OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Kahane, Batjer, LACO offer sparking Respighi and West Coast premiere of a promising concerto

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Alex Theatre; Glendale. March 17, 2018
Respighi: Three Botticelli Pictures
Jaubert: Violin Concerto; Margaret Batjer, soloist
Haydn: Symphony No. 99 in E-flat major; Hob 1.99
Next performance: March 18 at 7:00 p.m. Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.laco.org

When a former music director returns to conduct his old ensemble, it’s always a matter of interest, especially since such returns happen infrequently in Los Angeles, although Esa-Pekka Salonen, now the L.A. Philharmonic’s conductor laureate, returns regularly to conduct the Phil and Zubin Mehta comes back occasionally.

Other local orchestras are not so willing to bring back a former conductor. Last June JoAnn Falletta came back to lead the Long Beach Symphony but that was after a 20-year absence. I’m not sure that a former Pasadena Symphony music director has ever come back to conduct and Carl St.Clair has been at the Pacific Symphony for so long (nearly 40 years) that he’s surely outlived his predecessors.

So when Jeffrey Kahane returned this weekend to conduct the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra — the ensemble that he led for 20 years before retiring last year — the large crowd at the Alex Theatre gave him ovations before and after the performances. The evening had the feel of a family reunion (Kahane, now LACO’s Conductor Laureate, expects to conduct at least once in each of the upcoming seasons).

In his preconcert dialogue with composer Pierre Jalbert, Kahane allowed that coming back was lots of fun: an orchestra he still knows very well and a gig that doesn’t include fund raising. The orchestra, for its part, delivered the sort of top-flight performance that we were used to hearing when Kahane was in charge. It did, indeed, seem like the good old days.

It was, in many ways, a typical Kahane program: a relatively unfamiliar tone poem followed by the West Coast premiere of a concerto that he was instrumental in commissioning before he left, and a familiar Haydn symphony. Owing to a medical issue, I had to leave at intermission and, therefore, missed the Haydn. The two pre-intermission works were plenty.

Respighi’s Three Botticelli Pictures were written in 1922 and inspired by, as the title says, a triptych of mid-15th century paintings by Sandro Botticelli.

The first movement, La Primavera (Spring), was played with spritely exuberance.

L’Adoracione del Magi (Adoration of the Magi),Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) had an Asian feel to it, helped in large part by the winds and, in particular, three of their principals: Kenneth Munday, bassoon; Joachim Becerra Thomsen, flute; and Claire Brazeau, oboe.

The third movement, La Nacita di Venere (The Birth of Venus), gave the strings the opportunity to cut loose with a luscious sound that was reminiscent of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. Kahane led everything with a sure, suave hand; it’s hard to believe that the work had appeared on only two previous LACO programs.

The evening’s centerpiece, figuratively if not necessarily literally, was the West Coast premiere of Jalbert’s Violin Concerto. Jalbert, who is a former LACO composer-in-residence and now teaches at Rice University, was commissioned by LACO, the Milwaukee Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and wrote the piece with each orchestra’s Concertmaster in mind.

The 26-minute work is in two movements. The opening movement, Soulful, mysterious, Scherzando, began with mysterious Asian sounds, aided notably by pianist Mark Robson, with the violin solo meandering above. Without warning, the “Scherzando” section gave Batjer a chance to show her virtuous chops before the movement turned back to its original feel.

The second movement (considerably shorter than the first and subtitled With Great Energy,) often had a Leonard Bernstein feel to it. Batjer delivered the formidable solo writing with the energy that Jalbert called for, particularly in the concluding cadenza.

It’s often hard to tell whether a piece has the legs to move into the repertoire, but this Violin Concerto certainly has promise. Whether other soloists will want to study and learn the music, any orchestra interested in programming it has at least three soloists they can choose to import.

(c) Copyright 2018, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on November 3, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily



Each Thursday morning, I list five events (actually six this
week) that peak my interest, including (ideally) at least one with free
admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). And this doesn’t count the
Metropolitan Opera’s HD telecast of Siegfried
on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. at theaters in the area — be forewarned:
the running time is approximately six hours! (LINK).

Here’s today’s grouping:



Tomorrow at 11 a.m.,
Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic. James Conlon, conductor; Yuja Wang, pianist

Much of the attention will, undoubtedly, be focused on what
the young Chinese pianist will wear (she of the “little orange dress” notoriety
LINK) but the real story should be a wonderfully constructed
program — Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Prokofiev’s
Piano Concerto No. 3 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 — led by LA Opera Music
Director James Conlon with Wang as soloist. Tip: if you’ve never attended a
morning L.A. Phil concert, this would be a great time to try it out, but check
for ticket availability. Info: www.laphil.com


Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
at Alex Theatre (Glendale) and Sunday at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra plays Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti

The six Bach Brandenburg Concerti are about as far away from
Prokofiev’s 3rd (above) as you can get, but Bach’s famous sextet is
indelibly linked with LACO — this will be the 51st time that the
orchestra has played all or some of the pieces. Concertmaster Margaret Batjer
will lead the performance from her first-chair position. Info: www.laco.org


Sunday at 2 p.m. at
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera’s Romeo et Juliette

LAO brings back its
Ian Judge-created production of Gounod’s take on Shakespeare’s tale of
star-crossed lovers. Tenor Vittorio Grigolo and soprano Nino
sing the title roles; Plcido Domingo conducts. A Los Angeles Times story on the young
soprano is HERE and and of Brian’s nifty “10 Questions” posts in Out West Arts on Grigolo is HERE.
Info: www.losangelesopera.com


Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Lang Lang in recital

What caught my eye about this concert was the program, which
begins with Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat, continues with Schubert’s Sonata in
B-flat, and Chopin’s 12 Etudes, Op. 25 — three pieces of distinctly contrasting
styles that should be fascinating in the hands and mind of the young Chinese
pianist (this is obviously a weekend for young Chinese pianists). Info: www.laphil.com


Monday at 7 p.m. at
Castle Press (Pasadena)

Muse-ique stops the

Worby continues her penchant in Muse-ique’s first year of presenting programs
in unusual sites — in this case, the Doric String Quartet making its Los
Angeles debut amid stacks of paper and the printing presses of this north
Pasadena establishment (the musicians will be standing on the press while the
audience will sit on other presses and rolls of paper).


featured work on the evening will be a new string quartet by Southern
California native Peter Knell that the composer and Worby will discuss and the
Doric Quartet (which took first prize in the 2008 Osaka International Chamber
Music Competition) will play. The evening will also contain movements from
quartets by Haydn, Schubert and Bartok, and — given that Worby is in charge —
there’s sure to be a surprise or two. Info: www.muse-ique.com


And the weekend’s “free admission” program …


Friday at 8 p.m. at
Pasadena Nazarene Church

Pasadena Community
Orchestra with Suzanna Guzmn as soloist

Music Director Alan Reinecke conducts a program that
features one of the nation’s finest mezzo-sopranos, Suzanna Guzmn, as soloist
in Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer. The
program also features music by Bartok, Howard Hanson, Prokofiev and Ralph Vaughan
Williams. Info: www.pcomusic.org



(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.



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