COMPENDIUM: Happy Birthday “Hurricane Mama!”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles News Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
hurricanemama_head
This weekend marks the official celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, dubbed “Hurricane Mama” by organist and composer Terry Riley after he first played it. The Los Angeles News Group has published several of my articles on the organ and upcoming concerts and following are the links:

• Organist Cameron Carpenter’s appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic is HERE. I have an additional article on Cameron at the bottom of this post HERE.
• My profile of composer Stephen Hartke, whose Symphony No. 4 is receiving its world premiere this weekend, is HERE.

• What’s behind the façade of the Disney Hall organ? Published online HERE. Additional notes on the WDCH organ stories are at the bottom of this post HERE.

• Timothy Mangan, music critic of the Orange County Register, has a sparkling interview with Cameron HERE.

Concert performance details:

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor.
Barber: Toccata Festiva; Cameron Carpenter, organist
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”); Cameron Carpenter, organist
Hartke: Symphony No. 4; Joanne Pearce Martin, organist, Heidi Stober, soprano
• Nov. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.
NOTE: In place of a preconcert recital, Cameron Carpenter will play a recital at 6:45 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com
• Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa
Same program; Rich Capparella will give a preconcert lecture at 1 p.m.
Information: 949/553-2422; www.philharmonicsociety.org

Happy Birthday “Hurricane Mama”: Pulling Out all the Stops
Organ recital by eight different organists; hosted by Michael Barrone of “Pipedreams”
Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: Cameron Carpenter, L.A. Philharmonic, to celebrate Disney Hall Organ

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

My preview article on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s concerts next weekend (Nov. 20-23) with organist Cameron Carpenter is published on Los Angeles News Group Web sites HERE. It will be published in the above papers Sunday.

Carpenter-w-ITOCameron Carpenter poses in front of his International Touring Organ, on which is now playing nearly of his solo recitals.

Cameron Carpenter’s digital revolution

Wacky and Wonderful. Goofy and Genius. There are more nicknames attached to organist Cameron Carpenter than his age (33). The Los Angeles Philharmonic, on its Web site, terms Carpenter a “subversive organ virtuoso” and an “audacious arranger.”

Finding a single descriptive word or phrase is impossible. Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times has written: “Carpenter is one of the rare musicians who changes the game of his instrument… He is a smasher of cultural and classical music taboos. He is technically the most accomplished organist I have ever witnessed… And, most important of all, the most musical.”

Carpenter has been a lightning-rod figure in the world of classical music since he emerged onto the scene as a pre-teen. He was born in rural northwestern Pennsylvania and home schooled by his parents (who he described in one article as “ex-hippies”). He began playing the piano at age 4 and at the same age fell in love with the organ, not because he heard one but because of a photo he saw in a music encyclopedia of someone playing the cinema organ from the 1920s. “I was immediately mesmerized by the glamour of the instrument,”

Carpenter continued his piano lessons and performed Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier at age 11 before joining the American Boychoir School in 1992 as a boy soprano, where he again became interested in the organ. He made his European debut as an organist when he was 13.

During his four years of high school studies at The North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Carpenter played for the First Baptist Church and was resident organist at the Reynolda House of American Art. While in high school, Carpenter also studied orchestration and orchestral composition and transcribed for the organ more than 100 major works, including Gustav Mahler’s complete Symphony No. 5.

Carpenter went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at The Juilliard School where he studied with such organ luminaries as Gerre Hancock, John Weaver and Paul Jacobs; the latter has been chair of the organ department at Juilliard since 2004, despite being just four years older than Carpenter.

Carpenter also continued composing at Juilliard: art songs; the symphonic poem Child of Baghdad for orchestra, chorus and Ondes Martenot; his first substantial works for solo organ; and numerous organ arrangements of piano works by Chopin, Godowsky, Grainger, Ives, Liszt, Medtner, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and others.

Carpenter has played pipe organs throughout the world, growing increasingly dissatisfied with the limitations each instrument places on the performer. Those limitations include where the console is located, often hidden from the audience. For make no mistake, Carpenter is, first and foremost, a performer. He often strolls into the hall an hour before each recital talking and shaking hands with friends and strangers alike.

Cameron_CarpenterThe performing environment is critical to Carpenter and it’s one reason he loves playing the organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall. “I believe that music is both an aural and a visual art and the entire look of Disney Hall and its organ exemplifies that,” he told me. But asked how long it would take to register the Disney Hall organ for this weekend’s programs (Barber’s Toccata Festiva, Carpenter’s transcription of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4, Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 and a preconcert recital), he groaned, “Too long!”

That was one of the frustrations that led him to Marshall & Ogletree, of Needham, Mass. Together they have built what he calls the International Touring Organ, a massive, innovative digital instrument that Carpenter now uses for his recitals. The ITO (which nearly fills a concert hall stage) has a console that is 9’ x 7’ and 10, and gigantic speakers, each 2.5 x 4.5 feet.

Unlike violinists, who travel with and plays their personal instruments, organists (and pianists) are at the mercy of the instrument in the hall or church. Vladimir Horowitz, who had a reputation for eccentricity similar to Carpenter’s, traveled with his own Steinway piano. Until now an organist could not do this, except for one: Virgil Fox, who in the 1970s traveled with an analog Rodgers Touring (electronic) organ and then an Allen Organ.

However, comparing those instruments to the ITO is to compare, well, analog and digital formats. Among other advantages, the digital age enables Carpenter to program thousands of sounds from the organs that he has most admired into the ITO. One way to hear just how amazing the instrument sounds is on his newly released SONY CD, If You Could Read My Mind. If you have a top-notch sound system in your car or at home, the music will rattle your windows.

Remarkably the ITO takes far less time to set up than it takes Carpenter to register a pipe organ. The entire instrument fills a single truck. Load in begins at 9 a.m. on the day of the recital and by about 11:15 a.m. the instrument is set up and ready for testing. Carpenter spends five hours in the afternoon testing, checking the hall’s acoustics and rehearsing. Load out after the concert takes a mere two hours.

The ITO made its debut in New York last March and in Europe two months later. Carpenter already has 90 performances booked for next year. Identical European and American sound systems (housed in Berlin and Needham, MA) make this truly an “international” touring organ.

Moreover, the ITO opens up thousands of venues that don’t have a pipe organ and he will even use the ITO in places where a pipe organ exists, such as the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia next January and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in February.

Thus, the Disney Hall recital in which he will play this Sunday and the preconcert recitals before the Thursday, Friday and Saturday concerts will be increasingly rare events: hearing Cameron Carpenter playing a recital an actual pipe organ. “It has,” says Carpenter, “taken far less time than I would have imagined to eradicate any solos on pipe organs from my itinerary.”
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PROFILE: Stephen Hartke is ready for a long-delayed closeup

hurricanemama_headBy Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor.
Barber: Toccata Festiva; Cameron Carpenter, organist
Hartke: Symphony No. 4; Joanne Pearce Martin, organist, Heidi Stober, soprano
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”); Cameron Carpenter, organist
• Nov. 20 and 21 at 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.
NOTE: In place of a preconcert recital, Cameron Carpenter will play a recital at 6:45 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Information: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com
• Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa
Same program; Rich Capparella will give a preconcert lecture at 1 p.m.
Information: 949/553-2422; www.philharmonicsociety.org
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HartkeMore than four years after it was supposed to debut, Symphony No. 4 by Stephen Hartke (right) will finally get its world premiere during a highly appropriate weekend, as the Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall with concerts on Nov. 20, 21, 22 and 23.

LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the programs, which will include Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”), with Cameron Carpenter as the soloist.

What makes Harke’s three-movement work appropriate is that he always intended it to be a symphony for orchestra with organ. “It’s not an organ concerto,” says the 62-year-old Glendale resident, who has taught composition at the USC Thornton School of Music for 27 years. “My idea all along was to use the organ as an integral part of the orchestra, as a fifth choir, so to speak [Ed. Note: along with strings, winds, brass and percussion]. It’s the largest symphony that I have written — when you have as big an instrument as the Disney Hall organ, you have to respond to it.”

Symphony No. 4 was originally scheduled to be the in the final concert of Dudamel’s inaugural season in 2009-2010 but a combination of circumstances caused a delay. “Some pieces take a long to write; some pieces don’t,” he explains with a shrug. “Along the way I had other pieces to write, so here we are.”

During the past decade the work also underwent a significant change. “I happened upon a [Frederico Garcia] Lorca “gypsy ballad” poem, Sleepwalking Ballad,” relates Hartke, “and so the end of the symphony became like Mahler 4, where the main drama of the piece has been played out and you have an aria at the end, a reflection on some of the issues in the piece, that kind of takes the piece in a different direction.”

Why Lorca? “I don’t know precisely why Sleepwalking Ballad struck me as a fitting ending for the piece,” concedes Hartke, “but once I read it I couldn’t get it out of my head. Lorca’s poetry is very vivid and serene at the same time.” (Read the poem’s text HERE) American soprano Heidi Stober will sing the poetic ballad in this weekend’s performances.

Perhaps it was ordained that Hartke would write this work. “I’ve been wanting to write a piece for organ for a long time,” says Hartke, who was composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1988 to 1992. When he was an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara he served for a time as organist for a small church in Isla Vista, “but I wouldn’t boast about it,” he admits with a chuckle.

However as he came to know the Disney Hall organ, he fell in love with it. “I got to spend a fair amount of time with the instrument on off hours and holidays and decided on a kind of palette of things I wanted to do,” he explains.

“In the first movement the organist mostly plays single line but it does things that only the organ can do, such as shaking the floor a little bit. In the middle section, I use registrations that create colors, and overtones to create sounds that are almost like what you get in percussion and strings. In the last movement I let the organist pull out all the stops, to use that metaphor in its literal sense. In the end, it turned out to be a more extensive part that I expected it would be.”

Martin_playing4WebIt was also a piece that was written specifically for the L.A. Phil under a commission from Edward Halvajian (1935-2009), former chairman of the Orange County Philharmonic Society. “It was my plan in the beginning to write a piece that would use the entire roster of the orchestra,” he says.

Joanne Pearce Martin (pictured right playing the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ) — who has been the orchestra’s principal keyboard player since 2001 and will be playing the organ part — is excited about the upcoming premiere. “I can’t wait to hear the piece with the orchestral,” she said earlier this week. “So far, all I’ve been able to do is visualize the orchestral part in my mind from studying the whole score. The organ part is very colorful, very intricate; there’s a lot of weaving in and out of the orchestra. It’s a very beautiful piece.. I think it’s going to be great.”

The premiere will put Hartke in the spotlight, which also happened in 2013 when he won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. His Meanwhile — Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays was recorded by eighth Blackbird, which also won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance that year.

“It wasn’t a surprise that eight Blackbird got a Grammy for the disc,” say Hartke, “but it was a surprise that I got it. I’ve never kept track of the Grammys; it was amusing to go to the ceremony. It probably meant more to my students than to me. I just have this funny-looking thing in the other room that I have to dust once in awhile.”
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Salonen, L.A. Phil premiere Saariaho’s organ work

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Janáček: Sinfionetta; Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite
Saariaho: Maan varjot (Earth’s Shadows) (U.S. premiere); Olivier Latry, organist
Next performances: Tonight at 8 p.m. Tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com

EThe Los Angeles Philharmonic has never seemed to quite know how best to use the pipe organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Nonetheless, the orchestra is celebrating the instrument’s 10th anniversary throughout this season (it took all of the hall’s first season to fine-tune the organ; thus its debut was a year after the hall debuted). Perhaps after several orchestral concerts and recitals in 2014-2015, that best use will emerge. For now, we can simply delight that we are hearing a real pipe organ in a concert hall.

The first of several orchestral concerts this season celebrating the organ are being conducted by the orchestra’s conductor laureate, Esa-Pekka Salonen (pictured above), who was instrumental (pun intended) in the design and creation of Walt Disney Concert Hall, including the imposing, intriguing instrument that was later nicknamed “Hurricane Mama” by organist and composer Terry Riley.

To celebrate the organ, it’s certainly no surprise that Salonen chose a work by Kaija Saariaho. She, like Salonen, is a Finnish composer and Salonen has conducted many of her works with the Phil. Her music is an acquired taste and I freely admit that I haven’t found the key to enjoying it fully yet.

Maan varjot (Earth Shadows) received its U.S. premiere last night at Disney Hall. The Finnish title comes from lines in Shelley’s ode to John Keats:
“The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly.”

The 15-minute work was commissioned the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and three European organizations. The world premiere took place in Montreal last May — like Disney Hall, that organ (created and built by Casavant Frères of nearby Saint-Hyacinthye, Quebec) was inaugurated in the second season of the city’s new concert hall. The soloist was French organist Olivier Latry and Kent Nagano conducted the OSM.

Latry was on hand here last night, as well; in fact, no other soloist has played the work, with good reason — the technical requirements for both organist and orchestra will probably limit its reception.

Although Saariaho grew up playing the organ, this is one of the first pieces she has written for the instrument. The three-movement work is not really an organ concerto, as she explains in the program note: “I didn’t want to create a duel of decibels. Rather, it is a work with a prominent solo organ part, some kind of a fruitful and inspiring companionship, in which two strong but civilized personalities can co-exist without having to fight too much for the place in the sun.”

The first movement featured mysterious, dissonant tones with Latry weaving the organ in and out of the orchestral fabric; deep organ bass notes resonated from the instrument’s distinctive wooden pipes throughout the building (see Hemidemisemiquavers below for info on the Disney Hall organ).

In the preconcert lecture Saariaho said the second movement is the heart of the piece and, consequently, this is the one section where the organ is most prominent.

The third movement wandered between the wild, the weird and the wacky as Sarriaho gave Latry the biggest opportunity to show off both his considerable technical skill and the instrument’s varied colors.

Salonen conducted the piece without a baton and the orchestra handled the difficult writing with aplomb. After its conclusion, much of the audience gave everyone involved — organist, composer, orchestra and conductor — effusive applause.

The organ work was bracketed by two muscular orchestral pieces from the early 20th century that rank high on my list of unjustly neglected works (technically Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite was begun in 1893 but it was revised several times up to its final version, which wasn’t published until 1954).

Leoš Janáček’s Sinfionetta is worth discovering if only for its and the composer’s backstories. Janáček wrote the piece at age 72, the result of a dozen-year correspondence of some 700 letters between Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, a young married woman 38 years his junior, who would become his muse.

In 1925 they heard a military band concert in which the musicians played standing. So taken with the idea was Janáček that the first movement of this 25-minute work features 13 brass players (nine trumpets and four other horns) who for this concert were standing in the first row of the bench seats behind the orchestra. The balance of the work is, in effect, a standard four-movement symphony.

The Phil played with equal mixtures of rhythmically crispness and luxuriant tones and Salonen conducted exuberantly. Hearing Sinfionetta again was a genuine pleasure and the audience’s response was enthusiastic, particularly for the first work of a concert.

After intermission, Salonen turned to Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite. The story of Salonen resisting the music of his countryman early in his conducting career is well known but this four-movement, 50-minute work — based on portions of the Nordic legend, The Kalevala — was an exception. Salonen was age 22 when he led the first complete LAPO performance of the work in 1991, a year before he officially became the Phil’s 10th music director. He and the orchestra subsequently recorded it (amazingly for a 23-year-old recording, it’s still available).

Last night was a richly rewarding performance, demonstrating again the exquisite acoustics of Disney Hall and reinforcing the joy of hearing a work played live as opposed to a recording. This was particularly true in the work’s best-known section, The Swan of Tuonela, which featured a stunningly soulful performance by Carolyn Hove on English horn. We’ve become so used to hearing Hove’s beautiful playing since she joined the Phil in 1988 that we sometimes take it for granted but on this night she was extraordinary.

Salonen conducted this movement without a baton (he used a stick in the other three) and he and the orchestra rose to the heights of Hove’s gorgeous solo work. The audience responded with a thunderous, and well-deserved, standing ovation.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• This week’s preconcert lecture host was Eric Bromberger, a violinist with the La Jolla Symphony who writes program notes for several different organizations including the San Diego Symphony and the Washington Performing Arts Center at the Kennedy Center.

He began by interviewing Saariaho and Latry. I wished he had asked Latry the differences between the new Montreal organ and the Disney Hall instrument but no such luck. Latry did say that the Disney Hall instrument has grown in its 10 years of existence but didn’t elaborate on what he meant.

After the short interview Bromberger discussed the Janáček and Sibelius works with skill and enthusiasm. In part because he was wearing a headset microphone he was clearly understandable even in the back of BP Hall, and he handled the iPod technology smoothly (something that doesn’t always happen). Overall this was one of the best preconcert lectures I can remember attending.
• This week’s concerts are among those offering $20 seats for selected seats, in addition to student and senior rush tickets (INFO). The lower prices didn’t seem to help; there were more empty seats than at any LAPO Disney Hall concert I can ever remember.
• The next orchestra concerts in the organ celebration are Nov. 20, 21, and 22l, with LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conducting. These are also scheduled to feature a first hearing — this one the world premiere of the long-delayed Symphony No. 4 (“Organ”) by Stephen Hartke — along with the most famous work for organ with orchestra: Saint-Säens’ Symphony No. 3. Organist Cameron Carpenter will be the exemplary soloist. LINK
• After those three concerts Dudamel, Carpenter and the orchestra journey to Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa for what we used to call a “run-out” concert. This will give people a unique opportunity to compare the Disney Hall organ with the C.B. Fisk instrument in the Orange County hall. Incidentally, the Hartke symphony was commissioned by former Orange County Philharmonic Society Board Chairman Edward Halvajian (1935-2009). LINK
• In an organ concert of a different stripe, theatre organist Clark Wilson returns to Disney Hall for his annual Halloween concert on Oct. 31, this one with music accompanying the 1922 silent film landmark Nosferatu, the first film so-called Vampire film. Feel free to come in costume but take note of the restrictions outlined in the LINK
• The Disney Hall organ — 6,145 pipes (72 stops, 109 ranks), ranging in size from a pencil to a telephone pole — is one of the larger and most impressive instruments in Southern California. Frank Gehry, the Disney Hall architect, and organ builder Manuel Rosales, Jr. collaborated on the unusual visual design, including the curved wood façade pipes made of Douglas fir — I liken their look to an overturned bag of French fries. Rosales and Glatter-Götz Orgelbau of Germany built the mechanical design, construction, tuning and voicing. Behind the façade are three levels of pipes, including metal pipes made of tin and lead alloys and wood pipes made of Norwegian pine. (More info HERE)
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic open 2014-2015 season with scintillating Mahler

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

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Oct. 2 at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Lang: man made; Sō Percussion, soloists
Mahler: Symphony No. 5
Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com
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My review of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s season-opening concert is online at our papers’ Web site HERE.

Following are some of my additional thoughts on the concert:
• Taking bows continues to be an art form for Dudamel at Disney Hall, but each concert is different. Last night he waded into the orchestra and shook Neil’s hand first. In a later bow, he asked Hooten, Bain and other principals to stand, then sections — even some of the string sections were singled out (an unusual touch). Of course, Dudamel and the orchestra turned to those in seats behind the stage; the audience always loves that.

• Mark Swed’s review in the Los Angeles Times is HERE and Timothy Mangan’s take in the Orange County Register is HERE. Obviously they liked David Lang’s piece more than I did. That’s the fun of reading multiple reviews.

• Dudamel will lead the second week of concerts on Oct. 9, 10, 11 and 12 in a program of John Adams’ Harmonium, along with Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor). Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will be the soloists. INFORMATION: www.laphil.com

• Following those concerts Dudamel, who had an extremely busy summer, apparently will take a vacation from conducting for a month before returning to lead the Phil Nov. 20-23 (His Web site lists no concerts between the LAPO programs). INFO
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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