NEWS: Pasadena Symphony unveils 2013-2014 season

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

There are similarities between the current Pasadena Symphony season and the 2013-2014 schedule, but there are also some subtle differences. All five concerts will have performances at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium but, unlike the current season, which began with two concerts in late 2012, the upcoming schedule will begin November 2 and then conclude with four concerts in a five-month-span in 2014.

The orchestra continues to operate without a music director and is now sans a music advisor, as well, following the death last Friday James DePreist (LINK), who had held the latter title for three seasons.

Two of the five conductors will be returnees, including Nicholas McGegan, who appears for the third consecutive season on Jan. 11. His program includes Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with 12-year-old Uni Garrett as soloist (yes, you read that age right; actually, she will be 13 when she appears with the PSO — she becomes a teenager on Aug. 15).

David Lockington, music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, appears for the second consecutive season when he leads the opening concerts on Nov. 2 that feature Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade, Anne Akiko Meyers as violin soloist. May 29, 2013 marks the centennial of the inaugural performance of the Stravinsky/Diaghilev that caused a riot when it opened in Paris.

Outside of McGeghan, the best known of the conductors is Jahja Ling, now in his ninth season as music director of the San Diego Symphony, who will conduct the final concert of the season on May 11, 2014. The blockbuster program will include Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Israeli-born Shai Wosner as soloist.

The other guest maestros are Indiana native Kazeem Abdullah, who will lead the PSO and Donald Brinegar Chorale in Morten Lauridsen’s Midwinter Songs and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on Feb. 15, 2014; and Maryland native Andrew Grams, whose program on March 29, 2014 will include Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra, and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with another precocious teenager, Simone Porter, as soloist.

The annual holiday concert will be held Dec. 14 at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper returns to conduct the orchestra, vocalist Susan Egan, the Donald Brinegar Singers, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and L.A. Bronze handbell choir.


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

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REVIEW: Nicholas McGegan leads Pasadena Symphony in joyful concert

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

Pasadena Symphony; Nicholar McGegan, conductor
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto (Donald Foster, soloist)
Mahler: No. 4
Saturday, February 9, 13 • Ambassador Auditorium
Next concert: April 27, 2013 • 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.


Few conductors in the world look as joyful when they’re on the podium as Nicholas McGegan, who returned for a second straight year last Saturday to conduct the Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium. His beaming smile is infectious to the musicians and to the audience.

Consequently, even on a day that should have been a somber occasion for the orchestra (coming as it did a day after its music advisor, James DePreist, passed away — LINK), the afternoon was instead with suffused with joy and lightness and, oh yes, excellence.

Although McGegan has made his considerable reputation in the fields of Baroque and other genres of early music, in recent years he has been broadening his repertoire. Last season, he led the PSO in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and he will return again for a third consecutive season next year to lead a program that concludes with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6.

Saturday afternoon he concluded proceedings with a light, transparent reading of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Of all nine Mahler symphonies, the fourth seems best suited to McGegan’s ebullient style, and even though this wasn’t the most compelling rendition I’ve every heard, the orchestra played the 52-minute performance exquisitely.

Russian-American soprano Yulia Van Doren sang the fourth-movement text on heavenly light gracefully, employing creamy top tones and excellent diction. McGegan’s tempi seemed a little rushed but the movement concluded in a wonderfully wistful manner.

Prior to intermission, PSO Principal Clarinetist Donald Foster was an exemplary soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. McGegan conducted with leisurely tempi — perhaps a shade too leisurely; a little bit more bite would have been welcome — but Foster played with elegance and superb breath control throughout. He’s one of the Southland’s premiere musicians and it was a pleasure to hear him in front of the orchestra, instead of the ensemble.

• Prior to the concert, the Women’s Committee of the Pasadena Symphony Association presented a check $100,000 to the association representing funds raised during their 2012 Holiday Look In Home Tour.

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: McGegan returns to conduct Pasadena Symphony; Hollywood Bowl season announced

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.

Most conductors gravitate to composers with whom they develop a special affinity. In my hearing, examples would include Zubin Mehta with Anton Bruckner, Carlo Maria Giulini with Giuseppe Verdi, André Previn with Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Esa-Pekka Salonen with Witold Lutoslawski.

In some cases, the tie is so strong that the conductor becomes pigeon-holed into a particular composer or era of music. One of those seemed to be Nicholas McGegan, the British-born harpsichordist and conductor who has been one of the major players in the fields of baroque and other early music, chiefly as music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

However, in recent years McGegan has broadened his repertoire and the Pasadena Symphony has been one of the happy beneficiaries of that decision. Last year, McGegan made his PSO debut leading a concert that concluded with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica).

On Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., McGegan will take an even bigger repertoire step, leading the PSO in program that concludes with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The program opens with Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with the orchestra’s long-time principal clarinetist, Donald Foster, as soloist.

The fourth is one of Mahler’s shortest symphonies (lasting about an hour) and is the most lyrical. The final movement features a soprano soloist (in this case, Russian Yulia Van Doren) singing texts from the poem Das himmlische Leben, a portion of Das Knaben Wunderhorn that Mahler also used in one of his great song cycles.

Even without the McGegan backstory, this concert would be worth attending for the pleasure of hearing Foster as soloist in the Copland Concerto, one of the pinnacles of the clarinet repertoire. Foster is principal clarinet of both the Pasadena Symphony and Santa Barbara Symphony and has been played on soundtracks for hundreds of film and television scores and commercials.

BTW: McGegan will also be the featured speaker at a dinner/conversation at Noor’s Restaurant in Pasadena on Tuesday beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m.

Information: 626/793-7172;

Details of the 2013 Hollywood Bowl season have been announced and “predictability” is the operating word. The 10-week classical season contains the usual assortment of popular symphonies and concertos, although there is the West Coast premiere of a new work by Adam Schoenberg (no relation to the famed composer Arnold Schoenberg although, ironically, he does teach at UCLA in the Schoenberg Music Building).

The opening classical event on July 9 will see Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

Music Director Gustavo Dudame will lead just one week this summer with only two programs, both of which pay homage to the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth: a concert performance of Aida on Aug. 11 and performances of Verdi’s Requiem on Aug. 13 and 15.

Other guest conductors beside MTT include McGegan, who will conduct programs on , Bramwell Tovey, Rafael Frubeck de Burgos, Bernard Labadie, James Gaffigan, Leon Bottstein, David Afkham, John Williams and Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Among the soloists will be pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Paul Lewis, Hélène Grimaud, and Katie and Marielle Labèque; and violinists Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Jennifer Koh, Augustin Haedelich, LAPO Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour.

In one of the more intriguing programs, the Los Angeles-based dance group Diavolo will complete their triptych of works created especially for the Hollywood Bowl with Fluid Infinities, set to the music of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3.

The entire 92nd season (67 performances), runs from June 22 through Sept. 22. Season tickets are now on sale; single-ticket sales begin in early May. Information: 323/850-2000;

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

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(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Nicholas McGegan and Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Pasadena Symphony; Nicholas
McGegan, conductor

Mendelssohn: The Fair
Melusina Overture

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466 (Nareh
Arghamanayan, pianist)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica).

Saturday, March 31, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next performance: April 28 (NOTE: This is a change from the original review.)



59447-PSO rehearsal 3-30-12.jpg

Pianist Nareh Arghamanayan, conductor Nicholas McGegan, and
the Pasadena Symphony rehearse Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 for their
concerts yesterday.



For more than a quarter-century, Nicholas McGegan has made
an international reputation as a Baroque music specialist, primarily through
leading his San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. However, in
recent years McGegan (now age 62) has broadened his repertoire and the Pasadena
Symphony grabbed the opportunity to add him to its schedule of guest conductors
for both this season and next.


McGegan is a compact perpetual bundle of energy on the
podium with a seemingly unending smile (even when a cell phone went off between
movements of Beethoven’s Eroica
Symphony, McGegan merely looked over at the offending holder and smiled until
the phone was turned off).


He conducts without a baton and clearly telegraphs his
intentions not only to the musicians but also to the audience. He also seated
the orchestra in an unconventional manner (for the PSO, at any rate), with the
violins divided left and right, the cellos and basses to the left and the
timpani perched on a platform to the right of the orchestra.


However, the key questions about any conductor are (a) how
does the music sound? and (b) how well does the orchestra play? Both answers
were strongly affirmative in yesterday afternoon’s performance (the concert
repeated last night). McGegan shapes phrases lovingly and elicits rhythmic
precision when it is called for. The orchestra responded as if McGegan was a
familiar presence; overall this was a scintillating afternoon of music making.


A major portion of the enjoyment came courtesy of young
Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanayan, who was an elegant soloist in Mozart’s
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466. Wearing a wine-colored gown, she
bobbed and swayed to the music to get in the mood even when she wasn’t playing.
When she was in the spotlight, she produced a silken tone, punctuated by occasional
sharp attacks, and a carefully thought-out concept of this familiar, albeit
somewhat dark work, one of just two (out of 27) piano concerti that Mozart
wrote in a minor key. Winner of the 2008 Montreal International Piano
Competition, she is a name to remember. McGegan and the ensemble accompanied


After intermission, McGegan led a buoyant performance of
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). At
46 minutes long, the tempos were brisk but they didn’t seem rushed. The
orchestra (which numbered about 50, the size that Beethoven reportedly assembled
for the work’s premiere) was led by its winds (notably Principal Oboist Lara
Wickes) and played expertly. The members seem to relish exploring and meeting
the challenges that come with having a different conductor for each program.


The afternoon opened with a rarity: Mendelssohn’s The Fair Melusina Overture, which has
unmistakable overtones of the composer’s two previous efforts in the
concert-overture genre: Calm Sea and
Prosperous Voyage
and The Hebrides, most
notably in their allusions to the rolling sea. McGegan and Co. played it with
considerable panache. At the end, McGegan beamed — as he did all afternoon.




The PSO placed flowers on the seats of those subscribers
who have renewed for the 2012-2013 season. It was a nice touch and also a way
to remind others to either renew or become season-ticket holders.

The season’s final concert on May 15 will see James
DePreist, who has served as the PSO’s music advisor since Jorge Mester departed
as music director two years ago, leading a program of Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Wagner’s Gtterdmerung, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8,
and Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs, with
Christine Brewer as soloist.

When McGegan appears next season on Feb. 9, his program
will pair Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (with the PSO’s Principal Clarinet Donald
Foster as soloist) with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. McGegan will be one of two
conductors repeating from this season (the other is Mei-Ann Chen, who will open
next season on Oct. 6).



(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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