Category: Classical Music

Music review: Osmo Vanska in his Los Angeles Philharmonic debut

March 25, 2012 |  3:03 pm

Osmo vanska
During Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 17 seasons with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so many Finnish instrumentalists, conductors and composers came through L.A. that you might have thought Finnair would have found it profitable to restore service to LAX. But at least one prominent Finnish conductor and one somewhat prominent Finnish composer were notable for their absences.

Osmo Vänskä, a classmate of Salonen’s at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, is a darling of New York music critics (he was Musical America’s conductor of the year in 2005), and he has long been a favorite of record collectors. But with his flamboyant conducting style and his championing of the neo-Romantic Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, Vänskä seems the polar opposite of the cooler, more progressive Salonen.

Even so, it is important for the opposition party to get an airing. And  at Walt Disney Concert Hall, a month shy of three years after Salonen conducted his last concert as the orchestra’s music director, Vänskä finally made his belated L.A. Phil debut. On Saturday night, moreover, he led the L.A. premiere of Aho’s Clarinet Concerto, with Martin Fröst as the flashy soloist.

I would be surprised if Vänskä were to be invited back any time soon. Ditto Aho.

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Music review: Morton Subotnick, California E.A.R. Unit at REDCAT

March 25, 2012 |  2:25 pm

A beautiful retro-futurist atmosphere hovered over REDCAT on Saturday night as iconic electronic music composer-performer Morton Subotnick’s seminal “Silver Apples of the Moon” and “A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur” were brought vividly to life, here and now, with tools spanning the ages. 

Subotnick, the conceptualist and conjurer at the center, manned his laptop and Buchla200e synthesizer as the intrepid California E.A.R. Unit lent its piano/violin/percussion forces in a guided improvisational tour de force.

Subotnick’s original 1966 recording of “Silver Apples,” commissioned by Nonesuch Records, is a veritable “greatest hit” of electronic music history, appealing to an uncommonly wide public. It broke the esoteric mold of electronic music, an artistic landmark nonetheless accessible in its rippling rhythmic pulses and harmonic shimmer. “A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur,” from 1977, was made with the same mix of Buchla synths and tape recorders. In short, claims of his being the “godfather of techno” are more than idle hype.

Subotnick and the E.A.R. Unit are allies with a layered history. They have previously collaborated and share an academic-experimental common ground at the California Institute of the Arts -- of which Subotnick was a founding faculty member. It is now a home base for current Unit members pianist Vicki Ray, violinist Eric KM Clark and percussionist Amy Knoles (here equipped with an extended “drum kit,” including jumbo bass drum and bodhran).

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Music review: Pacific Symphony celebrates Iranian New Year

March 23, 2012 |  1:11 pm

Members of the Shams Ensemble perform with the Pacific Symphony
The Pacific Symphony was, Thursday night, the pacific Symphony, an orchestra serving the cause for peace.

The circumstance was the opening at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall of the orchestra’s 11th annual American Composers Festival. This year’s focus was Persian, partly in recognition of the large Iranian American community in Orange County.

The theme was innocuous on the surface, a celebration of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which begins the first day of spring. It’s an occasion for Iranians of all religions and ethnicities to come together. On Nowruz, people who stopped talking to each other are encouraged to try again.

We don’t, however, live in an innocuous world, and the festival’s news was the premiere of Richard Danielpour’s portentous 51-minute “Toward a Season of Peace.” It got a unanimous standing ovation. Political observers overlook classical concerts as useful litmus tests for popular sentiment toward war and peace. But given the current Iranian situation and Orange County’s reputation for championing conservative causes, this instance perhaps merits noting.

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Will North Korean musicians tour the U.S. this year?

March 23, 2012 |  6:00 am

PyongyangMusicians from North Korea's National Symphony Orchestra could travel to the U.S. as early as this year for a multiple-city tour organized by American promoters, according to reports. But the tour isn't a certainty because approval is required by officials from both countries.

The proposed visit would last 18 days and begin in Atlanta and end with a performance in New York, reported the Associated Press. The group behind the planned tour is Global Resource Services, a humanitarian organization based in Atlanta.

In the past, a select number of U.S. arts groups have been able to travel to North Korea, most notably members of the New York Philharmonic in 2008. It is much rarer for artists from the closed country to travel to the U.S. Defections could be a concern for North Korean officials and would be a source of embarrassment for the country.

The AP reported that the tour was initially scheduled for February but was put on hold following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il late last year. Musicians and other personnel from North Korea would need to obtain visas to travel to the U.S.

Earlier this month, member of North Korea's Unhasu Orchestra traveled to Paris for a joint concert with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

Since its independence in 1945, North Korea has never established official diplomatic ties with the U.S.


South Korean conductor to travel to North Korea

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil start things in Caracas

Orchestras from North Korea, France perform concert in Paris

-- David Ng

Photo: A view of a statue of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea. Credit: Ren Libo / Associated Press / Xinhua

Arts on TV: Trans-Siberian Orchestra; André Rieu; Ramsey Lewis

March 22, 2012 |  6:15 am

“Open Call” 9 p.m. Thursday, KCET: Fine Cut Festival of Student Films: Hosted by mezzo-soprano opera singer Suzanna Guzman.

“The World's Greatest Musical Prodigies” 10 p.m. Thursday, KLCS: Alexander meets and auditions four pianists ages 8 to 12.

“André Rieu Presents: Live in Dublin” 9:30 p.m. Friday, KVCR: The conductor leads a performance of the Johann Strauss Orchestra at the Dublin Depot in Ireland. With guest John Sheahan.

“Andre Rieu Presents: Live in Maastricht” 11:15 p.m. Friday, KVCR: The violinist performs with the Johann Strauss Orchestra at Vrijthof Square in Maastricht, Netherlands.

“The Artist Toolbox” 8:30 p.m. Saturday, KLCS: Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis.

“Land of the Dragon” 3:30 p.m. Sunday, KCET: Painting and Calligraphy: Chinese brush painting; calligraphy.

“Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Birth of Rock Theater” Midnight Sunday, KVCR: Paul O'Neill outlines the past, present and future of the orchestra.

“Rick Steves' Europe” 7 p.m. Monday, KCET: Paris: Eiffel Tower; Orsay Gallery; French cuisine; Paris history.

“Globe Trekker” 10 p.m. Tuesday, KCET: Amsterdam City Guide 2: The Rijksmuseum boasts a collection of paintings by the Dutch masters; Van Gogh Museum; Anne Frank House; Gay Parade.

“Passport to Europe With Samantha Brown” 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Travel:  The London Eye; Indian cuisine; Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

-- Compiled by Ed Stockly

 Photo: "Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Birth of Rock Theater" Credit: Mark Weiss / PBS 

Esa-Pekka Salonen to carry Olympic torch for London Games

March 20, 2012 |  7:27 am

Esa-Pekka Salonen is scheduled to carry the Olympic torch for one mile on July 26, the next-to-last day of the flame's journey to its destination in London

Esa-Pekka Salonen is pretty good at wielding a conductor's baton, but how will he fare wielding an Olympic torch?

The conductor (and former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) is scheduled to carry the torch for a mile on July 26, the next-to-last day of the flame's journey from Greece to London for this year's Summer Games. He will be one of the 8,000 official torch-bearers, some of whose names were announced this week by London's Olympics committee.

The torch is scheduled to begin the British leg of its journey on May 19 at Land's End in Cornwall, England, and travel to multiple cities and villages -- including the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. The flame is expected to arrive in London on July 27.

Salonen currently serves as music director of London's Philharmonia Orchestra. Other notable torch-bearers for the Summer Games include billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and Dinah Gould, a Londoner who will be 100 by the time the flame reaches her. Salonen, by comparison, will be a relatively youthful 54 when he bears the torch.

Salonen, who remains conductor laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is scheduled to return to Walt Disney Concert Hall in December to conduct his former orchestra.


Music review: Premiere of Shostakovich's long-lost "Orango"

Dudamel, Salonen to appear in Philharmonic Society's new season

L.A. Phil 2012-13: John Adams, "Wild Things,"' "Angels in America"

-- David Ng

Photo: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2010. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

The 100 cellos of the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival

March 19, 2012 |  6:23 pm

Rouse Rapturedux

There goes the Disney Hall stage.

Sunday night, as the grand finale of the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, 100 cellists dug their endpins into the expensive stage floor of Walt Disney Concert Hall for a rare performance of Christopher Rouse’s “Rapturedux.”

The tender Alaskan yellow cedar now has a cluster of new pockmarks, and the universe has a remarkable new sound — 400 rich and rapt cello strings vibrating in a great acoustic space. This goes beyond music. Vibration is the essence of nature — everything vibrates. And in the opening F-major chord of “Rapturedux,” it was possible to believe in a palpable music of the spheres.

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Music review: Emanuel Ax recital at Soka Performing Arts Center

March 19, 2012 |  2:54 pm

Emanuel Ax recital at Soka Performing Arts Center
In his recital at the Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo on Sunday, pianist Emanuel Ax shared the spotlight with two exceptional instruments. Ax played a bright-sounding Hamburg Steinway in the first half and a more darkly textured New York Steinway in the second.

This was the first piano recital at the 1,032-seat hall, which opened in September. The detail and depth of sonic warmth produced by Ax in a program of variations by Copland, Haydn, Beethoven and Schumann was embraced by the venue, which compares favorably to Walt Disney Concert Hall. Yasuhisa Toyota was the acoustician for both spaces.

There was an especially effective crystalline clarity to Ax’s sound in Copland’s compact and dramatic Piano Variations. Copland called his austere 1930 masterpiece a “ten-minute monster,” and it shows the composer in an atypically rigorous modernist mode. In Ax’s hands, the score’s bracing dissonance and loud chords became beautiful.

In Haydn’s touching Andante and Variations in F minor, the pianist made a case for the composer as the first great Romantic. In a rendition full of feeling, he meticulously etched the alternating variations on two themes, leading to a whispering coda.

Ax tested the resounding lower register of the Hamburg instrument in Beethoven’s “Eroica” Variations and Fugue, Opus 35. He captured the grotesquery in the opening bass chords, a self-parody of the composer’s own theme from his “Eroica” Symphony finale. Ax’s account was exhilaratingly earthy and visceral.

Even better was Ax’s uninhibited rendition of Schumann’s inspired “Symphonic Etudes.” If any single work could test the grand orchestral and intimate properties of a New York Steinway and a new concert hall, it's this one. Ax conveyed Schumann’s full range of moods, from dreamy and reflective to impetuous and passionate. His encore was an atmospheric rendering of “Pagodes” from Debussy’s “Estampes.”


Winners of Metropolitan Opera competition include L.A. Opera singer

Music review: Spectral Scriabin

Chaka Kahn to be inducted into Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame

-- Rick Schultz

Photo: Emanuel Ax performs Sunday at the Soka Performing Arts Center. Credit: Eric Mitsuo Kimura


Metropolitan Opera competition winners include L.A. Opera singer

March 19, 2012 | 12:59 pm


The Metropolitan Opera in New York  announced the winners of its annual National Council Auditions on Sunday, and among the honorees is a young singer who has strong ties to Los Angeles.

Soprano Janai Brugger is currently enrolled in L.A. Opera's Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program and is set to play the role of Musetta in the company's production of Puccini's "La Bohème," opening May 12. The 29-year-old singer hails from Illinois and has appeared in productions at Palm Beach Opera and the Ravinia Festival.

Brugger also performed in L.A. Opera's recent productions of "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Rigoletto."

The Met's National Council Auditions is the leading opera competition in the country for young artists. The company said close to 1,500 singers between the ages of 20 and 30 participated in this year's auditions.

This year's roster of winners also includes Anthony Clark Evans, Matthew Grills, Margaret Mezzacappa and Andrey Nemzer.

Each winner receives a cash prize of $15,000. Past winners who have gone on to international fame include Jessye Norman, Renee Fleming, Deborah Voigt and Susan Graham.


Opera review: Los Angeles Opera's 'Albert Herring'

Opera review: Placido Domingo in L.A. Opera's 'Simon Boccanegra'

L.A. Opera sets 'Two Foscari,' Renee Fleming for new season

-- David Ng

Photo: Janai Brugger, with Placido Domingo, performing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 2011. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Music review: Spectral Scriabin

March 18, 2012 |  3:58 pm

“Spectral Scriabin” at the Broad Stage on Saturday night looked  promising, with look, indeed, part of the promise. Eteri Andjaparidze -- a pianist from the Georgian republic with a cult following and now a respected educator in America -- teamed up with extraordinary lighting designer Jennifer Tipton to illuminate a fascinating Russian composer who heard in colors.

Created for the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan and also presented at Lincoln Center’s 2011 White Light Festival, “Spectral Scriabin” came highly regarded, at least according to its press clippings. Maybe something in Andjaparidze’s brittle and sometimes banal playing or Tipton’s overly subtle gauzy projections got lost in the translation, or in the cross-country transport. But there is more than one way to look at Scriabin.

Born in 1872, Aleksandr Scriabin was a late Romantic who turned Modernist and then turned mystic and died young in 1915. As a musical revolutionary, Scriabin helped move music forward, influencing Stravinsky and Schoenberg and even Henry Cowell’s eclectic California school.

A decade after Scriabin’s death, at the fashionable salons in Paris, London, New York, Chicago and L.A. -- where Duchamp was debated and banned copies of Joyce’s “Ulysses” were circulated -- Scriabin’s music was often played and his mystic chord  mooned over by Madame Blavatsky's Theosophists. The young Elliott Carter and John Cage were Scriabinites. Pierre Boulez has become one in his later years.

But what Scriabin is mostly remembered for today, unfortunately, is his synesthesia (he associated tones with colors) and his mystical over-the-topness. He wrote that he wanted to suspend bells from the clouds over India in his last orchestral work, the incomplete “Mysterium.”

Andjaparidze put together an uninspired program consisting mainly of preludes, etudes, poems and small character pieces. She did begin with the rhythmically advanced, late “Vers la Flamme,” and end with the Fourth Sonata, Scriabin’s first spiritual masterpiece. The pieces ran, one into another, for an hour and were played with the audience in the dark, so that Tipton could colorize the backdrop. 

Tipton’s lighting effects at the very start of Saturday’s recital were splendid. As Andjaparidze began the spooky opening of “Vers la Flamme” in as much darkness as the fire officials allowed (exit signs remained illuminated), her hands were bathed in a ghostly glow. Then the music stand on her piano began to glow. But there was little spookiness to the rushed and squarely phrased playing.

There were, however, sparks. Andjaparidze has fingers of steel and she gets an impressively metallic sound from the keyboard with her sharp attacks. She favors momentum over wistfulness. Early preludes and etudes were treated as showpieces. The Waltz in A-Flat was dizzying. The Poem Languide in B Major was also dizzying.

Tipton’s lighting effects relied on large discs of pastels projected onto to the scrim. Occasionally, but only occasionally, a strong red or blue created a mood. It could be that I was sitting too close to the stage for the pastels to take; it could be that the show was created for a smaller space; or it could be that too much extraneous exit sign light bled onto the stage. But the lighting ultimately put attention on the pianist herself, rather than on illuminating the music.

Now and then, Andjaparidze surprised me. The Andante opening of the Fourth Sonata, which ended the program, was beautifully spare; every note, in this instance, actually glowing. That didn't last. The fast second movement became yet another showpiece, although it did allow Tipton her one great moment. At the climax, the backdrop became a blaze of white light, in a Robert Wilson way (Tipton has worked extensively with Wilson).

As I write this, the L.A. Marathon is being run under my window, and my street has been turned into a big advertisement for Honda. The theme is “The Power of Dreams,” even though dreams are in short supply. What dreams are there in helicopters hovering overhead and an atrociously bad rock band the city has set up to egg on (or bum out) miraculous runners?

The power of dreams is their otherworldliness, a runner's high. Scriabin’s music cannily catches this dream state. Andjaparidze’s Scriabin was closer to a big race to a blazing finish.


What color is music?

Sardono Dance Theater and Jennifer Tipton at REDCAT

Jennifer Tipton lights up REDCAT, and many other stages

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Eteri Andjaparidze performs "Spectral Scriabin" at the Broad Stage on Saturday night. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times. 


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