PREVIEW: Prize-winning cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan returns to Southern California at VPAC concert

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

Estonian National Symphony; Neeme Järvi, conductor
Friday at 8 p.m. • Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge)
Pärt: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B; Narek Hakhnazaryan, soloist.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5
Remaining tickets: $62-$77.50

narek-hakhnazaryanNearly three years ago — on Jan. 22, 2011 — the Pasadena Symphony concert at Ambassador Auditorium featured a virtually unknown (locally, at least) Armenian-born cellist named Narek Hakhnazaryan, who would go on to win the gold medal in the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition the following June. (A link to my story about his win is HERE).

Hakhnazaryan, now age 24, returns to the Southland not via any of our local ensembles but with the Estonian National Symphony, which appears Friday night at CSUN’s Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. His vehicle will be the same as he played in Pasadena — Dvorak’s Cello Concerto — so it will be interesting to see how three intervening has changed his interpretation of the most famous piece written for cello and orchestra.

The ENSO’s performance at VPAC is the second stop on a nationwide tour of 15 concerts over 18 days; just the California portion seems arduous: Thursday in Santa Barbara, Friday at VPAC, Saturday at Stanford University, Sunday in Aliso Viejo, with a day off before appearing in Ames, Iowa on Nov. 5. Later tour stops are in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Georgia and New York, including concerts at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

The California stops will include three of the state’s newest — and highly rated — concert halls: VPAC, Bing Concert Hall at Stanford and the Sokia Performing Arts in Aliso Viejo.

Estonian native Neeme Järvi, the orchestra’s artistic director and patriarch of a well-known conducting line (LINK), is leading the initial portion of the tour.

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on March 8, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday, 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:

NOTE: Daylight
Saving Time begins Sunday morning at 2 a.m. Don’t be late for the Sunday



Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa

Brian Stokes Mitchell in recital

This great Broadway musical star
appears in the intimate confines of The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. My preview
story is HERE. Information:


Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Bovard Auditorium (University of Southern
California), Los Angeles

Sunday at 7 p.m. at Zipper Hall (The Colburn School), Los Angeles

Piatigorsky International Cello Festival

This multi-faceted series from
March 9-18 is cosponsored by the USC Thornton School of Music, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, The Colburn School and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. It brings
more than two-dozen artists from 12 countries to Los Angeles. The events
include concerts, recitals and master classes at USC, Zipper Hall and Walt
Disney Concert Hall.


The opening concert Friday night
features the “Festival Orchestra,” which is comprised of the LACO principal
players and students from the USC Thornton School of Music led by conductor
Hugh Wolf playing cello concertos and double concertos. Among the soloists is
Narek Hakhnazaryan, who won the gold medal in last summer’s Tchaikovsky
International Competition; he will be soloist in Saint-Sans’ Cello Concerto
No. 1 in A Minor.


Sunday evening’s recital in Zipper Hall features the six
Bach solo cello suites played by six different cellists. The L.A. Phil plays
concerts on March 15, 17 and 18 (we’ll cover them in next week’s post).


The festival honors Gregor Piatigorsky, one of history’s
greatest cellists and pedagogues, who taught at USC from 1962 to 1974. As a
basically clueless sophomore at USC in 1965, I listened to Piatigorsky and the
equally legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz play recitals in Hancock Auditorium,
not realizing how significant that was (to be honest, I went because my date —
who would later become my wife — was studying piano. She appreciated who
Heifetz and Piatigorsky were far more than I did at that point).


Among the 24 cellists performing are the three living
holders of the Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello at the USC Thornton School of
Music: Lynn Harrell, Ronald Leonard and Ralph Kirshbaum. USC established the chair
in 1974, two years before the death of its namesake. Harrell held the position
from 1986-1993, and Leonard succeeded him, serving from 1993-2003 (formerly the
L.A. Phil’s Principal Concertmaster, Leonard now teaches at The Colburn School).
From 2004-2007, the late Eleonore Schoenfeld taught as the Piatigorsky Chair
holder and the Festival’s artistic director, Ralph Kirshbaum, succeeded her in


The Los Angeles Times has
a cute article on the festival HERE.




Saturday night at 8
p.m. at Terrace Theatre, Long Beach

Long Beach Symphony;
Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor

The LBSO continues its season with performances of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances Nos. 1 + 4; Schubert’s
Symphony No. 9, D 944, the “Great C Major” symphony; and Mendelssohn’s
evergreen Violin Concerto with the orchestra’s principal second violinist,
Katia Popov, as soloist. Information:


Sunday at 7 p.m. at
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena

performances la
carte: “Winter’s Thaw”

This new group debuts with what’s described as a “multimedia
concert weaving the literary, musical and visual arts.” The musical selections
will include pieces by Eric Whitacre, David Downs, Carole Bayer-Sager and Ennio
Morricone. Performers will include the group’s founder, Jamie Perez, soloists,
instrumentalists, and choristers from five area churches.


If you’ve never seen Westminster Presbyterian Church (which
is located on North Lake Avenue), its sanctuary’s gothic look and feel,
inspired by several French cathedrals, is worth the trip (because Daylight
Savings Time starts Sunday, the stained glass windows will really sparkle).
This is a benefit concert; net proceeds will go to Elizabeth House. Information: 626/710-8639;


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


Sunday at 6 p.m. at
St. James Church, Los Angeles

John Scott, organist

John Scott is Organist and Director of Music at St. Thomas
Church, NYC; before that he was in the same capacity at London’s St. Paul’s
Cathedral. His program will be music by Handel, Bach, Vierne, Locklair, Bolcom,
Fagiani and Sweelinck. The recital follows an Evensong service at 4:30 p.m.,
which — in a nice touch — will include music by Gerre Hancock, whom Scott
succeeded at St. Thomas Church in 2004 (Hancock died earlier this year).


Sunday’s recital will be played on St. James’ historic David
John Falconer Memorial Organ, one of the only remaining organs built by the
Murray Harris Company (the instrument dates from 1911 — read about its history
is HERE).


The church is located on Wilshire Blvd. in the mid-Wilshire
area and is within walking distance of Metro Rail Purple Line’s
Wilshire/Western station. Information:



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

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