OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Jacobs, Robertson and L.A. Phil offer a dazzling organ concerto premiere

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Paul Jacobs is the soloist this weekend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto. He’s pictured last November in the world premiere of the piece with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo credit: Philadelphia Orchestra

Los Angeles Philharmonic; David Robertson, conductor
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Ives: Three Places in New England; Rouse: Organ Concerto;
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 (“from the New World”)
Next performances: Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com
____________________

With pipe organs being installed in concert halls in increasing numbers during the past decade or so, composers have gained increasing opportunities to create new organ concertos. Christopher Rouse, one of America’s more prolific composers, has added to the canon with his concerto, which was given its west coast premiere last night by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conductor David Robertson, and organist Paul Jacobs at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Remarkably this concerto is just the second organ piece that Rouse has composed (the first, a solo piece, has been “euthanized” from his catalogue, as he puts it). Jacobs premiered the new work last November with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Rouse’s Organ Concerto is quite short, just a shade under 20 minutes, written with three connected movements. The Phil’s “FastNotes” states: “Rouse’s Organ Concerto has connections to two famous organ works: a brief reference to the Poulenc Organ Concerto at the beginning, and a hint at the Saint-Saëns ‘Organ’ Symphony at the end. (‘The notes have been changed to protect the innocent,’ Rouse says.)”

Despite its brevity, Rouse’s new work packs quite a wallop. It opens with a loud bang and concludes with an even louder chord. Immediately after that opening punch, Jacobs launched into an extended pyrotechnical cadenza and the movement then shifts to lyrical, tonal writing punctuated with occasional bursts of sound.

The lyrical second movement — with mounds of organ chords atop the dreamy accompaniment — gives way to the finale, which allows the organist to stretch her (or, in this case, his) virtuosic chops.

The Phil placed the organ console at the very front of the stage, which allowed many in the large crowd (which included hundreds of young people) a chance to see Jacobs’ hands fly up and down from one keyboard to another and his feet dance along the pedal board.

Robertson and the orchestra ripped through the accompaniment with aplomb and the audience gave Jacobs, Robertson, the orchestra and the composer an enthusiastic standing ovation following that climactic outburst of sound.

Jacobs responded with a sparkling account of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543, as an encore, which showed off his technical prowess (the pedal cadenza at the end was dazzling) as well some intriguing registrations on the Disney Hall instrument.

Any orchestra that has a significant pipe organ (or Cameron Carpenter’s international touring instrument) and a top-flight organist available now has a wonderful piece to alternate with the usual organ concerto suspects. I hope the Phil brings it back soon.

Robertson’s programming choices are always interesting; last night was no different. He opened with Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England, a 20-minute work with a lengthy gestation period; Ives began it in 1903 and didn’t finish revising the piece until 1929.

Ives’ father told him, “You won’t get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.” Despite that admonition, with its spooky beginning and incorporation of snippets from familiar hymns and folk tunes Three Places in New England is one of this craggy composer’s most accessible works and, consequently, one of his most played, as well. Rouse even seemed to quote the work in his concerto.

Robertson and the orchestra gave Three Places in New England a sensitive, probing performance, particularly in the third movement where the organ’s rumbling bass notes provided added heft.

Although Robertson has undoubtedly conducted Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony hundreds — perhaps thousands — of times and the Philharmonic musicians have played it innumerable times, as well, conductor and musicians treated last night’s performance as if it, rather than Rouse’s work, was the premiere.

The piece offers innumerable solo opportunities and the Phil’s section leaders were at the top of their game, beginning with Carolyn Hove’s plaintive second-movement solo, and also including (but not limited to) Denis Bouriakov, flute; Burt Hara, clarinet; Anne Marie Gabriele, oboe; and Andrew Bain, horn.

The 58-year-old Robertson — who has announced he is leaving his post as music director of the St. Louis Symphony in a couple of years — is a wildly exuberant presence on the podium. Where with Gustavo Dudamel, for example, you are entranced by his hands, with Robertson you watch his feet — if he ever touched the metal supporting bar behind the podium after his feet slid along the carpet he’d probably get a static-electricity shock.

Nonetheless, he clearly communicates his feelings to orchestra and audience alike and really makes effective use of pianissimos and, especially, silences, which always seem to resonate at Disney Hall. In total, the results last night were thrilling, even to a critic who has heard the piece hundreds of times, and the audience ate it up.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• At the conclusion of the Dvorak, Robertson came onstage to the sustained applause and acknowledged Hove and Bain before asking the entire orchestra to stand. After exiting the stage again, he reappeared but this time to stand with the brass section and then with the winds — a nice touch, even if he didn’t ask the orchestra to turn and acknowledge thos seated behind them as Gustavo always does.
• Because Three Places in New England has both piano and organ parts, Joanne Pearce Martin (the LAPO principal keyboard player) had to leave her piano bench to a colleague, Vicki Ray, and race upstairs to sit at the rarely used organ bench high above the bench seats to play the organ in the third movement.
• The first L.A. Phil performance of Three Places in New England was led by Nicolas Slonimsky in 1932. Most of us know Slominsky as a musicologist, particularly for his marvelous book, Lexicon of Musical Invective. However, Slonimsky was also a conductor and Ives created a chamber-orchestra version of this work for his Boston Chamber Orchestra in 1930.
• The “New World” Symphony was one of the first pieces every played by the Phil when Walter Henry Rothwell conducted the first LAPO performance on Oct 25, 1919.
________________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

FIVE-SPOT: April 6-9, 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.

APRIL 6-8: PACIFIC SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
Music Director Carl St.Clair leads the Pacific Symphony in the orchestra’s annual American Composers Festival, which this year features Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, along with John Adams’ The Darma at Big Sur and Frank Tichelli’s Blue Shades. Alan Chapman offers a preview one hour before each performance.

BONUS: The April 7 and 8 performances are being taped for a future broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances” series. The Boyer piece will be played as a stand-alone program on April 9.

For an excellent preview by OC Register staff writer Paul Hodgins, click HERE.

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

APRIL 6, 8 AND 9: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
8 p.m. on April 6. 2 p.m. on April 8 and 9
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Former L.A. Phil Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (now the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate) leads the Phil in an all-Sibelius program: Symphony Nos. 6 and 7; Finlandia; and Six Humoresques, Op. 89, with Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist.

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

APRIL 7-8: NEW WEST SYMPHONY
April 7 at 8 p.m. at Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Oxnard
April 8 at 8 p.m. at Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks
Kynan Johns, the latest in a line of guest conductors vying to become the orchestra’s next music director, leads Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique; and Poulenc’s Gloria, with soprano So Young Park and the Cal Lutheran University Choral Ensembles.

Information: www.newwestsymphony.org

APRIL 9: “FEEL THE SPIRIT” — LCPC CHANCEL CHOIR AND ORCHESTRA
2 p.m. at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, La Cañada
Music Director Jack Lantz leads his choir and orchestra (each of which numbers 60 performers) in a concert of famous American hymns, songs and spirituals. Disclaimer: my wife and I sing in the choir, so feel free to take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt, as the late, great Molly Ivins used to say.

Seven of the spirituals were arranged by English composer John Rutter, who is far better known for his Christmas carol settings, but these arrangements are a winner!

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering with a suggested donation of $20; everyone who donates any amount and fills out a form will receive a CD of the concert later).

Information: www.lacanadapc.org

APRIL 9: CALDER QUARTET
4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 2, Op. 18, No. 2 and 8, Op. 59, No. 2, and the world premiere of Andrew McIntosh’s wrestle, stain, whistle and pound.

BONUS: The McIntosh piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets.

The Broad Stage can be reached via Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the 17th St./SMCC station and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there.

Information: www.thebroadstage.com
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Mirga wows another Bowl audience

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

For at least the last ¾ of a century, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has done an exemplary job of finding and nurturing young conducting talent. That list begins, of course, with former Music Director Zubin Mehta and includes two other MDs: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel. But the tally also includes young people who have held various subsidiary titles such as Principal Guest Conductor (Michael Tilson Thomas and Sir Simon Rattle) and Associate Conductor (Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Lionel Bringuier), along with others who have participated in the Dudamel Fellow program and similar efforts.

Three of those alumni are on the Hollywood Bowl roster this summer: former Dudamel fellow Ben Gernon (August 4), Joana Carneiro, a former American Symphony Orchestra League Conducting Fellow with the Phil who is now Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony and Principal Conductor of Orquesta Sinfonica Portuguesa (8/23); and Harth Bedoya, now music director of the Ft. Worth Symphony (9/6).

Mirga_2016_4_WebHowever, not since Rattle — the original frizzy haired tyro — has a LAPO conducting assistant caught the fancy of the music world as has Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), who was a Dudamel Fellow in 2013-2014, became the Phil’s Assistant Conductor in 2014 and will become Associate Conductor this fall. More significantly, earlier this year she was named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the England ensemble that Rattle led for 20 years.

Last night she returned to Hollywood Bowl just a few days shy of her acclaimed debut two years ago, and once again demonstrated the ability that has the music world abuzz. That Bowl concert two years concluded with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Last night she ended with Ravel’s second Daphnis and Chloe suite, which was a marvelous fusion of French impressionism and sweeping power.

Like the Mahler, Daphnis is a piece that is in the L.A. Phil musicians’ DNA but they played with the sort of freshness and attentiveness that means they were very much attuned to the conductor’s every desire. Kudos, in particular, to Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov for his solo work.

Mirga (everyone seems to now call her simply by her first name, in part because her last name isn’t easy to pronounce) is quite something to watch, as the Bowl’s video screens amply demonstrated. She makes great use of her arms, her body moves lithely and, unlike some conductors, doesn’t seem to be inhibited by a music stand on the podium.

She also has a wonderfully expressive face, very much alike but in some ways different than we get from Dudamel. This was readily apparent in the evening’s opening work, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, where she appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself during the five sections, but especially in Empress of the Pagoda and in The Fairy Garden. Top marks to the various wind principals in this performance, as well: Catherine Ransom Karoly, flute; Burt Hara, clarinet; Anne Marie Gabriele, oboe; and Shawn Mouser, bassoon, along with Concertmaster Nathan Cole.

The original program paired the two Ravel pieces together after intermission with two Beethoven works played before the break. As a slip sheet told the good-sized audience, Mirga (presumably) at the last minute decided to break the works up, placing the Leonore Overture No. 3 before Daphnis. This is another familiar work to the players but, as with Daphnis, they were on top of their game. Of course, the audience loved the stellar playing of Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten, who was perched in a speaker tower midway up the Bowl (although it took awhile for the lighting folks to locate him).

Immediately prior to intermission came Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, that strangely quirky work that was premiered on December 22, 1808 in a concert that included the premieres of the composer’s fifth and sixth symphonies and the fourth piano concerto, along with an aria, two excerpts from his in-progress Mass in C, and a solo improvisation (the concert lasted four hours!). As program annotator Herbert Glass noted the debut was “a fiasco” — the composer’s secretary, Anton Schindler, said, that the Chorale Fantasy “simply fell apart” in performance.

No wonder. Why Beethoven called it a “Choral Fantasy” is a mystery. The piece actually begins as a piano concerto with a long solo introduction that is a precursor of the “Emperor” Concerto (and Saint-Saëns’ second piano concerto). Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet sailed through the endless runs and trills with his customary skill and panache and Mirga and the orchestra gave the performance their fullest attention.

If, indeed, Beethoven had left the work as a concerto, things might have been all right. Instead, towards the end he brings in a chorus and no less than six soloists. Perhaps Beethoven felt the chorus being used in the two “Mass” pieces in that premiere concert needed something else to occupy its time. Naturally, the listener immediately thinks of the “Ode to Joy” ending of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 when hearing this work.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale sang last night with its customary brilliant power in both the Beethoven and Daphnis although the Bowl’s sound engineers had the orchestra somewhat overpowering the singers (listed as 81 in the program) at the beginning of their section.

The sextet was excellent but I was left wondering why the Phil bothered to bring in such big names as soprano Janai Brugger and mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell for such a small amount of work (for the record, the others were soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, tenors Rafael Moras and Kevin Ray and bass Colin Ramsay). Surely the soloists got their highest pay, at least on a per-minute basis, since they were starting out in the profession.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• The Bowl has taken to provide movement titles on the digital screens, which was particularly helpful to the casual observer in both Ravel pieces Daphnis is four connected movements, so it’s particularly helpful to know what is what.
• Tomorrow night’s concert is a mixture of old and new. Guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru (Conductor-in-Residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra) returns to the Bowl with a program that opens with Aaron Copland’s An Outdoor Overture and concludes with Copland’s Symphony No. 3. In between is the West Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, written for violinist Nicola Benedetti, who will be the soloist.
• Always nice to have the Master Chorale aiding the audience in singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Even the high note at the end sounded beautiful.
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

L.A. Phil to spotlight Chinese New Year with Disney Hall concerts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

One of the advantages of living in Southern California’s multicultural society is the chance to sample a wider range of holidays than folks in other, more homogenous societies. Case in point: Chinese New Year, which begins tomorrow and runs for 15 days. This is the Year of the Sheep,

zhangcolorThe Los Angeles Philharmonic will celebrate the festival for the first time with concerts on Feb. 19, 20 and 21 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Rising conductor star Xian Zhang leads a program that mixes music by Chopin, Saint-Säens and Tchaikovsky with selections by Li Huanzhi and Tan Dun.

The latter is represented by the West Coast premiere of Dun’s The Triple Resurrection, the fourth installment in Dun’s “Martial Arts Cycle,” a set of concertos based on his famous film scores. The work uses themes and musical characters (violin, cello, and piano) from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and The Banquet. Soloists will include Jin Wang, cello, Ning Feng, violin, and Haochen Zhang, piano, gold medalist in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The Triple Resurrection will also be presented at Hollywood Bowl on August 13 when the composer will conduct his own works accompanied by film clips.

The Disney Hall concerts are part of the Phil’s $20 ticket offer and traditional Chinese New Year celebrations will follow each concert.

Information: www.laphil.com
_______________________

(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

PROFILE: Stephen Hartke is ready for a long-delayed closeup

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

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor.
Barber: Toccata Festiva; Cameron Carpenter, organist
Hartke: Symphony No. 4; Joanne Pearce Martin, organist, Heidi Stober, soprano
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”); Cameron Carpenter, organist
• Nov. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.
NOTE: In place of a preconcert recital, Cameron Carpenter will play a recital at 6:45 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com
• Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa
Same program; Rich Capparella will give a preconcert lecture at 1 p.m.
Information: 949/553-2422; www.philharmonicsociety.org
_______________________

HartkeMore than four years after it was supposed to debut, Symphony No. 4 by Stephen Hartke (right) will finally get its world premiere during a highly appropriate weekend, as the Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall with concerts on Nov. 20, 21, 22 and 23.

LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the programs, which will include Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”), with Cameron Carpenter as the soloist.

What makes Harke’s three-movement work appropriate is that he always intended it to be a symphony for orchestra with organ. “It’s not an organ concerto,” says the 62-year-old Glendale resident, who has taught composition at the USC Thornton School of Music for 27 years. “My idea all along was to use the organ as an integral part of the orchestra, as a fifth choir, so to speak [Ed. Note: along with strings, winds, brass and percussion]. It’s the largest symphony that I have written — when you have as big an instrument as the Disney Hall organ, you have to respond to it.”

Symphony No. 4 was originally scheduled to be the in the final concert of Dudamel’s inaugural season in 2009-2010 but a combination of circumstances caused a delay. “Some pieces take a long to write; some pieces don’t,” he explains with a shrug. “Along the way I had other pieces to write, so here we are.”

During the past decade the work also underwent a significant change. “I happened upon a [Frederico Garcia] Lorca “gypsy ballad” poem, Sleepwalking Ballad,” relates Hartke, “and so the end of the symphony became like Mahler 4, where the main drama of the piece has been played out and you have an aria at the end, a reflection on some of the issues in the piece, that kind of takes the piece in a different direction.”

Why Lorca? “I don’t know precisely why Sleepwalking Ballad struck me as a fitting ending for the piece,” concedes Hartke, “but once I read it I couldn’t get it out of my head. Lorca’s poetry is very vivid and serene at the same time.” (Read the poem’s text HERE) American soprano Heidi Stober will sing the poetic ballad in this weekend’s performances.

Perhaps it was ordained that Hartke would write this work. “I’ve been wanting to write a piece for organ for a long time,” says Hartke, who was composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1988 to 1992. When he was an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara he served for a time as organist for a small church in Isla Vista, “but I wouldn’t boast about it,” he admits with a chuckle.

However as he came to know the Disney Hall organ, he fell in love with it. “I got to spend a fair amount of time with the instrument on off hours and holidays and decided on a kind of palette of things I wanted to do,” he explains.

“In the first movement the organist mostly plays single line but it does things that only the organ can do, such as shaking the floor a little bit. In the middle section, I use registrations that create colors, and overtones to create sounds that are almost like what you get in percussion and strings. In the last movement I let the organist pull out all the stops, to use that metaphor in its literal sense. In the end, it turned out to be a more extensive part that I expected it would be.”

Martin_playing4WebIt was also a piece that was written specifically for the L.A. Phil under a commission from Edward Halvajian (1935-2009), former chairman of the Orange County Philharmonic Society. “It was my plan in the beginning to write a piece that would use the entire roster of the orchestra,” he says.

Joanne Pearce Martin (pictured right playing the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ) — who has been the orchestra’s principal keyboard player since 2001 and will be playing the organ part — is excited about the upcoming premiere. “I can’t wait to hear the piece with the orchestral,” she said earlier this week. “So far, all I’ve been able to do is visualize the orchestral part in my mind from studying the whole score. The organ part is very colorful, very intricate; there’s a lot of weaving in and out of the orchestra. It’s a very beautiful piece.. I think it’s going to be great.”

The premiere will put Hartke in the spotlight, which also happened in 2013 when he won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. His Meanwhile — Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays was recorded by eighth Blackbird, which also won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance that year.

“It wasn’t a surprise that eight Blackbird got a Grammy for the disc,” say Hartke, “but it was a surprise that I got it. I’ve never kept track of the Grammys; it was amusing to go to the ceremony. It probably meant more to my students than to me. I just have this funny-looking thing in the other room that I have to dust once in awhile.”
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email