FIVE-SPOT: April 20-23, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending. Once again, Saturday will be a VERY busy day.

APRIL 20, 22, 23: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
8 p.m. April 20 and 22; 2 p.m. April 23
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony, returns “home” (he’s a Santa Monica native) to lead the Phil in a program that features the west coast premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto, with Paul Jacobs as soloist. The concerto is bookended by Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“from the New World”). The Rouse concerto, a L.A. Phil co-commission, debuted last fall in Philadelphia.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

APRIL 21: HIGH SCHOOL CHORAL FESTIVAL
1 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles (see “Additional Concert” below)
1,000 high school students from 30 Southland schools can be heard in a free concert when the Los Angeles Master Chorale presents the 28th Annual High School Choir Festival. The Festival choir will be led by LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon in a varied program that features works by this year’s guest artist singer/composer Moira Smiley. Smiley will also teach the massive choir body percussion to accompany one of her songs.

BONUS: Free admission, first come, first served (which means it’s a great — and cost effective — opportunity to hear choral music in Disney Hall).

ADDITIONAL CONCERT: Assistant conductor Jenny Wong will lead 16 members of the Chorale in a concert at 11 a.m. This one is also free but tickets must be arranged through the Master Chorale Web Site (see below).

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.lamasterchorale.org

APRIL 21: THE COLBURN ORCHESTRA
7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Guest Conductor Christian Arming (music director of the Liège Royal Philharmonic) leads this top-notch conservatory orchestra in a program that features a collection of songs by Irving Berlin sung by tenor Joshua Wheeker and danced by The Colburn Dance Academy. The songs are bookended by Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

BONUS: This concert is part of the L.A. Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series, which means that tickets are very reasonably priced ($15-$44). So, if you’ve never heard a concert in Disney Hall, this is a great opportunity.

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

APRIL 21: “WEST SIDE STORY”
8 p.m. at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts; La Mirada
The McCoy-Rigby mounting of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, his iconic retelling of Romeo and Juliet, moves to La Mirada for an extended run that lasts through May 14.

BONUS: Nice ticket prices: $14-$70.

Information: lamirdadatheatre.com

APRIL 22 AND 23: LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
8 p.m. April 22 at Alex Theatre; Glendale
7 p.m. April 23 at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
In his penultimate concert as LACO Music Director, Jeffrey Kahane leads the orchestra, soloists and members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Information: www.laco.org

APRIL 22: BACH’S “GOLDBERG VARIATIONS”
3 p.m. at The Huntington Library; San Marino
Harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon will play one of Bach’s most famous keyboard works as part of Camerata Pacifica’s 27th season.

Information: www.cameratapacifica.org

APRIL 22: AMERICAN YOUTH SYMPHONY
6 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
Music Director Carlos Izcaray leads his young musicians in a performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, and Korngold’s Violin Concerto, with Rachel Ostler as soloist.

BONUS: Tickets are free but should be reserved in advance (the concert is nearly sold out). The concert is followed by a ticketed gala dinner; reservations are required.

Information: aysymphony.org

APRIL 22: PUCCINI’S “TOSCA”
7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; Los Angeles
Sondra Radvanovsky returns to L.A. to reprise her role in Puccini’s tear jerker. James Conlon conducts and John Caird oversees his original LA Opera staging. Other performances are April 27, May 2, 5 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 30 and May 7 at 2 p.m.

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then west up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laopera.org

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

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FIVE-SPOT: April 6-9, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending.

APRIL 6-8: PACIFIC SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
Music Director Carl St.Clair leads the Pacific Symphony in the orchestra’s annual American Composers Festival, which this year features Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, along with John Adams’ The Darma at Big Sur and Frank Tichelli’s Blue Shades. Alan Chapman offers a preview one hour before each performance.

BONUS: The April 7 and 8 performances are being taped for a future broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances” series. The Boyer piece will be played as a stand-alone program on April 9.

For an excellent preview by OC Register staff writer Paul Hodgins, click HERE.

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

APRIL 6, 8 AND 9: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
8 p.m. on April 6. 2 p.m. on April 8 and 9
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Former L.A. Phil Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (now the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate) leads the Phil in an all-Sibelius program: Symphony Nos. 6 and 7; Finlandia; and Six Humoresques, Op. 89, with Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via the Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.org

APRIL 7-8: NEW WEST SYMPHONY
April 7 at 8 p.m. at Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Oxnard
April 8 at 8 p.m. at Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks
Kynan Johns, the latest in a line of guest conductors vying to become the orchestra’s next music director, leads Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique; and Poulenc’s Gloria, with soprano So Young Park and the Cal Lutheran University Choral Ensembles.

Information: www.newwestsymphony.org

APRIL 9: “FEEL THE SPIRIT” — LCPC CHANCEL CHOIR AND ORCHESTRA
2 p.m. at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, La Cañada
Music Director Jack Lantz leads his choir and orchestra (each of which numbers 60 performers) in a concert of famous American hymns, songs and spirituals. Disclaimer: my wife and I sing in the choir, so feel free to take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt, as the late, great Molly Ivins used to say.

Seven of the spirituals were arranged by English composer John Rutter, who is far better known for his Christmas carol settings, but these arrangements are a winner!

BONUS: Free Admission (freewill offering with a suggested donation of $20; everyone who donates any amount and fills out a form will receive a CD of the concert later).

Information: www.lacanadapc.org

APRIL 9: CALDER QUARTET
4 p.m. at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
The Broad’s Artists-in-Residence play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 2, Op. 18, No. 2 and 8, Op. 59, No. 2, and the world premiere of Andrew McIntosh’s wrestle, stain, whistle and pound.

BONUS: The McIntosh piece is one of several that are being commissioned for this series, inspired by the Op. 59 quartets.

The Broad Stage can be reached via Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the 17th St./SMCC station and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there.

Information: www.thebroadstage.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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REVIEW: Jaap van Zweden and the L.A. Phil — when two fifths make up more than a whole

By ROBERT D. THOMAS
Southern California News Group Music Critic

Jaap van Zweden (pictured left), who was in town this weekend to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has a reputation as an intense podium presence (the photos on his Web site play to that image).

The 56-year-old Amsterdam native has rocketed up the conducting ranks in recent years, first as music director of the Dallas Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic and, beginning in 2018-2019 as leader of the New York Philharmonic. This was reportedly just the second time he has conducted the L.A. Phil — the last was in 2000.

His program this weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall played to his strengths — the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Shostakovich — and, consequently, the musical interpretations did not surprise, at all. However, his demeanor did reveal touches of humor that were a surprise, and the orchestra responded to everything he did with a superb performance.

In just a few rehearsals and two concerts (last night was the second of three this weekend), van Zweden took full advantage of Disney Hall’s ultra-live acoustics and the orchestra’s formidable skills. He seated all of the violins to the left of the podium and positioned the piano, celeste and two harps behind them. He put the violas to his right with the basses behind them and the cellos more or less in the middle.

From my seat in the Orchestra East section that made for a rich, sonorous string sound, and van Zweden — who before he became a conductor was the youngest concertmaster in the history of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebow Orchestra — reveled in the hall’s ability to elicit the softest of pianissimos from all string sections.

In his preconcert lecture, Eric Bromberger (who, among other things is a violinist) said he had never played or heard a program pairing Beethoven’s fifth with Shostakovich’s fifth. Neither have I and, perhaps, with good reason. It made for 80 minutes of intense music making with little respite — even the Largo movement of the Shostakovich was intense under Zweden’s leadership. The intensity translated to the musicians. Although Zweden occasionally cracked a smile, the orchestra never did.

Bromberger noted that both symphonies begin in darkness, end in triumph and conclude with the entire orchestra playing a single note. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 begins in C minor, concludes in C major and ends with a single “C”. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 begins in D minor, concludes in D Major and ends with a single “D”. That provided some different ways to consider the two pieces, which are among their centuries’ best-known symphonies.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect were those final movements. Under van Zweden’s ministrations, both works were relentless in their overall concept, but while Beethoven’s fifth was as quick as I have ever heard it played, the Shostakovich was more deliberate than many other renditions I have heard.

Anyone watching and listening to van Zweden will inevitably wonder how his style will translate to the Big Apple when he takes over the NYPO — he becomes music director-designate next season when he conducts three sets of subscription concerts, plus the season-opening gala.

All of next year’s programs are in the “power mode” — the one unusual piece is the New York premiere of Philip Glass’ Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, with Katia and Marielle Labèque as soloists. We don’t know how his style will play when he programs pieces outside of the power slot.

However, it’s even more fascinating to contemplate the leadership van Zweden will be able to exert in the renovation of the NYPO’s home, now called David Geffen Hall. A man who grew up playing in the Concertgebow and who has guest-conducted in many of the world’s great venues, including Disney Hall, will surely know what he wants and what the orchestra needs. How that translates into reality will be something to watch in future years.

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

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FIVE-SPOT: March 9-16, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending.

MARCH 9 AND 10: RALPH KIRSHBAUM AND SHAI WOSNER PLAY BEETHOVEN
8 p.m. in The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills

Kirshbaum and Wosner play Beethoven’s complete cello sonatas over the course of two nights, along with music by Mozart and Handel. Kirshbaum is chair of the strings department at the USC Thornton School of Music and holds the school’s Gregor Piatigorsky Chair for Violincello.

BONUS: Kirshbaum and Wosner recently issued a CD of this music.

Information: www.thewallis.org

MARCH 10: USC THORNTON SYMPHONY PLAYS MAHLER
7:30 p.m. in Bovard Auditorium (USC); Los Angeles

Guest conductor Uriel Segal leads the USC Thornton Symphony in Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.

BONUS: Free Admission. Bovard Auditorium is easily accessible via Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the Expo Park/USC line and walk north through the USC campus to reach Bovard (adjacent to the Tommy Trojan statue).

Information: www.music.usc.edu

MARCH 10, 11 AND 12: “WEST SIDE STORY”
March 10 at 8 p.m. March 11 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 12 at 3 p.m.
In Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge); Northridge

As we close in on the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth (Aug. 15, 2018), McCoy Rigby Entertainment brings its production of the composer’s best-known work to VPAC. Next month it begins a run at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (INFO).

BONUS: The Sunday show will be a sign-language interpreted performance. Also, check Goldstar for potential discount tickets HERE.

Information: www.vallerperformingartscenter.org

MARCH 10, 11 AND 12: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC — BEETHOVEN AND SHOSTAKOVICH
March 10 at 11 a.m. March 11 at 8 p.m. March 12 at 2 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles

Guest conductor Jaap van Zweden, incoming music director of the New York Philharmonic and continuing in the same role at the Hong Kong Philharmonic, conducts the LAPO in the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Shostakovich.

BONUS: This represents a chance to compare and contrast the LAPO performance of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic on March 16 at VPAC (see below).

Information: www.laphil.org

MARCH 15 AND 16: ST. PETERSBURG PHILHARMONIC
Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; Costa Mesa
Thursday at 8 p.m. in Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge); Northridge

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic and its longtime conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, are ending a cross-country U.S. tour with concerts in California. The OC concert is Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2, selections from Prokofiev’s ballet score Romeo and Juliet, and the Russian composer’s Violin Concerto No. 2, with Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji as soloist.

The VPAC concert is Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, with Garrick Ohlsson as the soloist. So, as noted above, this concert gives us a chance to compare the L.A. Phil with the folks from St. Petersburg who have Shostakovich in their collective DNA.

Costa Mesa information: www.philharmonicsociety.org
VPAC information: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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ON THE ROAD: Angels Flight to reopen by Labor Day?

Occasional posts on public transit and related stories …

According to a story on today’s Los Angeles Times Web site HERE, Angels Flight — the funicular railway that connects Bunker Hill with Hill St. — is scheduled to be operating by Labor Day. The 298-foot rail line has been shut down since a derailment in 2003. The railway first opened in 1901, albeit in a slight different location.

The story is particularly good news for those visiting the museums, Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Colburn School and the Music Center atop Bunker Hill. Because the lower entrance to Angels Flight is just steps away from the northwest portal of the Metro Red and Purple Line’s Pershing Square entrance, it was easy for Metro passengers to ride Angels Flight to the California Plaza exit atop Bunker Hill and then have a short, flat walk down Grand Ave. to MOCA, Colburn, and Disney Hall and, after crossing 1st St., to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum of the Music Center. Since Angels Flight shut down, The Broad Museum has opened on Grand Ave., as well.

All of these are accessible from the 1st and Hill St. portal from the Civic Center/Grand Park station, but it’s a steep, uphill walk to get to the top of Bunker Hill. Since the railway shut down, pedestrians have been forced to use a 153-step, steep walkway to ascend the grade.

Laura J. Nelson’s article does a good job of explaining the history and recent travails of Angels Flight. I, for one, had hoped that Metro would actually take Angels Flight over. Instead, Bunker Hill will be accessible via the Grand Av Arts/Bunker Hill stop at 2nd and Hope on the under-construction Regional Connector, which is scheduled to open in 2021. Patrons will ride elevators to get to the top of Bunker Hill, although whether — and if so, how — those elevators can handle a crowd exiting Disney Hall and other facilities at one time is open to question.

The Regional Connector will have the current Gold Line from Pasadena running through the connector from the Little Tokyo/Arts District station to the 7th/Metro station where it will become the Blue Line to Long Beach, while the Gold Line from East Los Angeles will run through the Regional Connector and become the Expo Line to Santa Monica (line names and colors will, undoubtedly, change when this all comes to pass).

Until then a reopened Angels Flight will be a boon to the area.

To see a 3-D video of Angels Flight, click HERE.

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