MUSIC NOTES: On Feinstein, classic movies, and “Tchaikovsky Spectaculars”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

• IF YOU’RE A FAN of Turner Classic Movies (as I am), you may have been surprised to see the guest host of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” series at 5 p.m. (PDT) this month: Michael Feinstein, principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops orchestra, who introduces a different star each night (Wednesday is Bing Crosby). INFO

• FRIDAY AND SATURDAY nights mark the 48th edition of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” at the Hollywood Bowl. Actually, there have been more than 48. In 1931, Artur Rodzinski led the Phil in a program that was entitled “An All Tchaikovsky Concert.” The program back then was the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, Symphony No. 6, Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Nicolai Ochi-Albi as soloist, and the 1812 Overture.

Fast forward to 1969 when Zubin Mehta led the first Bowl concert to be termed a “Tchaikovsky Spectacular.” The program was Marche Slave, Opus 31, the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, Piano Concerto No. 1, with Mischa Dichter as soloist, and — of course — the 1812 Overture, with the 562nd California Air National Guard Band.

This year’s program — to be led by current LAPO Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel — features the Capriccio Italien, orchestral selections and two dance sequences fron Swan Lake, and the 1812, with the USC Trojan Marching Band joining forces with the Phil. One thing hasn’t changed in 48 years: the firework pyrotechnics are by the same firm, now called Souza.

BTW: This is the third program this week that relies on dance, following Tuesday night’s “Tango” program and Thursday’s concert featuring Stravinsky’s The Firebird. These are also Dudamel’s last Bowl programs for the season. INFO
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Benedetti, L.A. Phil introduce Wynton Marsalis violin concerto to Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Wynton Marsalis might be considered the Mozart of our generation. Most people think of him as a trumpeter (both in jazz and classical music), just as many in Mozart’s era thought of him as a child pianist. However, Marsalis is also a teacher, music educator and artistic director of “Jazz at Lincoln Center” in New York City.

He is also a significant composer. His Blood on the Fields became, in 1997, the first jazz piece to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under then-Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, recorded Marsalis’ 2002 oratorio All Rise, and the LAPO gave the West Coast premiere of his 2010 Swing Symphony.

BenettiNot until last year had Marsalis written a piece for solo instrument and orchestra, but last night at Hollywood Bowl the L.A. Phil gave the West Coast premiere of his Concerto in D for violin and orchestra (the Phil was part of the commissioning team). The world premiere was in London last November. The U.S. premiere was two weeks ago at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. The piece was written for Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti (pictured left) and she was on hand last night to play it magnificently.

To say that the 38-minute work is eclectic would be to radically understate all that Marsalis has thrown into it. In an interview with Music Critic John Rhein of the Chicago Tribune, Benedetti — who turned age 29 last week — said, “Wynton is funny and quirky, and there are so many little moments of humor and color in [the piece]. I would encourage people to go along for the ride and have fun.” It was good advice.

The concerto is divided into four movements — Rhapsody, Rondo Burleske, Blues and Hootenanny — but that’s just the beginning. As John Henken explained in his program notes, the first movement is subdivided into sections called Lullabye, Habanera, Dream, Military March (Nightmare), Blues Spiritual, Morning (Wistful but Sweet) and Rustic Dance (Distant Ancestral Memories).

Moreover in the first 23 bars are the following notations: from nothing, with gravitas, angsty, with purity, genuflect, freely, become more angsty, peaceful, with optimism, sweetly, sexy and throaty — essentially one for every two bars. Believe it or not, Benedetti pulled off all of these wonderfully, not an easy task since Marsalis had her soaring into the stratosphere throughout most of the performance, in the process nearly wearing out her violin’s E string while delivering a silky, singing tone.

Despite the above notations, the work is not a jazz concerto. It draws its influences from virtually every segment of American music, so it might well be considered an American concerto. Because there is so much embedded in its pages, it’s also a work that would benefit from hearing it multiple times, so it will be interesting to see if it catches on and, in particular, whether other violinists will want to put in the sweat equity to learn and perform the piece — the soloist plays in virtually every measure.

Among the takeaways: the opening, with Benedetti beginning plaintively and then building for those aforementioned 23 bars before the orchestra enters; the goofy accompaniment in the second movement, with Benedetti’s long hair whirling in the air as she negotiated the pyrotechnic solos; the Blues section, which was the most jazz-influenced (to my ears), with its lyrical inner section leading into the Hooteanny movement, where orchestra members not otherwise engaged were clapping enthusiastically (it was so infectious that I would have joined in but wouldn’t have known when to stop.

Cristian Măcelaru provide to be an inspired choice as the evening’s guest conductor, since before turning to conducting he was a good enough violinist to earn a Master’s degree in violin performance (along with one in conducting) from Rice University; become the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Miami Symphony (he made his Carnegie Hall debut with that orchestra at the age of 19); and play in the first violin section of the Houston Symphony for two seasons. For good measure, he joined Benedetti in the U.S. premiere of Marsalis’ concerto two weeks ago at Ravinia. So it was no surprise that he accompanied Benedetti sympathetically and the orchestra took the many musical mood shifts easily in its collective stride.

Măcelaru also proved to be a canny programmer, surrounding the concerto with two Aaron Copland works — canny because Copland was among the many influences heard in the concerto, especially in the last movement.

The program opened with An Outdoor Overture, which featured elegant solo work from Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten. The piece was written in 1938 for the High School for Music and Art in New York City, which obviously had a top-flight orchestra, and came at a time when Copland was developing what would be his signature musical style just as we was beginning to write his ballet music.

After intermission, came Copland’s Symphony No. 3, which was begun in 1944 and finished two years later. This might be considered the ultimate result of Copland’s musical style-change begun in 1938, and Măcelaru led a robust rendition, allowing the composer’s music to make its own statement. Even the “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which opens the final movement, was almost understated but never dull. The orchestra’s brass and percussion players highlighted the performance.

During the final movement as the flutes were softly playing, there were birds on the hillside that seemingly were singing along. It could only happen at the Bowl.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Măcelaru — who, among his other gigs, is resident conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra — is scheduled to conduct the San Diego Symphony on January 16 and 17. The SDS is searching for a replacement for outgoing Music Director Jaha Ling, and San Diego might be a perfect spot for Măcelaru to continue his upward career ascendancy if he’s willing to relocate from Philly.
A Chorus Line plays this weekend at the Bowl. An oddity is that while the program book gives bio information on virtually everyone involved in the production, there’s not one word about the team that created the musical in the first place: Director and Choreographer Michael Bennett, Authors James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Lyricist Edward Kleban, and composer Marvin Hamlisch, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for the score. Sic transit Gloria. INFORMATION
• L.A. Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to the Bowl on Tuesday, leading the orchestra in a program of Latin American music, featuring the world premiere of Concerto de la Amistad by Lalo Schifrin and dance music by Piazzolla and Ginastera. INFORMATION
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

CLASS ACT: Feinstein with Pasadena Pops, Mirga at the Bowl highlight upcoming week

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Style: "p25+-Ipro"For the past quarter century, Michael Feinstein pictured above has become the leading proponent and curator of “The Great American Songbook,” which is not really a book but rather a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early and mid-20th century.

One of the leading lights of that collection was Frank Sinatra, and Feinstein will join with the Pasadena Pops July 30 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum for what he has termed “The Sinatra Project — Volume 2.” It’s a follow-up to last summer’s sold-out concert of music by the crooner affectionately known as “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”

As was the case last summer, Feinstein will spend the evening singing and talking about Sinatra and his music. It will be an intimate evening as Feinstein’s first-hand knowledge gives him a unique slant on Sinatra. “I have a very different perspective about his musical taste,” explains Feinstein. “Among other things he loved classical music so I’m very careful in combining swing arrangements with great orchestrations of the ballads. Some are vintage charts that have not been heard publicly in many years or ever.”

One of those rarely heard numbers will be Sinatra’s original arrangement of Three Coins in the Fountain, which was cut in half for the 1954 motion picture. “Finding things like that is what makes an evening like this exciting for me,” says Feinstein. Other numbers will include Pennies from Heaven and Young at Heart. Resident Conductor Larry Blank will lead the Pops in this concert.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Mirga_2016_4_WebIn the midst of Gustavo Dudamel’s last weeks at Hollywood Bowl for this summer comes a concert that, for classical music aficionados, is a must-see event as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), one of the sharply rising stars in the musical firmament, conducts her only Bowl concert this summer this coming Tuesday.

A 29-year-old Lithuania native, Gražinytė-Tyla (because her last name is a tongue-twister to pronounce virtually everyone simply calls her “Mirga”) will become the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Associate Conductor this fall. More importantly she has been named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the latest in a long line of youthful conductors to lead that esteemed English ensemble who are now among the world’s conducting elite (e.g., Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons).

At the Bowl Gražinytė-Tyla will lead the L.A. Phil in works by Beethoven and Ravel. Pianist Jean-Yeves Thibaudet and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will join the Phil and six vocal soloists in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.” The evening will open with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and will conclude with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the second suite from Daphnis and Chloe.

Gražinytė-Tyla’s rise with the LAPO has been meteoric. She was a Dudamel Fellow with the orchestra in the 2012-13 season and became the ensemble’s Assistant Conductor in 2014, before being promoted to Associate Conductor for the 2016-17 season.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

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)
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

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)
_________________________

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)
_______________________

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email