By Don Heckman
Los Angeles, spread across several counties, embracing towns and cities with identities in their own right, has always been both a challenging and a rewarding place to hear music of every conceivable identity.
The driving, of course, is another issue. An appealing program in, say, Pasadena or Irvine can be a long haul for music fans in the West Valley or Santa Monica.
But the upside is that more and more communities all across the balkanized map of L.A. are beginning to take charge of their own creative environment via support for performing arts programs and – in the best instances – with the establishment of resident musical organizations.
The Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra is a fine example. On Sunday afternoon, in the First Baptist Church of Glendale, the 35-member ensemble celebrates its second anniversary with a program of Prokofiev, Haydn and Leroy Anderson.
If that sounds like an intriguing mix, the actual compositions, as well as the soloists, make it an even more potentially delightful event. The Prokofiev piece is Peter and the Wolf, with the narrative read by stand-up comedian Emo Philips, whose child-like voice and manner should provide the right touch of seasoning for the perennial favorite .
Anderson’s Concerto for Typewriter has been entertaining pops audiences for years, with its positioning of a manual typewriter – with the Philharmonic’s secretary in the solo chair, punching out one fast paced rhythmic sequence after another — amid a whirling array of orchestral sounds.
The centerpiece of the concert is Haydn’s challenging Cello Concerto in D, featuring the highly praised Russian cellist Ruslan Biryukov, the starring figure in the still early history of the Glendale Philharmonic.
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, Biryukov is a product of the Baku Music Academy, the Tchaikovsky Moscow Conservatory and the USC Thornton School of Music. At thirty one, he is well established as a charismatic performer. “He has everything,” says Peter Mark, Artistic Director of the Virginia Opera, ”technique, virtuosity, personality, communication, an attractive and articulate presence.”
More than that, Biryukov is also the founder of the Glendale Philharmonic and the Artistic Director of Positive Motions, the company that produces its concerts.
Toward that end, he works closely with the Philharmonic’s Music Director and Principal Conductor, Mikael Avetisyan, a former conductor of the Yerevan State Conservatory and the St. Petersburg State Conservatory.
To top off both the holiday and the birthday celebration, the Philharmonic will also perform holiday songs and arias. And there will reportedly be enough birthday cake from Billy’s Deli for everyone in the audience to share a piece.
In other words, expect a richly entertaining and celebratory evening of music from the Glendale Philharmonic, Biryukov, Philips and Avetisyan. At its best, the performance symbolizes the pleasures that are being provided – in more and more areas — by the growing local support for local music around Los Angeles.
Maybe it’s time for those of us in other parts of the L.A. counties to look around – as Biryukov did – at our own communities, to see if we can follow the path, raise the money and make use of the template that the Glendale Philharmonic has created in just two brief years.
As Biryukov explained it, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “If someone told me three months ago I would be giving an interview about starting an orchestra, I would have laughed. It’s ridiculous, right?”
Apparently not. And give Birykov and Avetsiyan credit for making it all real.