AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Michael Feinstein to debut as Pasadena Pops conductor

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.

Pasadena Pops Orchestra; Michael Feinstein, conductor
Sat., June 1; 7:30 p.m. (gates open at 5:30 p.m.)
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Center; 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
Tickets: $20-$100 (children 14 and under: $10)
Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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Feinstein_5-26-13There’s a lot riding on Saturday night’s concert by the Pasadena Pops Orchestra at the Los Angeles County Aboretum and Botanical Center. It’s the first of five concerts this summer at the Arcadia facility and marks the debut of Michael Feinstein as the Pops’ Principal Conductor.

Feinstein stepped into the role when Marvin Hamlisch died unexpectedly last August. Feinstein is artistic director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana, and since 2010 has been director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.

However, neither of these positions requires him to conduct an orchestra. Although Feinstein has performed with many orchestras throughout the past two decades, this will be his first time in a conductor role. Thus, even though he is a major draw, choosing him to head the Pops ensemble represents a big gamble for the orchestra’s management.

In Saturday’s concert Feinstein will lead with his strength as the program is entitled “Michael Feinstein’s Songbook.” During the past decade, the 56-year-old Columbus, Ohio native has not only performed many songs from what he calls “The Great American Songbook” but has also been instrumental (no pun intended) in preserving legendary music from the early to mid-20th century. To accomplish this, he has used educational programs, Master Classes and, in particular, his Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative. He also serves on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board.

Saturday’s program will include music by Rodgers and Hart, Leonard Bernstein, Leroy Anderson, and Ferde Grofé. Feinstein will also offer a musical tribute to Hamlisch, a legendary composer of Broadway and motion picture scores who was 68 when he died last August. Cheyenne Jackson will be the guest artist for the evening.

Feinstein will lead two other programs during the summer, including music from MGM movies on July 13, and an evening devoted to the music of George and Ira Gershwin to close the season on Sept. 7.

Broadway star Bernadette Peters will be the headliner on June 29 in an evening conducted by Larry Blank and the August 10 concert will focus on music of the Beatles, led by Martin Herman.

This summer marks the second season for the Pops at the Arboretum, following nearly 20 years at Descanso Gardens and two seasons on the lawn outside the Rose Bowl.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Marvin Hamlisch and Pasadena Pops at the Rose Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Pasadena Pops; Marvin
Hamlisch, conductor

“Marvin Does Broadway”

Saturday, August 6, 2011 The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose
Bowl

Next concert: August 27, 2011 “Marvin Does Movies”

Info: www.pasadena-symphony.org

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54366-Hamlisch-thumb-216x171-54365.jpg

There may have been more important ways to spend a Saturday
night but few, if any, could have been more pleasurable than spending last night
with Marvin Hamlisch, the Pasadena Pops and an array of soloists under balmy
skies and a bright half-moon at The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl.

 

A good-sized crowd turned out (particularly impressive
considering there was competition from the California Philharmonic’s Rodgers
and Hammerstein program at the Arboretum and from the staged production of Hairspray at Hollywood Bowl) to hear
Hamlisch and friends work their way through a couple of dozen selections from
Broadway, the place where Hamlisch quipped “tickets cost $150 and parking is
$900.”

 

That sort of witty, yet gentle repartee is part of what
makes a Hamlisch concert go down so easily. His banter ranged from the
downgrading of the nation’s credit rating from AAA to AA+ to joking with KABC
weatherman Dallas Raines about the region’s relentlessly constantly good weather.
Mid-show he dashed off a spunky set of piano variations on Happy Birthday in the styles of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven — shades
of Victor Borge!

 

More than anything, however, Hamlisch succeeds by connecting
with all ages in the audience in part because his comments on the music are
intelligent even when they’re brief. For example, he and the orchestra opened
with two Rodgers and Hammerstein overtures, with Hamlisch explaining that the Oklahoma overture was the traditional, “Hey,
come on in” collection of song that would appear in the show, while the Carousel Waltz was radically different
because the music never reappears and the curtain is open at the beginning, not
closed.

 

(I do, however, take issue with Hamlish’s contention that Porgy and Bess is a musical. I realize
that director Diane Paulus is working on a new production of what she calls The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which is
supposed to recast the work as a musical, but, in the words of Ira Gershwin, “It
Ain’t Necessarily So” — i.e., it’s an opera).

 

One of things that make Hamlisch’s programs succeed is that
they are really a descriptive phrase of the former Pops music director, Rachael
Worby, programming for the iPod mentality). About the only thing he didn’t do
was to identify all the shows from whence the music came (although there was a
list of the shows in the program).

 

In addition to his commentary, Hamlisch conducted decently,
if not with great flair (he does seem to bury his head in the score quite a
bit), played the piano (sometimes doing both at the same time), and even sang a
duet with Cady Huffman for one his own tunes, They’re Playing Our Song, which Huffman informed people was the
show with which she made her professional debut at the La Mirada Theater. Apart
from a few rough patches, the Pops orchestra playing was typically first-rate.

 

Individually and as ensembles the three soloists provided
many of the evening’s high points (there was actually a fourth soloist at the
conclusion of the first act: Steven Brinberg, who did a neat takeoff on
Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond — my original review didn’t identify him by name).

 

As a trio, Huffman, Anne Runolfsson and Gary Mauer offered a
poignant rendition of Send in the Clowns,
while Runolfsson and Mauer played Anything
You Can Do I Can Do Better
with typical over-the-top foolishness (although she
did display the requisite amount of impressive power).

 

Huffman vamped a slinky Ulla from The Producers while Mauer offered a winsome rendition of Begin the Beguine and later had the
evening’s funniest moment with another witty Cole Porter song, The Tale of the Oyster.

 

To conclude the evening, Mauer joined with Runolfsson,
Hamlisch and the orchestra to finish the evening on the highest and most
powerful of notes as they reprised their roles in The Phantom of the Opera, a performance that should have impressed
even the most ardent “Phantom” haters and did bring forth a thunderous standing
ovation from the others.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although the Pops uses video screens on both sides of the
stages, the camera work remains mediocre and the lighting continues to have
problem, rendering people’s faces much redder than they really are (Huffman and
Runolfsson looked like they had Rosacea).

Hamlisch listens to his audience. After hearing reports
that some people (not everyone, I hasten to add) were upset that the first
concert didn’t begin with The Star
Spangled Banner,
Hamlisch opened with the National Anthem last night, then
quipped that the balance of the program would be SSBs from countries around the world.

One thing I’m going to miss when the Pops moves to the
Arboretum is the convenient parking adjacent to the Rose Bowl venue and the
fast getaways that patrons have.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS AND LINKS: Pasadena Pops, Los Angeles County Arboretum finalize agreement for 2012 and beyond; new details emerge

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Turning yet another page in a five-month-long saga, the
Pasadena Pops and the Los Angeles County Arboretum have finalized a multi-year
agreement that will see the Pops move to the Arcadia facility next summer as
both the facility’s resident orchestra and presenting partner.

 

The contract is for three years with an evergreen clause,
says Paul Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association, which runs both the
Pops and the Pasadena Symphony. (Under a normal evergreen clause, a contract
automatically extends year by year unless one of the parties to the agreement
gives notice to cancel.)

 

The Pops announced that it will play at the Arboretum in
2012 on June 26, July 21, August 18 and September 8. Happily, for fans of both
the California Philharmonic — which shifts from the Arboretum to Santa Anita
Racetrack next summer (LINK) — that means the two organizations will not
conflict on dates, a good thing from a parking and traffic point of view.

 

Zdunek hopes to provide details on the 2012 season by the
end of this week — the next 2011 Pops concert is Saturday on The Lawn Adjacent
to the Rose Bowl, when the orchestra’s new principal conductor, Marvin Hamlisch,
leads a program devoted to music from the Broadway stage (DETAILS).

 

As the Arboretum’s presenting partner, the Pops also expects
to offer other programming beginning next summer. “We are beginning to work on
that now,” explained Zdunek. “We needed to get the contract done first. We
envision family concerts, outdoor theatre, silent films, as well as Asian-influenced
performances, to name a few.”

 

Among the enhanced amenities envisioned for next year’s
concerts are VIP parking packages for subscribers, multiple entry points for
ticket holders and purchasers; a stage with large LED video screens that will
project stage action using three cameras and an enhanced sound system with
multiple JBL Audio speakers throughout the grounds; and what the Pops is terming “VIP
flushable comfort stations with individual hand-washing facilities inside, air
conditioning and lighting in each unit…that will feel like using another
restroom in an indoor venue.” (Yes, these things actually exist; I’ve seen and
used them before).

 

The Arboretum will mark the Pops’ third venue in four
seasons. After performing at Descanso Gardens in La Caada for more than a
decade, the orchestra shifted to its present location outside the Rose Bowl
last season.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.