SAME-DAY REVIEW: Dudamel, L.A. Phil conclude Schubert symphony cycle elegantly

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In his nine years as Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel has led several symphony cycles. The most famous was his “Mahler Project” in 2012, when Dudamel conducted the L.A. Phil and his Simón Bólivar Symphony Orchestra in all nine symphonies by Gustav Mahler (plus assorted other works). During his tenure, Dudamel has also led cycles of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky symphonies.

However, when Dudamel programmed the entire symphonic output of Franz Schubert for this season, many were left scratching their collective heads. How many Schubert symphonies have you heard before this month? Two, of course — Nos. 8 and 9. No. 5, perhaps. Beyond that? In her preconcert lecture this afternoon, Dr. Lorraine Byrne Bodley, one of the world’s foremost Schubert experts, made a point of saying how impressed she was that Dudamel and the Phil would program all eight Schubert symphonies in a two-week stretch. “Some of the early works, in particular,” she noted, “are almost never played.”

The cycle concluded this afternoon at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the two most famous Schubert symphonies: No. 8 (“Unfinished”) and No. 9 (“The Great C-Major”). What made the day special was not just the orchestra’s superb playing nor Dudamel’s sensitive conducting. Instead, it was the fact that those who have been in attendance for the first three programs over a two-week period got to hear these last two within the context of what had come before.

In the space of just 11 years, beginning in 1813 when Schubert was age 16, he grew from teenage prodigy to the harbinger of the Romantic era to come, in particular the music of Brahms, Schumann and, yes, even Gustav Mahler whose song cycles Dudamel programmed in between each pair of Schubert’s works. Next season Dudamel tackles Robert Schmann’s symphonies, plus the composer’s concertos and a rarely performed stage work. It’s a fitting follow up to this cycle.

The gap between 1818, when Schubert completed his sixth symphony, and 1822, when No. 8 was “finished” was curiously wide, yet the maturity, complexity and brilliance of No. 8 stands worlds apart from his first six efforts (a seventh symphony was begun, but apparently never completed).

Yet, as the Phil’s cycle showed us, the eighth was, indeed, an outgrowth of his earlier works, albeit richer than the first six. The orchestral scoring for each symphony grew gradually and for the eighth symphony he added three trombones, which made for greater sonority. Moreover, in the Phil’s performances Principal Timpanist Joseph Periera eschewed the bright kettledrums he had used for the early symphonies in favor of the now-standard timpani used in the Mahler songs.

The eighth continues Schubert’s penchant of playing the winds against the strings. Dudamel — conducting without a score as he has done for all the symphonies — began the proceedings with a brisk tempo but relaxed as the measures spun out and highlighted that nearly constant dialogue between winds and strings. He received elegant playing from Principal Clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan and the entire cello section in the two principal themes. The second movement, particularly the horns, had a sonorous, rich feeling with Dudamel quietly urging the work forward to its ambiguous end.

Much continues to be made as to why Schubert left this work unfinished — if, indeed, he did. There are piano sketches of a third movement and many scholars believe that the intra-act music of the opera Rosamunde may have been originally intended as a fourth movement for this symphony. Some believe that Schubert simply laid the work aside to continue other compositions. Others postulate that his battle with the effects of syphilis caused him to lay aside the 8th.

Yet every time I hear a performance as loving and lovely as we heard today, I remain tantalized by the thought that for Schubert the work was finished. He must have realized how great piece it was, although it’s inconceivable that he could have dreamed that 100 years after its composition it would be his most famous work.

As was the case on Thursday and Friday, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke was the soloist today, this time in four of Mahler’s songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn. As was the case Thursday night she sang with a luxurious tone and she was more animated and even playful in the first song than had been the case Thursday. As has been the case with all four song cycles, the last movement — this time with limpid oboe and trumpet solos — held the audience spellbound.

Symphony No. 9, which was completed in 1826, three years after the eighth, was yet another quantum leap forward in Schubert’s symphonic style. Schubert’s first six symphonies, in large measure, look backwards to his great idols: Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. His ninth, as I wrote earlier, looks forward, although Jeffrey Kahane made an impressive case last night for looking backwards, as well, when he led the Symphony No. 9 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LINK).

Partly due to the wonderful resonance of Disney Hall, the almost inaudible opening measures set the bar high for this superb performance. The Phil produced a deep luxuriant tone throughout the opening movement, aided immeasurably by burnished playing from horn player Amy Jo Rhine.

The second movement featured elegant solo work from Associate Principal Oboe Marion Arthur Kuszyk and the entire cello section.

The third movement was the one section in the entire cycle when Dudamel indulged his penchant for dancing on the podium, although as I have often noted he never makes a sway, swoop or gesture that doesn’t serve the music.

The final movement was taken at a majestic tempo. Dudamel built the performance inexorably to a grand conclusion that brought forth a fully justified standing ovation. He seemed particularly pleased with the playing today but really the smiles were for the entire two-week cycle.


• As if the Schubert cycle wasn’t enough, Dudamel and the Phil conclude their 2016-2017 indoor season with a cycle of the three Bartok piano concertos, with Yuja Wang as soloist.

The concerts this Friday, Saturday and Sunday include the first piano concerto, paired with Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. The latter two pieces feature the Los Angeles Master Chorale, soloists and organist Ivet Apkalana. Informatioon:

The concerts on June 1 and 2 feature Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2, while the programs on June 3 and 4 revolve around his Piano Concerto No. 3. Both programs include Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Information:

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

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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!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

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:

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

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AROUND/MUSIC: SW Chamber opens Huntington season on another “clash Saturday”

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.

As if you couldn’t tell from last week’s heat wave, summer is really upon us and our burgeoning music season reflects the seasonal change.

Southwest Chamber Music begins its 20th season in the Loggia of the Huntington Library in San Marino next Saturday and Sunday. The music begins at 7:30 p.m. Preconcert, three-course dinners are available by prior reservation from the Huntington’s Tea Room or you can bring your own picnic and enjoy it on the lawn. As a bonus, sections of the library are open to ticketholders prior to the concert and at intermission.

This weekend’s programs include Hums and Songs of Winnie the Pooh by English composer Oliver Knussen, Stravinsky’s Octet for Winds and Mozart’s Serenade, K. 361. Other programs are July 27 and 28, August 10 and 11 and August 24 and 25. Information: 800/7236-7147;

Saturday is one of this summer’s “clash nights.” In addition to Southwest Chamber Music, both the Pasadena Pops and California Philharmonic are performing in their Arcadia locations (thus creating some traffic issues).

Michael Feinstein, the Pasadena Pops’ new principal conductor, returns to the Los Angeles County Arboretum to lead a program celebrating the musical legacy of MGM movies, including Singing in the Rain, Harvey Girls, Gigi, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz and others. Vocalists Christine Ebersole and Ron Raines will join the festivities. Information: 626/793-7172;

Meanwhile, the Cal Phil returns to Santa Anita Racetrack on Saturday for one of Music Director Victor Vener’s perennial programming favorites: “Andrew Lloyd Webber Meets Puccini.” Singers Lori Stinson, Christine Campbell and Cedric Berry and the Cal Phil Chorale will join the orchestra for music by two of the world’s best-known composers. The program repeats July 14 at 2 p.m. indoors at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Information: 626/300-8200;

Although Hollywood Bowl has presented several pops concerts during the last month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic opens its 10-week classical season at the iconic Cahuenga Pass amphitheater Tuesday night. Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, returns home to lead the Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists Kiera Duffy and Sasha Cooke in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection).

On Thursday, Thomas leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Dubinushka, along with Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, with Gil Shaham as soloist.

Next week, Bramwell Tovey returns to the Bowl stage on July 16 to lead the Phil in a Britten-Elgar-Sibelius program. On July 18, Tovey conducts a program that concludes with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

Information: 323/850-2000;


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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 2, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



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



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

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 9

The L.A. Phil’s “Mahler Project” winds up this weekend with
these two concerts and Saturday’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 at the
Shrine Auditorium. Information:


Saturday at 8 p.m.
at the Shrine Auditorium

Mahler’s “Symphony of
a Thousand”

Gustavo Dudamel conducts 99 instrumentalists from the Simn
Bolivr Symphony Orchestra and 91 from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, eight
soloists and more than 800 choristers in this performance of Mahler’s Symphony
No. 8 that will live up to its nickname. The concert has been announced as a
sellout for some time; check the Phil’s box office (323/850-2000) for updates. Information:


Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn
Orchestra; Yehuda Gilad, conductor

The orchestra’s music director leads a program that
concludes with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke will be the
soloist in “Am I In Your Light” from John Adams’ opera Dr. Atomic and Mahler’s Rckert


And the weekend’s
“free admission” programs


Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

John Weaver Hymn

For 35 years, John Weaver was organist/music director at
Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and also headed the organ departments at the
Curtis Institute and Juilliard School for many years. His program Saturday
night will include him playing pieces he’s written based on hymn tunes; the
audience and the church’s Kirk Choir will sing the hymns. Information:


Sunday at 3 p.m. at
Whittier High School

Rio Hondo Symphony;
Kimo Furumoto, conductor

In a program entitled (somewhat oddly) “No Strings
Attached,” Kimo Furumoto leads the orchestra’s string sections in music by
Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Holst and Tchaikovsky. Information:



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

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