AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: LACO to open 46th season next weekend

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.
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• Next weekend might seem like a typical season-opening set of concerts by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and in one sense it is. Jeffrey Kahane and LACO begin the ensemble’s 46th season Saturday at 8 p.m. in Glendale’s Alex Theatre and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall with, what for them, is a typical Kahane-planned program.

However, what makes the concerts different is a clicking clock. Kahane, who turned 58 on Friday, announced in April that he would retire at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season, which will be his 20th with the orchestra. Consequently, every move LACO makes in the coming years will be scrutinized as to its future direction.

Perhaps with a nod to continuity, this weekend’s program is quintessential Kahane. It opens with a world premiere — the first performance of Lines of the Southern Cross, a work for strings and percussion by young Australian-born composer Cameron Patrick — and concludes with a Beethoven’s most famous symphony, the fifth. In between comes a less-than-frequently played concerto — Saint-Säens’s fifth (the Egyptian) — with Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen as soloist

Throughout his career, Kahane has championed the orchestra’s commissioning of new works and Patrick’s is the latest in a long line of premieres. Moreover, when Kahane began his tenure 18 years ago, one of his goals was to expand the orchestra’s repertoire beyond the then-traditional baroque-era pieces to include larger works, such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Information: www.laco.org

• If you’re looking for a great concert at an affordable price, consider The Colburn Orchestra, which opens its season on Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. in Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium. Music Director Yehuda Gilad leads his young but talented ensemble in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman overture, Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite and Brahms’s Double Concerto, with Colburn School faculty members violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith as soloists.

Tickets are just $10 each. Metro riders get a $5 discount if they present their Metro TAP card. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

• The Pasadena Master Chorale will use a unique twist on a familiar pricing strategy when it opens its season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and next Sunday at 4 p.m. in Altadena Community Church. Although tickets are required, they are free but those attending are asked to pay what they think the concerts are worth following the performance, a variation on freewill offerings that many groups use to help defray costs.

Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein will conduct an eclectic program with music ranging from Hildegard of Bingen and Giovanni da Palestrina to Eric Whitacre Randall Thompson and PMC composer-in-residence Reena Esmail. Soloists will include pianist Crystele Rivette and percussionists from LaSalle High School.

Information: www.pasdenamasterchorale.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: KUSC to air Disney Hall “War Requiem” concert on Sunday

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

If you weren’t able to attend the performances of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem Sunday in Orange County or Monday in Walt Disney Concert Hall, KUSC (91.5 FM in Los Angeles and www.kusc.org) will air the L.A. performance on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Details: www.kusc.org

James Conlon conducted The Colburn Orchestra, members of the USC-Thornton Symphony, three soloists and more than 400 choristers ranging from local universities to the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus in the performances.

Links to my preview story and my review are HERE and HERE.

BTW: A Caltech link has the complete text HERE so you can follow it. Although the diction was exemplary during the Disney Hall performance, being able to read Wilfed Owen’s gripping poetry would definitely be a plus.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Conlon leads combined forces in stunning performance of “War Requiem”

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

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)
New Zealand Youth Choir (David Squire, music director)
November 25, 2013 at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles.
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Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem is one of the monuments of choral literature. It stands with the Requiems of Mozart, Brahms and Verdi and alongside other choral masterpieces such as Handel’s Messiah.

But there’s a catch. Britten’s magnum opus is so rarely performed that its emotional impact seems outsized when compared with the others on this list. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt but it certainly lessens the effect of these better-known pieces.

At last night’s preconcert lecture immediately preceding a stunning performance of War Requiem at Walt Disney Concert Hall, when Conductor James Conlon asked how many people would be hearing the piece for the first time, nearly every hand was raised. Imagine how staggered you would feel if you were hearing, for example, Verdi’s Requiem or Handel’s Messiah for the first time.

Thus it’s truly amazing that this rare performance of War Requiem, was sung and played not by the Los Angeles Philharmonic or one of our other professional ensembles but by about 400 instrumentalists and choristers, all college age or younger, along with three soloists. What could have been a train wreck was instead a vibrant, cohesive unified front, all under the steady hands and baton of Conlon, who somehow managed to sandwich this concert and last Sunday’s performance in Costa Mesa between conducting Verdi’s Falstaff and Mozart’s The Magic Flute for Los Angeles Opera.

The two local War Requiem concerts took place just days after the 100th anniversary of Britten’s birth; the 50th anniversary of President John K. Kennedy’s assassination added to the emotional nature of the evening.

How Britten, a pacifist, came to write War Requiem is reasonably well known (you can read some of the details in my preview story HERE). The basics are that he was commissioned to write a piece of his choosing for the dedication of the new St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry, England. The premiere took place on May 30, 1962.

Part of Britten’s genius in writing War Requiem was that he melded the traditional Roman Catholic Requiem Mass text with gritty poetry written by Wilfred Owen during World War I. (Ironically, Owen died on Nov. 4, 1918, exactly one week — almost to the hour — before the signing of the Armistice that ended the war; he was awarded a posthumous Military Cross). As a preface to War Requiem, Britten quoted Owen: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do is warn.” That’s just a sample of the emotional impact of the poems.

Another aspect of the work’s greatness is how Britten deployed his forces. The adult choral forces (182 voices, if everyone listed in the printed program actually sang) join with the soprano soloist to sing the traditional Requiem text, accompanied by a full-sized orchestra. A children’s chorus, accompanied by an organist, adds a potent angelic element at key points, sung last night from the top rear balcony. Tenor and baritone soloists, simulating a German and English soldier, sing Owen’s poetry, accompanied by an ensemble of 13 instruments.

In some performances, the male soloists and chamber orchestra are separated from the main body and led by a second conductor (indeed, that’s how the premiere performance was played; Britten conducted the smaller contingent while Meredith Davies led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra).

However, Conlon chose to conduct the entire performance by himself, placing the chamber ensemble directly in front of him with the larger orchestra behind them. The male soloists — tenor Joseph Kaiser and baritone Phillip Addis — flanked the conductor’s podium, while soprano Tamara Wilson sat in the middle of the front row of choristers on the choral benches. Conlon led some portions using a baton; for many of the choral sections, he laid down the stick and conducted with expressive hands.

The choral forces delivered a beautiful tone and were amazingly precise throughout the 84 minutes, but particularly in the extended fugal writing in the “Dies Irae” sections . The combined children’s choruses floated gorgeous sound with precise diction from their “heavenly” location in Disney Hall.

Soprano Tamara Wilson, symbolizing a Russian soldier, poured out rich opulent sounds that carried even over the combined choral and orchestral forces. Her melding with the chorus in the “Lacrimosa” was a highlight of the evening.

Tenor Joseph Kaiser, singing music written for Britten’s life partner, Peter Pears, delivered that bright tone so favored by English composers and Kaiser’s diction so precise that the projected supertitles were not needed. Baritone Phillip Addis’s voice turned gravely in the lower registers but he was emotionally strong in delivering some of Owen’s most poignant lines.

The Colburn Orchestra and members of the USC-Thornton Symphony played splendidly, especially given the fact that, according to one story, only Concertmaster Jeffrey Myers had ever played the work before. The 13-member ensemble (the same number that Britten used to accompany his three chamber operas) passed Britten’s melodies from hand to hand, as it were, while offering sympathetic accompaniment to Kaiser and Addis.

All forces eventually join in the final movement, “Libera Me,” in which Kaiser and Addis sang Owen’s “Strange Meeting,” a commentary on companionship between enemies after one has killed the other, interspersed with the final words of the Mass. Two bells — C and F-sharp — continue to toll as they have throughout the piece and the chorus finally dies away in a mysterious vapor. The capacity audience sat spellbound, silent for 20 seconds, before erupting in wave after wave of standing ovations for the performers — and, one thinks, also for the piece. Conlon appeared to be spent emotionally; for most of the audience, the feeling was the same.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Conlon’s typically erudite preconcert lecture was particularly helpful in showing the influences of Verdi, Berlioz and Mozart on Britten’s writing.
• The organist last night was Christoph Bull, head of the organ department at UCLA, a nice — if somewhat ironic — touch to counterbalance the presence of the USC-Thornton Symphony and two USC choirs.
• In honor of the Britten centennial, Decca has released a newly remastered version of the original recording of War Requiem, featuring the three singers who Britten intended to sing the premiere: Galina Vishnevskaya (Russian soprano), Peter Pears (English tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (German baritone). Because of international tensions, Vishnevskaya didn’t sing at the premiere (English soprano Heather Harper stepped in) but Vishnevskaya did perform in the original recording. The new version include a CD of War Requiem, , a Blu-Ray Audio format, which allows the recording to be heard at 24-bit, and a CD featuring Britten in rehearsal at the sessions in January 1963, which was produced by the legendary John Culshaw.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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.

NEWS AND LINKS: Sir Neville Marriner to receive 2012 Richard D. Colburn Award, lead The Colburn Orchestra April 22 at Disney Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Conductor Sir Neville Marriner has been named recipient of
the 2012 Richard D. Colburn Award and will lead The Colburn Orchestra, the
flagship ensemble of The Colburn School, in a gala concert on April 22 at Walt
Disney Concert Hall as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sounds About
Town” series.

 

The award honors an individual “whose lifelong dedication,
work, talent and reputation enhance the teaching and performance of classical
music or dance in the Southern California Community.” This is the first time
the award has been given to a musician. Previous winners were Ernest
Fleischmann, former executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009,
former L.A. City Councilman and L.A. County Supervisor Ed Edelman in 2010 and
Toby Mayman, the school’s founding president, last year.

 

Marriner, who will turn 88 a week before the event, co-founded
and was music director of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1969-1978. In
announcing the award, Sel Kardan, the school’s President and CEO, said: “Sir
Neville shaped the artistic landscape of Los Angeles with his time as the Music
Director of LACO and inspired and mentored our students during his guest
conductor residency in 2011. We are thrilled to honor him with a special night
of performance and celebration.”

 

Marriner will conclude the April 22 concert (which will
start at 6:30 p.m.) by leading Elgar’s Enigma
Variations.
Earlier, current Colburn Orchestra Music Director Yehuda Gilad
will conduct Rossini’s William Tell Overture
and Barber’s Violin Concerto, with Mayumi Kanagawa, a Colburn student and
winner of the 2011 Irving M. Klein International String Competition in San
Francisco, as soloist.

 

The Colburn Orchestra concert becomes the second event on
the Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series this season. “SAT” presents top-notch
local performing groups and is the cheapest way to see concerts in Disney Hall
(tickets for the Colburn Orchestra concert are $15-37).  Information:
www.laphil.com

 

The first event on the current “SAT” series will be a joint
appearance by the American Youth Symphony and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus on
March 4 at 7:30 p.m. James Conlon, Los Angeles Opera music director, and
Alexander Treger, AYS music director, will lead the ensembles in a program that
will feature the world premiere of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises, a joint
commission by AYS and LACC.  Information: www.laphil.com

 

The Colburn Orchestra is also scheduled for the 2012-2013
“SAT” series on Feb. 19, 2013 when LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will
lead the ensemble. The orchestra’s next concert at Ambassador Auditorium is
March 3, when Bramwell Tovey (music director of the Vancouver Symphony) will be
the guest conductor (LINK).

 

In addition to help to found and lead LACO, Marriner founded
London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra in 1959, which
he led from both the concertmaster’s chair and the podium until the 1990s. He
was also music director of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979-1986. He was
knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the
birth of Richard Colburn, a noted philanthropist whose donation in 1980 helped
the then-30-year-old school grow into one of the nation’s premiere music
schools. The school moved to its present location atop Los Angeles’ Bunker
Hill (across the street from Disney Hall) in 1998.

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

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
News

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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:

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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: www.laphil.com

 

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: www.laphil.com

 

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
lieder.
Information: www.colburnschool.edu

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” programs

 

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

John Weaver Hymn
Festival

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: www.ppc.net

 

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: www.riohondosymphony.org

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Look ahead to 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

Last week I looked back at some of the memorable events of
2011 (LINK). Today I look forward, and “bulging” is the most appropriate word I
can think of when describing the classical music calendar in the first quarter
of 2012 (I won’t even attempt to list everything that I think is important for
all of next year). Among the major programs scheduled in the next few months
are:

 

ORCHESTRA

The Mahler Project

The Los Angeles Philharmonic kicks off its nearly month-long
survey of Gustav Mahler’s music in mid-January. Gustavo Dudamel will lead two
of the orchestra he heads — the L.A. Phil and Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra
of Venezuela — in 17 performances from January 13 through February 4 at Walt
Disney Concert Hall and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The sweeping
enterprise will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of
the great Austrian composer-conductor Gustav Mahler (which actually took place
on May 18, 1911).

 

Dudamel (who turns age 31 on Jan. 26) will lead every
performance. The Bolivrs will play four of the symphonies, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic will play four, and the two ensembles will combine and join with
more 800 choristers and eight soloists for the Symphony No. 8 on Feb. 4 at the
Shrine Auditorium, one of the few times in history when that work’s subtitle, “Symphony
of a Thousand,” will be fact as
opposed to appellation.

 

Following the Los Angeles concerts, the entire cycle will be
performed again in Caracas, Venezuela; the Feb. 18 performance of “Symphony of
a Thousand” will be telecast live from the Venezuelan capital at 2 p.m. (PST)
in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada (LINK). “Mahler Project” information: www.laphil.com

 

Andrew Shulman
doubles down with PSO and LACO

Shulman is principal cellist of the Pasadena Symphony
Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. On Jan. 13 he will appear as
soloist with the PSO at Ambassador Auditorium playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
The following weekend (Jan. 20 and 21), he will conduct LACO in a program that
will include former Colburn School student Nigel Armstrong as soloist in
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 (Armstrong won fourth place in last June’s
Tchaikovsky Violin Competition.

PSO information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

LACO information: www.laco.org

 

The Colburn Orchestra

This top-notch student ensemble wraps up its season at
Ambassador Auditorium with concerts on Feb. 4 and March 3. The latter will be
led by Bramwell Tovey, music director of the Vancouver and principal guest
conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl for the past three
summers. The Colburn Orchestra’s free concerts go through their ticket
allotments quickly so now is the time to log on and secure your seats (you
print the tickets when you make the reservation).

Information: www.colburnschool.edu

OPERA

San Diego Opera

San Diego Opera grabs the spotlight beginning Feb. 18 when
it presents the West Coast debut of Moby
Dick
by Jake Heggie (best known, until now, for his opera Dead Man Walking). This production got
mostly rave reviews when it debuted at Dallas Opera in May 2010 (LINK with
reviews) and the San Diego production includes Canadian tenor Ben Heppner
reprising his title role performance in San Diego. SD Opera Resident Conductor
Karen Keltner will conduct. It’s sung in English with supertitles. The company
will also present a production of Richard Strauss’ Salome beginning Jan. 28, with Lise Lindstrom in the title role. Information: www.sdopera.com

 

Los Angeles Opera

February will be a busy opera month. Los Angeles Opera
resumes its 2011-2012 season with productions of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra beginning Feb. 11 in the first of seven
performances and Britten’s Albert
Herring,
which opens Feb. 25 and continues with five performances in March.
LA Opera Music Director James Conlon will conduct both operas.

 

Simon Boccanegra
is significant because Plcido Domingo is in the title role, a part that was
written for a baritone (Domingo, of course, has spent nearly all of his career
as a tenor, although he now appears to be more comfortable in lower ranges).
This production originated at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Albert Herring is
the latest in a string of Benjamin Britten operas that the company is
presenting in a lead-up to the composer’s birth centennial in 2013. Although
LAO mounted Albert Herring early in
the company’s history, this production originated at Santa Fe Opera. Alek
Shrader makes his LAO debut in the title role. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Long Beach Opera

This intrepid company explores the world of the tango with a
production of Maria de Buenos Aires,
composed by Astor Piazzolla to a libretto by poet Hoarcio Ferrer. Sung in
Spanish with English supertitles, it plays Jan. 29 and Feb. 4 at the Warner
Theater in San Pedro. Information: www.longbeachoperea.com

IN MOVIE THEATERS

On the big screen, the Metropolitan Opera continues its High
Definition telecasts into movie theaters with three screenings in January and
February, including its new production of Wagner’s Gtterdmerung on Feb. 11. Information:
www.metopereafamily.org

 

CHORAL MUSIC

Although choral music concerts occur frequently, the
three-week span from March 17-April 6 has an unusually large number of notable
events.

 

Chorale Bel Canto will
sing Bach’s Mass in B Minor on March 17 at Whittier College as the major event
in the 75th annual Whittier Bach Festival. Stephen Gothold conducts
the CBC (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year),
soloists and orchestra in this monument of choral literature. Information: www.choralebelcanto.org

 

Angeles Chorale
will celebrate what conductor John Sutton calls “America’s most significant
musical story — gospel and jazz; the stories of our lives; and musical depictions
of the human experience” on March 24 at First United Methodist Church,
Pasadena. The featured work will be Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. Information: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Los Angeles Master
Chorale,
which will present a concert of Bruckner and Stravinsky on Feb.
12, returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 31 and April 1 for a
performance of Bach’s St. John Passion. Grant
Gershon conducts both programs; the Bach features the area’s foremost
period-instrument ensemble, Musica Angelica. Information: www.lamc.org

 

As an added note:
my weekly “Five Spot” posts will return on Jan. 5. Each week, I list five notable
concerts for the upcoming weekend including, ideally, one that is either free
admission or very low cost. Have a safe and happy new year.

_______________________

 

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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Gerard Schwarz and The Colburn Orchestra at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

The Colburn Orchestra;
Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Takemitsu: From me
flows what you call Time;
Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Saturday, December 4, 2011 Ambassador Auditorium

______________________

 

When Gerard Schwarz was music director of the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra from 1978-1986, he regularly led that ensemble in Pasadena’s
Ambassador Auditorium. Saturday night he returned “home” to lead The Colburn in
a program that concluded with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

 

Mahler’s fifth will tax even the finest professional
orchestra, so to some it might have seemed foolhardy to have it tackled by a
conservatory ensemble. However, The Colburn Orchestra — the flagship ensemble
of the school that is the West Coast equivalent of New York City’s Julliard
School — is no ordinary student band as it demonstrated anew Saturday. The
musicians handled all of Schwarz’s somewhat disjointed ideas about this sprawling
work with aplomb and played their collective hearts out for their guest
conductor.

 

The 107 musicians onstage also taxed the resources of
Ambassador’s stage. With the entire brass section arrayed across the entire top
back row, the poor percussionists were treated like second cousins; the timpani
was buried in front of the brass on the left and the balance of the percussion
was tucked away on the right-hand side. The string basses were so tight against
the left-hand wall that Schwarz had to enter from the right-hand door.

 

Schwarz — who earlier this year completed a 26-year-tenure
as music director of the Seattle Symphony — had the violins seated left and
right and the cellos and violas inside of them. Conducting with a score, he led
a heavily nuanced account of the symphony that often veered into fussiness. His
fast sections, particularly in the first two movements, sped along briskly but
he turned the slow sections into sensuous, sometimes overly torpid meanderings.
The result was an episodic reading with little of the sweeping, long lines that
make Mahler distinctive.

 

Joseph Brown got things off to a splendid start with his
trumpet solos; they were a harbinger of things to come as the entire brass
section covered itself in glory throughout the performance. Schwarz brought
Principal Horn Johanna Yarbrough directly in front of him for her
third-movement solos (ask not why — the brass were heard clearly all night from
their top row perch). Although Yarbrough appeared somewhat uncomfortable,
especially during the long stretches when she wasn’t playing, she played her
lines with great sensitivity. The strings produced a lean, taut sound and the
wind sections were also noteworthy throughout the performance.

 

Many conductors would make Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (which
ran 66 minutes long Saturday) the sole piece on the program (when Gustavo
Dudamel conducts his Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela on Jan. 26
at Walt Disney Concert, Mahler’s fifth will stand alone). However, The Colburn
Orchestra elected to preface it with Toru Takemitsu’s quirky meditation From me flows what you call Time, which
featured the percussion group Smoke and
Mirrors
as soloist.

 

Not only is this 25-minute piece that features nine
connected movements quirky, the setup mandated by the Takemitsu is even
stranger. He gave precise instructions for the performers’ attire (white shirts
with colored sashes and black slacks), manner and staging (after the first
section, a flute solo played by Francesca Camuglia, the players sneak in during
the second section). On either side of the stage were different-colored ribbons
rising from the instruments to the ceiling, meant to simulate Tibetan Buddhist
prayer flags.

 

The five ensemble members — Joe Beribok, Edward Hong,
Katalin La Favre, Derek Tywoniuk and Wai Wah Ivan Wan — all study with Jack van
Geem at The Colburn School, and even those in the audience who get no joy out
of the East-West music melange from Japan’s most famous classical composer
could appreciate the musicality and dexterous movements of the soloists, who
were arrayed in front of and behind the orchestra.

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

As is usually the case, orchestra members wrote the
explanatory music notes for the program — in this case, Oboist Briana Lehman
for the Takemitsu and violinist/pianist Bora Kim for the Mahler. It’s too bad
they didn’t include the instrumentation, particularly for the Takemitsu piece.

At intermission the Smoke
and Mirrors
members changed back into formal dress and played the symphony.

Considering that patrons were asked to show up at 6:45
p.m. to assure orderly seating, the entire evening ran more than three hours in
a very warm hall. On the other hand, as Pastor Gwen Gibson noted in her brief
welcome, some people were undoubtedly glad to be in a hall with lights and
heating working, as many in the area continue without power due to Wednesday
night’s windstorms.

Prior to the performance, Colburn President and CEO Sel
Kardan came onstage to recognize and thank Mark Fabulich, the orchestra’s
manager and librarian, who is moving across Grand Avenue from The Colburn
School to assume a similar position with Los Angeles Opera. People like
Fabulich are among the unsung heroes of arts organizations, and Kardan read a
letter from The Colburn Orchestra’s Music Director Yehuda Gilad thanking him
not for his work but for his wise counsel.

_______________________

 

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

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Orchestras in the holiday season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of
this column published today in the above papers.

______________________

 

Because the holiday season is dominated by choral music,
orchestras have, in the past, tended to shy away from programs in December
unless they were holiday-theme oriented (e.g., Handel’s Messiah). This year, things are different.

 

Esa-Pekka Salonen, who music director of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic for 17 years, is in town for two weeks of concerts with his old
band (his L.A. Phil title is now Conductor Laureate). Today he’s leading
Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 2, with an old
friend, Emmanuel Ax, soloing in the concerto (which, despite its number, was
actually the first piano concerto that Beethoven wrote).

 

The second half of the program is Sirens by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. Soprano Hila Plitmann
and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter join the orchestra and Los Angeles
Master Chorale in the work, which is based on The Siren Song from Homer’s The
Odyssey
and is receiving its world premiere this weekend. (Read my review
of Friday’s performance HERE.)

 

Salonen is leading another world premiere Friday, Saturday
and next Sunday: the Prologue to Shostakovich’s Orango, an unfinished satirical opera that the composer sketched in
1932 while he was writing his opera Lady
Macbeth of the Mtsensk District
. Only the 40-minute Prologue was
completed in piano vocal score, which was discovered in 2006. The Phil, a large
group of soloists, and the Master Chorale will present the work, orchestrated
by English composer Gerard McBurney and staged by Peter Sellars. The program
concludes with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4.  I have more on this concert at the bottom of the review
posted above and I’ll add more details on my “Five-Spot” post on Thursday.

 

On Dec. 8, 9 and 10, Thomas Wilkins — principal conductor of
the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra — leads the Phil in a program of movie music as
the orchestra’s contribution to the “Pacific Standard Time” series under the
auspices of the Getty Museum. Information: www.laphil.com

 

Elsewhere on the orchestral front:

The Pasadena
Symphony
will get into the holiday spirit with a candlelight program
Saturday at 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper, artistic
director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony, will conduct the PSO,
vocalist Lisa Vroman, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Donald Brinegar
Singers and L.A. Bronze (a handbell ensemble) in an eclectic program of holiday
music. Information:
www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

 

The Colburn
Orchestra
continues its season next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Ambassador
Auditorium as guest conductor Gerard Schwarz leads the ensemble in Mahler’s
Symphony No. 5 and Takemitsu’s From Me
Flows What You Call Time,
with a local percussion ensemble, Smoke and
Mirrors, as soloists in the Takemitsu piece. For Schwarz, it’s something of a
homecoming. Prior to becoming music director of the Seattle Symphony, Schwarz
held a similar position with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which used to
perform in Ambassador. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

 

Music Director Jeffrey Kahane will lead his Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Dec.
10 at the Alex Theater in Glendale and 11 at Royce Hall, UCLA. Cellist Ralph
Kirshbaum will be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra. The program
also includes music by Ravel, Respighi and Thomas Ads. Information: www.laco.org

_______________________

 

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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on October 20, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

______________________

 

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 I actually have three such events — to
make up for last week when I had none.

 

Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Today and Tomorrow
at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

In advance of the Phil’s trip to San Francisco next week,
Dudamel conducts John Adams’ Short Ride
in a Fast Machine
and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. Johannes Moser will be
the soloist in the world premiere of Magnetar,
Concerto for Electric Cello,
by Mexican composer-guitarist Enrico Chapela. “What,”
you ask, “is an electric cello?” Yamaha, creator of the instrument, provides
details in the following link.

Electric cello release.doc

Concert info: www.laphil.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at the Greek Theatre

Pasadena Pops; Marvin
Hamlisch, conductor. Idina Menzel, vocalist

If you still need a Pops fix, Marvin Hamlisch and the Pops
play back up for Menzel, who won a Tony Award in 2005 for her role as Elphaba
in Wicked on Broadway. The program
will reportedly include selections from pop, musical theater favorites
(including Wicked and Rent), as well as selections from her
album of original songs, I Stand.
Info: www.greektheatrela.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” programs …

 

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

Cappella Gloriana

This San Diego professional chorale opens the church’s “Friends
of Music” series of nine free concerts performing music by its founder and
director, Stephen Sturk, with organist Martin Green and the San Diego Harmony
Ringers Handbell Choir. Info: www.ppc.net

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

The Colburn
Orchestra. Yehuda Gilad, conductor

Gilad will conduct Shostakovich’s Festival Overture and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. Colburn student
Estelle Choi will be the soloist in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1.
There’s a wait list available for the free tickets. Info: www.colburnschool.edu

 

Sunday at 6 p.m. at
Royce Hall, UCLA

American Youth
Symphony. Alexander Treger, conductor; Rod Gilfry, baritone

Treger leads another of the region’s top-notch training
orchestras in Bernstein’s Candide Overture
and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Rod
Gilfry will be the soloist in selections from CarouselTrouble
in Tahiti
Sweeney Todd
and The Most Happy Fella. For my profile on this concert,
click HERE. The concert is free (although a $10 donation is suggested); make
reservations through the orchestra’s Web site. Info: aysmphony.org

_______________________

 

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