AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Michael Feinstein to debut as Pasadena Pops conductor

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
This article was first published today in the above papers.

Pasadena Pops Orchestra; Michael Feinstein, conductor
Sat., June 1; 7:30 p.m. (gates open at 5:30 p.m.)
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Center; 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
Tickets: $20-$100 (children 14 and under: $10)
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Feinstein_5-26-13There’s a lot riding on Saturday night’s concert by the Pasadena Pops Orchestra at the Los Angeles County Aboretum and Botanical Center. It’s the first of five concerts this summer at the Arcadia facility and marks the debut of Michael Feinstein as the Pops’ Principal Conductor.

Feinstein stepped into the role when Marvin Hamlisch died unexpectedly last August. Feinstein is artistic director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana, and since 2010 has been director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.

However, neither of these positions requires him to conduct an orchestra. Although Feinstein has performed with many orchestras throughout the past two decades, this will be his first time in a conductor role. Thus, even though he is a major draw, choosing him to head the Pops ensemble represents a big gamble for the orchestra’s management.

In Saturday’s concert Feinstein will lead with his strength as the program is entitled “Michael Feinstein’s Songbook.” During the past decade, the 56-year-old Columbus, Ohio native has not only performed many songs from what he calls “The Great American Songbook” but has also been instrumental (no pun intended) in preserving legendary music from the early to mid-20th century. To accomplish this, he has used educational programs, Master Classes and, in particular, his Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative. He also serves on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board.

Saturday’s program will include music by Rodgers and Hart, Leonard Bernstein, Leroy Anderson, and Ferde Grofé. Feinstein will also offer a musical tribute to Hamlisch, a legendary composer of Broadway and motion picture scores who was 68 when he died last August. Cheyenne Jackson will be the guest artist for the evening.

Feinstein will lead two other programs during the summer, including music from MGM movies on July 13, and an evening devoted to the music of George and Ira Gershwin to close the season on Sept. 7.

Broadway star Bernadette Peters will be the headliner on June 29 in an evening conducted by Larry Blank and the August 10 concert will focus on music of the Beatles, led by Martin Herman.

This summer marks the second season for the Pops at the Arboretum, following nearly 20 years at Descanso Gardens and two seasons on the lawn outside the Rose Bowl.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on October 20, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Each Thursday morning, I list five events that peak my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a
minimum, inexpensive tickets. This week I actually have three such events — to
make up for last week when I had none.

 

Here’s today’s grouping:

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Today and Tomorrow
at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

In advance of the Phil’s trip to San Francisco next week,
Dudamel conducts John Adams’ Short Ride
in a Fast Machine
and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. Johannes Moser will be
the soloist in the world premiere of Magnetar,
Concerto for Electric Cello,
by Mexican composer-guitarist Enrico Chapela. “What,”
you ask, “is an electric cello?” Yamaha, creator of the instrument, provides
details in the following link.

Electric cello release.doc

Concert info: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at the Greek Theatre

Pasadena Pops; Marvin
Hamlisch, conductor. Idina Menzel, vocalist

If you still need a Pops fix, Marvin Hamlisch and the Pops
play back up for Menzel, who won a Tony Award in 2005 for her role as Elphaba
in Wicked on Broadway. The program
will reportedly include selections from pop, musical theater favorites
(including Wicked and Rent), as well as selections from her
album of original songs, I Stand.
Info: www.greektheatrela.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” programs …

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Cappella Gloriana

This San Diego professional chorale opens the church’s “Friends
of Music” series of nine free concerts performing music by its founder and
director, Stephen Sturk, with organist Martin Green and the San Diego Harmony
Ringers Handbell Choir. Info: www.ppc.net

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn
Orchestra. Yehuda Gilad, conductor

Gilad will conduct Shostakovich’s Festival Overture and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. Colburn student
Estelle Choi will be the soloist in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1.
There’s a wait list available for the free tickets. Info: www.colburnschool.edu

 

Sunday at 6 p.m. at
Royce Hall, UCLA

American Youth
Symphony. Alexander Treger, conductor; Rod Gilfry, baritone

Treger leads another of the region’s top-notch training
orchestras in Bernstein’s Candide Overture
and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Rod
Gilfry will be the soloist in selections from CarouselTrouble
in Tahiti
Sweeney Todd
and The Most Happy Fella. For my profile on this concert,
click HERE. The concert is free (although a $10 donation is suggested); make
reservations through the orchestra’s Web site. Info: aysmphony.org

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

 

 

(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Marvin Hamlisch and Pasadena Pops conclude season at the Rose Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Pasadena Pops
Orchestra; Marvin Hamlisch, conductor

Saturday, August 27, 2011 The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose
Bowl

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Marvin Hamlisch and the Pasadena Pops Orchestra concluded
their 2012 season last night, Hamlisch’s first with the orchestra and the
ensemble’s second and last at The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl (they move to
the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia next season). What appeared to be
the largest crowd of the season came out on a balmy evening to hear music from
the movies.

 

Hamlisch spent somewhat more time regaling the audience with
funny stories than he did in his last concert and the musical selections were
longer than has occurred this summer; the evening included, among other things,
multi-work pastiches from composers George and Ira Gershwin and Max Steiner.
One of the evening’s highlights was a tribute to dancer-director-actor Gene
Kelly, which featured a “tap-dancing” display by percussionist Jason Goodman who
had the shoes (and argyle socks) on his hands so that the audience could see, as
well as hear.

 

Vocalist Susan Egan was a sparkling soloist in pieces by
Judy Garland (ending, of course, with Over
the Rainbow)
and from the musical Cabaret
(Egan played the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway in the 1988 revival).

 

As has become standard for Hamlisch concerts with the
Pasadena Pops, he offered a “special unannounced guest,” in this case, Melissa
Manchester, who sang Through the Eyes of
Love
(the theme song written by Hamlisch for the movie Ice Castles) and the title song from The Way We Were, for which Hamlisch won an Academy Award in 1973.

 

The second half opened with the music written by John
Williams for Star Wars, which was
supposed to be accompanied by space images from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
but they never appeared.

 

The evening’s “official” program closed with George
Gershwin’s An American in Paris, the
most extensive piece Hamlisch has conducted so far with the Pops. Hamlisch
alternated between catching the jazz influences of this important piece and
dutifully beating time. However, the orchestra, which played splendidly
throughout the evening, shone in Gershwin’s famous 1928 piece, which was
subsequently used in the 1951 MGM musical that starred Gene Kelley and Leslie
Caron.

 

Along the way were spiffy solo offerings by orchestra’s
principals: Trumpeter Melissa Benedict, Flutist Louise DiTullio, Clarinetist
Donald Foster, Oboist Leanne Becknell and Concertmaster Amy Hirshberger.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Before the concert, CEO Paul Jan Zdunek reported that
ticket sales for next season have already exceeded 500% of the recently completed
season. Since he didn’t provide hard numbers, it’s a little hard to judge that increase
effectively but it does appear that the move to the Arcadia facility seems to
be popular with many people.

Helicopter are a nuisance at all outdoor concerts but the
low-flying and circling aerial intruder last night wins the year’s award as the
summer’s most obnoxious distraction, so far.

The video camera work continues to be very spotty, batting
about .333 in landing on the correct soloist at any orchestral point in the
program. In an area that makes a gazillion movies, TV shows, TV commercials,
et. al, one would think that the direction and camera work could be better.

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

PREVIEW AND LINK: Pasadena Pops adds “special guest” to Saturday’s program

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

In each of his first two concerts as principal conductor of
the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, Marvin Hamlisch has slipped a “special guest” onto
the program. Apparently that’s going to happen again Saturday night as the Pops
makes its final appearance at The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl before moving
to the Los Angeles County Arboretum next season.

 

And who might this special guest be? “Without giving it
completely away,” says CEO Paul Jan Zdunek, “as Marvin wants it to be a
surprise, here’s a hint: this singer started as the back-up artist for Bette
Midler, went on to win a Grammy for Best Female Vocalist and was the first artist
in the history of the Academy Awards to have two nominated movie themes in a
given year, making Oscar history by performing both on the telecast.”

 

Actually, the program, “Marvin Does Marvin” (which begins at
7:30 p.m.), which includes vocalist Susan Egan (her Broadway credits include
Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Sally
Bowles in Cabaret and Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie as soloist, is
worth seeing on its own, but a little icing on the cake never hurts. The program
is scheduled to include selections from Star
Wars, Cabaret, Gigi, An American in Paris, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind,
and
Hamlisch’s own score for The Informant. LINK

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

NEWS AND LINKS: Pasadena Pops announces 2012 season at Los Angeles County Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

54720-MichaelFeinstein.jpg

Michael Feinstein will
perform with the Pasadena Pops on July 21, 2012 at the Los Angeles County
Arboretum in Arcadia.

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When the Pasadena Pops shifts its summer season to the Los
Angeles County Arboretum next year, it will do so with a boost in soloist star
power. Marvin Hamlisch, who took over this summer as the Pops principal
conductor, will lead three of the four programs in the Arcadia facility next
summer (Hamlisch and the Pops conclude their 2011 season on Aug. 27 at The Lawn
Adjacent to the Rose Bowl with a program devoted to movie music — LINK).

 

The 2012 schedule:

 

JUNE 16

Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein will perform together in a
concert version of Hamlisch’s They’re
Playing Our Song,
part of a program that will include a tribute to Arnaz’s
parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

 

JULY 21

Singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, one of the forces
behind The Great American Songbook, will
join with Hamlisch and the Pops. The 54-year-old Feinstein has five Grammy nominations to
his credit along with several platinum-selling recordings.

 

AUGUST 18

Michael Krajewski, who opened this summer’s Pops season,
returns to lead the orchestra in a program that will feature the singing group
Poperazi, a trio whose numbers range from (to quote the media release) “Pavarotti
to Jersey Boys, Sinatra to the Rolling Stones.” Krajewski, who proved to be a
stylish, witty host and conductor last June, is principal pops conductor for
the Houston, Jacksonville and Atlanta Symphonies.

 

SEPTEMBER 8

Hamlisch will return to lead the Pops in a program of music
entitled “Gershwin on the Green.” American
pianist Kevin Cole will be the evening’s soloist.

 

All concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Single tickets are
priced from $90-$25 (unchanged from this summer). Subscription packages will include
discounted prices and free onsite parking.


Information:
626/793-7172, ext. 16; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

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

FOLLOWUP: “Porgy and Bess” — opera or musical?

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last Saturday in the Pasadena Pops concert, the orchestra’s
new principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch, alluded to a new production of Porgy and Bess now being prepared back
east, declaring that he was pleased that it was being produced as a Broadway
musical instead of an opera In my review (HERE), I responded, “I do, however,
take issue with Hamlish’s contention that Porgy
and Bess
is a musical. I realize that director Diane Paulus is
working on a new production of what she calls The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which is supposed to recast
the work as a musical, but, in the words of Ira Gershwin, ‘It Ain’t Necessarily
So’ — i.e., it’s an opera.”

 

I’m not the only one who doesn’t agree with the production.
An article by composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim in today’s New York Times castigating the concept
is HERE (it also appears in a number of other media outlets).

 

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/stephen-sondheim-takes-issue-with-plan-for-revamped-porgy-and-bess/?ref=music

 

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

(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Marvin Hamlisch and Pasadena Pops at the Rose Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Pasadena Pops; Marvin
Hamlisch, conductor

“Marvin Does Broadway”

Saturday, August 6, 2011 The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose
Bowl

Next concert: August 27, 2011 “Marvin Does Movies”

Info: www.pasadena-symphony.org

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54366-Hamlisch-thumb-216x171-54365.jpg

There may have been more important ways to spend a Saturday
night but few, if any, could have been more pleasurable than spending last night
with Marvin Hamlisch, the Pasadena Pops and an array of soloists under balmy
skies and a bright half-moon at The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl.

 

A good-sized crowd turned out (particularly impressive
considering there was competition from the California Philharmonic’s Rodgers
and Hammerstein program at the Arboretum and from the staged production of Hairspray at Hollywood Bowl) to hear
Hamlisch and friends work their way through a couple of dozen selections from
Broadway, the place where Hamlisch quipped “tickets cost $150 and parking is
$900.”

 

That sort of witty, yet gentle repartee is part of what
makes a Hamlisch concert go down so easily. His banter ranged from the
downgrading of the nation’s credit rating from AAA to AA+ to joking with KABC
weatherman Dallas Raines about the region’s relentlessly constantly good weather.
Mid-show he dashed off a spunky set of piano variations on Happy Birthday in the styles of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven — shades
of Victor Borge!

 

More than anything, however, Hamlisch succeeds by connecting
with all ages in the audience in part because his comments on the music are
intelligent even when they’re brief. For example, he and the orchestra opened
with two Rodgers and Hammerstein overtures, with Hamlisch explaining that the Oklahoma overture was the traditional, “Hey,
come on in” collection of song that would appear in the show, while the Carousel Waltz was radically different
because the music never reappears and the curtain is open at the beginning, not
closed.

 

(I do, however, take issue with Hamlish’s contention that Porgy and Bess is a musical. I realize
that director Diane Paulus is working on a new production of what she calls The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which is
supposed to recast the work as a musical, but, in the words of Ira Gershwin, “It
Ain’t Necessarily So” — i.e., it’s an opera).

 

One of things that make Hamlisch’s programs succeed is that
they are really a descriptive phrase of the former Pops music director, Rachael
Worby, programming for the iPod mentality). About the only thing he didn’t do
was to identify all the shows from whence the music came (although there was a
list of the shows in the program).

 

In addition to his commentary, Hamlisch conducted decently,
if not with great flair (he does seem to bury his head in the score quite a
bit), played the piano (sometimes doing both at the same time), and even sang a
duet with Cady Huffman for one his own tunes, They’re Playing Our Song, which Huffman informed people was the
show with which she made her professional debut at the La Mirada Theater. Apart
from a few rough patches, the Pops orchestra playing was typically first-rate.

 

Individually and as ensembles the three soloists provided
many of the evening’s high points (there was actually a fourth soloist at the
conclusion of the first act: Steven Brinberg, who did a neat takeoff on
Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond — my original review didn’t identify him by name).

 

As a trio, Huffman, Anne Runolfsson and Gary Mauer offered a
poignant rendition of Send in the Clowns,
while Runolfsson and Mauer played Anything
You Can Do I Can Do Better
with typical over-the-top foolishness (although she
did display the requisite amount of impressive power).

 

Huffman vamped a slinky Ulla from The Producers while Mauer offered a winsome rendition of Begin the Beguine and later had the
evening’s funniest moment with another witty Cole Porter song, The Tale of the Oyster.

 

To conclude the evening, Mauer joined with Runolfsson,
Hamlisch and the orchestra to finish the evening on the highest and most
powerful of notes as they reprised their roles in The Phantom of the Opera, a performance that should have impressed
even the most ardent “Phantom” haters and did bring forth a thunderous standing
ovation from the others.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although the Pops uses video screens on both sides of the
stages, the camera work remains mediocre and the lighting continues to have
problem, rendering people’s faces much redder than they really are (Huffman and
Runolfsson looked like they had Rosacea).

Hamlisch listens to his audience. After hearing reports
that some people (not everyone, I hasten to add) were upset that the first
concert didn’t begin with The Star
Spangled Banner,
Hamlisch opened with the National Anthem last night, then
quipped that the balance of the program would be SSBs from countries around the world.

One thing I’m going to miss when the Pops moves to the
Arboretum is the convenient parking adjacent to the Rose Bowl venue and the
fast getaways that patrons have.

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

NEWS AND LINKS: Pasadena Pops, Los Angeles County Arboretum finalize agreement for 2012 and beyond; new details emerge

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Turning yet another page in a five-month-long saga, the
Pasadena Pops and the Los Angeles County Arboretum have finalized a multi-year
agreement that will see the Pops move to the Arcadia facility next summer as
both the facility’s resident orchestra and presenting partner.

 

The contract is for three years with an evergreen clause,
says Paul Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association, which runs both the
Pops and the Pasadena Symphony. (Under a normal evergreen clause, a contract
automatically extends year by year unless one of the parties to the agreement
gives notice to cancel.)

 

The Pops announced that it will play at the Arboretum in
2012 on June 26, July 21, August 18 and September 8. Happily, for fans of both
the California Philharmonic — which shifts from the Arboretum to Santa Anita
Racetrack next summer (LINK) — that means the two organizations will not
conflict on dates, a good thing from a parking and traffic point of view.

 

Zdunek hopes to provide details on the 2012 season by the
end of this week — the next 2011 Pops concert is Saturday on The Lawn Adjacent
to the Rose Bowl, when the orchestra’s new principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch,
leads a program devoted to music from the Broadway stage (DETAILS).

 

As the Arboretum’s presenting partner, the Pops also expects
to offer other programming beginning next summer. “We are beginning to work on
that now,” explained Zdunek. “We needed to get the contract done first. We
envision family concerts, outdoor theatre, silent films, as well as Asian-influenced
performances, to name a few.”

 

Among the enhanced amenities envisioned for next year’s
concerts are VIP parking packages for subscribers, multiple entry points for
ticket holders and purchasers; a stage with large LED video screens that will
project stage action using three cameras and an enhanced sound system with
multiple JBL Audio speakers throughout the grounds; and what the Pops is terming “VIP
flushable comfort stations with individual hand-washing facilities inside, air
conditioning and lighting in each unit…that will feel like using another
restroom in an indoor venue.” (Yes, these things actually exist; I’ve seen and
used them before).

 

The Arboretum will mark the Pops’ third venue in four
seasons. After performing at Descanso Gardens in La Caada for more than a
decade, the orchestra shifted to its present location outside the Rose Bowl
last season.

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