Christmas Eve services offer sublime music

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Even if the day means nothing to you from a religious standpoint, Christmas Eve represents a night to hear some wonderful music … and you even get to join in the music making in many instances. Moreover there are no ticket admission charges, although you’re certainly include a donation when the offering plate passes. Here are Christmas Eve programs from four locales in our readership area:

Westwood United Methodist Church
10497 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90024

A pre-service concert at 10:30 p.m. features the church’s Chancel Choir, soloists and an orchestra, led by Minister of Music Gregory Norton, in selections from Handel’s Messiah. The candlelight service at 11 p.m. adds organist Jaebon Hwang to the musical mix that includes congregational singing of Christmas carols.

St. Frances de Sales Church
13360 Valleyheart Drive
Sherman Oaks 91423

Jenine Wagner directs the church choir in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Noel and selections from Handel’s Messiah in a service that begins at 11:15 p.m. with the singing of Christmas carols. A string quartet and organist Stephen Park accompanies the musical works.

Pasadena Presbyterian Church
585 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena 91101

Yes, I realize it’s my home church so — to quote the sage words of the late, great Molly Ivins — you can take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt. Organist Meaghan King begins the Christmas Eve service at 8:40 p.m. with three selections from Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of the Lord), concluding with Dieu Parmi Nous (God With Us). During the Candlelight Communion Service, Dr. Timothy Howard, the church’s organist/music director, will lead the Kirk Choir and Handbell Choir and the congregation joins in singing in seven Christmas carols. As a bonus, soprano soloist Judith Sirilla sings O Holy Night.

St. James’ in the City
3903 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90010
(213) 388-3417;

The Choir of Saint James’, led by organist/music director James Buonemani, and an instrumental ensemble lead the 10:30 p.m. Holy Eucharist Christmas Eve service. There’s also a service featuring Gregorian chant on Christmas Day at 10:30 a.m.

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: March coming in like a lion

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

Even with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on tour during the next three weeks, March is a very busy month for classical music lovers. Among the offerings are:

• To be accurate, the Phil is in town this weekend with Gustavo Dudamel conducting John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. My preview story is HERE.

• If meaty Brahms is your idea of a musical feast, then make a reservation for the Long Beach Symphony concerts tomorrow night at 8 in that city’s Terrace Theatre. Enrique Arturo Diemecke, who is completing his 14-year-tenure as the LBSO’s music director, will lead Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Piano Concerto No. 2; the latter features Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio. (Hint: arrive early; no matter which piece gets played first, the initial movement is long and you don’t want to wait in the lobby for late seating.) INFO:

Two organists are on the agenda this week.

Ann Elise Smoot, 1998 winner of the American Guild of Organists’ National Young Artists Competition in Organ Performance, makes her Disney Hall debut on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with a program of music by J.S. Bach, Reger, Jehan Alain and others including the U.S. debut of Solomon’s Demos by Joanna Marsh, a British composer who has lived in Dubai since 2007. INFO:

Timothy Howard will present a free recital at Pasadena Presbyterian Church on March 15 at 7:30 p.m. Playing on the church’s Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, Howard will be assisted by organist Meaghan King and soprano Judith Siirila Paskowitz in a program of music by J.S. Bach, Marcel Dupré, Paul Halley, William Mathias, Giacomo Puccini and Louis Vierne. INFO:

On the choral front:

Pasadena Pro Musica continues its 50th anniversary season on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church as Artistic Director Stephen Grimm leads a program of music by Flemish Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso: De profundis clamavi, Primi diei from Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes, and Prophetiae Sibyllarum. INFO:

• Janet Harms will lead the combined forces of the Windsong Southland Chorale and the United Methodist Church of La Verne Choir, in “Sacred Utterances” on March 15 at 7 p.m. at the UMLV, 3205 “D” Street, La Verne. The program will include O, Gracious Light (Phos hilaron) by Timothy Sharp, The Lord is My Light by Hank Beebe, True Light by Keith Hampton, I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light by Kathleen Thomerson, Magnificat by Charles Villiers Stanford and others.

This concert will be a reprise of the same program Windsong sang when it participated in an annual choral festival on February 16 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

Hollywood Master Chorale will present an afternoon of Dvorak’s Mass in D Major, Op. 86 and Te Deum on March 16 at 4 p.m. at Hollywood Lutheran Church. Artistic Director Lauren Buckley will conduct. The Te Deum was written in 1892 on the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing on the American shore. Mass in D Major was composed two years before. INFO:


(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Make your holiday season a musical one

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.

Few things better symbolize the Christmas season than music and this year brings an unusually rich assortment of concerts and recitals, beginning with the world-renowned Los Angeles Children’s Chorus presents its midwinter concerts Dec. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church. On Saturday, LACC’s Concert and Apprentice Choirs and its Young Men’s Ensemble will perform; the following evening, it’s the Concert and Intermediate Choirs and the Chamber Singers. Info:

The LACC also appears in several other concerts this season, including four performances of the orchestral score for The Nutcracker played by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Dec. 12-15 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. This is the first time that Dudamel has conducted the Phil in December concerts.

For those looking for something other than holiday music, the Phil has two offerings. Next weekend (Thursday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon), Rafael Frubeck de Burgos returns to the Phil podium with two symphonies by Haydn and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Dudamel will lead the Phil in four concerts (Dec. 19-22) that will feature Yuja Wang as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Stravinsky’s score for the ballet Petrushka and Blow bright, a world premiere by Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason, are also on the program. Info on the Phil programs above:

As usual, the Los Angeles Master Chorale will have an ultra-busy holiday season at Disney Hall beginning on Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. with its “Festival of Carols, with 115 singers and organ performing traditional holiday works. This program repeats Dec. 14 at 2 p.m., but as you will see below that’s a really jam-packed day so you might want to consider the first program instead. Info:

Other LAMC holiday programs are
• “Rejoice! Ceremony of Carols” on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., when Music Director Grant Gershon leads a program of music by Respighi, Vaughan Williams and Stephen Paulus, along with Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, performed as part of the Southland’s “Britten 100/LA” tribute to the centennial of Britten’s birth. Info:
• Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 15 and 22 at 7 p.m. Gershon leads 48 singers, soloists and a chamber orchestra in this most familiar of Christmas oratorios. Info:
• “Messiah Sing-Along” on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Grab your score (or buy one at the door) and join with the Master Chorale and other audience members in singing Handel’s memorable score. Info:

As noted above, Dec. 14 will be one of those jam-packed evenings that cause concertgoers indigestion because they have so much from which to choose. In addition to the Master Chorale’s “Festival of Carols” listed above, consider:
• The Pasadena Symphony’s Holiday concerts on Dec. 14 at 4 and 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper leads the program that will also feature vocalist Lisa Vroman, members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, and the handbell choir, LA Bronze. Info:
• The Pasadena Master Chorale will offer its Christmas concert of Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Info:
Pasadena Presbyterian Church will present the 69th annual rendition of its free-admission “Candlelight and Carols” program at 7:30 p.m. The concert will feature the church’s six choirs, two organists and an instrumental ensemble, and will include plenty of audience caroling. The featured work will be On Christmas Night by English composer Bob Chilcott. Info:
Angeles Chorale will present “Divine Joy: a Christmas Celebration in Music” at 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena. Artistic Director John Sutton will conduct the program, which will feature the first part of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Info:

One organization that chose not to join the Dec. 14 clog is Pasadena Pro Musica, which continues its 50th season the following afternoon at 4 p.m. in Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church. Artistic Director Stephen Grimm leads a program of music by Benjamin Britten and Tomas Luis de Victoria. Info:

In addition to what’s listed above, Disney Hall offers a number of varied holiday programs; my favorite would be “A Chanticleer Christmas,” which features the renowned San Francisco-based all-male a cappella choral ensemble. Info:

And this list doesn’t include the ongoing Los Angeles Opera’s ongoing production of Verdi’s Falstaff, which concludes its run today at 7 p.m., nor the company’s presentation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which runs through Dec. 15. My preview story on The Magic Flute is HERE and a followup article is HERE. Info the operas:

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

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PREVIEW: Free concerts abound

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

Several local organizations that sponsor admission-free concerts are unveiling their seasons during the next couple of weeks. Of course, few — if any — concerts are actually free; expenses are incurred, so whether it’s through a donation envelope, offering plate, sponsorship support or any combination of the three, all who can afford to do so are encouraged to contribute something — every little bit helps.

In chronological order, here is an admittedly incomplete list of some of the offerings :

• Rio Hondo Symphony; Kimo Furumoto, conducting
Today at 3 p.m. • Vic Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High School), Whittier

Rio Hondo Symphony opens its 81st season of four free-admission concerts this afternoon with an all-Beethoven concert. Music Director Kimo Furumoto, beginning his fifth season, will conduct the Fidelio Overture, Symphony No. 5, and Piano Concerto No. 3, with Ben Hopkins as soloist. Hopkins, a 21-year-old Rochester, NY resident, was the piano winner of the orchestra’s Young Artists’ Competition last January.

• Rudy de Vos, organist
Friday at 7:30 p.m. • Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Pasadena

De Vos will open the church’s 2013-2014 Friends of Music season with a program of music by Marcel Languetuit, Charles Tournemire, Louis Vierne, Guy Bovet, César Franck, Maurice Ravel, Edwin Lemare, Joseph Bonnet and Maurice Duruflé.

A native of South Africa (and the son of a Dutch Reformed Pastor), de Vos has been organist and director of music at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland since 2009. A laureate of the prestigious St. Albans International Organ Competition, he has appeared with the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, Artium Symphony, Natal Symphony and the Eastman School Symphony.

In addition to the eight concerts (two choral, three organ, one chamber music, one with vocal soloists and one jazz), the church sponsors its “Music at Noon” series of free concerts every Wednesday from 12:10 to 12:40 p.m.

• Los Angeles Philharmonic and Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA)
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

Sunday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall and Grand Park

This free concert begins a season-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of Disney Hall (I’ll have more on this in my column next Sunday). Next Sunday’s concert will feature the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. For those not in the know, YOLA is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s project to bring music to under-served neighborhoods, similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Másrquez. Legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia ensemble will be the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St.

• American Youth Symphony • Alex Treger, conductor
Sunday, Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. • Royce Hall, UCLA

Traditionally one of the finest ensembles of young orchestral musicians in the nation, the AYS opens its season at 5:30 p.m. by screening the San Francisco Symphony’s “Keeping Score” program on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, led by the SFS’s music director, Michael Tilson Thomas. Then at 7 p.m., Alex Treger leads his young charges in a performance of this famous and familiar work, along with the West Coast premiere of Timo Andres’ Bathtub Shrine and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Alan Steele as soloist.

• Mus/ique: Free for All; Rachael Worby, artistic director
Friday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. • Pasadena Civic Center plaza

This free family-oriented program will mash up hip-hop and orchestra in a way that only Rachael Worby can conjure. The concert is being held in conjunction with Pasadena’s “ArtNight,” a citywide celebration of the arts.

• Pasadena Master Chorale; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Altadena Community Church, Altadena

Normally the Pasadena Master Chorale charges for its concerts but the opening program on its fifth season features an interesting challenge. Patrons are invited to hear the all-Britten program and then ante up whatever they think the concert was worth.

The program — which commemorates the centennial of the English composer’s birth on Nov. 22, 1913 — will include Jubilate Deo, Festival Te Deum, Hymn to St. Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb. James Walker, organist/music director at All Saints Church, Pasadena, will accompany the concert on the church’s recently renovated 3-manual, 27-stop pipe organ, which was made by Casavant Brothers, Ltd. of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, one of the best-known organ builders in North America.

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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Choral music takes center stage

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.

The combination of Christian Holy Week and Jewish Passover usually brings a number of major choral concerts and this year is no different except for the fact that the Los Angeles Master Chorale (which would normally have a concert during this time frame) is in Europe touring John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

On the local front:

• Jeffrey Bernstein will lead his Pasadena Master Chorale in a performance Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil this afternoon at 4 p.m. at Altadena Community Church. Fortunately, the work does not last all night (the 15-movement work lasts just over an hour). The name comes from the Russian chants that occur during the all-night liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Information: 626-208-0009;

Pasadena Presbyterian Church’s 16th annual Good Friday concert focuses on music influenced by Gregorian chant: Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Four Motets on Gregorian Themes and Meditation for solo organ, along with Paul Creston’s Gregorian Chant for String Orchestra. Timothy Howard will conduct the Kirk Choir, community singers, soprano Judith Siirila, baritone Michal Dawson Connor, organist Meaghan King, and the Friends of Music Orchestra. The concert is free, take place Friday at 7:30 p.m. and I’m giving a preconcert lecture at 7 p.m. Information: 818/209-4635;

• The centerpiece of the 76th Whittier Bach Festival will take place on April 6 at 4 p.m. at Whittier College’s Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts when Chorale Bel Canto sings two Bach settings of the Song of Mary: Magnificat in D Major and Cantata BWV 10, Meine selle ehebt den Herrn. Stephen Gothold will conduct the Chorale and Corey Carleton, soprano; Laura Harrison, mezzo-soprano; Daniel Babcock, tenor; and Chung Uk Lee, bass. Information: 888-460-9222;

• Stephen Grimm will conduct his Pasadena Pro Musica as it offers a concert of motets by Bach, Brahms, Heinrich Schütz and Henryk Gorecki on Easter Sunday at 4 p.m. at Pasadena Neighborhood Church. Information: 626/628-2144;

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

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