Music & Theater
January 9, 2013
Every performer loves a standing ovation. And for a troupe of young mariachis from the northeast San Fernando Valley, the only thing better than bringing a White House audience to its feet was having Michelle Obama in the front row as Applauder-in-Chief.
Put your hands together for the city of San Fernando’s Mariachi Master Apprentice Program, fresh from an engagement at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where the group received a prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award worth $10,000, and enough incredible moments to last a lifetime—from first trip in an airplane to first visit to the Lincoln Memorial to first photo-op with the First Lady.
“It was surreal,” said 16-year-old Anthony Fino, who plays trumpet in the organization’s Mariachi Tesoro performance ensemble, which wowed ‘em in Washington, D.C. over the Thanksgiving break.
“As an educator, you can’t simply prepare for that kind of emotional hurricane, the feeling of standing in the White House,” said Sergio Alonso, one of the group’s musical instructors. “Gosh, how can you even envision playing in an atmosphere like that?” (A recent gig at Disneyland was also pretty cool. Next stop: the Board of Supervisors, where they’re being honored on January 15.)
The national award recognizes after-school “arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities.”
The San Fernando group, started on a shoestring twelve years ago, certainly fits the bill. It brings together local kids with professional musicians, including those who’ve played with the legendary Nati Cano, a co-founder of the organization with Virginia Diediker, the city of San Fernando’s cultural arts supervisor.
The rigorous program doesn’t just introduce students to the cultural and musical richness of the mariachi tradition; it also gives them a leg up on future academic and professional success.
“We are helping these young musicians learn life skills, through the discipline that music provides,” Diediker said.
Its participants have a stellar graduation record, in an area where only 58% of students finish high school. Some, like 17-year-old Ernesto Lazaro, hope to use their mariachi talents as a springboard to studying music at a famed conservatory like Juilliard. Others head in another kind of professional direction, like Stefanie Espinoza, a UCLA freshman who aims to become a surgeon.
Espinoza, 19, who plays violin and sings with the ensemble, is still feeling a motivational buzz from the group’s White House debut.
When she stepped forward to solo on “¡Viva Mexico, Viva America!” as part of the medley the group performed in the East Room on November 19, Espinoza smiled and looked directly at the First Lady.
“She looked at me and I looked at her. She looked so great,” said Espinoza, who’s majoring in physiological science. Equally thrilling: being praised by the First Lady for choosing to study science.
In honoring this year’s 12 award-winning groups for pushing students toward excellence, often against long odds, Obama also threw down a challenge to the young artists:
“Your job now is to pass it on—to find someone in your life that you’re going to mentor, that you’re going to pull up. And whether it’s in the arts or whether it’s academically, your job is to find the next you.”
That resonated with Fabian Narez, 17, who pays it forward by coaching younger students, members of the organization’s “Tesoritos” program, on the violin.
For Narez and many of the other musicians, mariachi is a way to connect with their heritage—and their parents’ and grandparents’ music, even if many of their peers are more into rap or hip-hop.
“The school’s 98% Hispanic. It’s part of our roots,” Narez said. And even if he ends up with a business degree and achieves his dream of becoming a CEO, he said, he intends to keep the mariachi tradition alive.
“I would love to keep performing till the day I die,” he said. “It’s one of my many dreams.”
There’s also a certain “big musician on campus” status that erupts when you return to your high school with a White House gig under your belt.
“Some of them were pretty jealous, to tell you the truth,” said San Fernando High School student Alejandro Ascencio, 15, who performs in the group along with his two brothers. “Everybody knows about it and would like to be in it.”
Watch their performance in this White House video.
December 5, 2012
Talk about ending on a high note. LA Opera announced this week that it has fully repaid a $14 million loan that the county had guaranteed in 2009 in order to help the company through a financial crisis.
The loan’s final payment was announced by LA Opera’s general director Plácido Domingo. Nearly a year ago, Domingo appeared before the Board of Supervisors to thank them for guaranteeing the loan, from Banc of America, and to announce that the company had repaid the first half of the loan early.
On Wednesday, he announced that the payback was complete. “This is a direct testament to the generosity of our donors and the dedication of our ticket buyers,” Domingo said in a statement. “Thanks to their support and commitment to LA Opera, we will continue to grow and thrive. I am profoundly grateful to the Board of Supervisors for their longstanding trust and confidence in LA Opera, and for recognizing the important and prestigious role that a world-class opera company plays in the greater Los Angeles community.”
Christopher Koelsch, the opera’s president and chief executive officer, echoed that thanks, calling the supervisors’ action “an amazing leap of faith when one of their assets was in trouble.”
The opera was about to unveil an ambitious and long-planned staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle just as the great recession hit—creating a “perfect storm” of fiscal strains that made the bridge loan necessary, Koelsch said.
While there are still challenges ahead, the outlook now is brighter, Koelsch said, noting that ticket sales revenues are $1 million ahead of where they were last year at this time, with a 21% increase in single-ticket sales and subscriptions up 8% to 10%.
The final performances of the current production, Madame Butterfly, are playing to sold out crowds (the opera ends with a matinee on Sunday, December 9.) But enthusiasts and passersby alike can enjoy two free holiday-themed Songs of the Season recital performances in Grand Park on Tuesday, December 11. The Opera’s also bringing its program to local hospitals and to two Salvation Army residences. (Details of the free performances are here.)
Meanwhile, Koelsch said the company, which will announce the lineup for its next season on January 8, is planning to ramp up its programming gradually as the economy improves.
Paying off the loan, he said, “is a wonderful opportunity for us…it allows us to build toward the future.”
May 7, 2012
With legendary headliners ranging from Glen Campbell to Smokey Robinson to Plácido Domingo on the 2012 bill, it’s not easy for a newcomer to break through at the Hollywood Bowl.
But it’s a safe bet that the new restrooms designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios will have audiences cheering when they make their Bowl debut this summer.
With sustainable features like Dyson hand dryers, LED lighting, water-saving fixtures, graphics inspired by the Bowl’s Art Deco architecture, and glossy green floors intended to bring the outdoors in, the restrooms represent a stark departure from the old, dark spaces that used to make intermission such a drab interlude.
The Bowl is a Los Angeles County park—albeit one with a worldwide reputation for glamour, fireworks and star-studded concerts—and the $3 million makeover was funded by Proposition A park improvement funds.
The bathrooms also feature reengineered layouts, dramatic mirrors, new privacy partitions between urinals and lighting accents to make sure patrons keep moving toward unoccupied facilities in the back, rather than creating unnecessary bottlenecks at the front of the line.
The new facilities were unveiled Monday evening at a Bowl reception along with some less noticeable but equally important off-season improvements like $600,000 in concrete repairs, including the replacement of a stairway built in 1954. Also underway, and expected to be finished in coming weeks, is the $2 million replacement of the moving sidewalk (also known as a speed ramp) that helps 75% of Bowl patrons get up the hill to their seats.
If you’d like to test drive the new and improved Bowl—and listen to some world-class music while you’re at it—tickets are on sale now. The season gets off to a big start June 22, with opening night festivities hosted by Julie Andrews and featuring Reba McIntyre, Chaka Khan and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins.
March 30, 2012
The pianos are coming—and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra hopes Southern California is ready to play.
In an initiative that will involve artists, community groups and businesses from throughout the region, 30 upright pianos will be dispatched to street corners, public parks and assorted outdoor locations throughout Greater Los Angeles this month just to see what transpires around them.
They’ll be free, available 24-7, tuned by professionals, decorated by some of L.A.’s most talented artists and equipped with plastic covers in case of bad weather. All the public will have to do will be to follow the instructions that will be written on each one:
“Play Me, I’m Yours,” the inscription will say.
“I’d read about this in London and New York, and thought it was a spectacular idea,” says LACO Executive Director Rachel Fine, who began laying the groundwork for the initiative even before she officially started her job at the orchestra in late 2010.
The pianos will be placed across the Southland, from North Hollywood’s El Portal Theatre to the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club, from Atlantic Times Square in Monterey Park to Union Station and the Santa Monica Pier.
The endeavor, which will run from April 12 until May 3, is part of a worldwide public art project launched in 2008 in Birmingham, England, by British artist Luke Jerram. Placing temporary pianos outdoors where people can stumble upon them and, perhaps, make music, the “Play Me, I’m Yours” street piano project has so far set up more than 500 pianos in 22 cities.
Though “Play Me” has generated random acts of community and music from Sao Paulo to Sydney, it has been little known in this country, Fine noted. So far, the only American cities in which the project has appeared are Austin, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids and New York. This year’s schedule includes Salem, Ore., and Salt Lake City, in addition to L.A.
Fine called the project “a major undertaking,” but said she and the orchestra’s board members felt early on that it would be a perfect way for the orchestra to celebrate Music Director Jeffrey Kahane’s 15th anniversary with LACO and to reach out across L.A.’s metropolitan sprawl. Kahane, she noted, is a renowned pianist, and one of the orchestra’s priorities has been to remind Angelenos that it’s there as a community resource.
In fact, the organizers were still reaching out on Twitter this week for the last couple of uprights, although by the end of the day Friday, pianos had been secured for all 30 locations, thanks to donations facilitated by the Hollywood Piano Company.
Fine said that wherever “Play Me, I’m Yours” has gone, it has generated thousands of impromptu concerts, YouTube videos, dance parties, sing-alongs and jam sessions. Some artists have made it a point to play every piano.
And, she noted, the pianos themselves might be seen as “blank canvases”, which is why more than a dozen well-known Southern California artists, including muralist Kent Twitchell and painter Frank Romero, have been commissioned to decorate them, as will community groups such as the Braille Institute, the HeArt Project and Homeboy Industries.
The event will kick off precisely at noon on Thursday, April 12, with a free, countywide, performance of Bach’s “Prelude No. 1 in C Major” from the “Well-Tempered Clavier,” played simultaneously on all the pianos by Kahane and 29 other accomplished pianists and music students from around L.A.
After that, each musician will play one more Bach prelude and a selection of pieces of their own choosing. And then, for the next three weeks, it will be first-come, first-served for anyone else who wants to tickle the ivories.
“This is by far the most ambitious presentation of the installation to date,” the artist, Jerram, said in a statement. “I hope the public enjoys the project and takes advantage of the opportunity to perform, express themselves and go out and play.”
January 24, 2012
Even by the standards of the star-studded Hollywood Bowl, this season’s lineup features an unusual concentration of needs-no-introduction talent.
From Liza Minnelli, Barry Manilow and Smokey Robinson to Yo-Yo Ma, Gustavo Dudamel, Itzhak Perlman and Plácido Domingo, the schedule unveiled Tuesday offers a rich blend of popular entertainment and artistic innovation.
Garrison Keillor, Juanes, Rubén Blades, Herbie Hancock, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Anita Baker and Ben Harper will be among the featured performers. Also on tap: a fully staged production of The Producers, crowd-pleasing Grease and Sound of Music singalongs, and Pixar in Concert, blending film clips and musical scores from Toy Story and beyond.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, meanwhile, will be experienced in a new way—with video imagery celebrating Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze accompanying the Ode to Joy finale. (The performance is a Los Angeles Philharmonic-Getty Museum collaboration.)
Among the artists listed as making their Hollywood Bowl debut this season is this promising newcomer: Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who will take the stage on Sept. 11 to narrate Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait. (He has previously narrated the work, but not at the Bowl.)
Subscription series tickets are on sale now. Single concert ticket sales start May 5. Check out the full lineup here.
January 17, 2012
On Tuesday, the opera company—led by its world-renowned maestro, Plácido Domingo—said thank you in a big way.
As in $7 million big.
Domingo announced to the Board of Supervisors that the opera company had repaid half of the $14 million bridge loan a full year early. The early payment, negotiated with lender Banc of America by the county’s Chief Executive Office, will save the opera $350,000 in interest.
“I am really very deeply touched by you having confidence in our company, trusting us,” Domingo, the opera’s general director, told the board. The loan, he said, came at a “most critical time in our young history, helping to stabilize the company during the first part of the economic downturn.”
Even on a day when reserve Sheriff’s Deputy Shervin Lalezary was being honored for his role in apprehending the New Year’s arson suspect, Domingo’s presence sent a thrill through the Board of Supervisors’ hearing room. Domingo posed for photographs with everyone from secretaries to chief deputies to Sheriff Lee Baca.
For one fleeting, only-in-L.A. moment, the longtime musical superstar (who will appear in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra next month) greeted and shook hands with the suddenly famous reserve deputy hero (who appeared on “Ellen” this week) as both men awaited their turns before the board. (Both received proclamations from the supervisors but only Domingo received a serenade in honor of his upcoming birthday.)
Accompanying Domingo in his supervisors’ boardroom debut were L.A. Opera board chairman Marc Stern and CEO Stephen Rountree.
Supervisor and board chairman Zev Yaroslavsky praised the three leaders for successfully managing the company under “very difficult circumstances” and for paying back part of the bridge loan ahead of schedule.
“If we had not had confidence in you, we probably would have been fools to guarantee that loan,” Yaroslavsky said. “Keeping the opera going is a very important thing for us because you are one of our important tenants at the Music Center and we can’t afford to lose you…We’re glad we were able to help and we’re glad that you made us look good.”
“There were many skeptics who said we shouldn’t have made this loan,” added Supervisor Gloria Molina. “We’re so grateful that not only was it repaid, it was repaid early.”
The accelerated payment was made possible by donors making good on their pledges to the opera company. Rountree said the opera is on course to repay the remainder of the loan when it comes due in January, 2013.
The loan guaranteed by supervisors was a “very, very important bridge to our continued success,” Stern said after the meeting. “In retrospect,” he added, “it was a good bet.”
December 20, 2011
The 2012 summer lineup has yet to be unveiled, but Hollywood Bowl patrons can already start looking forward to one sure-fire crowd-pleaser:
New and improved restrooms.
A $3 million makeover, unanimously approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, calls for reengineering restroom layouts, replacing plumbing fixtures and in general rethinking how to make the intermission bathroom break a better, brighter part of the concert-going experience.
Bathroom traffic has long tended to freeze up outside the first stalls, so bold new graphics inspired by the Bowl’s Art Deco architectural style are being developed to let patrons know that they should keep moving in order to get to more facilities inside.
The design as currently proposed would include state-of-the-art sustainable features, such as waterless urinals and lightning quick Dyson hand dryers. The green theme wouldn’t end there. Green floors are being proposed as a way of bringing a suggestion of the outdoors into stylish white-black-and-stainless-steel interiors. Indirect lighting would help illuminate what are now dark and dated spaces.
There are other practical improvements envisioned as well, such as new partitions to provide greater privacy around the urinals.
“We’re trying to really increase the experience, the magic of the Hollywood Bowl” by making the restrooms “more accessible, more usable and lighter,” said Mark Rios of Rios Clementi Hale Studios, whose firm is undertaking the renovation project during the Bowl’s off-season. (The firm also designed the new Civic Center park, now under construction as part of the Grand Avenue Project.)
Julie Smith-Clementi, who is heading up the Bowl bathroom project for Rios Clementi Hale, said the idea is to keep things durable while losing the current “park restroom” ambiance. “Because it is the Bowl, it’s dressed up a little bit,” she said of the new look being developed.
In all, a dozen restrooms—six men’s, six women’s—will be renovated at the county-owned facility. The money for the refurbishing will come from Proposition A park improvement funds.
“These facilities show signs of deterioration due to their age and the extremely frequent usage during the performance season,” Guiney said in a letter to supervisors. The loo re-do “will enhance the function and appearance of the facilities for patrons and help to reduce maintenance costs.”
The supervisors’ action Tuesday enables the Philharmonic Association to obtain funding for the project while the final design planning progresses.
February 9, 2011
If you were lucky enough to grow up here, you’ve probably got some cherished memories of the Hollywood Bowl. If not, chances are you probably imagined what it would be like to experience just one concert—Sinatra! The Beatles! Hendrix! Heifetz!—under the stars at the storied amphitheater.
That kind of spellbinding magic, reaching across the years and the miles, has just been recognized again in the latest Pollstar awards. For the 7th straight year, concert industry professionals named the Bowl the nation’s “Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue.” The county-owned venue beat finalists that included the Gorge Amphitheatre in Quincy, Washington, and the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. (Another L.A. institution, the Greek Theater, also was honored this year with the “Red Rocks Award for Small Outdoor Venue.”)
We’ve marked the occasion by taking a spin through some of the Bowl’s historic photos. Whether you’re a homegrown Angeleno or a transplant, we think you’ll find something here to surprise, amuse or just take you back in time. Also, check out the huge collection of archival photos and video snippets on the Bowl’s website that feature Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and an array of other classical and pop music performance greats. And to create some Bowl memories of your own, here’s this season’s concert lineup.
January 20, 2011
The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to continue the $2.2 million Park-and-Ride and Shuttle Program that began in 1973. The costs are shared by Los Angeles County, Metro and the riders. The County portion comes from voter-approved funding aimed at developing and improving local public transportation.
In the Third District, Park-and-Ride shuttles depart from Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks, and Chatsworth, along with 10 other locations countywide. For details and directions visit the guide at the Hollywood Bowl’s website.
The service will save you time and money. Parking in these lots is free, and the round-trip fare is only $5 with proof of a Bowl ticket. Otherwise, the price is $8. Bowl shuttles from several closer locations cost only $4. (Parking at the Bowl itself is limited and costs between $16 and $35.)
Come see the acclaimed Gustavo Dudamel conduct the LA Philharmonic, along with the many other celebrated and diverse acts that play the Bowl each summer. The schedule will be released January 26. The Park-and-Ride program will be operating throughout the season, from June through October.