Audio: Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 7

I won’t categorize this as a “neglected symphony,” but it doesn’t turn up on concert programs that often, especially when you consider how good it is. The piece is in a single movement; it’s the last symphony Sibelius wrote (in 1924), though he lived until 1957. Colin Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in this live recording.

Bergmann takes over for Previn, premiere and all

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

“Jumping in as a replacement is always scary and fun at the same time,” conductor Rune Bergmann said recently, on the phone from Calgary. The lively and amiable Norwegian musician, the new music director of the Calgary Philharmonic, has been asked to step in on short notice to replace André Previn, who withdrew from his concerts with Pacific Symphony on Oct. 19-21 due to injury. Though it was a tight fit in his schedule, Bergmann gladly accepted the offer.

“I was planning to go back to my family (in Oslo) and spend time with them, but since it was Pacific Symphony that called, of course you have to go,” Bergmann said. “Nice people calling.

“I had my first concert with Pacific Symphony in November last year, and we had so much fun.”

Bergmann agreed to not only conduct the concerts, but also to take over Previn’s identical program, which included Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 (with Garrick Ohlsson) as well the West Coast premiere of Previn’s own “Almost an Overture,” which was given its first performance in Rhode Island in July.

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Video: Overture to ‘Die Fledermaus’

Pacific Symphony opens its Pops season tonight and tomorrow with a program headlined by David Foster. But conductor Albert-George Schram and the orchestra begin the program with the Overture to “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss, Jr., which for my money is one of the best things he ever wrote. Here, the piece is hit out of the ball park by the great Carlos Kleiber (watch him) and the Bavarian State Orchestra. You’re welcome.

Calr St.Clair and Pacific Symphony perform Overture to “Die Fledermaus” on demand.

Pacific Overtures

Here’s our new monthly newsletter, Pacific Overtures. It is written and curated by yours truly. Much of this month’s content has appeared on this blog, but every month will be a little different in that regard. Click on the link below.

Pacific Overtures. October, 2017.

Review: Louisville Orchestra, Teddy Abrams: ‘All In’

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Teddy Abrams is the 30-year-old music director of the venerable Louisville Orchestra and he’s at least a quadruple threat: Conductor, composer, clarinetist and pianist. The young man, a protege of Michael Tilson Thomas, is stirring things up with the orchestra and their first album together, dubbed “All In” and released on Decca Gold on Sept. 22, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart in its first week. (Obiter dictum: These days, that doesn’t necessarily mean huge sales.) “All In” is the orchestra’s first album in nearly 30 years. Abrams appears as conductor, composer and clarinetist on it.

At one time, some will remember, the Louisville Orchestra was one of the most recorded in the world. In the late 1940s the ensemble launched the Louisville Orchestra Commissioning Project, funded by both local arts money and Rockefeller Foundation grants. The Project eventually yielded hundreds of new works for orchestra as well some 150 recordings of them (on the orchestra’s own label, First Edition Records). Abrams and the orchestra hope “to pick up and expand this legacy,” the liner notes say. Good luck to them.

The disc opens with Abrams’ own “Unified Field,” a shortish four movement work in an accessible, popular and diverse style. In the liner notes, Abrams offers this: “My own music reflects my favorite musical experiences and memories, ranging from an obsession with ‘classical’ contrapuntal technique to the unmatched energy of playing a rock show and the joy of jamming with great Bluegrass artists. Usually these worlds do not find much common ground, but ‘Unified Field’ is an attempt to join everything I love into a single expression across multiple genres.”

The result is pleasant enough, light, too, but bordering on hackneyed. The first movement is pretty, oceanic movie music; its main theme returns in the other movements. The second movement romps in a percussive groove, complete with electric bass and electric guitar. A drum set and Hammond-style organ are added to the processional third movement (a kissing cousin to the “Pilgrims’ March” in Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy”), and the finale is a comedic jamboree on a country fiddling tune.

Surprisingly perhaps, the piece is played none too well here, rather sloppily most of the way, the strings sounding overtaxed and the musicians just not moving as one.

Perhaps it won’t matter to many listeners that the next three numbers aren’t remotely classical, but they do seem out of place here. The vocalist Storm Large, of Pink Martini fame, joins the orchestra for three songs in jazzy style, a pair of ballads, “A Woman’s Heart” by Large and “The Long Goodbye” by Abrams, and an uptempo “It’s Alright with Me” by Cole Porter. A gifted stylist, Large rather overdoes it in this case, pressing and preening. The arrangement of the Porter tune, credited partly to Large, is poor — it never quite gels. (Compare Ella Fitzgerald’s version.)

Which leaves the finale, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with Abrams as soloist. (Someone named Jason Seber conducts it, but we are never told who he is.) Written in 1948 for Benny Goodman, the concerto mixes the composer’s familiar American style with Stravinskian neoclassicism and jazz. Abrams negotiates the high-flying solo part sensitively and athletically but the intonation is not always perfectly centered. Seber and the orchestra give him nimble enough support. But it’s too little, too late.

Pacific Symphony: October concerts

Conductor Rune Bergmann

Here’s a quick rundown of Pacific Symphony’s October concerts, 12 in all, with ticket links.

First off, the orchestra will appear in the ongoing series of Harry Potter films presented by the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Born and raised in Huntington Beach, conductor Justin Freer makes his debut with Pacific Symphony, leading three live-with-film performances of the John Williams score to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” on Oct. 6-7. Tickets here.

The orchestra launches its chamber music series, Cafe Ludwig, on Oct. 8 with a Beethoven/Schubert program featuring pianist Orli Shaham, cellist Timothy Landauer and violinist Paul Manaster. Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata (written for an obsolete instrument, and now commonly played by the cello) and the great Piano Trio in B-flat sandwich Beethoven’s late Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109. Tickets here.

Sixteen-time Grammy-winning producer David Foster is the guest for the opening of the Pops series Oct. 13-14. He’ll have singers Ruben Studdard (an “American Idol” winner) and Shelea Frazier along to perform selections from his catalog of hits. Tickets here.

Norwegian conductor Rune Bergmann — (pronounced Rue-na Bairg-mahn) — returns Oct. 19-21 to take over a program originally scheduled to be led by André Previn, who cancelled due to injury. Previn’s “Almost an Overture” will have its West Coast premiere, American pianist Garrick Ohlsson solos in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, and Rachmaninoff’s plush Symphony No. 2 winds things up. Tickets here.

The Family Musical Mornings series also gets underway with a Halloween-themed program Oct. 21. Pacific Symphony assist conductor Roger Kalia helms the 13th Annual Despicable Villains’ Choice Awards. Tickets here.

Members of the orchestra perform in a free concert at the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University on Oct. 22. In keeping with the museum’s theme, this wide-ranging program is anchored by the music of California composers — in this case, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison and George Antheil — but also includes music by Purcell, Bartok (three movements of the bristling Fourth Quartet), Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass. Chapman’s ChapCelli Ensemble also appears. Museum entrance is free. Seating for this concert is limited and will be first-come, first-served. Limited standing room in the back. Info here.

Finally, on Oct. 29, Pacific Symphony performs in the Pacific Chorale’s 50th anniversary celebration and season opener. Newly minted artistic director Robert Istad leads an ambitious program that includes the the U.S. premiere of composer-in-residence Tarik O’Regan’s “A Celestial Map of the Sky,” James Hopkins’ “Songs of Eternity” (a 1992 commission) and a concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s ebullient musical theater work, “Mass.” The 20% discount code for Symphony subscribers is “BATON.” Tickets here.