PREVIEW: Michael Feinstein appears with Pasadena Pops in four summer concerts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

To no one’s great surprise, summer with the Pasadena Pops will be a Michael Feinstein affair as the singer-conductor-curator will appear in four of the five Pops programs at the Los Angeles County Arboretum beginning June 7.

The Pops’ gamble on hiring Feinstein as its Principal Conductor paid off big dividends last summer and the organization moved quickly to capitalize on that success in planning the upcoming season. Feinstein will conduct three of the summer programs and will appear as a singer in an all Gershwin-concert on July 19.

The concerts:
June 7:
Feinstein will lead a program of music by Harry Warren, Richard Rodgers, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini and Alfred Newman, and the world premiere of a piece by André Previn, which was originally part of a movie score that never materialized. Vocalists Laura Osnes and Norm Lewis and pianist Armen Guzelimian will be guests.

June 28:
On the only program not involving Feinstein on stage, composer-producer-songwriter Tena Clark appears with Dionne Warwick, Sheléa Frazier, Sara Niemetz and the orchestra’s resident conductor, Larry Blank.

July 19:
Feinstein puts aside his baton to sing Gershwin and selections from other composers.

August 16:
Feinstein curates and conducts music from the silver screen — Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures and Walt Disney. Debby Boone, Alan Bergman, Maureen McGovern and Kevin Early will also appear.

September 6:
In a program entitled “New York! New York!, Feinstein turns to music that celebrates the Big Apple. Patti Austin, Liz Callaway and Jeremy Jordan are on the program.

• The complete media release and artists’ photos are HERE
• For information and ticket ordering, click HERE
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

(CORRECTED) AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Opening a new chapter for the Pasadena Symphony

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.
Lockington PSO MD
In any musical organization’s life there are a number of key turning points, whether for good or bad. Often the full impact of decisions cannot be fully evaluated for several years but eventually we can look back and realize that an “aha!” moment did occur. Such a time would seem to be occurring with the Pasadena Symphony, which will open its 86th season Saturday with concerts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium.

The program — Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade, with Anne Akkiko Meyers as soloist — will mark the inaugural concerts of David Lockington (right) as the orchestra’s fifth music director. (INFO)

More importantly, they also appear to signal the end of more than six chaotic years in which the orchestra amalgamated with the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, weathered a nearly disastrous financial storm, remade its board and executive staff, successfully renegotiated a contract with its musicians through 2015, changed performance locales for both the Pasadena Symphony and the Pops (three times for the Pops), and completely overhauled the organization’s musical leadership team not once but several times.

Not all of these steps occurred seamlessly nor were they universally applauded. Good people lost jobs or volunteer positions. Two conductors beloved by audiences — Jorge Mester and Rachael Worby — departed; another, Marvin Hamlisch, died unexpectedly.

Nonetheless, the saga appears to have come to an end. In a decade where several orchestras around the world have folded or undergone significant labor strife, that statement may sound simple but it’s significant.

Michael Feinstein recently concluded a triumphant first season as principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops and his contract was quickly extended. Saturday’s concerts open a new era for the Pasadena Symphony, as well.

Owing to the fact that orchestra seasons are planned several years in advance, this will be the only concert that Lockington will conduct this season. In addition, Nicholas McGegan — like Lockington, a native of England — begins his tenure as the PSO’s principal guest conductor when he leads the season’s second concert on Jan. 11. (INFO) That more than two-month gap between concerts is one of several issues confronting the Pasadena Symphony Association at it marches forward.

Less than a decade ago, the PSO offered eight classical programs a season (my original post said nine concerts). Can the orchestra continue to rebuild to that former level or beyond and thus increase its relevance to the Pasadena arts community and beyond?

Lockington, McGegan and Feinstein all have busy careers; Lockington and McGegan have long-standing tenures with other ensembles. Both promise to conduct the PSO multiple times in succeeding seasons but can they become part of our community rather than simply “fly in, conduct, fly out” maestros?

Can the PSO find ways to reach out to an audience that more closely mirrors the increasingly broad age and ethnic makeup of Pasadena and the surrounding communities? One way may be a venture that will be launched with Saturday’s concerts: the Pasadena Symphony Lounge, which will be set on Ambassador’s outdoor plaza and feature a “small-plate” menu, hosted by Claud & Co; a full bar; and light music. That sort of ambience might appeal to a younger audience.

Finally, can the Pasadena Symphony Association find a way to solve the riddle that permeates the entire classical-music community: how can organizations offer high-quality programs at reasonable prices for patrons while paying fair compensation to musicians and staff members? That requires rigorous, visionary management, dedication and skill from musicians, and communities that care enough about classical music to donate the funds that will make up the difference between expenses and revenues from ticket sales. Keeping that balance continues to be a high-wire act

So more than a successful opening program is at stake Saturday. Stay tuned to learn whether this is, indeed, becomes an “aha!” moment.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVEW: Feinstein, Pasadena Pops close season in style

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Russell-Feinstein
Vocalist Catherine Russell, conductor Michael Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops lit up the night in an arrangement of Gershwin tunes at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. (Photo by Steve Sabel for the Pasadena Pops)
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When the Pasadena Pops hired Michael Feinstein to replace Marvin Hamlisch as its Principal Conductor shortly after Hamlisch died unexpectedly on Aug. 6, 2012, the orchestra was taking quite a gamble. Although Feinstein is a prolific entertainer and musical scholar, he had never conducted an orchestra prior to the Pops’ opening night last June.

To judge by the summer’s results — notably that first concert and Saturday night’s season finale — that gamble has paid off in a jackpot-large way. According to management, attendance at the Los Angeles County Arboretum has been up more than 30 percent and season renewals for next season have increased more than 200 percent. It’s no surprise that the board wasted no time extending Feinstein’s contract through the 2016 season.

Feinstein has worked on the music of George and Ira Gershwin since pianist Oscar Levant introduced Feinstein to Ira in 1977. Since then, Feinstein has been researching, cataloguing and preserving unpublished Gershwin sheet music and rare recordings, including a six-year-sojourn in the Gershwin’s home.

Thus it’s no surprise that last night’s concert, entitled “The Gershwins and Me,” included 20 Gershwin tunes, many of which were performed in arrangements that had not been played before or at least since their premieres.

As has been the case in all Feinstein concerts, his commentary Saturday was erudite, insightful and witty, laced with fascinating factoids drawn from Feinstein’s relationship with the Gershwin family and Hollywood. What was different from the opening concert was how much more comfortable Feinstein seemed on the podium (at least judging from the audience side). His beats were concise, his cutoffs more expert, and he seemed to swing and thoroughly enjoy himself, particularly in the arrangements of four songs that Nelson Riddle made for Ella Fitzgerald.

Catherine Russell was a creamy soloist in that set, which began with Nice Work if You Can Get It and ended with The Man I Love. In the second half of the concert, Tom Wopat emphasized lyrics in a set that opened with Love is Here to Stay and concluded with I Got Plenty of Nuttin, the latter using an arrangement that Riddle wrote for Frank Sinatra.

The JPL Chorus (Donald Brinegar, conductor) offered spritely lyrics to I Got Rhythm and the orchestra delivered lush sounds throughout the evening. Among the instrumental soloists, Aimee Kreston, violin, and Bryan Pezzone, piano, were standouts.

Before the final scheduled number, Feinstein sang a winsome arrangement of They Can’t Take That Away From Me from the piano, which he termed a preview of the 2014 season when Feinstein will conduct and/or sing in four of the five Pops programs beginning June 7, 2014. Judging by the audience’s reaction, that date will be eagerly awaited.
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HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Last night was Feinstein’s 57th birthday; the orchestra and audience serenaded him with Happy Birthday prior to the concert.
• Among the celebrities in the audience, Feinstein introduced before the concert’s end Mark Gershwin and other members of the Gershwin family, Patricia Kelly (widow of dancer-singer-actor-director Gene), Ginny Mancini (widow of composer Henry), singer Debby Boone (also known to us old fogies as daughter of crooner Pat) and actress Betty White, who Feinstein noted is older than Rhapsody in Blue (look it up).
• The camera work was spotty most of the evening. Sometimes they got the correct soloist (albeit a note or two late); at other times they were totally off base, which can be disconcerting for those watching. Directing a concert is an art form in itself.
• The Pops will offer its annual free “Music Under the Stars” concert on Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pasadena City Hall plaza. The orchestra’s resident conductor, Larry Blank, will lead the program. INFO
• The Pasadena Symphony opens its indoor season on Nov. 2 at 2 and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium when newly appointed Music Director David Lockington will lead a program that will include what CEO Paul Jan Zdunek joked last night will probably be the final performance in 2013 of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (this year marks the centennial of the piece’s Paris debut and seemingly every orchestra in Southern California — and probably the world — has programmed it this year). Fortunately, it remains fresh and provocative each time I hear it. INFO
• Brinegar and the JPL Chorus opened the evening with The Star-Spangled Banner, accompanied by snare drum.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND/MUSIC: SW Chamber opens Huntington season on another “clash Saturday”

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.

As if you couldn’t tell from last week’s heat wave, summer is really upon us and our burgeoning music season reflects the seasonal change.

Southwest Chamber Music begins its 20th season in the Loggia of the Huntington Library in San Marino next Saturday and Sunday. The music begins at 7:30 p.m. Preconcert, three-course dinners are available by prior reservation from the Huntington’s Tea Room or you can bring your own picnic and enjoy it on the lawn. As a bonus, sections of the library are open to ticketholders prior to the concert and at intermission.

This weekend’s programs include Hums and Songs of Winnie the Pooh by English composer Oliver Knussen, Stravinsky’s Octet for Winds and Mozart’s Serenade, K. 361. Other programs are July 27 and 28, August 10 and 11 and August 24 and 25. Information: 800/7236-7147; www.swmusic.org

Saturday is one of this summer’s “clash nights.” In addition to Southwest Chamber Music, both the Pasadena Pops and California Philharmonic are performing in their Arcadia locations (thus creating some traffic issues).

Michael Feinstein, the Pasadena Pops’ new principal conductor, returns to the Los Angeles County Arboretum to lead a program celebrating the musical legacy of MGM movies, including Singing in the Rain, Harvey Girls, Gigi, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz and others. Vocalists Christine Ebersole and Ron Raines will join the festivities. Information: 626/793-7172; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org.

Meanwhile, the Cal Phil returns to Santa Anita Racetrack on Saturday for one of Music Director Victor Vener’s perennial programming favorites: “Andrew Lloyd Webber Meets Puccini.” Singers Lori Stinson, Christine Campbell and Cedric Berry and the Cal Phil Chorale will join the orchestra for music by two of the world’s best-known composers. The program repeats July 14 at 2 p.m. indoors at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Information: 626/300-8200; www.calphil.org

Although Hollywood Bowl has presented several pops concerts during the last month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic opens its 10-week classical season at the iconic Cahuenga Pass amphitheater Tuesday night. Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, returns home to lead the Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists Kiera Duffy and Sasha Cooke in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

On Thursday, Thomas leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Dubinushka, along with Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, with Gil Shaham as soloist.

Next week, Bramwell Tovey returns to the Bowl stage on July 16 to lead the Phil in a Britten-Elgar-Sibelius program. On July 18, Tovey conducts a program that concludes with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

Information: 323/850-2000; www.hollywoodbowl.com.

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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Crunch Time

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.

Every classical music indoor season brings two or three dates when crunches pop up as seemingly every organization decides to schedule an event on that particular day. Summertime has largely escaped these conflicts but this year — specifically Sat., June 29 — will force folks in the San Gabriel Valley to make a choice among three different orchestras.

The California Philharmonic will open its second season at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia on Jan. 29 as Music Director Victor Vener leads his band in a program entitled “Beatles, Beethoven and the Beach Boys.”

On the same date — indeed, at the same time (7:30 p.m.) — a quarter-mile away at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the Pasadena Pops will be playing its second concert of the season with Broadway star Bernadette Peters as the centerpiece. Larry Blank returns to conduct the orchestra.

Finally, on the same day and time at Caltech’s Beckman Mall in Pasadena, Rachael Worby and her ensemble, Muse-ique, will begin its three-concert summer season with a program that features vocalist Patti Austin.

Pasadena Pops management, which announced its season several weeks ago, said that June 29 was the date chosen by Peters. A spokesperson for Muse-ique said, “Clearly each organization draws different audiences,” which sounds somewhat dubious to me but, hey, what does a lowly music critic know? The Cal Phil noted that each of its five concerts during the summer repeat Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. indoors at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Last year the Pops and Cal Phil scheduled their concerts on non-competing weekends but that has changed this year. The two organizations will have programs on July 13. The Pops plays the second of three programs being led by its new principal conductor, Michael Feinstein, this summer, while Cal Phil counters with one of Vener’s favorite programming concepts, “Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Puccini.” On Aug. 10, the Cal Phil’s “Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin” evening will go up against the Pops’ own Beatles-oriented program.

Meanwhile, on July 27, Muse-ique comes up with a program of movie music featuring cellist Matt Haimovitz as soloist, which the Cal Phil offers “Dance Fever.”

One of the potential problems when the Pops and Cal Phil perform on the same night is traffic. Although those attending Cal Phil concerts enter on the northeast side of the park, which is quite a ways from the Arboretum, traffic for both concerts coming from the west exits the 210 Freeway at Baldwin Ave.

Hollywood Bowl has concerts on each of the above weekends but the crossover issue seems less likely based on the Bowl’s programming as none of the Bowl’s programs involves orchestras.

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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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.

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.