By Robert D. Thomas
Southern California News Group
There were several different ways to experience the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 28th annual High School Choral Festival this afternoon in Walt Disney Concert Hall.
You could start with the observation that it was amazing that 1,000 students from 29 high schools could actually be quiet at the same time, not once but several times! Not only that, they managed to get into their seats not once but twice nearly on time, a logistical feat approximating the D-Day landings on Normandy.
One could also be amazed at the technical prowess of the combined forces who were seated in the orchestra and orchestra view seats surrounding the Disney Hall stage. In seven pieces that ranged from Handel’s Your Voices Tune to several contemporary pieces, the students — led by LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon — sang with impressive diction and articulation and managed to create a wonderfully harmonious sound in those pieces where harmonies were at their lushest.
Two of the pieces — Bring Me Little Water, Silvy and Stand in that River — were by guest artist Moira Smiley (actually, as she explained, the former was a Ledbelly tune), who was on hand to teach the performers the percussion to accompany Bring Me Little Water, Silvy. Although students learned all of the music ahead of time, somehow everything managed to come together in a morning’s rehearsal, yet another amazing feat.
Midway through the choral concert, Gershon led 91 singers selected from the participating schools who comprised the Festival Honor Choir in three difficult, contemporary songs from around the world. The ensemble acquitted itself with distinction during this set; the final work — Tiptipa Kemmakem by Philippine-born composer Nilo Alcala — was particularly intricate in its time signatures.
Another aspect of the concert was to experience the amazing acoustics of Disney Hall, the second day in a row where that was the case (read my review of last night’s Los Angeles Philharmonic HERE). Although Disney Hall is one of the world’s great orchestra halls, it is best during choral concerts, especially during soft moments.
Today was actually three separate programs, beginning with a performance by the 16-voice L.A. Master Chorale Chamber Singers, led by MC Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong. Considering that she memorized the entire 40-minute set, this may well have been part of her Doctor of Musical Arts degree program at USC’s Thornton School of Music. She conducted the set with expressive hands and careful attention to the pieces’ many moods, and the singers’ tone resonated throughout the hall.
Among the highlights was Wir Juden (We Jews), a new composition by 18-year-old USC freshman Lucy McKnight. The moving, five-minute work, McKnight’s first choral piece, was selected as the winner of the Master Chorale’s second annual Young Composers’ Competition and is based on a poem by Gertrud Kolmar, a German-Jewish writer who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943.
The hit for the assembled students was True Colors by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, as arranged by Saunder Choi. The students were given colored lights and encouraged to illuminate them at appropriate times; the results made for a dazzling light display to accompany the singing.
After the Chamber Singers’ program, organist John West gave a demonstration of the Disney Hall organ, beginning with Bach’s Toccata in D Minor and ending with a Star Wars medley that brought forth the waving light show once again. A good time was had by all, especially those who had never heard this instrument!
Prior to the afternoon program, the 29 choral directors were honored onstage with certificates from the Master Chorale. Later, Gershon paid tribute to his high school choral teachers and encouraged the students to keep on singing. “God knows we need harmony in our lives today,” he said.
Next Master Chorale concert:
Gershon and Wong will conduct 48 Master Chorale singers in a program entitled “Wade in the Water” on April 30 in Disney Hall. The program’s title comes from the spiritual of the same name by Moses Hogan that will be sung during the concert. The music ranges far and wide, including Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor. Information: www.lamasterchorale.org
(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.