NEWS: New West Symphony names three finalists for music director position

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Thousand Oaks-based New West Symphony has named three finalists for its vacant music director position and concurrently filled out most of its 2017-2018 season. Two of the finalists will lead programs in the upcoming season at the orchestra’s three homes: Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and Santa Monica. The other candidate will lead the opening concert of the 2018-2019 season.

The winner will replace Marcello Lehninger, who left last year to become music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan. The GRS was led for nearly two decades by David Lockington, who left there to become the Pasadena Symphony music director — yep, the wheels of the car go round and round …

The three conducting finalists are:
Tania Miller, who last season celebrated her 14th season as music director of the Victoria Symphony in British Columbia. Miller, who will turn 48 next month, is the oldest of the candidates and the only woman finalist.

Miller, who led the first NWS concert last season, will conduct the final concert in the 2017-2018 schedule on May 12 and 13. Her program will include Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, along with Liszt’s Totentaz and his Piano Concerto No. 1. 2009 Van Cliburn International Competition gold medalist, Haochen Zang, will be the soloist in the Liszt works.

Kynan Johns, who will lead programs on January 25, 27 and 28. The concerts will conclude with a warhorse, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique), but the program will also include a world premiere by Bruce Boughton written for the Lyris Quartet, which was founded by New West Symphony Concertmaster Alyssa Park. Johns is the only one of the three without a current music director position.

Fawzi Haimor, recently named music director of Württenbergische Philharmonic Reutlingen in Germany. His start date there is in September, which probably pushed his NWS “audition” concert back to the 2018-2019 season opener. Haimor, 34,was formerly resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Chicago Tribune columnist/critic John Von Rhein notes: “The Chicago-born conductor Fawzi Haimor, whose father is Jordanian-Lebanese and whose mother is from the Philippines, sees it as his duty to promote the work of Muslim and Arabic composers. One of the very few Muslim conductors pursuing an international career, he also has made it part of his mission to encourage younger musicians of similar ethnic and religious background to take up the baton.”

New West Symphony season:
In addition to the concerts led by Miller and Johns, the season includes:
Season Opener
The October 6, 7 and 8 concerts will feature Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 combined with music from Argentina and Spain. Grant Cooper, who annually leads the Pasadena Symphony’s Holiday concerts, will conduct this program. Flamenco dancer Siudy Garrido will perform the ballet El Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla as part of the program.

Mauceri and Bernstein’s 100th
Mauceri, the former music director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, returns to Southern California November 18 and 19 for a program that includes selections from On the Town, West Side Story, Candide and other Bernstein works. One hopes that he will include his special raconteur moments.

Zuckerman and Forsyth
Pinchas Zukerman, who in addition to being a superb violinist and violist, has been increasing his conducting gigs during the past decade. With the NWS, he will appear as both soloist and conductor on March 9, 10 and 11. His program, which concludes with Schubert’s Symphony No. 5, opens with Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin and Cello in B-flag Major, with Amanda Forsyth playing the cello part. Forsyth is a founding member of the Zukerman ChamberPlayers.

Classical Vienna
A guest conductor not one of the finalists, Andrew Grams, will lead a program of Viennese music on April 14 and 15, which will include Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, with Till Fellner as the soloist.

All of the NWS concerts play at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center and at the Oxnard PAC. At least three of the programs also play in a Santa Monica venue not yet named (last year it was The Broad Stage).


(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

FIVE-SPOT: April 6-9, 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 Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
Music Director Carl St.Clair leads the Pacific Symphony in the orchestra’s annual American Composers Festival, which this year features Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, along with John Adams’ The Darma at Big Sur and Frank Tichelli’s Blue Shades. Alan Chapman offers a preview one hour before each performance.

BONUS: The April 7 and 8 performances are being taped for a future broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances” series. The Boyer piece will be played as a stand-alone program on April 9.

For an excellent preview by OC Register staff writer Paul Hodgins, click HERE.


8 p.m. on April 6. 2 p.m. on April 8 and 9
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Former L.A. Phil Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (now the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate) leads the Phil in an all-Sibelius program: Symphony Nos. 6 and 7; Finlandia; and Six Humoresques, Op. 89, with Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist.

BONUS: 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.


April 7 at 8 p.m. at Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Oxnard
April 8 at 8 p.m. at Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks
Kynan Johns, the latest in a line of guest conductors vying to become the orchestra’s next music director, leads Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique; and Poulenc’s Gloria, with soprano So Young Park and the Cal Lutheran University Choral Ensembles.


2 p.m. at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, La Cañada
Music Director Jack Lantz leads his choir and orchestra (each of which numbers 60 performers) in a concert of famous American hymns, songs and spirituals. Disclaimer: my wife and I sing in the choir, so feel free to take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt, as the late, great Molly Ivins used to say.

Seven of the spirituals were arranged by English composer John Rutter, who is far better known for his Christmas carol settings, but these arrangements are a winner!

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering with a suggested donation of $20; everyone who donates any amount and fills out a form will receive a CD of the concert later).


4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 2, Op. 18, No. 2 and 8, Op. 59, No. 2, and the world premiere of Andrew McIntosh’s wrestle, stain, whistle and pound.

BONUS: The McIntosh piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets.

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


(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: New West Symphony adds visuals to “The Planets”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Does a piece with descriptions embedded into its movements, such as Gustav Holst’s The Planets, need visuals to supplement the music? In this age where visuals are everywhere, are they helpful in (a) attracting newcomers to concerts and/or (b) making the music more understandable?

Those are among the questions that the New West Symphony is attempting to answer this weekend during the fifth concert of its 20th anniversary season by adding images to its performances of The Planets (I heard last night’s concert in Thousand Oaks; the final performance is this afternoon in Santa Monica — INFO).

Strictly speaking, Holst wrote no program notes for The Planets. As Dr. Richard E. Rodda quoted Holst in his program notes: “These pieces were suggested by the astrological significance of the planets. There is no program music in them … If any guide to the music is required, the subtitle to each piece will be found sufficient, especially if it is used in the broad sense.”

That broad concept is what Music Director Marcelo Lehninger and seven local artists took in illustrating the music. Rather than use NASA images as has been done by many orchestras, the NWS commissioned the artists to paint large abstracts, which were projected on a screen above and behind the orchestra.

The visual results were problematic, although the NWS earns kudos for attempting something different for a piece that approaches warhorse status for classical music lover. Lehninger and his ensemble played the work with vigorous moments interspersed with sections of lyrical sweep and appropriately mystery where called for. At the end, however, significant questions remained for this critic and his visual artist wife as to whether the paintings were helpful.

To begin: considering that this project came together quite late in the game — the artists had less than a month to create their paintings. Surely some, perhaps many, of those attending had no idea what was going on. There was no insert in the program either identifying the artists or explaining what each saw in the music (these were abstracts, after all). Artists’ names, photos and bios were projected during intermission but (a) many people were outside during that time and (b) the small typeface rendered much of the text unreadable.

Lehninger also didn’t introduce the concept before the performance. Several people left in between movements either bewildered by the concept or having no appreciation for abstract art.

Having to work with three different halls on consecutive nights must have caused headaches for the technology folks handling the images, and the results showed. The ambient light from above the stage and the music stand lights severely hampered the ability to see some of the images and sabotaged the fades and pans of the technician. Midway through the performance, it occurred to me that this concept would work better outdoors at a locale such as Hollywood Bowl where ambient light issues wouldn’t be in play.

The pattern for each movement was to show small sections of the appropriate painting or panning over larger sections; the entire painting wasn’t shown until near the end of each movement. In the fifth movement, Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, the image rotated slowly, giving it a somewhat psychedelic effect. Given that the paintings were abstracts, it was hard to figure out until the movement ended that one had actually seen the entire painting.

For me, the best melded movement was the final section, Neptune, the Mystic, which had the benefit of a painting by Julie Pinkham that was more visible than others and also from the ethereal voices of women from the Cal Lutheran University Choral Ensembles, intoning beautifully their wordless lines offstage. Unfortunately someone in the audience insisted on breaking in with a bravo while the last notes were dying away, thus spoiling the mystical effect.

Did the painting concept work? Some people around me thought so, others fled so quickly that the applause had died away before Lehninger had a chance to bring the visual artists onstage, if indeed he planned on doing so. It will be interesting to see how the concept works today in Santa Monica.

Prior to intermission, the orchestra played Sibelius’ Violin Concerto for the first time and had Pasadena native Jennifer Frautschi on hand making her NWS debut as soloist.

Frautschi, now in her mid-30s, is well established in the violin firmament. Playing on a 1722 Stradivarius named “ex-Cadiz,” she delivered a quicksilver tone to go with her prodigious technique. She worked on the dynamic extremes of this early 20th century work — at times the pianissimo sections were almost too precious — but she really made me feel as if this was her concerto. The second movement, in particular, was spellbinding.

Lehninger and Co. offered taut, sweeping accompaniment. In those times where Frautschi wasn’t playing, Lehninger plunged forward exuberantly, punching out the attacks for emphasis, only to rein back when Frautschi joined in again.

Frautschi will be soloing in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto next year with the Pasadena Symphony. It will be interesting to see whether she adopts the same tonal style in a quite different work.

• During intermission, the orchestra took the opportunity of having the screen down to screen a number of promos, including upcoming concerts and events, a slide on planned giving, and a slide with the various ways people can follow the orchestra (e.g., Internet, Facebook, Twitter). Smart marketing, from my perspective.
• Prior to the performance, Executive Director Natalia Staneva noted the concert’s synchronicity — this year is the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’ birth and the orchestra’s 20th anniversary. She tried to link The Planets into the mix, calling 2015 the 100th anniversary of its composition. Unfortunately she missed by a couple of years. While part of the piece was completed in its two-piano form in 2015, the entire orchestrated piece wasn’t finished until 1917 and premiered a year later.
• The season’s final concert will take place May 8, 9 and 10 when Lehninger leads a performance of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, with four soloists and the Los Robles Master Chorale. INFO

(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Pinterest Reddit Tumblr Email