AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Movie music with a twist

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.

No genre dominates summer music programs quite like movie music. Nearly every presenting organization uses film scores as the basis for at least one of its summer programs; in the case of Hollywood Bowl, music from motion pictures shows up several times this season.

So it’s no surprise that Saturday night’s concert by Muse-ique at Caltech’s Beckman Mall would use this venerable format, but trust conductor Rachael Worby to come up with something beyond the ordinary for her concept, which she describes as “one of Muse-ique’s most ambitious curatorial adventures to date.”

Many of the composers will be familiar but the selections will not. For example, John Williams will be represented not by music from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T. but with the Love Theme from Heidi — no, not the famous version with Shirley Temple that was released in 1937, when Williams was age 5, but a film made for TV in 1968, a year after Williams received his first Oscar nomination for scoring Valley of the Dolls.

Williams and many others trace their inspiration to Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s in part to score motion pictures. Saturday’s Muse-ique program will feature cellist Matt Haimovitz as soloist in Korngold’s Concerto in C, which was used in the 1946 movie Deception. Haimovitz will solo Saturday in the world premiere of Sleepwalking, a work with images by Peter Golub, composer and director of the Sundance Film Festival.

Other soloists for the evening will include Wendie Mallick (Hot in Cleveland), who will narrate what’s termed as a “humorous new presentation” of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which was included in last year’s movie Moonrise Kingdom. This also gives Worby a chance to salute the upcoming centennial of Britten’s birthday, which takes place Nov. 22, 2013.


Speaking of centennials, 2013 marks the 100th year of the debut of the score that Igor Stravinsky wrote for the ballet The Rite of Spring, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic offers yet another performance of this iconic piece on Tuesday night at Hollywood Bowl. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos will lead the LAPO; the program also includes Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with Augustin Hadelich as soloist.

The venerable Spanish conductor returns Thursday for a program that includes Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome by Respighi and Liszt’s Les Preludes and Totentanz, with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist a work that translates as Dance With Death.


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

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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.


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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Worby and Muse-ique open season with piano fest

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Muse-ique; Rachael
Worby, host/conductor

Monday, March 19, 2012 Pasadena Civic Auditorium

Next event: April 9 at Autry National Center (Griffith Park)


59226-Muse-ique 2.jpg

Three pianos (and six pianists were at the center

of Muse-ique’s program last night at the

Pasadena Civic Auditorium.



Rachael Worby’s new organization, Muse-ique, began its first
full season last night. This summer they will play three outdoor concerts
(including two at the Olive Garden at Caltech) but the four “Uncorked” events
are the heart of what Worby hoped to accomplish when she founded this new
program last year.


Each of these events (don’t call them concerts) will be in a
different, unusual location; last night, everyone — performers and the audience
— was on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. With tables and chairs grouped
around three grand pianos, the venue felt like a nightclub or perhaps a large
living room of a century ago. Worby even encouraged people to turn ON their
cell phones to Tweet or provide Facebook updates and take pictures (she even
announced a video contest) — this is definitely not your standard concert or


Each of the “Uncorked” programs lasts about 90 minutes; last
night began with 30 minutes of cocktails and schmoozing and the musical portion
of the program lasted 75 minutes. Worby (who for 10 years was music director of
the Pasadena Pops Orchestra) acted as host, raconteur (something she does
exceedingly well) and musical guide through snippets of the history about the
piano (thus the title, “Ebony Meets Ivory”).


She was joined by six local pianists who performed
individually, in two-piano settings, and using four-hand and even six-hand
arrangements. For the grand finale, all six played on the three pianos in Stars and Stripes Forever.


The evening began with writer-actress-pop culture analyst
Sandra Tsing Loh reading Ogden Nash’s sardonic poem Piano Tuner: Untune me that Tune, which morphed (naturally) into
Worby and a youngster playing Chopsticks (if you don’t know why that would be
“natural,” you can read the poem HERE). From there, Worby began with Bach and took the
audience through a quick history lesson, touching on piano music through the


None of the selections in Worby’s eclectic format are
lengthy but there were pleasures aplenty. Joanne Pearce Martin, principal
keyboardist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and her husband, Gavin, began with
a pristine, graceful two-piano arrangement of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Joanne returned for a spritely
rendition of Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song.


Markus Pawlik played the first movement of Beethoven’s
“Moonlight” Sonata with gentle sonority, and Caltech professor Julia Greer
reprised her performance from last summer, playing Bach while trying to explain
what exactly it is that she does in the laboratory. It’s hard to decide which
is more difficult, although Greer demonstrated anew that she is quite an
accomplished pianist. Pawlik and Greer then joined for a four-hand arrangement
of music by Ravel.


Bryan Pezzone and Kirk Wilson offered different styles of
improvisation. Pezzone created his version of We Shall Overcome through the lens of Beethoven with an occasional
foray into jazz, while Wilson played jazz riffs while Loh read Carl Sandburg’s Jazz Fantasia.


The highlight of the evening came when the Martins offered a
gripping rendition of Lutoslawski’s Paganini
Both Worby and Gavin Martin provided the backstory.


earn a living during World War II, Lutoslawski played piano-duos in cabarets
with fellow composer Andrzej Panufnik. One of their arrangements was of
Paganini’s famous 24th Caprice (far better known for its inclusion
in Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of
When Lutoslawski fled Warsaw just before the 1944 uprising, this
was his only piece that survived the destruction.
Rachmaninoff’s dreamy arrangement, Lutoslawski’s version is more jagged and
angular; the Martins played it superbly. Pasadena Symphony concertmaster Aimee
Kreston introduced the tune on her violin, which helped people understand from
the variations came.


To conclude the evening, Martin & Martin joined with the
other four pianists for a splashy rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever, which — if nothing else — proved that
Sousa’s piece is indestructible.



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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Major concerts on calendar during next fortnight

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

This article was first
published today in the above papers.


Four major concerts occur in our region during the next
fortnight — and that doesn’t count the final two events of the Piatigorsky
International Cello Festival at Walt Disney Concert Hall: a 2 p.m. concert by
the Los Angeles Philharmonic, featuring cellist Alisa Weilerstein (LINK), and a
7:30 p.m. recital by 110 (!) cellists that will wind up the nine-day-long
festivities (LINK).


Also on today’s agenda is the final “LA Phil Live” movie
theater telecast: the season-opening all-Gershwin concert with Gustavo Dudamel
conducting and legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock as soloist in Rhapsody in Blue. (LINK)


And then comes:



Rachael Worby begins this group’s second season with a
typically cheeky program entitled “Ebony Meets Ivory.” Six pianists, including
the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Joanne Pearce Martin, will perform on three
Steinway pianos in a program that ranges from Baroque to jazz, rap to classical
(Moonlight Sonata), and the spoken
word. The program takes place on stage — literally — as both performers and the
audience will be on the stage and a loading bay of the Pasadena Civic
Auditorium. This is the first of seven performances on Muse-ique’s 2012 season.


ORCHESTRA ON MARCH 24 (Alex Theatre, Glendale) AND MARCH 25 (Royce Hall, UCLA)

Music Director Jeffrey Kahane leads his ensemble and
pianist-composer Timothy Andres in the world premiere of Old Keys, the latest installment in LACO’s “Sound Investment”
commissioning program. Also on the concert is the West Coast premiere of
Andres’ “reconstruction” of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26, K. 531 (Coronation). Mozart wrote only a few
measures for the left hand of this work although the first published edition
was complete, possibly from Mozart’s publisher. In this new version, Andres has
replaced those left-hand sketches with his own creation; how this “mash-up”
works will be part of the concert’s intrigue. Information:



Nicholas McGegan, known worldwide as one of the premiere
interpreters of Baroque music, takes on a larger task as he leads concerts at 2
p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium that conclude with Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). Prior to
intermission, Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan will be the soloist in
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466. Information:



LAMC Music Director Grant Gershon conducts 40 singers of his
Chorale, soloists and one of the nation’s premiere period-instrument ensembles
in the first performances of Bach’s St.
John Passion
to be played at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Information:



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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on March 15, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday, I list five events (six this week — it’s a
very busy weekend) that pique my interest, including (ideally) at least one
with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:



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

Los Angeles Philharmonic:
Piatigorsky International Cello Festival concludes

This nine-day celebration of the cello (named in honor the
legendary cellist and teacher Gregor Piatigorsky) concludes this weekend as
Neemi Jrvi conducts the Phil in programs with three different cellists.
Tonight it’s Ralph Kirshbaum, who will solo in the Dvorak Cello Concerto
(LINK). Saturday night Misha Maisky plays Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1
and a transcription of Lenski’s Aria from
Eugene Onegin (LINK). On Sunday,
Alisa Weilerstein takes center stage in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme and Respighi’s Adagio con variazioni (LINK).
Each program begins with Dvorak’s Carnival
and concludes with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. Piatigorsky Festival Information:


Saturday at 4 p.m.
at Whittier College

Chorale Bel Canto
sings Bach’s Mass in B Minor

Stephen Gothold directs his chorale (which is celebrating
its 30th anniversary this season), soloists and orchestra as it
concludes the 75th annual Whittier Bach Festival with a performance
of this monument of choral literature. Information:


Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Zipper Hall (The Colburn School)

Vox Femina

Iris Levine conducts her women’s chorale as it continues its
15th season and celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a concert of music
from the British Isles and Ireland. Singer-composer Moira Smiley will be the
guest artist. Information:

Sunday at 2 p.m. at
local movie theatres

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Herbie Hancock, piano

No, the Phil has not mastered the trick of bifurcation. The
final event in this season’s “LA Phil LIVE” telecasts into movie theatres isn’t
live. Instead, it a recording of the all-Gershwin concert that opened the
2011-2012 season last October. This isn’t the truncated version that played on
PBS in December; it’s the entire concert. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Phil in
rousing performances of Gershwin’s Cuban
and An American in Paris. Jazz
legend Herbie Hancock joins the orchestra as soloist in Rhapsody in Blue and also plays improvisations on two Gershwin
songs, Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over Me. There will
also be an interview with Hancock in his home and the usual sort of rehearsal
footage shots that makes these telecasts must viewing, even if you saw the
original concert. Information:


Monday at 7 p.m. at
Pasadena Civic Auditorum

Muse-ique: “Ebony
Meets Ivory”

Rachael Worby begins Muse-ique’s second season with the
first of four “Uncorked Events” featuring six pianists in music that’s all over
the lot. My preview story is HERE. Information:


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena

Pipe Organs Inspire
Inaugural Concert

Three Pasadena churches — First United Methodist, First
Church of Christ, Scientist, and Pasadena Presbyterian — are combining on this
series of three free concerts. The churches’ organists — Ae-Kyong Kim (FUMC),
David Wolfe (FCCS) and Timothy Howard (PPC) — will perform on all three
programs with music selected specifically for the instrument. Saturday’s
inaugural program will be played on FUMC’s E.M. Skinner Organ. Information:



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

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