Category: Chris Pasles

Music review: Joyce DiDonato in recital at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage

February 13, 2011 |  2:16 pm

Joyce DiDonato won over local opera fans when she sang Rosina in Los Angeles Opera’s sparkling production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” in 2009. On Friday, the Kansas-born mezzo-soprano, named Gramophone magazine’s 2010 artist of the year, conquered again with a decidedly offbeat program in her first local recital.

She opened both halves of the evening at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica with serious dramatic challenges, then followed each with lesser-known salon pieces. It was as if she took two Olympic high-dives, then puddled around in the shallow end of the pool.

Fortunately, the puddles had their charms, especially as DiDonato invested them with character and appropriate small-scaled feeling.

First, the gutsy challenges. She opened the program with Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice,” a juicy suicidal psychodrama that included shock, anger, despair, reproach and declarations of love in 11½ minutes. Not for the fainthearted. The silver-toned mezzo made it all compelling and credible.

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Dance review: Grupo Corpo at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

January 30, 2011 |  2:10 pm


The Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo raised the temperature a degree or two when it made its Dorothy Chandler Pavilion debut Friday as part of the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center series.

The company was founded in 1975 in the interior city of Belo Horizonte by Paulo Pederneiras, who remains artistic director, set and lighting designer. Its earliest works, by the Argentine Oscar Araiz, were politically engaged, but as Brazil has become less oppressed and more democratic, the trend has been toward a general hot joie de vivre.

For better or worse, credit brother Rodrigo Pederneiras, choreographer since 1978. Emphasizing  plotless, music-based works, he has kept classical ballet as the root technique, but modified it by including abstracted national folk and social styles.

The company — whose name means “Body Group” — is very much an ensemble troupe. There are no “stars,” and none of the 19 dancers were individually highlighted in the program booklet. When any dancers emerged for short solos or duets, others usually quickly entered, picking up the same movements and repeating them in canon or in various permutations.

The effect could be numbing.

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Dance review: Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon at the Ahmanson Theatre

November 7, 2010 | 11:50 am

Carmen Corella Ballet Castilla y León came to Los Angeles for the first time Friday amid a wave of anticipation. Its founder, Ángel Corella, is a favorite American Ballet Theatre principal dancer, and his decision in 2001 to open a foundation in Spain to give classical dance training to students regardless of their social or economic condition must be applauded. It took a reasonable seven years for a company to emerge in 2008.

That date came to mind during the first of four works danced at the Ahmanson Theatre: The company is only 2 years old; give it time. Those excuses, however, were swept away with the second work, and thereafter the company went from strength to strength, even though Corella brought his own star power to just a single piece.

The opening work was Clark Tippet's "Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1," created about five years before the ABT principal's death in 1992 at the age of 37. Embodying different aspects of love, four principal couples -- Kazuko Omori and Yevgen Uzlenkov (lyric), Natalia Tapia and Aaron Robison (passionate), Maria José Sales and Sergey Diyachkov (romantic), and Cristina Casa and Fernando Bufalá (playful) -- looked effortful in the work's intricate and ungainly lifts and poses. Blame the choreography.

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Dance review: 'Traditions Engaged' Festival of Classical Indian Dance and Music at REDCAT

October 10, 2010 |  9:47 am

_MG_5736 Indian dance is too diverse to categorize easily, as shown by the three-day “Traditions Engaged” festival of classical Indian dance and music over the weekend at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. Yet there are recurring themes and aims. Performances are not simply entertainment; they are more like acts of devotion, the dancers and musicians submitting themselves to higher powers and inviting similar alignments from the observers.

The easiest, most irresistible invitations come from the tales of Hanuman, the monkey god in the “Ramayana,” whose devotion to Lord Rama is perfect and joyous. We love Hanuman, we love his devotion, we love Rama. That is the Platonic ladder up which Odissi master Ratikant Mohaptra led us in the opening program on Friday.

Charged with taking a ring to Rama’s abducted beloved, Sita, Hanuman jumps across the ocean, fumblingly completes his task, scratches his side now and then to remind us of his simian nature, and returns for further instructions. Mohaptra danced the story with the seamless fluidity between storytelling and pure dance typical of the subcontinent’s art forms.

Also typical was the opening invocation and consecration of the stage by members of the San Francisco-based Chitresh Das Dance Company, the festival’s sponsoring organization. But almost all the dancers performed similar acts before turning to stories of gods and goddesses.

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Music review: James Galway, Leonard Slatkin and the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl

August 27, 2010 | 12:30 pm

SlatkinGalway It’s probably safe to say that Thursday was the first day anyone heard a vuvuzela played with a symphony orchestra. At least locally. At least at the Hollywood Bowl.

It was during the raucous crowd section of Piston’s “The Incredible Flutist” Suite. A Los Angeles Philharmonic first violinist lifted up the notorious noise-maker — heard round the world at the summer World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa — and let out a roar.

But it was a gentle roar. Musicians’ ears are sensitive.

Otherwise, the program was flute-themed, with James Galway as the soloist. The first half, however, was Galway-less. Leonard Slatkin opened the concert with Mozart’s “Magic Flute” Overture, continued with Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and concluded with the Piston Suite.

The Mozart Overture was bright and sparkling. Principal flutist Catherine Ransom Karoly began Debussy’s Prelude with tender, limpid tones. Piston’s unjustly neglected Suite charmed with its bewitching “Tango of the Merchants Daughters,” not to mention the musicians’ yelps and hurrahs, the vuvuzela and the barking of a dog. Slaktin presided over all with a cool, masterly hand.

But everyone was waiting for Galway, and once he arrived, he pretty much dominated the affair. Wearing an elegantly patterned white jacket and vest, and a silver-blue tie, Galway walked on stage, took a modest bow and, milking the moment, gestured for more applause. This was a musical institution that didn’t take himself too seriously.

But when Galway played, it was all business and no horsing around.

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Music review: Bramwell Tovey, Stephen Hough and the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl

August 11, 2010 |  2:05 pm

An old friend and a new one turned up Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl. The old friend wasn’t the conductor, the soloist or any member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was composer Bedrich Smetana, a pied piper who has drawn countless youngsters into the joys of classical music. The new friend was pianist Stephen Hough, who will lead another generation of listeners into similar delirium.

Hough copy Smetana enticed all over again as Bramwell Tovey led the Overture, Polka, Furiant and Dance of the Comedians from the opera “The Bartered Bride,” and the once perennial tone poem “The Moldau.”

Smetana’s music is robust, healthy, accessible and joyful. Those were the qualities that Tovey emphasized, as he began his third season under the mantle of principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, a precise, if over-qualified title.

Tovey led the madcap Overture with never-flagging zip, the strings biting into the short, crisp, ever-expanding motifs, building into an electric, layered fugue, the whole pulsing with energy and life.

His account of the three dances that followed tended toward too much rhythmic regularity at the expense of variety of phrasing and contrast, although principal timpanist Joseph Pereira had some tasteful show-off moments in the Comedians’ dance.

But Tovey recaptured the high ground with a sensitive reading of “The Moldau,” prefacing the work with droll and witty comments from the stage, including word-play on “bouncing Czechs” and “bouncing checks,” then coaxing seductive playing from the superb woodwinds.

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Music review: Nikolaj Znaider conducts and solos with the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl

July 9, 2010 | 10:52 am


Instrumental soloists every now and then get the idea that they’d like to conduct. The results are often mixed; occasionally, disastrous. One soloist who seems to be making the right steps in straddling both roles is violinist Nikolaj Znaider, who has already conducted in St. Petersburg and Dresden and is principal guest conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

Thursday at the Hollywood Bowl, Znaider made his conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of works by Mozart, Brahms and Schumann. He didn’t forget his fiddle, however, a 1741 Guarnerius del Gesú. The Danish violinist (he turned 35 this week) also was the soloist in Mozart’s Concerto No. 2.

A tall, reserved and quiet presence on the podium, Znaider conducted Schumann’s Second Symphony and Brahms’ “Tragic” Overture from memory, imposing no wayward interpretations, inclining toward slow tempos but responding to the inherent dramas.

Schumann is a composer we can root for, and Znaider’s account of the Second Symphony proved the highlight of the evening. The composer wrote it after recovering from a nervous breakdown, although ill health and recurring insecurities continued to daunt him, delaying the work’s completion.

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Opera review: 'Nixon in China' at Long Beach Opera

March 22, 2010 | 11:22 am


Long Beach Opera productions in recent years have been modest. Old-timers remember regular offerings at the 3,000-seat downtown Terrace Theater. But plagued with budget problems, LBO — while ever innovative — retrenched. It turned to chamber operas or staged recitals in small or offbeat venues.

Not so this weekend. The Long Beach company came back to the Terrace on Saturday with a new production of John Adams’ “Nixon in China,” using more than 100 participants, including an orchestra, a chorus, ballet dancers and a sextet of leather-lunged soloists.

And its new production did Adams proud.

A collaboration among Adams, librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars, “Nixon” re-imagined  the president’s historic five-day visit to China in 1972, which began normalizing relations between the countries.

The work received its premiere in 1987 at Houston Grand Opera, then traveled to the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (both of which co-commissioned it with Houston). The opera reached Los Angeles in 1990 and hasn’t been seen locally since.

If anyone wants a simple symbol of the difference between the original and the new production, look at backdrop portraits of Mao Tse-tung in each. In Sellars’ original, it was an iconic, realistic one. In the new production by Peter Pawlik, with set designer Wilhelm Holzbauer, it’s one of Andy Warhol’s tinted silk-screen prints of the identical picture.

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Music review: The L.A. Philharmonic conducted by Edo de Waart

March 14, 2010 |  4:20 pm

Edo Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, conductor Edo de Waart led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a three-part program that began with subtle Chinese philosophy and ended in Germanic self-aggrandizement.

De Waart opened the program with the orchestra’s first performance of Qigang Chen’s “The Five Elements,” a delicate and appealing 10-minute tone poem inspired by traditional Chinese beliefs about the building blocks of the universe.

The work unfolded in two-minute sections titled “Water,” “Wood,” “Fire,” “Earth” and “Metal.” Each part had a distinct orchestration and tempo, beginning with the slow, Debussy-like fluidity of “Water” and ending with the quick, perky dance rhythms in “Metal.”

The surprise came in the central section, “Fire,” with its sustained, closely overlapping brass textures instead of expected crackling, sparkling colors. These did occur but only secondarily. Why the difference? Fire, according to the program notes, traditionally represents life, which is “warm, but not aggressive.”

For life that is warm and aggressive, de Waart closed with a grand account of Strauss’ noble, noisy, saber-rattling, self-glorifying, eventually transcendent “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life). The Philharmonic played with sumptuous sound. The winds carped nastily as the hero’s critics, the brass and strings soared in his heroics, and the percussive Battlefield became the usual take-no-prisoners juggernaut. But can anyone in these post-“Apocalypse Now” days feel comfortable during such music?

Still, principal concertmaster Martin Chalifour traced the vagaries of Strauss’ wife, Pauline, with vivid detail, commitment and amusement, while his final, sensitive duet with principal horn William Lane led the way to the composer’s expansive, redemptive close.

In between these works, de Waart conducted Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Joyce Yang, Silver Medalist of the 12th Van Cliburn International Competition, as the soloist.

Here, conductor and soloist occupied different worlds. De Waart captured the excitement of the classically bound Beethoven just stepping over the line into a new era of expressivity, revealing in passage after passage, nuance, passion and drama.

Yang sounded more distanced from the music, as if establishing a rapport with its struggle rather than engaging in it. Showing little interest in dynamic or interpretive variation, she played with a polished, pearly evenness that was remarkable for its ease up and down the keyboard. Her most introspective moments came in the cadenzas and at the start of the slow middle movement.

Still, closer modeling on de Waart’s approach would have better suited Beethoven.

— Chris Pasles

Above: de Waart during a 2008 appearance at Disney Hall. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Music review: Renée Fleming at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

December 13, 2009 |  8:45 pm

Renee Renée Fleming, America’s beloved soprano, has gotten more interesting. Her luscious, creamy voice has taken on a gritty edge, while her range of repertory has become increasingly adventuresome.

In a recital sponsored by Los Angeles Opera on Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, she sang audience-challenging works by Messiaen and Dutilleux, as well some rare Massenet and unfamiliar pieces by famous and near-forgotten verismo composers.

Even a post-intermission set of Strauss lieder included one rarity. It wasn’t really until encore time that she bowed to popular taste with “O mio babbino caro” (O My Beloved Daddy) from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”

A near capacity house adored it all, although it might have been puzzled by her slow out-of-the-gate opening, consisting of five “Poèmes pour Mi” which a young Messiaen wrote for his wife, nicknamed Mi.

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