Monday, July 27, 2009

Cal Phil Slashes Its Way to a High Note

On Saturday night July 25, the California Philharmonic (or CalPhil) hit a splendid high note. The theme for the evening (and CalPhil always has a theme in its delightful summer setting at the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia) was Swords and Chivalry.

We tore through Scotland the Brave (arranged by Vrtacnik) and danced through selections of Lerner and Loewe's soaring "Camelot". We even had a chance to listen to Michael Kamen's muscular Main Theme from "Robin Hood Prince of Thieves".

But I was blown away by the impressive Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, from Rachmaninoff. The guest pianist was genius Robert Edward Thies, of International Prokofiev Competition fame. He showed that you could delight and restrain, express both power and romantic sensuality, masterful individualism and sensible orchestral blending. Maestro Victor Vener led the CalPhil to breath-taking levels with Thies at the keyboard. I looked around me at the other regulars at our table and could tell we were listening to something altogether special.

James Horner's Braveheart (Opening Theme and Bannockburn) came after the Intermission. We also got to listen to a traditional Highland Music and Dance, as performed by Cabar Feidh Pipe Band and Highland Dancers. Both were reasonably handled and quite popular.

I'm not certain I appreciated the Richard Wager Tristan and Isolde (Prelude and Love Death) as much as others. I found some of the pacing and retards to be unnecessarily exaggerated. I think I became convinced of my opinion when we heard Lohengrin's Prelude to Act III to wrap up the formal program, and the tempo seemed far more comfortable. In retrospect, with the brilliance of the Rachmaninoff and Thies performance, I may be more critical because I felt the bar was raised so high.

The evening ended with an encore of the bagpipes, this time doing the highly popular "Amazing Grace" arrangement. It went quite well, though I did find it odd to end the evening on such a somber note. Perhaps that's a good idea. For swords and chivalry may thematically be an assertive statement of masculinity, strength, and noble behavior, much less exhilarating music, they still suggest war, pain and death.

And as such, "Amazing Grace" may be the only way to end such a night of swords and chivalry.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alot of Spamalot

Jaded much? Spoiled much? Spamalot?

Yup, third time to see Spamalot. First was opening month on Broadway with all the winning stars (Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, diva Sara Ramirez). Then saw the London version a couple summers ago. This time, I caught my regular season tickets on Friday night (July 24), so I didn't have to go out of my way. Spamalot finally made its way to L.A., and I honestly wondered if they'd get it.

Of course, I also was baffled the Broadway got it. It doesn't fit the normal demographics for a Broadway show after all. Geeky guys mumbling "Ni" don't usually seek out the latest musical. But L.A. has so much of that "cool" vibe going, I thought that there might be a disconnect as well.

But there were lots of good guffaws and rolling eyes, even from the folks who like me have season tickets at the Ahmanson and will sit in on just about anything. I had to explain the Finnish jokes in the program to my partner, but other than that, it was smooth sailing.

The talented Merle Dandridge was quite good in going for that diva turn. The current incarnation of the show (since London) has the diva Lady of the Lake making a lot more musical mugshots and camping it up all over the place. I still prefer the more nuanced Ramirez performance, but Dandridge was good in doing what the director asked. She certainly has the physique and practically Norma Desmond-esque control of the stage during the Diva's Lament tune.

John O'Hurley seemed quite at ease as King Arthur, though he did succomb to the improvisation antics of Rick Holmes during the Knights of Ni scene. He should, as he's done it for a while, though the role of Arthur doesn't offer the same scene stealing opportunities as Sir Lancelot (Rick Holmes again), Sir Galahad (Ben Davis) or Sir Robin (James Beamen).

Oddly, the staging at the Ahmanson was unusually bad. You could see the backstage actors and actresses preparing for their entrances. Microphones crackled, voices sounded distant and muffled, and the kicker of it all, an enormous and well-recognized "Microsoft Windows shutdown" ditty boomed throughout the Ahmanson during the curtain call. I'm sure Eric Idle and the other Monty Python crew would have found that error ironic if not amusing given we just saw a show that took place during Middle Ages.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

American Idols Live 2009 Tour - Ontario California July 17, 2009

Skipped the crowded and humongous L.A. Staples Center this year to once again catch American Idols Live tour at a smaller, more intimate location. Had never been to the Citizen's Bank Arena in Ontario California, but will definitely return. (Hey, free parking and adjacent to a factory outlet mall - what a gem!) And wow, pretty good seats for Los Angeles.

But of course the reason we were there was to catch our American Idols. Wow! I have to say, I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I did last year, when I was a huge fan of David Cook and David Archuleta. This year, I loved the top 5 but for the most part liked almost all of the top 10.

As mentioned on other blogs, before the show started, the crowd went insane whenever Adam Lambert's name or image appeared. What a riot!

The concert had an intermission, with contestants 5-10 (bottom 6) performing in the first act. It was a pretty solid first act and one that really led me to realize that we were going to be entertained the entire night long.

Here's what I thought about the show. My pictures are at Flickr.

  • #10. Michael Sarver was loads of fun and did a good job kicking things off. He sang "I'm in Love with a Girl" and Ne-Yo's "Closer" with a really pleasing disco sound. Pretty surprising to me, that's for sure.

    Michael clip

  • #9. Megan Joy seemed ok, and better than on tv. She was the one weak point to me, but perhaps that's because she was never really one of my favorites. Her numbers were "Let Your Hair Down" and "Tears Dry on Their Own".

  • #8 Scott MacIntyre came in next with some really good-natured fun and jokes. His piano playing rocked with "Bend and Break" and "A Thousand Miles" . Really, quite entertaining. I was surprised how smooth his voice was, since he acted like he lost his way through the show.

    Scott clip

  • #7 Lil Rounds made me think, "OMG This is the woman who I thought would go deep in Idol this season but never showed up." She was awesome and she rocked. So sassy, so brassy, and so ... curvaceous. She strutted her way through "Single Ladies" that had me bouncing like a fool.

  • Lil Clip 1
  • Lil Clip 2

  • #6 First came digital clouds. Lots of them. Then came Anoop Desai's smiling face, among the clouds. Anoop's performance was sexy and R&B... And then, look out Adam. He bumped and he did some grinding. The women in the audience just went about wild. But he sure handled "Always on My Mind" and "Turn out the Lights" like the smoothest pro.

    Anoop Clip 1
    Anoop Clip 2

  • #5 Matt Giraud most assuredly proved America wrong and the judges "saved" him. We voted him out earlier, and but during this show he certainly showed how entertaining he could and should have been on tv. His keyboards were on fire as he ripped "Georgia on my mind" and "Hard to Handle".

    Matt Clip

  • We were then treated to a "bottom 6" medley that really was far better than any dance and medley number during the year. Pretty impressive! Perhaps the extra rehearsing did good!

    Medley 1
    Medley 2

  • #4 Allison Iraheta - my girl rocked and rocked. She was awesome, bouncing around on stage like some manic rock star. She burst through "Baracuda" like she was in the middle of a taped video. It was awesome and I can't wait to see her own show.

    Allison Clip 1
    Allison Clip 2
    Allison Clip 3

  • #3 Danny Gokey really got the girls in the audience screaming. I always liked Danny but I never really understood the love that he got from the women. But he did a great job with Michael Jackson's "Pretty Young Thing" and surprised me with his jacket-comes-off "Maria Maria". He did do a little sermonizing tonight, but it wasn't as odd as some bloggers were suggesting.

    Danny Clip 1
    Danny Clip 2
    Danny Clip 3

  • #2 And then ... the female vocal chords in the audience went PING. I mean, honestly, this must be what sitting in an Elvis or Beatles concert felt like. If you weren't Adam Lambert, then you were just a pretend male as far as the women in the audience were concerned. It was bizarre and exciting. He'll be a raging success some day. From my video clips, you can see green light flashes - that's where the strobe lights went berserk. Adam burned up the stage, but I still think that he did best with the song that, to me, convinced me of his star qualities: Mad World.

    Adam Clip 1
    Adam Clip 2
    Adam and Allison
    Adam Clip 3

  • #1 Kris Allen. Now there's a star. Who would want to follow Adam? Someone who knows they're good and that he's loved. His style's totally different, but wow that guys fun and talented. He played piano, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar. And that Kris kick step is pretty hot to see. Thank goodness he didn't have to sing "No Boundaries" on this tour. Instead, he reprised his awesome "Heartless" version. Even better yet, he brought out a new "All These Things That I've Done", which was drop dead fantastic. He also did "Bright Lights" and "Ain't No Sunshine" in fantastic Kris Allen style. And, as an extra wow, he started "Bright Lights" on the piano and ended it with a jam on the electric guitar. Way cool. Finally, gasp, he had the audacity to belt out a beautiful "Hey Jude", which had a rather prickly and suspicious Beatles fan like me remarkably impressed.

    Kris Clip 1
    Kris Clip 2
    Kris Clip 3
    Kris Clip 4
    Kris Clip 5

    And at the end, the entire troup came out to do one more medley. They totally danced and sang out Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" in a way that was all too perfect for this show.

    Final Medley

    Was it a good show? No doubt. I rarely think that medley concerts are fun, but for two years in a row "American Idols Live" has wowed me. Thanks for a fantastic year guys and I look forward to seeing you live solo. (Or meet up with me on September 9 when I catch David Cook solo here in Hollywood).

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  • Thursday, July 16, 2009

    Integrity Eucharist @ General Convention 2009

    As a singer, I don't usually remember most of the events or church services that I participate in. However, last Friday's service at the Episcopal church General Convention, a triennial event, struck me with particular joy and thankfulness for gifts granted to me.

    It was a Eucharist service, with communion, brought to us at the Anaheim Hilton by Integrity. It was full of ubuntu (I in you and you in me), incense, multi-culturalism, and love, and Christ. Episcopalians from across the country formed a standing room only congregation of perhaps 1600 people.

    The sermon was outstanding, brought by the Episcopal Church's first female priest, retired-Bishop of Massachusetts Barbara Harris. I have to say that as a performer, I usually put myself at length from the service, as I have to stay somewhat focused on the music. But this sermon was honestly poignant, assertive and frank. For the first time in my life, I had to restrain myself from standing and shouting "Allelujah", as I was sitting directly behind the Bishop during her sermon...

    So, since this is my entertainment blog, here's my recap of the music.

    We sang
    Wade in the Water - arranged by Carl Hayward
    Wana Baraka, - traditional Kenyan folks song arranged by Shawn Kirchner
    Sanctus - from Misa Bilingue, Kevin P Joyce
    Savior of the world, save us - Community of Taize
    Take, Oh Take me as I am - John L Bell
    Sweet Hour of Prayer - words William W Walford, Music William Bradley, arranged by James Walker
    Lead me, guide me - Dois Akers, arranged by Richard Smallwood
    Nada te turbe - Community of Taize
    Breathe on me, Breath of God - Nova Vita, Lister R Peace
    Siyahamba - South African folk song

    We also sang a processional song, along with a Cantor: Amen, we praise your name, O God, by Gobingca George Mxadana. Check out a supershort clip.

    The words were:

    Amen sia-kudu-misa! Amen sia-kudu-misa!
    Amen, ba-wo. Amen, ba-wo. Amen, sia-kudo-misa!

    The procession included drums and worked itself throughout the entire crowded ballroom.

    Here's another short musical clips I found.

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