NEWS: Herbie Hancock, L.A. Phil extend relationship

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Jazz great Herbie Hancock and the Los Angeles Philharmonic have extended Hancock’s role as Creative Chair for Jazz through the 2018 Hollywood Bowl season and the 2018/2019 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

L.A. Phil Artistic and Music Director Gustavo Dudamel announced the one-year extension onstage at the Bowl last night during a Bowl kick-off party held for sponsors, LAPO board members, media and other guests.

Hancock, now age 77, first signed on with the Phil in 2010. He helps to curate the Phil’s jazz programming and related educational activities primarily at its two principal venues. He is the third person to hold the position. Dianne Reeves began in 2002 and Christian McBride took over in 2006. The chair is now endowed by William Powers and Carolyn Powers.

Click HERE for Hancock’s bio.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil begin Schubert/Mahler series at Disney Hall

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conducting
Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Next performances: May 11, 12 and 13 at 8 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com

Last week was quite tough for Los Angeles Philharmonic Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel. For the past several years has watched as his native Venezuela’s government has slowly devolved into chaos. He has refused to become overtly involved, believing that such involvement might jeopardize his country’s El Sistema music program (which is funded in large part by the government) and that he can be more effective making music. That decision has earned him plenty of enmity, particularly from those who oppose the government.

However, on Wednesday Armando Cañizales, a 17-year-old violinist and El Sistema member, was killed during an antigovernment protest and Dudamel felt compelled to act. He issued a statement, “I Raise My Voice,” (LINK) that said, in part, “It is time to listen to the people: Enough is enough. I urgently call on the President of the Republic and the national government to rectify and listen to the voice of the Venezuelan people. Times cannot be defined by the blood of our people.”

Perhaps predictably many people on both sides of the debate are angry about this letter, some saying it’s too little, too late, others criticizing the relationship between Dudamel and El Sistema with the government, and some even calling Dudamel complicit in the killings.

Friday night Dudamel returned to his second home and to one of his familes, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, for the first of five weeks of concerts that will present two different cycles. According to Mark Swed’s Los Angeles Times REVIEW, “[Dudamel] walked onto the stage with uncharacteristic brusqueness — no smiles” and told the audience he was dedicating the concert to the slain student and all victims of violence. “We play for all our children,” Dudamel concluded, “to build a better future for them with peace and love.”

Last night, his entrance onto the stage was gentler but still without smiles. Why he elected not to repeat the dedication mystifies me a bit — those who attend on Saturday are as much a part of the L.A. Phil family as those who came Friday night. Nonetheless, the evening proved to be excellent music making.

Over the next two weeks Dudamel will lead a cycle of all eight published symphonies of Franz Schubert intermingled with four song cycles written by Gustav Mahler. “This [weekend’s] program,” wrote Linda Shaver-Gleason in her program notes, “features symphonies from a prolific songwriter and songs from a prominent symphonist, two figures on the end of the Romantic era.”

This is a cycle that Dudamel could not have pulled off as well in his early days with the Phil. He would have been too brash, too energetic to let this music unfold on its own terms. Now, like his work with Mozart symphonies, he has become more relaxed and reflective in his music making.

Last night he conducted the first two symphonies from memory, with a light, yet sure touch, using almost none of the dynamic gestures for which is well known. He brought more gravitas to Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, in part because the soloist was mezzo-soprano Michelle deYoung, who sang Mahler’s texts with an opulent Wagnerian tone.

In his preconcert lecture, Professor James William Sobaskie described the concert as having “echoes and resonance,” noting that both composers reached into their past for inspiration but wrote works that pointed to the future.

Schubert composed his first symphony in 1813 at the age of 16, when he was still a student at the Imperial Seminary in Vienna. He began his second symphony the following year. Schubert was living in a city that still reveled in the works of Mozart, who died in 1791, Haydn, who passed away in 1809, and Beethoven, whose Symphony No. 7 premiered in 1813 and No. 8 a year later. Schubert’s first two symphonies heavily reflect the music of Haydn and Mozart.

Yet what a difference in these two works. The first symphony, which opened last night’s program, was scored for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings. By the second (which closed the evening) Schubert had added a second flute and two trumpets to the scoring, which made for a richer sound. For both symphonies Principal Timpanist Joseph Pereria played a set of kettledrums more appropriate to the Schubertian sound than the richer drums that were used in the Mahler songs.

Both symphonies begin with a slow introduction but diverge somewhat from there. Dudamel’s pacing was gentle until he reached the Presto finale of the second symphony. The orchestration in both works is a feast for wind instruments and the Phil’s principals were in tip-top form. At the conclusion of the second symphony, Dudamel waded into the orchestra to shake the hand of Associate Principal Oboeist Marion Arthur Kuszyk for her exemplary work.

The Mahler songs proved to be an effective counterpoint to the Schubert, although in all but the final concert of this series they will make for somewhat unbalanced programs. Dudamel used a score for Songs of a Wayfarer but led the four songs for which Mahler wrote from the poetry with elegant confidence.

Part of Sobaskie’s “resonance” description was easy to understand in Songs of a Wayfarer. The melody of the second song became the opening theme of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and traces of the final song also show up in that first symphony.

DeYoung poured out all four songs with easy opulence. Dudamel and the orchestra (considerably larger than for the Schubert symphonies) provided sumptuous accompaniment.

Next week’s programs will pair Schubert’s third and fourth symphonies with Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, with baritone Matthias Goerne as soloist. On May 18 and 19, Dudamel will lead Schubert’s fifth and sixth symphonies with Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča as soloist.

The series concludes on May 20 and 21 with Schubert’s best-known symphonies, Nos. 8 (“Unfinished”) and 9 (“The Great C-Major”), with Garanča soloing in Mahler’s Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn on both concerts.

Information on all of these is at www.laphil.com

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

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FIVE-SPOT: May 4-7, 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.

MAY 4: TWO LOOKS AT BEETHOVEN
7:30 p.m. at Moss Theater; Santa Monica
As part of its final “West Side Connections” program of the 2016-17 season, outgoing LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane joins with Los Angeles Philharmonic Principal Keyboard player Joanne Pearce Martin for the west coast premiere of John Adams’ Roll Over Beethoven. Then Kahane joins with LACO Concertmaster Margaret Batjer and Principal Cellist Andrew Shulman in Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major (“Archduke”). NPR’s Renée Montagne moderates the program.

BONUS: The theatre, part of the New Roads School, is a ten-minute walk from both the Expo/Bundy and 26th St/Bergamot stations on the Metro Expo Line.

Information: www.laco.org

MAY 4: ANNA NETREKO and YUSIF EYVAZOV
7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; Los Angeles
Acclaimed soprano Anna Netrebko sings her first performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in more than a decade. She joins her husband, tenor Yusif Evyasov, in a program of arias and duets with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, conducted by Jader Bignamini

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then west up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laopera.org

MAY 5, 6: DUDAMEL CONDUCT SCHUBERT, MAHLER
8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Franz Schubert is best known for his “lieder” (art songs), but he also wrote eight symphonies, and those orchestral works will form the backbone of a series of May concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct two symphonies in each of the four programs and has also programmed four song collections by Gustav Mahler.

This weekend, Schubert’s first two symphonies will bookend Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, with mezzo-soprano Michelle de Young as soloist.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk west up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

MAY 6: RODERICK DEMMINGS, JR.
7:30 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church; Pasadena
This award-winning organist and pianist — who has performed at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, the Vatican and other prestigious venues — comes to Pasadena to play on PPC’s massive Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ.

BONUS: Free admission; freewill offering.

Information: www.ppcmusic.org

MAY 7: ORGAN MARATHON
2 p.m. at St. Cyril of Jerusalem Parish; Encino
After several seasons of traversing French organ music, this year’s “marathon” features music from England, played by Southland organists Namhee Han, Jaebon Hwang, Mary Lee Mistretta, Jelil Romano, Philip Allen Smith, Samuel Salvador Soria, and James Walker. See “Information” below for details as to who plays what when.

BONUS: Free admission.

Information: st-cyril.org

MAY 7: PASADENA PRO MUSICA
4 p.m. at Neighborhood Church; Pasadena
Artistic Director Stephen Grimm leads selections from “The Great American Songbook,” accompanied by pianist Alan Geier and the Blair High School Jazz Ensemble, Michael Birnbryer, director.

Information: www.pasadenapromusica.org

MAY 7: LOS ANGELES CHILDREN’S CHORUS
7 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church; Pasadena
This world-renowned children’s chorus — which, despite its name, is based in Pasadena — sings the first of two consecutive Sunday “Spring Concerts.” Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson leads LACC’s Concert Choir and Chamber Singers in the world premiere of Breathe in Hope by Los Angeles-based composer Dale Trumbore, along with music by Holst, Handel and others. LACC’s Intermediate Choir, led by Diane Landis, will also perform on this program.

Information: lachildren’schorus.com

MAY 7: JAZZ, SONDHEIM AND WEST SIDE STORY
8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
The music of Stephen Sondheim, permeates this jazz-oriented program. Sondheim & Jazz: Side by Side was created by pianists/arrangers Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, with Ann Hampton Callaway, that explores the sophistication, wit and genius of one of Broadway’s most innovative artists.

In the other half of this program — first or second, depending on which part of the Phil’s Web site you believe — finds pianist/composer Dave Grusin offering his jazz interpretation of Bernstein’s classic West Side Story.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk west up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: L.A. Phil plays superb Wagner at Disney Hall

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Phillipe Jordan, conductor
“The Best of Wagner’s Ring”
Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com

Swiss conductor Phillipe Jordan is making his Los Angeles Philharmonic and Walt Disney Concert Hall debut this weekend with a marvelous program of music from Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.”
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I apologize for the length of this review, but I want to begin by telling you a story.

Wagner’s Ring cycle — Der Ring des Nibelungen — first came into my life in the early 1970s when I was living in Montreal. Time-Life Records reissued the famous London Decca recording of the Ring from the late 1950s and early 1960s and delivered it one opera at a time to my mailbox on LP records in beautifully bound cases.

This recording was ground breaking in many ways. It was the first studio-recorded Ring to be released commercially. It featured a then relatively unknown (in the U.S. at any rate) Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The singers included such legendary names as Birgit Nilsson and Kirsten Flagstad.

Under the technical leadership of John Culshaw this was also the first recording to show people how the new long-play recording technology could perform. Among other things, there were magnificent sound effects. This became a landmark, not only in recording in general but also in the history of recorded Rings.

The first opera, Das Rheingold, was delivered in a box that included the libretto in English and German and three hard-back books — Richard Wagner: the Man, His Mind and His Music by Robert W. Gutman, George Bernard Shaw’s The Perfect Wagnerite, and, most importantly, Ring Resounding, Culshaw’s recount of how the original recordings came to be made.

That first shipment also included An Introduction to “Der Ring des Nieblungen” by British musicologist Deryck Cooke, which proved to be a superb way to learn the entire cycle — it’s still available in CD and via download — I highly recommend it!

After that first shipment I was hooked! I called Time-Life to see if I could just buy the other three immediately instead of having to wait each month to receive the next installment. No such luck. The calendar turned slowly.

One thing these recordings did was to make me appreciate my sense of imagination. All I had to do was listen and dream of how these opera would be staged. I never imagined that I would ever actually see a Ring in person (my wallet laughed uproariously at the idea that I would travel to New York City for a week to hear a cycle at the Metropolitan Opera, let alone Bayreuth). The concepts of VHS, laser disc, DVD and Blu-Ray were so far off that only a few visionaries could see them. So it was just me, the music, and my mind.

As it turns out, having now seen three complete Ring cycles plus parts of two other cycles in person, part of the latest Met cycle in a movie theatre, owning the James Levine-conducted Ring at the Met on laser discs, and having viewed two other versions on DVD, I remained convinced that what I first envisioned when I was listening to those Time-Life records remains the best staging ever.

This is a very long-winded preview to this morning’s performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic entitled “The Best of Wagner’s Ring”. In some respects, like many such marketing titles, it’s overblown — how can it be the “best” when it doesn’t have the entire “Wotan’s Farewell” or anything from Siegfried except “Forest Murmurs” or (insert your favorite section)?

However, if you consider the “best” in the context of today’s performance, it comes very close to the mark. This afternoon’s performance was 85 magnificent minutes of music (out of the 18 or so hours an entire production would take). There was no staging and only one singer (but what a singer!).

On the other hand, this performance had an oversized L.A. Phil onstage at Walt Disney Hall to perform the music. There were musicians everywhere on stage, including 16 winds, eight horns (four more than normal), five trombones (two extra), two timpani players, as opposed to one, seven percussionists (two extra) — several of whom hammered actual anvils — and six harps. The brass section, in the middle and back of the orchestra, stretched almost from one side of the stage to the other.

Swiss conductor Phillipe Jordan, music director of the Opéra National de Paris and chief conductor of the Vienna Symphoniker, was making his Disney Hall and L.A. Phil in the program, one that he has recorded previously with his Paris Opera forces. Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin was on hand to sing the “Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene,” the climax of the opera Götterdämerung and, indeed, of the entire cycle.

The 42-year-old Jordan cuts a dashing, athletic pose on the podium, crouching almost to the floor to get the soft dynamics that help make Disney Hall a wonder. He also crafted an expansive collage of portions of the Ring, far beyond what we usually get in concerts, and conducted it from memory.

Where most conductors would be content to open with the “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla” from Das Rheingold, Jordan began with the Prelude, with that low E-flat that sets the entire work into motion and then morphs into the river Rhine motif. He continued with the orchestral interlude between scenes 2 and 3 (Rheingold plays as one continuous act with the four scenes separated by these interludes, which are the bane of stagehands because of their brevity). Only then did Jordan transition to the “Entrance of the Gods” but he preceded it with the music that sets up “Rainbow Bridge” theme and the concluding, majestic measures.

After the obligatory “Ride of the Valkyries” Jordan turned to the “Magic Fire Music” that concludes “Die Walkure,” but again he preceded those concluding measures with enough of “Wotan’s Farewell” to give those who know the opera the sense of why the “Magic Fire Music” is so important. I wish that the LAPO had hired somewhat like Eric Owens to sing the entire lament, but maybe next time.

Jordan concluded the program’s first half with “Forest Murmurs” from Siegfried. As was the entire performance, there were amazing moments from the orchestra — in fact, hearing this music with the orchestra onstage and nothing from a stagecraft point of view to distract caused me to marvel again of how Wagner could write so brilliantly for the orchestra.

After intermission, Jordan elided all three sections he chose from Götterdämerung, the last of the four operas. He began with “Dawn” and “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” continued with “Siegfried’s Funeral March” and concluded with “Brünnhilde’s Immolation” that concludes the opera and the cycle.

The orchestra was magnificent — there is simply no other word for it. Every section and every soloist played beautifully, with special kudos to Burt Hara, clarinet, David Howard, bass clarinet, Nathan Cole, concertmaster, Andrew Bain, horn, and Marion Kuszyk, oboe. Whenever Jordan gets to conduct a Ring cycle in the opera house, it’s highly unlikely that he will be able to reproduce the sound he got from the Phil today.

As the final notes of “Siegfried’s Funeral March” were fading away, Theorin (pictured right, although she wore black instead of red today) walked slowly on stage. The Swedish soprano has sung the role of Brünnhilde in major opera houses around the world and it was easy to see and hear why.

She poured out all of the pathos, bitterness and, finally, redemption in that final scene with a powerful sound was never strident but cut through the orchestra sound fabric like a hot knife on butter. Jordan did an excellent job of balancing the orchestra with Theorin and the results left me in tears, as the scene played out in my imagination.

If you can get a ticket for one of the remaining performances, do so! And if LA Opera ever gets around to re-mounting its Ring production, Iréne Theorin is its Brünnhilde.
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Robert D. Thomas is a freelance music writer. Email him at: BobTatFORE@aol.com. More of his reviews, columns and features can be found at www.insidesocal.com/classact/

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LINK: Anna Russell on Wagner’s “Ring” cycle

By ROBERT D. THOMAS
Music Critic

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Phillipe Jordan, conductor
Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Next performances: Tomorrow at 11 a.m. Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com

The L.A. Philharmonic is presenting a program this weekend entitled “The Best of Wagner’s “Ring.” As is often the case with these kinds of titles, this one is overblown but the Phil has imported Swiss conductor Phillipe Jordan to conduct approximately 80 minutes of excerpts from all four Ring operas, aided by Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin in the climactic scene of Gotterdamerung and the entire cycle.

John Magnum — who once wrote program notes for the LAPO but is now President and Artistic Director of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County — has a relatively concise and well-written précis of the Ring cycle that you can read HERE.

However, if you want a funnier explanation of Wagner’s Ring (or even if you’ve never heard this or have and just want to revisit it), then click HERE for the late, great British comedienne Anna Russell’s classic telling of the story. Be forewarned: it runs about 20 minutes, but it’s well worth it! There are actually two different tellings of the story. The second one has a wonderful (and different) introduction and she throws in some different elements.

Incidentally, from her telling comes one of the great lines ever written: “That’s the beauty of grand opera. You can do anything you like as long as you sing it.”
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Robert D. Thomas is a freelance music writer. Email him at: BobTatFORE@aol.com. More of his reviews, columns and features can be found at www.insidesocal.com/classact/

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