Pops season announced

Pacific Symphony unveiled programming today for its 2017-2018 pops season, seven programs each repeated twice, running October to June. Richard Kaufman returns for his 28th season as principal pops conductor. All performances are held in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The season opens Oct. 12-13 with actress and singer Vanessa Williams joining the orchestra to perform songs from throughout her career.

Several vocalists will appear in “The Wonderful World of Oz” (Nov. 9-10), a show featuring songs from “Wicked,” “The Wiz” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Christmas show (Dec. 14-15) is highlighted by teenage singer Jackie Evancho, who will perform songs from her holiday album and more.

Valentine’s Day comes around and so does Kenny G (Feb. 15-16). The popular saxophonist will offer his cool jazz sound in symphonic arrangements.

Leslie Odom, Jr., star of “Hamilton,” arrives March 15-16. The Tony and Grammy winning singer will offer Broadway and jazz hits, including from Jerome Kern and Nat King Cole.

The tribute band Windborne delves into the symphonic rock of Queen (April 26-27), promising revivals of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are the Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and others.

The season ends (May 31-June 1) with semi-staged performances of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical “My Fair Lady.”

Subscriptions are available now in packages of seven and four concerts. Call (714) 755-5799. Renewing subscribers can also go to pacificsymphony.org/renew. New subscribers should visit pacificsymphony.org/pops.

Books on classical music: Some essentials (1)

A little knowledge will help you enjoy classical music more than none. A lot of knowledge will help even more. Here are a few books that I think every classical music lover should have on their shelves for easy reference. If you prefer digital formats to print, that’s your business (though not all of the books I will list are available in digital formats). But I think print is more friendly to browsing, and all of these books reward it.

Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians by Nicholas Slonimsky. Long a standard reference work, Slonimsky’s Baker’s is notable for its scholarly exactitude and scope, with entries on musicians great and small, ancient to modern. Baker’s is a great work of synthesis, with work lists and bibliographies also included at the end of the entries; it is also beautifully written in an entertaining and concise English, which often contains a dash of dry wit. It’s the first place to turn to if you want a quick but thorough bio of Beethoven (in a little more than five closely written columns) or to happen upon some (present day) nonentity such as Francois-Joseph Fetis, “a pioneer in musicology,” Slonimsky informs.

Here’s a brief sample from his entry on Beethoven:

“From his entrance into Viennese Society he demonstrated his spirit of independence, his love of freedom, his refusal to be obsequious, in a world in which even such great musicians as Haydn had to practice subservience. No doubt, he deliberately cultivated his eccentricity. (He remarked that ‘it is good to mingle with aristocrats, but one must know how to impress them.’) His genius as an artist, and his noble generosity, won the hearts of music lovers, and caused them to overlook his occasional bouts of temper. With increasing deafness, however, his character altered; he gradually grew taciturn, morose and suspicious (traits aggravated by the sordid meanness of his brothers, Karl and Johann, who also settled in Vienna), and treated his best friends outrageously. When his brother Karl died in 1815, leaving a son to Beethoven’s guardianship, Beethoven undertook the boy’s education as a sacred trust; his mental anguish at the failure of this task forms one of the saddest chapters of the great man’s life, and still further darkened his declining years.”

The eighth edition, the last completed before Slonimsky’s death at 101, appears to be out of print, but is readily available both used and new on Amazon.


The Symphony: A Listener’s Guide by Michael Steinberg. This volume collects Steinberg’s erudite but infectiously written program notes — essays, really — that he wrote for the Boston Symphony, San Francisco Symphony and others on symphonies from Beethoven through William Walton. There are a few omissions for sure, but some surprising and welcomes inclusions as well, such as notes on symphonies by Gorecki, Piston and Tippett. In all, the book feels complete.

Steinberg always has the common reader in mind, even though he can get rather deep into analysis. But all the plain facts are there too, the stories behind the creation of these works. The book is enjoyable to read, which isn’t something you can say about many program notes.

Here he is on the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1:

“Beethoven surprises — and amuses — us by setting a slow introduction at the beginning of the Finale. In the first movement he had used a scale to make his way from adagio to allegro. Here he does the same thing, except that now he makes a joke of it, a simple but good one that is better heard than described. Nor has he, at this point, had the last of his fun with scales in this movement. The comic beginning nicely sets the mood for a high-spirited conclusion.”

This accomplishes what every program note should accomplish but that few do. It makes you want to hear the piece under consideration. Steinberg also published The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide, which we also commend.

(Read: Books on classical music: Some essentials (2).)


Florence Price

A Donizetti opera — and probably a good one — will finally have its premiere, 180 years late. …

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has named a new music director. …

And so has the San Diego Symphony. …

What’s more, La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest chamber music event also has a new leader, a celebrated pianist. …

Alex Ross in The New Yorker tells the strange tale of composer Florence Price and makes an eloquent case for her inclusion in the repertoire. …

Yes, there are Grammys awarded for classical music, though you wouldn’t know it from the broadcast. …

Joshua Kosman in The San Francisco Chronicle argues for the “monumental influence” of Philip Glass. …


Pacific Symphony: March concerts

Here’s your quick roundup of Pacific Symphony events in the month of March, mobile-friendly and with links to tickets. There will be a total of 12 presentations.

Chief among them will be concerts previewing the orchestra’s first tour of China in May. The performers and repertoire are the same as on tour. Carl St.Clair leads a program with two orchestral showpieces as bookends, Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from “Daphnis et Chloe” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (orchestrated by Ravel). In between, the orchestra welcomes back esteemed violinist Pinchas Zukerman as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. The Mussorgsky will be accompanied by striking visual animation created by eleven students from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Performances are March 15-17 in Segerstrom Concert Hall (tickets here). The concert is repeated, without Ravel’s “Daphnis,” on March 18 in Segerstrom (tickets) and on March 19 in McCallum Theatre for the Performing Arts in Palm Desert (ticket info).

Zukerman will also give a masterclass on March 18, working with three students from Orange County. The masterclass will be held in Samueli Theater and the public is welcome. Tickets are $10.

The month opens with the third annual Lantern Festival (March 4), a free community event celebrating the return of spring and reunion of the family. A dragon dance, puppet show, Chinese folk dance, lantern making and more are featured. Watch a video of last year’s event. Tickets are free, but required.

Los Angeles-based composer Steven Mahpar will narrate his own “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to open Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble’s spring concert (March 10). Conductor Gregory X. Whitmore continues the concert with two classics of the 20th century: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ gorgeous “The Lark Ascending” (with flutist Yuri Choi) and Paul Hindemith’s boisterous “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber.” Free. Tickets here

On March 12, Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra and conductor Roger Kalia give their own ambitious spring concert featuring Brendan Faegre’s “Analog Intelligence (a 21st Century Dance Suite)” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “Titan.” Admission is free, but tickets are required.

The Family Musical Mornings series continues (March 17) with Kalia presiding over a program of music from popular video games, including “Super Mario Brothers” and “The Legend of Zelda.” The premise of the show is two kids getting lost inside their favorite video game. Popular classical selections by Wagner, Stravinsky and Mahler are also performed by Pacific Symphony side-by-side with Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra. Tickets here

Finally, on the pops series, Pink Martini returns (March 23-24). The stylish ensemble resurrects popular music of the past, with elegance and panache. Conductor Richard Kaufman and Pacific Symphony join them. Tickets here