OVERNIGHT REVIEW: L.A. Master Chorale performs Haydn’s “The Creation:

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San
Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

______________________

 

Los Angeles Master
Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor

Haydn: “The Creation”

Sunday, April 10, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

______________________

 

In his 10 years as Los Angeles Master Chorale music
director, Grant Gershon and his ensemble have built a worldwide reputation for championing
contemporary music in large measure by performing 13 world premieres and a
number of American and West Coast first hearings. However, two or three times a
season, the Chorale brings back one of choral music’s pinnacles to the great
delight of its audiences.

 

Last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall that “giant” was
Haydn’s penultimate oratorio, The
Creation
(or, since it was sung in German, Die Schpfung) and the sold-out sign was posted on the LAMC Web
site many hours before the downbeat. The full house came with high expectations
and weren’t disappointed as Gershon led 115 members of his Chorale, full orchestra
and three soloists in a superlative performance.

 

Haydn was 67 years old when he completed this 2-1/4 hour
telling of the Creation story, based on the first two books of Genesis and portions
of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. That
was old age by 18th-century standards (by comparison, Handel was 10
years younger when he wrote Messiah,
the only oratorio better known than The Creation).

 

Nonetheless, Haydn was clearly at the peak of his creative
powers. The Creation was the work of
a master tone painter — one has only to listen to depictions of leviathans
spouting, flexible tigers or slithering worms to truly appreciate how just how
masterful Haydn was in this regard. That colorful writing begins with Haydn’s
opening depiction of the chaos before the world was created and continues
throughout the Biblical stories and Milton’s epoch.

 

Gershon and his forces fully met Haydn’s numerous
challenges, beginning with those opening moments of unsettled orchestral music
that leads to the angel Raphael quietly intoning the opening words of Genesis: “In
the beginning …” and concluding with the chorus exploding from mysterious,
hushed intonation to a glorious, full-throated C major chord that announces “Let
there be light!”

 

That sequence proved to be a microcosm of what would evolve
over the next two-plus hours. The Chorale was breathtaking in its dynamic
control throughout the evening, sang with its customary clean diction and
precise articulation, and produced the sort of exemplary blend to which we’ve
become accustomed during the past decade.

 

The three soloists — soprano Elissa Johnston, tenor Hak Soo
Kim, and baritone Sanford Sylvan — matched the choral forces exquisitely.
Johnston sailed through her ornate tessitura lines with seemingly effortless
elegance and precision; although she is Gershon’s wife, it’s clear that she was
chosen solely for her prodigious musical talents. Sylvan displayed remarkable
range (his low notes were as clean as his upper registers), and Kim’s clarion
tenor gleamed throughout the evening. All sang with notable sensitivity to the
texts.

 

Gershon accompanied his soloists sensitively and whipped the
Chorale through the major climaxes with breathtaking speed (Awake the Harp and the conclusion of The Heavens are Telling were particularly noteworthy in this
regard). It was the work of one master recreating another’s genius.

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Kudos to whoever handled the projected translations;
there’s an art to illuminating the translations at precisely the right second
and last night was a prime example of how to perform that delicate task
expertly.

The Master Chorale’s 22nd High School Choral
Festival takes place Friday (INFO). Tickets are free but need to be ordered
ahead of time.

The season’s final LAMC concert takes place May 22 as the
Chorale performs extracts from Duke Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts. INFO. Before that, the Chorale will join with the
Los Angeles Philharmonic May 12-15 in performances of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, led by Gustavo
Dudamel as part of the Phil’s five-week-long “Brahms Unbound” festival. INFO

______________________

 

Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Master Chorale sings Brahms’ Requiem

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San
Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

______________________

 

Pasadena Master Chorale; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor

Brahms: Ein Deutsche Requiem

Saturday, April 9, 2011 La Crescenta Presbyterian Church

______________________

Through the centuries, hundreds of composers have set the
Roman Catholic Requiem Mass (aka Mass for the Dead or Funeral Mass) to music
and some of those pieces show up annually on classical music schedules as the
Christian Holy Week approaches (this year it runs from April 17-24). This year,
for example, Gabriel Faur’s Requiem will be performed Sunday in Costa Mesa and
on April 22 at a Good Friday Devotional Concert at Pasadena Presbyterian
Church.

 

Perhaps the most unique Requiem ever composed was Johannes
Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German
Requiem),
which was written between 1865 and 1868 (the first complete
performance was Feb. 28, 1869 in Leipzig). Unlike many settings of the ancient
Requiem liturgy, which emphasize the terror of death, Brahms — who wrote this
piece shortly after his mother died — used scriptures from the Old and New
Testaments that focused on comfort and consolation.

 

Brahms wasn’t content with a version for choir, soloists and
orchestra; he also arranged A German
Requiem
to be accompanied by two pianists playing a single instrument. That
was a common practice in the 19th century when having a full
orchestra was a luxury and recordings were not yet invented. Hard as it is to
believe now, Brahms was concerned that the work would not be popular. “Now it
cannot perish,” he wrote. “What is more, it has become altogether splendid.”

 

The wisdom of that last phrase is certainly open to question
(the orchestral accompaniment for this work is highly expressive and there’s no
way two pianos can approximate it) but Artistic Director Jeffrey Bernstein and
his Pasadena Master Chorale gave a sensitive performance of this rarely heard
edition last night at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church. It was a reprise of
sorts; the same forces had performed the work last year.

 

In brief preconcert remarks, Bernstein noted that using just
four-hand piano for the accompaniment means the choir doesn’t have to strain to
be heard above a full orchestra and, although pianists Shawn Kirchner and Alan
Steinberger accompanied with panache, the focus was, indeed, on the Chorale.

 

That turned out to be just fine because the 55-voice
ensemble sang with clear German diction and rhythmic precision and in the
softer moments it achieved a notable blend. Only at the outer extremes of their
voices in the loudest sections did some occasional rawness slip in, but for the
most part this was both an impressive and expressive performance.

 

Brahms’ Requiem
has a symmetrical structure. The first and seventh (last) movements use similar
themes, the second and sixth movements end with glorious double fugues, the
third and fifth movements feature soloists, and the apex of the piece is Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How Lovely
Are Your Dwelling Places),
which the choir sang with elegant, simple
beauty; it was, indeed, the evening’s pinnacle.

 

Soprano Krystle Casey’s radiant operatic voice was almost
too powerful in her fifth movement solo, while baritone Scott Graff seemed
curiously understated throughout much of his solo work; I wished Casey could
have poured a little of her power into Graff — the combination of her power and
Graff’s clean high baritone voice would have been potent.

 

Throughout the night, Bernstein — who conducted the two
pianists with the same exuberance as if he was presiding over a full orchestra
– led a performance that appropriately emphasized Brahms’ great musical arcs.
He also took the three double-fugue sections at brisk clips, to which the
Chorale responded with clarity and power, particularly in the sixth movement,
with its resurrection text from Hebrews, I Corinthians and Revelation. It was
both chilling and consoling — Brahms surely would have approved.

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

The Chorale provided English translations in the printed
program and was smart enough to leave the lights up so people could follow
along if needed.

Appropriately there was no intermission, but Bernstein did
pause after the third movement to allow the Chorale to take a water break (they
all brought water bottles); he invited those in the audience so equipped to
join in. From a musical point of view, I might have opted for after the fourth
movement but the second and third movements are killers for choral singers, so
from a practical point of view, Bernstein’s choice made eminent sense.

If you want to compare versions, Gustavo Dudamel will
conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists
in a performance of Brahms’ Requiem May 12-15 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The
concert, part of the Phil’s “Brahms Unbound” series, will also include the West
Coast premiere of Steven Mackey’s Beautiful
Passing.
Info: www.laphil.com

Brahms wasn’t alone in providing multiple accompaniments
for his Requiem. Faur wrote a chamber-orchestra
version for his Requiem and either
wrote or sanctioned a full-orchestra setting. Half a century later, Maurice
Durufl set his Requiem for full
orchestra, organ alone — no surprise, since he was a great organist — and for
organ with string orchestra and optional harp and timpani.

The PMC’s final concert of the season is “The Green
Concert” (celebrating the Earth, with music by Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson
and Bernstein) will be June 4 at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church and June 5 at
Altadena Community Church. Info: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

 _____________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS AND LINKS: Detroit Symphony strike ends

Musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony ratified a
contract that ends the six-month long strike. Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free
Press,
who has reported vigorously and well on the entire conflict, reports HERE

 

The DSO announced an abbreviated spring season that includes
some concerts beyond its regular home and $20 ticket prices. MORE

Stryker also offers some thoughts on what’s ahead for the
DSO. The issues raised in the contract negotiations will have  ramifications — indeed, are
already having — around the orchestral world.  MORE

NEWS: L.A. Master Chorale appoints Terry Knowles president and CEO

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San
Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

 

Terry Knowles has been promoted to president and chief
executive officer of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, effectively immediately.
Now in her 11th season as the Chorale’s executive director, Knowles
replaces Marc Foster who has been both CEO and LAMC’s board chairman (he
remains in the latter post). Grant Gershon remains the Chorale’s music
director.

 

She now holds a similar position to that of Deborah Borda at
the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Stephen Roundtree at Los Angeles Opera
(although Roundtree is not LAO president). Like the Master Chorale, both those
organizations are resident companies at the Music Center.

 

During her tenure with the Master Chorale, Knowles has
overseen a 75% increase in the group’s operating budget (to $3.7 million) and
helped forge a new recording contract with Decca Recording Group.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

I’m back!

Actually, I’ve been posting on my own Blog (LINK) for many
years but it’s been awhile since I’ve been posting here on the San Gabriel
Valley News Group Blog. But here I am and glad to be back!

 

For those who don’t know me, you can read my brief profile
to the left. My beat is classical music, specifically in the San Gabriel Valley
and throughout Southern California. Here’s what you can expect from this Blog:

COLUMNS

My print column appears every other Sunday in our newspapers
(Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News). The column
from April 3 is posted two stories below. The next one is scheduled for April
17.

 

FIVE-SPOT

This is a relatively new feature that is posted every
Thursday (today’s is below). It features five upcoming events in Southern
California that I found interesting, including at least one that’s free
admission (or at least low cost). Each entry will include a link to the
organization’s Web site where you can get more information.

 

REVIEWS

As you all know, we just don’t have the newsprint space to review
every concert, much as we’d like to. However, that’s the beauty of a Blog. I
try to review every performance I attend, which helps extends the
papers’ reach in this vital area. It’s my Blog so I choose what to cover. My policy is to post reviews by 9 a.m. the
morning after each evening concert — if it’s a daytime concert a review might
be up that evening but next morning for sure. This weekend I’ll be hearing the Pasadena Master Chorale Saturday night and the Los Angeles Master Chorale Sunday night. Look for reviews the following mornings.

 

Remember that a review is just one person’s opinion (in this
case, mine). The purpose is not strict reporting — you already know the event
happened. It’s how I reacted to the performance based on my experience, feelings, knowledge
and other factors. Incidentally, I perform as well so I know how hard it is to
put oneself on the line before an audience. Therefore if I give someone or some
group what sounds like a negative review, it’s not because I love doing so.
Nothing makes me happier than a wonderful experience at a concert. But I call
them as I hear (or see) them.

 

You may or may not agree with what I write; that’s okay –
everyone who attends a performance is, in some way, a critic — even the phrase
“I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” is a critical evaluation. The
late, great critic Alan Rich once wrote, “The purpose of a critic is not to
lead his readers into blindly accepting his truths, but to stimulate them,
delight them, even irritate them into formulating truths which are completely
their own.” I hope that’s what I do and how you will respond.

 

NEWS ITEMS

A lot of stuff flows into my inbox and some of it is
newsworthy. When it is, I’ll share it with you. I also read dozens of classical
music Blogs from around the world and when I see something that I think you
should know about, I’ll link to that site.

 

PREVIEWS

Not every upcoming performance gets a preview, but some do. Almost always I will
include links to the organization’s Web site that will have many more details
and how to get tickets.

 

OPINION PIECES

Occasionally I’ll sound off about the state of things in
classical music, both locally and elsewhere. If you want a sample, click HERE.

 

FEEDBACK

This site has a feedback function. Please feel free to use
it (keep it clean and at least relatively polite). I check the Blog at least
daily even if I haven’t posted and, if necessary, I’ll respond. Healthy
dialogue is important to the growth of classical music. In addition, please
feel free to email me by clicking my name underneath my photo to the left. I
try to answer all emails promptly, even if I’m on the road. Let me know what you
like, don’t like or what you care about when it comes to classical music.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on March 10, 2011

Each Thursday morning, I list five events that peak my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a
minimum, inexpensive tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tonight and
tomorrow at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Thomas Ades, conductor

British composer/conductor/pianist Thomas Ades concludes his
“Aspects of Ades” Festival with two programs. Tonight and tomorrow he conducts
the Phil and soloists in the world premiere of Irish Composer Gerald Barry’s
opera The Importance of Being Earnest.
On Saturday, Ades will lead the West Coast premiere of his Polaris and Olivier Messiaen’s clairs
sur l’Au-Del.
Info: www.laphil.com

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church

Pasadena Master
Chorale; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor

Bernstein leads his a performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsche Requiem, using a rarely heard
two-piano version that the composer created. Scott Kirchner and Alan
Steinberger are the pianists; soprano Krystle Casey and baritone are the vocal
soloists. Last year this concert was a sellout. Info: 626/208-2009;
www.pasadenamasterchorale.org.

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Terrace Theatre, Long Beach

Long Beach Symphony;
Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor; Ian Parker, piano

Diemecke continues his yearlong survey of Russian music with
a program of Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov, Respighi (how did he slip in?) and
Tchaikovsky. Canadian pianist Ian Parker will be the soloist in the
ever-popular Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. Info: www.lbsymphony.org

 

Sunday at 7 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master
Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor

Another pinnacle of choral music, Haydn’s The Creation, appears Sunday as Gershon
leads his 110-member Los Angeles Master Chorale, orchestra and soloists Elissa
Johnston
, soprano; Sanford Sylvan, baritone;
and Hak Soo Kim,
tenor. The Master Chorale last performed the piece in 2003 for Disney Hall’s
opening concerts. Info: 213-972-7282; www.lamc.org

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program …

 

Sunday at 3 at Whittier
High School

Rio Hondo Symphony;
Kimo Furumoto, conductor

Furumoto concludes The Rio Hondo Symphony’s 78th season and
his second as music director with “Highland Frolic,” featuring two winners of
the orchestra’s 2011 Young Artists Competition. Vijay Venkatesh, 20, from
Laguna Niguel will be the soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1, while
Chih-Chien Lin, a 26-year-old native of Taiwan who now lives in Los Angeles and
studies at USC, will perform in Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2.

 

Furumoto will also lead the orchestra in Mendelssohn’s
Overture The Hebrides (aka Fingal’s Cave) and Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Four Scottish Dances. Info:
562/698-8626; www.riohondosymphony.org

 ______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Classical Music Scene Still Going Strong

By Robert D. Thomas

Music
Critic

Pasadena
Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

This
article was first published April 3 in the above papers.

 

April
and May are always ultra-busy months for classical music lovers and this year
is certainly no exception. Here are a few local opportunities:

 

Saturday at 7:30 p.m., La Crescenta
Presbyterian Church

Music
Director Jeffrey Bernstein leads his Pasadena Master Chorale in a performance
of Brahms’ Ein Deutsche Requiem,
using a rarely heard two-piano version that the composer created. Scott
Kirchner and Alan Steinberger are the pianists; soprano Krystle Casey and
baritone are the vocal soloists. Last year this concert was a sellout. Info:
626/208-2009; www.pasadenamasterchorale.org

 

April 9 at 7:30 p.m., April 10 at 3 p.m.,
April 15 at 8 p.m., April 17 at 3 p.m. at The Woman’s Club of South Pasadena

Celestial
Opera, a group about which my colleague John Farrell has written glowingly in
the past, returns with a double bill of Puccini operas: Gianni Schicchi and Suor
Angelica.
These are the second and third one-act operas of Puccini’s
trilogy Il Trittico (the opener is Il
tabarro). The aria O mio babbino caro
(Oh, my dear papa)
from Gianni
Schicchi
is one of the opera genre’s most famous tunes. John Dennehy, Jr.
will direct and Joshua Heaphey will conduct a chamber orchestra. Info:
626-628-3305; www.celestialoperacompany.org

 

April 10 at 3 p.m.. Whittier High School

The
Rio Hondo Symphony concludes its 78th season with “Highland Frolic,” led by
Music Director Kimo Furumoto. The free concert will feature the two winners of
the orchestra’s 2011 Young Artists Competition. Vijay Venkatesh, 20, from
Laguna Niguel will be the soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1, while
Chih-Chien Lin, a 26-year-old native of Taiwan who now lives in Los Angeles and
studies at USC, will perform in Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2.

 

Furumoto
will also lead the orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Overture The Hebrides (aka Fingal’s
Cave)
and Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Four
Scottish Dances.
Info: 562/698-8626; www.riohondosymphony.org

 

April 10 at 7 p.m., Walt Disney Concert Hall

Grant
Gershon leads the Los Angeles Master Chorale, orchestra and soloists Elissa
Johnston, soprano; Sanford Sylvan, baritone; and Hak Soo Kim, tenor in Haydn’s
oratorio, The Creation, another
pinnacle of choral music. Info: 213-972-7282; www.lamc.org

 

April 16 at 8 p.m., Alex Theatre, Glendale;
April 17, 7 p.m., Royce Hall, UCLA

Music
Director Jeffrey Kahane leads his Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in a program of
John Harbison’s Gil pi usati,
Dvorak’s Serenade in E Major for Strings, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor), with Jon Kimura Parker as
soloist. The Harbison piece was premiered by LACO in 1993. Parker (who was born
on Christmas Day 1959 in Vancouver) won the 1984 Leeds International Pianoforte
Competition and has gone on to an international career. Info: 213/622-7001 x
215; www.laco.org

 


Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Philharmonic concludes its “Aspects of Ades”
festival this week. Today at 2 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, British
composer/conductor/pianist Thomas Ades conducts two works by Stravinsky and his
own In Seven Days, a video-ballet in seven movements.

 

On
Tuesday night at 8 p.m., Ades conducts and plays his own music with the Phil’s
New Music Group in a “Green Umbrella” concert. Thursday and Friday he conducts
the Phil and soloists in the world premiere of Irish Composer Gerald Barry’s
opera The Importance of Being Earnest.
The festival concludes Saturday with Ades leading the Phil in the West Coast
premiere of his Polaris and Olivier
Messiaen’s clairs sur l’Au-Del.

 

In
the midst of all of this, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble appear
Monday night in Disney Hall at 8 p.m.

 

Info:
323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

_____________________

 


Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted
with attribution.