LA Opus
Reporting on music and the lively arts....................................................................
289 Entries

Review by Rodney Punt

Sunday’s Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concert promised a world premiere of a new work by a hot young composer. Also a familiar concerto and symphony by Mozart. More than the new work, however, it was the radical makeover of a classic that garnered the evening’s most attention.

Mozart’s Coronation Concerto in D Major, K. 537, is something of an orphan. Its “gallant” style, while surface-sweet, is less personal and interestingly written than the composer’s other mature works in the genre, and he never got around to notating most of this penultimate concerto’s left-hand piano part. A later editor’s speculative filling in of the blanks is dutiful but bland, leaving few subsequent pianists convinced. LACO’s pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane has performed it only once, to complete his survey of all Mozart’s piano concertos with the orchestra. He admits to “hating” the work.
Enter Timothy Andres, LACO’s featured artist for the evening, a Palo Alto-born, Brooklyn-based composer-pianist specializing in writing and performing -- with considerable pianistic skill -- works for piano and orchestra. The twenty-something composer (also known as "Timo") is creating quite a stir this season with his appearances at LACO and at the Cal Arts "Wild Up" contempo music series.

Andres has rewritten Mozart’s missing left-hand part and calls his new version of the Coronation a “re-composition”, justifying his score tampering as an answer to the concerto’s checkered history. Rather than striving for Mozart’s original intentions, Andres’s approach was to complete the work in his own style. His post-modern and eclectic influences embrace everything from Francis Poulenc to John Adams. LACO’s program title “refracted” implied we would hear Mozart’s conventions bent somewhat askew. And, boy, did we ever.

The West Coast premiere of the Coronation’s new version at Royce Hall was kinky, quirky and cute. It ruffled sensibilities with spikey dissonances, intricate polyrhythms, and seemingly incongruous harmonies. That they were jarring to hear was clearly Andres’s intention. The pianistic additions might have been an uncomfortable appliqué on Mozart’s purity, but they made an intriguing sow’s ear of his incomplete silk purse.

Ruffled sensibilities aside, the perverse bad-boy character of the whole was always listenable, exquisitely performed, and, in some time-travelling way, redolent of Mozart’s reputedly playful personality. Andres stated earlier he hoped people wouldn’t think he intentionally “gave the finger” to Mozart. But he needn’t worry. The exercise came off more like a good-natured, thumb-nosing tribute to the irreverent genius from Salzburg.

Opening the program was the world premiere of Andres’s own work, Old Keys, a ten-minute exercise in eclectic razzle-dazzle for piano and orchestra. Commissioned by LACO’s Sound Investment project, the splashy showpiece employs bright orchestral effects in support of a virtuosic piano protagonist. Andres claims the title refers to tonalities not in use today and old themes long residing in his desk. Influences would seem to be John Adams’s formal devices, Ligeti’s rhythmic manipulations, and Ravel's piano concerto colorings, had they been juiced with steroids. The young composer still has some proportionality to get under control; the latter part of the short piece strives for a conclusion too colossally large for so short a statement. It was as if that section was conceived for the finale of a much larger work. Perhaps it will be reemployed in just that capacity some day.

In both of Andres’ works, the indisputable element was the pianist’s fluid pianism. His cross-hand technique was a marvel and the command of his thorny rhythms and textures impressive. Kahane and his orchestra provided solid support in both works, though the concerto’s classical-era orchestral score seemed something of a limiting horse-and-buggy vehicle for Andres’ hot racecar piano.

Conductor Jeffrey Kahane’s traversal of another penultimate work of Mozart, his much beloved Symphony No. 40 in G minor, was sculpted as if from fine marble: taut, with well-gauged, lively-paced tempi emphasizing propulsive sturm-und-drang over minor-key pathos, but allowing room for delicate details, as in the second movement‘s interplay of woodwinds and strings and the trio’s phrase-ending ritardandi. Kahane’s orchestra was with him all the way in poise and precision. Particular kudos in the Menuetto are due the strings for their stabbing assertiveness and the horns for their mellow assurances. The last movement’s collaboration between musicians and conductor generated a spatial intensity worthy of the work’s profound statement.

In the end, we were able to enjoy Mozart at his best and on his own terms.

#####
A sad note: At the beginning of the concert, Maestro Kahane announced that long-time music patron and member of the LACO family Ronald Rosen had passed away earlier that week. Rosen's steadfast support of the musical life of Los Angeles will be sorely missed by all music lovers in Southern California and beyond, including this reviewer, who had shared musical moments with him on many an occasion.
Photo: Timothy ("Timo") Andres, used by permission of the artist.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
by Douglas Neslund

Meredith Willson wrote two immortal tunes that happen to complement each other and a few patter songs, and spun a tale of misdirection and love that have endured the half century since its initial performance in 1957. Mr. Willson placed the town of his birth, Mason City, Iowa, squarely on the Broadway stage and it has not disappeared since.

A 2012 iteration found a home in the venerable San Gabriel Mission Playhouse under the sponsorship of The Shakespeare Club of Pasadena, as a benefit to provide scholarships for deserving graduating seniors in the Pasadena Unified School District. A large crowd attended opening night, causing a massive parking problem and delaying the curtain for those unlucky enough to have to park many blocks away.

But then the lights dimmed, and a top-drawer professional pit band under the direction of Robert Marino struck up the overture, and the magic of the theatre came to life. As such presentations go, there were aspects of the show that were first class: the stage works, the dancing and the chorus work, in addition to the excellent pit band, were delights. Bill Shaw directed and Rikki Lugo choreographed, and although ankle sprains were reported, the pure energy put forth by the entire cast was infectious and most enjoyable.

The leading roles, Rob McManus's Professor Harold Hill and Peggy Schmid's Marian Paroo, revealed well-worn characterizations and unfortunately, voices. Ms. Schmid's singing was particularly painful even though every patron was most sympathetic and supportive. Mr. McManus suffered, perhaps, by the inevitable comparison with the screened Professor, the youthful Matthew Broderick. But due to their utter familiarity with their respective roles, the two leads made solid impressions. The Schoolboard/Quartet was a disappointment.

However, an excellent impression was made by David Coleman's Winthrop Paroo, who revealed an ultra-shy boy to come alive when handed a trumpet by Professor Hill. The citizens of River City were well represented on stage in acting, singing and dancing duties by scads of volunteers, but one's eye couldn't help but follow Liz Atherton as she danced with great skill in several ensemble numbers.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Hélène Grimaud Plays Bach Chaconne

by Anne French



Today is J.S. Bach's Birthday, for me the most important birthday in the history of western music. I hardly know where to begin in choosing a proper post as tribute to the Master.  This performance by Hélène Grimaud of Bach's famous D-minor Chaconne is one of my favorites, and Ms. Grimaud seems to be positively inspired!
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
by Anne French


Gabriel Fauré
One of the greatest masterpieces of choral literature, Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, will be the centerpiece of Sunday afternoon's concert at Glendale First United Methodist Church. The work is at once glorious, yet quietly emotional and spiritually introspective, making it an ideal musical expression for the lenten season. Performed will be the 1893 version of the piece, written for choir, chamber orchestra and organ, the latter performed by Ladd Thomas.

Conducting will be Nancy Sulahian, who has directed the church's Cathedral Choir since 1996. A 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Ms. Sulahian is an active concert soloist who also directs the 1000-voice choir at Disneyland's annual Christmas Candlelight Procession. She says of the Fauré work, "...it seems he conceived the piece as a prayerful personal expression of faith....It feels like the right choice for this concert."

The ambitious program also includes Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 and Ave Verum, Op. 65, No.1, three motets by Charles Villiard Stanford, and two motets of Anton Bruckner.

The Sunday, March 25 concert commences at 4:00 p.m. at Glendale's First United Methodist Church, 134 N. Kenwood St. Admission is free. For more information, call 818-243-2105 or log onto www.glendalemethodist.org.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
by Douglas Neslund

Six years ago, Los Angeles Opera approached the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels located kitty-cornered to LA Opera's home in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with a concept of bringing opera to the general non-opera-going public. Cathedral policy forbids ticket sales, so performances must be supported by foundations, corporations and individuals who underwrite the costs associated with performances, with primary support coming from the Dan Murphy Foundation.

To a jam-packed Cathedral in two performances this weekend, a second go-around of "The Festival Play of Daniel" was presented, conducted by Maestro James Conlon, and performed by a large aggregation of young people filling choral, orchestral, dancing and acting requirements set forth by choreographer Leslie Stevens to music originating in the early 13th century but wonderfully orchestrated by the enormously talented director Eli Villanueva, who also provided the English translation from the original Latin. The monks would have been greatly impressed.

Originally brought to life in the 1960s by Noah Greenberg and his New York-based Pro Musica, the work was expanded by Mr. Villanueva and crew to include scads of performers in the Cathedral's open spaces, with five appropriately decorated and beautifully illuminated panels framing a temporary stage topped by as regal a throne as any king should desire.

No fewer than 12 soloists were featured:
  • Angel..........................................Caleb Barnes
  • King Belshazzar........................Erik Anstine
  • Queen.........................................Tracy Cox
  • Daniel.........................................Ben Bliss
  • King Darius...............................Alexey Sayapin
  • Habakkuk..................................Ashley Faatoalia
  • Sage #1/Counselor...................Robert MacNeil
  • Sage #2/Counselor...................Sal Malaki
  • Sage #3/Counselor...................Vincent Robles
  • Noble #1/Messenger................Daniel Armstrong
  • Noble #2/Messenger................Johnathan McCullough
  • Noble #3/Advisor.....................Museop Kim
All soloists brought their considerable individual talents to the corporate festivities, especially Ben Bliss in the title role, Daniel Armstrong (both Mr. Bliss and Mr. Armstrong impressed in the recent Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performance of Bach's Magnificat), and a 20-year old countertenor on stilts, Caleb Barnes, who seems to have an annual contract for these Cathedral performances. Mr. Anstine and Mr. MacNeil are to be singled out for exceptionally beautiful voices.

It would be futile to list everyone, but outstanding work was rewarded with polished and exemplary performances by the Cathedral's own choir, directed by Frank Brownstead, the Colburn Children's Choir, directed by Mikhail Shtangrud, and the Pueri Cantores of San Gabriel Valley Children's Choir, directed by Patrick Flahive, among so many others. The Celebration Ringers of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena provided a celestial touch.

The youth orchestra, supplemented by ten professionals from the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, came from Hamilton High School's Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra (coordinated by Jim Foschia) and the Colburn String Orchestra (co-directed by Margaret Shimizu and Rebecca Frazier. All musicians played beautifully under Maestro Conlon's baton, and even offered their celebrated maestro a gratuitous "Happy Birthday" as an ad hoc encore that was joyously joined by performers and audience alike.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
by Douglas Neslund

Finding an intimate space in Zipper Concert Hall in Colburn School opposite Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra recently offered the first in a series called “Baroque Conversations,” a brilliant concept of period education sandwiched around a concert, with each item introduced with humor by oboist extraordinaire Allan Vogel. Providing instrumental contributions were Margaret Batjer, violin; Patricia Mabee, portative organ and harpsichord; Armen Ksajikian, cello; Andrew Shulman, cello; David Shostac, flute; Janice Tipton, flute and soprano; and Allan Vogel, oboe. All participants are well-established musicians, and played with delightful elegance and appropriate period ornamentation.

Guest artist Elissa Johnston, soprano, collaborated in six Bachian selections, favoring rich tone and nuanced expression over textual considerations, making the published texts in the evening’s program helpful. Ms. Johnston’s soaring soprano excels in the upper atmosphere, although low-lying notes tended to get lost in the accompaniment. Ms. Johnston’s program:
  • From Cantata No. 199: “Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen”
  • From Cantata No. 208: “Schafe können sicher weiden”
  • From BWV 508 (Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach): “Bist du bei mir” (which was actually composed by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel)
  • From Cantata No. 115: “Bete aber auch dabei”
  • From BWV 248 (Christmas oratorio): “Flößt, mein Heiland”
  • From Cantata No. 68: “Mein gläubiges Herze”
The above items ranged widely in emotion, from grief to consolation, from release to conviction, from light-hearted (and witty) satisfaction to joyful expression and banishment of complaint. The requisite “echo” voice in "Flößt, mein Heiland" was performed by Ms. Tipton, in what might have been her professional vocal debut. Mr. Ksajikian adroitly maneuvered his four-string cello around the five-string demands of "Mein gläubiges Herze," all at presto speed.

The delightful recital, which was well appreciated by a nearly full house, opened with a graceful Gavotte and Gigue from Mystery Sonata No. 13 (“Pentecost”) by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, whose music, Mr. Vogel opined, may well have been heard by the very young Johann Sebastian Bach. This was followed by brilliant keyboard artistry by Ms. Mabee performing Bach's own Toccata in D Minor (BWV913). Bach’s Trio Sonata in G major (BWV 1038) provided an excellent contrast in four movements midway through Ms. Johnston’s offerings. All parties to the recital met onstage to close with Bach’s final composition, “Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit” (BWV 668a), which was preceded by Canons from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

PLETNEV PLAYS SCARLATTI

by Anne French




I am going through a Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) phase, appreciating his keyboard works played on piano rather than harpsichord for the most part. And after considerable listening to what's available on YouTube, I return to pianist Mikhail Pletnev more often than not. This Sonata in F Sharp Minor, K.25, L.481 is one I do not remember hearing before. It seems like a wonderful way to begin the last day of the first weekend of March (although it's mostly lamb, and very little lion). Enjoy!
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
By Douglas Neslund
Ambassador Auditorium is an odd bird – it is a church, but it used to be a concert hall. Or was it the other way around? It looks and has the feel of a concert hall, has been refurbished since its abandonment in bankruptcy by the Worldwide Church of God. It retains its handsome appearance and at least from a seat in the first one-third of the orchestra, its clear, unpretentious acoustical properties become apparent.
On Saturday night, it was Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s turn to perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1733 version of Magnificat in D major (BWV 243), with a little preview of his earlier Magnificat in Eb major (BWV 243a), in addition to a Magnificat setting by Orlando Di Lasso, a Gregorian chant on the title theme, and the Franz Schubert setting of “Deposuit potentes” as contrasting flavors to the main entrée on the evening’s menu.
First of all, those unfortunates who have never experienced an LACO performance will not understand aforehand that in context, “performance” means “lecture plus concert, plus post-concert Q&A.” And what a wonderful combination it was! Maestro Jeffrey Kahane is truly a master teacher, spending two-thirds of the evening explaining music and style to a Pasadena audience perhaps not entirely aware that they were in fact attending a master class.
The Chamber Orchestra, the University of Southern California Thornton Chamber Singers (prepared by Jo-Michael Scheibe), and five young but very professional soloists gave the master teacher perfunctory and absolutely sound studio perfect assistance. The care that was obviously taken to demonstrate what Bach (as well as the other composers) did with the text of the Magnificat and why, was riveting. For instance, we heard a portion of the opening movement with strings only, a second time with strings and flutes, then again with strings, flutes and double-reeds, and finally a fourth time a tutti with trumpets and timpani. This allowed the audience to hear the wondrous layers of music that so often fail to be appreciated on their own terms.
The soloists for the evening were sopranos Charlotte Dobbs and Zanaida Robles (who also sang with the Chamber Singers), mezzo-soprano Janelle DeStefano, tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Daniel Armstrong. Ms. Dobbs is the only soloist not associated with a local university, having been born in Boston and educated at Julliard, Curtis and Yale. All sang with plangent tone and keen attention to the text. It could not have been easy for them to pop up and down during the various demonstrations, and yet have a full 30-minute performance after intermission, yet they handled the challenge with grace and supportive panache.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has performed the Magnificat on three prior occasions, first with second music director Gerard Schwartz and thereafter by guest conductors Thomas Somerville and John Alexander, but this evening was the first for Maestro Kahane with his wonderful band.
Superlatives do not do justice to the pure excellence and joy with which this ensemble plays. They virtually define the term “ensemble.” During the lecture portion of the evening, it would have been easy for a performer to forget an upcoming bit to play, but despite scattered, rapid requirements, no one missed an entrance, much less a beat. One could point to the fact that all LACO players are also session musicians, that is, they earn their livelihoods playing in recording sessions for movies, television and the like, but when they play as an ensemble, they are doing it with pure joy, and it shows.
Finally, just before intermission, Maestro Kahane, stepping off the podium toward the audience, related a very personal story that had to resonate with those in attendance who were Christians, including the Auditorium owners – a story of a man in dire need, and his own reaction in helping him. The master teacher said, “That is the meaning of ‘Esurientes implevit bonus’ (He has filled the hungry with good things).” In addition to his marvelous musical gifts, Jeffrey Kahane is a mensch.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
by Douglas Neslund

If you love your music full-born, delivered not in individual notes but in eight-part chords in a wall of glorious sound, then you were in hog’s heaven Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall as our superlative Master Chorale performed Anton Bruckner’s expansive Mass No. 2 in E minor, and after intermission, his Os justi meditabitur sapientiam and Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms.

Seldom within recent memory has the Chorale lived in the fortissimo realm of dynamics quite as much as on this occasion. The singers were obviously relishing the opportunity, and the sound produced throughout was stunning, beautiful, balanced and well-blended. If there were a fly in the ointment, it would be Disney Hall’s tendency to add sizzle when the music exceeds a mere forte, which characteristic in chamber concerts might be desirable. One wonders if strategically placed hanging banners would help mitigate that sizzle, and deliver the pure, wondrous choral banquet we have grown to expect in the Grant Gershon era.

Bruckner’s Mass was composed within the ideals of the St. Cecelia Society concept of music serving the Eucharist, not the performers. Hence, no soloists were employed. Since the premiere of the work took place al fresco, he wrote instrumental parts for wind and brass, which were overwhelmed for the most part in the Master Chorale concert. Another characteristic of the Mass was Bruckner’s alternation or combining of women’s and men’s choruses. Thus, the opening Kyrie began softly in the women’s sections, a beautiful prelude to the same material in the men’s sections. Bruckner’s music is essentially homophonic, but his striking harmonic shifts betray the first impression of a Renaissance composer and reveal his true Romantic idiom and origin.

Bruckner’s Os justi – a familiar eight part a cappella chorus in the Lydian church mode, where the fourth step of the scale is raised one-half step – begins softly, but soon builds to a tremendous pile of glorious notes suffused with chain suspensions that create ongoing tension-release cycles as it melts back down to piano dynamic. This musical idea is repeated at the motet’s ending; a good idea merits repetition! But between these mountains Bruckner seems to have lost inspiration, as the music wanders aimlessly and without memorablity.

Maestro Gershon didn’t allow applause as the final sounds of Os justi disappeared, but launched immediately into Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, one of the composer’s most-performed works. Accompanied by a large contingent of brass, woodwinds and lower-voiced strings, as well as two pianos and timpani, the Master Chorale easily handled the syncopations and irregular entrances and at times almost appeared to be transformed into another instrumental element. There is never a moment in the three movement Symphony of Psalms where one senses that Stravinsky loses a tight focus and willing invention of new sound combinations. It was an altogether lovely performance, carefully and lovingly nurtured by Maestro Gershon.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

by Rodney Punt

Word has come that the great German baritone, Thomas Quasthoff, has ceased his singing career.

Quasthoff's performances were riveting. Southern California audiences will miss his visits to both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, among other venues.
My first encounter with Quasthoff came unexpectedly, on a visit to Germany.

I was in Munich in the early 1990's and noticed a playbill for a lieder recital at the Herkulessaal, featuring a baritone new to me. A man named Thomas Quasthoff was to sing, among others, the Heinrich Heine songs from Franz Schubert’s Schwanengesang. I bought a ticket and took my place in the middle of the hall. An elderly couple entered my row and sat next to me. When Quasthoff walked on stage, I was shocked at his short stature and obvious disabilities. He had to climb on a platform next to the piano just to get his head above its height.

And then he sang – supremely, with deep resonance and a huge range, a voice even throughout the register and full of genuine expressive power. When he got to the Schubert songs, their significance became apparent: ‘Der Atlas’ tells of a man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders; The ‘Doppelgänger’s malevalent shadow follows the man everywhere. I began to sob silently, or so I thought. The elderly German next to me asked in English, “Are you an American?” Struggling to control myself, I responded that I was. He said, “That man on stage, he is my son.”

Many consider Quasthoff the greatest lieder singer of our time. His absence from the stage is a major loss to the art of singing. Fortunately he has left us an outstanding library of recordings that range from art songs to jazz standards. LA Opus wishes Mr. Quasthoff many productive years ahead as a teacher and lecturer on the art of music.
2 years ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
121 - 130  | prev 91011121314151617 next
InstantEncore