California Philharmonic Orchestra Proves to be Among the Highest Caliber on Earth!
By Christina Linhardt, Staff Writer
The California Philharmonic members are some of the finest instrumentalists anywhere on the planet, heard by millions all around the world because of all the major motion picture scores they perform in. So what better way to close out the spectacular summer season of the Cal Phil than with a concert featuring soloists from the orchestra as well as the wildly popular music of the most prolific film composer of all time, John Williams. Over six decades, Williams has won five Academy Awards and 21 Grammy Awards.
The "John Williams Greets Our Orchestra" performance on August 19th, 2018 at Walt Disney Concert Hall proved an especial treat for Cal Phil fans and newcomers alike.
The concert opened with Cal Phil chairman and JPL rocket scientist Kevin Baines making a pre-show announcement regarding the "extra special" nature of this concert. "These guys actually played the solos on the movie score,” Mr. Baines noted, “like Jim Thatcher who played the French horn solo on Jurassic Park." (Mr. Thatcher responded by covering his face with the bell of his horn, eliciting laughter from the crowd). “Cellist Armen Ksajikian not only has recorded thousands of scores but also acted in the movie "True Lies" and even played cello for his character’s death scene. This is the real deal here," Mr. Baines concluded. What came next provided ample confirmation. Once Maestro Vener took to the podium, the orchestra stood and instantly started "America the Beautiful." The audience also stood, and in a touching moment, softly sang along.
Then we were all transported to a galaxy far, far away with the beloved main title of "Star Wars" blasting off with trumpets and brass, followed by soothing, lyrical strings, and then powerful timpani marching us onward into outer space. And what a thrilling experience it was, hearing it live and in the glorious acoustics of Disney Concert Hall with these world-class players!
"It's always fun, every time you hear it," the Maestro said and then segued into the next piece, "Hedwig's Theme" from “Harry Potter.” (For those who didn't keep up with the most popular children’s books of the recent half century, Hedwig was the courier owl.) Veteran studio musician and Cal Phil pianist Bryan Pezzone twinkled magically on the celesta, evoking the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Following Pezzone's pure enchantment, principal flutist Jamie Pedrini glided onstage for a movement of the Vivaldi Piccolo Concerto. And just like that, the orchestra switched gears and became an estimable baroque ensemble with Ms. Pedrini expertly trilling like a bird, with rococo flourishes.
Leaving the 17th century and returning to the music of John Williams, the Maestro briefly told the story of the Tom Hanks film "The Terminal," in which the multiple Academy Award winning actor plays a man defecting from a country behind the Iron Curtain that no longer existed. To create the proper atmosphere, Williams wrote a clarinet concerto titled "Viktor's Tale," a heartfelt tribute to Eastern European Jewish music. Principal clarinetist Michael Arnold, like the Zen Philosopher that he is, mystically dove into the Klezmer style music, exquisitely utilizing the full range of color and dynamics of the instrument. "One of the most different instruments is the bassoon," Maestro Vener said in his introduction to the Rondo of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, which was performed by principal bassoonist and Cover Conductor Andy Radford. With the flawless execution needed for Mozart, Mr. Radford burst into his solo, fingers flying across the keys of the eight foot long instrument with smooth perfection, in exemplary Classical style. As if the audience weren’t astounded enough, the ensuing Williams pieces performed by superlative Cal Phil soloists were almost overwhelming. John Williams can easily take his place among the greatest orchestral composers of all time. The feelings he is able to evoke in his listeners carry us away, as is exemplified in the "Jurassic Park" theme. Cal Phil principal horn player, Jim Thatcher, made it possible for the entire audience to feel what it was like to be at the recording stage with him when he put those notes onto the original soundtrack.
The Maestro asked how many of the musicians had played on a film score, to which all raised their hands, causing the audience to shout "Wow!" But that was just the beginning. He asked how many had played on hundreds and even thousands of major motion picture sound tracks. Principal cellist, Dennis Karmazyn, had the top score with 3,500 and coming in with a close second were Armen Ksajikian and Jim Thatcher (both at just about 3,000). Mr. Karmazyn performed on cello the violin solo of "Schindler's List," originally written for Itzhak Pearlman.
From the sublime to the passionate: The new concert master, Jessica Guideri, then stood to perform the “Piazzolla Tango” arranged by Williams for "Scent of a Woman." Dr. Vener playfully pointed out her aquamarine shoes which matched her sapphire-colored rock star hair. “She’s ready to dance,” he declared. And dance she did, not with her feet but with arms and fingers, zestfully and fervently, on her violin. After Ms. Guideri’s ardent solo, the Maestro began conducting; suddenly the trumpets burst into the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" theme and the audience burst into applause, recognizing the beloved tune. All this was just the first half!
The audience returned after intermission to hear a most archaic instrument, one that many under the age of 40 might not even recognize: the typewriter. With theatrical flair, percussionist Marie Matson came out in full secretarial splendor, filing her nails, then dusting off the typewriter and even "tuning" it. With mirth, artistry, and precise percussive rhythm, Ms. Matson performed Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter" with the Cal Phil doodling along.
Ever the charming Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Vener again elicited chuckles from the crowd as he talked about his first reaction to viewing the film "E.T." and how the kids flying on bikes across the sky "scared the heck" out of him. Displaying once again the genius of John Williams and the talent of the Cal Phil players, the orchestra performed the last ten minutes of the "E.T." score, taking us all on a blissful journey over the moon. After being required to play so many high notes on trumpet, Jonah Levy gallantly stepped from the brass section to front and center stage to perform a movement of the cherished Haydn trumpet concerto. New to the orchestra, Mr. Levy has earned his rightful place as a soloist with Cal Phil through his great musicality, craft, and luminous sound.
Following the trumpet concerto, the orchestra proceeded into the opening of the famous Rossini "Barber of Seville" aria. Expecting a baritone opera singer to strut on stage to sing the famous lines from "Figaro," the audience was instead delighted and surprised to see Loren Marsteller on baritone horn stroll on, adroitly performing the demanding melody. Mr. Martseller’s dexterity and stage presence were not surprising - he was a soloist and euphonium with the historic "President's Own" United States Marine Corp Band. The penultimate piece of the performance, Leroy Anderson's "Lullaby" (originally written for trumpet), was performed by Fred Greene on contrabass tuba. Deftly manipulating this behemoth of an instrument, Mr. Greene was able to draw forth tender, caressing sounds as well as execute demanding passages of 16th notes.
To finish off this final concert of the season, Maestro Vener chose Benjamin Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," which featured each remarkable section of the dazzling Cal Phil. Though there has never been any question about it, after the concert on August 19th, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the musicians of the California Philharmonic rank among the very best in the world.
Next summer's season cannot come too soon.