OVERNIGHT REVIEW: A delectable feast for the L.A. Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Richard Goode, pianist

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466. Richard
Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra

Friday, October 28, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tonight at 8 p.m.  and tomorrow at 2 p.m. (These programs add Gyrgy Kurtg‘s
Grabstein fr Stephan as the opening
work).

Information: www.laphil.com

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Conductors love thematic contrasts but there was more on
Gustavo Dudamel’s mind when he paired works by Mozart and Richard Strauss for
last night’s “Casual Friday” concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the first of
this weekend’s programs that mark Dudamel’s final appearances in Los Angeles
for the year 2011.

 

Dudamel believes that Mozart is good for an orchestra’s
health (“like eating a good salad,” he said during last night’s post-concert
discussion). That’s particularly true when his orchestra has spent most of this
month playing a steady diet of meaty pieces, including several premieres and,
in this case, had just returned from a well-received, two-concert appearance in
San Francisco.

 

The curly haired maestro balanced that high-protein intake
last night by joining with pianist Richard Goode for a jewel-like rendition of
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466, to open the evening. The 68-year-old
New York native has a well-known affinity for Mozart, and Dudamel and the
orchestra were willing collaborators for a thoroughly enjoyable performance. “I
was learning from Richard,” said Dudamel after the concert; he’s obviously a
Goode student (sorry!).

 

Mozart’s K. 466 concerto is, itself, a study in contrasts.
It made such an impression on Beethoven that the latter played it and wrote
cadenzas for the piece (Mozart wrote none for this work). Its influence can be
felt in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which — despite its number — was
actually the first one that Beethoven wrote, just a couple of year after Mozart
composed this piece.

 

Reflecting its D-minor key, the Mozart concerto’s outer
movements have a brooding, edgy quality while the second movement becomes a
lyrical, elegant bridge between the two, although it also has its own dramatic
measures.

 

Throughout the performance, Goode often seemed more part of
the ensemble than a soloist and his playing had an old-school charm, perhaps
reflecting one of his teachers, the legendary Rudolf Serkin. He also asked
Dudamel to move the winds forward to accentuate the back-and-forth weaving of
melodies between soloist and winds. As a complement, the strings produced
biting tones that provided the proper seasoning for this delectable salad.

 

Written in 1896, Also
Sprach Zarathustra
was the fourth of eight tone poems that Strauss
composed, and it certainly makes a full-bodied main course, especially
following Mozart (the tone poem is actually just three minutes longer than the
concerto).

 

As has been the case for most of this fall, Dudamel had all
the violins seated to his left with the violas on the far right; the contrasts
throughout the piece were audible. The nine basses were clustered at the back
right of the orchestra, giving added depth to their lines. The oversized
orchestra included seven French horns and two harpists and, of course, the
opening sections benefitted immensely from the Disney Hall organ.

 

Dudamel conducted the 33-minute work without a score and
with a pulsating sense of energy, beginning with the iconic two-minute first
movement, Sunrise, made famous as the
theme music for Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 motion picture 2001: A Space Odyssey. The three-note trumpet fanfare set a
majestic tone (I was struck throughout the evening by James Wilt’s sensitivity
in achieving various dynamic levels while playing those same three notes), Joseph
Pereira’s timpani strokes rang out gloriously, and Joanne Pearce Martin brought
the movement to a thunderous close on the organ; eat your heart out, New York
Philharmonic (Avery Fisher Hall gave up its pipe organ long ago).

 

There is, of course, 30 or so minutes of music beyond the
opening movement and it proved to be a fascinating half hour. Dudamel — who
said afterward that he had read the Nietzsche poem preparing for the
performance — kept the pedal to the metal for most of the evening and the
orchestra responded splendidly, with solo kudos going to Principal
Concertmaster Martin Chalifour; Ariana Ghez, oboe; Carrie Dennis, viola; and
Susan Babini, who served as principal cellist for the evening (presumably she’s
another of those auditioning for the orchestra’s vacant associate principal
position). At the pianissimo conclusion, Dudamel looked exhausted — no surprise
given the high-octane energy level poured into the performance.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Unlike most “Casual Friday” programs, an orchestra member
didn’t introduce the evening, which began, instead, with the concerto. While
the stage was being reset for the Strauss, violinist Mitchell Newman tried to
fill the void but Disney Hall’s mediocre acoustics for spoken voice, the noise
of chairs moving around, and players coming onstage rendered much of what he
said unintelligible.

In response to a question after the performance, Dudamel
said of Nietzsche, “I’m not a philosopher and sometimes for me to think too
much is dangerous.” While acknowledging that he thought it was important for a
conductor to read the poem before conducting the piece, “sometimes when you
read too many words it harms the music,” he noted.

Hearing Also Sprach
Zarathustra
undergirded by the Disney Hall organ reminded me of what we’re
going to miss by having Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 performed in the Shrine
Auditorium. That hall has a large theater organ but a Shrine spokesperson
didn’t think it was playable, so presumably the Phil will be using some sort of
electronic instrument, instead.

The first Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of this
Mozart concerto was on January 24, 1926, with Walter Henry Rothwell conducting.
The soloist was Elinor Remick Warren,who wrote the chimes tune that was used at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to call people to their seats before concerts and
at intermission.

While Dudamel heads to Europe after Sunday’s concert, in
part to go on tour with his Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela,
guest conductors come to town. Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon
opens the parade, leading three concerts beginning next Friday morning. Pianist
Yuja Wang will be the soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (LINK). At
the end of the month, LAPO Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen returns for two
weeks.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on October 27, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Each Thursday morning, I list five events that peak my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). This week it was hard to get down to five. Here’s today’s
grouping:

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Tomorrow and
Saturday at 8:30 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m. at REDCAT (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

Southwest Chamber
Music: Ten Freedom Summers

To open a season celebrating its 25th anniversary, Pasadena-based
Southwest Chamber Music joins forces with the Golden Quartet to present the
world premiere of Ten Freedom Summers
by composer and jazz trumpeter Wadada Lee Smith.

 

The composition — which was inspired by the Civil Rights
movement from 1954-1964 and August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, in which each play
chronicles a decade of African-American life in the 20th century — also uses
archival news footage from the era and other cinematic effects. The piece will
take three evenings to perform; you’re encouraged to attend all three nights to
get the full effect but SCM tells me that each evening stands on its own musically.

 

Get more
information on the composition HERE and by downloading the media  release.

PressReleaseTenFreedomSummers.pdf

A link to an article by Greg Burk in the Los
Angeles Times
is HERE.

 

General admission tickets are $38 for each program. Concert information: www.redcat.org

 

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

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel and Richard Goode

Conductors love micro-macro programs and Gustavo Dudamel is
no exception. Tomorrow night’s Los Angeles Philharmonic “Casual Friday” program
begins with Goode as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466, and
concludes with Richard Strauss’ tone poem Also
Sprach Zarathustra.
The latter is an
eight-movement work that many people know only because of the opening section, Sunrise, which was the theme music for
Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1968 motion picture 2001: A Space Odyssey. That dramatic opening sounds particularly impressive
in Disney Hall because the hall’s pipe organ adds grandiose weight to the
climactic measures, but there’s a lot more to come in the succeeding 30 or so
minutes.

 

The Saturday and Sunday programs add Gyrgy Kurtg‘s
Grabstein fr Stephan as the opening
work. These concerts mark Dudame’s final appearances locally until “The Mahler
Project” begins next January. Info: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 2 and 8
p.m. Ambassador Auditorium

Pasadena Symphony;
Mei-Ann Chen, conductor; James Ehnes, violin

Chen, one of the fastest-rising conducting stars today,
leads the Pasadena Symphony in its season-opening concerts, which will
conclude with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Ehnes will be the soloist in
Korngold’s Violin Concerto (his recording of the Korngold, Walton and Barber
violin concertos, with Bramwell Tovey conducting the Vancouver Symphony, won
the 2008 Grammy and Juno awards). For my Pasadena
Scene
profile on Chen, click HERE. Concert
info:
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

Saturday at 4 p.m.
at Downey Theater

Chorale Bel Canto and
Opera a la Carte

The Whittier-based chorus Chorale Bel Canto opens its 30th
season by joining with Opera a la Carte in an unusual program (for CBC, that
is): Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates
of Penzance
. Richard Sheldon, who founded Opera a la Carte in 1970, stars
as the Modern Major General. Info:
www.choralebelcanto.org

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program …

 

Sunday at 3 at Vic
Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High School)

Rio Hondo Symphony;
Kimo Furumoto, conductor

The Rio Hondo Symphony focuses on small pieces Sunday with a
program entitled “Good Things: Small Packages.” The program will begin with Mozart’s
dramatic Overture to Don Giovanni and
will also include Bartok’s Romanian Folk
Dances Suite
, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella
Suite
and Dvorak’s Czech Suite. Info: www.riohondosymphony.org

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.