PREVIEW: Prize-winning cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan returns to Southern California at VPAC concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
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Estonian National Symphony; Neeme Järvi, conductor
Friday at 8 p.m. • Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge)
Pärt: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B; Narek Hakhnazaryan, soloist.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5
Remaining tickets: $62-$77.50
Information: www.valleyperformingarts.org

narek-hakhnazaryanNearly three years ago — on Jan. 22, 2011 — the Pasadena Symphony concert at Ambassador Auditorium featured a virtually unknown (locally, at least) Armenian-born cellist named Narek Hakhnazaryan, who would go on to win the gold medal in the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition the following June. (A link to my story about his win is HERE).

Hakhnazaryan, now age 24, returns to the Southland not via any of our local ensembles but with the Estonian National Symphony, which appears Friday night at CSUN’s Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. His vehicle will be the same as he played in Pasadena — Dvorak’s Cello Concerto — so it will be interesting to see how three intervening has changed his interpretation of the most famous piece written for cello and orchestra.

The ENSO’s performance at VPAC is the second stop on a nationwide tour of 15 concerts over 18 days; just the California portion seems arduous: Thursday in Santa Barbara, Friday at VPAC, Saturday at Stanford University, Sunday in Aliso Viejo, with a day off before appearing in Ames, Iowa on Nov. 5. Later tour stops are in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Georgia and New York, including concerts at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

The California stops will include three of the state’s newest — and highly rated — concert halls: VPAC, Bing Concert Hall at Stanford and the Sokia Performing Arts in Aliso Viejo.

Estonian native Neeme Järvi, the orchestra’s artistic director and patriarch of a well-known conducting line (LINK), is leading the initial portion of the tour.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers isn’t just fiddlin’ around at the Pasadena Symphony

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
MyersWebMuch of the buzz for Saturday’s concerts by the Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium surrounds David Lockington’s first concerts as the orchestra’s fifth music director. However, the soloist, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, has quite a story to tell, as well.

When Meyers (left) played the Barber Violin Concerto to open the Pasadena Symphony’s 2010-2011 season, it was the first time she had played in a concert with her new violin, the “Ex-Molitor/Napoleon,” a Stradivarius dated 1697, which she purchased for a then-world-record price of $3.6 million (the “Lady Blunt” Strad was sold in 2011 for $15.9 million). In a review of that concert, I wrote that she “produced a rich, creamy tone throughout a vibrant performance and set off fireworks in the third movement with her prodigious technique.”

However, when she returns to open the PSO’s 86th season Saturday, she will be playing not her Strad but the “Ex-Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu, an instrument Myers calls “one of the most iconic violins ever made.” Earlier this year, Meyers received lifetime use of the “Vieuxtemps” for concerts and recitals thanks to an unnamed benefactor who purchased it at a Chicago auction.

“It is very big responsibility,” says Meyers of the “Vieuxtemps,” which was crafted in Cremona, Italy in 1741 and got its name from a former owner, Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps. “[The ‘Vieuxtemps’] has this projection and richness; there’s such a breadth and dimension to the sound that’s unlike any instrument I’ve ever played.” (Meyers writes about her first experience playing the instrument HERE)

“There are very few of these [iconic] instruments in existence now, maybe 50,” said Meyers to James Cushing for an article in the San Luis Obispo Tribuine earlier this year. “Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifiez played Guarneri Del Gesu violins. Paganini himself played one! Most of them — actually, most violins at this level of quality — are usually locked away in museum display cases and never touched,” she said. “Whenever I see these instruments behind glass, I feel like I’m visiting some sort of zoo. Animals were made to run free, and these instruments were made to be played.” (Read Cushing’s complete story is HERE)

The “Ex-Molitor” was actually the second Strad that Meyers had purchased; the other was a 1730 instrument named the “Royal Spanish.” She made good use of both violins; Meyers’s most recent recording, Air: The Bach Album with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Steven Mercurio, features Bach’s solo violin concerti as well as the double concerto with Meyers playing the solo parts on both the “Ex-Molitor/Napoleon” (which Meyers nicknamed “Molly”) and the “Royal Spanish” Strads. The album debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Classical chart and was one of the top-selling classical albums of 2012

The “Vieuxtemps” received its recording debut with Meyers playing when she performed Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, along with Arvo Part’s Passacaglia, accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Lockington. The recording is scheduled to be released next Valentine’s Day.

Meyers has not decided what to do with her two Stradivarius violins. “As I was given lifetime loan of one of the most important violins ever created,” she said in an email, “I am playing on the “Ex-Vieuxtemps” almost exclusively now. I am deciding what to do with the “Royal Spanish” Strad and the “Ex-Molitor/Napoleon” Strad.” Given her statement earlier about instruments in museum cases, one might expect that the two Strads will find their way to other musicians.

Saturday’s concerts mark the second consecutive “debut” concert for Meyers with the PSO; when she appeared in 2010, it was James DePreist’s first concert as the orchestra’s music advisor.

For Meyers, Southern California concerts count as homecoming. Her career began in Southern California (Meyers was born in San Diego). Now age 43, living in Austin, Texas, where she is Distinguished Artist and Professor of Violin at the University of Texas’ Butler School of Music and the mother of a two daughters, Meyers was living with her parents in Ridgecrest at the age of seven when her mother drove her more than three hours each way to Pasadena so Meyers could study with famed teacher Alice Schoenfeld at The Colburn School.

Meyers’ rise in the musical world was meteoric. She appeared twice on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson at age 11, made her Los Angeles Philharmonic debut the same year and a year later soloed with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic. At age 23, she was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, the only artist to be the sole recipient of this annual prize, and embarked on an extensive recording career with RCA Red Seal (at the time one of the most prestigious labels in the industry).
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Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Local violinist Laurie Niles (who also runs an excellent Blog site entitled “Violinist.com”) has two stories on Myers and her “Vieutemps” HERE and HERE
• You can see a YouTube video clip of Myers talking about the violin HERE and that same clip is currently the lead when you click on her Web site HERE.
• Information on Saturday’s Pasadena Symphony concerts is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

(CORRECTED) AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Opening a new chapter for the Pasadena Symphony

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.
Lockington PSO MD
In any musical organization’s life there are a number of key turning points, whether for good or bad. Often the full impact of decisions cannot be fully evaluated for several years but eventually we can look back and realize that an “aha!” moment did occur. Such a time would seem to be occurring with the Pasadena Symphony, which will open its 86th season Saturday with concerts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium.

The program — Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade, with Anne Akkiko Meyers as soloist — will mark the inaugural concerts of David Lockington (right) as the orchestra’s fifth music director. (INFO)

More importantly, they also appear to signal the end of more than six chaotic years in which the orchestra amalgamated with the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, weathered a nearly disastrous financial storm, remade its board and executive staff, successfully renegotiated a contract with its musicians through 2015, changed performance locales for both the Pasadena Symphony and the Pops (three times for the Pops), and completely overhauled the organization’s musical leadership team not once but several times.

Not all of these steps occurred seamlessly nor were they universally applauded. Good people lost jobs or volunteer positions. Two conductors beloved by audiences — Jorge Mester and Rachael Worby — departed; another, Marvin Hamlisch, died unexpectedly.

Nonetheless, the saga appears to have come to an end. In a decade where several orchestras around the world have folded or undergone significant labor strife, that statement may sound simple but it’s significant.

Michael Feinstein recently concluded a triumphant first season as principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops and his contract was quickly extended. Saturday’s concerts open a new era for the Pasadena Symphony, as well.

Owing to the fact that orchestra seasons are planned several years in advance, this will be the only concert that Lockington will conduct this season. In addition, Nicholas McGegan — like Lockington, a native of England — begins his tenure as the PSO’s principal guest conductor when he leads the season’s second concert on Jan. 11. (INFO) That more than two-month gap between concerts is one of several issues confronting the Pasadena Symphony Association at it marches forward.

Less than a decade ago, the PSO offered eight classical programs a season (my original post said nine concerts). Can the orchestra continue to rebuild to that former level or beyond and thus increase its relevance to the Pasadena arts community and beyond?

Lockington, McGegan and Feinstein all have busy careers; Lockington and McGegan have long-standing tenures with other ensembles. Both promise to conduct the PSO multiple times in succeeding seasons but can they become part of our community rather than simply “fly in, conduct, fly out” maestros?

Can the PSO find ways to reach out to an audience that more closely mirrors the increasingly broad age and ethnic makeup of Pasadena and the surrounding communities? One way may be a venture that will be launched with Saturday’s concerts: the Pasadena Symphony Lounge, which will be set on Ambassador’s outdoor plaza and feature a “small-plate” menu, hosted by Claud & Co; a full bar; and light music. That sort of ambience might appeal to a younger audience.

Finally, can the Pasadena Symphony Association find a way to solve the riddle that permeates the entire classical-music community: how can organizations offer high-quality programs at reasonable prices for patrons while paying fair compensation to musicians and staff members? That requires rigorous, visionary management, dedication and skill from musicians, and communities that care enough about classical music to donate the funds that will make up the difference between expenses and revenues from ticket sales. Keeping that balance continues to be a high-wire act

So more than a successful opening program is at stake Saturday. Stay tuned to learn whether this is, indeed, becomes an “aha!” moment.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

CLEANING OUT THE INBOX

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

The following items come the hundreds of emails that land in my inbox each week … along with material from other Blogs and stories.

• CALIFORNIA PHILHARMONIC FOUNDATION DECLARES BANKRUPTCY; ORCHESTRA TO BE OWNED AND RUN BY FOR-PROFIT COMPANY
The Cal Phil has struggled financially for several years, so the CalPhil Foundation has declared bankruptcy. The orchestra will now be owned and run by Pasadena Entertainment, a local, for-profit company headed by André Vener, who has been President and CEO of the Foundation for 10 years and is the son of Music Director Victor Vener.

Among the highlights of the announcement:
• Pasadena Entertainment has paid all back wages owed to the musicians and a new collective bargaining agreement has been signed. Presumably all other debts incurred by the orchestra will be handled through the CalPhil Foundation bankruptcy.
• The 2014 season has been set, with outdoor concerts continuing at Santa Anita Racetrack and the indoor season taking place at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
• According to the release “close to 20,000 people” attended the five “Festival on the Green” concerts at Santa Anita this past summer and “10,000 fans” attended the five “sold out” Disney Hall concerts.

(The complete media release is at the bottom of this post.)

• PASADENA SYMPHONY AND POPS TO PRESENT FREE “MUSIC UNDER THE STARS” CONCERT OCT. 5 AT PASADENA CITY HALL PLAZA
Larry Blank will conduct the orchestra in this annual concert with soloists Susan Egan, Vicki Lewis and David Burnham and the JPL Chorus singing. The free program begins at 7:30 p.m. DETAILS

• CARL ST.CLAIR TO HEAD COSTA RICAN ORCHESTRA FOR ONE YEAR
Carl St.Clair, music director of the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa for 25 years, will become music director of the National Symphony of Costa Rica for one year beginning in 2014. He will continue with his Pacific Symphony post. Read the Los Angeles Times story HERE.

• THREE NAMED DUDAMEL FELLOWS FOR 2013-2014
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has named the latest class of young conductors who will work with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and the orchestra during the upcoming season: David Cohen, Ben Gernon and Antonio Méndez. DETAILS

• JAMES LEVINE RETURNS TO CONDUCTING DUTIES AT THE METROPOLITAN OPERA
Many of us thought that the day would never come given the serious of Maestro Levine’s health issues, but by the press accounts his return as conductor of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte was triumphant.
New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)
Financial Times (Martin Bernheimer)
Los Angeles Times (James C. Taylor)
Washington Post (Anne Midgette)

• FASTNOTES: A great L.A. Phil tradition continues
I got the first edition of “FastNotes” for the upcoming season in my inbox this week and once again I highly recommend them to any classical music lover. “FastNotes” are an email glimpse at each upcoming concert with an overview of the program, notes about each of the composers, links to ticket purchasing options, and links to the programs notes and excerpts of the pieces to be played (or, as is the case this week, when a piece is a premiere, excerpts from the composer’s other works — there may be a fee for the excepts). You can sign up for this through the Phil’s E-Newsletter section HERE. Even if you’re not going to attend a concert, I find them very informative.

(From the post above, here’s the complete Cal Phil media release)

CALIFORNIA PHILHARMONIC ENDS 2013 SUMMER SEASON ON A HIGH NOTE;
SANTA ANITA RACE TRACK AND WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL SET FOR EXCITING 2014 SUMMER SEASON

Local 47 Musicians Union Issues Statement Of Support As California Philharmonic Moves Forward With New Ownership And Operations Under Pasadena Entertainment

Pasadena – With the dynamic conclusion of California Philharmonic’s 2013 summer season comes exciting news for the world class orchestra. And, as it begins the next phase of its legacy, now owned and operated by Pasadena Entertainment, California Philharmonic is moving full steam ahead with the announcement that both of its summer homes, iconic venues Santa Anita Race Track and Walt Disney Concert Hall, are on board for 2014 and beyond.

“It’s been our pleasure to work with Pasadena Entertainment since 2009,” says Sharon Stewart, Director of Scheduling and Events for the Music Center of Los Angeles County. “We look forward to working with them in future summers, and to another successful summer classical music series.”

Pasadena Entertainment has served as the production and marketing firm for the California Philharmonic and its concert series for the past four years.

“We value the professionalism of Pasadena Entertainment as part of our marketing and production team,” said Pete Siberell, Director of Special Projects for Los Angeles Turf Club. “Teaming up with California Philharmonic has been a great opportunity to develop Santa Anita Race Track as a premier concert venue.”

And the close to 20,000 people who attended California Philharmonic’s 2013 Festival on the Green at Santa Anita Race Track couldn’t agree more. Equally enthusiastic, are the 10,000 fans who filled last season’s sold out concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall and showed their appreciation of the revered orchestra with an unprecedented five standing ovations during the final performance of the season.

The transition of California Philharmonic to Pasadena Entertainment from the non-profit CalPhil Foundation began earlier this year. CalPhil Foundation (not the California Philharmonic), will phase out through bankruptcy.

Under its new organization, all past and present professional obligations with California Philharmonic musicians have been met. A new collective bargaining agreement has been set and California Philharmonic is moving forward with the Musicians Union and its members in good standing.

“AFM, Local 47 is pleased to announce that all back wages owed to California Philharmonic musicians for services rendered have been paid,” comments John Acosta, Vice President of Local 47. “Pasadena Entertainment has stepped up to take on the proud tradition of California Philharmonic, providing summer concerts in Los Angeles County. Local 47 and its new partner Pasadena Entertainment look forward to a long and successful relationship!”

The musicians echo the excitement for the future of California Philharmonic along with the Union, the orchestra’s ever-growing loyal fan base and the venues.

“Maestro Vener and California Philharmonic create the kind of energy that John Mauceri, Arthur Fiedler and Leonard Bernstein brought to the concert stage,” says Dennis Karmazyn, California Philharmonic’s principal cellist. “California Philharmonic takes the audience on a musical journey.”

Subscriptions and tickets are available for the 2014 summer season.

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

NEWS: Pasadena Symphony names new music director, principal guest conductor

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

Don’t be surprised if the Pasadena Symphony adopts “The British are Coming” as the theme for an upcoming season. In biting England-like weather conditions today in the rotunda of the Pasadena City Hall, the PSO named British-born David Lockington as the orchestra’s next music director and also announced that another Brit, Nicholas McGegan, would serve in the newly created post of principal guest conductor.

Both contracts are for three years. The 56-year-old Lockington (right) was already scheduled to conduct the opening concert of the orchestra’s 86th season Nov. 2 at Ambassador Auditorium, a program that will conclude with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring), and McGegan was slated for his third consecutive appearance with the ensemble on January 11, 2014 (LINK)

The remaining concert this season and the other three concerts next season will be led by previously announced guest conductors. Beginning in the 2014-2015 season, Lockington will conduct three concerts annually and McGegan will lead two.

Lockington is in his 14th season as music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan. Since 2007 has served in a similar capacity with the Modesto Symphony in central California (Paul Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association, came to that position from the Modesto Symphony). Lockington is also principal conductor of Spain’s Orquestra Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias. He said today he would continue in those positions but expects to spend several weeks in Pasadena beyond those when he conducts.

An accomplished cellist before turning to conducting, he and PSO Principal Cellist Andrew Shulman played cello together in the National Youth Orchestra of Britain more than 30 years ago and Lockington once served as assistant principal cellist with the Denver Symphony). Lockington has also been music director of the Long Island Philharmonic, New Mexico Symphony, Cheyenne Symphony and the Ohio Chamber Orchestra.

McGegan, 61, is international renowned as a baroque music specialist but in recent years has been broadening his conducting repertoire. Two years ago he led the PSO in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and earlier this year was on the podium for the PSO’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

For 27 years, McGegan has been music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Philharmonia Chorale. He’s also a familiar face on the Los Angeles Philharmonic podium and will lead the LAPO this August in Hollywood Bowl.

At the media conference, today Lockington called his appointment something of a homecoming. “My wife [concert violinist Dylana Jenson) has relatives in the Valley,” he explained, “so we’ve been coming here for years and we’ve always hoped that we’d establish a professional reason to keep returning.”

At the same time, Lockington said he was excited about the orchestra’s musicians and about reaching deep into the fabric of lives in Pasadena and the surrounding regions. “Those of who love live symphonic music have a responsibility to be forceful advocates for the arts,” he declared. “I’m particularly interested in connecting with young people and making a difference in their lives.” Lockington and his family (he and Jensen have four children) will continue to live in Grand Rapids but he expects to spend several weeks in Pasadena beyond those when he conducts.

While the PSO has been led by a series of guest coductors during the past three seasons (most of whom have acquitted themselves admirably), the orchestra’s boar and musicians were determining the scope of future leadership. “We were looking for someone with leadership, musicianship and inspiration qualities,” said Board President Diane Rankin (a former member of the PSO’s flute section).

Drew Dembowski, the PSO’s principal bass who was one of four musicians on the committee that recommended Lockington, said, “David was the clear choice of the musicians. I cannot ever remember being as excited as I am about this announcement today.”

Lockington has made five recordings with the Grand Rapids Symphony (one was nominated for a Grammy in 2007) and he and Jensen collaborated on a recording of the Shostakovich First and Barber Violin Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2010.

McGegan (*left) has more than 100 recordings to his credit and has garnered both a Gramophone Award and a Grammy nomination. Like Lockington, McGegan was educated at Canbridge (McGegan also studied at Oxford, the English equivalent of attending both USC and UCLA). McGegan received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.

At today’s media conference, Zdunek noted that the two appointments bring to a conclusion a turbulent period that began with the worldwide financial meltdown in 2008. During the past four years, the orchestra has:
• severed its relationship in May 2010 with music director Jorge Mester after a 25-year tenure;
• named James DePreist as artistic director after Mester’s departure; DePreist died last month month at age 76;
• had former Pasadena Pops music director Rachael Worby leave after a 10-year-run;
• appointed legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch as Worby’s successor, only to have him die unexpectedly last August;
• named Michael Feinstein as Hamlisch’s successor beginning this June;
• changed outdoor venues three times (ending at the Los Angeles County Arboretum);
• moved into its new indoor home, Ambassador Auditorium;
• named Peter Boyer as the orchestra’s first composer-in-residence (the orchestra’s final concert this season on April 27 will conclude with the world premiere of Boyer’s Symphony No. 1 (LINK);
• remade its staff and board of directors; and
• retired a $1.2 million debt.

Read Janette Williams’ story in the Pasadena Star-News HERE.

Read the complete PSO media release HERE.

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

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.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS: Pasadena Symphony Artistic Advisor James DePreist dies at age 76

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

James DePreist, one of the most prominent African-American conductors who has served as artistic advisor of the Pasadena Symphony since 2010, died today at the age of 76 at his home in Scottsdale.

DePreist became the PSO’s artistic advisor in June 2010, after the orchestra severed ties with its long-time music director, Jorge Mester. DePreist helped the orchestra’s management choose a series of guest conductors during the next three seasons and conducted two concerts himself.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we mourn the passing of our dear friend and Artistic Advisor James DePreist,” states Paul Jan Zdunek, Chief Executive Officer of the Pasadena Symphony Association. “Maestro DePreist, or Jimmy as he preferred to be called, was not only a consummate musician and trailblazing conductor, but also the most thoughtful, loving and centered human being who touched us all so deeply.

The PSO will dedicated tomorrow’s concerts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium to DePreist’s memory (LINK). “It is fitting,” says Zdunek, “that we remember his life and spirit this weekend with the previously scheduled Symphony No. 4 of Gustav Mahler which ends with an ethereal movement describing The Heavenly Life.’ ”

DePreist was both a noted conductor and a renowned teacher and was one of the first African-Americans to head a major symphony orchestra. At the time of his death, he was the Director Emeritus of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at The Juilliard School and Laureate Music Director of the Oregon Symphony.

DePreist, who was born in Philadelphia, was the nephew of famed contralto Marian Anderson. He contracted polio in 1962 while on a State Department tour in Thailand. Although he was forced to conduct from a wheelchair, he went on to a notable career, including 24 years at the helm of the Oregon Symphony in Eugene.

A Pasadena Star-News story is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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; www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

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

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
News

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:

 

MUSE-IQUE ON MARCH
19 AT PASADENA CIVIC AUDITORIUM

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.
Information: muse-ique.com

 

LOS ANGELES CHAMBER
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: www.laco.org

 

PASADENA SYMPHONY
ON MARCH 31 AT AMBASSADOR AUDITORIUM

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:
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

LOS ANGELES MASTER
CHORALE AND MUSICA ANGELICA ON MARCH 31 AND APRIL 1 AT WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL

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: www.lamc.org

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(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony;
Rossen Milanov, conductor

Borodin: Polovtsian
Dances
from Prince Igor;

Saint-Sans: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian); Esther Keel, pianist

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade,
Op. 35

Friday, February 18, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next concert: March 31, 2012, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

______________________

 

Although most people wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of
it, there’s something to be said for a concert comprised entirely of late 19th-century
romantic music (the three pieces on the program were written within eight years
of each other), especially when it’s played as well as what transpired last
night in the Pasadena Symphony Concert before a large crowd at Ambassador
Auditorium.

 

Rossen Milanov became the latest in a long train of guest
conductors to mount the PSO podium during the past two seasons and he made an
impressive local debut. Now age 47, the Sofia, Bulgaria native comes with impressive
credentials. In 2010 he became music director of the Princeton (NJ) Symphony
Orchestra where he is, by most accounts, doing splendid work. Before that he
spent 11 years as the associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and
artistic director of that ensemble during its summer outdoor seasons.

 

Tall and slim, Milanov cuts an impressive figure on the
podium and his conducting style is enthusiastic and demonstrative with the same
sort of infectious grin that shows up on a certain curly haired conductor who
plies his trade in downtown Los Angeles. Now, that conductor (Gustavo Dudamel)
often displays plenty of exuberance on the podium, but whereas I have almost
never seen the Venezuelan use a gesture that didn’t make musical sense,
Milanov’s swooping arms and hands and overly fussy attention to details occasionally — albeit not very often — seemed
to get in the way of the music, particularly in the concluding work on the
program, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

 

Considering that Rimsky-Korsakov’s tone poem is based on the
fabled tales found in 1001 Nights, it’s
hard to kvetch about a performance being episodic, but by the time we got to
the last note I felt as if we had heard all one thousand and one tales, not
just four of them.

 

Part of that problem lies with the composer; Rimsky-Korsakov
gave virtually every principal a solo turn and it’s understandable that Milanov
would want to luxuriate in the sound, given the luscious Ambassador Auditorium
acoustics and how superbly the Pasadena Symphony played throughout the
performance.

 

At the top of the list of principals was concertmaster Aimee
Kreston, who spun Scheherazade’s tales seductively and sweetly, but she
certainly wasn’t alone. The list of solo stars would certainly include Trevor
Handy, cello; Donald Foster, clarinet; Rong-Huey Lin, oboe; David Shostac,
flute; Katherine Oliver, bassoon; Marissa Benedict, trumpet (indeed, the entire
brass section), Teag Reeves, horn, and, perhaps most notably, Allison Allport,
harp.

 

The evening’s other debutante, 26-year-old Esther Keel, also
proved to be special as soloist in Saint-Sans Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian). Presumably the piece was
chosen because it sort of fit into the theme of Middle Eastern/Asian-tinged
music, but it proved to be a perfect vehicle for Keel, who now teachers at The
Colburn School when she’s not performing on the concert stage.

 

Considering what we heard last night, her teaching gigs may
have to be curtailed. Playing a Steinway piano, Keel displayed pristine runs
and trills along with powerhouse octaves throughout the performance. More
importantly, she brought sensitive musicality and a very individual take on
this not-often performed piece. Although I was delighted to hear her perform
this concerto (my favorite of the five), I eagerly look forward to hearing her
again in something slightly more mainstream.

 

Keel’s concept of the concerto wasn’t easy for the conductor
and Millanov did an excellent job of both following Keel and shaping the
accompaniment sensitively, while the orchestra gets kudos for being right on
top of where Millanov and Keel were heading — it wasn’t as easy as it may have
looked.

 

The evening opened with a somewhat raucous performance of
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. Oboist
Lin got things off gloriously with the “Strangers in Paradise” theme and Foster
added his usual winsome touch on clarinet, but Millanov drove the final four
dances forward relentlessly; a little breathing room would have been nice.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Prior to the concert, the Women’s Committee presented the
Pasadena Symphony Association with a check for $100,000, proceeds from funds
raised at the 44th annual Holiday
Look-in Tour
last December. Gloria Turner, who chaired the event, made the
presentation to PSA President Melinda Shea and CEO Paul Jan Zdunek.

For the record: Scheherazade
was written in 1888, Borodin’s Polovtsian
Dances
were written in 1890, and the concerto dates from 1896. Saint-Sans
wrote the concerto while on a trip to Luxor, Egypt but did not append the
nickname.

The PSO’s season continues on March 31 when Nicholas
McGegan leads a program of that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). Nareh Arghamanyan will be the
soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.