OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil, Lang Lang open Hollywood Bowl’s classical season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

It’s been more than a decade since we first encountered conductor Gustavo Dudamel and pianist Lang Lang. Two of the more interesting aspects of hearing them together in concert last night at Hollywood Bowl were (a) how they together would fare as a box-office draw and (b) how they have matured in the past 10 or so years.

They came together in that most ubiquitous of Bowl pieces: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which along with another favorite, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, opened the Bowl’s 10-week classical season.

First the crowd: although no official count was released, the Bowl appeared to be very full, (13,000-14,000?) especially for a Tuesday night. Those who came definitely got their money’s worth!

Perhaps it’s because we’ve gotten used to Lang Lang’s performing antics, but last night was notably light on over-the-top flourishes. Nonetheless it was a performance that had most of the audience spellbound and made us consider carefully what we were hearing, no mean feat for those who have heard this piece hundreds of times.

Dudamel (who conducted without a score) and the Phil held the proceedings together with a sure hand. He took magisterial tempos in the first movement while Lang Lang provided a breathtakingly wide range of dynamics and used the cadenza-like sections to stretch the tempos to (but not beyond) the breaking point. The pianist also appeared to interpolate his own thoughts into the cadenzas, again just enough to make us sit up and ask ourselves, “Did we just hear that?”

By comparison, the second the third movements emerged in relatively straightforward manners, apart from Lang Lang’s lighting-fast tempos in the final sections of each. The finale concluded with a Niagara Falls-like waterfall of thunderous octaves that had Dudamel and the orchestra hanging on for the wild ride. It also produced the predicatable standing ovation from the audience but there were no encores.

After intermission, Dudamel and the Phil offered a rich, luxurious rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Here was a good chance to see the increasingly mature Dudamel, who led tempos that were unhurried and allowed for the orchestra as a whole and the individual section principals to shine with jewel-like luminescence.

Dudamel continues to be a joy to watch on the podium; in fact, there were times when I wished the video screens were split so we could keep a constant eye on the now 35-year old maestro. He conducted without a score; he continues to be economical in his gestures, with almost no superfluous motions; he still takes bows from deep within the ensemble, surrounded by his colleagues; and, most importantly, he continues to radiate a genuine joy in making music.

Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour was radiant in his solos depicting the Arabian princess spinning her tales, but kudos also to (among many) Principal Cellist Robert deMaine, harpist Lou Anne Neill, Associate Principal Oboe Marion Arthur Kuszyk and Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov.

Overall, this was one of the most satisfying performances of this work that I have ever heard and a splendid way to begin the summer Bowl season.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• With flags at half staff, Dudamel and Co. opened the evening with a somber performance of The Star-Spangled Banner.
• Very good camera work for the most part, the sound system was in fine form, especially considering that this was the first classical concert of the season, and there were minimal aerial intrusions. You can’t ask for much more than that at a Bowl concert.
• The video screens included the numbers and titles of each piece’s movements, which was particularly helpful in the dark ambience of the Bowl’s seats.
• Whether it was the stage lighting or just a sign of age, Dudamel appears to now have touches of gray in his hair.
• Tomorrow night and next Tuesday Dudamel and the Phil present a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a work embedded into Dudamel’s DNA. It was with the “Mambo” portion of “WSS” that Dudamel burst onto the scene with his Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at the Lucerne Festival and the London Proms in 2007 (LINK).

The two Bowl West Side Story performances are being billed as “concert performances,” with a cast of 12 soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale joining with Dudamel and the LAPO. Although some will miss Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking dance sequences, the concert performance will put the emphasis squarely on the music, instead. Solea Pfeiffer, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will portray Maria and Jeremy Jordan, a Tony and Grammy-nominated actor and singer, will sing the role of Tony. A link to Catherine Womack’s Q&A with Pfeiffer in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. (INFO)
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in Concert
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Justin Freer, conductor

Hollywood Bowl
Next concert: “Star Trek” in Concert
Friday (July 8) and Saturday (July 9); Hollywood Bowl
Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
Potter4Web”Harry Potter and the Scorerer’s Stone” was shown on Hollywood Bowl’s big screen and digital monitors last night with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Justin Freer, playing John Williams’ score live before a large audience. (Photo by Nikki Thomas)
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One of the more interesting concert-programming concepts in recent years has been screening full-length motion pictures with the scores played live by orchestras.

The first such venture I can remember was in 1987 when André Previn conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion accompanying Alexander Nevsky, the great 1937 film by Sergei Eisenstein. One of the things that remain memorable about the Previn/LAPO/Alexander Nevsky pairing was how it brought Sergei Prokofiev’s score to life (Previn once remarked that Prokofiev’s music “the greatest film score ever written trapped inside the worst soundtrack ever recorded”).

From that point forward, the Phil realized how significant this sort of programming could be and, since 1997, film screenings with orchestral accompaniment have become an annual occurrence at Hollywood Bowl. This season’s offerings began last night with a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and continue tomorrow and Saturday nights with screenings of Star Trek — The Movie. (The annual “Sing-along” presentation of The Sound of Music last month didn’t include live orchestral accompaniment.)

There’s nothing simple about these sorts of performances. The soundtrack has to be stripped out of the movie print while leaving the dialogue and other sound effects in place. In performance the conductor and orchestra have to match the score to what’s showing on the screen, all — in effect — without aid of a safety net, i.e., you get no “do-overs” as you would have in a film studio.

Last night’s audience of 17,000+ got a demonstration of that issue because the opening had to be re-started. Moreover, the “click track” (the device with which the conductor judges the speed by which to play the score) was audible for a few seconds before a technician realized the error and shut it off. Freer, a Huntington Beach native whose composing credits include movies and numerous film commercials, seemed calm and collected as he steered the musicians expertly through the various machinations.

Technical challenges notwithstanding, the audience loved the evening. They laughed, cheered and/or booed at each main character’s first appearance in the movie, quieted down and got caught up in the gripping elements in the second half, and stayed through the credits to give thunderous ovations to Freer, the LAPO instrumentalists and the uncredited women’s chorus who brought John Williams’ sweeping score to life in a way that a soundtrack simply cannot match.

Given that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first of eight “Potter movies” (all based on the book series by J.K. Rowling) and the large crowd — especially notable for a weeknight — one can only imagine that the next seven installments will show up in future years. Moreover, with Williams’ music having such a luxurious, symphonic style, might one expect to see other movies with Williams scores, including Episodes 4, 5 and 6 of Star Wars, to make it to the Bowl big screen?

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• I may have been the only adult in attendance who has never seen one of the movies or read the books. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and my wife, who is a confirmed “Potter-phile” loved it!
• When it was released in England, the initial segment in the Harry Potter series was entitled Harry Potter and the Professor’s Stone.
• One of the technical challenges of screening a movie at the Bowl in the middle of summer is that the sky didn’t darken enough to see the screen clearly until about 45 minutes into the performance. The evening didn’t end until nearly 11 p.m., which accounted for the 8 p.m. start time, but perhaps showing movies in September makes a lot more sense.
• For one of the few times in recent Bowl memory, the concert began just two minutes late. Consequently, hundreds of people, arrived late.
• The screening was preceded by a fascinating 15-minute feature on Williams and how he scores movies. Unfortunately it was hard to see because of the ambient light (see the first bullet above) and the noise from party-goers. Posting the feature on the Bowl’s Web site would be a nice touch.
• The Bowl opens its classical season on July 12 when Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel leads the Phil in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist in the concerto. (INFO On July 14 and 19, Dudamel, the Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale and a dozen soloists will perform Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in concert. (INFO)
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Pasadena Symphony’s Bruce Kiesling named music director of Adrian Symphony in Michigan

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

KieslingBruce Kiesling (pictured left), who has served for the past two years as Assistant Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony and music director of the Pasadena Youth Symphony, has been named music director of the Adrian (MI) Symphony. His appointment takes effect July 1.

Kiesling succeeds John Thomas Dodson, who stepped down at the end of the ASO’s 2014-15 season after a 15-year-tenure. Kiesling is just the fourth music director in the orchestra’s 35-year-history. Kiesling’s appointment came after an extensive search and an appearance with the orchestra in April.

Adrian is a town of nearly 22,000 people near the southern border of the state, about 40 miles south of Ann Arbor and 75 miles southwest of Detroit. The orchestra’s concerts take place in Dawson Auditorium in the campus of Adrian College. For Kiesling, this is something of a homecoming; he holds a graduate degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Kiesling, who calls himself “schizo-musical,” will lead a season of four classical concerts. Last season the orchestra also played three Pops concerts had presented a brass ensemble recital, but the orchestra’s media release made no mention of those activities.

In addition to his Pasadena Symphony duties, Kiesling currently serves as Music Director of the Tulare County Symphony. For five years, he conducted the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he led multiple orchestras of different levels including most of the 700 students at YOLA’s three sites. YOLA is Gustavo Dudamel’s signature music education program, which brings free-of-charge musical opportunities to underserved youth in Los Angeles.

Kiesling also leads the Orchestra and Opera at the University of California Santa Cruz. In an Adrian Daily Telegram article, Kiesling said that he will be “dialing back” his other orchestral commitments in order to spend the kind of time with the ASO that he knows is vital. “It’s important to me to be there enough to really hear the community,” he said. What that means for Pasadena is unclear.

In addition to his conducting, one thing about Kiesling that the Adrian community will come to love is his pre-concert lectures. He’s one of the best I’ve heard about engaging audiences in this often-tricky art.

Read the Adrian Symphony Orchestra’s media release HERE.

Read the complete Daily Telegram article HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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“I’m back!”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

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

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

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

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

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

Information: www.laco.org

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

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

Information: www.lamc.org

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

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

Information: www.laphil.com

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

Information: www.newwestsymphony.org

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

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

Information: www.laphil.com

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

Information: www.laphil.com

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

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

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NEWS: Dudamel’s contract extension affects orchestras in Berlin, New York

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

With prestigious orchestras — the New York Philharmonic and Berlin Phil — and others searching for new music directors, today’s announcement (LINK) that Gustavo Dudamel’s contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been extended through the 2021-22 season may have put a spoke into several wheels.

Along with the extension — which means the now-34-year-old Dudamel will lead the LAPO for at least 13 seasons — he has added the title of Artistic Director to his current Music Director post. No financial terms were detailed; the Los Angeles Times reported that Dudamel was paid $1.44 million in 2012, according to tax returns. The announcement came during the final leg of LAPO’s Asian tour, which wraps up Sunday in Tokyo.

Given that Dudamel seems fully invested as music director of the Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra (flagship of Venezuela’s El Sistema program), it seems unlikely that he could maintain that post, the LAPO position, and a music directorship in either Berlin and/or New York unless he wants to be the reincarnation of Valery Gergiev, the world’s most peripatetic maestro these days.

Alan Gilbert has announced that he will leave his post as New York Philharmonic in 2017 (LINK). Simon Rattle will leave his post with the Berlin Philharmonic a year later and become music director of the London Symphony (LINK).

The same situation would seem to be the case with another high-profile conductor, Yannick Nezét-Seguin, who recently re-upped with the Philadelphia Orchestra through 2022.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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