FIVE SPOT: March 2-5, 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.

MARCH 2 AND 5: LOS ANGELES OPERA — RICHARD STRAUSS’ SALOME
March 2 at 7:30 p.m. March 5 at 2 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

This revival of LAO’s 1986 production stars Patricia Racette as the Biblical princess who wants only to get a-head. James Conlon conducts the LAO orchestra. See my review HERE. Other reviews are on the “Learn More” tab at the LAO Web site HERE. Other performances March 16 at 7:30 p.m. and March 19 at 2 p.m.

BONUS: The LAO Web says that the March 2 performance has lowest prices and best available. Also, the Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk west two blocks to reach the hall. Information: www.metro.net

Information: www.laopera.org

MARCH 3 AND 5: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC — ADAMS’ NIXON IN CHINA
March 3 at 8 p.m. March 5 at 2 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles

As part of the L.A. Phil’s season-long celebration of the 70th birthday of composer John Adams, who also serves as the orchestra’s Creative Chair, the Phil presents Adams’ best-known (if not necessarily his best) full-length opera, about President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972. Adams will conduct the Phil, Elkhanah Pulitzer directs and Bill Morrison is the video designer. Extensive music notes by the composer/conductor are HERE.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall. Information: www.metro.net

Information: www.laphil.org

MARCH 4: LONG BEACH SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Terrace Theatre; Long Beach

Paul Polivnick conducts the LBSO in Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, and Lebrun’s Oboe Concerto No. 2, with Rong-Huey Liu as soloist. Polivnick was originally one of the candidates for LBSO music director before Eckhart Preu was chosen late last year.

BONUS: Easily reachable via Metro’s Blue Line (exit at 1st St. and walk two blocks south to the theatre). Check to make sure there aren’t construction activities that might foul up the trip. Information: www.metro.net

Information: www.lbso.org

MARCH 5: THE COLBURN ORCHESTRA
8 p.m. at Musco Center for the Performing Arts (Chapman University); Fullerton

If he doesn’t get caught in a traffic jam coming from LA Opera’s performance of Salome, LAO Music Director James Conlon will lead this top-notch ensemble — Colburn is the west coast equivalent of The Juilliard School or Curtis Institute of Music on the east coast. The program is Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Jongyun Kim as soloist.

BONUS: The concert is a chance to hear the newly opened Musco Center, which has earned high praise for its acoustics and ambience.

Information: www.colburnschool.edu

MARCH 5 — WILMA JENSEN, ORGANIST, AND CHRISTI JOHN BYE, SOPRANO
7:30 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Jensen, a well-known organist and former of organ at Indiana University, and Bye, who has performed often with Jensen, perform music by composers ranging from Handel to Hurwitz (Audition from LaLa Land). The church’s Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ is one of the largest and most important instruments in Southern California.

BONUS: Free admission (freewill offering) and free parking nearby.

INFORMATION: www.ppcmusic.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Parsing the L.A. Phil’s 2017-2018 season — Part 2

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” will be part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season. The above image is the first page of the work, which is subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers.”

In PART 1 of this post, I discussed some of the people and ensembles who will be performing in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season, the orchestra’s 99th. In this portion, let’s unpack some of the programming that will take place during the season’s nine months, which as I said in Part I, “is the most exciting, interesting collection of programs that I can ever remember from an orchestra.”

There’s enough familiar music sprinkled throughout the season to keep even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist from revolting. The season will begin with a gala concert on Sept. 26 and two weeks of subscription concerts beginning Sept. 29 featuring music written by Mozart in 1791, the last year of his life. This is, apparently, a Mozart year for LAPO Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, who will also conduct Mozart’s Requiem this summer in Hollywood Bowl.

The season will conclude with Dudamel leading a three-week cycle of music by Robert Schumann, including all four symphonies, and the piano and cello concertos. The final concert will be the rarely performed oratorio Das Paradies und Die Pierl. Peter Sellars and video artist Refik Anadol will stage the oratorio in a production inspired by China’s Dunhuang Caves, which reportedly were Schumann’s inspiration in writing this work.

In between the beginning and ending concerts will be three Beethoven symphonies (Nos. 2, 7 and 9), Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, plenty of Brahms, three Mahler symphonies and other familiar works.

BTW: this is an unusually strong year for choral works. In addition to the Schumann oratorio, the season includes Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus; Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Mass; a world premiere by Andrew Norman; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

However, this is a season that skews heavily toward music written in the 20th century and later. Lisa Hirsch writes on her Blog, “Iron Tongue of Midnight,” that among the 81 composers on the schedule for the various components of the Phil’s season, 31 of them are alive and at least 17 others were composing in the 20th century.

The LAPO’s media release lists 23 commissions, 22 world premieres, six U.S. premieres and two west coast premieres during next season. Obviously, some of those will appear in the “Green Umbrella” series and five of the premieres will take place during a reprise of this seasons’ “Noon to Midnight” on Nov. 18, but contemporary works abound throughout the season.

The Phil’s conductor laureate, Esa-Pekka Salonen, will be spotlighted not just as a conductor but also for his compositions. On Feb. 8 he will conduct the west coast premiere of his Cello Concerto, with Yo-Yo-Ma. The Feb. 9 and 10 programs will feature Salonen’s Piano Concerto, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist, and the Feb. 11 will feature violinist Leila Josefowicz as soloist in Salonen’s Violin Concerto. All three of the concerts will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

The following weekend, Salonen will conduct the revised version of his Wing on Wing, which was written for Disney Hall, along with selections from Mozart’s The Impresario, K. 486 and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

Since 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, it should be no surprise that his music will be well represented: Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”), Chichester Psalms, (paired with Beethoven’s Ninth), and Mass, which is subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” and was written in 1971 for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. All of these, except for Serenade, will be conducted by Dudamel.

The performances of Mass present an interesting scheduling conumdrum because the dates (Feb. 1, 2 3 and 4) overlap LA Opera’s performances of Bernstein’s Candide. In fact, on Saturday, Feb. 3, while Candide is playing in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mass will be performed across 1st St. at Disney Hall. Fortunately, Candide has enough dates so that Bernstein lovers can work around the conflict.

Screenings of the 1961 movie of Bernstein’s West Side Story on Nov. 24 and 26 will round out the Bernstein celebration. This will be one of several movies that will appear on the schedule as part of the Phil’s inSIGHT series. Another in that series will take place on Feb. 28 (the Wednesday before the Oscars) when Thomas Wilkins, principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, will lead the Phil as it plays portions of the the nominated scores accompanied by videos.

Yet another screening, last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, The Birdman, will be part of a 10-day festival entitled “CDMX: Music from Mexico City, which will be presented as part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” held in conjunction with The Getty and other arts institutions across Southern California. L.A.

As L.A. Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda explains: “Among the 2017/18 season goals is to bring communities together through the shared experience of live music, building bridges and dissolving borders, and to find common threads and musical moments.:

The Phil’s Artist-Collaborator Yuval Sharon will be active on several fronts including a staging of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde; and a new work by Annie Gosfield, War of the Worlds, which will be based on the 1898 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells and the infamous 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Wells and his Mercury Theatre Players. The Gosfield work will take place not only in Disney Hall but at various sites around Los Angeles.

Dudamel will conduct the world premiere of Ted Hearne’s opera, Place, produced in conjunction with Beth Morrison Projects, which will not only play at Disney Hall but will be taken on the road during the orchestra’s spring tour.

I know I’ve left out a few things, but you get the idea. You can read all the details in the complete 2017-2018 media kit HERE. The chronological listing of programs is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Parsing the L.A. Phil’s 2017-2018 season — Part 1

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group


Susanna Mälkki makes her debut as L.A. Phil principal guest conductor with three weeks of concerts in the 2017-18 season.
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There’s so much to digest in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season that it will probably take me at least two Blog posts to unpack even most of it — three if you count the “Calendar Alert” post I put up earlier this morning (LINK). Bottom line: the orchestra’s 99th season is the most exciting, interesting collection of programs that I can ever remember from an orchestra.

Some of this comes through the flowering of several initiatives that have been planted during the past few seasons — e.g., inSIGHT, Casual Fridays, the Oscars. Others are the continuing maturation of projects that are the envy of many ensembles around the country, especially the “Green Umbrella” series.

Moreover, there are conductor relationships that the Phil has been nurturing for decades, beginning with Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel who will conduct 12 weeks next season, his ninth heading the orchestra, plus the annual opening gala concert.

Dudamel will also lead the Phil on a tour to the east coast, London and Paris next spring. In addition to the Phil, members of YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) will journey to London to work with young musicians from Great Britain as part of a national youth orchestra conference.

Meanwhile, Susanna Mälkki, the orchestra’s new principal guest conductor, will lead three weeks of subscription concerts, including two consecutive weeks early in the season. The guest conductor list also includes two former LAPO music directors, Zubin Mehta and Esa-Pekka Salonen (but not, regrettably, André Previn, who will conduct the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa.). Mehta’s program will conclude with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9.

The Phil’s maestros next season also include current associate conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, two former associate conductors, Lionel Bringuier and Miguel Harth-Bedoya; and several guest favorites, including (but not limited to) Charles Dutoit and James Conlon.

Incidentally, four of the season’s conductors will be women — Mälkki, Gražinytė-Tyla, Emmanuelle Haïm and Xian Zhang — which may be a record for the Phil and is light years ahead of most U.S. orchestras.

The soloist list is headed by violinist Gidon Kremer playing Moisey Weinberg’s Violin Concerto with Gražinytė-Tyla conducting; and pianist Mitsuko Uchida playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto as part of a three-week Schumann festival to conclude the season.

The season will also include three top-flight visiting orchestras, the first two making their Disney Hall debuts: the Chicago Symphony on Oct. 22, with Ricardo Muti leading Brahms’ second and third symphonies; the Marinsky Orchestra on Nov. 1, with Valery Gergiev conducting music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Scriabin; and Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on March 27, playing Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Berg’s Violin Concerto, with Gil Shaham as soloist.

What about programming, you ask? That’s for my next post, but here’s a teaser: although there’s a healthy sampling of music for traditionalists, Lisa Hirsch writes on her Blog, “Iron Tongue of Midnight,” that among the 81 composers on the schedule for the various components of the Phil’s season, 31 of them are alive and at least 17 others were composing in the 20th century. The Phil’s media release lists 23 commissions, 22 world premieres, six U.S. premieres and two west coast premieres during next season.

More on all of that in my next post (probably tomorrow).

The complete 2017-2018 media kit is HERE.
The chronological listing of programs is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CALENDAR ALERT: February 3 will be a big Leonard Bernstein bash

The year 2018 marks the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth (the actual date is August 25). For Angelenos, Feb. 3 will be a major celebration date.

Los Angeles Opera will present Bernstein’s Candide on Jan. 27, February 3, 8, 11 and 25 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center. James Conlon will conduct and Francesco Zambello will direct the production.

Meanwhile, Gustavo Dudamel will be leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus in a staged performance of Bernstein’s Mass on Feb. 1, 2, 3 and 4 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Thus, both groups will be performing Bernstein on Feb. 3 across the street from each other! Fortunately as you can see, both performances have alternative dates but traffic around 1st and Grand Ave that night will probably be fierce.

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: Grimaud, Gaffigan, L.A. Phil make a potent combination

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Hélène Grimaud was the soloist today with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Walt Disney Concert Hall (photo from a 2015 concert in Berlin).

Los Angeles Philharmonic; James Gaffigan, conductor
Today (March 24)
Walt Disney Concert Hall; 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Preconcert lecture one hour before each performance.
Information: www.laphil.com
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Among other things this weekend’s Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall offer some insight into the art of program design. Three pieces: one about 12 minutes, one about 15 and a third about 50.

Simple, right? The 50-minute piece — in this case, Brahms’ second piano concerto, with Hélène Grimaud as soloist — finishes the concert post-intermission, right? However, the 12-minute piece is a world premiere — Unchained by James Matheson — which means that opening the program with this work risks the possibility of plenty of folks waiting to show up until the other work: Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, Suite No. 2.

So, guest conductor James Gaffigan (pictured left) elected to open the program with the concerto, which created an additional problem: there was an uncomfortable pause between the first two movements to seat latecomers. In fact there were very few laggards this morning and the house was nearly full but, as I said in my review of last Saturday’s Pasadena Symphony concert, there may come a day when some group will make those who can’t make the starting time (10 minutes after the appointed hour today) wait until the first piece is done, not just the first movement.

That pause is particularly egregious in Brahms’ second piano concerto because the first two movements have similar characteristics — in fact, I can remember a concert where the conductor paused just one second between movements. This morning, Gaffigan and Grimaud waited patiently and then plunged back into the music.

Grimaud, who recorded both of the Brahms concertos in 2013 and is touring currently with No. 2, offered a superb rendition this morning: a winning blend of majesty, subtlety and even a little humor (a couple of times Gaffigan grinned as she slipped in a sneaky little pause at the end of a phrase). More than anything, what impressed me was the sonorous tone she produced on the Phil’s Steinway, even in the rapid-fire Rondo movement that concludes the piece.

Gaffigan was equally impressive in shaping the accompaniment. This was a robust performance but it never seemed to be overly rushed, even in the finale. Now in his late 30s, Gaffigan — who recently extended his contract as Chief Conductor of Switzerland’s Lucerne Symphony until 2022 — continues to impress with his ability to bring out the best in the Phil, not an easy task for a guest conductor. Even in an ultra-familiar work like the Ravel, he seems to find a way to put his own stamp on the piece and that was also the case in the Brahms, a work in which the orchestra has as big a part as the pianist.

Of course it helps when the orchestra is playing as well as the Phil did this morning. Principal horn Andrew Bain began the concerto with an elegant solo (kudos, also, to third horn Amy Jo Rhine, who got in her own lovely solo licks later in the piece) and Principal Cellist Robert deMaine delivered an elegant solo in the concerto’s third movement. In the Ravel, Principal Flute Denis Bouriakov led the way, but the entire wind section was in top form throughout.

As it turned out, the backstory of Matheson’s premiere piece was more interesting than the work. He choked up during the pre-concert lecture when he explained to host Daniel Kessner and the audience that the work’s genesis began 21 years ago when he was studying with Steven Stucky at Cornell University. He befriended a young African-American resident of Ithaca, New York, which is home to Cornell and Ithaca College, but later — for unexplained reasons — had him arrested.

The outcome, which Matheson believes was a disproportionate sentence, and the composer’s own recent brush with the law, led him to write the single-movement work. The young man involved in the story is scheduled to be released Monday from a mental-health facility that has served as a halfway house to help him transition back into society. All of this, writes John Henken in his program note (LINK), gives the work “both its moments of release and its taut-but-unsettled forebodings,” as well as its title, Unchained.

Those “taut-but-unsettled forebodings” did permeate most of the work and it’s certainly accessible in terms of its musical style, but I was left with a sort of “meh” feeling at the conclusion. The audience gave the performance, which Gaffigan led without a baton, a tepid round of applause.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
If you’re into compare and contrast, Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic will conclude their concert on March 15 in Costa Mesa’s Renée and Henry Concert Hall with Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, Suite No. 2. INFORMATION.
• Gaffigan will be on the run for the next few weeks. He returns to Europe for a month of concerts after his Phil performances, then conducts the Vancouver Symphony April 1, 2 and 3 in a program that concludes with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7. Why is that important? The Vancouver ensemble is searching for a replacement for its retiring Music Director, Bramwell Tovey. Earlier this year, Gaffigan conducted the San Diego Symphony, which is also in a Music Director search. Either would be lucky to nab Gaffigan.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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