AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Three indoor music seasons begin next weekend

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of his article was first published today in the above papers.

With summer seasons for the most part in our rear-view mirror, three major arts organizations will open their 2013-2014 classical music seasons next weekend.

• The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra begins its 45th season Saturday night at 8 in Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Preconcert lectures will take place an hour before each performance.

The program will feature 24-year-old violinist Benjamin Beilman as soloist in Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto. Jeffrey Kahane, beginning his 17th season as LACO’s music director, will also lead the orchestra in music by Beethoven, Kodaly and Lutoslawski. INFO: 213/622-7001; www.laco.org

Due to a renovation of Glendale’s Alex Theatre, this will be the first of two LACO orchestra series concerts that will be held at Ambassador, which LACO called home during the 1980s and 1990s. The orchestra will also play its annual “Discover Beethoven” concert at Ambassador on Feb. 22, 2014.

• Los Angeles Opera opens its 28th season Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the first of seven performances of Bizet’s Carmen. Other performances are Sept. 26 and 28 and Oct. 1 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.

Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon will perform the title role in all but one of the performances (Belgrade-born Milena Kitic appears on Sept. 28). The opening-night cast includes José Brandon Jovanovich as Don Jose, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Escamillo, and Pretty Yende in her company debut as Micáela. Some performances intersperse other singers so check carefully before you decide on when to attend.

Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director, will conduct four of the performances, including opening night, while Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor will lead the other three. The production originated at Teatro Real in Madrid and has previously been used by LAO in 2004 and 2009. Opening night will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5-FM). INFO: 213/972-8001; www.laopera.com

LA Opera has announced that it will present three semi-staged productions of André Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, May 18, 21 and 24 in the Pavilion. Soprano Renée Flemming will sing the title role; she will be joined by some members of the cast that performed during the work’s debut in San Francisco in 1998. Patrick Summers, now principal conductor at San Francisco Opera, will conduct the three performances here. INFO

Previn, now 84, first made his name composing and arranging in Hollywood, winning Academy Awards in 1958 for scoring Gigi and 1959 for Porgy and Bess and then winning in 1963 for adapting Irma La Douce and 1964 for My Fair Lady. He has also written hundreds of classical and jazz compositions and other works. A Streetcar Named Desire ,based on Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer-Prize winning play from 1947, was Previn’s first opera (he also wrote Brief Encounters in 2007).

Previn eventually scratched a long-standing itch when he turned to conducting orchestras, including the Houston Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony. In 1985, he succeeded Carlo Maria Giulini as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a position he held until 1989. He also worked extensively with the London Symphony Orchestra and made a number of recordings with the LSO. Although Previn has rarely conducted in Los Angeles since his acrimonious departure as LAPO music director, one could only hope that the Phil would find a way to have him conduct during the May opera cycle, perhaps a concert of his own music.

The semi-staged production of A Streetcar Named Desire played earlier this year at Carnegie Hall and Lyric Opera of Chicago. LAO has an interesting article with Previn and Flemming commenting on the work on its Web site HERE.

A Streetcar Named Desire becomes the third 20th century opera that LAO will present this season. Einstein on the Beach, a landmark 1976 collaboration between director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, will play Oct. 11, 12 and 13 in the Pavilion. INFO

Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd will be presented six times, beginning Feb. 22, 2014. INFO Billy Budd is LAO’s major offering in the celebration of the centennial of Britten’s birth (he was born Nov. 22, 1913).

• Los Angeles Master Chorale opens its 50th anniversary season and its 10th as a resident ensemble at Walt Disney Concert Hall next Sunday at 7 p.m. when Grant Gershon leads 115 singers in an eclectic program featuring highlights from the Chorale’s four music directors during its first half-century: Roger Wagner (1964-1986), John Currie (1986-1991), Paul Salamunovich (1991-2001) and Gershon, who took over in 2001. The finale will be a performance of Randall Thompson’s a cappella anthem Alleluia performed by current and former LAMC members. INFO: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org

_______________________

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Major concerts on calendar during next fortnight

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first
published today in the above papers.

 

Four major concerts occur in our region during the next
fortnight — and that doesn’t count the final two events of the Piatigorsky
International Cello Festival at Walt Disney Concert Hall: a 2 p.m. concert by
the Los Angeles Philharmonic, featuring cellist Alisa Weilerstein (LINK), and a
7:30 p.m. recital by 110 (!) cellists that will wind up the nine-day-long
festivities (LINK).

 

Also on today’s agenda is the final “LA Phil Live” movie
theater telecast: the season-opening all-Gershwin concert with Gustavo Dudamel
conducting and legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock as soloist in Rhapsody in Blue. (LINK)

 

And then comes:

 

MUSE-IQUE ON MARCH
19 AT PASADENA CIVIC AUDITORIUM

Rachael Worby begins this group’s second season with a
typically cheeky program entitled “Ebony Meets Ivory.” Six pianists, including
the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Joanne Pearce Martin, will perform on three
Steinway pianos in a program that ranges from Baroque to jazz, rap to classical
(Moonlight Sonata), and the spoken
word. The program takes place on stage — literally — as both performers and the
audience will be on the stage and a loading bay of the Pasadena Civic
Auditorium. This is the first of seven performances on Muse-ique’s 2012 season.
Information: muse-ique.com

 

LOS ANGELES CHAMBER
ORCHESTRA ON MARCH 24 (Alex Theatre, Glendale) AND MARCH 25 (Royce Hall, UCLA)

Music Director Jeffrey Kahane leads his ensemble and
pianist-composer Timothy Andres in the world premiere of Old Keys, the latest installment in LACO’s “Sound Investment”
commissioning program. Also on the concert is the West Coast premiere of
Andres’ “reconstruction” of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26, K. 531 (Coronation). Mozart wrote only a few
measures for the left hand of this work although the first published edition
was complete, possibly from Mozart’s publisher. In this new version, Andres has
replaced those left-hand sketches with his own creation; how this “mash-up”
works will be part of the concert’s intrigue. Information: www.laco.org

 

PASADENA SYMPHONY
ON MARCH 31 AT AMBASSADOR AUDITORIUM

Nicholas McGegan, known worldwide as one of the premiere
interpreters of Baroque music, takes on a larger task as he leads concerts at 2
p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium that conclude with Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). Prior to
intermission, Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan will be the soloist in
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466. Information:
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

LOS ANGELES MASTER
CHORALE AND MUSICA ANGELICA ON MARCH 31 AND APRIL 1 AT WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL

LAMC Music Director Grant Gershon conducts 40 singers of his
Chorale, soloists and one of the nation’s premiere period-instrument ensembles
in the first performances of Bach’s St.
John Passion
to be played at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Information: www.lamc.org

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 9, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

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:

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.,
Zipper Hall, Los Angeles

Tuesday at 8 p.m. at
Huntington Library, San Marino

Camerata Pacifica

This traveling group (each concert plays in venues in four
different cities) brings its latest program to Zipper Hall at The Colburn
School in downtown Los Angeles tonight and to the Huntington Tuesday night. The
program is a mixture of old and new: John Harbison’s Variations for Clarinet, Violin and Piano; Sheng’s Seven Tunes Heard in China for Cello; Schuman’s
 Mrchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures), for Viola and Piano, Op. 113;
and Beethoven’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op.
11, Gassenhauer. Information: www.cameratapacifica.org

 

Saturday at 9:00
a.m. in local movie theatres

Metropolitan Opera in
HD: Wagner’s Gotterdamerung

If you’ve wondered what has caused all the kvetching
vis–vis the Met’s new Ring cycle,
here’s your chance to see the last part of the cycle: Gotterdamerung. The reviews have been generally negative not only
of this production but also pretty much of all four productions, although
there’s been lots of praise for Fabio Luisi’s work in the pit leading the Met
Orchestra. However, as we learned from Siegfried,
what comes across on the big screen may be quite different from the
experience in the Met. Personally, I’d vote for L.A. Opera’s production of
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (see below)
but if you’re a glutton for punishment, you have time to do both with dinner in
between. Also, take note that Gotterdamerung
runs six hours. An “Encore” date has not been announced. Information: www.metoperafamily.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera:
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra

Plcido Domingo performs the title role, which was written
for a baritone and fits Domingo’s voice at this stage of his career. James
Conlon conducts and gives a pre-concert lecture one hour before the
performance. Elijah Moshinsky directs this production from Royal Opera, Covent
Garden (Brian in Out West Arts has
one of his informative “10 Questions” features on Moshinsky HERE). There are
six other performances, beginning Wednesday. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Sunday at 7:00 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master
Chorale: Bruckner and Stravinsky

Music Director Grant Gershon leads 115 members of his
Chorale and a wind orchestra in Anton Bruckner Mass in E Minor and the motet Os Justi, along with Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Should be a real
treat in the Disney Hall acoustics.  Information: www.lamc.org

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Sunday at 6 at St.
James Episcopal Church, Los Angeles

Edward Tipton, who from 1989-2010 was Canon of Music at the
American Cathedral in Paris and is now Minister of Music for St. John’s
Pro-Cathedral in Los Angeles, appears on St. James International Organ Laureate
Series. The recital will follow an Evensong service at 4:30 p.m. and will be
played on a historically important instrument (read about it HERE). The church
is located on Wilshire Blvd., two blocks west of Western Ave. and is reachable
via a short walk from the Metro Purple Line’s Wilshire/Western station. Information: www.saintjamesla.org

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)

Sunday, January 22, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performance: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Mahler: Symphony No. 3; Dudamel and SBSOV

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

I doubt that words (at least my words) can adequately
describe what happened last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall … which won’t
prevent me from trying!

 

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
has a way of rendering listeners speechless. Part of it is the sheer
audacity that one man could actually write such a monumental piece of music: 90
minutes (almost to the second last night), five movements dealing with death,
resurrection and plenty in between. Six years transpired between the time Mahler
began the piece and completed it. He struggled to find inspiration for every
movement beyond the first. He didn’t find his way in the final movement until
he attended the funeral of conductor Hans von Bulow.

 

Assembling the forces that Mahler called for is a huge
undertaking for any organization. Among other things, the score calls for 10
(!) horns, 6 trumpets, 2 harps, organ, a large percussion section that includes
three timpanists playing two sets of tympani, two soloists and a large chorus
(last night 92 members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale).

 

For this performance — part of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project” — the Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of
Venezuela bulged the stage with more than 150 musicians, which included 12
basses (stretched to the back of the stage), 17 cellos and more violins and
violas than I could count. The percussionists were so crammed together that the
cymbals player had to be careful not to KO the bass drummer. In the midst of
all of them was a cameraman focusing on Gustavo Dudamel transmitting to an
offstage band that includes brass and timpani.

 

The SBSOV is the flagship ensemble of Venezuela’s “El
Sistema” music education program (it used to be called the SB “Youth” SOV but
many of the “youth” have stayed on to play as the orchestra has gained
international renown during the past decade). Nonetheless, most of the
musicians appeared to still be very young (the group’s bio says the ages are
between 18 and 28).

 

Dudamel has been the group’s music director for 13 years
(since age 18) and he clearly has a special relationship with the musicians.
For one thing, his conducting style seems different with the SBSOV than with
the LA Phil; the responses of the “kids” to his downbeats seemed almost delayed
although in nearly all cases they were razor-sharp. The strings had a lean
sound, the brass gleamed throughout the performance and the winds were
striking. When playing all out, they could storm heaven (there’s lots of that
in this symphony) but in the tender moments they could achieve breathtaking
pianissimos. Although not quite as polished as the Phil, this is an exemplary
orchestra, especially considering the age of its members.

 

Conducting without a score (an amazing feat in itself,
although he’s not the only conductor to do so), Dudamel began with stately
tempos that began to broaden out as the second pass at the opening statement
unfolded. At the end of the first movement, Dudamel ignored what program
annotator John Henken says are Mahler’s “firm instructions to pause for at
least five minutes before launching the Andante.”
Dudamel waited two minutes, just long enough for latecomers to climb into
their seats, the orchestra to retune, and the two soloists to come onstage.

 

Dudamel took the Andante,
which is cast in the form of an Austrian Lndler (folk dance), deliberately
in contrast to the third movement, which he led with a brisk, almost jaunty
air. Mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn sang the fourth movement, Urlicht (Primal Light), with rich tones
and great sensitivity, and her duet with the principal oboe was exquisite. The
marvelously soft ending made the transition to the final movement all the more
shattering.

 

Dudamel was at his most compelling leading the
40-minute-long final movement with its Gross
Appell (Great Call)
from offstage brass that eventually leads to the
chorus, which sang their hushed opening lines, Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n (Rise again, yet rise again), while
seated. Dudamel had all the men of the Master Chorale in the middle surrounded
by the female sections and the resultant tone had a deeply rich ring to it.
Soprano Miah Persson joined her radiant voice with Stotijn and, with the chorus
now on its feet and the Disney Hall organ adding impressive heft, the finale
was a majestic, glorious celebration of resurrection and eternal life.

 

In his erudite preconcert lecture, Gilbert Kaplan described
Mahler as a conductor who demanded that his orchestras treat every performance
as an unparalleled event, that everything be so compelling that the audience would
leave walking on air. Dudamel and the musicians did their parts and the
audience responded with an instant — and well deserved — standing ovation that
lasted 10 minutes and would have gone on longer if Dudamel had not led the
musicians off the stage. After all, in less than 48 hours, they will back for
Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, which is even longer than the second!

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although it’s cold and flu season (and there was
occasional hacking to be heard) there were also many moments when the hall was
so silent that even breathing was muted,; it’s part of what makes the Disney
Hall acoustics so special.

Kaplan’s hour-long preconcert lecture was well attended;
there were many more people in the hall than for Friday night’s concert talk.
It was obvious many had not attended the Symphony No. 1+10 concert lecture
because Kaplan’s opening “Peanuts” cartoon and punch line that Peppermint Patty
had been “Mahlered” got a big laugh (again). Although some of the material was “resurrected”
from the earlier talk, this was another informative and well-delivered lecture,
with good graphics and musical selections.

Both Kaplan lectures had been open to those not attending
the concerts but the Phil’s management could not say how many people took
advantage of the offer.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Look ahead to 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last week I looked back at some of the memorable events of
2011 (LINK). Today I look forward, and “bulging” is the most appropriate word I
can think of when describing the classical music calendar in the first quarter
of 2012 (I won’t even attempt to list everything that I think is important for
all of next year). Among the major programs scheduled in the next few months
are:

 

ORCHESTRA

The Mahler Project

The Los Angeles Philharmonic kicks off its nearly month-long
survey of Gustav Mahler’s music in mid-January. Gustavo Dudamel will lead two
of the orchestra he heads — the L.A. Phil and Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra
of Venezuela — in 17 performances from January 13 through February 4 at Walt
Disney Concert Hall and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The sweeping
enterprise will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of
the great Austrian composer-conductor Gustav Mahler (which actually took place
on May 18, 1911).

 

Dudamel (who turns age 31 on Jan. 26) will lead every
performance. The Bolivrs will play four of the symphonies, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic will play four, and the two ensembles will combine and join with
more 800 choristers and eight soloists for the Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 4 at the
Shrine Auditorium, one of the few times in history when that work’s subtitle, “Symphony
of a Thousand,” will be fact as
opposed to appellation.

 

Following the Los Angeles concerts, the entire cycle will be
performed again in Caracas, Venezuela; the Feb. 18 performance of “Symphony of
a Thousand” will be telecast live from the Venezuelan capital at 2 p.m. (PST)
in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada (LINK). “Mahler Project” information: www.laphil.com

 

Andrew Shulman
doubles down with PSO and LACO

Shulman is principal cellist of the Pasadena Symphony
Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. On Jan. 13 he will appear as
soloist with the PSO at Ambassador Auditorium playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
The following weekend (Jan. 20 and 21), he will conduct LACO in a program that
will include former Colburn School student Nigel Armstrong as soloist in
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 (Armstrong won fourth place in last June’s
Tchaikovsky Violin Competition.

PSO information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

LACO information: www.laco.org

 

The Colburn Orchestra

This top-notch student ensemble wraps up its season at
Ambassador Auditorium with concerts on Feb. 4 and March 3. The latter will be
led by Bramwell Tovey, music director of the Vancouver and principal guest
conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl for the past three
summers. The Colburn Orchestra’s free concerts go through their ticket
allotments quickly so now is the time to log on and secure your seats (you
print the tickets when you make the reservation).

Information: www.colburnschool.edu

OPERA

San Diego Opera

San Diego Opera grabs the spotlight beginning Feb. 18 when
it presents the West Coast debut of Moby
Dick
by Jake Heggie (best known, until now, for his opera Dead Man Walking). This production got
mostly rave reviews when it debuted at Dallas Opera in May 2010 (LINK with
reviews) and the San Diego production includes Canadian tenor Ben Heppner
reprising his title role performance in San Diego. SD Opera Resident Conductor
Karen Keltner will conduct. It’s sung in English with supertitles. The company
will also present a production of Richard Strauss’ Salome beginning Jan. 28, with Lise Lindstrom in the title role. Information: www.sdopera.com

 

Los Angeles Opera

February will be a busy opera month. Los Angeles Opera
resumes its 2011-2012 season with productions of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra beginning Feb. 11 in the first of seven
performances and Britten’s Albert
Herring,
which opens Feb. 25 and continues with five performances in March.
LA Opera Music Director James Conlon will conduct both operas.

 

Simon Boccanegra
is significant because Plcido Domingo is in the title role, a part that was
written for a baritone (Domingo, of course, has spent nearly all of his career
as a tenor, although he now appears to be more comfortable in lower ranges).
This production originated at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Albert Herring is
the latest in a string of Benjamin Britten operas that the company is
presenting in a lead-up to the composer’s birth centennial in 2013. Although
LAO mounted Albert Herring early in
the company’s history, this production originated at Santa Fe Opera. Alek
Shrader makes his LAO debut in the title role. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Long Beach Opera

This intrepid company explores the world of the tango with a
production of Maria de Buenos Aires,
composed by Astor Piazzolla to a libretto by poet Hoarcio Ferrer. Sung in
Spanish with English supertitles, it plays Jan. 29 and Feb. 4 at the Warner
Theater in San Pedro. Information: www.longbeachoperea.com

IN MOVIE THEATERS

On the big screen, the Metropolitan Opera continues its High
Definition telecasts into movie theaters with three screenings in January and
February, including its new production of Wagner’s Gtterdmerung on Feb. 11. Information:
www.metopereafamily.org

 

CHORAL MUSIC

Although choral music concerts occur frequently, the
three-week span from March 17-April 6 has an unusually large number of notable
events.

 

Chorale Bel Canto will
sing Bach’s Mass in B Minor on March 17 at Whittier College as the major event
in the 75th annual Whittier Bach Festival. Stephen Gothold conducts
the CBC (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year),
soloists and orchestra in this monument of choral literature. Information: www.choralebelcanto.org

 

Angeles Chorale
will celebrate what conductor John Sutton calls “America’s most significant
musical story — gospel and jazz; the stories of our lives; and musical depictions
of the human experience” on March 24 at First United Methodist Church,
Pasadena. The featured work will be Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Los Angeles Master
Chorale,
which will present a concert of Bruckner and Stravinsky on Feb.
12, returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 31 and April 1 for a
performance of Bach’s St. John Passion. Grant
Gershon conducts both programs; the Bach features the area’s foremost
period-instrument ensemble, Musica Angelica. Information: www.lamc.org

 

As an added note:
my weekly “Five Spot” posts will return on Jan. 5. Each week, I list five notable
concerts for the upcoming weekend including, ideally, one that is either free
admission or very low cost. Have a safe and happy new year.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Looking back on 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

With Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday church services
coming on the weekend this year, I’m going to post my “End of the Year Wrap-up”
column today so I don’t forget to do so. I hope all of you will find time to
attend a service, listen to the annual Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols
from King’s College Cambridge (locally on KUSC,
91-5 FM, at 7 a.m. Saturday), and have a blessed and joyous Christmas.

 

Looking back on the classical music year 2011 brought a
fascinating flood of remembrances. I discovered that (counting this column) I
have posted 236 times during the year on subjects as diverse as the genre. Some
of these posts also appeared in the above newspapers but — newsprint space
being what it is — obviously this Blog gives you much more. Following are some
of the significant occurrences of 2011, listed in sort-of-alphabetical order.

 

AMBASSADOR AUDITORIUM

The Pasadena hall with great acoustics will never approach
the number of events it hosted when it was built in 1974 but HRock Church
(which now owns the auditorium) has made it available to a number of performing
groups, including the Pasadena Symphony, Colburn Orchestra and, for one concert
a year, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

 

ANNIVERSARIES

Grant Gershon celebrated his 10th anniversary as
music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale last season. This fall Jeffrey
Kahane began his 15th season as music director of the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra. Both men — and both organizations — are among the reasons
why the Southern California music scene is so vibrant.

 

NIGEL ARMSTRONG and
NAREK HAKHNAZARAYAN

Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, a 22-year-old Armenian who in
January played the Dvorak Concerto with the Pasadena Symphony, won the gold
medal in the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition in June. Meanwhile,
Nigel Armstrong, a 21-year-old graduate of The Colburn School, won fourth place
in the violin portion of the competition. Earlier, Armstrong — who studied with
Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School — won an award for his performance of Stomp by American composer John
Corigliano.

 

BTW: Armstrong (who is now a grad student at The Curtis
Institute in Philadelphia) will return to Los Angeles to perform with the Los
Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Jan. 21 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and Jan. 22 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall (LINK).

 

AWARDS

Los Angeles Philharmonic Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka
Salonen won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. The work
was premiered in April 2009 with Salonen conducting the L.A. Phil and soloist
Leila Josefowicz (who grew up in Los Angeles and, like Nigel Armstrong, studied
with Ronald Lipsett at The Colburn School).

 

The award also spotlighted the Phil as America’s premiere
orchestra for commissioning and performing new music, another legacy of
Salonen’s 18-year-tenure as LAPO music director. The Phil is the only orchestra
to have commissioned and premiered two Grawemeyer Award compositions (Peter
Lieberson’s Neruda Songs in
2005 was the other) and Salonen is the only conductor to have led the first
performances of two winning scores (Neruda
Songs
and his own concerto).

 

Martin Haselbck, music director of Musica Angelica — the top-notch
Los Angeles-based period instrument ensemble — won a Grand Prix International
du Disque award for a recording he made with his other ensemble, the Vienna
Academy Orchestra, entitled The Sound of
Weimar: Franz Liszt; The Complete Works for Orchestra, Vol. 1.

 

CLASHING PROGRAMS

Each
year often brings one or two pieces that seemingly everyone wants to present,
and this year was no exception. There were four performances of Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No. 5 within a 16-day span in October (and two more to come next
month). Fortunately, several of the performances (Gustavo Dudamel with the L.A.
Phil, Yuja Wang) rose to exalted levels. Runner-up in this category was to
multiple performances of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (at least four in
four months) and an unusually large number of performances of Handel’s
Messiah in December.

 

DEATHS

Although the death of Steve Jobs on Oct. 5 dominated the
year’s obituaries, bringing to an untimely end the career of a man whose
inventions such as iTunes and iPod revolutionized the music industry, there
were other notable passings in our field, as well, including:

Daniel Catn died unexpectedly on April 8 at the age of
62. Although he composed many works, Catn was riding high after his opera Il Postino (The Postman) received its
world premiere in September 2010 by Los Angeles Opera.

Peter Lieberson (April 23), whose compositions included Neruda Songs, which (as noted above) was
premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005. The
soloist for whom the Grawemeyer Award-winning piece was written was Lorraine
Hunt Lieberson, the composer’s wife, who died the following year.

Sidney Harth (Feb. 16) was concertmaster of the Los
Angeles Philharmonic during the Carlo Maria Giulini era in the 1980s. He later
became a conductor, most notably with the Jerusalem Symphony.

Kurt Sanderling (Sept. 17) was a beloved guest conductor
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the 1980s and 1990s.

 

One other note: Salonen and Pierre Boulez returned to Los
Angeles on March 29 for a poignant tribute concert to the life and legacy of
Ernest Flesichmann, the orchestra’s longtime managing director who died in June
2010. It was a concert that Fleischmann would have loved, both for its
innovative programming and the quality of the performances.

 

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL

Now that the hoopla surrounding the now-30-year-old
Venezuelan’s debut as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director has subsided
somewhat, we’re watching this remarkable conducting talent mature as each year
passes. Although the Phil’s “Brahms Unbound” cycle devolved to “Brahms Unbound”
as illness, death and tardiness conspired to eliminate most of the new
compositions originally scheduled for the five-week-long “festival,” Dudamel
and the Phil delivered some superb performances of Brahms and newer works, as
well. Next month comes an even bigger challenge: The Mahler Project (more on
that next week and in January).

 

LOS ANGELES OPERA

Two years after presenting Wagner’s Ring cycle, LA Opera has put together a string of very successful
productions, including Verdi’s Rigoletto,
Rossini’s The Turk in Italy and
Britten’s The Turn of the Screw
earlier this year and then Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Onegin.
Gounod’s Romo et Juliette and,
in particular, Mozart’s Cos Fan Tutte
to open the current season.

 

Although it occurred in 2010, the world premiere of Daniel
Catn’s Il Postino (The Postman) continued
to resonate this year, in part because of the untimely death of the composer
and also because PBS’s “Great Performances” series telecast the world-premiere
production earlier this month.

 

LA PHIL LIVE

The jury is still out as to whether live telecasts of
orchestra concerts will attain the same level of popularity as the Metropolitan
Opera’s HD telecasts, but Dudamel and the Phil offered persuasively for the new
format in four concerts during 2011. The interviews and rehearsal footage are
worth the price of admission.

 

The one telecast that really stood out for me was the
concert that melded readings from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Tempest and Romeo
and Juliet
with music that Tchaikovsky wrote inspired by each play. The
actors performing the sketches were much easier to follow on the telecast as
opposed to being in Disney Hall. For the first concert of the current season,
Dudamel did a surprisingly good job acting as both host and conductor. The next
telecast is Feb. 18, a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 live from
Caracas, Venezuela.

 

MUSE-IQUE

A year after stepping down as music director of the Pasadena
Pops Orchestra, Rachael Worby returned with her life-long dream of a group that
would provide innovative and flexible programs. The opening event was an
orchestra concert on the lawn adjacent to Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium that
featured soprano Jessye Norman as the soloist. Both the locale and the program
proved to be quite special. Two small-ensemble programs followed in the fall.
Stay tuned in 2012.

 

THE OUTDOOR CONCERT
VENUE BATTLE

Springtime erupted when the Los Angeles County Arboretum
announced that it had selected the Pasadena Pops to replace the California
Philharmonic at the Arcadia venue beginning summer 2012. After much angst and
anger, the Cal Phil then decided to move slightly east to a venue that might –
if early projections actually come to pass — prove to be a more congenial home:
Santa Anita Racetrack.

 

Hollywood Bowl provided its usual solid set of programs, a
handful of which were noteworthy. Gustavo Dudamel concerted three concerts to
open the Bowl’s classical season, notable perhaps for the fact that less people
showed up than appeared the previous year. The Internet hoopla over Yuja Wang’s
“little orange dress” overshadowed her breathtaking performance of
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3; when she appeared at Disney Hall this
fall, she was dressed less flamboyantly and everyone could focus on her
extraordinary talent as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. As one
person summed up at the Disney Hall concert I attended, “She’s more than a
dress.”

 

PASADENA SYMPHONY AND
POPS

Now into its second season without a music director and,
seemingly, satisfied with that situation, the PSO welcomed a series of lively,
young guest conductors — including Tito Muoz, George Stelluto and Mei-Ann Chen
– to its new home, Ambassador Auditorium. Stelluto and the PSO also unveiled
one of the genuine “finds” of the season: a Kanun concerto by Khachatur
Avetisyan, played with sparkle and grace by Karine Hovhannisyan.

 

Meanwhile, as the Pops prepared to move to the Arboretum
this fall (see above), it welcomed a new principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch,
who proved to be a master at the pops-concert genre.

 

VALLEY PERFORMING
ARTS CENTER

At long last, the San Fernando Valley has a major performing
arts center located on the campus of Cal State Northridge. The hall is visually
attractive and acoustically solid, as was demonstrated by the appearance of
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia.
Now comes the hard part: finding and successfully marketing high-quality
performances.

 

Several other cities also opened new halls, including the
Soka University in Aliso Viejo, the New World Center in Miami Beach (complete
with a stunning outdoor video wall), and Maison
Symphonique de Montreal
in that Canadian city.

 

Next week: looking ahead at 2012.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Our “Messiah” cup overfloweth

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first
published today in the above papers.

 

If, as noted last week, choral music is one of the enduring
symbols of the holiday season, many people would consider Handel’s Messiah to be pinnacle of that genre,
and we’re in the midst of a Messiah
cornucopia throughout Southern California.

 

The most unique way of experiencing Handel’s 1742 oratorio
is by singing it, and Monday night at Disney Hall the Los Angeles Master
Chorale offers you the opportunity to do just that with its annual “Messiah
Sing-Along.” No experience necessary; just buy a ticket, show up and sing –or
you can just listen and be surrounded by sound. Bring your own score or buy one
for $10. Information: 213/972-7282;
www.lamc.org

 

For a complete change of pace, Nicholas McGegan will conduct
his Philharmonic Baroque and Philharmonia Chorale on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8
p.m. in Disney Hall. Presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, these concerts
will be closer to what most people would consider “authentic” performances of Messiah, although Handel heard his
famous oratorio (created in just 24 days with the assistance of librettist
Charles Jennens) performed by a wide variety of sizes and types of performing
ensembles. Information:
323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

 

Finally next Sunday at 7 p.m., Grant Gershon completes the Messiah Disney Hall troika when he
conducts 48 singers of his L.A. Master Chorale, soloists (from the Chorale) and
a chamber orchestra in a full-length (three hours) performance of Messiah. Information: 213/972-7282; www.lamc.org

 

Two other Disney Hall holiday programs are worth noting.
Chanticleer, the San Francisco-based, all-male ensemble, returns to the hall on
Thursday at 8 — a must-see for choral lovers — and organist David Higgs plays
his annual recital on the Disney Hall pipe organ, assisted by soprano Shana
Blake Hill, who has performed many times with the Pasadena Symphony. The latter
program will also include audience caroling.

 

If you’re absolutely fed up with holiday music (or even if
you’re not), Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie will lead the L.A. Phil on
Friday morning (11 a.m.), Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon in an
all-Mozart program that concludes with the composer’s final symphony, No. 41
“(Jupiter”). Benedetto Lupo will be the soloist in Mozart’s final piano
concerto, No. 27, K. 595. This program is right in the wheelhouse of Labadie,
who is a Baroque and Classical specialist; he is founder and music director of
Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Qubec in his native province. Information: 323/850-2000;
www.laphil.com

______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on December 8, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events that pique my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). This weekend offers a plethora of opportunities, so
there’s more than five listed.

______________________

 

Tonight and
tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Thomas Wilkins, conductor

The Getty Museum has spearheaded a major collection of
events under the umbrella of “Pacific Standard Time” and these concerts are the L.A. Phil’s contribution. Wilkins, who
is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, leads a program of
music ranging from Eric Wolfgang Korngold to John Williams. Zull Bailey will be
the soloist in Korngold’s Cello Concerto (which was featured in the Bette Davis
film, Deception). This is a rare
opportunity to hear movie music played in the wonderful Disney Hall acoustics. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Pasadena Playhouse

Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Opera Posse picks up from the now-shuttered Intimate Opera
Pasadena in presenting this familiar one-act opera, written by Gian Carlo
Menotti in 1951 for NBC television. Last year’s presentation was one of the
season’s highlights and this year’s production features most of the artists who
brought it to life, including Director Stephanie Vlahos and set designer John
Iacovelli. The cast includes noted mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmn as the mother
and Caleb Glickman in the title role. As was the case last year, actor Malcolm
McDowell will intro the opera by reading Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Michelle J. Mills’ article in last
week’s Star-News is HERE. Concert Info: www.operaposse.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Alex Theater (Glendale); Sunday at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

Kahane returns to the LACO podium to lead a program that
includes music by Ravel, Respighi and Thomas Ades. Cellist Ralph Kirshbaum will
be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations
on a Rococo Theme.
This is the first of two major appearances by Kirshbaum
this season; he will also be on a Los Angeles Philharmonic program March 15
playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto as part of the Piatagorsky International
Cello Festival (LINK). LACO info: www.laco.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Boston Symphony
Orchestra; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

The famed BSO makes its first Los Angeles appearance in 20
years bringing a program of music by John Harbison, Ravel and Brahms. Gil
Shaham will be the soloist in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. It’s also a chance to
take the measure of Morlot, who took over the season as music director of the
Seattle Symphony from retiring Gerard Schwarz and may be a candidate to succeed
James Levine as the BSO’s music director. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Handel’s Messiah

There are several opportunities this season to partake of
this ultra-familiar but still beloved oratorio that tells the story of the life
of Jesus Christ. A (not complete) list includes:

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena

Angeles Chorale and Da Capo Players Chamber Orchestra,
conducted by Donald Neuen. Info: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Sunday at 3 p.m. at
Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale; Christian Knapp,
conducting. Info: www.pacificsymphony.org

 

Monday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master Chorale “Messiah Sing-Along.” If you’ve never done one of these, it’s a
fantastic way to experience this famous work. The audience joins with the
Master Chorale in the choruses — or you can just listen and be surrounded by
sound. Bring your own score or buy one for $10. Info: www.lamc.org

 

Tuesday and
Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Philharmonia Baroque and Philharmonia Chorale; Nicholas
McGegan, conductor. Info: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

66th
annual Candlelight and Carols Concert

All of the church’s choirs participate in this annual event,
which also features plenty of audience caroling. The featured work on the
program is Veni Emmanuel by local
composer Elizabeth Ann Sellers, with the Kirk Choir and Friends of Music
Orchestra conducted by Timothy Howard. (Full disclosure: I sing in two of the
choirs participating.) Information: www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on Dec. 1, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Sorry this post is late. We’ve been without power all day
due to the fierce winds in Southern California (I’m posting this from my local
McDonald’s).

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events (six this week)
that peak my interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission
(or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tomorrow and Saturday
at 8 p.m.;  Sunday at 2 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Shostakovich

Frankly, it’s a little hard to assess what this concert will
bring — that’s one of the joys of live performances. The headline event on the
program is the world premiere of the Prologue to Orango by Shostakovich but how significant that will be is up in
the air. Asking one composer (in this case, Gerard McBurney) to complete another’s
work is always problematical (Mahler’s 10th symphony is one famous
example) but that’s what has happened here.

 

The Phil describes this work thusly: “Orango is an unfinished satirical opera
by Shostakovich, sketched [in 1932] while he was writing Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
He and his librettists conceived ‘a political lampoon against the bourgeois
press,’ concerning a human-ape hybrid. Of the projected Prologue and three
acts, only the 40-minute Prologue was completed, in piano vocal score, which
was just discovered in 2006.”  Read
the complete program note HERE.

  

The Prologue includes parts for 10 soloists and the Los
Angeles Master Chorale. It is being staged by Peter Sellars with lighting by
Ben Zamora. McBurney will offer a preconcert lecture an hour before each
program.  A Los Angeles Times article
on the piece is HERE.

 

The second half of the program will be Shostakovich’s
Symphony No. 4, which was composed just a few years after Orango. This was the symphony that was not played for 25 years
after it was written, a consequence of the composer’s run-in with Soviet
authorities over Lady Macbeth of the
Mtsensk District.
Laurel E. Fay’s program note says that one of the two
conductors who were eager to conduct the symphony was Otto Klemperer, who at
the time was the L.A. Phil’s music director. Whether the symphony would have
been played in L.A. isn’t spelled out; ultimately the LAPO premiere would not
take place until 1989 under the baton of Andr Previn. (Read the full program
note HERE).

 

By the way, expect this program to last a bit longer than a
normal concert. The Prologue to Orango
is 40 minutes long and the symphony, one of Shostakovich’s longest, takes an
hour. The orchestration for the symphony (2 piccolos, 4 flutes, 4 oboes (4th =
English horn), 4 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 8 horns, 4
trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, 2 timpani, percussion (bass drum, castanets,
cymbals, orchestra bells, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, xylophone), 2 harps,
celesta, and strings) is the largest of Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. Information: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 2 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master
Chorale’s “Holiday Wonders: Festival of Carols”

Grant Gershon leads 62 members of the Master Chorale in a
program of carols and John Rutter’s Gloria
accompanied by John West on the Disney Hall Organ. The program repeats Dec. 10
at 2 p.m. Information: www.lamc.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena

Pasadena Symphony
Holiday Program

Grant Cooper, artistic director and conductor of the West
Virginia Symphony, will conduct the PSO, vocalist Lisa Vroman, the Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus, Donald Brinegar Singers and L.A. Bronze (a handbell
ensemble) in an eclectic program of holiday music. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at First Presbyterian Church, Santa Monica

Jacaranda presents
Anonymous 4

This world-renowned female vocal ensemble, celebrating its
25th anniversary, specializes in Medieval and Renaissance music but
this program features the first section of an evening-length work, The Wood and the Vine, by David Lang,
who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his composition, The Little Match Girl Passion. The evening will also include
selections from the ensemble’s CDs. Brian
in “Out West Arts” has one of his informative “Ten Questions” posts with the
ensemble’s Susan Hellauer HERE. Concert
info:
www.jacarandamusic.org

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” programs …

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn Orchestra
plays Mahler’s Symphony No. 5

Be forewarned: the free tickets are listed as “add to wait
list” on the school’s Web site and the VIP tickets are sold out. Nonetheless,
the concert is worth mentioning because whenever a student orchestra — even one
as good as Colburn — tackles Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, it counts as both an
event and a challenge.

 

Guest Conductor Gerard Schwarz leads the ensemble in
Mahler’s fifth and Takemitsu’s From Me
Flows What You Call Time,
with a local percussion ensemble, Smoke and
Mirrors, as soloists in the Takemitsu piece. For Schwarz, it’s something of a
homecoming. Prior to becoming music director of the Seattle Symphony (from
which he retired earlier this year), Schwarz held a similar position with the
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which used to perform in Ambassador during
Schwarz’s tenure. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

  

Monday at 7:45 p.m.
at Pasadena Neighborhood Church

Los Angeles Chapter
of American Guild of Organists Holiday program

Organists Andrea Anderson and Nancy Ruczynski perform on the
church’s historic Bozeman organ, while Dr. Timothy Howard leads The Pasadena
Singers in holiday music from around the world (full disclosure: I sing with
The Pasadena Singers, so — as the late, great Molly Ivins was wont to say, take
the recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt). Information: www.laago.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Los Angeles Philharmonic premiere Hillborg’s “Sirens” at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 2 (Emmanuel
Ax, soloist)

Hillborg: Sirens (Hila
Plitmann and Anne Sofie von Otter, soloists; Los Angeles Master Chorale)

Friday, November 25, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tonight at 8; tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Info: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

Esa-Pekka Salonen, who was the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s
music director from 1992-2009 and is now its conductor laureate, returned home
to Walt Disney Concert Hall (which he was instrumental in getting built) for
the first of two programs this season. During both weeks, he’s leading a world
premiere — last night it was Sirens, a
33-minute piece by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. Next week it’s the
recently discovered prologue to an unfinished Shostakovich opera (more in Hemidemisemiquavers below).

 

Sirens is based on
a section of Homer’s The Odyssey, although
in the preconcert lecture Hillborg revealed that he composed some of the music
first and then found a text that seemed to fit what he had written. As the
composer explained in the program magazine: “In Greek mythology, the Sirens
were dangerous bird-women, portrayed as seductresses who lured sailors with
their enchanting music and voices to come to the rocky coast of their island,
where they would kill them. In Homer’s tale, Ulysses — curious as to what the
Sirens sound like — orders his crew to plug their ears with beeswax and tie him
to the mast, not to release him no matter how much he begs, while their boat is
passing the island of the Sirens. In this way he will be able to hear their
deadly singing, which no man has heard and survived.”

 

Hillborg uses soprano Hila Plitmann, mezzo-soprano Anne
Sofie von Otter and the Los Angeles Master Chorale to portray the Sirens, who
flatter Ulysses’ ego, appeal to his mind and soul, and sing seductively
(Hillborg uses English translations of The
Sirens Song
from The Odyssey, along
with additional text that he wrote; the words were projected as supertitles).

 

Underneath all of this, the orchestra delivers wave after
wave of sound, sometimes melodic, occasionally dissonant, with percussion and
piano interjecting sharp spikes into the tonal wash. The Master Chorale singers
also whistle, whisper and produce other sound effects.

 

Overall the effect was hypnotic; in the warm hall there were
undoubtedly a few people lulled to sleep. Von Otter (who used a score) and
Plitmann (who didn’t) were positioned on either side of Salonen conducted with
a score, as is almost always the case, but didn’t use a baton for the Hillborg
piece. The percussion section (not large by the standard of Hillborg’s
contemporaries) was notable for not including timpani. Lighting changes and
even a tinkling cell phone at the end added to the effect.

 

Plitmann’s radiant soprano voice blended well with von
Otter’s creamy mezzo; the two often sang extremely close, intertwined
harmonies. Overall, I found Sirens to
be an interesting — if not fully compelling — rendition of the Sirens story. After the performance,
Hillborg came onstage to bask in the sustained applause, which was extended to
all concerned.

 

The audience noticeably thinned out for Sirens as opposed to the all-Beethoven first half of the program,
which began with Salonen leading a dramatic reading of the second Leonore Overture (one of four overtures
that Beethoven composed for his only opera, Fidelio).
Salonen made effective use of the work’s silences, particularly in the
opening measures (when Disney Hall is silent, the effect can be magical) and
Chris Still was the offstage trumpeter.

 

To these ears, at least, the highlight of the evening was
Emmanuel Ax’s work as soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (which,
despite its number, was really the first of the five piano concerti that
Beethoven wrote). Ax’s crystalline tone was perfect for his concept of this
piece, which alludes firmly to both Mozart and Haydn. Every phrase — indeed,
every note — was carefully thought out and lovingly sculpted — the entire
performance was a study in lyrical elegance.

 

Salonen enforced brisk tempos throughout and the orchestra
accompanied Ax sensitively. After sustained applause, Ax delivered a gentle,
lyrical encore: Schumann’s Fantasiestcke,
Op. 12, No. 1

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Lucinda Carver’s preconcert lecture was longer than usual
(45 minutes), partly because Hillborg showed up unexpectedly to join in. Among
his musical influences, Hillborg listed Steve Reich and Brian Wilson (of the
Beach Boys).

Sirens was the
fourth Hillborg piece to be played by the L.A. Phil. One of those was Eleven Gates, which Salonen and the Phil
premiered in 2006. That, said Hillborg, was when he met Betty Freeman, the
local philanthropist who commissioned more than 400 new works over the last 40
years of her life. Hillborg dedicated Sirens
to both Salonen and Freeman.

When Salonen retired as the Phil’s music director, one of
the stated reasons was to allow him to devote more time to composing. So far,
he’s delivered just a couple of pieces: Dona
Nobis Pacem,
a five-minute unaccompanied work for female voices that the
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus sang earlier this year in a tribute concert to
Ernest Fleischmann, and Nyx, a
17-minute work for orchestra that was premiered last February in Paris and in
October by the Atlanta Symphony.

Next week’s concerts (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) will
feature the world premiere of the Prologue to Orango by Shostakovich. The Phil describes this work thusly: “Orango is an unfinished satirical opera
by Shostakovich, sketched [in 1932] while he was writing Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
He and his librettists conceived ‘a political lampoon against the bourgeois
press,’ concerning a human-ape hybrid. Of the projected Prologue and three
acts, only the 40-minute Prologue was completed, in piano vocal score, which
was just discovered in 2006.”  Read
the complete program note HERE.

 

The Prologue includes parts for 10 soloists and the Los
Angeles Master Chorale. It is being staged by Peter Sellars with lighting by
Ben Zamora. Gerald McBurney, who orchestrated the prologue, will offer a
preconcert lecture an hour before each program. 

 

A Los Angeles Times article
on the piece is HERE.

 

The second half of the program will be Shostakovich’s
Symphony No. 4, which was composed just a few years after Orango. This was the symphony that was not played for 25 years
after it was written, a consequence of the composer’s run-in with Soviet
authorities over Lady Macbeth of the
Mtsensk District.
Laurel E. Fay’s program note says that one of the two
conductors who were eager to conduct the symphony was Otto Klemperer, who at
the time was the L.A. Phil’s music director. Whether the symphony would have
been played in L.A. isn’t spelled out; ultimately the LAPO premiere would not
take place until 1989 under the baton of Andr Previn. (Read the full program note
HERE).

 

Expect next week’s program to last a bit longer than a
normal concert. The Prologue to Orango
is 40 minutes long and the symphony, one of Shostakovich’s longest, takes an
hour. The orchestration for the symphony (2 piccolos, 4 flutes, 4 oboes (4th =
English horn), 4 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 8 horns, 4
trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, 2 timpani, percussion (bass drum, castanets,
cymbals, orchestra bells, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, xylophone), 2 harps,
celesta, and strings) is the largest of Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.