Zev Yaroslavsky solos with the L.A. Philharmonic

Perhaps more than any other local politician, Zev Yaroslavsky has made the arts a priority — not just as an agenda item for meetings of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, but as a personal passion. A lifelong fan of the performing arts, he can be regularly seen mingling with crowds at concerts around the city.

Next week, Yaroslavsky will put his oratory skills to use as the narrator of Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” which will be performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. The Tuesday concert is an all-American program that also includes pieces by Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.

Copland wrote “A Lincoln Portrait” at the height of World War II. The piece is a 15-minute orchestral work featuring spoken excerpts from the president’s writings. “Lincoln” has been performed numerous times by the L.A. Phil, with past narrators including Gore Vidal in 2007, James Taylor in 2002, Marian Anderson in 1986 and Gregory Peck in 1955.

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Yaroslavsky, who recently announced that he won’t be running for mayor of Los Angeles, is expected to conclude his current term as supervisor in 2014. The L.A. native recently discussed how the concert came together as well as some of his plans for Bowl improvement.

How did you get involved with this concert?

Deborah Borda [president of the L.A. Philharmonic] and I have talked about this for several years. One of my life-fulling dreams has been to narrate the ‘Lincoln Portrait’ with the L.A. Philharmonic. She called me earlier this year and asked if I still want to do it. And I said yes. I love the piece. I love the history of it — the time it was written and composed, during the depths of World War II, to rouse the American public with Lincoln’s words. It still speaks to us today, and to any society.

Are you being paid for the concert?

I’m donating my services. They wanted to pay me, but I didn’t want to take a penny. I told them that whatever they’re paying me, they can donate to the Youth Orchestra of L.A. I negotiated my own contract.

What can we expect to see in the future in terms of Bowl improvements?

The priorities are always to improve the audience experience. Next year we’re going to be installing new high-definition video screens to replace the current ones. We’ve authorized expenditure for that. When a concert begins before 8 p.m., the first part is hard to see because of the sunlight on the screens. [The new screens] will be a big improvement.

What have you been doing to address the persistent problem of helicopter traffic over the Bowl?

The helicopter problem at the Bowl is as bad as it’s ever been. Pilots have brazenly disregarded the overflight restrictions and have even bragged about buzzing the amphitheater during a concert. The overflights not only ruin the concert experience, but they are dangerous to the thousands of Bowl patrons. I’ve called on the FAA to prevent any aircraft flights over the Hollywood Bowl just as they prohibit flights over stadiums of 30,000 or more when they are in use. I am working closely with congressman Howard Berman in supporting his legislation that would authorize the FAA to regulate helicopter flights over our city. Meanwhile, we continue to appeal to the pilot community in the hope that they will respect the Bowl’s airspace of their own accord.

How far back does your passion for classical music go?

I have been a lover of classical music since I went to my first performance as a boy at the Philharmonic Auditorium in the 1950s. My parents were avid music lovers. My mother started me on piano lessons when I was 7 years old, and by junior high school I was playing the oboe in the school orchestra. The arts are more than a cultural amenity to Los Angeles. They are an economic engine that employs a lot of people at very decent salaries.

And now after all these years, you’ll be on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, performing alongside the L.A. Phil.

My oboe playing would not get me on the stage of the Bowl today, but my voice can.


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