And the Hollywood Bowl was more than singing and a string pinging on the night of July 12th as the stars, star watchers and stars namesakes alighting sky all aligned to watch the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel aka “The Dude”. Featuring pianist Behzod Abduraimov, this must see Concerto in C was all sponsored by the august Jose Iturbi foundation. “Popularizing classic music – one note at a time” this venerable organization backed a concert to beat all concerts as the 28-year-old Abduraimov tickled the ivories to much liltingly lyrical laughter curiously emulating the tune of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. The Los Angeles Philharmonic would round out the evening’s performance solo by way of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to priceless embodiments of the music’s countenance posturing itself as Dudamel’s first-rate facial expressions! All this on the heels of a buffet dinner high atop one of the Bowl’s lofty square minarets you only dreamed existed but never divined; but only because the entertainment onstage was so distractingly sublime.
Hosted by Donelle Dadigan, president and founder of the Hollywood Museum and God Daughter of Iturbi himself, the night was awash in not only Hollywood History, but musical nostalgia and inspiration alike!
Included in the mix, George Chakiris best known for his Oscar winning portrayal of Bernardo in the Film West Side Story, Little House on the Priarie’s baddest of bad girls, yet all too good of a piano player (more on that later) Nellie Oleson aka Alison Arngrim, Alison’s husband and musician Bob Shoonover, Actor/Opera singer Paul Sorvino and his wife DD, Original Valley Girl from the movie of the same name, Lee Purcell, everyone’s favorite 1950s but-with a 1970s attitude: TV Mom Mrs. C of Happy Days fame, aka Marion Ross, and her most talented son via a host of vocal impressions, Jim Meskiman, Batman’s original Catwoman Julie Newmar, General Hospital, True Blood, and Cougar Town’s Carolyn Hennesy, LA Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, George Braukman, The Walton’s own Olivia Walton Michael Learned, and former Councilman Tom LaBonge.
Aside from distinguished denizens of Hollywood, Dadigan also welcomed documentarians from Paris France, Sisters Clara and Julia Cooperberg; in the process of producing a documentary on Max Factor along with Laurie and Ricky Noor from Cairo Egypt! “Laurie played violin since her early teens. You thought I didn’t know!” announced Dadigan just in the process of ramping up a most rousing speech!
Oh yes, symphonies were enjoyed, carbs were avoided and/or snuck, actors’ musical prowess was highlighted or denied, jettisoned musical careers boldly and ironically proclaimed, and copious amounts of actors interviewed!
(They even had this thing called smashed potatoes—a delicacy Iturbi no doubt would have enjoyed but that seem to have only introduced themselves on the scene a rough ten years ago. Aw Dang!)
Irrespective of any imagined or actualized gustatory pursuits, everyone else had their own impressions of the man of honor for that evening.
According to fellow opera singer and actor extraordinaire Paul Sorvino, “He was such a great artist, a great pianist and yet he had that thing [where he walked with] kings and commoners. He was a man for every season; every group. I always loved his work in movies and his pianistic talents.”
The LA Beat, making the mistake of asking if Sorvino had ever worked with Iturbi got the apt and correct response, “I never did. No. I was a little boy at the time.” The LA Beat, despite its missed beat could only speculate the following, “That said, you could have started as a child actor; if not here, then in a parallel universe!” Sorvino doubling down on the syncopation had only this to say, “That’s true.”
Julie Newmar everyone’s favorite Catwoman had nothing but regal impressions of Iturbi: “MGM, [was] the greatest studio of its time. It was the 40s, it was Technicolor, they had all the greatest stars in all the movies… [Iturbi] would walk in and out of the scenes and be himself. But they wrote for him in these fabulous musicals…and then lo and behold, I see him today on Classic Arts Showcase. He’s there with his sister Amparo playing these extraordinary things… He was as charming as the big stars at MGM. They loved him… [And his current legacy] shows you how smart he was. He made some good investments I think in Real Estate… And now he’s giving back to the world and look at all of us here. 80-90 people in this glorious place here at the Hollywood Bowl my God!”
Though Newmar also never met Iturbi as a child or a parallel universe in kind, his brand of talent carried a certain sense of inspiration in her life: “I studied with Rita Hayworth’s father and her uncle Jose and Eduardo. So, I took my dance training with them, and I studied with a concert pianist when I was young… It made my life. It was probably the most important thing I did in my education!”
When questioned after her current piano playing passions, her response was beyond wonderful, yet unexpected: “My son is deaf, and I regrettably gave it up to learn sign language. You have to do something with your fingers… It’s the most au natural ‘cause you put Italian with…Irish…all those mannerisms. It’s so [instinctive] American sign language: ASL. Music is so beneficent. It heals me. In the morning it means everything…”
Actress Michael Learned aka Olivia Walton, of The Walton’s fame met and, in a sense, ‘worked with’ Jose Iturbi halfway between childhood and adulthood in THIS universe (finally, an answer to a question the LA Beat charitably gave up asking): “When I was 19-years-old, my ex-husband and I were in Stratford Ontario, and I sat on the piano bench next to [Iturbi] while he played. So that was a deep honor for me… He was in a Quonset Hut that they had at the festival. It was big and huge… But it was such an honor even then. I barely knew who Jose Iturbi was. But I sure found out!”
In light of all star power, musical or otherwise, Dadigan could not help but disclose any and all musical inclinations or avoidances of some of our most prominent guests: “Would it surprise you to know that Councilman Mitch O’Farrell [engaged in] vocal training? And as a young adult, he was a featured singer in swing and variety shows and Princess Cruise Lines.”
“For (former councilman) Tom LaBonge, it’s all about Elvis Presley and Love me Tender. To quote Tom, ‘I was in a rock n’ roll band in the late 60s,’ and Tom ‘first distinguished himself musically’ when ‘I tried to play tuba in Jr. High’ in the mid-sixties at John Marshall High!”
“And this daytime Emmy Award Winner is best known for her roles in General Hospital, True Blood, Cougar Town and Revenge to name a few. She told me very simply, ‘I play piano–badly.’ Please welcome Carolyn Hennessy.”
“And this Golden Globe and Prime Time Emmy Nominee, and everyone’s favorite mom from the hit TV show Happy Days…by the way, did you know Jose Iturbi loved to watch your show? He enjoyed seeing a slice of American Life or at least what he thought it was that depicted the 1950s. He loved it! And Mrs. C told me about her musical endeavors: ‘Sadly no. I don’t play a musical instrument,’ and her son Jim (superlative impressionist) says, ‘I started piano as a kid, and my mother, if she had her way, would really have liked me to continue.’ Well, you’re doing bigger and better things now Jim. Good for you!”
“Next, we have TV Land Award winner and International Star of her one woman show. She likes to remind me that for her character Nasty Nellie Oleson in Little House on the Prairie, it was scripted for her character to ‘play piano poorly’ and ‘sing even worse.’ Unfortunately, talented Alison, who was raised in a family of thespians and musicians, was not natural at bad piano playing and horrible singing. There was retake after retake on the set until Alison finally got the hang of bad piano playing and horrible singing. So please welcome Alison Arngrim!”
“We [also] have Prime Time Emmy Award Winner and Golden Globe nominee and everyone’s favorite mother sitting next to everyone’s favorite mother (Marion Ross) Olivia Walton from the show about the life and trials of the 1930s and 40s Virginia Mountain Family The Waltons. Michael Learned enjoys sharing this fun factoid: that in reality, even though she never played a musical instrument, there was an old, upright piano on the set of The Waltons and for ten years the script always made reference that her character Olivia Walton, could play the piano. She says, ‘Thank goodness they never made me do so!’ Please welcome, Michael Learned!”
“This award-winning actor always plays a tough guy and is a consummate authority figure. During his youth, he dreamed of being an Opera singer and he was classically trained by several voice instructors, and opera coaches. He was good enough that in his adult/early life, he sang professionally. Please welcome Paul Sorvino and his wife… DD Sorvino…”
And of course, the evening would not be complete without a foray into the life, times and musical motivations of Jose Iturbi himself, up to and including the foundation and its work:
“During the 1960s [my Godfather] would perform over 100 concerts in a calendar year, this musician who…came to the U.S. (in 1923) with only $26.00 in his pocket…”
…along with fun little ecological facts:
“Jose Iturbi fist started riding this [late 1930s] motorcycle…with its sidecar…around town during WWII doing his part to help with gas rationing. He kept his motorcycle in the garage until my godmother sold it in 1984.”
As to his legacy, the ingenuity was never ending:
“Iturbi was always interested in keeping the enjoyment of classical music alive. During the mid-twentieth century Iturbi was one of the most sought-after concert pianists and conductors in the world. He had the ability to make classical music and its abilities enjoyable to all.”
“[He] was the first musician to sell a million copies of a record and he did so in the 1950s and he was awarded a great prize, when selling a million copies of a record was really something because at that time, that was a lot. He was given a star on the Walk of Fame for this feat and today we see it in front of the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Blvd. So, it seems that Jose always had a link to Hollywood whether it was through motion pictures, Hollywood friends, his star on the Walk of Fame and having performed here at the Hollywood Bowl in sold out concerts more than a dozen t times. Tonight’s performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto number 2 is especially meaningful for us. Please take a look at the photo of the postcards on your table… Tonight’s performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto Number 2 is pictured there but it’s pictured from 70 years ago. So 70 years ago in 1948 Jose Iturbi conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic here at the Hollywood Bowl and his sister…Amparo Iturbi was the solo pianist and it was a sold out performance and it will be the same piece you will hear tonight…27-year-old Uzbeki pianist Bhezad Abdulamov will appear with the conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Bhezad is known for being technically in total command, poetic, and stormingly rousing. He’s quite an extraordinarily young virtuoso and I believe that my God Parents Jose Iturbi and Marion Seabury would be so pleased that the Iturbi Foundation is presenting [him] performing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto Number 2 this evening.”
In deference to the foundation’s support of young musicians, there was nothing but the superlative to disclose:
“The Jose Iturbi International Music Competition has awarded, to date, almost one million dollars to gifted pianists and singers from around the world. Throughout the past three decades we have enjoyed working with young artists in the making to debut their talent, launch their careers and bring to the public’s attention today’s emerging talent through dynamic, live concert performances. And I am pleased to report, we have happily been busy during this past year spreading the joys of popularizing classical music ‘one note at a time’.”
Not only are concerts sponsored, but musical patronage encouraged from all walks of life, ‘one shoe to one ear at a time’:
“Tonight, the Jose Iturbi Foundation has provided a very special field trip for our Hollywood Police Activities League Young People. They have [received] fifty tickets for tonight’s concert along with transportation, food, snacks and for our kids with their chaperones including parents and police officers. If you have a chance at intermission, you can’t miss them. Go up to the first set of bleachers and they’re all there together, I’m sure behaving perfectly well!”
And after a fun fact like that, one could not feel any more giddy…unless of course former councilmember Tom LaBonge were to bestow a brief lesson on Bowl history, instill a bit of excitement surrounding the Olympics, and sing an Elvis Parody and salute the night’s eventress (aka event planner/hostess):
“This is a beautiful night ‘cause we’re at one of the greatest locations, not just in our city, [or] our state but in the world: The Hollywood Bowl. Founded in 1922 it’s welcomed musicians from [all over the globe]; it’s just very special and I’m very proud of everyone who works [here]. Give a big shout out to Tim who’s worked here 53 years at this gate! Hey Tim… Nothing like Music… Music is our answer. Ten years from now we’re going to be welcoming the world again with the 2028 Olympic Games. And not just [via] athletes, but music, art, and dance. And I want to give a shout out to Tab Hunter who left us this week ‘cause there was nuthin’ like Damn Yankees and all the music that he [made]!”
“[Gosh] it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a microphone,” LaBonge continued in most fervent fashion. “Three years since I was in City Hall! So I want to thank my wife Bridgett ‘cause she puts up with me. Kicks me out at about 9:30 tells me to go get a job. But I will tell you it’s special to be here, and our friends from France who came, thank you for so much. You gave us the greatest gift America ever got, the Statue of Liberty!”
And in closing, LaBonge could not help but perform a rousing little tribute to the night’s most effervescent hostess (aka effervescence) to the Elvis tune Love me Tender: “So If my dreams could all come true darling this I know, Donelle Dadigan is the best of all and we show it all. Love me tender love me true all our dreams fulfilled for my darling. I love you and I always will!”
All in all, a more than rousing evening of music, sentiment, and scintillating speech making to near soliloquy status!
For more information on the Jose Iturbi Foundation, please visit:
For more information on the Hollywood Bowl, & the LA Phil, please visit:
To divine more information regarding Behzod Abduraimov please click:
To plan a trip to the Hollywood Museum please visit: