Appointments / Auditions & Appointments / Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

Comings and goings at the LA Phil (Fall 2013 edition)

With the start of the new Los Angeles Philharmonic season, it’s time once again to examine the current personnel situation at the orchestra.

The first thing worth mentioning is that there isn’t much to mention, especially compared to previous seasons.  Just eyeballing it, but it looks like the orchestra has the fewest empty chairs to start a season since they moved into Walt Disney Concert Hall.   Certainly, this is the first time during this period that all the Principal chairs in the LA Phil are filled.

kaenzig_monica_175x175Undoubtably the most surprising — and truly unfortunate — departure has been that of solo E-flat & 2nd clarinetist, Monica Kaenzig, who joined the orchestra nearly twenty years ago from the St. Louis Symphony.  She played during the orchestra’s season opening gala this past Monday night, and her name appeared on the evening’s printed program.  The next day, I was surprised to see that her name had disappeared from the LA Phil’s online roster and the Mauk/Nunis Chair she occupied was listed as “vacant.”  After an inquiry, I received this statement from the orchestra:

“Monica Kaenzig regretfully had to leave the orchestra to care for an ailing mother in the midwest and to be closer to her husband [well known tuba player and pedagogue, Fritz Kaenzig] who is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This was a very difficult decision for her as she’s been with the orchestra since 1993.”

My thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Kaenzig and her family during this difficult time.

chernyak_tamara_175x175A more typical departure is that of Tamara Chernyak, retiring from the orchestra at the end of the 2013 Hollywood Bowl season.  The Leningrad-born violinist joined the LA Phil in 1976, eventually rising to the position of 5th Chair in the First Violin section.

In addition, Elizabeth Cook-Shen is no longer listed on the roster. A horn player in the orchestra since the mid-1990’s, she has not played regularly with the orchestra in many years.  She had been the LA Phil’s second horn, but last year, she was listed as the orchestra’s fourth horn instead and Greg Roosa took over as second horn.  Julie Thayer continues as acting fourth horn as she has the prior season.

Finally, two musicians aren’t in the same spots they were last year.  While they are certainly solid players, both moves seem to be the latest examples of how selective the orchestra is in offering tenure to newer musicians:

  • Cellist Tao Ni had been named Associate Principal Cello when he joined the orchestra, but he is now listed in the section and the titled chair is once again open.
  • Former 3rd Trumpet Michael Myers is now back with the Atlanta Symphony after two years with the LA Phil (Associate Principal Jim Wilt will fill in frequently, though guest players will also be seen, with regular visitor Rob Schaer likely playing in that chair most often).

Of course, the musician mathematics has not all been about subtraction.  Robert deMaine begins his first full season as Principal Cello after officially beginning his position  in May of this year.  Burt Hara, the LA Phil’s distinguished new Associate Principal Clarinet, has been playing with the orchestra since the middle of the summer.  The latest holder of the Virginia and Henry Mancini Principal Flute Chair, Julien Beaudiment, began his tenure with Monday night’s gala concert; let’s see how long he stays in that position.

Auditions begin today to fill the vacancy in the bass section created by the sad death this past April of Richard D. Kelley, a six-decade-plus musician who was hired by former Music Director Alfred Wallenstein in the 1950s (!!).  Other auditions will be forthcoming later in the year.

LA Phil brass principals

But in the end, perhaps the most noteworthy personnel moves are ones that have NOT happened:  the fabulous new brass principals — Andrew Bain, Tom Hooten, and Nitzan Haroz — are still Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians.  Halleluiah!  Mr. Haroz’s previous employer, the Philadelphia Orchestra, no longer lists him on their roster as “Principal Trumpet (on leave)” as they had all of last year.  The Atlanta Symphony has already found a new Principal Trumpet to fill Mr. Hooten’s old job.

Perhaps most noteworthy is Mr. Bain, the veritable veteran of the trio (he joined a year before the other two).  In his short time with the orchestra, the LA Phil Principal Horn has become a favorite of both fans and critics.  One prominent person who has frequented concerts since the 1970’s told me that the orchestra’s horn section is as good as he’s ever heard it.  Another compared Mr. Bain to Dale Clevenger at his best.

Folks in L.A. aren’t the only ones to recognize Mr. Bain’s prowess.  He was invited to play the Britten War Requiem as guest Principal Horn with the Berlin Philharmonic at the beginning of summer.  It went so well that Sir Simon Rattle and company invited him back for another stint later in the summer, not just on their home turf but on tour in Salzburg, Lucerne, and Paris, too.  “Berlin was a wonderful experience,” Mr. Bain told me. “A great thrill to play with the Berlin Phil and Simon Rattle. They are at the pinnacle of our profession and I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to perform with them. The orchestra was very welcoming and I had a terrific time.”

(He can be seen in two of those performances via the Berliner’s “Digital Concert Hall” HERE and HERE)

He also a member of the Australian World Orchestra.  “It is an amazing concept by Alexander Briger to bring Australia’s best ex-Pat musicians from all over the globe back home to perform together,” describes Mr. Bain. “Members of AWO come from the Chicago Symphony, Berlin Phil, Vienna Phil, Munich Phil, LSO, LPO and numerous others including the best Australian orchestras to create a fantastic ALL-Aussie Orchestra.”

This year’s iteration of the AWO features concerts led by former LA Phil Music Director and frequent guest conductor, Zubin Mehta.  “Unfortunately, due to the opening of our season here in LA I was unable to attend this year’s AWO with Zubin Mehta. I spoke with Maestro Mehta when he was here last season and he was very much looking forward to the AWO project and going Down Under.”

Despite all of his travels and musical adventures, Mr. Bain is a fan of his new hometown.  He’s already done a promo video touting the merits of living in Downtown Los Angeles.  And he is as big a fan of playing in the LA Phil as much as all of us are of him .  “I have felt very welcomed by members of the orchestra and our wonderful patrons, donors and supporters. I feel extremely fortunate and honored to be a member of the LA Philharmonic. It is humbling to be part of such an iconic organization and I am really enjoying the excellent opportunities that I have had the chance of experiencing since moving to Southern California. I am really looking forward to a fantastic 10th Anniversary season of WDCH, continuing to work with the inspirational Gustavo Dudamel and contributing to the artistic growth of our orchestra.”

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Photo credits:  courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic

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11 thoughts on “Comings and goings at the LA Phil (Fall 2013 edition)

  1. While I’m sorry to hear that Monica Kaenzig is leaving the orchestra, I am thrilled with some of the recent hires (Burt Hara, Robert DeMaine, Julien Beaudiment) and with the news that the principal brass players look like they won’t be going anywhere. There was some question as to whether Nitzan Haroz would be staying in Los Angeles or returning to the Philadelphia Orchestra this fall, so I was relieved to see in your blog that his name is no longer listed in Philly as “principal trombone on leave.” To be sure, Ralph Sauer was a legendary player and a truly difficult act to follow, but Nitzan has a big sound and plays beautifully. After the tragic death of Steve Witser, it’s terrific to have such an outstanding musician as Mr. Haroz heading the section.

    Tom Hooten really sold me after his Mahler 5 last season with Daniel Harding. He’s a wonderful talent and really harkens back to the sound of guys like Armando Ghitalla, Bill Vacchiano and, of course, Tom Stevens. I was surprised that Michael Myers apparently didn’t work out in the section (or chose to return to Atlanta). Whatever the case, I’ll be interested to eventually learn who ends up in the third trumpet chair. I understand that Rob Schaer did a very fine job over the summer.

    Andrew Bain is a superstar. Honestly, he’s probably one of the top five symphonic principal horn players working right now, and it was a huge boon for the Phil that they got him. On the other hand, holding on to him could be a neat trick, especially if he’s impressing the likes of the Berlin Philharmonic. This is my own personal opinion, but I don’t think we’re had a principal horn like this since John Cerminaro — and Bain might even be better than Cerminaro was at his peak in LA. I’m not sure if I agree that the horn section has never sounded better though. The LA Phil’s horns during the 1970’s under Zubin and during the eighties under Giulini and Previn were hard to beat. What the section seems to lack is a unified, blended, powerful sound that separates the truly great sections like Vienna, Berlin, Chicago, the London Symphony, Cleveland, and the Concertgebouw from the merely good ones. Right now, I think it’s a good section with a great principal player. Whether it becomes great overall is anyone’s guess. Again, these are just my thoughts so I don’t mean for them to be treated as gospel.

    I’ll be going to hear the orchestra perform Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 with Semyon Bychkov, so I think that’ll be a pretty good barometer of where the horn section currently stands. 😉

    – KB

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  2. It is unrealistic to expect “true greatness” from a section that has not been at its proper full strength for a long time and is now missing over 33% of itself for at least a year and a half already. Under these difficult circumstances, they are doing remarkably well.

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  3. Which is exactly why I said they’re a good section and not a great one at this point. Nobody is expecting them to be there right now. My main comment was towards those who suggested that the horns sounded as good as they ever did, which I don’t agree with.

    Sheesh.

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  4. We are all entitled to our opinions, but i believe that making judgements of quality that are based on comparing an orchestral section that has been at 2/3 of its full strength for an extended period of time, with full sections of other orchestras (or of the same one in the past) – as if the situations are equal when they are decidedly not – is intrinsically erroneous and therefore misleading.

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    • Once again, I was responding to someone’s comment (explained in greater detail by Mr. Haven, which I appreciate) about the LA Phil’s horn section being as good as someone had ever heard it. I didn’t agree with that based on the concerts that I’d heard, and also felt that it was neither quite as great as some of the Phil’s sections in the past (which I have heard live), nor as being quite at the level as some of the other great orchestras in the country (and internationally). None of what I had to say was “intrinsically erroneous” or “misleading,” as you claim. Unlike you, I’m not a casual listener with a passing interest in the orchestra, or perhaps even a longtime subscriber or a music critic. My father was in the brass section of the LA Phil for over thirty years — and believe me, I have a very good idea of both their strengths and shortcomings as an ensemble. I can also honestly also tell you that I love this orchestra and its players — some of whom, past and present, were like my uncles — more than you ever could. So spare me the patronizing commentary about how we are “all entitled to our opinions” before cutting down someone else for having one that you didn’t like.

      That being said, my post wasn’t meant as a slight on Mr. Bain or the other terrific musicians in the horn section. Naturally, I am just as anxious as everyone else to see where they go in the coming years. And mind you, my comments also came on the heels of giving fairly rhapsodic praise to the brass principals.

      Anyway, I’m sorry that I even posted here. Bye guys.

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      • krankyboy: First of all, I’d be extremely disappointed — sad, even — if you no longer posted here. I sincerely hope you reconsider. Given your experience in hearing orchestral concerts in general and the LA Phil in particular, you obviously have a lot to contribute, and one of the things that make a forum like this valuable is when knowledgeable people share their knowledge — even to the point of disagreement.

        I’m very sure MarK can speak for himself, but since I’m replying first, let me say that I’m extremely confident of two points:
        – he definitely did not intend any kind of personal attack.
        – just as you have a unique background and point of view which enables you to be extremely confident in your opinions, MarK (and other frequent visitors) bring a different but equally deep background as you do.

        Again, very much hope to see you back here.

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      • A few things to keep the record straight: out of the three things that krankyboy suggested i could be, two are false – i am neither “a casual listener” nor “a music critic”; the third – a longtime subscriber – is true (guilty as charged!) and i think that, if anything, it would make me more qualified to opine on this subject than someone who is not, though i do have a few other additional qualifications as CKDH knows very well. My comment about being entitled to an opinion referred to a person’s evaluation of what (s)he hears, while my criticism was directed at comparisons of incomplete sections with whole ones as if those are in equal situations.
        In one of the comments above, krankyboy wrote quite correctly that performances of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 with Semyon Bychkov would be “a pretty good barometer of where the horn section currently stands”. Well, those concerts were two weeks ago and all i can share about it is this: during rehearsals and after performances, the only section of the orchestra that Maestro Bychkov repeatedly praised in most complimentary terms was the horn section. As if this was not enough, after the final rehearsal, he told me personally again that the horn section sounded as well as any he has ever heard in that symphony, and when i asked, just to be sure, “Do you mean tubens too?”, he replied, “oh yes, all of them – it as an absolute pleasure to hear, not only technically but their musicality as well”. This is an opinion of a conductor who has been leading practically all of the world’s leading orchestras for over three decades, including Berlin Philharmonic many times. Considering the circumstances, it is a rather amazing sign of approval.
        Signed: MarK.

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  5. A few things in response:

    1) The person who commented that the horns sound as good as he heard it did so after the recent Schumann 3rd Symphony concert. The horns sounded truly awesome that night, so I readily agreed based on the many years I’ve heard the LA Phil play, plus this individual had heard the Giulini-era orchestra (in which Mr. Cerminaro played) live much more often than I ever did. Mind you, it wasn’t an in-depth conversation, we didn’t discuss whether it was a one-time vs. ongoing statement about the section, and comparing a concert today to one’s memory from 30-ish years ago isn’t an exact science. So take it however you’d like.

    Comparing recordings to live performances has it’s own kind of peril, but still, I’d say that the horns that night sounded as good as I’ve ever heard the section sound, recording or not (including the Giulini recording of that same symphony).

    One thing that sticks out for me about today’s horn section vs. those in the past: they are MUCH more consistent — fewer clams or intonation/accuracy problems.

    2) For those wondering about MarK’s math saying that the horn section has been at 2/3 strength (i.e. 2 players down) even though the the LA Phil’s roster has not shown that:

    Most of the time, it was due to a combination of Beth Cook-Shen’s ongoing absence combined with the principal vacancy that occurred between Bill Lane’s retirement and Andrew Bain’s hiring. There was also the year that Bruce Hudson, former 4th horn, was on leave before taking a full-time gig with the Minnesota Orchestra. These days, the 4th horn chair is the only one shown as vacant, but Associate Principal Eric Overholt has been away since at least this summer’s Hollywood Bowl season (his role has been filled by 3rd horn Brian Drake and various guest players).

    Speaking of Mr. Hudson: it was nice seeing him make a guest appearance back in his old seat at WDCH during this past Sunday’s concert.

    3) Even though the section hasn’t been at full strength, the section is still managing to sound quite unified. I’m guessing there are a combination of reasons for this, some of which I actually discussed with Mr. Bain over lunch recently, but I’m going to save that for a later post when I can go into it in more detail.

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  6. Pingback: LA Phil gives two offers for new clarinet and trumpet | All is Yar

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