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  • Michael Tilson Thomas Guides Walt Disney Concert Hall Audiences Through the History of American Yiddish Theater in the Thomashefskys
  • Dec. 18, 2008
  • THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2008, AT 8 PM
    FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2008, AT 11 AM
    SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2008, AT 8 PM

    December 18 Media Sponsor: KUSC

    The December 20 Concert is Generously Sponsored by Acura, Official Automotive Sponsor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic - All Acura Vehicles Park Free for the Evening

    San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas delivers the powerful story of his grandparents' pivotal role in developing American Yiddish theater in the 1880s, in The Thomashefskys, at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Thursday and Saturday, December 18 and 20, at 8 p.m., as well as Friday, December 19, at 11 a.m.

    Founded in 1998 by Tilson Thomas, The Thomashefsky Project has preserved the legacy of Jewish immigrants and that of early American Yiddish theater's contribution to American cultural life. Through painstaking research over the past 10 years, The Thomashefsky Project unearthed about 1,000 documents related to the lives and careers of Tilson Thomas' grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, who were as wildly popular in their time as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Tilson Thomas brings these manuscripts to life as he plays host to the staged performance that recounts, through an orchestra, four singers, vintage recordings, film clips and projections of archival photos and posters, as well as personal anecdotes, the struggles and triumphs of the two immigrant teens in the U.S. Through his eyes, the audience gains unique insight into the young Thomashefskys' world and how they created a cultural touchstone for Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and 20th century in New York.

    Patricia Birch directs the talented ensemble that features Neal Benari as Boris, Judy Blazer as Bessie, and Tamara Wapinsky and Eugene Brancoveanu in various roles.

    Upbeat Live pre-concert events take place in Walt Disney Concert Hall's BP Hall one hour prior to the Thursday and Saturday concerts, and on stage one hour and 15 minutes prior to the Friday concert, and are free to all ticket holders. Chad Smith, Los Angeles Philharmonic Vice President of Artistic Planning, hosts.

    MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS (MTT) assumed his post as the San Francisco Symphony's (SFS) 11th Music Director in September 1995, consolidating a strong relationship with the Orchestra that began more than two decades earlier, when he made his San Francisco Symphony conducting debut at the age of 29. His 13 seasons as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony have been praised by critics for innovative programming and for bringing the works of American composers to the fore, and have brought new audiences into Davies Symphony Hall. In June 2005, MTT and the San Francisco Symphony again broke new musical ground with "Of Thee I Sing: Yiddish Theater, Broadway and the American Voice," a two-week exploration of 20th century Jewish American music and its impact on the American theater. The festival included an evening celebrating MTT's grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, pioneers of the American Yiddish theater. Tilson Thomas's acclaimed recordings have won numerous international awards, including eight Grammys for SFS recordings of Mahler's Symphonies 3, 6 and 7, scenes from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and a collection of three Stravinsky ballet scores - Le Sacre du printemps, The Firebird, and Pers'ephone. His and the SFS's recording of Charles Ives, An American Journey, won Germany's ECHO Klassik 2003 award for "Symphonic Recording of the Year." For the San Francisco Symphony's own SFS Media label, launched in 2001, Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra are in the midst of a project to record all of Gustav Mahler's nine symphonies and the Adagio from the unfinished Tenth Symphony, as well as Mahler's song cycles. The Los Angeles native began his formal studies at the University of Southern California, where he studied piano with John Crown and conducting and composition with Ingolf Dahl. At age 19 he was named Music Director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. He worked with Stravinsky, Boulez, Stockhausen and Copland on premieres of their works at Los Angeles's famed Monday Evening Concerts. During this period he was also pianist and conductor for Gregor Piatigorsky and Jascha Heifetz. In 1969, at age 24, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, Tilson Thomas was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ten days later he made his New York debut with the Boston Symphony, gaining international recognition when he replaced Music Director William Steinberg mid-concert at Lincoln Center. He was later appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the BSO, where he remained until 1974. He has also served as Chief Conductor and Director of the Ojai Festival, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has toured the world with the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he became Principal Conductor in 1988, and now serves as Principal Guest Conductor. Until 2000 he was co-Artistic Director of the Pacific Music Festival, which he and Leonard Bernstein inaugurated in Sapporo, Japan, in 1990, and he continues as Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy based in Miami, which he founded in 1987. Tilson Thomas's many honors include Columbia University's Ditson Award for services to American Music, The American Music Center's Letter of Distinction, and the President's Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He was named 1995 Conductor of the Year by Musical America, and, in 2005, was inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame. Tilson Thomas was a Carnegie Hall Perspectives Artist from 2003-2005, and, in 2006, he was recognized with Gramophone's Artist of the Year award, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of San Francisco. Tilson Thomas is a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of France. Viva Voce, MTT's volume of conversations with British critic Edward Seckerson, is published by Faber & Faber and was released in the U.S. in September 1995.

    PATRICIA BIRCH (Director) has earned two Emmy Awards and five Tony nominations in a career that crosses all media. Other honors include Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Barrymore, Billboard and MTV awards, as well as a Directors Guild nomination and the prestigious Fred Astaire Award for her choreography and direction of music-driven projects ranging from Sondheim to The Rolling Stones. Birch has created the musical staging for original Broadway and off Broadway shows including: Grease; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; The Me Nobody Knows; A Little Night Music; Candide; Over Here; Diamond Studs; The Happy End; Pacific Overtures; They're Playing Our Song; Gilda Radner, Live from New York; Zoot Suit; Rosa; Parade; Like Jazz; and last season, LoveMusik, with Donna Murphy and Michael Cerveris, directed by Harold Prince. Direction as well as choreography credits include Celebrating Gershwin at BAM and the televised concert production of On the Town with the London Symphony Orchestra, both with Michael Tilson Thomas; the Melissa Manchester musical I Sent a Letter to My Love; the original production of Maurice Sendak and Carole King's Really Rosie; Joe Raposo's Raggedy; The Snow Queen, a multi-media docu-musical about the Comedian Harmonists; the Cy Coleman musical Exactly Like You and Portraits in Jazz, Coleman, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Kennedy Center, 2002. She worked with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on Le Rossignol and a double bill Of Thee I Sing/Let 'Em Eat Cake. In development are Orphan Train, a dramatic musical, and Wo Dzai, a multi-media martial arts adventure. Birch's opera and music projects include Salome, The Mikado, Candide, and Street Scene for New York City Opera; The Mass and The Balcony for The Opera Company of Boston, also presented at the Bolshoi Theatre; and A Wedding by William Bolcom, Arnold Weinstein, and Robert Altman at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Birch's film credits include choreography for all musical sequences for Grease and direction as well on Grease 2. She has also staged musical sequences for Big, Working Girl, Sleeping with the Enemy, Stella, Awakenings, Billy Bathgate, Roseland, The Wild Party, First Wives Club, The Human Stain, with sequences for Anthony Hopkins, Gary Sinise and Nicole Kidman and The Stepford Wives. For television, Birch has directed Natalie Cole: Unforgettable with Love and Celebrating Gershwin, both of which earned her Emmy Awards in direction; Dance in America for the 20th anniversary of PBS's Great Performances; and Natalie Cole's Untraditional Traditional Christmas featuring Elmo. She was a choreographer for The Electric Company and spent six years staging numbers for Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, both Belushis, Dan Aykroyd and many guest stars on Saturday Night Live. She also directed music videos for Cyndi Lauper, The Rolling Stones, The Oak Ridge Boys, Carly Simon and the NBC Olympics.

    NEAL BENARI (Boris Thomashefsky) has been a professional actor and singer for over 30 years and has numerous stage, film and television credits. He has appeared on Broadway eight times, most recently David Leveaux's revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Other Broadway appearances include Disney's Aida, Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria, starring Julie Andrews, Sir Peter Hall's The Merchant of Venice, Chess, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Roza, and The First. He can also be heard on the Broadway cast recordings of Joseph... and Chess. Benari has worked extensively in regional theaters and on national tours. He recently played the title character in Ken Ludwig's hilarious farce Lend Me A Tenor, Zuniga in Franco Dragone's 'pop' adaptation of Carmen at the La Jolla Playhouse, and Don Quixote/Cervantes in the Maltz Jupiter Theater production of Man of La Mancha (nominated for a Carbonell award). Other major roles have included Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Tateh in Ragtime, Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady (Carbonell and CEA nominations), Sweeney in Sweeney Todd, Voltaire/Pangloss in Candide, Macheath in The Threepenny Opera, and, under the auspices of Joe Papp at the Public Theater in New York, Schaunard in La boh`eme. On tour he has played the villainous Zoser in Disney's Aida, Captain Von Trapp opposite Marie Osmond in The Sound of Music, Thenardier in Les Miserables, and the piano-playing Sidney Cohn in On Your Toes, directed by the legendary George Abbott. Benari's film and television credits include appearances on The Sopranos, And the Band Played On, Sea of Love with Al Pacino, various episodes of Law and Order, The Trials of Rosie O'Neill, Mathnet, The Equalizer, and Sidney Lumet's 100 Centre Street. Neal Benari is very pleased to be able to reprise the role of Boris Thomashefsky in Michael Tilson Thomas's The Thomashefskys. For more credits and information visit Neal's website at

    JUDY BLAZER (Bessie Thomashefsky) began her career as a young singer in opera, oratorio and recital in New York City and throughout Italy. She moved into Broadway theater with leading roles in Me and My Girl (Sally), A Change in the Heir (Prince Conrad), Titanic (Lady Caroline), and Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway (Cindy). Last season she could be seen in LoveMusik, directed by Harold Prince. Off-Broadway, she was featured in Candide (the Old Lady) with New York City Opera, The House of Bernalda Alba (LTC), Sweeney Todd (the Beggar Woman) with New York City Opera, the Torch Bearers (Florence) with The Drama Dept., Lincoln Center's Hello Again by Michael John LaChiusa (Drama Desk nomination), The Roundabout's Hurrah at Last by Richard Greenberg and the New York City Center Encores production of Connecticut Yankee (Alice/Sandy). Blazer has sung at the Metropolitan Opera as a soloist in Twyla Tharp's Everlast with American Ballet Theatre, and she has performed in concert at Lincoln Center singing the music of Ricky Ian Gordon, and at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater singing the songs of Michael John LaChiusa. She has recorded the music of both these artists and has been a guest on the recordings of Mandy Patinkin and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Blazer has been seen on television in two episodes of Law and Order (as Defense Attorney Simon and as Clara Porazzi, convicted murderer), As the World Turns (Ariel), Guiding Light (Marissa), and as a featured artist on two PBS specials: Bernstein's New York and In Performance at the White House. Regionally, she has played the title roles in Funny Girl at Sundance Theater, The Miracle Worker at George Street Playhouse, My Fair Lady at the Paper Mill Playhouse and the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Peter Pan at Artpark, and The Night Governess at McCarter Theatre. She has also been seen as Maria in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Long Wharf Theatre and as Lily Garland in On the 20th Century with the American Musical Theatre of San Jose. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, Blazer has been on the voice faculty of New York University and a guest teacher at Wright State University, the University of California at Davis, and Notre Dame de Namur University. She recently performed at the New York City Opera as the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd and at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

    Last summer soprano TAMARA WAPINSKY sang the principal role in Tom Pasitieri's Hotel Casablanca with Merola. Before which she was at Chautauqua Opera as an Apprentice Artist where she performed the roles of Nella in Gianni Schicchi and Fiametta in The Gondoliers. Other roles include: Giorgetta in Il Tabarro, Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Beatrice Carbone in A View from the Bridge and the title roles of Suor Angelica and Ariadne auf Naxos. She has appeared with The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, The Bay Shore Lyric Opera, and The Tri-Cities Symphony Orchestra. She is a prizewinner of the Giulio Gari Compeition, The Joan Kreitzer Snyder Award - Metropolitan National Council Regional Auditions and the Opera Index Competition.

    EUGENE BRANCOVEANU's robust voice and superior stagecraft have earned him critical acclaim in both North America and Europe. Following recent performances of San Francisco Opera's The Little Prince, the San Francisco Chronicle lauds the superb cast as being "led by extravagantly gifted baritone Eugene Brancoveanu as the Pilot. With his unforced charisma, vocal clarity, and total heft, Brancoveanu managed the tricky feat of doing most of the show's heavy lifting..." In 2008/09 Brancoveanu returns to San Francisco Opera as Belcore in L'elisir d'amore, sings Karnak in Lalo's Le roi d'Ys with the American Symphony Orchestra, sings as soloist in Elijah at the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts in California, and, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, continues his performing of Michael Tilson Thomas' The Tomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater, a work which he premiered in 2005/06 and has reprised with the New World Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. In the 2007/08 season he made his New York City Opera debut as Pandolfe in Cendrillon, sang the role of The Pilot in Portman's The Little Prince for San Francisco Opera, sang as soloist in Brahms' Requiem with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in a concert of Bernstein repertoire. Brancoveanu made his debut with San Francisco Opera in 2005/06 as Fra Melitone in La forza del destino. He held a prestigious appointment as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera for two seasons, directly following his critically acclaimed summer 2005 performances of Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia with the company's Merola Opera Program. With San Francisco Opera he has performed Christian in Un ballo in maschera, Marullo in Rigoletto, Moral`es in Carmen, Frank in Die Fledermaus, Fiorello in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and the Innkeeper and the Captain in Manon Lescaut. Originating the role of Marcello in Baz Luhrmann's Broadway production of La boh`eme, the honorary Tony Award winner is also a recipient of a 2004 LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award for his performances of this production in Los Angeles. Other career highlights include performing the role of Nicomedes in the rarely heard Lou Harrison opera, Young Caesar, for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; a recital as part of the prestigious Schwabacher Debut Recital Series; the title role in Le nozze di Figaro with the International Music Festival in Gut-Immlings, Germany; and the title role in Philip Glass's Orph'ee with the Universit"at Mozarteum Salzburg. Brancoveanu's numerous performances with the Romanian State Opera include the Count in Le nozze di Figaro, the title role in Don Giovanni, Silvio in I Pagliacci, Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Escamillo in Carmen, and Uberto in La serva pedrona. Brancoveanu is a graduate of the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz and the Universit"at Mozarteum Salzburg. Brancoveanu is also a recent winner of the National Young Opera Singer Competition in Leipzig, the International Music Award in Loenberg, and the International Opera contest "Ferruccio Tagliavini" Deutschlandsberg with Dame Joan Sutherland as Head of Jury.

    The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, under Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, presents the finest in orchestral and chamber music, recitals, new music, jazz, world music and holiday concerts at two of the most remarkable places anywhere to experience music - Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. In addition to a 30-week winter subscription season at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the LA Phil presents a 12-week summer festival at the legendary Hollywood Bowl, summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and home of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. In fulfilling its commitment to the community, the Association's involvement with Los Angeles extends to educational programs, community concerts and children's programming, ever seeking to provide inspiration and delight to the broadest possible audience.


    THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2008, AT 8 PM

    FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2008, AT 11 AM

    SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2008, AT 8 PM

    WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL, 111 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

    The Thomashefskys


    MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS, conductor and host

    PAT BIRCH, director

    JUDY BLAZER, performer

    NEAL BENARI, performer

    TAMARA WAPINSKY, performer


    December 18 Media Sponsor: KUSC

    The December 20 concert is generously sponsored by Acura, Official Automotive Sponsor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic - all Acura vehicles park free for the evening.

    Upbeat Live pre-concert events take place one hour prior to the Thursday and Saturday concerts in BP Hall at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and on the stage one hour and 15 minutes prior to the Friday matinee, and are free to all ticket holders. Chad Smith, Los Angeles Philharmonic Vice President of Artistic Planning, hosts.

    Tickets ($42 - $147) are on sale now at the Walt Disney Concert Hall box office, online at, or via credit card by phone at 323.850.2000. A limited number of $10 rush tickets for seniors and full time students may be available at the Walt Disney Concert Hall box office two hours prior to the performance. Valid identification is required; one ticket per person; cash only. Groups of 12 or more may be eligible for special discounts for selected concerts and seating areas. For information, please call 323.850.2000.

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  • Contact:

    Lisa White,, 213.972.3408; Photos: 213.972.3034