/columnist role during an ultra-busy holiday season but I’m back on a semi-regular basis now.

During my hiatus, we’ve lost some musical giants to death — including Kurt Masur and Pierre Boulez — and retirement — Michelle Zukovsky (LINK).
In addition, the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C. has made a fascinating choice for its next music director in Gianandrea Noseda (LINK)

Meanwhile, our ultra-busy musical life plunges ahead here in Southern California.

During the past several seasons, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has played a single concert at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena (which long ago was its home). During these “Discover” concerts, Music Director Jeffrey Kahane takes the first half of the evening to explain a major work and then leads the orchestra in a complete performance of the work.

This year’s 8 p.m. concert tomorrow will feature Bach’s Cantata No. 140, known as Sleepers Awake because of the Advent-themed tune that dominates the work. For tomorrow night’s performance, LACO will be joined by the USC Thornton School Chamber Singers, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and three soloists.

Information: www.laco.org

For a choral experience of a totally different sensation, consider the Los Angeles Master Chorale performances of Verdi’s “Requiem” on January 30 at 2 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Artistic Director Grant Gershon will lead 110 choristers, four soloists and an orchestra in this monumental work with dynamics ranging from the softest solos to roof-rattling full-ensemble climaxes.

The latter will be accentuated by antiphonal trumpets placed around Disney Hall and a custom-built double bass drum to be used in the Dies Irae section. True confessions: while singing the Verdi Requiem would be a real treat, what I always wanted to do was whack that double bass drum.

Information: www.lamc.org

Speaking of rattling the Disney Hall rafters, organist Paul Jacobs and soprano Christine Brewer will make an unusual combination in a duo-recital at Disney Hall on this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Among the unusual choices of repertoire will be several pieces by Nadia Boulanger, who was better known as a teacher in the early 20th century than for her compositions.

The program comes from a recently released recording, “Divine Redeemer,” by the artists who will sign copies of the CD after the concert. For organ traditionalists, the evening will end with Jacobs playing the famous “Toccata” from the Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor.

Information: www.laphil.com

Among the notable orchestral concerts coming up, Music Director Marcelo Lehninger will lead his New West Symphony in concerts tomorrow night in Oxnard, Saturday night in Thousand Oaks and Sunday afternoon in Santa Monica. The program will feature music by George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel. Finnish pianist Denis Kozhukhin will be the soloist in Ravel’s G Major Concert.

Information: www.newwestsymphony.org

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic Conductor Laureate, returns to Disney Hall for a nearly month-long series of concerts that begins Jan. 29, 30 and 31 when he leads the Phil in performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with another familiar figure, pianist Yefim Bronfman as soloist.

It would be tempting to call this a program of “firsts,” except that the concerto was actually the second that Beethoven wrote. Since it was published before the B-flat major concerto, the C Major concerto became listed as No. 1.

Information: www.laphil.com

Salonen will return to lead the Phil during mid-February in two programs as part of his “City of Light” festival, which features French music spanning a century. Among the other programs in the festival will be Music Director David Robertson leading his St. Louis Symphony in a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles, a 90-minute work inspired by Utah’s national parks, including Bryce Canyon.

Information: www.laphil.com

Full information on the “City of Light” festival is HERE.

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

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L.A. Chamber Orchestra plumbs Mozart’s Requiem; L.A. Phil takes on “Alice in Wonderland”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

• When Jeffrey Kahane began his “Discover” series of one-off concerts with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Ambassador Auditorium several years ago, it was to examine Beethoven symphonies in depth. Having exhausted most of those works (at least the familiar ones), Kahane & Co. turn to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor on Thursday at 8 p.m. for the next installment.

There are plenty of opportunities for examination. Mozart left the piece unfinished and most conductors have used an ending supposedly finished by the composer’s friend, Franz Süssmayr. However in the 1990s, fortepianist and Mozart scholar Robert Levin published his own completion and this is the edition Kahane will use when he conducts the orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists in the second half of the program.

In the first half, actors John Sloan and JD Cullum from The Antaeus Company will join with Kahane to tell the Requiem’s story.

Single tickets are $25-$115. BTW: check the Web site for parking instructions, which are different than for Pasadena Symphony concerts.

Information: www.laco.org

• While Los Angeles Opera remains immersed in its “Figaro Trilogy” — The Ghost of Versailles continues its run through March 1, The Barber of Seville opens Feb. 28 and The Marriage of Figaro begins March 21 — the Los Angeles Philharmonic jumps into the operatic fray on Feb. 27 and 28 in Walt Disney Concert Hall with West Coast-premiere performances of Alice in Wonderland by Korean composer Unsuk Chin.

This is a new production by video artist Netia Jones who, in addition to being director, also designed the costumes and sets. She will use illustrations by Ralph Steadman (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and combine those with live action and interactive animated projections.

There’s a cast of 12 in the opera — many playing multiple roles — along with members of the L.A. Master Chorale and L.A. Children’s Chorus. The performances will be conducted by rising Finnish star Susanna Mälkki, who was recently named chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and has made a strong impression in previous L.A. Phil concerts.

Incidentally, LA Opera is listed as a “collaborator” on this production although the company has made no mention of this on its Web site or publicity materials. LAO reportedly has been miffed about the Phil invading its turf with opera productions at Disney Hall in recent years so perhaps this “collaboration” was a way to mollify hurt feelings.

Information: www.laphil.com

If Chin’s contemporary take on Lewis Carroll’s classic isn’t your cup of tea, another young woman conductor with a growing rep, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla — the Phil’s new assistant conductor — will lead a program of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio overture, Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 on March 1 at Disney Hall.

Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASSICAL MUSIC: Another busy week with concerts by LACO, Master Chorale and L.A. Phil

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

My column on upcoming concerts by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Philharmonic is HERE. Incidentally, the composer of the Viola Concerto is Aaron Jay Kernis, not Arnold — mea culpa!

Performance details:
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor and pianist
Rameau: Overture to Zaïs; Dances from Les Boréades & Dardanus
Kernis: Viola Concerto (LA premiere); Paul Neubauer, violist
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor
Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. in Alex Theatre, Glendale
Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.laco.org

• Los Angeles Master Chorale: Grant Gershon, conductor
Music by Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Josquin des Prez, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Orlando di Lasso and John Tavener.
Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.lamc.org

• Los Angeles Philharmonic; Cristian Măcelaru, conductor
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole; Elgar: Enigma Variations
Penderecki: Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos. Claudio Bohórquez, Arto Novras and Li-Wei Quin, soloists
Nov. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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(Rev.) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Jeffrey Kahane, LACO open 46th season with “world tour”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
The revision includes the name of the encore.

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Saturday, September 20, 2014 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre
Patrick: Lines of the Southern Cross
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian); Juho Pohjonen, soloist
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor.
Next performance: Tonight at 7 p.m. UCLA’s Royce Hall. Concert preview at 6 p.m.
Information: www.laco.org
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Jeffrey Kahane took his audience on an around-the-world tour for the opening concert of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 46th season last night in Glendale’s Alex Theatre. The itinerary included Australia by way of Southern California, Egypt via France and Finland, and Germany-Austria.

Kahane, beginning his 18th season as LACO’s music director, opened the program with the LACO-commissioned world premiere of Lines of the Southern Cross by 46-year-old Australia native Cameron Patrick, who now lives in Los Angeles.

The 15-minute, five-movement work for strings and percussion used sounds that replicated Aboriginal instruments — in his preconcert talk, Patrick explained that importing actual instruments would have been too difficult legally.

Patrick also employed “songline,” an aural map that describes geographical features, to paint evocative pictures of the wide-open Outback spaces (Lake Cootharaba, K’gari Coast and Nullabor Plain). The jazz-infused final section added a joyous counterpoint to the mystery. The audience responded with a thunderous standing ovation.

Prior to intermission, Kahane, the orchestra and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen offered a scintillating performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5. The only other time that LACO had programmed this last of the composer’s piano concertos was in 1985 when Gerard Schwarz was music director, Kahane was three years shy of making his conducting debut, and Pohjonen was age four.

Now a rising star in the piano firmament, Pohjonen displayed impeccable technique throughout Saturday night, particularly in his ultra-clean runs and trills. However what made this performance special were his exquisite shadings and musicality, especially in the second movement that gives the concerto its nickname, “Egyptian” (reportedly the composer heard that movement’s main theme being sung by boatmen while cruising down the Nile River). Kahane and the orchestra offered supple accompaniment throughout the performance. Pohjonen encored with Les chinois by François Couperin from Pieces de Clavecin, Book 4: 27th Ordre in B minor.

After intermission, Kahane and his orchestra a brisk account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Like the concerto, this was just the second time that LACO has played this most familiar of Beethoven symphonies (the other time was in 2009) but Kahane conducted it from memory.

This performance also demonstrated Kahane’s savvy programming in broadening LACO’s repertory to include “larger” symphonies (as opposed to those of Mozart and Haydn, to name but two composers). Saturday night wasn’t a note-perfect performance but the 53 players approximated the size Beethoven would have used and, compared to a “full-sized” orchestra of 90 or so, played with a transparency that allowed many of the inner voices to shine through clearly.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Prior to the performance, Kahane took the opportunity to salute Andrea Laguni, who has retired after 19 years as the orchestra’s general manager.
• In the preconcert talk, in addition to Kahane interviewing Patrick about Lines of the Southern Cross, Principal Oboeist Alan Vogel played Saint-Saëns’ Oboe Sonata, with Kahane accompanying at the keyboard.
• Most interesting item gleaned from Dr. Christine Lee Gengaro’s music notes: There was a 20-year-gap between Saint-Saëns fourth and fifth piano concertos. He wrote the Egyptian concerto in 1896 for the 50th anniversary of his debut at Paris’ Salle Pleyel when he was age 11.
• The next LACO orchestra concerts are Oct. 18 (at the Alex) and 19 (at UCLA’s Royce Hall). Douglas Boyd leads a program of George Benjamin’s At First Light; Mozart’s “Haffner” March and “Haffner” Serenade; and Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2, with Steven Isserlis as soloist. Information: www.laco.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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