Newsletter: With a focus on Black composers, a young SoCal native is poised for the big time

A standing violinist performs as a conductor leads a seated orchestra
Randall Goosby at his Hollywood Bowl debut, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the L.A. Phil.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

For a young musician making a debut, the Hollywood Bowl can be the scariest stage on the planet, and the most desirable. Everything is amplified, from the sound to the giant video screens to the size of the whole place. I’m classical music critic Mark Swed, this week’s ringer for Carolina A. Miranda on Essential Arts, and I’ll start by sharing something special at the Bowl.

A new name to remember

A young violinist from San Diego recently made his Bowl debut with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. At first glance Randall Goosby could be yet another of the savvy, showy young soloists on the make. Born Randall Mitsuo Goosby in 1996 to a Black father and Korean mother, he has grown up with highly marketable good looks and a chic style suitable for the cover of fashion magazines. Flashiness gets you everywhere in classical music. It always has.

Yet Goosby plays like an angel with nothing to prove. A cool, calm, collected angel. His tone appears to be small. He applies a minimum of intoxicating vibrato. He does nothing to raise the temperature in the room. Thus far he has steered clear of high-volume repertory show pieces. His focus has been on Black composers, for which he advocates with erudite modesty.


Randall Goosby performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

At the Bowl he chose a little-known violin concerto by Mozart’s mixed-race contemporary, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. A colorful showman, Bologne was as famed for his fencing as for his violin virtuosity. The concerto is fairly conventional 18th century stuff with just enough potential to dazzle the French court.

Goosby avoided all exaggeration. Unless the amplification fooled us, and I don’t think it did, he made little attempt to stand out, instead approaching the orchestra with the intimacy of a chamber musician. The slow movement was infused with an imperturbable serenity, perhaps the single most elusive state to achieve in the Hollywood Bowl. He skipped so daringly lightly over the jocular last movement that his solos could barely be grasped; they were gone in a flash.

Those same rare qualities can be found on “Roots,” Goosby’s debut album released this summer. It, too, is is all but devoid of showmanship. He plays solo blues with an extraordinary grace. The serenity is everywhere, but particularly in the middle movement, “Mother and Child,” of William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano and Coleridge-Taylor’s version of “Deep River” that speaks volumes at a very low, understated volume.

Goosby includes in his “focus” Gershwin and Dvorák. Their application to Black music in their work can sound like appropriation to modern ears, but Goosby explains in his booklet notes (and you’ve got to break down and buy the CD rather than stream): For their time, they demonstrated a meaningful generosity of spirt in their advocacy of the essential contribution of Black composers to American music.

An intriguing different test lies ahead for Goosby. In October he will tackle Brahms Violin Concerto with the Pasadena Symphony in Ambassador Auditorium. A little bird has whispered that Goosby will also be a soloist with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in the spring, but the cagey orchestra has yet to announce its new season.


Now I’ll turn over the newsletter to Craig Nakano, deputy editor of The Times’ Entertainment and Arts team, who will run down the rest of the week’s culture news.

The vaccination M-word

It’s “mandate,” and as Times staff writer Jessica Gelt reports, more L.A. arts groups are deciding it’s not so bad. The L.A. Phil joined a growing list of companies requiring proof of vaccination for entry to shows — no exemptions.

"Hamilton" star Javier Munoz photographed in street clothes in 2016 at Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York.
“Hamilton” actor Javier Munoz has a thoughtful contribution to the vaccination mandate debate.
(Walter McBride/Getty Images)

It’s a move that Times theater critic Charles McNulty wholeheartedly endorses. In a column calling for all stage performers to be vaccinated, McNulty invoked the late Isaac Asimov’s line about “the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Writes our critic: “Even in the face of a common mortal coronavirus enemy, our citizenry has fallen back into the usual partisan camps or taken refuge in an American individualism that isn’t so much rugged as selfish and stupid.” Zing.

What’s on the line

For a taste of what we’d lose in a Delta-triggered shutdown, one need only look toward the Hollywood Bowl. Mark Swed reports that Dudamel has been on fire with the L.A. Phil, and the recent appearance by cello phenom Sheku Kanneh-Mason was a potent demonstration of talent and star power. Are we willing to lose all this again over readily available shots and some masks?

Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason performs at the Hollywood Bowl with Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil behind him.
Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in his Hollywood Bowl debut and L.A. Phil conductor Gustavo Dudamel, both in fine form.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

As if the point needed underscoring, Swed recounts another recent transcendent performance: Laurel Irene simply astounded in the Long Beach Opera production of Kate Soper’s “Voices From the Killing Jar.”

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

Go, and go now

It does seem surreal to be contemplating shutdown again when the arts scene is delivering gem after pandemic-delayed gem.

Times columnist Carolina Miranda pays a studio visit to April Bey, whose exhibition at the California African American Museum — the artist’s first solo museum show in Los Angeles — is “an exuberant, sense-tingling journey.” CAAM Executive Director Cameron Shaw tells Miranda: “April’s vision is a world where all Black people are loved and accepted and where they are free to express themselves and where their pleasure is not policed. And that is an important vision right now.”

Artist April Bey, in a dotted blue robe, stands before paintings in her studio.
L.A. artist April Bey photographed in her downtown studio.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Times critic Christopher Knight dives into the camp world of Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters and finds gold. A gilded female model based on an 1840s Antoine-Louis Barye bronze is just one of the startling subjects in Matthew Rolston‘s fabulously weird photography at the Laguna Art Museum. Knight says check it out.

More for your calendar

The Times’ mega fall arts preview lands soon, but in the meantime details of the season ahead are trickling out.

The Hammer Museum, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA and Museum of Contemporary Art announced dates for the L.A. premiere (Oct. 14) and ticket on-sale date (Sept. 17) of “Sun & Sea,” the climate-crisis-themed opera that had the 2019 Venice Biennale buzzing. Staff writer Deborah Vankin will follow up her news story this week with a feature next week on the behind-the-scenes partnership that’s bringing a global hit to DTLA.

The stage also is being set for “Head Over Heels,” the musical comedy featuring the hits of the Go-Go’s. Staff writer Ashley Lee talks with Pasadena Playhouse producing artistic director Danny Feldman about the reconfiguration of the theater for the show, including the creation of a standing-room area for audience members to dance. Fire up the Go-Go’s playlist and get “Vacation”-ing starting Nov. 9.

In the meantime, listings coordinator Matt Cooper has his rundown of the weekend’s most promising offerings, which include the return of “Hamilton” to the Hollywood Pantages and “The Sound of Music” sing-along to the Bowl.

A ‘Star Trek’ legend

The article that drew the most readers this week was Makeda Easter‘s deep dive into the life of Nichelle Nichols and the protracted battle over the care of the “Star Trek” actor, who is battling dementia as well as a precarious financial state. One stark takeaway: the extent to which such a barrier-breaking icon of Hollywood is facing the same daunting realities as so many older Americans and their families.

Illustration of Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols
(Stat The Artist a.k.a. Teddy Phillips)

In other news

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced $28.4 million in grants for 239 projects across the country. California recipients included the Japanese American National Museum and UCLA.

Artist Chuck Close died of undisclosed causes Thursday in Oceanside, N.Y. Los Angeles artist Kaari Upson died of breast cancer Wednesday night, according to the gallery Sprüth Magers, which represented Upson.

The American Institute of Architects Los Angeles chapter named winners of its restaurant design awards.

Survived the finale of “The White Lotus” but can’t get the HBO limited series’ music out of your head? Catch up with Meredith Blake‘s interview with the composer, the “genial, decidedly chill” Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who personally voiced the unsettling the squawks and shrieks you hear.

Film critic Justin Chang scores the opening line of the week in his review of Dash Shaw’s imaginative animated feature: “‘Cryptozoo’ has, in more than one sense, the horniest opening scene of any movie this year: It begins with a star-gazing hippie couple making love in a forest and ends with one of them getting gored by a unicorn.”

Afghanistan is chaos, COVID-19 is surging, California’s governor is facing recall, and yet it’s the renewed question of who will host “Jeopardy” that’s setting the internet afire.

And last but not least ...

Check out the rehearsal photos, including vintage Liza, Chita and Patti, in this Playbill photo gallery. Here’s hoping for a diminished Delta, for rehearsals that carry on and for curtains to rise, at long last, on a new season.