OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Jacobs, Robertson and L.A. Phil offer a dazzling organ concerto premiere

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Paul Jacobs is the soloist this weekend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto. He’s pictured last November in the world premiere of the piece with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo credit: Philadelphia Orchestra

Los Angeles Philharmonic; David Robertson, conductor
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Ives: Three Places in New England; Rouse: Organ Concerto;
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 (“from the New World”)
Next performances: Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com

With pipe organs being installed in concert halls in increasing numbers during the past decade or so, composers have gained increasing opportunities to create new organ concertos. Christopher Rouse, one of America’s more prolific composers, has added to the canon with his concerto, which was given its west coast premiere last night by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conductor David Robertson, and organist Paul Jacobs at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Remarkably this concerto is just the second organ piece that Rouse has composed (the first, a solo piece, has been “euthanized” from his catalogue, as he puts it). Jacobs premiered the new work last November with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Rouse’s Organ Concerto is quite short, just a shade under 20 minutes, written with three connected movements. The Phil’s “FastNotes” states: “Rouse’s Organ Concerto has connections to two famous organ works: a brief reference to the Poulenc Organ Concerto at the beginning, and a hint at the Saint-Saëns ‘Organ’ Symphony at the end. (‘The notes have been changed to protect the innocent,’ Rouse says.)”

Despite its brevity, Rouse’s new work packs quite a wallop. It opens with a loud bang and concludes with an even louder chord. Immediately after that opening punch, Jacobs launched into an extended pyrotechnical cadenza and the movement then shifts to lyrical, tonal writing punctuated with occasional bursts of sound.

The lyrical second movement — with mounds of organ chords atop the dreamy accompaniment — gives way to the finale, which allows the organist to stretch her (or, in this case, his) virtuosic chops.

The Phil placed the organ console at the very front of the stage, which allowed many in the large crowd (which included hundreds of young people) a chance to see Jacobs’ hands fly up and down from one keyboard to another and his feet dance along the pedal board.

Robertson and the orchestra ripped through the accompaniment with aplomb and the audience gave Jacobs, Robertson, the orchestra and the composer an enthusiastic standing ovation following that climactic outburst of sound.

Jacobs responded with a sparkling account of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543, as an encore, which showed off his technical prowess (the pedal cadenza at the end was dazzling) as well some intriguing registrations on the Disney Hall instrument.

Any orchestra that has a significant pipe organ (or Cameron Carpenter’s international touring instrument) and a top-flight organist available now has a wonderful piece to alternate with the usual organ concerto suspects. I hope the Phil brings it back soon.

Robertson’s programming choices are always interesting; last night was no different. He opened with Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England, a 20-minute work with a lengthy gestation period; Ives began it in 1903 and didn’t finish revising the piece until 1929.

Ives’ father told him, “You won’t get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.” Despite that admonition, with its spooky beginning and incorporation of snippets from familiar hymns and folk tunes Three Places in New England is one of this craggy composer’s most accessible works and, consequently, one of his most played, as well. Rouse even seemed to quote the work in his concerto.

Robertson and the orchestra gave Three Places in New England a sensitive, probing performance, particularly in the third movement where the organ’s rumbling bass notes provided added heft.

Although Robertson has undoubtedly conducted Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony hundreds — perhaps thousands — of times and the Philharmonic musicians have played it innumerable times, as well, conductor and musicians treated last night’s performance as if it, rather than Rouse’s work, was the premiere.

The piece offers innumerable solo opportunities and the Phil’s section leaders were at the top of their game, beginning with Carolyn Hove’s plaintive second-movement solo, and also including (but not limited to) Denis Bouriakov, flute; Burt Hara, clarinet; Anne Marie Gabriele, oboe; and Andrew Bain, horn.

The 58-year-old Robertson — who has announced he is leaving his post as music director of the St. Louis Symphony in a couple of years — is a wildly exuberant presence on the podium. Where with Gustavo Dudamel, for example, you are entranced by his hands, with Robertson you watch his feet — if he ever touched the metal supporting bar behind the podium after his feet slid along the carpet he’d probably get a static-electricity shock.

Nonetheless, he clearly communicates his feelings to orchestra and audience alike and really makes effective use of pianissimos and, especially, silences, which always seem to resonate at Disney Hall. In total, the results last night were thrilling, even to a critic who has heard the piece hundreds of times, and the audience ate it up.

• At the conclusion of the Dvorak, Robertson came onstage to the sustained applause and acknowledged Hove and Bain before asking the entire orchestra to stand. After exiting the stage again, he reappeared but this time to stand with the brass section and then with the winds — a nice touch, even if he didn’t ask the orchestra to turn and acknowledge thos seated behind them as Gustavo always does.
• Because Three Places in New England has both piano and organ parts, Joanne Pearce Martin (the LAPO principal keyboard player) had to leave her piano bench to a colleague, Vicki Ray, and race upstairs to sit at the rarely used organ bench high above the bench seats to play the organ in the third movement.
• The first L.A. Phil performance of Three Places in New England was led by Nicolas Slonimsky in 1932. Most of us know Slominsky as a musicologist, particularly for his marvelous book, Lexicon of Musical Invective. However, Slonimsky was also a conductor and Ives created a chamber-orchestra version of this work for his Boston Chamber Orchestra in 1930.
• The “New World” Symphony was one of the first pieces every played by the Phil when Walter Henry Rothwell conducted the first LAPO performance on Oct 25, 1919.

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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FIVE-SPOT: April 20-23, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending. Once again, Saturday will be a VERY busy day.

8 p.m. April 20 and 22; 2 p.m. April 23
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony, returns “home” (he’s a Santa Monica native) to lead the Phil in a program that features the west coast premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto, with Paul Jacobs as soloist. The concerto is bookended by Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“from the New World”). The Rouse concerto, a L.A. Phil co-commission, debuted last fall in Philadelphia.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

1 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles (see “Additional Concert” below)
1,000 high school students from 30 Southland schools can be heard in a free concert when the Los Angeles Master Chorale presents the 28th Annual High School Choir Festival. The Festival choir will be led by LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon in a varied program that features works by this year’s guest artist singer/composer Moira Smiley. Smiley will also teach the massive choir body percussion to accompany one of her songs.

BONUS: Free admission, first come, first served (which means it’s a great — and cost effective — opportunity to hear choral music in Disney Hall).

ADDITIONAL CONCERT: Assistant conductor Jenny Wong will lead 16 members of the Chorale in a concert at 11 a.m. This one is also free but tickets must be arranged through the Master Chorale Web Site (see below).

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.lamasterchorale.org

7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Guest Conductor Christian Arming (music director of the Liège Royal Philharmonic) leads this top-notch conservatory orchestra in a program that features a collection of songs by Irving Berlin sung by tenor Joshua Wheeker and danced by The Colburn Dance Academy. The songs are bookended by Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

BONUS: This concert is part of the L.A. Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series, which means that tickets are very reasonably priced ($15-$44). So, if you’ve never heard a concert in Disney Hall, this is a great opportunity.

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

8 p.m. at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts; La Mirada
The McCoy-Rigby mounting of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, his iconic retelling of Romeo and Juliet, moves to La Mirada for an extended run that lasts through May 14.

BONUS: Nice ticket prices: $14-$70.

Information: lamirdadatheatre.com

8 p.m. April 22 at Alex Theatre; Glendale
7 p.m. April 23 at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
In his penultimate concert as LACO Music Director, Jeffrey Kahane leads the orchestra, soloists and members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Information: www.laco.org

3 p.m. at The Huntington Library; San Marino
Harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon will play one of Bach’s most famous keyboard works as part of Camerata Pacifica’s 27th season.

Information: www.cameratapacifica.org

6 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
Music Director Carlos Izcaray leads his young musicians in a performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, and Korngold’s Violin Concerto, with Rachel Ostler as soloist.

BONUS: Tickets are free but should be reserved in advance (the concert is nearly sold out). The concert is followed by a ticketed gala dinner; reservations are required.

Information: aysymphony.org

7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; Los Angeles
Sondra Radvanovsky returns to L.A. to reprise her role in Puccini’s tear jerker. James Conlon conducts and John Caird oversees his original LA Opera staging. Other performances are April 27, May 2, 5 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 30 and May 7 at 2 p.m.

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then west up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laopera.org


(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Jeffrey Kahane to retire as LACO music director

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.

Jeffrey Kahane has announced that he will step down as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the end of the 2016-2017 season, concluding a 20-year reign as the orchestra’s fifth and longest-serving music director. Kahane will assume the title of music director laureate and the orchestra has launched a search for his replacement.

“Twenty years is a very long tenure for any music director,” said Kahane in a statement. “I really felt it was time to pass the torch, as difficult as it is to move on, and 20 years seemed like a good round number.”

Although he had been music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, Kahane was far better known as a pianist than as a conductor when, at age 41, he replaced Iona Brown at LACO’s helm. It was a dark time for the orchestra, which only recently had emerged from bankruptcy. However in the succeeding 17 years, Kahane and the orchestra have grown and flourished together.

He expects to continue his burgeoning guest conducting, solo piano and chamber music careers, and said he has no plans at the present to take on another music director position.

LACO will be the second local ensemble in search mode. Earlier this season, Enrique Arturo Diemecke announced that this would be his last season as music director of the Long Beach Symphony. Given that LACO has a three-year lead-time before Kahane leaves, it’s possible that the transition to his successor might be virtually seamless.

The Pasadena Symphony, which knows quite a bit about the ins and outs of search processes, concludes its 2013-14 classics series on May 10 with concerts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium. If you like your music big and bold, this is the program for you. Jahja Ling, music director of the San Diego Symphony for 10 years, will lead Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Israeli-born pianist Shai Wosner as soloist in the concerto. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

• Speaking of pianists playing big concertos, the next two Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts fit that description. This Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Emmanuel Ax will be soloist in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. The Thursday and Saturday concerts also include Ax as soloist in the world premiere of Release, a LAPO commission by Andrew Norman, who happens to be LACO’s composer-in-residence. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to town for the month of May; he opens this weekend’s concerts with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture.

On May 8-11, Lang Lang comes to town to appear with the Phil as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Dudamel leading the Phil in Ravel’s La Valse and Valses nobles et sentimentales, along with Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne’s Sinfonía Burocratica ed’ Amazzonica. Information: www.laphil.com

• Finally, continuing in the monumental-works mode, preeminent American organist Paul Jacobs comes to Disney Hall next Sunday at 7:30 p.m. to play Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete Clavier-Übung III, which begins and ends with one of Bach’s most famous works, the Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Major, BWV 552 (St. Anne). Information: www.laphil.com

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 12, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday morning, I list five events (six this week)
that pique my interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission
(or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:



Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Paul Jacobs, organist

Despite being just 34, Paul Jacobs is one of America’s
extraordinary organ talents, who came to international renown 11 years ago when
he performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in an 18-hour non-stop
marathon performance. Later he performed the complete organ works of Olivier
Messiaen in nine-hour marathon concerts around the country. At age 26, he was
named chairman of the organ department at The Juilliard School in New York
City, one of the youngest faculty appointments in that school’s history.


There’s no Bach on this Royce Hall program, but the
selections include music by Messiaen, Elgar, John Weaver and others.


Royce Hall’s E.M. Skinner organ was built in 1930. It was
restored and rebuilt after being damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
With 104 ranks and 6,600 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern


Concert information: www.uclalive.org


Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: “The Mahler Project” begins

The Los Angeles Philharmonic begins its massive survey of
all of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies as Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra in
Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, with soprano Miah Persson as soloist, and Songs of a Wayfarer, featuring baritone
Thomas Hampson. Links to my articles on the cycle are HERE and HERE. The Phil’s
“Mahler Project” information site is HERE. Concert


Saturday at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium (Pasadena)

Pasadena Symphony;
David Lockington, conductor

The PSO resumes its 2011-12 season as David Lockington,
music director of the Modesto and Grand Rapids Symphonies, become the latest in
a string of PSO guest conductors. He leads a program with a British theme: The Gale of Life by British composer
Philip Sawyers, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Andrew Shulman as soloist, and
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish). In
addition to the compositional British tone, Lockington and Shulman are English.
A link to my preview story on this concert and next weekend’s L.A. Chamber
Orchestra concerts (Shulman is conducting the LACO programs) is HERE. Concert information: www.pasadenasymphony-org


Looking for a marketing edge, the PSO has joined forces with
Breakthru Fitness to sponsor a Yoga class tomorrow at 6 p.m. (As the late,
great British comedienne Anna Russell once famously said of Wagner’s Ring, “I’m not making this up, you
know!”) Lockington, an avid practitioner of yoga, will offer a brief
explanation on the influence yoga has made on his life and career as a
symphonic conductor. He will also play the cello during the class. Space is
extremely limited; contact Breakthru Fitness at 626/396-1700 to reserve a spot.


Sunday at 5 p.m. at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Los Angeles)

Young Musician
Foundation’s 57th annual Gala Concert

Usually a YMF concert would be in the “free admission”
category, but this one is held yearly to raise funds for this important
training program. Legendary film composer John Williams will lead the YMF Debut
Orchestra in selections from The
Adventures of Tintin
and War Horse, the
first concert performance of this music. Williams will conclude the program by
conducting music from E.T. The


Michael Tilson Thomas, who was the YMF’s music director from
1963-67 while he was a student at USC, will return to conduct Ravel’s La Valse. Other pieces will be conducted
by David Kaufman, Joey Newman and Teddy Abrams. Information: www.ymf.org


Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Steve Reich;
Bang-on-a-Can All Stars; ref fish blue fish; percussionist David Cossin

Steve Reich, one of the greatest composers working today,
brings a program to the Phil’s Green
series that includes the West Coast premiere of the double-rock
quintet, 2 x 5,  and concludes with one of Reich’s
seminal works, Music for 18 Musicians.
Information: www.laphil.com


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


Saturday at 8 p.m.
at La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts (La Mirada)

La Mirada Symphony;
Robert Frelly, conductor

For the second concert of its 48th season, this
community orchestra presents a Spanish-themed program with music by Fannin,
Chabrier, Bizet, Turnia, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Guitarist Jeff Cogan will be the
soloist in Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un
Information: www.lamiradasymphony.com



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

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