Life can seem frozen during this strangest, most turbulent of years. There’s a desire to rewind and redo the past, or to fast-forward to a post-pandemic future that hopefully looks and feels like the underappreciated 2019 (or 2015 or 2000 or . . . ) of our memory. Yet time — and life — trudges on relentlessly at its own cadence, sometimes in ways that we don’t realize or perhaps forget.
In the music world, public concerts are still on hold. Arts organizations big and small do their best to keep and/or comfort their audiences with remote content and performances of one kind or another.
This means little to no income for the vast majority of professional musicians. Like most people, musicians with whom I’ve spoken during this crisis say that the ever-changing present is all about survival, of making it to that time when someone will once again be able to pay money to hear them play their instrument or sing their songs. For a more fortunate minority, there is a silver lining in the unexpected free time to work on musical fundamentals and hone their skills, to spend time with family outside of Southern California or the U.S., and/or pursue projects that would not have been possible during the course of their regular careers.
The dynamic is different for four musicians. Each had previously chosen to retire from the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the end of this summer, and the 2020 concerts leading up those moments were to be their valedictory farewell from an orchestra in which each has spent decades. Coronavirus ended the concerts, but not their retirement plans.
Kazue Asawa McGregor, head librarian, will step down on August 1. She joined the orchestra’s library team in 1984 after having served in similar roles at the Ojai Festival and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute. She has both Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in flute performance from the University of Southern California (USC), and she was a frequent substitute with the flute section, including an extended period as acting piccolo while Miles Zentner was on leave.
Three musicians will retire on September 21:
- Dennis Trembly, Principal Bass Emeritus, joined the orchestra in September 1970. The Long Beach native served as Principal Bass for roughly 45 years of his five decade tenure as Principal. Prior to that, he worked as a freelancer in New York after having studied with Stuart Sankey at the Juilliard School.
- Lou Anne Neill, harp, was hired by former Music Director Carlo Maria Giulini and began her tenure in December 1983. She holds both Bachelor and Master of Arts in Musicology from UCLA, and is now on faculty there. She previously taught at UC Santa Barbara and CalArts.
- Norman Pearson, tuba player, officially joined the LA Phil in 1993, but actually began playing with the orchestra in 1989 as a full-time substitute while Roger Bobo, then tubist with the LA Phil, went on leave and subsequently when Mr. Bobo’s departure became permanent. Before that, he was a freelancer in the Los Angeles area, playing in the film and TV studios, the Los Angeles Opera orchestra, the Pacific Orchestra, and others. He began his professional career in 1981 as a member of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Caracas in Venezuela. He graduated from USC where he studied with legendary tubists Jim Self and Tommy Johnson, in addition to studying with Mr. Bobo as well.
Retiring musicians are usually recognized publicly from the stage of Walt Disney Hall or Hollywood Bowl when they play their last concert, but that obviously isn’t happening for these four musicians. When asked how they’d be fêted instead (if at all), a spokesperson for the LA Phil replied, “We plan on celebrating our retiring musicians once we are able to gather together again.” I think we’ll all look forward to that.
In the meantime, I’m working on arranging interviews with each of them. I’ve already begun editing one; a second is scheduled. Hoping to get the final pair of them on the calendar too. Keep your fingers crossed.
So what about their replacements? As previously mentioned in these pages, Ms. Neill’s chair will be filled by Emmanuel Ceysson. The former member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra officially begins his tenure this September. (BTW: a recent video of Mr. Ceysson playing a remote duet with Principal Flute Denis Bouriakov is below). Unfortunately, the LA Phil was not able to find a new bass player or tubist before pandemic-related shutdowns put an abrupt halt to auditions. The Principal Oboe chair also remains vacant.
One final tidbit to file under things that make you say ‘hmmm’: former Music Director Zubin Mehta began the LA Phil practice of having two principals in each section during the 1960s, and this remained the norm until the 1980s. The first deviation was with the trumpets when Donald Green was named Associate Principal to replace Robert DiVall, Principal Trumpet from 1951 to 1982 (while Tom Stevens remained Principal Trumpet until his retirement in 1999). Yet just when it seemed that the practice of hiring two principals was going away, the bass section bucked the emerging trend by promoting Christopher Hanulik in 1987 from section player to Principal alongside Mr. Trembly; the more senior musician took the Emeritus title in 2018, and his eventual replacement will be given the title of Associate Principal. This makes the basses the last LA Phil section to both (a) hire a second principal, and (b) have two principals working in the section. Go figure.
- Comings and goings at the LA Phil and beyond (Fall 2019 edition): new CEO, harp, and violins; a Principal Oboe update; plus much more
- Kazue Asawa McGregor, Dennis Trembley, Lou Anne Neill, and Norman Person: courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association via hollywoodbowl.com
- Arsenio Hall: tenor.com