Last-minute Christmas gift needs? Tickets are the best choice

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Daily News/Daily Breeze/Long Beach Press-Telegram

Even at this late date I get someone asking me what to give to a classical-music loving friend. Earlier this month Mark Swed, in the Los Angeles Times (LINK) offered a well-researched compendium of new recordings. However, with all due respect to my esteemed colleague I think he missed the boat. The best gift you can give to a classical music lover isn’t a recording. It’s tickets.

There’s no denying that technology has produced some stupendous recordings, both audio and visual. Nonetheless, music resonates best when it is performed — and heard — live. The interplay between artist and audience cannot be duplicated on a recording, no matter the technological marvels. So give your recipient tickets instead.

You can start with the obvious: the Los Angeles Philharmonic. There’s still half a season left for the Phil but one of my choices would be the concerts on March 12 and 13 when Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will lead the Phil in John Adams City Noir and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World), just before they will take off on an Asian tour with these pieces.

If you have never heard City Noir, which was written for Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts, I think you’ll find it to be a terrific piece of music that would be enjoyed by almost anyone. Of course, the New World symphony is one of the most beloved works ever written. INFO

One reason to attend L.A. Phil concerts is the chance to hear music inside Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the world’s great venues from an acoustical and visual point of view. However, there are other groups appearing throughout the year where prices are lower than those for the Phil. One is The Colburn Orchestra, one of the nation’s premiere conservatory ensembles, which will appear Jan. 18 when Sir Neville Marriner leads performances of Holst’s The Planets and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with Blake Pouliot as soloist. INFO

Other ensembles appearing on the Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series (with reasonably priced tickets) are the USC Thornton Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 24, the American Youth Symphony on March 7, and The Colburn Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, on April 24. All offer fine music at a great value.

This is the first season for David Lockington as music director of the Pasadena Symphony and their concert on Valentine’s Day at Ambassador Auditorium will be particularly appropriate because the soloist will be Lockington’s wife, Dylana Jensen. Before you dismiss this ss pure nepotism, know that Jensen is a superb violinist who in 1978 was the first American to win a silver medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition. With the PSO she will solo in Shostakovich’s lyrical Violin Concerto No. 1; the program will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. INFO

One of the great benefits to tickets in Southern California is that price is no barrier. Because of the amazing depth and breadth of musical talent in Southern California there are wonderful concerts throughout the year, many of which are free or modestly priced. Among the groups that perform free concerts are the Peninsula Symphony in Redondo Beach, the Rio Hondo Symphony in Whittier, and the American Youth Symphony at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

There are other groups where tickets are either modestly priced or free; do a little Internet sleuthing to uncover them. Just remember that “free concerts” are not really free; someone is footing the bill so donations are always gratefully appreciated.

Finally, when you give tickets, don’t just provide pieces of paper or cardboard. Take the time to make the concert an event. Take your friend to dinner beforehand or dessert afterwards. Arrange to pick them up and drive them. Dress up — whatever that means to you. Make it all special — as it should be!

Finally get a head start on Christmas giving by attending one of the Christmas Eve concerts discussed in my post HERE. Oh, any by the way; Merry Christmas!
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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COMPENDIUM: Happy Birthday “Hurricane Mama!”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles News Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
hurricanemama_head
This weekend marks the official celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, dubbed “Hurricane Mama” by organist and composer Terry Riley after he first played it. The Los Angeles News Group has published several of my articles on the organ and upcoming concerts and following are the links:

• First, my review of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concert on Nov. 20, one of the major events celebrating the organ, is HERE.
• My preview of organist Cameron Carpenter’s appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic is HERE. I have an additional article on Cameron at the bottom of this post HERE.
• My profile of composer Stephen Hartke, whose Symphony No. 4 is receiving its world premiere this weekend, is HERE.

• What’s behind the façade of the Disney Hall organ? Published online HERE. Additional notes on the WDCH organ stories are at the bottom of this post HERE.

• Timothy Mangan, music critic of the Orange County Register, has a sparkling interview with Cameron HERE.

Concert performance details:

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor.
Barber: Toccata Festiva; Cameron Carpenter, organist
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”); Cameron Carpenter, organist
Hartke: Symphony No. 4; Joanne Pearce Martin, organist, Heidi Stober, soprano
• 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

Happy Birthday “Hurricane Mama”: Pulling Out all the Stops
Organ recital by eight different organists; hosted by Michael Barrone of “Pipedreams”
Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Cameron Carpenter, L.A. Philharmonic, to celebrate Disney Hall Organ

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

My preview article on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concerts next weekend (Nov. 20-23) with organist Cameron Carpenter is published on Los Angeles News Group Web sites HERE. It will be published in the above papers Sunday.

Carpenter-w-ITOCameron Carpenter poses in front of his International Touring Organ, on which is now playing nearly of his solo recitals.

Cameron Carpenter’s digital revolution

Wacky and Wonderful. Goofy and Genius. There are more nicknames attached to organist Cameron Carpenter than his age (33). The Los Angeles Philharmonic, on its Web site, terms Carpenter a “subversive organ virtuoso” and an “audacious arranger.”

Finding a single descriptive word or phrase is impossible. Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times has written: “Carpenter is one of the rare musicians who changes the game of his instrument… He is a smasher of cultural and classical music taboos. He is technically the most accomplished organist I have ever witnessed… And, most important of all, the most musical.”

Carpenter has been a lightning-rod figure in the world of classical music since he emerged onto the scene as a pre-teen. He was born in rural northwestern Pennsylvania and home schooled by his parents (who he described in one article as “ex-hippies”). He began playing the piano at age 4 and at the same age fell in love with the organ, not because he heard one but because of a photo he saw in a music encyclopedia of someone playing the cinema organ from the 1920s. “I was immediately mesmerized by the glamour of the instrument,”

Carpenter continued his piano lessons and performed Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier at age 11 before joining the American Boychoir School in 1992 as a boy soprano, where he again became interested in the organ. He made his European debut as an organist when he was 13.

During his four years of high school studies at The North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Carpenter played for the First Baptist Church and was resident organist at the Reynolda House of American Art. While in high school, Carpenter also studied orchestration and orchestral composition and transcribed for the organ more than 100 major works, including Gustav Mahler’s complete Symphony No. 5.

Carpenter went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at The Juilliard School where he studied with such organ luminaries as Gerre Hancock, John Weaver and Paul Jacobs; the latter has been chair of the organ department at Juilliard since 2004, despite being just four years older than Carpenter.

Carpenter also continued composing at Juilliard: art songs; the symphonic poem Child of Baghdad for orchestra, chorus and Ondes Martenot; his first substantial works for solo organ; and numerous organ arrangements of piano works by Chopin, Godowsky, Grainger, Ives, Liszt, Medtner, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and others.

Carpenter has played pipe organs throughout the world, growing increasingly dissatisfied with the limitations each instrument places on the performer. Those limitations include where the console is located, often hidden from the audience. For make no mistake, Carpenter is, first and foremost, a performer. He often strolls into the hall an hour before each recital talking and shaking hands with friends and strangers alike.

Cameron_CarpenterThe performing environment is critical to Carpenter and it’s one reason he loves playing the organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall. “I believe that music is both an aural and a visual art and the entire look of Disney Hall and its organ exemplifies that,” he told me. But asked how long it would take to register the Disney Hall organ for this weekend’s programs (Barber’s Toccata Festiva, Carpenter’s transcription of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4, Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 and a preconcert recital), he groaned, “Too long!”

That was one of the frustrations that led him to Marshall & Ogletree, of Needham, Mass. Together they have built what he calls the International Touring Organ, a massive, innovative digital instrument that Carpenter now uses for his recitals. The ITO (which nearly fills a concert hall stage) has a console that is 9’ x 7’ and 10, and gigantic speakers, each 2.5 x 4.5 feet.

Unlike violinists, who travel with and plays their personal instruments, organists (and pianists) are at the mercy of the instrument in the hall or church. Vladimir Horowitz, who had a reputation for eccentricity similar to Carpenter’s, traveled with his own Steinway piano. Until now an organist could not do this, except for one: Virgil Fox, who in the 1970s traveled with an analog Rodgers Touring (electronic) organ and then an Allen Organ.

However, comparing those instruments to the ITO is to compare, well, analog and digital formats. Among other advantages, the digital age enables Carpenter to program thousands of sounds from the organs that he has most admired into the ITO. One way to hear just how amazing the instrument sounds is on his newly released SONY CD, If You Could Read My Mind. If you have a top-notch sound system in your car or at home, the music will rattle your windows.

Remarkably the ITO takes far less time to set up than it takes Carpenter to register a pipe organ. The entire instrument fills a single truck. Load in begins at 9 a.m. on the day of the recital and by about 11:15 a.m. the instrument is set up and ready for testing. Carpenter spends five hours in the afternoon testing, checking the hall’s acoustics and rehearsing. Load out after the concert takes a mere two hours.

The ITO made its debut in New York last March and in Europe two months later. Carpenter already has 90 performances booked for next year. Identical European and American sound systems (housed in Berlin and Needham, MA) make this truly an “international” touring organ.

Moreover, the ITO opens up thousands of venues that don’t have a pipe organ and he will even use the ITO in places where a pipe organ exists, such as the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia next January and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in February.

Thus, the Disney Hall recital in which he will play this Sunday and the preconcert recitals before the Thursday, Friday and Saturday concerts will be increasingly rare events: hearing Cameron Carpenter playing a recital an actual pipe organ. “It has,” says Carpenter, “taken far less time than I would have imagined to eradicate any solos on pipe organs from my itinerary.”
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASSICAL MUSIC: Another busy week with concerts by LACO, Master Chorale and L.A. Phil

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

My column on upcoming concerts by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Philharmonic is HERE. Incidentally, the composer of the Viola Concerto is Aaron Jay Kernis, not Arnold — mea culpa!

Performance details:
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor and pianist
Rameau: Overture to Zaïs; Dances from Les Boréades & Dardanus
Kernis: Viola Concerto (LA premiere); Paul Neubauer, violist
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor
Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. in Alex Theatre, Glendale
Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.laco.org

• Los Angeles Master Chorale: Grant Gershon, conductor
Music by Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Josquin des Prez, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Orlando di Lasso and John Tavener.
Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.lamc.org

• Los Angeles Philharmonic; Cristian Măcelaru, conductor
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole; Elgar: Enigma Variations
Penderecki: Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos. Claudio Bohórquez, Arto Novras and Li-Wei Quin, soloists
Nov. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic open 2014-2015 season with scintillating Mahler

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

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Oct. 2 at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Lang: man made; Sō Percussion, soloists
Mahler: Symphony No. 5
Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com
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My review of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s season-opening concert is online at our papers’ Web site HERE.

Following are some of my additional thoughts on the concert:
• Taking bows continues to be an art form for Dudamel at Disney Hall, but each concert is different. Last night he waded into the orchestra and shook Neil’s hand first. In a later bow, he asked Hooten, Bain and other principals to stand, then sections — even some of the string sections were singled out (an unusual touch). Of course, Dudamel and the orchestra turned to those in seats behind the stage; the audience always loves that.

• Mark Swed’s review in the Los Angeles Times is HERE and Timothy Mangan’s take in the Orange County Register is HERE. Obviously they liked David Lang’s piece more than I did. That’s the fun of reading multiple reviews.

• Dudamel will lead the second week of concerts on Oct. 9, 10, 11 and 12 in a program of John Adams’ Harmonium, along with Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor). Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will be the soloists. INFORMATION: www.laphil.com

• Following those concerts Dudamel, who had an extremely busy summer, apparently will take a vacation from conducting for a month before returning to lead the Phil Nov. 20-23 (His Web site lists no concerts between the LAPO programs). INFO
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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