SAME-DAY REVIEW: Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Jean-Yves Thibaudet with L.A. Philharmonic at Disney Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Dvorak: Hussite
Overture;
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major (Jean-Yves Thibaudet,
soloist)

Saint-Sans: Symphony No. 3 (Organ)

Friday at 11 a.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Preconcert lectures by Alan Chapman at 7 p.m. and 1 p.m.,
respectively

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

Some concerts are notable for their profundity. Others stand
out for cutting-edge new music. Still others offer rarely heard masterworks.
And then there are those that do no more than offer solid, high-quality music,
expertly played. This weekend’s Los Angeles Philharmonic fit squarely in that
last category and that’s just fine, from my perspective.

 

None of the pieces played are at classical music’s apex (one
is such a rarity that the Phil has not played it before this weekend). However,
in the right hands all three can be thoroughly enjoyable — even stirring — and
this weekend’s performances are definitely in capable hands (feet, brains,
etc.).

 

The concerts are also a homecoming for Miguel Harth-Bedoya,
who was the Phil’s assistant and then associate conductor from 1998-2004 and
who since 2000 has been music director of the Ft. Worth (Tex.) Symphony. Now
age 43, the Peruvian native has an athletic conducting style and alternates
between infectious grins and Zubin Mehta-like scowls (fortunately, more of the
former than the latter) on the podium. He led with solid assurance, and (an
occasional shoddy attack notwithstanding) the orchestra played at a high level
for him.

 

When an ensemble like the L.A. Phil is playing a 19th
century piece from a well-known composer for the first time, one has to wonder
if the work has any merit. Happily, Dvorak’s Hussite Overture, which opened the proceedings this morning, proved
to be a solid, if not extraordinary, 15-minute piece. It was obviously familiar
to Harth-Bedoya; he conducted it without a score.

 

Written in 1883 for the opening of Prague’s National
Theater, the overture was part of a trilogy of works based on the life of 15th
century Bohemian religious leader Jan Hus, and the two hymn-chorales used by
Dvorak helped provide a nice mixture of religiosity and stately celebration,
which Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra carried off well.

 

Unlike the Dvorak, the Phil first played Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 2 almost exactly 90 years ago (Jan. 14, 1921, to be exact) and has
performed it as recently as last summer in Hollywood Bowl (when Andr Watts was
the soloist). However, any time it brings pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet back to
the Disney Hall stage, it’s worth hearing again.

 

Most pianists emphasize the concerto’s thunder but Thibaudet
isn’t your average pianist. Although the Lyon native (who now lives in Los
Angeles) can produce plenty of pyrotechnics, what caught my ear were how
elegantly he handled the many poetic passages that alternate with the
fireworks. The interplay between Thibaudet and principal cellist Ben Hong was
particularly notable both for its musicality and also how closely the two were
looking at each other during what amounts to a duet.

 

After intermission came Saint-Sans Symphony No. 3,
popularly known as the “Organ Symphony” although it’s worth noting that the
title in French — Symphonie No. 3, “avec orgue” (with organ) — is a better way
of describing the 35-minute work. Happily both Harth-Bedoya and Joanne Pearce
Martin, the Phil’s principal keyboardist, chose that collegial emphasis.

 

Saint-Sans crafted this work imaginatively by taking the
standard four movements of a symphony and compressing them into two. The first
movement begins, as Alan Chapman said in his preconcert talk, with shimmering
strings that evoke Wagner’s Tristan und
Isolde.

 

The organ appears stealthly to begin the second section (of
the first movement) and Martin sensitive registrations made organ just one of
90+ instruments in the ensemble. Harth-Bedoya emphasized the strings’ lush
tones and the entire section was so spellbinding that the audience took quite
some time unwinding before the performance continued with the Allegro moderato.

 

The organ introduces the final Maestoso: Allegro section with a thunderous C-major chord and
Harth-Bedoya didn’t give away the surprise (for those who have never heard this
symphony). If he cued Martin at all, it was with a nearly imperceptible
movement or a lifted eyebrow, but he took charge immediately and introduced
some interesting tempo variations throughout the finale. Martin’s registrations
were still a model of rectitude — only in the final measures did the organ
finally emerge with full-throated vigor. I’ve never heard the registrations
done any better.

 

Any conductor lucky enough to conduct the L.A. Phil and its
superb pipe organ in the amazing Disney Hall acoustics must feel like he (or
she) is approaching heaven. At the end, Harth-Bedoya held the final chord for
as long as possible, seemingly unwilling to let go. I understand how he felt.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Creating a nice programming tie, Saint-Sans had dedicated
the symphony to Liszt, who had died shortly after the work was completed in
1886.

In an excess of compositional zeal, Saint-Sans included a
few measures of piano four hands in the final section. Joanne Pearce Martin’s
husband, Gavin, and noted local pianist Vicki Ray did the honors.

I met two ladies outside at intermission who told me they
had trained up from San Diego for the concert. We all basked in the 80-degree
sunshine beside the Delft-china fountain that Frank Gehry created in honor of
Lillian Disney. Ah, the joys of living in Southern California in January.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Twitter Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 5, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events that pique my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

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

Los Angeles
Philharmonic

Miguel-Harth Bedoya,
conductor; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist

The L.A. Phil swings back into action with a program of 19th
century music that includes Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Saint-Sans
Symphony No. 3 (Organ). My preview
article on the concert is HERE. Information:
www.laphil.com

  

Friday at 8 p.m. at
Alan Goldman’s Mt. Washington Performance Space

Piano Theater:
Elizabeth and Soya Schumann

Both of these pianists have won competitions and Elizabeth
Schumann received a Gilmore Award so their credentials seem well
established.  The program includes
Saint-Sans Carnival of the Animals. I
have no idea what the performance space is but it sounds intriguing. The duo
has other Southland performances listed on the flyer. Information: www.palosverdes.com

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 9

New Year’s celebrations mean Strauss waltzes in Vienna and Auld Lang Syne in NYC’s Times Square,
but in Japan it means hundreds of performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Jeffrey Bernstein hopes to recreate the magic by joining his Pasadena Master
Chorale with the Los Angeles Daiku Orchestra (“The Japanese word ‘daiku’
is translated literally as ‘the great nine’ and often refers to Beethoven’s 9th,”
says Bernstein) for a performance of this most famous of symphonies. BTW: you
may know the venue as the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium; it’s been renamed. Information: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

 

Ongoing at Geffen
Playhouse, Westwood

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

This 75-minute performance by Kathleen Turner includes many
of the famous stories and lines that made the late, legendary, liberal
newspaper columnist beloved of those whose political bent leans to the left. If
you’re of that persuasion and don’t know who the saucy, bawdy Texan was (she
died in 2007), it’s a chance to see what you missed for decades. If you’re a
Republican who loved Ronald Reagan and George Bush (Sr. and “Shrub,” as Ivins
termed George W.), you won’t appreciate it nearly as much. The show runs
through Feb. 12. Information: www.geffenplayhouse.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program …

 

Friday at 9 p.m.
and Sunday at 11 p.m. on PBSSoCal (formerly KOCE) television

Los Angeles
Philharmonic Gala Concert

This “Great Performances” telecast features the L.A. Phil’s
gala concert that opened the 2011-2012 Disney Hall season last September. The
program is all-Gershwin: An American in
Paris
and Rhapsody in Blue, with
jazz legend Herbie Hancock as the soloist. The TV schedule says that the
program will also include one of the two improvisations on Gershwin tunes (Someone to Watch Over Me) that Hancock
performed in September. Apparently the one-hour telecast will not include the Cuban Overture that opened the gala or
the other improv (Embraceable You)
that Hancock played that night. Information:
www.pbs.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

 

 

Twitter Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

PREVIEW AND LINKS: L.A. Philharmonic returns to Disney Hall this weekend

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Dvorak: Hussite
Overture;
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, soloist)

Saint-Sans: Symphony No. 3 (Organ)

Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 8 p.m.,
and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Preconcert lectures by Alan Chapman at 7 p.m., 9:45 a.m., 7
p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

With the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project” looming
on the horizon (beginning Jan. 13), it’s easy to forget that the Phil actually
returns to the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage this week. That’s a pity because
there are several interesting things to note about this weekend’s performances.

 

First, the concerts mark a homecoming for Miguel
Harth-Bedoya, who was the orchestra’s assistant and then associate conductor
from 1998-2004. During that stretch, he won the prestigious Seaven/NEA
Conductors Award. Now age 43, the Peruvian-born Harth-Bedoya has been music
director of the Ft. Worth, Tex. since 2000 after previously heading orchestras
in Auckland, New Zealand, Lima, Peru, and Eugene, Ore.

 

BTW: Harth-Bedoya’s bio (LINK) on his Web site is one of the
most informative and readable of any conductor I’ve researched. Also, when I
first clicked on his site’s home page (LINK), the first photo that appeared was
of the conductor standing outside Disney Hall.

 

Second, the concerto brings back a Philharmonic favorite
(and local resident): pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, as soloist in Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 2. In November Thibaudet was heavily involved in recording the
score for the motion picture Extremely
Loud & Incredibly Close.
James C. Taylor has a story HERE about that in
the Los Angeles Times.

 

Third, the concert concludes with the most famous orchestral
work that makes significant use of the organ: Saint-Sans’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). The Phil has never known quite
what to do with its massive Disney Hall organ (with 72 stops, 109 ranks, and
6,125 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern California). The
organ’s distinctive wooden pipes do look like an overturned bag of McDonald’s
French fries and the instrument has quite a wide array of sounds available, but
it usually sits silent, looming above the stage.

 

The Phil does sponsor an organ recital series that this
season features six concerts (including Clark Wilson accompanying a silent film
on Halloween and a Christmas-season concert). Occasionally orchestra programs
include a piece that uses the instrument (e.g., Strauss’ Also Sprach Zaruthustra, Elgar’s Enigma Variations), but neither Esa-Pekka Salonen nor Gustavo
Dudamel has seemed much interested in organ music.

 

The organ dedication concerts in 2004 included Lou
Harrison’s Organ Concerto and the first performances of James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary but I don’t think
either has surfaced since. Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Organ has been played a
couple of times and the Phil did commission an “organ” symphony from Stephen
Hartke for May 2010 but it never materialized.

 

Thus, an occasional performance of Saint-Sans Organ Symphony is just about it for
organ/orchestra lovers (I think this marks the third time the piece has been
played since 2004). It’s actually quite an inventive piece with the standard
four symphony movements compressed into two (you can tell where the second and
fourth sections begin because that’s when the organ comes in, quietly in the
second section and with a thunderous C major chord to begin the fourth).

 

Joanne Pearce Martin, the Phil’s principal keyboardist, will
play the organ; her husband, Gavin Martin, and well-known local pianist Vicki
Ray will play the piano four-hand parts. One other note: Saint-Sans later
dedicated the symphony to Liszt, who died in 1886, the year the symphony
debuted.

 

Finally, one would think it impossible to find a Dvorak
orchestra piece that the L.A. Phil hasn’t played but the Hussite Overture, which will open this weekend’s concerts, is
receiving its first LAPO performances.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Twitter Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

SAME-DAY REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic all-Mozart concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Bernard Labadie, conductor

Mozart: Chaconne
from Idomeneo ballet music; Piano
Concerto No. 27, K. 595 (Benedetto Lupo, pianist); Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)

Friday, December 16 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

If you’re fed up with holiday shopping, Jingle Bell Rock and fake reindeer in this increasingly
commercialized season, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is offering a perfect
antidote in Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend (and if you need more holiday
music, the Phil is presenting organist David Higgs tonight at 8 p.m. in Disney
Hall — see the hemidemisemiquaver
note below — along with few other holiday programs).

 

This morning in the first of three concerts, Qubec native
and resident Bernard Labadie led an all-Mozart program that was notable for the
orchestra’s splendid playing, Labadie’s exuberant conducting, and a sensitive
solo turn by pianist Benedetto Lupo. Of course, you couldn’t totally escape the
holiday spirit; fake stars are hanging from the Disney Hall ceiling to remind
you what month it is.

 

The 48-year-old Labadie, founder and music director of Les
Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Qubec, is known as a Mozart specialist and
it was easy to see why from this program. His conducting style is exuberantly
engaging, he has plenty to say about the three works on the program (two of
which are ultra-familiar) and he had a chamber-sized orchestra (less than 50
players) executing with precision and panache — that’s just fine from my
perspective.

 

Labadie seated the orchestra somewhat unusually. The violins
were divided left and right but the basses were back right and the violas were
center left, with the cellos bunched in the middle and several rows deep, which
had the effect of moving the wind section (there are no clarinets in the three
pieces) farther back onstage. The effect was to accentuate the strings a little
more than usual but the different look was interesting to my eyes.

 

The program opened with the morning’s rarity: Chaconne from the ballet music from
Mozart’s opera, Ideomeo, using an
ending that Labadie prepared to make it a stand-alone piece. The performance
alternated between sprightly and elegant, elements that would recur in the
other two pieces on the program. Labadie apparently likes to emphasize dynamic
contrasts in his Mozart and this Chaconne
(which, as Dennis Bade noted in an excellent program, note isn’t really a Chaconne) had plenty of those.

 

Both the Piano Concertos, K. 595 and the Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) were begun in 1788, but while
the symphony — Mozart’s last — was completed in a whirlwind (along with Nos. 39
and 40), the piano concerto (commonly listed as No. 27) took three years to
finish. It was his final piano concerto, although not his final concerto (the
Clarinet Concerto would come later) and it’s more contemplative than many of
Mozart’s piano concerti.

 

Lupo invested a sense of calm in his performance, using
great care to achieve elegance throughout the three movements. Labadie also was
deeply involved with the accompaniment, shaping phrases with detail throughout
the performance, and the orchestra responded lovingly. There was a sublime
moment in the second movement when a line played by Principal Oboe Ariana Ghez
emerged delicately from the orchestral fiber and seemed to hang forever in the
air — it was pure magic.

 

After intermission, Labadie and Co. offered a robust reading
of the Jupiter Symphony, notable for
rhythmic precision and the many dynamic contrasts of which Labadie is obviously
fond. Principal Flute David Buck added sparkle with many of his lines. Overall,
it was a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to a fine concert on a crystal-clear
December day — quite a contrast to the dramatic thunder and lightning storm of
the previous afternoon.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

On Friday morning, the musicians dress down a little (not “Casual
Friday” style, but the men wear dark suits and ties). Labadie took the
opportunity to wear a white shirt with no tie at all; comfort obviously
prevailed (good for him).

Tonight’s organ concert has plenty of holiday music but
Higgs will play the Finale from Vierne’s Symphony No. 1, Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H, and a
splashy arrangement of Joy to the World
by local organist/composer Craig Phillips (organist/music director at All
Saints Church, Beverly Hills). Among other things, Hill will sing the Alleluia from Mozart’s Exsultate Jubileo and Adolphe Adam’s O Holy Night. Information:
www.laphil.com

The Mozart programs are the final LAPO concerts for 2011.
The orchestra returns Jan. 5, 6, 7 and 8 when former LAPO Associate Conductor
Miguel Harth-Bedoya leads Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 (Organ) and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Jean-Yves Thibaudet
as soloist. Information: www.laphil.com

The orchestra’s “Mahler Project” begins Jan. 13 with
Symphony No. 4 and Songs of a Wayfarer. Information:
www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

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

Twitter Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email