OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Back to school with the L.A. Philharmonic

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured at Hollywood Bowl) conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic yesterday in a free Neighborhood Concert at Rosemead High School. (Photo by Los Angeles Times)

Since 1991 the Los Angeles Philharmonic has sponsored “Neighborhood Concerts,” free programs that range from chamber music to youth orchestras to the full L.A. Phil to what it terms “neighborhoods underrepresented in our audiences.” What that translates to is, “attending concerts in Walt Disney Concert Hall (and, to a lesser extent, Hollywood Bowl) are too expensive for many people to afford.”

Some of these events are held in churches. Some take place in areas where the Phil has a presence through its Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA). However, yesterday’s concert at Rosemead High School was somewhat of a departure since neither part of that first sentence applies. Instead, kudos to L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, the El Monte Union High School District, the high school and the Phil for making yesterday’s event possible.

In truth, it was a massive amount of logistical work for 35 minutes or so of music, but no one in the large, exuberant crowd seemed to mind the short program. The orchestra certainly took the afternoon seriously: the dress standards were what one normally sees for a Sunday program at Disney Hall (black suits for the men, black outfits for the women), many of the orchestra’s first-chair players were onstage (including Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour) and the playing was first rate.

Moreover, the afternoon’s leader was the Phil’s associate conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who last year was named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England, a prestigious position previously held by Sir Simon Rattle and then Andris Nelsons.

The musical selections seemed a bit curious for the Rosemead audience, many whom had obviously never attended a Phil concert before. The afternoon opened with a crackling rendition of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Overture to ZZZDie Fledermaus, and continued with sparkling performances of Strauss Jr.’s ZZZOn the Beautiful Blue Danube, The Gypsy Baron Overture and ZZZPizzacata Polka.

Gražinytė-Tyla was in her element as a conductor and bubbly as she briefly introduced the music, acknowledging that it was more in tune with a New Year’s Eve program in Vienna — the school could have made hearing easier had it provided her with a microphone, although she was audible and understandable to most, even in the mezzanine where I sat.

With her flowing arms and hands and her penchant for bouncing and dancing on the podium, Gražinytė-Tyla was in her element in this dance-oriented program. She shaped phrases lovingly and played with the tempos expertly during the first five pieces. More importantly, she continues to impress with her ability to elicit top-quality music making from the Phil.

During the program’s final piece — Johann Strauss Sr.’s ZZZRadetsky March — Gražinytė-Tyla had the audience (literally) in the palm of her hand as she choreographed the beginning and cessation of clapping with gusto. It may well be that in the decades to come those in attendance will realize they were able to see this young, dynamic conductor near the beginning of what most in the business believe will be an important career.

The next Neighborhood concert is scheduled for Monday, April 24, at 7 p.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 2760 West Pico Blvd. (at Mariposa) in Los Angeles, CA. Program details have yet to be announced.

Gražinytė-Tyla will be on the podium at Disney Hall on March 31, April 1 and 2 leading a program that includes Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, K. 491, with Stephen Kovacevich as soloist; Haydn’s Symphony No. 31, “Hornsignal,” and the U.S. premiere of Georg Frederich Haas’s Concerto grosso No. 1 for 4 alphorns and orchestra, with the hornroh modern alphorn quartet as soloists. Because March 31 is a “Casual Friday” concert, the Haas work will be omitted. 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: March 17-19, 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.

8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Guest conductor Stéphane Devène leads the Phil in the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (“The Mysteries of Light”) with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist. The program also includes music by Britten, Fauré and Debussy

BONUS: The concerto, which was written for Thibaudet, is based on the five Luminous Mysteries, the most recently added section of the Catholic practice of praying the Rosary.

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the 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.laphil.com

2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena
Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan leads this program of music by Schubert, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Rachel Barton Pine will be the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”).

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena
Gregory Norton leads his FUMCP choir and the choir of First United Methodist Church, Glendale, in this sublime work as part of the church’s “Third at First” series. Duruflé composed a version for this 1940s work for orchestra and another for organ. This performance will feature Aaron Shows, organ, and David Garrett, cello.

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering).

Information: www.fumcpasadena.org

8 p.m. March 18 at Alex Theatre, Glendale
7 p.m. March 19 at Royce Hall, UCLA
The world premiere of Julia Adolphe’s Shiver and Bloom (a LACO “Sound Investment Commission”), Sasha Cooke singing Handel, Mozart and Mahler, and Jon Kimura Parker playing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 — Jeffrey Kahane leads this full, rich program.

Information: www.laco.org

4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 1, Op. 18, No. 1 and 7, Op. 59, No. 1, and the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s Ponte Musmeci.

BONUS: The Cerrone piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets and themes of patronage in the past and in the present. Cerrone also has a commissioned work that will be played on Jeffrey Kahane’s final concerts as Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Music Director on May 20 and 21 (INFO)

The Broad Stage can be reached by Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the 17th St./SMCC station and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there.

Information: www.thebroadstage.com

5 p.m. at Rosemead High School, Rosemead
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, one of the hottest conducting properties in the classical-music world at this time, leads the Phil in a concert of music by Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr.

BONUS: Free Admission. However, tickets must be reserved in advance. Call 626/350-4500.

Information: www.laphil.com

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Mirga wows another Bowl audience

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

For at least the last ¾ of a century, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has done an exemplary job of finding and nurturing young conducting talent. That list begins, of course, with former Music Director Zubin Mehta and includes two other MDs: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel. But the tally also includes young people who have held various subsidiary titles such as Principal Guest Conductor (Michael Tilson Thomas and Sir Simon Rattle) and Associate Conductor (Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Lionel Bringuier), along with others who have participated in the Dudamel Fellow program and similar efforts.

Three of those alumni are on the Hollywood Bowl roster this summer: former Dudamel fellow Ben Gernon (August 4), Joana Carneiro, a former American Symphony Orchestra League Conducting Fellow with the Phil who is now Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony and Principal Conductor of Orquesta Sinfonica Portuguesa (8/23); and Harth Bedoya, now music director of the Ft. Worth Symphony (9/6).

Mirga_2016_4_WebHowever, not since Rattle — the original frizzy haired tyro — has a LAPO conducting assistant caught the fancy of the music world as has Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), who was a Dudamel Fellow in 2013-2014, became the Phil’s Assistant Conductor in 2014 and will become Associate Conductor this fall. More significantly, earlier this year she was named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the England ensemble that Rattle led for 20 years.

Last night she returned to Hollywood Bowl just a few days shy of her acclaimed debut two years ago, and once again demonstrated the ability that has the music world abuzz. That Bowl concert two years concluded with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Last night she ended with Ravel’s second Daphnis and Chloe suite, which was a marvelous fusion of French impressionism and sweeping power.

Like the Mahler, Daphnis is a piece that is in the L.A. Phil musicians’ DNA but they played with the sort of freshness and attentiveness that means they were very much attuned to the conductor’s every desire. Kudos, in particular, to Principal Flute Dennis Bouriakov for his solo work.

Mirga (everyone seems to now call her simply by her first name, in part because her last name isn’t easy to pronounce) is quite something to watch, as the Bowl’s video screens amply demonstrated. She makes great use of her arms, her body moves lithely and, unlike some conductors, doesn’t seem to be inhibited by a music stand on the podium.

She also has a wonderfully expressive face, very much alike but in some ways different than we get from Dudamel. This was readily apparent in the evening’s opening work, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, where she appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself during the five sections, but especially in Empress of the Pagoda and in The Fairy Garden. Top marks to the various wind principals in this performance, as well: Catherine Ransom Karoly, flute; Burt Hara, clarinet; Anne Marie Gabriele, oboe; and Shawn Mouser, bassoon, along with Concertmaster Nathan Cole.

The original program paired the two Ravel pieces together after intermission with two Beethoven works played before the break. As a slip sheet told the good-sized audience, Mirga (presumably) at the last minute decided to break the works up, placing the Leonore Overture No. 3 before Daphnis. This is another familiar work to the players but, as with Daphnis, they were on top of their game. Of course, the audience loved the stellar playing of Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten, who was perched in a speaker tower midway up the Bowl (although it took awhile for the lighting folks to locate him).

Immediately prior to intermission came Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, that strangely quirky work that was premiered on December 22, 1808 in a concert that included the premieres of the composer’s fifth and sixth symphonies and the fourth piano concerto, along with an aria, two excerpts from his in-progress Mass in C, and a solo improvisation (the concert lasted four hours!). As program annotator Herbert Glass noted the debut was “a fiasco” — the composer’s secretary, Anton Schindler, said, that the Chorale Fantasy “simply fell apart” in performance.

No wonder. Why Beethoven called it a “Choral Fantasy” is a mystery. The piece actually begins as a piano concerto with a long solo introduction that is a precursor of the “Emperor” Concerto (and Saint-Saëns’ second piano concerto). Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet sailed through the endless runs and trills with his customary skill and panache and Mirga and the orchestra gave the performance their fullest attention.

If, indeed, Beethoven had left the work as a concerto, things might have been all right. Instead, towards the end he brings in a chorus and no less than six soloists. Perhaps Beethoven felt the chorus being used in the two “Mass” pieces in that premiere concert needed something else to occupy its time. Naturally, the listener immediately thinks of the “Ode to Joy” ending of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 when hearing this work.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale sang last night with its customary brilliant power in both the Beethoven and Daphnis although the Bowl’s sound engineers had the orchestra somewhat overpowering the singers (listed as 81 in the program) at the beginning of their section.

The sextet was excellent but I was left wondering why the Phil bothered to bring in such big names as soprano Janai Brugger and mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell for such a small amount of work (for the record, the others were soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, tenors Rafael Moras and Kevin Ray and bass Colin Ramsay). Surely the soloists got their highest pay, at least on a per-minute basis, since they were starting out in the profession.

• The Bowl has taken to provide movement titles on the digital screens, which was particularly helpful to the casual observer in both Ravel pieces Daphnis is four connected movements, so it’s particularly helpful to know what is what.
• Tomorrow night’s concert is a mixture of old and new. Guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru (Conductor-in-Residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra) returns to the Bowl with a program that opens with Aaron Copland’s An Outdoor Overture and concludes with Copland’s Symphony No. 3. In between is the West Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, written for violinist Nicola Benedetti, who will be the soloist.
• Always nice to have the Master Chorale aiding the audience in singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Even the high note at the end sounded beautiful.

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: Feinstein with Pasadena Pops, Mirga at the Bowl highlight upcoming week

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Style: "p25+-Ipro"For the past quarter century, Michael Feinstein pictured above has become the leading proponent and curator of “The Great American Songbook,” which is not really a book but rather a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early and mid-20th century.

One of the leading lights of that collection was Frank Sinatra, and Feinstein will join with the Pasadena Pops July 30 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum for what he has termed “The Sinatra Project — Volume 2.” It’s a follow-up to last summer’s sold-out concert of music by the crooner affectionately known as “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”

As was the case last summer, Feinstein will spend the evening singing and talking about Sinatra and his music. It will be an intimate evening as Feinstein’s first-hand knowledge gives him a unique slant on Sinatra. “I have a very different perspective about his musical taste,” explains Feinstein. “Among other things he loved classical music so I’m very careful in combining swing arrangements with great orchestrations of the ballads. Some are vintage charts that have not been heard publicly in many years or ever.”

One of those rarely heard numbers will be Sinatra’s original arrangement of Three Coins in the Fountain, which was cut in half for the 1954 motion picture. “Finding things like that is what makes an evening like this exciting for me,” says Feinstein. Other numbers will include Pennies from Heaven and Young at Heart. Resident Conductor Larry Blank will lead the Pops in this concert.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Mirga_2016_4_WebIn the midst of Gustavo Dudamel’s last weeks at Hollywood Bowl for this summer comes a concert that, for classical music aficionados, is a must-see event as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), one of the sharply rising stars in the musical firmament, conducts her only Bowl concert this summer this coming Tuesday.

A 29-year-old Lithuania native, Gražinytė-Tyla (because her last name is a tongue-twister to pronounce virtually everyone simply calls her “Mirga”) will become the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Associate Conductor this fall. More importantly she has been named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the latest in a long line of youthful conductors to lead that esteemed English ensemble who are now among the world’s conducting elite (e.g., Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons).

At the Bowl Gražinytė-Tyla will lead the L.A. Phil in works by Beethoven and Ravel. Pianist Jean-Yeves Thibaudet and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will join the Phil and six vocal soloists in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.” The evening will open with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and will conclude with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the second suite from Daphnis and Chloe.

Gražinytė-Tyla’s rise with the LAPO has been meteoric. She was a Dudamel Fellow with the orchestra in the 2012-13 season and became the ensemble’s Assistant Conductor in 2014, before being promoted to Associate Conductor for the 2016-17 season.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Rachael Worby and Muse/ique offer the “keys” to music

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.

• Pianos and summertime concerts are about as ubiquitous as picnics and concerts. So leave it to Rachael Worby to find a way to shake up the norm with her next Muse/ique concert Saturday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Caltech’s Beckman Hall lawn (where picnicking is encouraged).

For those not in the know, Muse/ique is the ensemble Worby formed after she parted ways with the Pasadena Pops several years ago. The new group has allowed Worby to indulge the madcap nature of her programming mind and Saturday night’s concert is merely the latest example.

Rather than have just one piano soloist, Worby has invited five of the Southland’s best-known keyboard artists: Joanne Pearce Martin (the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s principal keyboard player); her husband, Gavin Martin; Bryan Pezzone, Alan Steinberger and 12-year-old Ray Ushikubo. They will join the orchestra in music ranging from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Bach’s Goldberg Variations to Bugs Bunny on Film, Elton John and Chico Marx.

Information: 626/539-7085; www.muse-ique.org

Michael Feinberg and the Pasadena Pops resume their summer season on August 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Arboretum when they celebrate the music of motion pictures and the 100th anniversary of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

In typical Feinstein fashion, most of the music will be non-standard summer concert fare. The orchestra will be joined by composers Alan Bergman, perhaps best known for Windmills of Your Mind from the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair; Michael Giacchino (Up), Bruce Broughton (Silverado) and Paul Williams (A Star is Born).

Vocalists Maureen McGovern, Debby Boone and Kevin Earley will appear on the program and Feinstein will introduce a symphonic arrange of Pharrell Williams’ Happy created for the Pasadena Pops. The complete playlist is near the bottom of the link below.

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

The Pops’ Web site has dates, program titles and principal performers for next season’s concerts. As is the case this year, Michael Feinstein will appear on four of the five concerts, once as vocalist and the other three times as Principal Conductor. LINK

• Among the upcoming Hollywood Bowl concerts worth noting are next Thursday’s program of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Brahms’ Double Concerto, with violinist Alina Pogostkina and LAPO Principal Cellist Robert deMaine as soloists. What makes the program particularly intriguing is that the conductor, 28-year-old Lithuanian Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, has just been named the Phil’s assistant conductor for the next two years.

Gražinytė-Tyla, who was a Dudamel Fellow with the orchestra in 2012 and 2013, won the 2012 Nestle and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award and has been named music director of Salzburg Landestheater beginning with the 2015/16 season. See more info on her HERE.

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

The following week two celebrated soloists grace the Hollywood Bowl stage. On Oct. 12, violinist Gil Shaham will join the Phil in Prokofiev’s second violin concerto, while on August 14 cellist Yo-Yo Ma will be the soloist in Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Leonard Slatkin leading the LAPO in both programs. Tuesday concludes with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade,; Thursday ends with Debussy’s La Mer.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com


(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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