Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category

SCHUBERT INSPIRES “CURATOR” INON BARNATAN

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Patrons and future attendees of SummerFest have an early opportunity to see and hear the kind of programming that will be brought to La Jolla’s world-class summer music festival by Director-designate Inon Barnatan who is “curating” a three-part series this Spring, entitled Schubert’s Swan Song.

Based on the first of these concerts, this past Saturday, March 24, Barnatan will be a huge favorite with La Jolla Music Society audiences, including the many who each summer enjoy one of the globe’s top classical musical festivals.  Barnatan will succeed Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, retiring this coming summer after 18 years as SummerFest Music Director.

In a prelude exchange (with veteran music journalist James Chute) Barnatan was most open in revealing himself–about the Schubert series and about his own tastes in music.  One was dazzled by this passionate 40-year-old internationally recognized pianist who has strong feelings about his ability to bring to La Jolla audiences the very best from around the world.

 

Inon Barnatan 2014- Pianist Photo: Marco Borggreve

Inon Barnatan 

Barnatan boldly chose to open the March 24th three-part Schubert program by bringing to the stage a concert pianist even more renowned then himself, Garrick Ohlsson.  The two joined together in a wonderful Schubert creation, “Fantasie in F Minor for Piano Four Hands.” The audience could instantly recognize a musician and a musical director most optimistic about plans for the next weeks and for the summer of 2019. It is then that long time SummerFest Artistic Director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, always a favorite in La Jolla, will give way to Barnatan.

A full measure of Barnatan’s exquisite taste in genre, and in selection of performers, was on display when the “curator” gave the stage over fully to Ohlsson for 45-minute rendition of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Major.  One may have wondered about the “coolness” of Ohlsson playing along the much younger Baratan in the four-hands piece. Any question of passion, or reserve, was removed in Ohlsson’s breathtaking, by memory, performance.

Ohlsson got a standing ovation and, after an intermission, Baratan was back for Schubert’s splendid Trio in B-flat major, joined by Violinist Erin Keefe and Cellist Clive Greensmith.

One should not be surprised, but delighted, with immediate high expectations that “Curator Baratan,” will live up to his promises to bring  great performers and themes to La Jolla Music Society programs in coming weeks and in coming years.

Schubert had died at age 31 in 1828 after a year of producing compositions that have remained marvels to the classical music world. Thus the title of this spring’s series, focusing on a series of these masterpieces, some of which audiences will have a chance to savor, next on April 14 and finally on May 19.

These programs take place in comfortable Qualcomm Hall, with good enough acoustics, suitable for a sizable audience and intimate enough for chamber music.

Barnatan will take the SummerFest helm just as La Jolla Music Society inaugurates its very own Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center (“The Conrad”) in the heart of La Jolla Village.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1979, Baratan started playing the piano at the age of three after his parents discovered he had perfect pitch. He made his orchestral debut at 11 and his musical education connects him to some of the 20th Century’s most illustrious pianists and teachers. Barnatan currently lives in a converted warehouse in Harlem in New York City.

More information is available at www.inonbarnatan.com

 

 

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ANOTHER SEASON IN LA JOLLA BRINGS SOULFUL SUMMERFEST

Friday, August 12th, 2016

By Barry Jagoda

         The great news this August in La Jolla, the famous neighborhood of San Diego, California, is that SummerFest has returned, now for it’s 30th Anniversary year of producing some of the globe’s very best chamber music.

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The Festival features world class artists presenting to appreciative audiences of regular concert goers (and regular big time donors). SummerFest also includes a significant program of free workshops and lectures as well as extremely helpful “prelude” events for ticket holders.

What a pleasure, for example, to be a ticket-holder on the evening of August 10, for a program that began with a scintillating prelude lecture (on Beethoven and the “sonata form”) from University of California professor Steven Cassedy. The evening concluded with a magnificent performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat, Opus 127, by the incomparable Danish String Quartet.

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After a standing ovation from the good-sized audience, the Quartet, pictured above, played an encore, one of their favorites, the Danish folk tune, Sonderho (“Bridal Trilogy”), which occasioned another standing ovation.

The evening’s full program was entitled “Richard, Robert and Ludwig,” referring to concertizing of Richard Strauss and Robert Schuman compositions, as well as to the “Ludwig,” string quartet referenced above.

Earlier on this same pleasant August evening (the weather is almost always nice at the San Diego coast) patrons were invited to pay for a “pre-concert” dinner at one of San Diego’s newest and best restaurants, the Sicilian-themed Catania. Also on this same Festival day, La Jolla music lovers (and some visiting tourists) were treated to a free “Coaching Workshop,” where top musicians mentored the work of some of their younger brethren–performers with brilliant potential.

An eager SummerFest participant would have to be asleep by 11pm Wednesday to wake for Thursday, August 11, festival events such as another coaching workshop and a brilliant “Encounter,” where scholar Nuvi Mehta presented a talk entitled, “Vienna 1900: How the Past Made the Future.” This talk was designed as background for the next few concerts, one titled “Viennese Giants,” with compositions from Mozart and other brilliant Austrian composers.

Mehta, a respected musical and historical lecturer, deeply engaged his audience with perspectives on Vienna at the time, noting a history of anti-Semitism and general anti-immigrant bias. His talk explained how private intellectual opposition to the ruling Hapsburg imperial dynasty ironically helped develop a culture for the new music of the 20th Century.  Saying “words are seeds,” and seeing parallels with our own times, the speaker pointed out that radical political demagogues also arose in Austria and Germanic Europe as part of the revolt against perceived unfairness.

After mid-August, SummerFest concert-goers will have another ten performances from which to choose, along with fifteen free workshops and encounters. For a full listing of the Festival schedule see www.ljms.org, the Internet home of La Jolla Music Society, which is the producing organization for the entire summer’s cultural cornucopia.

Patrons who wanted to support the Festival, financially, were invited to an August 13th “Anniversary Gala dinner,” followed by an intimate concert of works by Bartok, Wolf and Dvorak. Performers at the Gala Concert were to include, Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, the Rice University music professor who is Musical Director of the Festival and always in demand as a beloved violinist.

This writer also looks forward to “An Evening with Paquito D’Rivera,” the soulful and brilliant clarinetist.

PAQUITO

SummerFest’s August 17 program is sub-titled “Jazz Meets the Classics,” featuring an amalgam of classical chamber music players and jazz, led by Paquito D’Rivera, pictured above.

Friday (Aug. 19) and Saturday (Aug. 20) brings a two-evening focus on cello suites from J.S. Bach, starring Mischa Maisky, the Russian cello genius who studied under both Mstislav Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky. Maisky will perform the much loved “Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello,” of Bach. These two evenings cannot be missed by Bach lovers.

August 21 brings “Great Quintets,” and the following Tuesday (August 23) will star the wonderful “Verona Quartet,” in “Virtuoso Winds,” also with acclaimed pianist Shai Wosner.

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry.

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry.

SummerFest continues on Aug. 24 with music from Liszt, Tchaikovsky and the world premier of Pianist Mar-Andre Hamelin performing (along with cellist Hai-Ye Ni) his own “Four Perspectives.”

The Festival’s grand finale stars genius James Conlon, Musical Director of the Los Angeles Opera, conducting Schubert, Prokofev and Mozart. This compelling event also stars Gil Shaham, who Time magazine called, “the outstanding American violinist of his generation.”

Except for the Gala all these concerts take place in the acoustically splendid auditorium of La Jolla’s San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.

One is advised to check the festival web site for locations of open and free Encounters, Coaching Sessions and Rehearsals, which can be found at locations of community partners, the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library and at La Jolla’s public library.

SummerFest is constructing a new home for itself, along with what is expected to be an outstanding venue for this and other La Jolla Music Society events. The facility is expected to be ready for SummerFest in 2018.

 

 

TAKE US OUT TO THE BALLGAME—BEAUTIFUL PLAY IN THE CALIFORNIA LEAGUE

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

Our national pastime can be enjoyed in an unforgettable afternoon and evening by attending a California League game, at one of eight minor league stadiums, such as the wonderful venue in the little town of Lake Elsinore, in Riverside county—halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

 

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STORM STADIUM, LAKE ELSINORE, CALIFORNIA

There, on the late afternoon of July 2, 2016, the home club, Lake Elsinore STORM, hosted the Lancaster JETHAWKS, for a delightful and exciting game. The Storm won, 3-1, but for a charmed spectator the outcome was less important than the fun of watching major league prospects show their stuff. For example, a right-handed pitcher, Enyel De Los Santo, seen below, may someday soon join the San Diego Padres, as the Storm is one of the Padre minor league affiliates (farm team).

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On this marvelous afternoon The Lancaster JETHAWKS, a Houston Astros minor league club, appropriately named also for its location in the California Antelope Valley, a region long associated with the aerospace industry, was the visiting ball team. Lancaster is about an hour north of Los Angeles.

For a fan who has had the privilege of seeing baseball in many major league parks around the nation and in Canada, this afternoon was as good as most of those experiences. Just to watch batting practice, followed by immaculate grounds keeping work to get the field in perfect playing shape was a treat. As the fans easily strolled into the stadium (with brief stops for what appeared to be serious security checks) the tarpaulins were removed to unveil a mix of perfectly manicured green turf, with brown base paths and a carefully measured pitcher’s mound.

Precisely at 6:05 pm the home plate umpire called, “Play Ball.” (There are two umpires running California League games, compared with four in the majors.) Soon the score was 3 to 1, on an early homerun by the Storm’s Fernando Perez, the designated hitter.

(In the lower minor leagues each team has a “designated hitter, “ a practice first employed in the American League of Major League baseball, giving the pitchers a chance to concentrate on that skill without having to worry about batting.)

As the game progressed—and the fans were clearly patronizing the concession stands for dinner or snacks—the Storm’s efficient media relations specialist, Tyler Zickel, also took to the field between innings to honor local kids and other dignitaries for civic activities. (This also provided a good chance for some fans to ignore the field and get food!)

Lake Elsinore itself, in a beautiful valley setting amid California hills and mountains, was named for a spectacular body of water quite visible from the stadium.   Now somewhat diminished by the terrible California drought, the lake is still a brilliant and lovely natural wonder. Team management schedules almost all games for very late afternoon when the heat of central and southern California has subsided.

If a spectator came to Lake Elsinore early enough to get a look around there were numerous fast food joints, but also three fine restaurants lined up to serve a more discerning taste—a Persian restaurant, next to a really good Mexican place, which was next door to an Italian restaurant with a welcoming and serious menu. For three diners at the Mexican eatery, the total tab came to under $30 for a full and memorable meal. This seemed typical of Lake Elsinore prices.

A nearby Spa advertised serious massage treatment, probably not up to the highest standards of LA or San Diego, but a tired driver could get relief there, before the game. Of course it would be difficult to be too worn out from driving since the time to get to Storm stadium from nearby big cities was a mere hour-and-a-half. Much less driving time would be required if a fan was coming from close in cities in Riverside County or Orange County, both important population centers in California.

The true designation of Riverside and adjoining counties is California’s “Inland Empire,” perhaps a bit of overstatement but one could get the royal treatment at Lake Elsinore just by purchasing a moderately priced ticket and going out to the ballgame!

DRAMATIC ROYAL ISABELA CAPTURES GOLF GREATNESS IN PUERTO RICO

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

 

By Barry Jagoda

     A golfer seeking out the most spectacular landscapes for world-class play must not overlook Royal Isabela, on the Atlantic coast of Puerto Rico about 90 minutes from San Juan. Dramatic photos can barely do justice to a front nine carved out of dense forest meandering among high cliffs down to a River valley. The unforgettable back, played along high cliffs perched above pounding, crashing waves below, reveals the ocean’s constant presence.

Royal Isabela, Silver Wings Aviation, Casona, La Casa, David PfaThe course challenges golfers of varying abilities with six tees on each hole and a round that can easily include a high slope (up to 142) or form a more modest course for the average player. This venue can be compared favorably to top ocean courses from around the world. In the United States only one or two of Hawaii’s best venues comes near.

Royal Isabela is a dream come true for brothers Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, who first spotted what became 1800 acres of joy back in the late 1980s. The land includes 3.5 miles of oceanfront and five miles of the internal Guajatac River basin.

It is the change in elevation that makes for the most drama. The resort itself occupies a cliff-top plateau that reminds one of Pebble Beach, but in a location unspoiled by resort hotels. After the first six jungle-like holes, the front continues with three inland water tracks including a very respectable and intimidating par three with an island green.

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Then on to the string of magnificent oceanfront holes on the back. The par-three eleventh gives a distinct Caribbean impression of Pebble Beach’s famous seventh, and the twelfth will remind golfers of the famous ocean carry tee shot famous at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. But there are no garish homes anywhere near this course.

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The nearby little town of Isabela (named, of course, for Queen Isabela, the Spanish monarch who, with her husband, sponsored Columbus’ journeys) is in the northwestern region of Puerto Rico known as Porta del Sol (Doorway to the Sun). Just mention of this area can bring a smile to the faces of more urban Puerto Ricans who love to luxuriate in the nearly empty beaches and natural features of the more rural island pockets, like the 20 towns and villages along the Atlantic Ocean in the “Doorway.”

Golf operations are top quality in every dimension, with the pro shop under the direction of touring professional Miguel Suarez, assistance there from Eric Rivera and a hospitality program under the the welcoming Angela Torres. The Pasarell brothers are multi-generation natives of Puerto Rico who had been tennis champions and scions of a highly respected regional literary figure. As locals the brothers have a strong commitment to the environment. Their husbandry at Royal Isabela is proof of that.

Puerto Rico has a population of about 3.5 million, scattered among dozens of smaller towns and villages but dominated by the 500,000 residents of the capital San Juan. Getting to Royal Isabela is mostly easy driving predominantly on well-maintained four and six lane highways, but the last few miles are reached on narrow two-lane tracks.

The course is very relaxed with a limited number of members and a guest green fee of $250, quite appropriate for the quality. Caddies are required, with two players sharing the $90 fee.

At La Jolla SummerFest: The Passion of Dmitri Shostakovich

Monday, August 24th, 2015

by Barry Jagoda

SummerFest, La Jolla Music Society’s month of concerts, talks and coaching sessions more than amply rewards patrons. Now Music Director Cho-Liang (“Jimmy”) Lin has again outdone himself with a three-concert focus, August 21, 22 and 23, on the work of Dmitri Shostakovich, arguably the world’s greatest composer since Mozart and Beethoven.

The extraordinary composer Dmitri Shostakovich celebrated at SummerFest, 2015

The extraordinary composer Dmitri Shostakovich celebrated at SummerFest, 2015

In addition to bringing some of the globe’s most talented musicians to perform some quite lovely, and some very meaningful, poignant, concerts, Jimmy Lin also employed retired UC Berkley music scholar Richard Taruskin, (“He is our greatest interpreter of Shostakovich,” Lin told us) for a series of lectures dealing mainly with the composer’s music, but which also helped patrons through the cauldron of misunderstanding caused by World War II, the Cold War and Soviet politics.

For example, soon after being elected head of Russia’s national organization of composers, Shostakovich was forced to join the Communist Party, which he did quite reluctantly. This was followed not too long after by a heart attack, though the composer recovered to continue writing and producing, some of his most dramatic music. As a result, for those in the West more interested in politics than in music, Shostakovich has been seen as a figure of knuckling under to the Soviet regime or as a great composer (and a piano virtuoso) who refused to play to dictator Josef Stalin’s tune. All of this, and more, under pins the life and music of this great genius composer.

The always engaging, creatively insightful, program annotator Eric Bromberger can be depended on to help novice and experienced music lovers through the work of Music Society’s yearlong and summer programs. In the case of Shostakovich, reinforcement from Professor Taruskin was also most helpful.  He delivered three lectures, as preludes to each of the concerts. He also presented an overview in an “Encounter” which engaged an audience that had come for a lectures on music but could not help but be transformed by a deep and fair-minded talk in  explication and appreciation of Shostakovich.

For some who had failed to pay proper attention to music classes in college or who had given up their violin lessons by age 12, SummerFest provides a second chance. For those who know their musical culture, or for those who are novices, standing ovations were the rule in the concerts in the auditorium at the local Museum of Contemporary Arts late this summer.

Leading off the program at “Shostakovich III, August 23rd, was the Borromeo String Quartet, with Nicholas Kitchen in the first violin chair and Yeesun Kim, cellist, performing the String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major. These two are among the greatest musicians in the world today and, along with their superb string-playing partners, showed why. They demonstrated how Shostakovich teased with atonal, disharmonic music, much disapproved by Soviet cultural leaders because it was not music that could be understood by the ordinary citizen.

Borromeo String Quartet:  L to R: Kristopher Tong, Nicholas Kitchen, Mai Motobuchi, Yeesun Kim

Borromeo String Quartet: L to R: Kristopher Tong, Nicholas Kitchen, Mai Motobuchi, Yeesun Kim

Many of us dislike this kind of 12-tone structure because we don’t understand it. But, according to Taruskin, Shostakovich used this atonal music as a brief tease and also as a way of expanding the reach of some his compositions. Shostakovich, himself, told an interviewer that “a composer can use this or that technique…as he sees fit.” In this Quartet, the atonal music makes a brief appearance thereby giving the composer wider latitude for what he wants to do as the piece progresses. Politically brilliant and musically sound!

A sonata for cello and piano was the second piece, played well by the Texas bred, Julliard graduate John Sharp, selected for the Chicago Symphony at age 27 and brilliantly by the famous pianist, Vladimir Feltsman.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Cellist John Sharp

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Cellist John Sharp

Renowned pianist Vladimir Feltsman

Renowned pianist Vladimir Feltsman

 

No one can fail to be deeply moved by the Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, written in 1944 and the festival’s final tribute to Shostakovich.   Twenty million Russians had died by then.   “The Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941 was the greatest catastrophe ever to befall any nation, “ as Bromberger wrote.

The public Shostakovich reacted with his “Leningrad Symphony,” marches and songs filled with patriotism. But the Trio that closed out this magnificent SummerFest focus showed a different Shostakovich, deeply disturbed by the war.   And, when the Nazi armies retreated, the atrocities committed against Russian Jews, obviously brought forward another deeply anguished side of the composer. One of the movements, of the Trio, was inspired by accounts that the Nazis had forced Jews to dance on their graves before execution. You could almost hear fair whispers of “Tevye the Milkman” before the music turned sinister and grotesque in a brilliant and beautiful sort of way. The Soviet government, at first, banned the performance of the Trio but the composer’s deep pain and grief had already been turned into an unforgettable work of passion proving again how music can feed our souls with very deep meaning.

BEGUILING “UP HERE” IS ATTRACTIVE, TEMPTING AT LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE

Friday, August 14th, 2015

by Barry Jagoda

For a real treat go see “Up Here,” the lusty neuroscience musical playing through September 6 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Just for a chance to see the stars, sexy Betsy Wolfe and mind-plagued Matt Bittner, in the roles of beautiful Lindsay (she even says she has quite a “rack”) and Dan, “the computer man,” whose head is populated by a huge group of demons and encouragers, is more than worth the price of admission.

Dan (Matt Bittner) crazed by his love for Lindsay (Betsy Wolfe)

Kudos to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the married couple who created the book, music and lyrics.  (On Broadway he won a Tony Award for “The Book of Mormon” and she won prizes for the Off Broadway musical “In Transit.”)  What a splendid assemblage by the Playhouse.

The love affair, at the center of this charmer, is a kind of a conventional meeting and matching and rejecting and rejoining where he has confidence problems and she is too compelling to lose.  The back-and-forth is played out in front of a set that also makes frequent references to evolution.  Alas, we see and hear much of the voices in Dan’s head, challenging his insecurities and Lindsay is also nervous about a new job and an old beau.  At a certain level much of this drama for fun plays out in our own anxiety-driven lives.

But this is real entertainment combining the Playhouse tendency to stage productions that please their upper-bourgeois mainstay audience with a brilliantly funny script that touches up and back with more meaty mental health issues delivering an undercurrent of contemporary focus that will please those seeking, also, something to think about.

The colorful production is directed by Alex Timbers and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, both prize winners with an eye on the stars and delightful use of the ensemble mostly to emerge from Dan’s head as he tries to get it straight.  With a number of small sweet tunes the production, for a musical, has so few big numbers that there is not a listing of the songs in the patron’s program.

Demons and Do-Gooders inhabit Dan's Brain

Set designer David Korins has created stage with allusions to the human brain but it is one’s funny bone that that get tickled in this memorable production.

 

SAN DIEGO PADRES ENJOYING 10th ANNIVERSARY AT PETCO PARK

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

 

by Barry Jagoda

Petco Park, was  spectacularly beautiful on Saturday evening, June 7, 2014 when the hometown San Diego Padres hosted the Washington Nationals, the middle game of a three contest series.  With its beautiful green fields, scoreboards revealing statistics of easily understandable recaps of player records and up-to-date scores from around the majors, this is exactly the kind of sports and entertainment shrine that draws and excites baseball fans who come to appreciate the fun and excitement that has been the compelling glory for which our national past time has been drawing crowds of fanatics for many years.

Our small group was comprised of two San Diego-based journalists and one Washington Nationals writer in with his fanaticism from the nation’s capital.  A perfect grouping for this encounter between the beloved local Padres and the Nationals, a team which has also continued to draw attention and crowds for the past decade to its own urban baseball park in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

Petco was the setting for the action this Saturday night and by early in the ballgame the score was tied 2-2.   We were having a great time and split away from our fine seats behind the visitors dugout on the third base side to go up and purchase a couple of hot dogs and the required accompanying cans of beer.  By the time we got back to our seats the visitors had taken a 3-2 lead, very satisfying for the Nationals partisan in our group.

The beer was ice cold so it was fortunate the ballclub, and one of its sponsors Lexus/Toyota, chose this evening to give away “beach towels” which, when wrapped around shoulders, easily took the chill out of the lovely San Diego night air.  This season is being celebrated as the 10th Anniversary of Petco Park, but the venue looks so clean and fresh that one could almost assume we were present on opening night in 2004 instead of celebrating a terrific 10th birthday.

But, back to the ballgame:  The last Padre was at the plate in the 9th Inning and the park was emptying.  Dramatically, the highly regarded Nationals closing pitcher threw one right over the plate just in a perfect spot for Padre first baseman Yonder Alonso to knock it over the 400 foot mark in center field.  Tie game!  The ballpark exploded in fan frenzy.

Alonso is seen at left in this dramatic moment–exactly what makes people love and appreciate baseball.  In one second, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, it was about to be over for the home team and in another instant there was new life, another great baseball dream.

 

 

This is the way baseball is supposed to be seen and played.  Thrilling.  Extra Innings.

 

 

It all ended when the Padres center fielder, Cameron Maybin, facing the camera above, knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.

Since the visitors had won on Friday night the series would now be tied between these two very competitive teams.  A Sunday afternoon ballgame, won by the Nationals, 6-0, made the Nationals the series victor but only after nearly 30,000 Saturday night fans could easily be considered the big winners with an forgettable outing in downtown San Diego.

 

 

MOSCOW BALLET DELIGHTS WITH 2013 “NUTCRACKER” TOUR

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” is currently on it’s 21st annual North American crowd-pleaser  featuring an award winning company of 40 Russian dancers in more than 100 performances all across North America this holiday season.

As seen in San Diego, December 16, a focus on the best of the company dancers demonstrates why this Russian ballet extravaganza, with memorable production values, splendid costuming and hand-painted backdrops has become so widely appreciated in its appearances throughout the United States and Canada.

Particularly stunning are performances by Karyna Shatkovska as the lovely Masha and Volodymry Tkachenko, who plays first the Nutcracker, a holiday party doll gift for Masha, and who is then transformed into her Prince.  These two dancers, by themselves, are well worth the price of admission.

They are backed up by a fine company of Russian dancers and are joined by as many as 50 young American and Canadian ballet students from studios in each of the cities on the tour.

The production can be seen as a triumph of art over logistics.  With performances in more than 60 cities, getting the dancers, their costumes, stage settings, technical support and arranging for the massive marketing, travel and local partnerships is an admirable achievement.  The dance makes it all worthwhile.

A significant shortcoming is the absence of live music, understandable in light of already great burdens for this extravaganza.  (Apart from the aesthetic issue another problem is that the recorded music does go on even as the audience is busy trying to applaud!)

Ticket buyers can find details of the remaining performances at http://www.nutcracker.com/your-city.  A second performance in San Diego is set for December 17 at 7:30pm at the Copley Symphony Hall.

 

WONDERFUL “WHITE CHRISTMAS” BUT NO SNOW IN SAN DIEGO

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

By Barry Jagoda

In San Diego one does not have to travel far to enjoy theater at a very high level of performance, as demonstrated this holiday season by the San Diego Musical Theater (SDMT) at it’s December 13 opening night presentation of “White Christmas.”  The stirring and heart-warming musical will play at North Park Birch Theater until December 22.

There is a danger of assuming that “road-show” or “out-of-town” productions cannot live up to their advance billings.  In part this is because the most successful Broadway shows are often those selected for “provincial” distribution and therefore have very high standards to match.  Another possibility is that a greater “mass culture” spin is sometimes employed by local producers as a lure in efforts to find a wider audience.  Both of those challenges have been overcome by SDMT though excellent casting, superb costuming and inspiring choreography—with really great dancing and singing by a very professional cast backed by a fine 22-piece orchestra seen on stage the whole evening.

One discordant note, though understandable, is the proclivity of the producers, Gary and Erin Lewis, to stand before the opening curtin to promote upcoming productions and to encourage donations to the non-for-profit company.  It is doubtful that their pre-show duo pitch results in more coin for the collection plate but this prelude gives their otherwise extremely impressive operation a bit of an “amateur” feel.

Directed by Todd Nielsen, with the orchestra under the baton of Don LeMaster and starring four journeymen actors, Todd DuBail and Jeffrey Parson in the male leads and Laura Dickinson and Jill Townsend as the objects of their interest and partnership.  A large cast of quite brilliant singers and dancers make up the pleasing ensemble.

This production is based on the 1954 Paramount Pictures film, “White Christmas.”  The real source of delight, of course, is Irving Berlin, who wrote the music and lyrics.

The story begins in the final stages of WWII and continues ten years later with the army soldier/entertainers making progress with their act in New York City.  Women-chasing takes them to snowy Vermont instead of a next planned gig in Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snow is certainly a reality in Vermont but the beauty and charm of the story brought tears of recognition and enjoyment to many in the San Diego audience where there’s been no white Christmas for more than fifty years.

(The warming influence of the Pacific Ocean keeps the weather of San Diego relatively consistent throughout the year, with temperatures rarely dropping low enough to even support any of the white stuff except in higher elevations).

For the capacity crowd of more than 500 snuggled into North Park Theater on a cold December evening a deeper warmth was afforded by this highly satisfying American classical tradition so professionally presented.   The theater even provided a few flakes of snow for the audience as they were showing their appreciation for such a delightful night.

 

Great Paul Robeson Passionately Portrayed by Daniel Beaty at La Jolla Playhouse

Monday, October 14th, 2013

For La Jolla Playhouse patrons who crave socially relevant drama a magnificent such work currently occupies the stage in the form of a biography of the great American black actor, singer and political activist, Paul Robeson.   The production, titled “The Tallest Tree in the Forest” stars another world-class great actor, Daniel Beaty, who, in a one-man performance, gives the audience an unforgettable and highly emotional experience, playing the parts of 40 persons and bringing to life at least 15 songs, including “Ole Man River,”  “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Battle of Jericho.”

 

Robeson, born in 1898, son of a run-away slave, was an All-American football player at Rutgers, a distinguished graduate of Columbia University Law School and a star of stage and screen—with one of the truly amazing voices in the history of the American and world-wide stage.

Tired of “nigger this” and “nigger that,” in his home country, he became enamored of the Soviet Union making an enemy of the dangerous Diretor of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.  Eventually called before the House Committee on Un-American Activity and blacklisted during the 1950s cold war period of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Robeson’s performing world collapsed when his passport was taken away for eight years at the height of his stage career.

Though Robeson is now remembered as a great and patriotic American, perhaps the most well-known black man for most of the 20th Century, his life and his amazing story comes alive in this Playhouse production as portrayed by Beaty, the brilliant actor and vocalist  whose work is completely deserving of the story of the heroic Robeson.

Accompanied by a musical trio and perfectly staged by veteran director Moises Kaufman this is a play not to be missed.   There is plenty of time to get tickets and go before the production closes November 3.