NEW: Pasadena Symphony extends contracts of Lockington and McGegan

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Pasadena Symphony has extended the tenures of Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan through the 2018-2019 season. Lockington and McGegan were each appointed three years ago with three-year contracts and the contracts have been extended each year, in effect making them “evergreen” contracts.

Lockington will conduct four concerts during the upcoming season, beginning with the opening programs at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on October 8 at Ambassador Auditorium. McGegan will lead two concerts at Ambassador and the seventh event will be the now-annual holiday-music concert on Dec. 17 at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

The final Pasadena Pops concert of the summer season will be Sept. 10 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Pasadena.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Michael Feinstein reprises “Sinatra Project” at L.A. Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

FesinsteinMichael Feinstein performing the music of Frank Sinatra would seem to be a perfect fit. After all, Feinstein has made a career of curating, promoting and performing “The Great American Songbook” and no one belongs in that genre more than “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”

For the second consecutive year it was a perfect fit as Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops, led by its resident conductor, Larry Blank, presented “The Sinatra Project, Vol. 2” last night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

For the second consecutive year it also was boffo box office as a sold-out audience packed the tables and sprawled on the The Giant Lawn of the Arcadia facility.

As usual, Feinstein, the orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, mixed Sinatra favorites with pieces that had been unperformed for decades — or at all. Feinstein provided his typically erudite commentary, which was compact enough that the entire program clocked in at slightly more than just two hours, even allowing for CEO Laura Unger’s gushing thanks to the evening’s sponsors and a lugubrious rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, led by Concertmaster Aimee Kreston.

One thread to the evening was Feinstein’s use of arrangers indelibly linked to Sinatra, including Nelson Riddle and Ruby Bloom. Blank also offered a couple of his arrangements and led the Pops as it played well both as an orchestra and a ’30s-style jazz band.

As is typical of Feinstein programs, he offered a couple of “discoveries”: Blank’s arrangement of Orange, and a complete performance of Three Coins in the Fountain (Sinatra recorded the title song for the 1954 movie but what was used wasn’t the complete version that Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne created).

Throughout the evening Feinstein played every role but conductor: singing some of the songs (such as Something’s to Give) accompanied by the orchestra, some (e.g., I’ve Got a Crush on You) from the piano, and Birth of the Blues, where Feinstein offered a spiffy piano solo.

Perhaps the most poignant piece was If I Loved You, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s movie Carousel. Feinstein preceded this by noting the familiar story about why Sinatra elected not to appear as Billy Bigelow in the movie — he didn’t want to have to record each scene twice, once in standard format and the other in widescreen, which was necessary in those days.

However, Feinstein offered a different version, courtesy of Shirley Jones (the female star), who said Sinatra was afraid that his wife, Ava Gardner, would have an affair with Humphrey Bogart while they were overseas making a movie, so Sinatra withdrew to join her. It was a typical Feinstein historical note.

The evening concluded with a medley of Sinatra songs, a reprise from the conclusion of last year’s Sinatra Project. If there is to be a Volume 3 it won’t be next year. Instead, Feinstein is slated to sing an evening of Swing Music on July 29 as the third concert in the 2017 summer season.

This year’s season continues on August 20 with Feinstein conducting the Pops in music by Cole Porter (INFO) and concludes on September 10 with an evening of music from Warner Bros (INFO).

For next season, the pattern from Feinstein’s first seasons seems to be well entrenched. 2017 will open with Feinstein conducting the Pops in Broadway: the Golden Age on June 17 and continues with music from Jersey Boys and Beyond on July 15, with Blank leading the Pops and four members of the Broadway musical. After Feinstein Sings Swing on July 29 will come Gershwin and Friends on August 19 and Universal Studios Favorites on September 9, both with Feinstein conducting.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: Feinstein with Pasadena Pops, Mirga at the Bowl highlight upcoming week

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Style: "p25+-Ipro"For the past quarter century, Michael Feinstein pictured above has become the leading proponent and curator of “The Great American Songbook,” which is not really a book but rather a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early and mid-20th century.

One of the leading lights of that collection was Frank Sinatra, and Feinstein will join with the Pasadena Pops July 30 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum for what he has termed “The Sinatra Project — Volume 2.” It’s a follow-up to last summer’s sold-out concert of music by the crooner affectionately known as “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”

As was the case last summer, Feinstein will spend the evening singing and talking about Sinatra and his music. It will be an intimate evening as Feinstein’s first-hand knowledge gives him a unique slant on Sinatra. “I have a very different perspective about his musical taste,” explains Feinstein. “Among other things he loved classical music so I’m very careful in combining swing arrangements with great orchestrations of the ballads. Some are vintage charts that have not been heard publicly in many years or ever.”

One of those rarely heard numbers will be Sinatra’s original arrangement of Three Coins in the Fountain, which was cut in half for the 1954 motion picture. “Finding things like that is what makes an evening like this exciting for me,” says Feinstein. Other numbers will include Pennies from Heaven and Young at Heart. Resident Conductor Larry Blank will lead the Pops in this concert.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Mirga_2016_4_WebIn the midst of Gustavo Dudamel’s last weeks at Hollywood Bowl for this summer comes a concert that, for classical music aficionados, is a must-see event as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured left), one of the sharply rising stars in the musical firmament, conducts her only Bowl concert this summer this coming Tuesday.

A 29-year-old Lithuania native, Gražinytė-Tyla (because her last name is a tongue-twister to pronounce virtually everyone simply calls her “Mirga”) will become the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Associate Conductor this fall. More importantly she has been named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the latest in a long line of youthful conductors to lead that esteemed English ensemble who are now among the world’s conducting elite (e.g., Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons).

At the Bowl Gražinytė-Tyla will lead the L.A. Phil in works by Beethoven and Ravel. Pianist Jean-Yeves Thibaudet and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will join the Phil and six vocal soloists in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.” The evening will open with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and will conclude with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the second suite from Daphnis and Chloe.

Gražinytė-Tyla’s rise with the LAPO has been meteoric. She was a Dudamel Fellow with the orchestra in the 2012-13 season and became the ensemble’s Assistant Conductor in 2014, before being promoted to Associate Conductor for the 2016-17 season.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: Hollywood Bowl, Pasadena Pops open seasons

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

hollywood-bowl-post1 Hollywood Bowl’s summer season opens this month.

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One of the joys of living in Southern California in the summertime is the plethora of outdoor music programs available. Virtually every genre is represented and the venues are part of the reason why tens of thousands of people turn out each weekend for music and accompanying picnics.

The largest, best-known venue with the widest programming options is HOLLYWOOD BOWL. If you haven’t been there in a few years (or at all), this is the year to check out the venerable venue.

The 38th annual Playboy Jazz Festival — one of the nation’s oldest and most important jazz programs — kicks off the summer season on June 11 and 12, with each day beginning at 3 p.m. George Lopez hosts and the lineup includes Fourplay, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Seth MacFarlane, and Janelle Monáe.

The official Bowl opening concert is June 18 at 8 p.m. Principal Conductor Thomas Wilkins leads his Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, with guest artist Steely Dan, and the Bowl’s legendary fireworks conclude the evening. The classical season begins July 12, with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program that includes pianist Lang Lang.

One of the things that makes the Bowl so attractive is the wide number of ways to get to the Cahuenga Pass amphitheatre. Forget driving and the stacked parking at the Bowl. There are several off-site shuttle lots available and 14 Park and Ride locations throughout Southern California. The cheapest way is to take the Metro Red Line subway to the Hollywood-Highland stop and then either walk up the hill or take the free Bowl shuttle from a lot on Orange Avenue.

Information: www.hollywoodbowl.com

Style: "p25+-Ipro"THE PASADENA POPS opens its 2016 outdoor season at the bucolic Los Angeles County Arboretum on June 18 at 7:30 p.m. Principal Pops Conductor Michael Feinstein (pictured left), whose contract has just been renewed through the 2019 season (LINK), will lead a program spotlighting the music of Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee, with soloists Madelyn Baillio, Cady Huffman and Lynn Roberts supplying the vocals. (BTW: Baillio was recently chosen to star in NBC’s Hairspray Live!)

Feinstein has become one of the great local success stories. After a successful debut concert as a soloist with the Pops, he stepped into a musical leadership role with the orchestra when Marvin Hamlisch, who had been the Pops conductor, died unexpectedly in 2013.

Despite having virtually no conducting experience, Feinstein has grown substantially as a conductor He has shown an uncanny ability to build interesting programs and make them come alive with his storytelling and deep historical music knowledge. Moreover he has found in the Pasadena Pops an eager partner in expanding Feinstein’s perusal of “The Great American Songbook.”

Feinstein will lead three of the five concerts during the upcoming summer season on the tree-lined “Great Lawn” concert venue. He will also appear as soloist in “The Sinatra Project, Volume 2” on July 30. Resident Pops Conductor Larry Blank will lead the Sinatra concert and also a program of music by Billy Joel.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Lora Unger named CEO of Pasadena Symphony Association

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

Unger2014-LRJust when we thoughts things had settled down at the The Pasadena Symphony Association the wheel turns again. The association, which, operates the Pasadena Symphony and POPS, today announced that it has tapped Lora Unger (right) as its new Chief Executive Officer, effective November 1. Read the Pasadena Star-News story HERE.

Unger replaces Paul Jan Zdunek, who has been named Chief Capital Development Officer with Singpoli Capital Corp. in Pasadena. For the past several years, Singpoli has sponsored the Pasadena Symphony’s indoor classics series.

Zdunek took over the association in December 2008 in the midst of a major financial crisis that resulted in part from financial losses incurred in the recession. One of his first moves was to hire Unger and together the two have worked with others to steer the PSA back to financial and artistic health.

Among the changes were moving the Pasadena Symphony’s indoor season from the cavernous Pasadena Civic Auditorium into the more intimate Ambassador Auditorium, one of the world’s acoustic gems, in 2010. Two years later the Pops shifted into its summer home, the Los Angeles County Arboretum. The PSO also presents a holiday concert at All Saints Church, Pasadena.

Other changes were messier. Long-time PSO Music Director Jorge Mester left in acrimony and Pops leader Rachael Worby also stepped down. Eventually Zdunek and the association hired Marvin Hamlisch as the Pops’ principal conductors only to have him die suddenly in 2012. Despite the grief from Hamlisch’s death, Zdunek and the board took a gamble by hiring entertainer and historian Michael Feinstein to replace Hamlisch, a toss of the dice that has paid off well both artistically and financially.

The Pasadena Symphony’s music director, David Lockington, will lead his first concert in his new role on Nov. 1 at Ambassador Auditorium (LINK). Noted British conductor Nicholas McGegan will assume his new role as the symphony’s principal guest conductor January 17 (LINK).

In a media release, Lockington said he is “thrilled for Paul and absolutely delighted that Lora will be assuming the role of CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association.” Lockington pointed out that he has “worked with Lora for over four years. She is visionary, smart and an astute strategist. Her style is a stimulating blend of seriousness and humor which makes for a creative working environment.”

Unger, who is a trained violist, holds a BA in Music with a Minor in Business Administration from the University of Louisville, and received her MA in Arts Administration from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Cincinnati College of Business Administration.

Prior to coming to Pasadena she worked with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, as well as the Cincinnati, Modesto, and Jacksonville Symphony Orchestras in public relations, marketing and artistic operations. She was a League of American Orchestras’ Orchestra Management Fellow with residencies at the Aspen Music Festival, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony. She is a member of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras and a presenter at their conferences

“Given the enormous contributions to our success that Lora has made for us, we’re delighted to elevate her to the position of CEO, following thoughtful deliberation by the Board,” said Kay Kochenderfer, president of the PSA Board of Directors, in the media release. “Over the past five years, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in Classics Series ticket sales, an astonishing 200% increase in POPS sales, and an 85% subscription retention rate.

Read the full media release HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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