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.

(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Two conductors make big news

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

Two conductor announcements thousands of miles apart made news this past week. One has immediate implications for Los Angeles and the other might. One thing’s for sure: the year 2018 has just gained significance in the classical music world.

The immediate impact story
James Conlon has extended his tenure as music director of Los Angeles Opera through the 2017-2018 season. Conlon joined LA Opera in 2006, succeeding Kent Nagano. Among his many accomplishments, Conlon led the company’s first production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2010.

During his tenure with LAO, Conlon has conducted a total of 33 different operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including 18 company premieres and two U.S. premieres. To date, he has conducted 190 performances of mainstage LA Opera productions, more than any other conductor in the Company’s history. He returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion pit on March 9 to lead six performances of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and on March 23 to lead six performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

It’s a measure of Conlon’s versatility that he could handle Wagner’s dramatic account of the sea captain doomed to wander the seas endlessly in his ghost ship and Rossini’s telling of the Cinderella story in the same month. In fact he conducts the two operas within 18 hours of each other on March 23 and 24.

He’s been a joy since he arrived and we’re lucky that this transplanted New Yorker has learned to love L.A. enough to sign on for another five years. Conlon’s commitment is also a reaffirmation of LAO’s continued rebound from the economic crash of 1998.

The longer-range story
Simon Rattle has announced that he will step down as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic when his contract expires in 2018. Sir Simon (he was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1994) will be 64 when he leaves the prestigious post; he was named to succeed Claudio Abbado in 1999 and began his tenure in 2002. When he retires, Rattle will have been in the post longer than all but two other conductors: Arthur Nikisch (1895-1922) and Herbert von Karajan (1954-1989).

In his announcement, Rattle said he gave a long lead-time to allow the orchestra time to name a successor. Most orchestras have a gap — sometimes a long gap — between the end of one tenure and the beginning of another; to cite one example, the Chicago Symphony went four years between the tine Daniel Barenboim left in 206 and Riccardo Muti arrived in 2012. Berlin has a chance to avoid what can be a major problem.

Speculation about Rattle’s successor will, inevitably, center on Gustavo Dudamel, whose contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic currently runs through 2018-2019 (which will be the Phil’s centennial season). Rattle, of course, has a history with the LAPO. He made his North American debut in 1976, conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1979 and was the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor from 1981╨1994. How ironic it would be if Rattle and Dudamel swapped posts.

The Grand Rapid Symphony apparently sounded like Southern California transplants this weekend. David Lockington — the group’s music director who was in town last year to conduct the Pasadena Symphony — led his orchestra in performances of John Adams’ City Noir, the work he wrote three years ago for Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director. Also on the GRS program was The Great Swiftness by Andrew Norman, a Grand Rapids native who is the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. LACO played The Great Swirtnexx earlier this season. You can read what a local music critic had to say about the GRS performance HERE.

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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COMMENTARY AND LINK: On hearing pieces more than once

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


On Monday I uploaded a long post on the 2012-2013 Los Angeles
Philharmonic season at Walt Disney Concert Hall (HERE). In reading back over
the schedule, one concert stood out — but not, perhaps, for the reason you
might expect. It’s the program scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 when Esa-Pekka
Salonen will lead the LAPO in a concert that includes Witold Lutoslawski’s
Symphony No. 4.


It was an “aha” moment not because Salonen will be
conducting, although I always enjoy hearing what Esa-Pekka does with the Phil.
Moreover, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting just 10 subscription weeks next
season (barely more than a third of the schedule) the LAPO needs to have a very
strong core of guest conductors, and Esa-Pekka is one of those (as noted
yesterday, next season’s guest conducting list is quite strong).


Nor did I zoom in on these concerts because I’m in love with
Lutoslawski’s music. I acknowledge that he’s an important 20th
century composer but recordings of his music don’t fill my CD shelves. What I
appreciated was that Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4 is coming back to the Phil’s
repertoire; the composer conducted the world premiere with the LAPO in 1994.


One reason that the L.A. Phil is a world-class orchestras is
its commitment to new music, which began during the tenure of Zubin Mehta
(1962-1978), really picked up steam during Salonen’s reign as music director
from 1992-2009, and has continued under Dudamel’s leadership. Next season the
Phil will present nine commissions, seven world premieres, three U.S. premieres
and four West Coast first performances in its 29-week season, and those numbers
are consistent with the past several seasons. Few, if any, orchestras in the
world can match that level of commitment to contemporary compositions.


However, what’s missing are second and third performances of
these works. A little over two years ago, for example, the Phil commissioned
John Adams’ City Noir as part of
Gustavo’s opening gala concert as LAPO music director. They played it again a
couple of months later on a subscription program and took it on the orchestra’s
cross-country tour the following May. I thought it was a terrific piece, but it
hasn’t shown up again on a Phil program (or anywhere else locally, for that


Obviously everyone’s tastes are different but as I think
back over the past decade or so, I remember Nave
and Sentimental Music
and Wing on
by Salonen as two examples of works that deserve multiple hearings (we
did get to hear his LA Variations in
2009). Salonen’s Violin Concerto just won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for
new compositions and his piano concerto was equally stunning. Have we have
heard them since their premieres? Don’t think so. Readers are invited to add
others to my list by commenting below.


AT&T once sponsored a program entitled the “American
Encore” series, which was designed to provide “second” hearings to works that
got premieres and then had languished in obscurity. One of those pieces was Symphony for Classical Orchestra,
written in 1947 by Harold Shapero. Andr Previn and the Phil played it in 1986
and I remember the reaction being “where has this piece been all along?”
Unfortunately, like the sunken cathedral that inspired one of Debussy’s
preludes, Shapero’s work fell back beneath the waves of newer compositions.
Let’s hope that City Noir, Nave and Sentimental Music and others
listed above don’t suffer the same fate.



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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

John Adams: Tromba
Esteban Benzecry:
Rituales Amerindios;

Berlioz:  Symphonie fantastique

Friday, September 30, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: tonight at 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m.




The 2011-2012 Los Angeles Philharmonic season, which opened
last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, is easily the most ambitious set of
programs in Gustavo Dudamel’s three-year tenure as the orchestra’s music
director and is quite likely the most wide-ranging repertoire for any United
States orchestra.


This weekend’s performances of Argentine composer Esteban
Benzecry’s Rituales Amerindios is one
of four U.S. premieres for the season, along with seven world premieres and
five west coast first-time performances. Nine of the works on the season are
L.A. Phil commissions. And that doesn’t take into account the complete cycle of
Mahler symphonies, with Dudamel leading both the Phil and his Simn Bolivr
Symphony Orchestra for a month early next year in Los Angeles and then on tour
in Caracas, or the beginning of the orchestra’s cycle of the Mozart/Da Ponte
opera trilogy later in 2012.


Last night, after opening with John Adams’s fanfare in name
only, Tromba lontana — notable for
having trumpeters Tom Hooten and Christopher Still hiding amid Frank Gehry’s “overturned
French fries” wooden pipes surrounding the organ loft — Benzecry’s 25-minute,
three-movement tone poem got the list of premieres off to a rousing start.


In brief introductory remarks, Dudamel lauded the
41-year-old composer (who was born in Portugal and lives in Paris) as being
able to create “an amazing atmosphere of moods and colors,” a description that
was right on. Rituales Amerindios
(Amerindian Rituals)
is an important piece, another example of Dudamel’s
vision — articulated when he was hired — to broaden the orchestra’s (and
audience’s) musical framework to all of the Americas.


Written in 2008 on a commission from the Gothenburg Symphony
Orchestra (the third ensemble that Dudamel heads) and dedicated to the
conductor, Rituales Amerindios
focuses on the roots, rhythms and mythology of three pre-Columbian
Latin-American cultures: Aztec (in Mexico), Maya (southern Mexico) and Inca
(Peru and other Andean countries).


Along the way, Benzecry manages to achieve a myriad of
amazing sounds using only standard orchestra instruments, thus creating some
magical effects. One example: during the first movement, Ehcatl — an Aztec wind god — Benzecry manages to conjure a violent
storm without using a wind machine as Richard Strauss did in his Alpine Symphony.


The second movement, Chaac
— a Mayan water god — sounded like a Latin American version of Debussy’s La Mer with a forest containing some of
Messiaen’s birds added into the mix.


The final movement — Illapa
(an Incan thunder god) used the Phil’s percussionists — Joseph Pereira,
timpanist, along with Raynor Carroll, Perry Dreiman, Alexander Frederick and Nicholas
Stoup — who hammered, rattled, rang, and otherwise manipulated an impressive
array of percussion instruments (glockenspiel, bass drum, suspended cymbals,
bongos, metal wind chimes, rainstick, claves, tam-tams, vibraslap, guiro,
maracas, grelots, bamboo wind chimes, mark tree, wood blocks, water gong,
slapstick, marimba, tom-toms, vibraphone, and congas) plus Joanne Pearce Martin
on piano, celesta and Lou Anne Neil on harp — to create not only massive waves
of thunder and lightning but also lead the way in a riotous conclusion of
orchestral color.


Dudamel conducted confidently (although he did use a score)
and the orchestra — as it usually does with Latin American fare — played the
piece as if they were born to it. The audience responded exuberantly,
particularly for the composer who was in the audience and participated in the
preconcert lecture, as well.


Hector Berlioz was the first significant composer to create
thematic tone poems, using instruments to create an amazing palette of colorful
sounds, so concluding this weekend’s concerts with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique made eminent
sense. Perhaps appropriately, since the work is an autobiographical setting of
the composer hallucinating, Dudamel’s concept was schizophrenic with moments of
sublime beauty interspersed with a totally haywire ending.


The Phil’s management goes all out for performances of this
55-minute sprawl, employing four harpist for a relatively few minutes of
playing in the second movement, four timpanists (playing on two sets of
timpani), along two gigantic bells for the Dies
portion of the final movement that look like scions of the Liberty
Bell (minus the crack, of course) and make enough noise to wake the dead.


Last night, Dudamel opened the first movement, Reveries:Passions, in unhurried luxury,
jumped (literally) feet first into the pulsating middle section, and brought
the final cadences down to a rich, mellow conclusion. The ball scene emphasized
elegance. The third movement — Scene in
the Country
— featured moments of supreme magic, particularly in the
plaintive English horn solos from Carolyn Hove and the wistful echoing oboist,
Marion Arthur Kuszyk, offstage at the rear of the hall.


To Dudamel’s mind, the March
to the Scaffold
is a doom-laden affair, while the final movement, Dream of a Witches Sabbath, becomes a
raucous celebration of evil (overshadowed by those massive bells, of course).
For about 50 minutes, it was a riveting performance. Unfortunately, Dudamel
raced so quickly in the final measures to the end that ensemble precision got
jettisoned overboard. Nonetheless, the evening fully lived up to the
description from Asadour Santourian in the preconcert lecture: “Starts
nocturnally, journeys to Latin America, ends in hell.”




The preconcert lecture by Santrourian, artistic advisor
and administrator of the Aspen Music Festival and School, is worth hearing, in
part because Benzecry showed up to deliver his thoughts on Rituales Amerindios. Since the composer struggles with English,
were I in charge I might have had him talk in Spanish and have someone on hand
to translate, if for no other reason than to make him feel more comfortable.

Five of the Phil’s new members are spotlighted in the
printed program: Principal Horn Andrew Bain from Australia; Lyndon Johnston
Taylor, who rejoins the orchestra as principal second violinist after serving
for four years as assistant concertmaster of the New Zealand Symphony; Nathan
Cole, first associate concertmaster, who actually began this summer at
Hollywood Bowl, and his wife, Akiko Tarumoto, who returns to the orchestra as a
second violinist (both had been with the Chicago Symphony); and Michael Myers,
who joins the trumpet section.

As noted in my review of Tuesday’s gala concert (LINK),
Thomas Hooten, principal trumpet of the Atlanta Symphony, is filling in this
month while Donald Green is on sabbatical and Daniel Rothmuller is back this
season serving as associate principal cellist emeritus.



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

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