Category: Orange County Performing Arts Center

On Bruckner, conductors and the mysterious unfinished Ninth

February 19, 2011 |  9:30 am

  AntonBruckner and Mahler are often paired together by those who want to summarize a particular era or school in one quick stroke.  And it happened that both composers started to enter the mainstream in a big way around the same time –- the 1950s and 1960s.  Indeed, I discovered Bruckner at exactly the same time as I did Mahler, as a kid in 1966 -– and in the same way, from excerpts on an LP sampler. 

However, I’ve since found that Mahler conductors are not necessarily interested in –- or know how to handle –- Bruckner, and vice versa.  Even-tempered Bernard Haitink is one who is equally convincing in both camps, as is the more volatile Zubin Mehta, but they are exceptions.

Georg Solti’s fierce drive served him mostly well in Mahler, but that trait made him seem overbearing in Bruckner.  The German conductor Eugen Jochum was a propulsive and flexible Bruckner pioneer from the 78 rpm days up to the CD era, recording two whole cycles of the symphonies and almost all of the choral works, but he barely touched Mahler over his long career, recording only “Das Lied Von Der Erde.”  Pierre Boulez eventually became an exacting and often brilliant Mahler conductor, but the essence of Bruckner has eluded him so far in his latter-day performances of the Eighth and Ninth symphonies.  

Great Bruckner conductors like Herbert von Karajan and Daniel Barenboim came to Mahler late in their careers –- and then only selectively –- while Leonard Bernstein, a Mahler man down to his boots, rarely touched Bruckner, leaving two highly personalized recordings of the Ninth and an aircheck of the unfathomably neglected Sixth.  Likewise Bernstein’s disciple Michael Tilson Thomas, one of today’s biggest Mahler champions, is not as well-known for his Bruckner. 

The more you get into Bruckner, the more you are drawn into the battle of multiple editions –- especially the controversy over whether to finish the unfinished Ninth Symphony.  Bruckner completed three awe-inspiring movements –- which almost every conductor considers to be a perfectly self-contained work in itself –- but he was also working on a massive finale, whose sketches were apparently scattered to the four winds after his death.   

As more manuscript pages turn up one by one (conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt recently encouraged collectors and heirs to go through their attics), a number of attempts have been made to patch together a coherent finale.  The Pacific Symphony -– which plays the Ninth this weekend -– once attempted a complete Ninth back in the Keith Clark era (the 1980s) in their old digs, Santa Ana High School Auditorium.  

But this time, Carl St.Clair and the orchestra will revert to common practice and perform the standard three movements –- and frankly, that’s a good call. The versions I’ve heard of the completed finale suggest that Bruckner, then in deteriorating health, was running out of creative steam -– and perhaps he knew it, too, for he labored for two years until his death trying to get it right.  We can only hope that someday, all of the sketches will be found and we can get a fuller idea of how Bruckner hoped to top off what was already a towering achievement. 

For more on the subject of Bruckner, click here for my Arts & Books essay.

-- Richard S. Ginell

 Photo: Herr Bruckner. Credit: Associated Press

Dance review: Bolshoi 'Reflections' at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

January 21, 2011 | 11:50 am

Shipulina Like the first “Kings of Dance”  program in 2006, “Reflections” offers an evening of premieres at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, created by choreographers from Europe and the U.S. for stellar, adventurous classical dancers -- in this case, seven Russian ballerinas trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

On Thursday, the evening began promisingly with glimpses of the magical, long-limbed lyricism of Polina Semionova, now with the Staatsballett Berlin. But, nearly three hours later, we'd been shown nothing more in her art, nothing deeper than that display of her obvious spectacular virtues---and three choreographers had tried.

Similarly, the extraordinary dynamism of the Bolshoi Ballet's Natalia Osipova was demonstrated repeatedly but superficially, and the showpieces for the other women proved no more satisfying. Worse, most of these tailor-made choreographies resembled workshop etudes, far too small in scale for this hall and far from the cutting edge of contemporary work anywhere these women currently dance.

 BolshoigalleryThe Bolshoi Ballet visitors seemed especially underserved. Aszure Barton's “Dumka” (to Tchaikovsky) assigned willowy, intense Yekaterina Shipulina an indecipherable action-plan. Lucinda Childs' “From the Book of Harmony” failed to harness the powerful engine of John Adams' music and left Anastasia Stashkevich looking ill at ease. Karole Armitage's “Fractus” (music by Rhys Chatham) used blackouts to splinter an assaultive duet for Yekaterina Krysanova and Denis Savin, but this bold structural experiment ended inconclusively.

  Maria Kochetkova (San Francisco Ballet) fared better with Jorma Elo's “One Overture” (to music by Biber and Mozart) in which classical steps kept disintegrating into modernistic spasms and body-squiggles without disturbing the remarkable sense of flow that is a hallmark of Russian classical training. And Olga Malinovskaya (Estonia National Ballet) made the most of surely the strangest repertory selection: George Balanchine's sweet, neoclassical Glinka Pas de Trois (with Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin). Whatever its stylistic incongruity Thursday,  this formal 1955 divertissement filled the stage with dancing: a blessed relief after so many constricted premieres.

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'OCPAC' packs it in, changing name to Segerstrom Center for the Arts

January 12, 2011 |  4:18 pm

OCPAC The Orange County Performing Arts Center went out of existence Wednesday -- but not to worry if you were expecting to see Pinchas Zukerman and the Pacific Symphony there on Thursday. It's just the name that's gone, replaced by a new moniker, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The name honors the family that gave the land for the performing arts center, for its neighbor, South Coast Repertory, and for a neighbor-to-be, the Orange County Museum of Art -- which aims to move from Newport Beach to the Costa Mesa arts district, pending the small matter of raising tens of millions of dollars for a new building.

Henry Segerstrom, the 87-year-old patriarch who has driven the family's arts philanthropy, says the Segerstrom largess now totals about $150 million, divided equally between the value of the 14 acres and $75 million in cash contributions for the center, its resident groups and South Coast Rep. He credits Thomas V. McKernan Jr., the Automobile Club of Southern California president who became chairman of the performing arts center's board in 2008, with pushing for the name change.

OCPAC-logo red With the new name comes a new logo that keeps half of the old one -- the shape of the facade of the 1986 multi-purpose Segerstrom Hall -- while adding the new name in a new typeface.  

SegerstromCenterLogo "There are opportunities and challenges when you change your brand," said Terrence Dwyer, president of the performing arts center. "We believe it's a very positive change. We will brand Segerstrom Center for the Arts with enthusiasm and rigor."

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Lucinda Childs among choreographers for OCPAC-Bolshoi partnership

January 8, 2011 |  6:30 am

Olga Malinovskaya Lucinda Childs wants less from her dancers. Commissioned to create a 10-minute solo to composer John Adams’ “Book of Harmony” for “Reflections,” opening Jan. 20 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the choreographer is working with top-caliber ballet technicians Anastasia Stashkevich of the Bolshoi Ballet and Olga Malinovskaya of the Estonian National Ballet.

She’s been teaching the gloriously hyper-trained Russian ballerinas to walk, skip, run and luxuriate in time and space, American-style.

That’s the point of impresario Sergei Danilian’s new co-production with OCPAC and the Bolshoi Theater of Russia, a gender-swapped version of his prior “Kings of the Dance.” “Reflections” introduces seven prima ballerinas, all hothouse products of Russian training, and matches them with eight top, hip Western choreographers -- plus Balanchine.

Childs’ bare-boned repetitive steps, accruing power en route, riveted the gang of Russians, including the ballerinas and four men, rehearsing in Costa Mesa last August. Scattered around the dance studio warming up with torturous stretches, they practically gawked, seemingly fascinated that this simple patterned stuff could be performance material. 

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Performance review: Sutton Foster at the Orange County Performing Arts Center

January 7, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Suttonfoster.jpg The role of the all-American ingénue turned New York diva comes naturally to Sutton Foster. “I was the girl in those songs,” the Tony-winning star said Thursday during her cabaret performance at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, after singing a medley of tunes from three of her Broadway performances: "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Annie" and "Little Women."

Foster has a practical, self-deprecating demeanor and the big voice and long arms of a stage queen -- or at least a Princess Fiona, her last star turn (in "Shrek: The Musical"). 

Foster’s best when she’s playful about her prodigious talent and homespun beauty. She romped through “I Don’t Want To Show Off,” from "The Drowsy Chaperone," with goofball charm, ripping falsies out of her dress (then retrieving them from an audience member). In perhaps a Samueli first, she displayed her pair of “Pimp” and “Ho” goblets. Making fun of the genre she does best, she held up her “Big Book of Really High Belt Songs.”

The problem is, those really high belt songs play better in a big room. On the otherwise moving “My Heart Was Set on You,” Foster’s voice rattled the small space with sharp, metallic tones.

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Music review: Takemitsu film score tribute in jazz at Samueli Theater

December 20, 2010 |  3:00 pm

It never took much to get Toru Takemitsu, the pioneering Japanese composer, drunk. A couple glasses of Scotch at a party after a concert could set him off on rambunctious descriptions of obscure Japanese science-fiction films. He knew them all, no matter how unbelievably cheesy.

He knew the classics too. Takemitsu’s love for movies was second to none. He said he averaged seeing almost one a day from around 1957 until his death at age 65 in 1996. He also scored, on average, two or three a year during that period, including many Japanese masterpieces. Four years ago, after a DVD version of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” was released, the musicologist Jan Swafford asked, with good cause, in an article on Slate, whether Takemitsu was the greatest film composer of all time. The late David Raksin, famed for his score of “Laura” and himself a great film composer, didn’t need to ask. He told me more than once that he considered “Ran” the greatest film score of all time.

JapanOC, the Philharmonic Society's celebration of Japan this season, began its music programs Sunday night with a tribute to Takemitsu in the Samueli Theater, the intimate venue of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The four musicians, led by jazz guitarist Kazumi Watanabe, all knew Takemitsu personally. The music consisted of arrangements for two guitars, accordion and percussion of numbers from 10 of the more than 100 Takemitsu film scores. The concert was conceived by Maki Takemitsu, the composer’s daughter.

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Music review: William Bolcom 'Prometheus' premiere by the Pacific Symphony

November 19, 2010 |  4:02 pm

Jeffrey Biegel is a pianist with a dazzling technique, superb musicianship and a flair for the unnecessary. He has recorded a piano version of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Christmas carols from a classical pianist’s point of view. He enticed Ellen Zwilich to write her “Millennium Fantasy” for piano and orchestra and got it played all over the place and recorded. It is a weak piece.

Biegel went through even more trouble to arrange a commission for a companion work to Beethoven’s “Choral” Fantasy, which is rarely performed because it requires piano, orchestra and chorus and is lesser Beethoven. But this time Biegel chose William Bolcom, and his bad idea wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The Pacific Symphony premiered Bolcom’s “Prometheus” Thursday night at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, with the Pacific Chorale. Biegel was soloist; Carl St.Clair conducted. Bolcom’s score, which is a setting of Lord Byron’s “Prometheus,” has something to say, and the performance said it brilliantly.

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Idina Menzel doesn't rule out a role in 'Wicked' movie or reunion with Kristin Chenoweth

November 3, 2010 | 12:21 pm

Idina It's been several years since Idina Menzel donned the green body paint and pointy black hat of her Tony-winning role as Elphaba in "Wicked," but it seems like she's never too far away from the misunderstood heroine.

Menzel plans to perform a few of her best-known songs from the Broadway musical during an orchestra-backed show at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Sunday. It's the only scheduled local stop on a national cabaret-style tour that started this spring.

But what of that long-discussed movie version of "Wicked," which is stuck in development and possibly years from fruition?

Menzel doesn't rule out an appearance, but she won't be Elphaba. The part calls for a younger actress, she said, even though she thinks it would be cool to provide the voice for the school-aged character through some kind of "Avatar"-like computer magic.

"I just loved playing her," Menzel said, "and I'm still blown away that people drive down the street singing 'Defying Gravity' in their cars."

She wasn't interested, though, in revisiting "Wicked" during her stint on the hit TV show "Glee." She and "Wicked" costar Kristin Chenoweth were both guest stars on the musical series at different times, and it could've provided a natural platform to re-team them.

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Music review: Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica take a spiritual plunge [updated]

November 2, 2010 |  1:34 pm

KB pic 1s “I love beautiful women,” Gidon Kremer wrote in 1995 at the end of his memoir “Splinters of a Childhood.” “Obviously I shall have a lot of unpleasantness because of this.” Still the Latvian violinist -- who appeared with his chamber orchestra, Kremerata Baltica, at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall Monday night -- seems to have no trouble finding young people (women and men) for his Kremerata beautiful enough to pose for Baltic Vogue, if there is such a thing.

What Kremer doesn’t say is that for him beauty is hardly skin deep. His 23 string players produce exquisitely shaded, gorgeous ensemble work. If they may have also presented unpleasantness Monday, that was because a naked plunge into the substance and soul of music means who knows what inner demons lie at wait.

The program was a multilevel dialogue with history. Five short pieces on the first half were ones that can be found the Kremerata’s new Nonesuch album, “De Profundis.” After intermission, the ensemble tackled a chamber orchestra arrangement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor. The numerals 131 (the quartet’s opus number) constitute a magical prime number in music.

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Music review: Dresden Staatskapelle with Daniel Harding returns to Orange County

October 28, 2010 |  2:00 pm

On Jan. 18, 2001, Giuseppe Sinopoli conducted the Dresden Staatskapelle at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Four months and two days later, the fascinating Italian conductor/composer collapsed from a heart attack and died while conducting in Berlin. Left without a music director, Dresden’s venerable orchestra began what may have been its stormiest decade in a long history.

That, by the way, is a very long history. The Staatskapelle -- which returned to OCPAC Wednesday night, this time to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall to open the Philharmonic Society’s new season -- had a big celebration two years ago. It turned 460.

No doubt, this orchestra has seen it all. In the 17th century, the great German Baroque composer Heinrich Schütz headed the Staatskapelle for 57 years. Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner were among his 19th century successors. Richard Strauss entrusted the premieres of eight of his operas to Dresden (this is also a celebrated pit band). But after Sinopoli’s sudden death, the ship needed some righting.

Bernard Haitink took over in 2002 but resigned two years later in arguments with the management over his successor, Fabio Luisi. Luisi then walked out on his contract this year in arguments with the management over broadcast rights by his successor, Christian Thielemann, who begins in 2012.

So the current tour has been turned over to the lively British conductor Daniel Harding, a regular guest conductor in Dresden. The Dresdeners also have a British composer-in-residence, Rebecca Saunders. But this was no tour for modern music.

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