NEWS: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus names new artistic director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Fernando Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, who for the past 13 years has served as music director of the American Boychoir in Princeton, NJ, has been named artistic director of the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, effective Aug. 1, 2018. He will replace Anne Tomlinson, who is retiring in 2018 after 22 years heading up the LACC.

Both organizations are among the premiere children’s choir organization in the United States and, indeed, around the world. Malvar-Ruiz becomes just the third artistic director/music director in LACC’s 32-year-history. Tomlinson succeeded Founding Co-Director Rebecca Thompson; thus, Malvar-Ruiz becomes the first male to lead the organization.

Malvar-Ruiz’s 13-year tenure with the ABC was highlighted by some 200 performances and up to five national and international tours annually and appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Olaf Choir, Westminster Choir and New York Choral Artists, among many others.

Under Malvar-Ruiz the ABC also appeared on the 77th annual Academy Awards and performed for the 9/11 Memorial Service broadcast live globally on CNN in 2006. He also conducted his choir on six recordings and served as the music director on the 2014 film Boychoir, inspired by the choir, directed by François Girard and starring Dustin Hoffman, Kathie Bates and Deborah Winger, as well as the American Boychoir.

Malvar-Ruiz, who has worked with children’s and youth choirs almost his entire professional career, notes his passion for working with this segment of the population is directly linked to three core beliefs.

“Music is an essential component of humanity,” he explains. “Our sense of being, what makes us human, needs music to exist and thrive in the same way that our bodies need food, water and air. Secondly, group singing, or choral music, is the most universal musical form of artistic expression; every known culture in the world, present or past, has some kind of collective singing. And finally, while music is a worthy end in itself — it does not need any justification to exist — it can also be a most powerful means to educate, empower, uplift, build character and generally enrich the lives of those who participate in it.”

LACC choristers are currently singing in LA Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen, a performance that L.A. Times Music Critic Mark Swed opined that “they stole the show in the crowd scenes at the beginning and end of the opera.” The Chorus also appears with the Los Angeles Master Chorale to open the LAMC season on Sept. 23 and 24.

The chorus opens its 2017-2018 concert season on Dec. 3 at Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series. Information:

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Make your holiday season a musical one

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.

Few things better symbolize the Christmas season than music and this year brings an unusually rich assortment of concerts and recitals, beginning with the world-renowned Los Angeles Children’s Chorus presents its midwinter concerts Dec. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. On Saturday, LACC’s Concert and Apprentice Choirs and its Young Men’s Ensemble will perform; the following evening, it’s the Concert and Intermediate Choirs and the Chamber Singers. Info:

The LACC also appears in several other concerts this season, including four performances of the orchestral score for The Nutcracker played by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Dec. 12-15 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. This is the first time that Dudamel has conducted the Phil in December concerts.

For those looking for something other than holiday music, the Phil has two offerings. Next weekend (Thursday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon), Rafael Frubeck de Burgos returns to the Phil podium with two symphonies by Haydn and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Dudamel will lead the Phil in four concerts (Dec. 19-22) that will feature Yuja Wang as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Stravinsky’s score for the ballet Petrushka and Blow bright, a world premiere by Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason, are also on the program. Info on the Phil programs above:

As usual, the Los Angeles Master Chorale will have an ultra-busy holiday season at Disney Hall beginning on Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. with its “Festival of Carols, with 115 singers and organ performing traditional holiday works. This program repeats Dec. 14 at 2 p.m., but as you will see below that’s a really jam-packed day so you might want to consider the first program instead. Info:

Other LAMC holiday programs are
• “Rejoice! Ceremony of Carols” on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., when Music Director Grant Gershon leads a program of music by Respighi, Vaughan Williams and Stephen Paulus, along with Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, performed as part of the Southland’s “Britten 100/LA” tribute to the centennial of Britten’s birth. Info:
• Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 15 and 22 at 7 p.m. Gershon leads 48 singers, soloists and a chamber orchestra in this most familiar of Christmas oratorios. Info:
• “Messiah Sing-Along” on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Grab your score (or buy one at the door) and join with the Master Chorale and other audience members in singing Handel’s memorable score. Info:

As noted above, Dec. 14 will be one of those jam-packed evenings that cause concertgoers indigestion because they have so much from which to choose. In addition to the Master Chorale’s “Festival of Carols” listed above, consider:
• The Pasadena Symphony’s Holiday concerts on Dec. 14 at 4 and 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper leads the program that will also feature vocalist Lisa Vroman, members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, and the handbell choir, LA Bronze. Info:
• The Pasadena Master Chorale will offer its Christmas concert of Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Info:
Pasadena Presbyterian Church will present the 69th annual rendition of its free-admission “Candlelight and Carols” program at 7:30 p.m. The concert will feature the church’s six choirs, two organists and an instrumental ensemble, and will include plenty of audience caroling. The featured work will be On Christmas Night by English composer Bob Chilcott. Info:
Angeles Chorale will present “Divine Joy: a Christmas Celebration in Music” at 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena. Artistic Director John Sutton will conduct the program, which will feature the first part of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Info:

One organization that chose not to join the Dec. 14 clog is Pasadena Pro Musica, which continues its 50th season the following afternoon at 4 p.m. in Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church. Artistic Director Stephen Grimm leads a program of music by Benjamin Britten and Tomas Luis de Victoria. Info:

In addition to what’s listed above, Disney Hall offers a number of varied holiday programs; my favorite would be “A Chanticleer Christmas,” which features the renowned San Francisco-based all-male a cappella choral ensemble. Info:

And this list doesn’t include the ongoing Los Angeles Opera’s ongoing production of Verdi’s Falstaff, which concludes its run today at 7 p.m., nor the company’s presentation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which runs through Dec. 15. My preview story on The Magic Flute is HERE and a followup article is HERE. Info the operas:

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: KUSC to air Disney Hall “War Requiem” concert on Sunday

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

If you weren’t able to attend the performances of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem Sunday in Orange County or Monday in Walt Disney Concert Hall, KUSC (91.5 FM in Los Angeles and will air the L.A. performance on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Details:

James Conlon conducted The Colburn Orchestra, members of the USC-Thornton Symphony, three soloists and more than 400 choristers ranging from local universities to the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus in the performances.

Links to my preview story and my review are HERE and HERE.

BTW: A Caltech link has the complete text HERE so you can follow it. Although the diction was exemplary during the Disney Hall performance, being able to read Wilfed Owen’s gripping poetry would definitely be a plus.

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, American Youth Symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus; American Youth Symphony

James Conlon, Anne
Tomlinson, Alexander Treger, conductors

Music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Beam, Wilcocks and

March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall.


NOTE: With this
review, I come violate one of my cardinal rules, which is to not review people
for whom I’ve sung or with whom I am well acquainted. Anne Tomlinson fits in
the latter category and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is housed at my
church [Pasadena Presbyterian]. Thus, you can — as the late, great Molly Ivins
was often wont to say, take this review with “a grain of salt or a pound of
salt,” if you are so inclined.



We’ve just come off of six weeks that, among other things,
focused attention on Venezuela’s “El Sistema” music education system and the
Los Angeles Philharmonic’s attempt to reproduce — in some fashion — the success
of that endeavor locally.


Lost amid the Mahler, hoopla and acronyms such as YOLA and
HOLA is the fact that this region can boast of several ensembles that
demonstrate what happens when the musical cream rises to the top. Two of those
groups, the American Youth Symphony and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, combined
for a concert last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall that concluded with the
world premiere of an intriguing cantata, The
isle is full of noises
by Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason.


The Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (which, despite its name
is based in Pasadena) was founded in 1986 and has become one of the nation’s
leading children’s choral programs. There are now more than 375 children, ages
6-18, participating in seven choirs and an extensive music education program.
Its artistic director, Anne Tomlinson, has been at the helm for 16 years and
LACC regularly performs with the L.A. Phil, Los Angeles Opera and other
professional groups, while also presenting its own programs. The group’s
Concert Choir recently sang for both Mahler Symphony No. 3 and No. 8.


Founded in 1964 by Mehli Mehta (father of former LAPO Music
Director Zubin Mehta), the American Youth Symphony has trained more than 200
musicians who now play in professional orchestras. Together the New York
Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra have eight AYS alumni in
principal posts, while the L.A. Phil, L.A. Chamber Orchestra and L.A. Opera
Orchestra use 32 members who worked with the AYS.


For their appearance on the Phil’s “Sounds About Town”
series this year, the two organizations combined to commission Bjarnason’s
14-minute, three-movement piece based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the preconcert lecture, Tomlinson identified a
significant problem of writing a big piece for a children’s chorus: the range
of the young singers is only slightly more than two octaves, far less than if a
composer were writing for adults.


Bjarnason, who at age 31 isn’t all that much older than some
of the AYS instrumentalists (that group’s upper age limit is 27), was equal to
the task. He chose the texts purposefully; his grandfather translated
Shakespeare’s sonnets into Icelandic, a project that was published just before
his grandfather’s death.


Deciding that some of Shakespeare’s sonnets weren’t
appropriate textually for children, Bjarnason instead turned to The Tempest and selected Miranda’s O I Have Suffered, Caliban’s Be Not Afear’d and Prospero’s The Cloud-Capp’d Towers as the texts for
the three movements. He reserved the loudest, richest orchestral moments for
when the children weren’t singing, creating massed clusters of sound with piano
and percussion punctuation. However, during the choral portions Bjarnason
skillfully cut back the orchestra so as not to overpower the 86 members of the
LACC Concert Choir, whom he challenged with close harmonies and tricky sliding
chromatic scales; the composition ranged from unison singing to as many as 12
parts. The result was often intriguing and occasionally riveting.


Conlon, who spends much of his life balancing orchestras
with singers, was the perfect choice to lead this premiere performance. He did
an expert job of balancing and supplied a supple hand to the score’s tone
painting. The orchestra — with Principal Flute Alexandra Walin standing out in
her solo turns — played with assurance and skill and the choristers sang with
compelling gracefulness and cohesion. Considering that the singers had
relatively little time to prepare owing to their work in the Phil’s “Mahler
Project,” their performance was particularly noteworthy.


Prior to the Bjarnason work, Alexander Treger, who has been
the orchestra’s music director since 1998, led his AYS in a polished
performance of a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Last week, Charles Dutoit led the L.A. Phil in a
riveting performance of eight sections of the ballet and if Treger’s concept
(using just six sections) felt a little more episodic than Dutoit’s, this
performance had its exhilarating moments, as well.


In the first half of the program, three of the LACC choirs
began the Shakespearean theme by performing a series of short selections from
American and British composers. The 16 high-school girls of the Chamber Singers
made a block dividing the larger Intermediate and Apprentice Choirs.


The most impressive performance was the initial selection:
Douglas Beam’s Spirits, which
Tomlinson conducted and the combined choirs sang with impressive diction and


Individually, the Intermediate Choir (led by Mandy Brigham)
and the Apprentice Choir (led by Larissa Donnelly) sang Britten’s Fancie, Robert Johnson’s Where the Bee Sucks and Vaughan
Williams’ Orpheus with His Lute with
supple grace, although the diction was more muddied (part of which can be laid
at the hands of the composers). The Chamber Singers concluded the set with a
sweet performance of Vaughan Williams’ Sigh
No More, Ladies.
Among other things, the collection of choirs and songs
provided the audience with valuable lessons in how voices change as children
grow older and gain more experience in choral singing. Twyla Meyer accompanied
skillfully on the piano.


To conclude the first half, Tomlinson returned to the podium
to the lead the orchestra and Concert Choir (LACC’s flagship ensemble) in a
performance of David Wilcocks’ The
Glories of Shakespeare.
Actor Stuart W. Howard opened the piece by reciting
lines from uncredited, albeit familiar Shakespeare lines, and he and Lina Patel
added additional recitatives between each of the five selections in this


Unlike Bjarnason, whose orchestral writing covered a wide
range, Wilcocks’ orchestral accompaniments stayed mainly with the two-octave
treble-voice range, which made the work less interesting. Whether it was the
singers not projecting quite enough volume or the orchestra playing with two
much, Tomlinson had troubles with balances in the first piece but provided a
more integrated whole during the final four movements. Principal Flute Walin
again provided sparkling solo work.




Apparently bowing to complaints raised from opening night
onward about Disney Hall’s inability to adequately project spoken words, a
large horn cluster was suspended above the stage, which made diction from
Howard and Patel much clearer. It also looked ugly and overpowering but one can
hope that someone will figure out a way to cover the horns in a way that blends
more aesthetically with Frank Gehry’s wood walls and ceiling.

One thing the horn array did was eliminate the use
overhead projection of texts, which were, instead, in a printed-program insert.
Fortunately, house management left the lights up sufficiently for people to
follow the texts when that was necessary.



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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and American Youth Symphony appear tonight at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first published today in the above papers.


Los Angeles Children’s
Chorus; American Youth Symphony

James Conlon, Anne
Tomlinson, Alexander Treger, conductors

Music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Beam and Wilcocks

The Isle is full of
by Daniel Bjarnason (world premiere)

Today at 7:30 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall. Preconcert
lecture at 6:30 p.m.



There are several reasons to consider attending this
evening’s program by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and American Youth
Symphony at 7:30 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, part of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series.


First (and most important) it’s a concert that combines two
of the Southland’s major youth-oriented organizations. Now in its second
quarter century, the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is one of the
world’s premiere children’s choirs whose singers regularly perform with such
groups as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera.  From the time it was founded, in 1964
by conductor Mehli Mehta (father of Zubin), the American Youth Symphony has
trained thousands of orchestral musicians, many of whom now play in major
orchestras throughout the U.S.


Second, the Shakespeare-themed program will see the
conductors of both ensembles on the podium (albeit at different times), along
with Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon, who will lead both
ensembles in the world premiere of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises, a
three-movement work based on Shakespeare’s The


The concert will conclude a very busy weekend for Conlon.
Last night he led a performance of Britten’s Albert Herring and this afternoon he conducts Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, both for L.A. Opera at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It will also be a busy day at Disney Hall, as
the L.A. Phil and guest conductor Pablo Hereas-Casado conclude their weekend
series with a program that includes the west coast premiere of James Matheson’s
Violin Concerto, along with Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Ein Heldenleben.


Anne Tomlinson, LACC artistic director, will lead the
opening half of the Sunday evening program, conducting the choir in Sigh no more ladies and Orpheus with his lute by Ralph Vaughan
Williams; Benjamin Britten’s Fancie;
and Douglas Beam’s Spirits. Tomlinson
will conclude the first half by conducting both ensembles in David Wilcocks’ The Glories of Shakespeare.


After intermission and before the Bjornason work, Alexander
Treger, AYS music director, will lead his ensemble in a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.


A third reason to attend is that the “Sounds About Town”
series provides people with an inexpensive way to see a concert in the Disney
Hall auditorium. Tickets for this concert range from $20.75 to $45, far less
than you would pay for an L.A. Phil concert, so if you’ve never been inside
Disney Hall, this is a great opportunity. Since the two ensembles will
undoubtedly have lots of relatives in attendance, check with the box office
before you make the trip downtown. Information:



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

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