Glen Campbell Farewell Tour @ the Hollywood Bowl 6/24/12

glen campbell farewell

Decked out in a sparkle-studded blue suit and matching boots, Glen Campbell gave Los Angeles one final performance befitting a real rhinestone cowboy during his farewell tour at the Hollywood Bowl June 24.

For most farewell tours, it’s a safe bet that the parting adjective is thrown in just to boost ticket sales, with future “farewell” tours sure to follow a year or two down the road. But for Glen, this was truly goodbye. He announced his battle with Alzheimer’s in 2011, and his final tour. Continue reading

Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Live @ the Roxy 5/23/12

Image

LA Weekly photographer Timothy Norris caught this pic of me and my crew hanging with J-Sw!ft after the show. Check out their full slideshow here.

Taking us on a bizarre ride back to the golden era of hip hop, the party was on from the start at “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde: Live” on May 23. Fatlip, Slimkid3, J-Sw!ft and L.A. Jay brought it hard at the sold-out Roxy show celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time.

DJ Nu-Mark did well to prime the crowd with an appropriate booty-shaking mix of early ’90s hip hop jams before Big Boy (Pharcyde’s bodyguard from back in the day) introduced the MCs to the stage. Straight from the downbeat the vibe was right and crowd was bumping, and when the timeless comedy of “Oh Shit” kicked off everyone flowed along with every rhyme, ingrained into every Angeleno’s brain as part of our native vocabulary. The four performed the entire album top to bottom, and 20 years later it still holds up — as do the MCs, who sounded (and looked) as fly as they did in 1992. They went through all the classic tracks sounding as good as, and at times even better than, the record, among the standouts being the Stanley Cowell-heavy “On the DL,” ganga-lover favorite “Pack the Pipe,” and the still hilarious “Ya Mama.” Taking a solo moment, Tre impressed with his dynamic vocal lead on “Otha Fish.” But of course the undeniable highlight was “Passin’ Me By,” which remains as haunting and soul-stoppingly beautiful as it did the day it was released. They even played all the hysterical skits in between, like “It’s Jigaboo Time” and “Quinton’s On His Way” (and he really was; the famous “delivery man” showed up with the evening’s most important party favors). Even the original album drummer, legendary JMD, was there holding down fat live beats. Continue reading

¡Ay Caramba! Interview with “The Simpsons” composer Alf Clausen

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve seen since Halley’s comet collided with the moon.” The Bridge Recording studio in Glendale greeted Alf Clausen and the Local 47 orchestra to “The Simpsons”  500th scoring session with giant golden celebratory balloons adorning the entrance. Alf posed beneath them holding the Certificate of Honor presented to him by Local 47 President Vince Trombetta on behalf of the musicians union. photo by Linda Rapka

‘The Simpsons’ orchestra and Alf Clausen celebrate 500 episodes

by Linda Rapka

“The Simpsons” celebrated a landmark achievement in television history last month, airing its 500th episode Feb. 19.

The momentous scoring session took place Feb. 3 at the Bridge Recording studio in Glendale, which greeted the musicians with giant golden celebratory balloons spelling out “500” on either side of the entrance. Continue reading

Dum Dum Girls: He Gets Me High (EP review)

Sweet and hard, like the candies that bear their name, Dum Dum Girls defy homological description. Cutesy goth? They own it. In their world, razor-fanged guitars prey upon bubbly pop in a battlefield of super-compressed beats, Robert Smith frolics hand in hand with Margo Guryan, and lollipops lick sugary people to death. And on the band’s new EP He Gets Me High, unabashed affinities for doo-wop and 60s sunshine pop collide with a devotion to British post-punk. The resulting concoction gets no frothier than on the final track, a supreme take on the Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Dee-Dee Penny flirts with irony as she slathers honey vocals all over Morrissey’s evocatively dark lyrics, making the words “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die” disquietingly agreeable. The other three tracks, original compositions, nod to other influences. “Wrong Feels Right” smiles at Sub Pop label-mates the Vaselines, whose 1989 debut Dum-Dum reveals their place on the influence meter, right alongside Iggy Pop (remember “Dum Dum Boys”?). Add a booming kick drum and “Take Care of My Baby” would be right at home on a record by the Ronnettes, a band they often cover live. Richard Gottehrer, who helped pen “I Want Candy” and produced Blondie and the Go-Gos, returns as producer, but this time shares credits with the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner. Her penchant for pushing the limits of noise pop meshes with Gottehrer’s artful pop craft, making for a short but sweet EP, dreamy as it is ardent.

– Linda Rapka

Originally published by L.A. Record

Mothers of Gut: “Unking” – album review

As published by L.A. RECORD:

An LSD trip encompasses transitional states between mind and body. The same can be said of Unking, the new record from Riverside natives Mothers of Gut, with the effects of a smiley-faced unicorn tab.

Starting off nice and slow, the ten-minute opening title track confuses, meanders, chugging forward with slow blowing horns and unintelligible lyrics sung from another dimension. It’s really starting to come on, and you settle into the steady groove of “Stalemate”: with string contributions from Tes Elations’ Isaac Takeuchi and Big Whup’s Morgan Gee, its unwavering downtempo beat and crisp guitars convincingly complement Aaron Freeman’s inexplicably earnest vocals. Then there’s a babbling brook, chirping birds, a single set of footfalls rustling softly through a forest: soothing sounds comprise the entirety of “There is a Great Sadness to Your Wisdom,” and as those lonely footfalls become yours, you are aware of the sadness and grow a little uneasy, unsure of just how far along you are in this journey and what is yet to come.

Things gets darker when “Smoke the Master” brings back the alien voice from before but clearer, more sinister, uneasily laden with boingy synths and fuzzed-out flanged guitars. It’s all Pink Floyd Meddle now. With a long ebb of fuzzy noise and a sudden flow of quiet, “Wizard Tree” brings us to an appropriate end.

You arise from your peaceful resting place on the forest floor, brush the twigs and leaves from your hair and wander home wondering where your other shoe went, and is it Thursday or Saturday?

—Linda Rapka

¡Bienvenido Gustavo! LA Philharmonic Musicians Welcome New Music Director Gustavo Dudamel


Gustavo Dudamel photo by Sylvia Lleli. All photos courtesy of LA Philharmonic

Glad All Over

The musicians of the LA Philharmonic agree: Gustavo Dudamel lives up to the hype. And they couldn’t be happier.

By Linda Rapka, Overture Managing Editor

“I’ve never been to a classical show before,” I overheard a young woman say during the live simulcast of Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural performance with the LA Philharmonic. Her eyes, like everyone else’s, were transfixed on the hypnotic girations of the young conductor as his image danced across the multiple TV screens throughout the Music Center Plaza. “This is pretty cool.”

This seems to be the consensus among the musicians of the LA Philharmonic about their new music director as well. The exuberant 28-year-old conductor from Venezuela, now at the helm of one of the most revered orchestras in the world, has stirred the entire city into a frenzy of unparalleled excitement. And not just in the classical world. People all over the city, from all walks of life, are taking an unprecedented interest in the phenomenon that is Gustavo.

Beyond the Hype

Much credit must go to the LA Phil marketing department for capitalizing on Dudamel’s rock-star-like ability to capture the public’s interest. But the buzz doesn’t end with the marketing machine.

“They’re not manufacturing interest,” said Dennis Trembly, principal bassist who has been with the LA Philharmonic since 1970. “They’re not hyping a mediocre commodity. He’s the real deal, so he’s easy to sell. The marketing people get the attention of the general public who never otherwise cared about the Philharmonic, but once they’ve got that attention, if Dudamel wasn’t justifying the raves, people would immediately lose interest. Once they’re exposed to him, the response and the enthusiasm is genuine on the public’s part.”

“I think from the audience point of view he’s probably a lot of fun just to watch,” said Barry Gold, a cellist with the orchestra for the past 27 seasons. “He’s very active on the podium. My wife often says when he’s conducting it’s like he’s dancing salsa or something. The sounds just permeate his body, it resonates his whole being, so he’s moving to the music. He’s just so full of enthusiasm, and when you combine that with this great ability that he has, it’s really unique.”

“I think we’re riding a tidal wave of a lot of media right now,” said personnel manager Jeff Neville, who also sometimes performs trombone with the orchestra. “But there’s a lot there to back it up, because if there wasn’t that would fizzle out really fast in this business. It’s just growing. The fact that with his background, coming out of the El Sistema program in Venezuela, and that he started to conduct an orchestra down there at age 15, I think the development and the mentors that he’s had in that program really got to him because of his down-to-earth personality. There’s this humbleness that he has. I can’t think of another 28-year-old person who would be music director of a world-class orchestra.”

Who is This Guy?

Having begun his conducting career at age 15, Dudamel honed his skills, while still a teenager, as conductor of his native Venezuela’s Simón Bolivar National Youth Orchestra. He made his U.S. conducting debut with the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl in September 2005, and in April 2007, during a guest conducting engagement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Dudamel was named the LA Phil’s next music director. In September he succeeded Esa-Pekka Salonen in the 2009-2010 season, conducting two unprecedented inaugural concerts with the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall in October.

Now in its 91st season, the LA Philharmonic has seen its fair share of music conductors. Walter Henry Rothwell became the symphony’s first music director in 1919, followed by 10 more renowned conductors serving at the helm of what has become recognized as one of the world’s foremost orchestras. And while the Los Angeles Philharmonic has long been regarded as one of the most contemporary and innovative orchestras in the world, the arrival of Dudamel has, in no uncertain terms, given the orchestra an added measure of repute.

“It’s one thing to hear the buzz about a conductor beforehand, and in our line of work we tend to distrust that,” said clarinetist David Howard who’s played with the orchestra for 28 years. “But the actual experience with Gustavo is magnificent. When I meet people who find out what I do for a living, they say, ‘Oh, that must be wonderful.’ And yeah, it is wonderful… but this is wonderful.”

A Touch of Apprehension…

Despite the bravado about Dudamel, replacing Salonen, who led the orchestra for 17 seasons, naturally caused some level of uncertainty for the orchestra — especially with contract negotiations taking place at the same time, having been completed just last month.

“Obviously when you change music directors there’s always a little apprehension because we have a new boss on the podium,” Neville said. “They’ve been used to Esa-Pekka for the last 17 years and they knew what to expect from him, and now all of a sudden we have a new boss, and this boss does not have a track record behind him. So it’s kind of like they’re out setting new breaking ground.

“All the musicians were very nervous because of the economic environment that we’re all experiencing at this particular time,” Neville continued. “But riding the wave of the expectation of Gustavo over the last couple of years has really generated, economically, a positive force for this orchestra.”

How They Got Him

The move to get Dudamel to Los Angeles happened largely under wraps. It was so secretive that only a few members of the orchestra even knew the search for a new music conductor was on.

“It wasn’t publicized that we were in this search because Esa-Pekka hadn’t announced that he was leaving,” Neville said. “Esa-Pekka was committed to making sure that this orchestra was handed over to the right person, so a lot of things happened underneath the surface. There were members of the orchestra too that didn’t necessarily know this was going on. It was basically handled on the committee level.”

The orchestra’s Artistic Liaison Committee, made up of elected orchestra members, played a key role in the push for the organization to snatch up Dudamel as quickly as possible.

“In the search process in trying to get Gustavo here, the musicians worked with Deborah (Borda, LA Philharmonic President/CEO) and management and the board in bringing him here,” Neville said. “The musicians were a very important part of that, because Gustavo didn’t want to come to a place where he was not necessarily welcomed or did not have the input from the players. In some orchestras, all of a sudden an announcement is made, ‘This is our new music director,’ and the musicians really haven’t had the input that they should have.”

“Gustavo’s ratings were so extraordinarily unanimous and enthusiastic that neither Deborah nor the committee had to convince each other that they’d better take this seriously and act fast to acquire this person,” Trembly said.

“The fact that we collectively, the management as well as the orchestra, found Gustavo and literally watched his meteor rise over these last several years, and the fact that we moved ahead as quickly as we did to pursue him and woo him and get him to come here, has been very exciting for us,” Neville said.

Pasión

The enthusiasm surrounding Dudamel goes beyond just what’s generated by the media. Every member of the orchestra we spoke with expressed having experienced a palpable energy they say emanates from within the young conductor.

“You can’t ignore it,” Trembly said. “It radiates toward you. He enfolds you with his energy. It’s almost an intoxication.”

“He wants 100 percent from people all the time,” Neville said. “He’s driving himself along those lines but he also expects the response from the orchestra as well.”

“It’s very inspirational,” Gold said. “We want to go to that place that he’s trying to take us. With him it feels so collaborative. With every conductor we try and do our best to focus in on their directions and where they want the orchestra to go musically, but with Gustavo, he’s coming from such a unique place that’s full of energy, and love of course. Every note has to have this… meaning.”

The saying “you give what you get” plays out in a very real way in the symphonic world. When the stars align just right, what a music director puts out will come back from the orchestra. In Dudamel’s case, it’s working.

“His enthusiasm is the overriding quality of him,” Trembly said. “It’s genuine, sincere, intense enthusiasm, and that’s wonderful to be around. He loves music and what music can do for people, and he loves people.”

This love of people is real; Gustavo regularly hugs the musicians during rehearsals. His personality fits right in with the positive atmosphere the orchestra members have enjoyed for years.

“You really sense from your colleagues that they are giving for Gustavo 150 percent,” Gold said. “And the camaraderie offstage has always been there. It’s a very friendly orchestra to be in from my perspective. When Gustavo’s offstage he’s very friendly, extremely approachable, he doesn’t go off and function in his ivory tower. He likes to be there for us.”

So Happy Together

A music director’s dynamic with the orchestra is a crucial part of the overall organization’s success. So far, the musicians of the LA Philharmonic don’t seem to have any complaints about Gustavo.

“What most people look for in a conductor is clarity in ideas and the technique to describe what he wants to the orchestra,” said first violinist Mitch Newman, who’s been with the LA Phil since 1987. “And not to only communicate that verbally, but with their gestures and body. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with the baton, but with something that lets the orchestra know exactly what the conductor wants. Gustavo does very, very well with that. He works very hard when he’s there. He’s completely involved in what he’s doing.”

“With Esa-Pekka it was all about clarity and the proper balances,” Gold said. “With Gustavo, that’s an important ingredient, but he takes that mixture and tries to throw in a little bit more seasoning that he has being Latin. There’s more of a hot-blooded feeling. He’s going for a different type of sound. And being a string player himself, he really lets us play. Even in the softest dynamic, he’s constantly saying, ‘Play forte with the left hand, but pianissimo with the bow.’ So the intensity of the sound is always there.”

“He’s definitely after a certain sound depending on what piece he’s working on,” Neville said. “He really works on it until he gets the sound that he wants, and if one way he’s trying to explain what he wants doesn’t necessarily work he finds another way. It’s not a demanding way from him to the musicians; it’s a very ‘work with me on this’ approach. Because he asks things in a very down to earth, one-on-one basis, he gets a wonderful response from the players. The musicians want to work with somebody like that, and it’s enjoyable because they obviously want to play the best they can.”

“To Gustavo, music means more to him than just an art form,” Newman said. “It’s a way of communicating. And he’s a great communicator. I don’t think to him it matters what kind of music it is, as long as he’s able to bring something to life and have a group of people, like an orchestra, touch another group of people.”

“In this day and age, a music director really has to be more than just a person on a podium, he has to be a personality in the community,” said John Lofton, who was appointed bass trombonist two seasons ago. “Dudamel is in a situation where he has much of the charisma and desire to really connect with people. He really wants to be considered ‘one of us,’ the musicians, and really work with us to make really good music. And he does seem to have this desire to be a part of the community, to reach out and help young people experience some of the joy that he experiences in the music business. Something about that really transcends across the stage and to the actual people. That’s what he’s really been very effective at; bridging that perceived gap.”

“In these troubled financial times for the nation, for our orchestra in this troubled profession right now to be at such a solid footing, financially, artistically, and in the community, and having this wonderful concert hall to work in, the stars are all aligned,” Trembly said. “All the factors are positive for us. We’re very, very fortunate.”

Published in the November 2009 issue of the Overture, official publication of Professional Musicians, Local 47.

Orchestra Musicians Face the Music

Published in the May 2009 issue of the Overture, official publication of Professional Musicians, Local 47.

Orchestra Musicians Face the Music

An astonishing number of orchestras across the nation have re-opened their contracts in reaction to the economy, subjecting players to salary and benefit reductions, cutbacks, and shortened seasons.

And those are the lucky ones.

By Linda Rapka, Overture Managing Editor

Symphony orchestras across the nation are downsizing, negotiating salary cuts, cutting rehearsals and performances, and in some cases shutting down altogether. In the face of shrinking endowments and dwindling ticket sales, orchestras are asking for unprecedented concessions from their musicians. And they’re getting them.

“Nearly every orchestra from ICSOM and ROPA has had some discussion either about its regular contract expiration or some modification to an existing agreement,” said Chris Durham, newly appointed director of the AFM Symphonic Services Division and former violinist and orchestra committee chair with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. “It’s a large number.”

About one-third of orchestras within the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents 51 orchestras across the nation, have agreed to re-open contracts in the past year. So have many within the Regional Orchestra Players Association, which includes more than 70 orchestras.

Though re-opening contracts is undesirable for musicians and their local unions, when the only other option is bankruptcy, there isn’t much choice.

“In my career as a musician, I’ve never heard of this many major orchestras re-opening their existing agreements,” said Peter Rofé, LA Philharmonic bassist and longtime negotiator for Philharmonic musicians and member of the AFM Symphonic Audio/Visual Agreement committee.

Even the mighty “Big Five” weren’t immune — the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra and Boston Symphony all re-opened their contracts in recent months, accepting concessions and givebacks.

“In general, when the economy suffers, orchestras have a tough time,” said Meredith Snow, LA Philharmonic violist and ICSOM delegate. “I don’t know that there are any orchestras out there right now that aren’t struggling with management.”

Urban, rural, big and small, orchestras of all sizes and varieties are feeling the pressure. Concessions, cutbacks and compromises are being made by management, musicians and unions alike.

“In the symphony world, ticket sales surprisingly are doing pretty well,” said Durham. “The main area of decline is loss of revenue generated by endowments because they’ve gone the way of everything else in the stock market. In some cases, an orchestra’s endowment is down 25 to 30 percent.”

Feeling the Pain

In recent months, the Baltimore Opera Company has filed for bankruptcy; the Santa Clarita Symphony canceled their 2009 season; Honolulu Symphony musicians are struggling to get paid; and the Pasadena Symphony Association announced a recovery plan that cuts season programming, switches venues and slashes ticket prices.

Orchestra musicians in Cincinnati, Virginia, Grand Rapids, Atlanta, New Mexico, Utah and Buffalo have also taken recent hits, including pay cuts of up to 11 percent, slashed benefits, reduced number of services, and unpaid furloughs.

“We have had 43 requests for negotiating help from all conferences (ICSOM, ROPA, etc.), unaffiliated orchestras, and five theaters — the most ever,” Durham said.

Musicians who have seen their paychecks slashed are increasingly taking to other methods of survival. Some are taking “day jobs,” finding career paths unrelated to music, or turning toward teaching.

Scrambling to Survive

Before a request from management to re-open an existing contract can be acted upon, it must be approved by the local union and by a majority vote of the orchestra players. Generally, approval is granted only when management has done everything in their power, including laying off administrative personnel, taking pay cuts, and/or doing extra work for no additional pay, to deal with their financial problems before asking concessions of musicians.

“Before re-opening a contract, musicians have to look at the orchestra’s finances to make sure they aren’t being given a song and dance from management,” said clarinetist Paul Castillo, former ROPA delegate, Local 353 Secretary/Treasurer and Local 47 Trustee.

Once a contract is re-opened, management often looks toward concessionary bargaining, where musicians are asked to accept cutbacks to the existing terms of employment. Common requests include deferred or skipped payrolls, fewer number of services performed, pay cuts, and reduced health care and other benefits.

“Concessions from musicians have to be looked at as a loan,” Durham said. “Part of the problem is that management can’t go to get money because the bank won’t give it to them. At some point there should be a recovery plan to restore that. But musicians probably take up 30 percent of budget. They shouldn’t be responsible to fix 100 percent of the problem.”

Another recent trend is for orchestras to extend their existing agreements.

“Because the local situations are so different in every community, some places are simply inserting an extra year in the contract,” said Bruce Ridge, ICSOM chairman and double bassist in the North Carolina Symphony. By extending a contract, an agreement previously expected to be renegotiated (usually synonymous with increased wages and benefits) instead retains its existing terms. This effectively amounts to a wage freeze, a term of contract fervently frowned upon by ICSOM bargaining committees.

“In 2008, there was much following the rules of concessionary bargaining. Now, we’re really in a crunch,” Castillo said. “We’re now grasping for wage freezes, which is not a good precedent to set.”

Before Taking That Cutback…

While there is no doubt we are suffering one of the worst recessions in history, musicians and Locals should not simply take it for granted that cutbacks are, in fact, necessary.

“The American Symphony League has this apocalyptic ‘new economic reality’ view where they’re saying all orchestras across the board need to take cutbacks,” Snow said. “But this isn’t necessarily the case. Places like Detroit are hurting more than L.A., which has a stronger economy.”

“It’s very unfortunate the League is doing it this way,” Durham said. “Some employers look at this as a financial opportunity and ride on the surf of the orchestras having problems. In some cases it’s simply not true. I’ve been involved in situations where employers have requested re-openers and we’ve refused.”

“You can’t take it on blind faith,” Snow said. “Everybody’s hurting, so chances are it’s true, but management may be asking for more than they need.”

Panic Attack

Orchestras are cautioned to be careful not to get caught up in the panic of the global economic meltdown.

“We are seeing an attempt by orchestras to change the rhetoric of the industry in what some managers are calling the ‘new economic reality,'” Ridge said. “Our response is, What’s so new about it? Recessions occur. And we are responding. Our heads aren’t in the sand. But we cannot allow the permanent reduction of an operating budget by, say, a third, with the idea that it will continue like that in the future. We have to continue pushing for growth.”

“We don’t need to make radical changes and long-term shifts,” said Durham. “We need to make changes one step at a time, and only when it’s verified that there’s a problem. It’s too easy to give up hard won gains because of a short-term problem.”

Gains Against the Grain

Bleak as the outlook is for some, not all orchestras are in dire straits.

“There are several orchestras that are having great success,” Durham said. “Certainly Los Angeles has a strong orchestra, and San Francisco just reached a very positive agreement. In the theater world, most for-profits are bargaining raises.”

In February, the San Francisco Symphony ratified a new four-year contract providing for wage increases and significant gains in local media provisions. Last month the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra reached a new three-year agreement that includes significant advances in salary and benefits.

“There’s a tendency to look at the situation as a one-size-fits-all problem, with a one-size-fits-all solution, when really the problems are localized,” Ridge said. “It’s not as if you can label the economy as the overriding situation; it’s how it has affected each individual institution.”

Ridge advises musicians to investigate all options before making any drastic changes.

“Question everything,” he said. “For every gloom and doom report released, there is an equally compelling story of success and positive change.”

The Silver Lining

“The arts are good business,” Ridge said. “In times of recession, all organizations need to look at managing their debt. In a recession, you can’t be concerned with balancing the budget; you have to manage your debt. If we allow management to fundamentally alter the organization, then we will be ill-equipped to take advantage of recovery that lies ahead.”

Before the recession, America saw a great resurgence of classical music in America, which the LA Times in 2006 called a new “Golden Age.” Classical concert attendance was up, and opera attendance has risen 40 percent since 1990.

“We feel that after this recession ends, this trend will continue,” Ridge said. “We see this as a temporary cyclical economic downturn. It is important that we don’t lose the message of growth and advocacy. The recovery is going to come, and the arts are going to play a big part in that.”

Ridge has no doubt that musicians will weather this crisis and urges them to keep hope intact.

“I have been inspired by the unity we have demonstrated. Soon there will be even more opportunities for activism, within our communities, and within our union,” he said. “I know we will all respond.”