Los Angeles Master Chorale Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary in Style
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Tomás Luis da Vittoria: Ave Maria
Pierre Passereau: Il est bel et bon
Paul Chihara: Missa Carminum Brevis: Kyrie – Sally Gardens
Stephen Foster: I Dream of Jeanie (Roger Wagner, arranger)
Roger Wagner (arranger): Western Songs – Danny Boy
William Dawson (arranger): Ev’ry time I feel the spirit
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Ave verum corpus, K. 618
Mack Wilberg (arranger): My Love’s in Germany – I’ll Ay Call in by Yon Town
Gregorian Chant: Veni Creator Spiritus
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Tu es Petrus
Maurice Duruflé: Tu es Petrus – Ubi caritas
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium
Jester Hairston (arranger): Hold On!
John Rutter (arranger): The Lord Bless You and Keep You
Thomas Tallis: Spem in alium
Hyowon Woo: ME-NA-RI
William Walker: The Good Old Way
Sergei Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Rejoice, O Virgin
Duke Ellington: The Lord’s Prayer
Gaspar Fernandes: Dame albriçia mano Anton
Shawn Kirchner: Unclouded Day
Randall Thompson: Alleluia
Lisa Edwards (Piano), Alan Chapman (Host)
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon (Conductor), Lesley Leighton (Associate Conductor)
(© David Johnston)
There are parties, and then there are parties. For the opening of their 50th anniversary season, the Los Angeles Master Chorale produced a sentimental, but boisterous affair, one that, even for them, exceeded expectations. Rather than premiere a new work (they’ll have four at the season-ending concert.) or perform an old warhorse (Carmina Burana and Bach B Minor Mass coming up), Grant Gershon and his choristers chose to begin by looking back.
Of course, one would be hard pressed to find a current American chorus with as refined a history to draw upon. The great Roger Wagner was the founding director of this ensemble and remained for 22 years. The authoritative Paul Salamunovich restored the Chorale to its former glory with a crucial tenure of 10 years and Grant Gershon is entering his twelfth season with ground breaking results year after year. Sunday’s concert may have been self-congratulatory, but justifiably so. More importantly, as so often with the LAMC, it was personal. Beginning with the news, announced from the stage by Mr. Gershon, that Mr. Salamunovich is ailing, but stable, the affection in the air was palpable.
The two and a half hour concert was divided into four sections, each celebrating the directors in the Chorale’s history. Local Classical KUSC radio host Alan Chapman was a droll, amiable host, interviewing Gershon and providing brief introductions to some of the proceedings. Each era contained a beautifully shot short film projected above the stage featuring singer interviews and vintage recordings. Like the meticulously prepared exhibit on display in the lobby, it was a window into the genesis of the group, its leaders, and singers who make it tick. While not exhaustive (Wagner’s ouster wasn’t mentioned, and the tumultuous years of John Currie were painted rosily), it was enlightening and poignant.
Of course, production values can only go so far. As if there would be any cause for doubt, the LA Master Chorale is also a damn fine choir. Their trademark balance of sound, expressivity, and musicianship was on full display throughout the two hours of singing. From the first penetrating bars of Vittoria’s Ave Maria to the joyful conclusion of Shawn Kirchner’s Unclouded Day, Gershon’s club sang with spirit and skill to spare. Truth be told, I’ve heard them slightly more polished, with more aligned entrances, but I’ve never heard them so exquisite on such a wide range of music.
The highlight among the highlights of the evening was Thomas Tallis’ seminal 40-part motet Spem in allium. Performed with the singers arranged throughout the hall, it was spine-tingling. Sung with sensitivity, adroitness, and effervescence, it was an aural feast. And, as perhaps only Grant Gershon and the LAMC could do, they went right into Korean composer Hyowon Woo’s robust ME-NA-RI. A demanding work, it was performed fervently and deftly by the singers.
If that wasn’t magnificent and ambitious enough, there was more—much more.
The first half concluded by celebrating John Currie’s tenure with a surprise Scottish pipe and drum marching band, a nod to Currie’s heritage and the over-the-top Scottish music spectaculars he would program. Associate Conductor Lesley Leighton conducted two beautiful Duruflé motets as part of the tribute to her Godfather Salamunovich and Morten Lauridsen was naturally in attendance for a doting performance of his defining O Magnum Mysterium. Cowboy songs, a French madrigal, an early American shape-note tune, there was virtually no genre untouched. It was an amalgam as diverse and spirited as the Chorale itself.
A unifying conclusion to the evening was the invitation to some 100 former choristers to join the Chorale for Randall Thompson’s impelling Alleluia. It was a touching tribute to all those who had been a part of the group and a wonderful tribute to the power of Thompson’s piece.
Like the Thompson, the rest of the evening seemed to never lose sight of the purpose of the Chorale: “stewardship,” as Leighton put it. The directors were payed tribute, as were the singers; there was even a presentation by the LA County Board of Supervisors. But the music itself was still the most treasured commodity onstage Sunday, and it was done immeasurable service. The three composers in attendance (Paul Chihara, Lauridsen, and Shawn Kirchner) were positively glowing, clearly tickled by the work Gershon and company had done their work.
The Chorale’s authenticity of performance, versatility, and proficiency never cease to do such stewardship to the music itself. On full display Sunday evening, these attributes, combined with the vision and creativity of Grant Gershon made not only for a memorable concert, but give one reason enough to believe that the Chorale’s best 50 years may be ahead of them.
Matthew Richard Martinez