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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PREVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic unveils adventureous 2014-2015 season

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

For the past two decades (at least) the Los Angeles Philharmonic has led the world in creating innovative programs for orchestras, but the 2014-2015 schedule at Walt Disney Concert Hall — entitled, appropriately, “Moving Music Forward” and announced officially yesterday — takes that concept into stratospheres never before envisioned, at least in a single season.

The various initiatives are complex enough that they can’t be fully grasped in one reading. Following is my first take on what’s ahead. In addition to the chronological schedule (HERE), you may want to download much of the press kit (HERE) and take some time to study what it contains.

Several sets of programs feature multiple disciplines, including three that combine video with music. LA Phil Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will combine with artist Refik Anadol in a program that incorporates a new video into Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet Nov. 6, 7 and 9. Salonen and the Phil will be joined by three soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The Friday program will inaugurate the Phil’s new “in/Sight” series of music and videos. The other programs include Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis on Jan. 9, to be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (part of a series of events celebrating MTT’s 70th birthday); a staged production of Unsuk Chin’s opera, Alice in Wonderland on Feb. 27 and 28, 2015; and a program featuring music by Steve Mackey and Steve Reich on May 29 and 31. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the last two programs; all four programs will be repeated on days surrounding Friday.

The Romeo and Juliet program will be one of three sets of concerts that Salonen will conduct during the upcoming season. On Oct. 24, 25 and 26, Salonen and organist Olivier Latry will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Disney Hall organ with a program that includes the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Maan varjot (Earth Shadows).

The upcoming season will feature the largest emphasis on the Disney Hall organ since the instrument made its debut in 2004. Dudamel will conduct programs on Nov. 20, 21 and 22 that will feature organist Cameron Carpenter in the long-delayed world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 4 (Organ), originally slated to debut in May 2010, along with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). Carpenter will also play his own arrangement of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2. There will also be five organ recitals during the upcoming season.

Another new Friday series will be “Inside the Music with Brian Lauritzen,” four programs hosted by the KUSC radio personality. Each concert will include a Lauritzen-produced video sent to audience members ahead of time, along with pre- and post-concert discussions with the hosts and artists and an online forum. Dudamel will conduct two of the four programs, one of which will be the organ program noted above.

In his sixth season as the Phil’s music director, Dudamel will conduct 12 subscription programs during the upcoming season, along with the annual Opening Night gala concert, which will feature violinist Itzhak Perlman and the music of John Williams. In December Dudamel will lead a program celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Music Center that will include a performance of Salonen’s Helix, with the music being relayed live into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where it will accompany a world-premiere presentation from LA Dance Project.

Dudamel will also lead the orchestra on an Asian tour in March 2015 that will visit Hong Kong, Bejing, Seoul and Tokyo. The programs will include Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World), Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, and John Adams’ City Noir, which was composed for Dudamel’s inaugural gala program in 2009.

Another new series, “Next on Grand,” is being described as “a recurring festival that converges upon a creative force or cultural element.” Next season’s focus will be on contemporary Americans ranging from “old-timers” such as Phillip Glass, Adams and Reich to relative compositional newcomers such as Bryce Dessner, guitarist for the band, the National, and Chris Cerrone.

As part of this venture, the Phil will collaborate with L.A. Opera in a production of David T. Little’s Dog Days at REDCAT, the black-box theatre inside Disney Hall, and will also produce John Adams’ Available Light at Disney Hall with Frank Gehry designing the sets and Lucinda Childs creating choreography.

Overall the season will have 10 commissioned works, eight world premieres, five U.S. premieres and seven West Coast premieres. Orchestras along with the Phil will be the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas on March 24, 2015 and the Seoul Philharmonic, led by Myun-Whung Chun on April 15, 2015. The “Sounds About Town” series has been bumped back up to three local orchestras: The Colburn Orchestra (led by Sir. Neville Marriner), USC Thornton Symphony, and the American Youth Symphony. There are also numerous other programmatic genres; as noted at the top of this Blog, there’s almost too much to absorb in one reading.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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