FIVE-SPOT: April 27-May 3, 2007

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. As usual, Saturday requires tough choices this week but Sunday is also chock-full (and I didn’t even include LA Opera’s “Tosca” performance on that afternoon).

APRIL 27, 28 and 29: PACIFIC SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; Costa Mesa
Two French Canadians are on the program. Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads music by Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and Ravel. Louis Lortie will be the soloist in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

APRIL 28, 29 and 30: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
11 a.m. April 28, 8 p.m. April 29 and 2 p.m. April 30
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Swiss conductor Phillipe Jordan will join with soprano Iréne Theorin and the Phil for an evening of portions of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelung. Jordan seems like a natural choice for this program, since he is music director of the Paris Opera where he succeeded James Conlon, and has recorded a CD with his Paris forces of this program.

The L.A. Phil concerts will include the excerpts from all four “Ring” operas that one would expect in this type of program. However, because the program also includes the Prelude and Orchestra Interludes from Das Rheingold, the orchestration includes six anvils, six harps, nine horns, two timpani and one hammer.

The climax, literally and figuratively, will find Theorin singing “Brunhilde’s Immolation” scene, the conclusion of Götterdämerung and the entire cycle. Hearing this music with the L.A. Phil on stage at Disney Hall should be one of the season’s highlights, at least for Wagner lovers.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via 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: www.laphil.com

APRIL 29: PASADENA SYMPHONY
2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium; Pasadena
Music Director David Lockington will be on the podium for the final concerts in the PSO’s season. The first part of the program includes music by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. The second half is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, with the Donald Brinegar Singers, JPL Chorus and four soloists joining the orchestra in this monumental work.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

APRIL 29: LONG BEACH SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Terrace Theatre; Long Beach
Robert Istaad, incoming music director of the Pacific Chorale, leads an evening of Mozart: Overture to The Magic Flute; Symphony No. 25; and Requiem, with the Long Beach Camerata Singers and soloists Elissa Johnston, soprano, I-Chin Lee, alto, Nicholas Preston, tenor, and Randall Gremillion, bass.

BONUS: The Terrace Theatre is easily accessible via the Metro Blue Line. Exit at 1st St. in Long Beach, walk a block south and cross the street to reach the plaza where the theatre is located..

Information: longbeachsymphony.org

APRIL 30: PACIFIC SYMPHONY AT SOKA
3 p.m. at Soka University; Aliso Viejo
Music Director Carl St.Clair leads his ensemble in an all-Beethoven program: Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”), with Joyce Yang as soloist; and the Triple Concerto, with the Faktura Piano Trio (HyeJin Kim, piano, Fabiola Kim, violin and Ben Solomonow, cello) as soloists.

BONUS: This is a great chance to experience one of the region’s unsung concert halls.

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

APRIL 30: LOS ANGELES MASTER CHORALE
7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs an eclectic collection of spirituals and other music on April 30 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Artistic Director Grant Gershon and Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong will conduct 48 LAMC singers in a program entitled “Wade in the Water” (the title comes from the spiritual of the same name by Moses Hogan that will be on the program). The program ranges far and wide, including Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via 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: www.lamasterchorale.org

APRIL 30: BENJAMIN GROSVENOR AT THE WALLIS
7 p.m. at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; Beverly Hills
The British pianist plays sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Scriabin and other works.

BONUS: Grosvernor also appears with the same program on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa (philharmonicsociety.org).

Information for April 30: www.thewallis.org

APRIL 30: PENINSULA SYMPHONY
7 p.m. at Redondo Union High School; Redondo Beach
The orchestra continues its 50th anniversary season as Music Director Gary Berkson leads a program of suites by Grieg, Prokofiev, Vaughan Williams and Ravel. Baritone Vladimir Chernov will be the soloist in Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kïjé suite.

BONUS: Free admission.

Information: www.pensym.org

MAY 3: YO-YO MASS, EDGAR MEYER and CHRIS TILE
8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Three of the world’s most celebrated soloists play a series Bach Trios, arranged for cello, string bass and mandolin.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via 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: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: 1,000 students shine during L.A. Master Chorale High School Choral Festivazl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

There were several different ways to experience the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 28th annual High School Choral Festival this afternoon in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

You could start with the observation that it was amazing that 1,000 students from 29 high schools could actually be quiet at the same time, not once but several times! Not only that, they managed to get into their seats not once but twice nearly on time, a logistical feat approximating the D-Day landings on Normandy.

One could also be amazed at the technical prowess of the combined forces who were seated in the orchestra and orchestra view seats surrounding the Disney Hall stage. In seven pieces that ranged from Handel’s Your Voices Tune to several contemporary pieces, the students — led by LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon — sang with impressive diction and articulation and managed to create a wonderfully harmonious sound in those pieces where harmonies were at their lushest.

Two of the pieces — Bring Me Little Water, Silvy and Stand in that River — were by guest artist Moira Smiley (actually, as she explained, the former was a Ledbelly tune), who was on hand to teach the performers the percussion to accompany Bring Me Little Water, Silvy. Although students learned all of the music ahead of time, somehow everything managed to come together in a morning’s rehearsal, yet another amazing feat.

Midway through the choral concert, Gershon led 91 singers selected from the participating schools who comprised the Festival Honor Choir in three difficult, contemporary songs from around the world. The ensemble acquitted itself with distinction during this set; the final work — Tiptipa Kemmakem by Philippine-born composer Nilo Alcala — was particularly intricate in its time signatures.

Another aspect of the concert was to experience the amazing acoustics of Disney Hall, the second day in a row where that was the case (read my review of last night’s Los Angeles Philharmonic HERE). Although Disney Hall is one of the world’s great orchestra halls, it is best during choral concerts, especially during soft moments.

Today was actually three separate programs, beginning with a performance by the 16-voice L.A. Master Chorale Chamber Singers, led by MC Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong. Considering that she memorized the entire 40-minute set, this may well have been part of her Doctor of Musical Arts degree program at USC’s Thornton School of Music. She conducted the set with expressive hands and careful attention to the pieces’ many moods, and the singers’ tone resonated throughout the hall.

Among the highlights was Wir Juden (We Jews), a new composition by 18-year-old USC freshman Lucy McKnight. The moving, five-minute work, McKnight’s first choral piece, was selected as the winner of the Master Chorale’s second annual Young Composers’ Competition and is based on a poem by Gertrud Kolmar, a German-Jewish writer who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943.

The hit for the assembled students was True Colors by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, as arranged by Saunder Choi. The students were given colored lights and encouraged to illuminate them at appropriate times; the results made for a dazzling light display to accompany the singing.

After the Chamber Singers’ program, organist John West gave a demonstration of the Disney Hall organ, beginning with Bach’s Toccata in D Minor and ending with a Star Wars medley that brought forth the waving light show once again. A good time was had by all, especially those who had never heard this instrument!

Prior to the afternoon program, the 29 choral directors were honored onstage with certificates from the Master Chorale. Later, Gershon paid tribute to his high school choral teachers and encouraged the students to keep on singing. “God knows we need harmony in our lives today,” he said.

Next Master Chorale concert:
Gershon and Wong will conduct 48 Master Chorale singers in a program entitled “Wade in the Water” on April 30 in Disney Hall. The program’s title comes from the spiritual of the same name by Moses Hogan that will be sung during the concert. The music ranges far and wide, including Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor. Information: www.lamasterchorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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FIVE-SPOT: April 20-23, 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. Once again, Saturday will be a VERY busy day.

APRIL 20, 22, 23: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
8 p.m. April 20 and 22; 2 p.m. April 23
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony, returns “home” (he’s a Santa Monica native) to lead the Phil in a program that features the west coast premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto, with Paul Jacobs as soloist. The concerto is bookended by Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“from the New World”). The Rouse concerto, a L.A. Phil co-commission, debuted last fall in Philadelphia.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via 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: www.laphil.com

APRIL 21: HIGH SCHOOL CHORAL FESTIVAL
1 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles (see “Additional Concert” below)
1,000 high school students from 30 Southland schools can be heard in a free concert when the Los Angeles Master Chorale presents the 28th Annual High School Choir Festival. The Festival choir will be led by LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon in a varied program that features works by this year’s guest artist singer/composer Moira Smiley. Smiley will also teach the massive choir body percussion to accompany one of her songs.

BONUS: Free admission, first come, first served (which means it’s a great — and cost effective — opportunity to hear choral music in Disney Hall).

ADDITIONAL CONCERT: Assistant conductor Jenny Wong will lead 16 members of the Chorale in a concert at 11 a.m. This one is also free but tickets must be arranged through the Master Chorale Web Site (see below).

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via 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: www.lamasterchorale.org

APRIL 21: THE COLBURN ORCHESTRA
7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Guest Conductor Christian Arming (music director of the Liège Royal Philharmonic) leads this top-notch conservatory orchestra in a program that features a collection of songs by Irving Berlin sung by tenor Joshua Wheeker and danced by The Colburn Dance Academy. The songs are bookended by Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

BONUS: This concert is part of the L.A. Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series, which means that tickets are very reasonably priced ($15-$44). So, if you’ve never heard a concert in Disney Hall, this is a great opportunity.

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via 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: www.laphil.com

APRIL 21: “WEST SIDE STORY”
8 p.m. at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts; La Mirada
The McCoy-Rigby mounting of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, his iconic retelling of Romeo and Juliet, moves to La Mirada for an extended run that lasts through May 14.

BONUS: Nice ticket prices: $14-$70.

Information: lamirdadatheatre.com

APRIL 22 AND 23: LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
8 p.m. April 22 at Alex Theatre; Glendale
7 p.m. April 23 at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
In his penultimate concert as LACO Music Director, Jeffrey Kahane leads the orchestra, soloists and members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Information: www.laco.org

APRIL 22: BACH’S “GOLDBERG VARIATIONS”
3 p.m. at The Huntington Library; San Marino
Harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon will play one of Bach’s most famous keyboard works as part of Camerata Pacifica’s 27th season.

Information: www.cameratapacifica.org

APRIL 22: AMERICAN YOUTH SYMPHONY
6 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
Music Director Carlos Izcaray leads his young musicians in a performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, and Korngold’s Violin Concerto, with Rachel Ostler as soloist.

BONUS: Tickets are free but should be reserved in advance (the concert is nearly sold out). The concert is followed by a ticketed gala dinner; reservations are required.

Information: aysymphony.org

APRIL 22: PUCCINI’S “TOSCA”
7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; Los Angeles
Sondra Radvanovsky returns to L.A. to reprise her role in Puccini’s tear jerker. James Conlon conducts and John Caird oversees his original LA Opera staging. Other performances are April 27, May 2, 5 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 30 and May 7 at 2 p.m.

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then west up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laopera.org

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

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FIVE SPOT: March 23-29, 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. As you can see, Saturday will be a very busy day (and night).

MARCH 25: HOLLYWOOD MASTER CHORALE
4 p.m. at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, Beverly Hills
Stephen Pu leads the chorale in a peace-oriented program that includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, and Nick Strimple’s Psalm 133, let the sweet sounds delight!

Information: www.hollywoodmasterchorale.org

MARCH 25: LOS ANGELES MASTER CHORALE
7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Grant Gershon leads his chorale in Stravinsky’s Les Noces and several choruses by John Adams.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via 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: www.lamasterchorale.org

MARCH 25: LOS ANGELES OPERA: THE TALES OF HOFFMAN
7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Plácido Domingo is in the pit for this LAO revival of Marta Domingo’s production of Offenbach’s famed tale about poet E.T.A. Hoffman’s boozy recollections of the four women he has loved and lost. Vittorio Grigolo sings the title role and Diana Damrau portrays two of the women (Kate Lindsey and So Young Park are the other two heroines). There are five other performances (Grant Gershon conducts on April 6).

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then and walk up two blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laopera.org

MARCH 25: JACARANDA AND TRANSCENDENTAL MUSIC
8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church Santa Monica
Pianist Stephen Vanhauwaert performs Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and wildUp French horn Allen Fogel plays Massiaen’s Interstellar Call (a portion of From the Canyons to the Stars).

BONUS: First Pres, Santa Monica, is within shouting distance of the west end of the Metro Expo Line, especially if the weather is good. Walk north three long blocks and west to the church.

Information: www.jacarandamusic.org

MARCH 26: PITTANCE CHAMBER MUSIC AT THE PAVILION
3 p.m. at The Founders Room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
The Pittance Chamber Music Ensemble, featuring members of the LA Opera Orchestra, join with tenor Arnold Livingston Geis and pianist Paul Floyd in this free concert that is part of L.A. Opera’s Open House program. Music by Britten, Korngold and Vaughan Williams.

BONUS: General seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are approximately 150 available seats. The performance will be about 90 minutes and will take place without intermission.

The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then and walk up two blocks to reach the hall.

Information: pittancechambermusic.org

MARCH 29: COLBURN AT THE WALLIS
8 p.m. at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills
Colburn School Artist-in-Residence Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joins pianists in the Colburn’s Conservatory of Music, Music Academy, and Community School in a program of solos and chamber music.

Information: www.colburnschool.edu
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: “In America” — a stunning oratorio on Japanese-American WW II internment written by Van Nuys High School students and L.A. Master Chorale

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

“In America” — an oratorio written by Van Nuys High School students in conjunction with the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s “Voices Within” artists-in-residency rogram
Sat., Feb. 18, 2 p.m.
Van Nuys High School
6535 Cedros Avenue
Van Nuys 91411
Free Admission
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Since September a group of 85 Van Nuys High School students have been learning about America’s Japanese internment camps during World War II. That’s not surprising given that Feb. 19 marks the 75th anniversary of the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that resulted in the forced removal and incarceration of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the Pacific Coast. More than 60 percent of the internees were United States citizens.

What is surprising is what came out of this study at Van Nuys High School.

As part of the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 20-week-long “Voices Within” artists-in-residency program, the students — along with several LAMC members — have composed a stunning, emotionally powerful, 45-minute oratorio, In America, which will receive its first public performance in a free-admission concert on Saturday in the Van Nuys HS auditorium.

The work received its premiere this afternoon before a full auditorium of VNHS students. Brianne Arevalo, VNHS Choral Director, led the performance with conviction and skill.

The students — who range from ninth through 12th grades — will perform the work Saturday, along with eight LAMC members and other VNHS vocal ensemble members. They will be accompanied by seven instrumentalists: six students and, on piano, David O, the Master Chorale’s composer for the project.

Working with lyricist Doug Cooney, singer Alice Kirwan Miller and O, the students wrote the lyrics and the melodies to the nine movements of the work. As part of the project, the LAMC members mentored the students on how to use musical techniques to capture the voice of the characters they create, propel the momentum of the plot, and paint the mood of the scene. They succeeded wonderfully in all phases.

The students also wrote about half of the often-chromatic harmonies of the work. O filled in the balance of the harmonies and provided the orchestrations. Reflecting the work’s poignancy, much of the music was in minor keys.

The production uses slide images from Manzanar (along U.S. Highway 395 near Mammoth Mountain) and other internment camps to help illustrate the stories. The performance used supertitles although the students’ diction was so good as to often render the titles superfluous.

After the work was completed, students auditioned for the 15 solo roles, which included Shushanna Keymethlyan, who was particularly poignant in the “Exodus” movement. The other soloists were Morgan Hesen, Lucy White, Isaiah Yiga, May Ngyuen, Jamaia Concepcion, Rafael Gomez, Bianca Akibiyk, Aerein Gundayao, Sat Gasparyan, Olivia Rodrigues, Antonio Lewis, Nat Nario and Ian Foster.

As is evident from the names above, Van Nuys High School is a diverse multicultural, multiracial school. Many of the students are immigrants and are living the lyrics they were singing. The movement with the text, “We are citizens like you but suddenly we are not,” rang out with heartfelt conviction.

The oratorio did an excellent job of delving into many of the layers of the internment issue, beginning with the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The scenes of people being sent to the camps and, later, from the camps back to a very uncertain future with only a bus ticket and $25 used the same musical motif and lyrics to great effect.

The clash between Issei (immigrants) and Nisei (U.S.-born Japanese Americans) was portrayed graphically, as were Questions 27 and 28 (the questions asked of those who volunteered to become soldiers in the U.S. Army, even as their families were interned). In addition, the angry back-and-forth section, “No-No, Yes-Yes” were gripping. (For more information on these two issues, click HERE).

Ultimately the oratorio poses the challenge, not just to those interned after WWII but to the U.S. today: “Where can I be an American if not in America? If I pledge to you, you must trust me.” One could only hope that one of those in attendance Saturday would be President Donald Trump. He needs to hear what these students have to say and the gripping immediacy with which the words are sung.

Background

Students from Van Nuys High School visiting the Japanese American National Museum as part of the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s “Voices Within” project. (Photo by Gabriel Zuniga)

Now in it’s seventh year (and the first at VNHS), the LAMC “Voices Within” Project places teaching artists in the classrooms to work with students.

“A core value of the program is to encourage expression through collaboration,” said LAMC President & CEO Jean Davidson. “That this oratorio, In America, about the Japanese American incarceration camps can have so much contemporary relevance is somewhat of an accident of timing, but it speaks to the universality of music and how it can allow us to find our voice, while also illustrating that looking to the past can provide guidance for the present.”

To further enhance their understanding of the camps and the impact of Executive Order 9066 on the Japanese American community, the VNHS students visited the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles in November.

Many of the museum’s docents and their families were among those interned, providing valuable first-hand accounts of their experience. One of those in attendance today was a child in a camp and he watched the performance with tears in his eyes.

The museum’s ongoing exhibit, “Common Ground: The Heart of Community,” documents 130 years of Japanese American immigration and history and includes a barrack building from the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center near Cody, Wyoming. That camp was one of 10 on the U.S. mainland. Two of the camps, Manzanar and Tule Lake, were in California. Together, they held nearly 30,000 internees.

The museum will begin a new exhibition, “Instructions to All Persons: Reflection on Executive Order 9066” on Feb. 18. Information: www.janm.org A story in the Los Angeles Times on the exhibition is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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