Hollywood Bowl Announces Summer Season With Christina Aguilera, H.E.R., Cynthia Erivo, ‘Black Panther’ and More

The schedule includes John Williams, Brittany Howard, Viola Davis, James Blake, Kamasi Washington, Sergio Mendes and Yo-Yo Ma, along with 14 Dudamel-conducted shows. Attendance will initially be capped at two-thirds of capacity.

Hollywood Bowl shell with patrons in
Adam Latham

After taking 2020 off due to the pandemic, followed by no small amount of suspense about what would be possible for 2021, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association has announced a summer schedule for the Hollywood Bowl that represents a robust if slightly scaled-down near-return to normal.

More than 50 performances have been scheduled for a season that will get underway just a little later than usual, on July 3, and run through Sept. 28.

The LA Phil tells Variety that current COVID protocols call for shows to be sold at two-thirds of capacity for the initial concerts in July, with the possibility of selling more if conditions and county color codes change. Said a rep: “67% of the house will be open in July with the current protocols that are in place, which is approximately 11,000 tickets. If protocols change, the numbers can change.”

What’s quickly evident from a look at the schedule is that there are fewer standard shows by major pop superstars — few, if any, of whom are expected to be out on tour yet in July — but about the usual number of concerts in which stars will be joining either the LA Phil or the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for the evening. Film score-based programs and live soundtracks for film soundtracks will again be a significant part of the mix, along with shows featuring the Philharmonic itself as headliner, of course.

Among the performers who’ll be doing a gig fronting one of the house symphonies: recent Oscar best song winner H.E.R. (Aug. 13-14), Oscar-nominated actor Cynthia Erivo (July 30), Christina Aguilera (July 16-17), Ledisi singing Nina Simone (July 24), James Blake (Sept. 25) and, for the Bowl’s opening fireworks spectacular, Kool & the Gang (July 3-4).

The Bowl is being described as “a majority vaccinated venue” for this summer, with exceptions allowed in “two sections reserved for non-vaccinated audience members with proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to attendance. Mask wearing will be required for all attendees.” The Bowl’s statement added that the venue “will continue to receive public health guidelines from Los Angeles County” and that protocols could change “as policies evolve over the summer.”

Tickets for most individual shows will go on sale June 1, with the exception of the opening July 4th Kool & the Gang fireworks shows, which will go up May 18. No new subscriptions will be offered this year, due to the initial reduction in capacity. Those who already hold Bowl subscriptions can renew them beginning today.

The veritable king of the Hollywood Bowl, composer John Williams, makes his return to the Bowl stage in 2021 after a rare year of going uncelebrated last summer. The movies’ most famous film scoring giant is set to be feted throughout Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3-5; he’ll share conducting duties with David Newman.

Newman will make an appearance earlier in the summer, conducting a world premiere live performance of Mark Knopfler’s music for “The Princess Bride” as the movie unspools July 31. A recent tradition of “Harry Potter” screenings continues Sept. 17 with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra doing the live score for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” A notable first will take place when “Black Panther” becomes the first Marvel movie to have its score played live by an orchestra — an occasion significant enough that it’s being repeated on three nights, Sept. 10-12.

Anyone who’d rather hear their own voice accompany the movie, instead of a world-class symphony. is also in luck. The “Sing-a-Long ‘Sound of Music'” returns to the hills Aug. 21, hosted as always by Melissa Peterson.

As for LA Phil shows that aren’t movie nights or pop concerts, there’ll be no shortage of straight-up classical performances. Music & artistic director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct 14 shows during the season. The classical series will open with a performance of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” that has Viola Davis as narrator.

Other Dudamel-helmed concerts include Margaret Bond’s MLK-themed “Montgomery Variations” (July 15), a Gershwin show with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and countertenor John Holiday (Aug. 10), the LA Phil premiere of Bologne’s “Violin Concerto No. 9” with violinist Randall Goosby (Aug. 12) and several more, before the season wraps up Sept. 28 with a Mozart program.
Dudamel goes outside the canon with his Pan-American Music Initiative, the kickoff of a multi-year program that was supposed to debut in 2020. The three concerts that are part of that series this year all take place in late August, starting with the world premiere of Arturo Marquez’s violin concerto “Fandango” with Anne Akkiko Meyers (Aug. 24), followed by a centennial celebration for Astor Piazzola (Aug. 26) and Carlos Vives stepping up with the Phil (Aug. 27-28).
Although many of the non-classical performances will involve pop and R&B singers doing shows with the Phil or Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, there are some non-orchestral package shows, with a familiar local radio station as host. KCRW’s World Festival returns with shows featuring Kamasi Washington and Earl Sweatshirt (July 18), a reggae night with Ziggy Marley and the Wailing Souls (Aug. 1) and Brittany Howard with Jamila Woods and Georgia Anne Muldrow (Sept. 18). James Blake’s show with the Bowl Orchestra on Sept. 25 is also part of that series.

A jazz series includes the aforementioned show of Ledisi covering Nina Simone with the LA Phil, plus the combination of Dave Koz and Tower of Power (Aug. 8), Sergio Mendes (Aug. 15) and Herbie Hancock (Sept. 26).

Although the season officially gets underway July 3 — and for all practical intents and purposes does, for the general public — May and June will see a sneak-preview series of five free shows open only to frontline workers. These very limited-capacity shows, already revealed prior to Tuesday’s announcement, include a screening of Pink’s documentary “All I Know So Far” (May 17), La Santa Cecilia (June 26), Thundercat and Flying Lotus (June 12) and two concerts of Dudamel and the Phil performing the classical repertoire (May 15 and 22).

Only a few of what the Bowl calls “lease shows” are currently on the books, versus the usually super-busy lineup of concerts not booked by the LA Phil — and as of now they’re only happening after the summer season officially wraps up. Those outside shows from Live Nation-Hewitt Silva are Daryl Hall and John Oates (Oct. 1), Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair and Garbage (Oct. 5) and Andrea Bocelli (Oct. 24). These shows were postponed from earlier in the summer after already having been postponed from 2020.

“With the return of in-person performances to the Hollywood Bowl, we are seeing both the return of a beloved summer tradition and the reunion of a community built by sharing in live musical experiences with one another,” said LA Phil CEO and David C. Bohnett CEO-chair Chad Smith in a statement. “From the artists on stage to the hundreds of returning seasonal employees, we can’t wait to welcome audiences back to the Bowl and begin the kind of healing and celebration that music can provide. With the support of Kaiser Permanente, we are fortunate to open our season with free concerts for the frontline and essential workers whose heroism brought us all through the darkest days of the pandemic and continue with an incredible line-up that features a little something for everyone.”

Said Dudamel, “Music-making is ultimately about the shared experience of people coming together and being united in a communion of sound. For musicians, there is no greater joy than feeling our instruments resonate in harmony with those around, and that is why this return to in-person performances at the Hollywood Bowl is such a powerfully important moment. After the many challenges of this past year, we all feel a profound sense of joy and gratitude to be able to once again share music with you, and especially to be able to offer these opening concerts to our heroes on the front lines, who have given their all to keep us safe this past year.”