“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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NEWS: San Diego Opera, L.A. Phil announce major promotions

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

This has been a busy week for promotions in the classical music world:

• David Bennett has been named General Director of San Diego Opera. Considering that a year ago the company nearly closed down, this counts as a major resurrection story. The most interesting aspect is that Bennett comes to SDO from Gotham City Opera, a small but growing and innovative company in New York City, which is quite different that what SDO was in its first 50 years. One can hope this is a good omen for SDO’s future. James Chute’s analysis in the San Diego Union-Tribune is HERE. David NG’s take in the Los Angeles Times is HERE.

• Closer to home, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has promoted Gail Samuel to Executive Director and Chad Smith to Chief Operating Office. Both will report to LAPO President and CEO Deborah Borda, who will take a sabbatical in the fall at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she will join the Center for Public Leadership community as a Hauser Leader-in-Residence (LINK).

The well-deserved promotions of Samuel and Smith are also part of the orchestra’s ramp up to its centennial season in 2018-2019. Read the media release HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Season schedules — Part 1: Pasadena Symphony and Hollywood Bowl

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

It’s that time of the year when schedules for 2015 and 2016 begin to appear in mailboxes (electronic and USPS). Read my story about the 2015-2016 PASADENA SYMPHONY season published in the above papers HERE.

Among other schedules that have popped up:

HAVING ESTABLISHED A PATTERN that seems to provide maximum variety and healthy income to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl’s 2015 summer schedule offers more of the same for the season that begins June 13 and extends through September 27.

The bulk of the season features popular and movie fare but the 10-week classical season, with concerts on Tuesday and Thursday, features a number of interesting programs. Among those that caught my eye:
• Composer/conductor Tan Dun conducts a program of his own “Martial Arts Trilogy” on Aug. 13, including his Crouching Tiger concerto and his Triple Concerto, which had its West Coast premiere last week at Walt Disney Concert Hall The Bowl concerts will include film clips.

• Now Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Lionel Bringuier returns to conduct the L.A. Phil (where he served for six years in various conducting capacities) to open the 2015 Bowl classical season. The July 7 concert will include Yuja Wang as soloist in Prokofiev’s second concerto, while Thursday’s program will pair Tchaikovsky’s and Prokofiev’s takes on Romeo and Juliet themes along with Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, with Narek Hakhnazaryan — gold medalist in the 2011 Tchaikovsky International Competition — as cello soloist.

• LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel has several program scheduled. On July 21 and 23, he conducts the orchestra, L.A. Master Chorale, L.A. Children’s Chorus and three soloists in performances of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and music by Eric Whitacre.

On that weekend, Dudamel leads the annual “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” for the first time. The program will include Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Swan Lake excerpts and, of course, the 1812 Overture, with fireworks, cannon shots and the USC Marching Band in accompaniment. The 5th Symphony was the vehicle with which Dudamel made an electrifying Bowl and L.A. Phil debut in September 2005 (see this review by the late, great critic Alan Rich HERE).

The following week Dudamel leads an all-Mendelssohn program on July 28 and an all-Mozart program on July 30.

• Other guest conductors are James Gaffigan; Joshua Bell, also soloing on the violin; Daniel Harding; Nicholas McGegan leading a program with Cameron Carpenter soloing in the Poulenc Organ Concerto on Carpenter’s International Touring Organ INFO); Bramwell Tovey; Lahav Shani; and Pablo Heras-Casado. LAPO Assistant Conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will also lead a program.

http://www.sgvtribune.com/arts-and-entertainment/20141114/organist-cameron-carpenter-la-philharmonic-to-celebrate-walt-disney-concert-hall-pipe-organ

• The “Sing-Along Sound of Music” program on June 26 will celebrate the movie’s 50th anniversary. Other programs with either the L.A. Phil accompanying films and/or film clips are Back to the Future on June 30 (this year is BTF’s 30th anniversary), the 25th anniversary of Bugs Bunny at the Movies on Aug. 14 and 15. 2001: A Space Odyssey on Aug. 18, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Sept. 4, 5 and 6.

Live performances of Monte Python’s Spamalot will take place July 31, August 1 and 2, while — for something completely different — the annual opera night will be Verdi’s La Traviata on Aug. 9 when Daniel Harding leads the L.A. Phil and an as-yet-unnamed cast.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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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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