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

______________________

 

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: 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

_______________________

 

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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