FIVE SPOT: May 17-22, 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.

It’s not unusual to have the same piece show up on two different ensembles’ programs within the same season. Last month we had Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 played a week apart by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Pasadena Symphony. However, this weekend we have two ensembles playing the same major work on the same days!

MAY 18 AND 19: L.A. PHIL’S SCHUBERT SERIES CONTINUES
8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Gustavo Dudamel concludes his Schubert/Mahler cycle with two different programs this week. Thursday and Friday, it’s Schubert’s fifth and sixth symphonies paired with Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as soloist (she’s a powerhouse replacement for Elīna Garanča, who withdrew for “personal reasons”).

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

MAY 18, 19 AND 20: MOZART MEETS “DON QUXIOTE”
8 p.m. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; Costa Mesa
Carl St.Clair leads the Pacific Symphony in a program that features Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, with Orli Shaham as soloist, and Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Quixote, with Timothy Landauer, the orchestra’s principal cellist, as soloist.

BONUS: Timothy Mangan, the orchestra’s new writer-in-residence, has a thoughtful article on Strauss’ piece HERE.

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

MAY 20: DRUM SUMMIT: MUSIC OF STEVE REICH
8 p.m. First Presbyterian Church; Santa Monica
Jacaranda’s Percussion Ensemble honors the 80th birthday of Steve Reich with a performance of Reich’s Drumming; Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices & Organ.

BONUS: The church is about a 10-minute walk from the downtown Santa Monica stop on Metro’s Expo Line (the line’s final stop). If you arrive early, there are plenty of places to eat in the Third St. Promenade, which is one route to the church.

Information: www.jacarandamusic.org

MAY 20 AND 21: JEFFREY KAHANE’S FINAL CONCERTS AS LACO MUSIC DIRECTOR
8 p.m. Saturday at Alex Theatre; Glendale
7 p.m. Sunday at UCLA’s Royce Hall
With these concerts Jeffrey Kahane concludes his 20-year reign as Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s music director. The program contains a first and two lasts: the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s Will There Be Singing, Schubert’s final symphony, No 9 (“The Great C-Major”) and Mozart’s final piano concerto, No. 27 n B-flat major, K.595, with Kahane as soloist and conducting from the keyboard.

Information: www.laco.org

MAY 20 AND 21: DUDAMEL AND L.A. PHIL’S CONCLUDE SCHUBERT/MAHLER SERIES
8 p.m. Saturday. 2 p.m. Sunday
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
If you’re really into compare and contrast, this is your weekend! You can either catch Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 played by LACO on Saturday and the L.A. Phil on Sunday, or you’ve even got time to hear both ensembles on Sunday.

Dudamel’s program also includes Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and Mahler’s Songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as soloist (again, as Thursday and Friday, she is serving as a great sub for Elīna Garanča, who withdrew for “personal reasons”).

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

MAY 22: IVETA APKALNA, ORGANIST
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna will make her Disney Hall debut in the final recital of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2016-2017 organ series. Apkalna — titular organist of the Klais organ at the newly opened Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg — will play music by Aivars Kalējs, Thierry Escaich, Philip Glass, Johann Sebastian Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Liszt, and George Thalben-Ball.

Apkalna will also appear next weekend with Dudamel and the LAPO in a performance of Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. Information: www.laphil.com

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 for May 22: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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FIVE-SPOT: April 6-9, 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.

APRIL 6-8: PACIFIC SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
Music Director Carl St.Clair leads the Pacific Symphony in the orchestra’s annual American Composers Festival, which this year features Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, along with John Adams’ The Darma at Big Sur and Frank Tichelli’s Blue Shades. Alan Chapman offers a preview one hour before each performance.

BONUS: The April 7 and 8 performances are being taped for a future broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances” series. The Boyer piece will be played as a stand-alone program on April 9.

For an excellent preview by OC Register staff writer Paul Hodgins, click HERE.

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

APRIL 6, 8 AND 9: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
8 p.m. on April 6. 2 p.m. on April 8 and 9
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Former L.A. Phil Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (now the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate) leads the Phil in an all-Sibelius program: Symphony Nos. 6 and 7; Finlandia; and Six Humoresques, Op. 89, with Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the 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.org

APRIL 7-8: NEW WEST SYMPHONY
April 7 at 8 p.m. at Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Oxnard
April 8 at 8 p.m. at Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks
Kynan Johns, the latest in a line of guest conductors vying to become the orchestra’s next music director, leads Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique; and Poulenc’s Gloria, with soprano So Young Park and the Cal Lutheran University Choral Ensembles.

Information: www.newwestsymphony.org

APRIL 9: “FEEL THE SPIRIT” — LCPC CHANCEL CHOIR AND ORCHESTRA
2 p.m. at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, La Cañada
Music Director Jack Lantz leads his choir and orchestra (each of which numbers 60 performers) in a concert of famous American hymns, songs and spirituals. Disclaimer: my wife and I sing in the choir, so feel free to take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt, as the late, great Molly Ivins used to say.

Seven of the spirituals were arranged by English composer John Rutter, who is far better known for his Christmas carol settings, but these arrangements are a winner!

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering with a suggested donation of $20; everyone who donates any amount and fills out a form will receive a CD of the concert later).

Information: www.lacanadapc.org

APRIL 9: CALDER QUARTET
4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 2, Op. 18, No. 2 and 8, Op. 59, No. 2, and the world premiere of Andrew McIntosh’s wrestle, stain, whistle and pound.

BONUS: The McIntosh piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets.

The Broad Stage can be reached via Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the 17th St./SMCC station and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there.

Information: www.thebroadstage.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Dueling Chinese orchestras come to Southland Dec. 5 and 11

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Although it wasn’t intended that way, President-elect Donald Trump’s (perhaps) ill-advised contact with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has put an unexpected spotlight on two orchestra concerts this month.

The China Philharmonic, which was founded in 2000, will appear tonight (Dec. 5) at Walt Disney Concert led by its founder and music director, Long Yu. The program opens with Qigang Chen Enchantements oubliés and continues with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World). The concerto soloist will be 12-year-old Serena Wang, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Information: www.laphil.com

Meanwhile, the Taiwan Philharmonic, which dates from 1986 when it was known as the National Symphony Orchestra, makes its U.S. debut on Dec.11 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

Shao-Chia Lü leads the ensemble in the world premiere of Taiwanese composer Chun-Wei Lee’s The Last Mile and Tyzen Hsiao’s Violin Concerto, with Cho-Liang Lin as soloist in the concerto. The evening concludes with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

My suggestion: ignore the politics and enjoy the music.
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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: Berlin Philharmonic dazzles in Orange County

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

rattleSir Simon Rattle led his Berlin Philharmoniker yesterday in Rénee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. 2013 photo by Monika Ritterhaus.
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My review of the Berlin Philharmonic’s concert Sunday in Costa Mesa, published online on the County Register’s Web site, is HERE. The story will run in the Register’s print editions tomorrow.

Following are some additional notes that fell on the cutting room floor:

• The BPO’s appearances in Walt Disney Concert Hall Saturday and Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall Sunday was part of a cross-continent tour that began in New York City’s Carnegie Hall on Nov. 9 and 10 and continued in Boston, Toronto and Ann Arbor, Michigan before heading to the west coast. The tour concludes tonight and tomorrow in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall.

• The alternate tour program, which was played in Disney Hall, was equally challenging to that we heard Sunday: Pierre Boulez’s Éclat and Mahler’s Symphony No. 7.

• Sunday’s concert was the Berlin Philharmonic’s appearance in Orange County in 15 years. It came back then to the original Segerstrom Hall when Claudio Abbado led the ensemble in two all-Beethoven programs, featuring the third, fifth and sixth symphonies. This was also, of course, the BPO’s first time in Segerstrom Concert Hall, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season.

• The OC program booklet contained the longest set of music notes than I can ever remember, stretching more than seven pages (although, thankfully for us older folks, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County uses nice large type for its notes). The one paragraph about Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 was dwarfed by the copious notes on the three pre-intermission works: Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6b, by Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16, and Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 by Alban Berg.

• The orchestra’s rehearsal schedule created some serious problems for the PSOC and Segerstrom Concert Hall. The orchestra’s desire to rehearse in the main auditorium right up to the concert time meant that the preconcert lecture by Christopher Russell had to be switched into a smaller room that didn’t have nearly enough seats to handle the crowds. I arrived five minutes after the posted start time and people were already standing around and behind the chairs. I suspect that more folks than usual came hoping to learn something about the first half of the program, only to be turned away.

Segerstrom isn’t alone in this type of problem. At least with BP Hall in Disney, people can stand on the balconies and hear the lecture, if necessary. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion uses the second-floor lobby for its lectures and that has the capacity for extra seating, if necessary. Ambassador Auditorium has nothing other than the main hall with which to handle lectures. Offhand I can’t think of another hall that could deal with the problem that cropped up Sunday.

Moreover, Segerstrom Concert Hall has only minimal seating in its lobbies, a fact that was exacerbated by the light rain that was falling as folks were arriving. Sir Simon Rattle, the BPO’s chief conductor and artistic director, called it “British weather.” He should know. Rattle returns top his native England to become Music Director of the London Symphony beginning in 2017.

• PSOC President and Artistic Director John Magnum welcomed the orchestra by announcing that the Society is halfway to its goal of $10 million endowment campaign that will enhance the group’s programming efforts.

• The next orchestra on the PSOC series is the Taiwan Philharmonic, which appears on Dec. 12 with violinist Cho-Liang Lin. The program includes two works including a violin concerto by Taiwanese composer Tyzen Hsiao along with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Information: https://philharmonicsociety.org/
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Britten’s centennial to be remembered with two performances of “War Requiem”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was published today in the above papers.

Benjamin Britten: War Requiem
The Colburn Orchestra and members of the USC-Thornton Symphony; James Conlon, conductor

Tamara Wilson, soprano, Joseph Kaiser, tenor, Phillip Addis, baritone
USC Thornton Chamber Singers (Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, conductor)
USC Thornton Concert Choir (Dr. Christian Grases, conductor)
Bob Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir from CSU-Long Beach (Dr. Jonathan Talberg, director)
CSU-Fullerton University Singers (Dr. Robert Istad, conductor)
Chapman University Singers (Dr. Stephen Coker, director)
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (Anne Tomlinson, artistic director)

Today at 8:15 p.m. • Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa. Preconcert lecture at 7 p.m. by Dr. William Hall.
Information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

Tomorrow at 8 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles. Preconcert lecture at 7 p.m. by James Conlon.
Information: www.laphil.com
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Brittenr4WebWe’re in the penultimate two months of a year honoring birthdays of three of history’s most important composers: the bicentennials of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner and the centennial of Benjamin Britten (right), which occurred on Friday (Nov. 22). The Britten centennial reaches its climax locally today and tomorrow with a massive collaboration on Britten’s most significant work: War Requiem.

These performances are among hundreds that have been part of Britten 100/LA, which has been spearheaded by LA Opera but which has involved hundreds of different organizations, large and small, throughout the Southland.

Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon takes a break from conducting the company’s new production of Verdi’s Falstaff and Mozart’s The Magic Flute to lead The Colburn Orchestra and members of the USC-Thornton Symphony (the work calls for a large main orchestra and a smaller-sized ensemble), organ, three soloists, five university choirs and the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus in War Requiem tonight at 8:15 at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa and tomorrow at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
“Break” may be a misnomer; Conlon leads a Falstaff performance beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, so he may be changing clothes as he drives/flies down the freeway.

Coventry_Ruins
War Requiem premiered on May 30, 1962 in the new Coventry Cathedral in the center of England. The city’s 14th century Gothic cathedral, St. Michael’s, had been destroyed by a Nazi air raid on Nov. 14, 1940. Only the tower, spire, outer wall and the bronze effigy and tomb of its first bishop, Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs, survived.

Following a competition that received entries from more than 200 architects, Basil Spence was selected to design a new cathedral. He insisted that the ruins of the old cathedral be kept as a stark memorial and his dramatic new cathedral was built alongside; a glass canopy connects the two buildings. For his stunning conception, Spence was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1960.

Britten, a renowned pacifist, was 48 when the piece was first performed and was given free rein to compose the dedicatory work. He chose to interleave portions of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass with gritty poems written by Wilfred Owen during World War I. Britten used one of Owen’s poems as a preface to the work: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do is warn.” Owen died on Nov. 4, 1918, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice that ended the war.

The piece lasts about 85 minutes (there is no intermission), and is considered by most to be a landmark 20th century composition. A unique part of the composition is that Britten wrote for soloists (soprano, baritone and tenor) who were meant to characterize individual Russian, German and English soldiers.

According to the Britten-Pears Foundation, “Britten intended that the soloists at the first performance should represent three of the nations involved in World War II: Galina Vishnevskaya (Russian soprano), Peter Pears (English tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (German baritone). In the event, precisely because of this tri-national partnership of representatives, Vishnevskaya was refused permission to attend by the Russian Minister of Culture. Although she was later able to record the work, she did not sing it until 1963; her place at the première on 30 May 1962 was taken by Heather Harper.”

The Disney Hall performance is part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series, which this season has dwindled to just two concerts, both by The Colburn Orchestra. One feature of this series has always been its low prices: tickets for “War Requiem” range from just $15.99 to $41.50. By contrast, the Segerstrom Concert Hall tickets are scaled from $20 to $150.

Conlon will give a preconcert lecture an hour before the Disney Hall performance. At Segerstrom Hall, Dr. William Hall, who led one of the first Southern California performances of War Requiem, will deliver the lecture at 7 p.m. In part because of the work itself and in part because it is so rarely performed, this is a “don’t miss” event.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• How rare are these concerts? According to the Britten-Pears Foundation, these concerts and a set by the San Francisco Symphony next weekend are the only North American performances of War Requiem for the balance of this year (performances have been held recently in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Boston and Chicago — see below). The SFO schedule is somewhat odd: Nov. 27 and 30 with nothing between.
• It’s possible that this will be the only time that most of the instrumentalists and choristers will play and/or sing War Requiem in their lifetimes.
• The program notes for tonight’s Segerstrom Hall concert are HERE (they come courtesy of the Cincinnati Symphony). Click on the note to make the type larger and click on the arrows to navigate the pages. These notes (actually pages from the program book) also include the text and performer bios.
• The program notes for the Disney Hall performance are HERE. These also include an iTunes link to the original cast recording with Britten conducting HERE.
• The writeup on War Requiem from the Britten-Pears Foundation is HERE.
• A fascinating interview in The Guardian with composer Oliver Knussen’s reflections on Britten is HERE.
• Anne Midgette, music critic of the Washington Post, and her husband and fellow critic, Greg Sandow (who is also a composer, consultant and educator) have written a series of articles on recent performances of War Requiem in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, including somewhat contrasting reviews of the same performances. If you’re interested, click HERE for an overview and follow the various threads to the relevant stories. However, you might want to wait until you’ve seen either of the local concerts.
• When Charles Dutoit led the Chicago Symphony in War Requiem last week, he honored Britten by using Russian soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, English tenor John Mark Ainsley and German baritone Matthias Goerne as the soloists. Nice touch.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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