Celebrities convene for holiday event at the Alex Theatre

Norman Mamey conducts the new Premiere Orchestra at a "Christmas Musical Spectacular" at the Alex Theatre.
Norman Mamey conducts the new Premiere Orchestra at a “Christmas Musical Spectacular” at the Alex Theatre.
(Courtesy of the Premiere Orchestra)

It’s not often that an artist is as involved with civic concerns as Norman Mamey. The conductor, producer and musical director has a C.V. a mile long, which includes a Grammy (for an album with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra), movie, stage and TV credits, and numerous awards. He directed the famous Christmas Eve celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a number of years and has taught at UCLA, Pepperdine and Citrus College. He’s also the chairman of the Advisory Board of the Glendale Salvation Army.

At 66, Mamey launched a new orchestra at the Alex Theatre with an ambitious holiday program Saturday night. The Christmas Musical Spectacular features the inaugural performance of Mamey’s new Premiere Orchestra, with appearances by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. of the Fifth Dimension, singer-songwriter Mike Posner, actress Cindy Williams, actor Ed Asner (reading “The Night Before Christmas”), flutist Erica Lee, singers Brandon James (from “America’s Got Talent”) Jude Ciccolella, Jessica Mamey and Diana Taweel, jazz pianist Jeff Aymar, comedian Tom Dreeson, the Carpenter Center Children’s Chorus, a troupe from Burbank’s Media City Dance, African Soul International, and the Los Angeles Premier Chorus.

Only a civically connected artist could pull such a roster together in a short time. “We’d like to make this annual event,” says Mamey, who conducted the Glendale Symphony Orchestra. “I got lucky,” Mamey avers, “and somehow got them to come out for this; most came onboard in the space of a week. Cindy Williams will read the Nativity, and there will be 100 performers onstage for the finale.”

The evening is a benefit to underwrite the Orchestra’s slated concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall next August. While Mamey has conducted many orchestras, he’s handing the evening’s baton to talk show host Dennis Prager, of Glendale’s radio station KRLA. For 20 years Prager has guest conducted for the Los Angeles, Pasadena and Glendale Symphony Orchestras, among many. He has a deep knowledge of and passion for classical music.

“I taught myself,” Prager says, from the station’s studio after his morning show. “I got scores of the symphonies I knew and followed along and became familiar with them. I began with a Mozart overture, and graduated to symphonies. My love is the music of the classical era, and I can conduct Beethoven,” adding, “though probably not the 9th Symphony.”

Musicians have been known to sneer at conductors behind their backs and spit at the mention of the names of some celebrity conductors. Prager is aware of this and notes that his conducting is not ego-driven. “I’d be happy to just conduct rehearsals,” he claims. “I believe I have something to say as a conductor, in transmitting my love for the music. More than one director has told me that my ability to extract passion from their orchestra is infectious to the audience.”

Mamey has a perspective: “Dennis might not know everything but he knows how to communicate with musicians and audiences. The same can’t always be said of professional conductors.”

Twenty percent of the net proceeds of Saturday’s concert will be directed to the Salvation Army. “I’ve been involved with them for 15 years,” Mamey states. “It’s the best antipoverty program there is, and our board is made up of some of the finest people in Glendale.”

The Salvation Army uses its resources efficiently. Mamey says: “We were first on the scene after Hurricane Sandy — not the Red Cross. The Salvation Army gave out 186,000 meals; that’s just one of the regional things we do. We’re not just a bunch of bell-ringers. We have an after-school program, Zone Kids. At-risk youth get help with their homework and learn good manners. And our rehab centers put recovered addicts to work, rehabilitating all kinds of things.”

As Prager’s KRLA colleague Hugh Hewitt notes, “Salvation Army does the most for the least of us, and spends the least doing it.”


KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.