It was an audacious idea for a concert, one that had not ever been attempted. Have members of all four of Los Angeles’ major music groups — the LA Philharmonic, LA Chamber Orchestra, LA Opera and LA Master Chorale — appear on the same stage. Then add Plácido Domingo, the LA Opera’s general director, to the roster.
It came about on Sept. 28 at the AT&T Center Theatre in downtown Los Angeles for one simple reason: The concert was a tribute to Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a tireless promoter of the arts who is leaving office soon because of term limits. As music critic Mark Swed recently wrote in a long appreciation of Yaroslavsky in the Los Angeles Times: “It would be hard to find another major politician anywhere in the entire country with Yaroslavsky’s record for outright arts support and achievement.”
The idea for the “Concert for Zev” was hatched at Classical KUSC by Gail Eichenthal, executive producer of the radio station and its San Francisco sister station KDFC. She produced the concert, with help from a staff led by Michelle Maestas Simonsen, director of operations and concerts at the USC Thornton School of Music.
It made sense for Classical KUSC to lead the effort because throughout his tenure as a supervisor, Yaroslavsky has provided major support for the station’s live and recorded broadcasts of the city’s classical music organizations, enabling listeners across the city and around the world to hear the four groups featured in the concert. Over the past dozen years, KUSC has broadcast hundreds of concerts performed by Los Angeles-based classical groups.
The language of music
Brenda Barnes, president of USC Radio, which operates KUSC, welcomed the audience, noting that there was only one way to pay tribute to all Yaroslavsky has done to advance the arts that would convey both the impact of his support and the gratitude of all the organizations participating. That one way, she said, was to use the language that speaks to heart, mind and soul — the language of music.
Twelve members of the LA Master Chorale opened the concert with six songs from Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson and others. The songs were conducted by Master Chorale music director Grant Gershon ’85.
The singers were followed by chamber musicians (violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano) from the LA Phil, whose members played excerpts from Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. The USC Thornton faculty was represented by violinist Martin Chalifour.
With the LA Chamber Orchestra’s music director Jeffrey Kahane at the piano, musicians from the orchestra, including USC Thornton violin professor Margaret Batjer and cello professor Andrew Shulman, then played the Schumann Piano Quintet. They were followed by a surprise: KUSC announcer Alan Chapman, who had written a witty song about the supervisor to the tune of “That’s Amore,” which he sang with his wife and cabaret partner, Karen Benjamin.
An all-star cast appears
The program ended with three soloists from the Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program singing selections from The Magic Flute, The Elixir of Love and Carmen.
“I was amazed and moved by the participation of all of these groups,” Eichenthal said. “Both the LA Phil and the LA Chamber Orchestra sent all principals: an all-star cast! Everyone wanted to play Zev’s favorite music. And Alan Chapman outdid himself in writing his song about Zev: He didn’t just rhyme “Yaroslavsky” once; he rhymed it all through the song!”
Eichenthal said that many of the artists and local businesses were generous with donations for the concert, including Steinway & Sons, which donated the Steinway Grand rental and cartage; Performances magazine, which donated the program; graphic artists from the LA Phil, who supplied the creative work for the invitations; Silver Birches of Pasadena, which donated a colorful floral arrangement for the stage; LBA Realty, which provided the space for the reception; and Henry Wine Co., which supplied wine. In addition, the Colburn Foundation supplied a grant for the event.