SAME-DAY REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony delivers strong performance before sold-out house

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Music Director David Lockington’s decision to pair Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 for today’s Pasadena Symphony concerts proved to be boffo box office as both concerts at Ambassador Auditorium were virtually sold out. Moreover, based on this afternoon’s first-rate performance, most of those new to the PSO (as well as regular attenders) should have gone home pleased.

Using what he called the Beethovian philosophy of darkness to light, Lockington elected to open the concert with the symphony and leave the concerto and its upbeat ending for after intermission.

For whatever reason, the orchestra’s playing in the symphony’s first movement seemed almost understated and, prior to the second movement, there was a pause to seat latecomers. Some day an orchestra will have the courage to insist that people who arrive well after the starting time wait until the first piece — not just the first movement — has concluded. After that long pause, the entire mood changed: the strings had more weight and the entire performance seemed more energized.

In his preconcert lecture and remarks to everyone before he began the performance, Lockington said — with a tone of resignation — that even if people applauded after the thunderous conclusion to the third movement, he and the orchestra would, in fact, play the concluding movement. Many people (of course) did applaud, and the orchestra did resume, finishing with impressive intensity. In a nice touch, Lockington not only asked principals stand to acknowledge the applause, he asked each section to stand, as well.

After intermission Natasha Paremski (pictured left), a 29-year-old Moscow native who now lives in New York City, displayed impressive technical prowess in her performance of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. She also seemed occasionally to bring a hard edge to her tone, although this may have been more to do with the piano and wasn’t as apparent during here encore, one of Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux.

In the preconcert lecture, Paremski said that in recent years she had gone back to scrutinize the score and from that examination had acquired a new interpretative slant to this familiar work. She and Lockington were not always in synch in the opening movement, as Paremski often seemed to leap slightly ahead of Lockington, but eventually they locked in together during the balance of the performance.

The second movement was the most impressive as Paremski delivered long, singing lines in the opening and closing parts of that section. Kudos, also, to Donald Foster, whose plaintive clarinet solos were a marvelous match for Paremski’s ruminations. Paremski then blazed through the final movement while Lockington and the orchestra hung on for dear life. Predictably — and deservedly — all forces earned a standing ovation.

Hemidemisemiquavers
• Prior to the concert, the Pasadena Symphony Women’s Association presented a check for $119,000 from its Holiday Look-in project to CEO Laura Unger.
• Paremski’s bio says she made her professional debut with the El Camino Youth Symphony in Palo Alto at the age of 8.
• Emulating Yuja Wang, Paremski was wearing bright red stiletto heels — I have no idea how she can pedal in them!
• Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan will lead the next concerts on March 18, a program of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor (“Scottish”) and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major (“Turkish”) with Rachel Barton Fine as soloist. INFORMATION
• Season-ticket holders got a first look at the 2017-2018 season, which begins on Oct. 14 and concludes on April 28. Lockington will lead five of the six concerts (McGegan leads the other one) and the season will feature two world premieres, including one by a composer yet to be named that is a co-commission with the Huntington Library. Among the soloists will be violinist Dylana Jensen, who is also Lockington’s wife. More on the season in a later post.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: Some last-minute gift ideas for your classical music lover

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each year about this time, people call or email me asking what to get as a holiday present for their favorite classical music lover. My answer this year remains the same: tickets. Technological innovations notwithstanding, attending a concert in person is still the best way to experience the full scope of classical music.

If you plan ahead, you can obtain tickets at reasonable prices, especially if the recipient of your gift is a senior or student. Better still, plan on attending the concert with the person to whom you provide the tickets.

Here are a few opportunities among hundreds in genres ranging from orchestras to chamber music to choral programs and beyond:
Preu-2016
• Earlier this year the Long Beach Symphony named Eckart Preu (pictured) as its next music director. You will have a chance to experience his podium presence on Feb. 4 when Preu makes his only appearance this season with the LBSO (he takes over the orchestra’s podium next season). His all-French program concludes with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Information: www.longbeachsymphony.org

• This season is Jeffrey Kahane’s last as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and he’s going out with a bang, curating a two-week series in January entitled “Lift Every Voice.” I’ll detail the proceedings in my January 1 column (which includes an interview with Kahane) but there are several events worthy of your attention during this series that might make great gifts: Information: www.laco.org

• If sweeping Romantic music is your forte, consider the Pasadena Symphony’s Feb. 18 concerts. Music Director David Lockington will conduct Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique) and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Natasha Paremski as soloist. On the other hand, if your tastes run to the baroque, the PSO’s January 21 concerts feature music of Bach and Handel led by Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
usc-st-clair
• Carl St.Clair (pictured), music director of the Pacific Symphony in Orange County, will lead the USC Thornton School of Music Symphony on Jan. 22 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program is micro and macro: Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos (with Bernadene Blaha and Kevin Fitz-Gerald as soloists) and Richard Strauss’ sprawling musical depiction of a day the country, An Alpine Symphony.

This appearance is part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series, which offers top-quality student ensembles at reasonable prices: $30-$44 each. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing a concert in Disney Hall, this is a splendid opportunity for superb music in a great setting. Information: www.laphil.org
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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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: McGegan, L.A. Phil explore “Romantic”-style music at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

McGegan-2016Nicholas McGegan (pictured right) has been coming to Hollywood Bowl as a valued guest conductor for 20 years and we have had the privilege of watching him grow during those two decades. Originally he was advertised as an early-music specialist and, indeed, his all-Handel concert Tuesday night reinforced that image.

However, in the past few years McGegan — especially in his role as Principal Guest Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony —has been pushing his own envelope, expanding his repertoire into the Romantic era, as last night’s program demonstrated.

On paper, the program of Weber’s Overture to Oberon,, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) would seem to have a foot in both camps but the performances placed it squarely in the Romantic style.

That emphasis was aided by two short video conversations between McGegan and Scott Alan, curator of Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau, an exhibit of Rosseau’s paintings showing through September 11 at the J. Paul Getty Museum. In the paintings and commentary — think of them as “preconcert lecture light” — McGegan and Alan discussed the musical pieces that might have influenced Rosseau whose time (1812-1867) almost exactly coincided with Schumann (1810-1856).

The Weber overture proved to be a sparkling opening to the evening, although the video interview — which was played while the piano was being moved onstage for the concerto — focused more on Der Freischutz as opposed to Oberon. Nonetheless, high marks to Jeffrey Fair’s horn solos that opening the evening, Burt Hara’s clarinet solo, and the rhythmic precision of the entire string section.

In the video clip, McGegan encouraged the audience to remember the dark, forest paintings of Rosseau as it listened to the transition from the Weber overture to Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto, one of the darkest in the composer’s repertoire.

Ohlsson-2016After a summer that featured both Lang Lang and Yuja Wang, it was a pleasure to watch and hear Garrick Ohlsson’s performance last night. Unlike his younger counterparts, there is a sense of serene calm to Ohlsson (pictured Left), who sits quietly on the bench while he plays, just letting the music weave its own magic spell. This was especially true in the famous “Romance” middle section, but even in the outer movements Ohlsson continued to project a sense of stillness during his pristine runs, trills and cadenzas.

That atmosphere of serenity was even more apparent in Ohlsson’s exquisite rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2. For the second night in a row the Bowl seemed like an intimate concert hall with the skies opened to the heavens, a rare moment indeed (high marks, also, to Ohlsson for clearly articulating through a microphone the entire title of the Nocturne prior to playing it).

Despite the fact that this was Mozart, the concerto’s performance had a very “Romantic” feel to it. The orchestra was larger than what Mozart used and, of course, the Steinway grand on which Ohlsson played was a long way from the pianofortes that Mozart would have used when he first performed the piece in 1785.

However by the time of Beethoven — according to Susan Key’s program notes this was the only Mozart concerto Beethoven played in public — the piece would surely have sounded different and so it did last night. McGegan emphasized the work’s sweeping lines and dark textures, and the orchestra — with basses placed to the far right of the ensemble and the cellos directly to McGegan’s right — played with its customary level of excellence.

Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony — the subtitle refers to the fact that the composer had just moved to Düsseldorf, a city on the Rhine, in 1850 — continued the Rosseau-inspired theme.

In one sense, the piece looks backward — like Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, Schumann’s “Rhenish” has five movements. However, the work clearly introduces the “Romantic” symphonic concept to the world and McGegan’s take on the piece was, for the most part, straight forward in its concept.

In particular, he invested the fourth movement, Feirlich (“Solemn”) — inspired by the composer’s trip to the recently completed and majestic Cologne cathedral — with the proper sense of brooding awe, which provided a perfect contrast to his perky take on the concluding section. The Phil’s brass section — particularly the horns — were in fine form throughout the performance.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• On Sunday cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble returns to the Bowl for a program of music spanning the globe — no surprise, since the ensemble is comprised of performers and composers from more than 20 countries. INFO

• On Tuesday, Ken-David Masur — son of Kurt, former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra — makes his Bowl debut in a program of Beethoven (Overture to Fidelio and Symphony No. 5 — and Korngold’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham as soloist. Masur is replacing Joana Carneiro, who was originally scheduled to conduct. INFO

• Then on Thursday, Bramwell Tovey returns for the first concert in a two-week stint on the podium, bringing a program of rarely performed movie music by Bernard Hermann, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin, along with Pas de deux, a new double concerto by James Horner to be played by Mari and Håkon Samuelsen, the Norwegian brother/sister duo that commissioned the piece.

Tovey — the British-born conductor who in 2018 completes a 19-year tenure as Music Director of the Vancouver (BC) Symphony — once held the title of Principal Guest Conductor at the Bowl. In reality, he still, has that now untitled position since he is the only conductor to lead more than a week of Bowl concerts. Expect some witty commentary along with the music. INFO

• McGegan will conduct two concerts with the Pasadena Symphony in the upcoming season at Ambassador Auditorium, leading a Baroque program on January 21 and a Schubert-Mozart-Mendelssohn program on March 18. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Pasadena Symphony’s Bruce Kiesling named music director of Adrian Symphony in Michigan

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

KieslingBruce Kiesling (pictured left), who has served for the past two years as Assistant Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony and music director of the Pasadena Youth Symphony, has been named music director of the Adrian (MI) Symphony. His appointment takes effect July 1.

Kiesling succeeds John Thomas Dodson, who stepped down at the end of the ASO’s 2014-15 season after a 15-year-tenure. Kiesling is just the fourth music director in the orchestra’s 35-year-history. Kiesling’s appointment came after an extensive search and an appearance with the orchestra in April.

Adrian is a town of nearly 22,000 people near the southern border of the state, about 40 miles south of Ann Arbor and 75 miles southwest of Detroit. The orchestra’s concerts take place in Dawson Auditorium in the campus of Adrian College. For Kiesling, this is something of a homecoming; he holds a graduate degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Kiesling, who calls himself “schizo-musical,” will lead a season of four classical concerts. Last season the orchestra also played three Pops concerts had presented a brass ensemble recital, but the orchestra’s media release made no mention of those activities.

In addition to his Pasadena Symphony duties, Kiesling currently serves as Music Director of the Tulare County Symphony. For five years, he conducted the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he led multiple orchestras of different levels including most of the 700 students at YOLA’s three sites. YOLA is Gustavo Dudamel’s signature music education program, which brings free-of-charge musical opportunities to underserved youth in Los Angeles.

Kiesling also leads the Orchestra and Opera at the University of California Santa Cruz. In an Adrian Daily Telegram article, Kiesling said that he will be “dialing back” his other orchestral commitments in order to spend the kind of time with the ASO that he knows is vital. “It’s important to me to be there enough to really hear the community,” he said. What that means for Pasadena is unclear.

In addition to his conducting, one thing about Kiesling that the Adrian community will come to love is his pre-concert lectures. He’s one of the best I’ve heard about engaging audiences in this often-tricky art.

Read the Adrian Symphony Orchestra’s media release HERE.

Read the complete Daily Telegram article HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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