OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony concludes season with scintillating Shostakovich 5th

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

jahjaconduct “Going out in a blaze of glory” may be a hackneyed phrase but it was applicable to yesterday afternoon’s concert at Ambassador Auditorium that concluded the Pasadena Symphony’s 86th season. Guest conduct Jahja Ling (left) and the musicians ended the program with a scintillating and superbly played performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor.

And yet it wasn’t the brass blazing or percussion thundering in the final measures that was the highlight for this critic. Instead, it was the expansive “Largo” movement, a symphony for strings with occasional woodwind and harp interjections that Ling and the orchestra delivered sumptuously. Shostakovich divided each of the string sections into two components (three for the violins) and Ling expertly delineated each of the sections in a way that was unusually comprehensible to those in the auditorium.

Surrounding that languid third movement, Ling — who just completed his 10th season as music director of the San Diego Symphony — drove the opening and closing movements forward with relentless urgency and caught all of the sardonic, lurching humor in the “Allegretto” second movement.

The orchestra, which always seems to relish playing music by this 20th century composer, was in top form again in yesterday’s performance. Although Ling singled out many individuals in the winds and brass sections during the bows, he asked the strings to stand en masse, which was a pity because he might well have asked the split sections to take their own bows.

Pairing Shostakovich’s fifth symphony with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 turned out to be an excess of bombast. There were, of course, dangers of over-exposure. If Tchaikovsky’s first isn’t the most-played concerto ever written, it’s No. 1A to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, especially in Southern California where, because of outdoor and indoor concerts, we hear several performances of each most years. Nonetheless, the combination proved to be a savy marketing move. Yesterday afternoon’s audience appeared to easily be the largest this season and the evening concert was nearly sold out.

The soloist yesterday was 38-year-old Israeli-born pianist Shai Wosner, who has made quite a good reputation recently playing Schubert and Mozart, but has come very late to this famous work, which he was performing in public for just the third time. In his preconcert Q&A yesterday, Wosner admitted candidly, “I’m still unwrapping this work and trying to get my mind around it. Perhaps by the 150th time I will fully understand it.”

His inexperience showed. Wosner delivered an ultra-cautious performance that had only the minimum amount of dazzle, although his decision to focus on sensitive nuance at the expense of bravura had its compensations. In the end, however, at least this listener wished he had elected to program a Mozart concerto instead for his PSO debut.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• In that preconcert session, Wosner — who studied at The Juilliard School with Emmanuel Ax — said that famous mentor taught him that “what you hear onstage may be different that what they [the audience] hear. The best performances are when those two views come together.”
• This was the last concert of a four-year-run to be led by guest conductors. PSO management said that ticket sales for the 2013-2014 season exceeded goals by 30%.
• Beginning Nov. 1, the 2014-2015 season will have either Music Director David Lockington or Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan on the podium. My preview is HERE.
• Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn’s program notes yesterday called the first piano concerto and violin concerto “Tchaikovsky’s two most popular works,” a questionably sweeping statement that tosses aside the 1812 Overture, the Nutcracker, and the composer’s fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies.
• The PSO takes a four-week break before reincarnating as the Pasadena Pops, which performs a five-concert summer series at the Los Angeles County Arboretum under the baton, keyboard and vocals of Principal Conductor Michael Feinstein. Info: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

ANALYSIS: Doors close and open at local orchestras

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Like any business and top executives, orchestras and their music directors undergo cyclical lives — it’s just that when an orchestra changes its music director it’s newsworthy, at least in its hometown or region.

In Los Angeles, we’ve gotten a bit spoiled because both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra have enjoyed great longevity in their musical leadership. Esa-Pekka Salonen served as the L.A. Phil’s music director from 1992 through 2009 and his successor, Gustavo Dudamel, came on board immediately after Salonen stepped down.
Kahane
Jeffrey Kahane (right) has been LACO’s music director since 1997 but recently announced that the 2016-2017 season will be his 20th and final season at LACO’s helm. Meanwhile, earlier this season, Enrique Arturo Diemecke announced that he would not return as the Long Beach Symphony’s music director.

On the other side of the coin, the Pasadena Symphony has now settled its musical leadership team. Michael Feinstein returns this summer for his second season as the Pasadena Pops’ principal conductor, and Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan will divide duties for the PSO’s upcoming season as they begin their tenures with the orchestra.

In some ways, Long Beach’s situation parallels the Pasadena Symphony when it severed relationships with its long-time music director, Jorge Mester, in 2010. The LBSO management situation appears more stable than the turmoil that had enveloped the PSO four years ago, so it may not take the length of time that it took the PSO to get its new Lockington-McGegan-Feinstein music leadership team on board but it will undoubtedly take some time to find the right replacement for Diemecke, who has led the LBSO for 10 years.

LACO has more than three years to find Kahane’s replacement but they may need every month . For one thing, Kahane brought unique combination of skills to the position. Among his predecessors, only Sir Neville Marriner and Christof Perick could have been classified as “pure” conductors. Gerard Schwarz was well known for his trumpet skills as for his conducting prowess and Iona Brown did most of her conducting from the first violin chair. Kahane came to LACO with a modest, albeit growing, reputation as a conductor but he was — and is — a high-profile pianist, something he hopes to continue in his post-LACO life.

Moreover, LACO has several musical streams beyond its orchestral series, including its “Baroque Conversations” and “Westside Connections” series. Concertmaster Margaret Batjer has curated the latter series; what influence or changes will a new music director want to make in either or both of these series will be part of the questions involved in naming Kahane’s successor.

In contrast to LACO and Long Beach, the Pasadena Symphony is looking forward eagerly to its new era. Some music directors come to new positions with great overarching themes, but Lockington’s first season as Pasadena Symphony music director has a series of themes interwoven throughout the five programs, each of which will be presented in two concerts at Ambassador Auditorium.

Lockington-small4Web“I suppose if I had to pick one adjective for the season,” said Lockington (right) recently, “it would be ‘colorful.’ “ The PSO’s 2014-2015 season includes a wide range of music, from Baroque to contemporary, with a healthy selection of American music sprinkled throughout the five programs.

Lockington and McGegan will alternate in leading the five programs. The opening concerts on Nov. 1 will feature an all-American program that says Lockington, “focuses on popular, virtuosic styles” using music by Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.

The program opens with Ceremonial Fantasy Fanfare, which Lockington wrote in 2009 for the Grand Rapids Symphony (where he remains music director) in conjunction with a project he championed entitled “ArtPrize.” “The piece features church bells,” says Lockington, “and when we performed it in Grand Rapids the city’s churches rang their bells to coincide with the music.” Unfortunately, Ambassador is too far from Pasadena’s churches to achieve the same effect.

The Nov. 1 concerts will also feature pianist Terrence Wilson as soloist in Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Lockington has never conducted the young African-American pianist but he likes what he has heard. “He plays with great panache,” says Lockington, “with a clear, precise king of brilliance.”

Perhaps the most interesting program is the Feb. 14 concerts, which will be the second that Lockington will conduct. It features Dylana Jenson (who is also his wife and mother of their four children) as soloist in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

Lockington’s decision to feature his wife as soloist on Valentine’s Day may seem to smack of nepotism but nothing could be further from the truth. A Los Angeles native, Jenson was a child prodigy who studied under Nathan Milstein (among others), shared silver medal in the 1978 Tchaikovsky International Competition, and made Carnegie Hall debut two years later with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Shostakovich first violin concerto is a work that Lockington and Jenson recorded in 2008 (along with the Barber Violin Concerto) with the London Symphony Orchestra to great acclaim several years ago.

The program will open with Enter Light, a work by Joel Scheckman, a California native who is a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony clarinet section. “It’s about an eight-minute piece that works beautifully as a lead-in to the violin concerto,” says Lockington. The concert concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Seminal works anchor McGegan’s two concerts: Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral). The cheeky January 17 concerts open with Peter Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise, and also feature Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos with Esther Keel and her mother, Mihyang Keel, as soloists.

So as LACO and the Long Beach Symphony move forward into uncertain futures, the Pasadena Symphony and Pops appear to be on the threshold of new chapters of stability. Just remember: in a few years (or, if the stars align, decades), the cycles will undoubtedly turn over again.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Jeffrey Kahane to retire as LACO music director

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.

Jeffrey Kahane has announced that he will step down as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the end of the 2016-2017 season, concluding a 20-year reign as the orchestra’s fifth and longest-serving music director. Kahane will assume the title of music director laureate and the orchestra has launched a search for his replacement.

“Twenty years is a very long tenure for any music director,” said Kahane in a statement. “I really felt it was time to pass the torch, as difficult as it is to move on, and 20 years seemed like a good round number.”

Although he had been music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, Kahane was far better known as a pianist than as a conductor when, at age 41, he replaced Iona Brown at LACO’s helm. It was a dark time for the orchestra, which only recently had emerged from bankruptcy. However in the succeeding 17 years, Kahane and the orchestra have grown and flourished together.

He expects to continue his burgeoning guest conducting, solo piano and chamber music careers, and said he has no plans at the present to take on another music director position.

LACO will be the second local ensemble in search mode. Earlier this season, Enrique Arturo Diemecke announced that this would be his last season as music director of the Long Beach Symphony. Given that LACO has a three-year lead-time before Kahane leaves, it’s possible that the transition to his successor might be virtually seamless.

The Pasadena Symphony, which knows quite a bit about the ins and outs of search processes, concludes its 2013-14 classics series on May 10 with concerts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium. If you like your music big and bold, this is the program for you. Jahja Ling, music director of the San Diego Symphony for 10 years, will lead Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Israeli-born pianist Shai Wosner as soloist in the concerto. Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

• Speaking of pianists playing big concertos, the next two Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts fit that description. This Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Emmanuel Ax will be soloist in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. The Thursday and Saturday concerts also include Ax as soloist in the world premiere of Release, a LAPO commission by Andrew Norman, who happens to be LACO’s composer-in-residence. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returns to town for the month of May; he opens this weekend’s concerts with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture.

On May 8-11, Lang Lang comes to town to appear with the Phil as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Dudamel leading the Phil in Ravel’s La Valse and Valses nobles et sentimentales, along with Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne’s Sinfonía Burocratica ed’ Amazzonica. Information: www.laphil.com

• Finally, continuing in the monumental-works mode, preeminent American organist Paul Jacobs comes to Disney Hall next Sunday at 7:30 p.m. to play Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete Clavier-Übung III, which begins and ends with one of Bach’s most famous works, the Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Major, BWV 552 (St. Anne). Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS: Former L.A. Master Chorale Music Director Paul Salamunovich dies at 86

The world of music in general and Southern California in particular lost a giant when word came today that Paul Salamunovich passed away last night at age 86 from complications resulting from West Nile virus.

The California native and long-time North Hollywood resident was Music Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1991 to 2001, Director of Choral Music at St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood for 60 years (1949-2009), an esteemed music educator who held academic posts at Mount St. Mary’s College and Loyola Marymount University, and an adjunct professor at the USC Thornton School of Music.

When he became the LAMC’s third music director, he rebuilt the sound style first established by Roger Wagner into an indelible choral instrument. He also worked with Morten Lauridsen, who was LAMC’s first Composer-in-Residence from 1995-2001 winning acclaim and awards for their performances of works such as Lux Aeterna and O Magnum Mysterium.

A detailed obituary is at the L.A. Master Chorale Web site HERE.

NEWS: San Diego Opera puts closure on hold … for the moment

San Diego Opera has decided to delay its announced folding for a couple of weeks to allow for further assessment. James Chute in the San Diego Union-Tribune has the story HERE. Also, check out the links in the middle of the post for good additional stories on the announced plans. And, of course, there are numerous comments — some reasonable and others sort of wacko.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Grams, Porter make impressive debuts at Pasadena Symphony concert

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Andrew GramsOne of the advantages of the long interregnum between Pasadena Symphony music directors is that local audiences have heard a number of young conductors who are forging strong careers with orchestras in the United States and abroad. Saturday brought the last of those young maestros as Andrew Grams (right) took the podium at Ambassador Auditorium.

The 36-year-old Baltimore native was recently named music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in suburban Chicago, an ensemble that is similar in size to the PSO. Grams reportedly was the unanimous choice of the ESO’s musicians and it’s easy to see why. He has an enthusiastic, energetic conducting style and, as he showed in the opening piece Saturday night, a cheeky sense of humor, as well.

For William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra Grams tucked a trio of string soloists high on the back row of the orchestra, where percussionists would normally sit. Midway through their first solo lick, Grams turned to the audience and pointed to the soloists with a sly smile, as if to say, “Did you find them?” It was an appropriately light touch to Bolcom’s mashup of styles that range from Baroque to Mahler to slapstick.

Grams was all business in the final piece for the evening, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, although at the end of the first movement he peeked over his shoulder and smiled as if to say, “It’s okay to applaud.” Overall, Grams took things at a brisk pace, although he also found time to luxuriate in the woodwind solos that permeate the uber-familiar work. The orchestra was in top form throughout most of the performance.

In between those two pieces came Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with 17-year-old Simone Porter as the soloist. A native of Seattle, Porter studies with Robert Lipsett at The Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles. She is also part of Colburn Artists, a program created in 2012 by The Colburn School to provide professional management services to its most-accomplished students, and Saturday night Porter validated her selection.

Playing a 1742 Camillus Camilli violin, Porter displayed a sweet, yet rich tone throughout the concerto, not just in the low notes but on the upper strings as well. She attacked this familiar work with exuberant, youthful gusto and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the moment, listening and bouncing along with the orchestral accompaniment when she wasn’t playing. It was an impressive performance; she is clearly someone to keep an eye and ear on.

Grams and the orchestra offered rich, luxuriant accompaniment, particularly during the broad, romantic moments of this familiar work. I hope that representatives of the Long Beach Symphony, which is searching for a new music director, were in the audience. Grams should be on their candidates list.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Porter’s PSO appearance is one of several important local concerts for her this year. On April 27 she will play Beethoven’s Romances 1 & 2 with the Pacific Symphony, led by Carl St.Clair, at the SOKA Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. On Sept. 4 she will make her Hollywood Bowl debut as soloist in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot.
• The final concert of the PSO’s 2013-2014 classics season will be held May 10. Jahja Lang, long-time music director of the San Diego Symphony, will lead a program of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Shai Posner as soloist. Information.
• Audience members got the first public look at the PSO’s 2014-02015 season. Music Director David Lockington and Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas McGegan will alternate leading the five classics series concerts, with Lockington conducting the first, third and final program and McGegan leading Nos. 2 and 4. Opening night is Nov. 1. I’ll have more on this tomorrow in a Blog post.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: L.A. Phil and others fire up the “Minimalist Jukebox”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.

Eight years ago the Los Angeles Philharmonic curated a landmark, multiweek festival entitled “Minimalist Jukebox,” devoted to the era of minimalism, the compositional genre that began in the 1960s and was led by composers including Terry Riley and John Adams.

“Over the past 40 years,” says Adams, “Minimalism has brought about a revolution in aesthetic sensibilities, changing the way we experience the flow of musical time and the feel of its rhythm. It has not only revitalized harmony and enabled composers to once again think big thoughts, but it has seen its influence felt in genres as far afield as rock, electronic, and film scoring.”

Whether you believe that to be the case or are among those who see Minimalism as a quarter-century-long genre now consigned thankfully to the history books, for the second incarnation of this festival concept the Phil and other local organizations will join forces for 14 programs (20 performances) from April 5 through May 4 at locations from the west side to downtown Los Angeles and into Pasadena.

Adams — the Phil’s creative chair and composer of operas such as “Dr. Atomic” and numerous other works — will be very much at the forefront of the entire month both as curator and conductor. Everyone will have their favorite concerts but here are two of my must-see events:

• April 6 at Walt Disney Concert Hall:
Grant Gershon conducts 32 singers of his Los Angeles Master Chorale and an instrumental ensemble in David Lang’s Pulitzer-Prize winning the little match girl passion and Steve Reich’s You Are (variations), which the Master Chorale premiered in 2004. Information: www.lamc.org

• April 11, 12 and 13 at Disney Hall:
Adams will conduct the Philharmonic in his own Naïve and Sentimental Music, Michael Gordon’s Sunshine of Your Love, and the world premiere of At the Royal Majestic, Riley’s new concerto with organist Cameron Carpenter as soloist.

Riley’s In C, written in 1964, is often considered the beginning of the minimalist movement. It was played during the 1986 “Minimalist Jukebox” festival and will be performed this time around on April 5 and 12 at The Hammer Museum in Westwood.

Naïve and Sentimental Music, a 45-minute symphony in all-but-name, was written by Adams on a L.A. Phil co-commission in 1999 and premiered by the Phil conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Ironically, it was the major work with which Adams liberated himself from the minimalist style that he had used in much of the music he had written before then. It remains one of most important and beautiful compositions.

Information: www.laphil.com

Several of the “Minimalist Jukebox” programs will involve portions of The CIVIL warS, an opera created by director Robert Wilson using music by Philip Glass, David Byrnes and others. The concept was for a daylong piece of music theatre. Six composers were to write sections and the entire work was to have been performed during the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival in 1984. Funding woes derailed the complete presentation and only four sections ultimately were completed.

Details, schedules and other information on the entire “Minimalist Jukebox” series can be found HERE.
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• Michael Feinstein will participate in four of the five Pasadena Pops concerts this summer, beginning on June 7 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Feinstein, beginning his second season as the Pops principal conductor, will lead that concert along with programs on August 16 and September 6, and will be the featured vocalist in an all-Gershwin program on July 19. Details are HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: Michael Feinstein appears with Pasadena Pops in four summer concerts

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

To no one’s great surprise, summer with the Pasadena Pops will be a Michael Feinstein affair as the singer-conductor-curator will appear in four of the five Pops programs at the Los Angeles County Arboretum beginning June 7.

The Pops’ gamble on hiring Feinstein as its Principal Conductor paid off big dividends last summer and the organization moved quickly to capitalize on that success in planning the upcoming season. Feinstein will conduct three of the summer programs and will appear as a singer in an all Gershwin-concert on July 19.

The concerts:
June 7:
Feinstein will lead a program of music by Harry Warren, Richard Rodgers, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini and Alfred Newman, and the world premiere of a piece by André Previn, which was originally part of a movie score that never materialized. Vocalists Laura Osnes and Norm Lewis and pianist Armen Guzelimian will be guests.

June 28:
On the only program not involving Feinstein on stage, composer-producer-songwriter Tena Clark appears with Dionne Warwick, Sheléa Frazier, Sara Niemetz and the orchestra’s resident conductor, Larry Blank.

July 19:
Feinstein puts aside his baton to sing Gershwin and selections from other composers.

August 16:
Feinstein curates and conducts music from the silver screen — Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures and Walt Disney. Debby Boone, Alan Bergman, Maureen McGovern and Kevin Early will also appear.

September 6:
In a program entitled “New York! New York!, Feinstein turns to music that celebrates the Big Apple. Patti Austin, Liz Callaway and Jeremy Jordan are on the program.

• The complete media release and artists’ photos are HERE
• For information and ticket ordering, click HERE
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS: San Diego Opera to shut down

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

San Diego Opera has voted to shut down following the conclusion of the 2014 season, its 49th year of operations.

The San Diego Union-Tribune story is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: L.A. Master Chorale offers weekend-long tribute to composer Morten Lauridsen

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

mortenDuring its 50th anniversary season, the Los Angeles Master Chorale is looking back over some of the group’s high points during its first half-century. This past weekend the Chorale focused on its long relationship with composer Morten Lauridsen (right). Friday night the Chorale hosted a screening of Michael Stillwater’s 2012 award-winning documentary, Shining Light: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen, at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Last night before a sold-out house at Walt Disney Concert Hall the Chorale presented a moving musical tribute to Lauridsen that was expertly crafted by Music Director Grant Gershon and beautifully sung by 48 members of the chorus.

William Hall, a well-known and long-time choral conductor, once said that the hardest program to conduct is a collection of short pieces; by comparison, he said, conducting Verdi’s Requiem is far easier. That last night’s program — which included two dozen pieces, sung in five languages — didn’t validate Hall’s opinion was due, in large measure, to the fact that “the Master Chorale has the music of Lauridsen in its DNA,” as Gershon noted in a post-screening discussion Friday night.

Predictably the weekend turned into a love fest. Gershon called Lauridsen “the greatest American choral composer of our time, all of all time.” Lauridsen later described the Master Chorale as “a jewel of our nation.” Fortunately the speeches were mercifully brief; the singing took the spotlight.

Lauridsen accompanied two of the works — Nocturnes and Les Chansons des Roses — on the piano. It’s interesting that most composers rarely perform music that they write for other groups or individuals. John Adams, for example, occasionally conducts his own works but almost never has the chance to play them. Choral and vocal composers are the exception to the rule, so it was both poignant and memorable that Lauridsen was able to accompany two of his best-known works last night, quite well, I might add.

Moreover, just to show that he’s not riding off into the sunset at the age of 71, Lauridsen has taken a 1991 poem, Prayer, by poet Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endwoment for the Arts and now Lauridsen’s colleague at USC, and set it into an evocative, six-minute anthem that was stunningly performed by the Master Chorale as the penultimate work last night. For good measure Gioia was on hand to recite the program before the Master Chorale sang Lauridsen’s setting.

Lauridsen’s history with the Master Chorale began in 1964, when the Pacific Northwest native came to Los Angeles to study at USC. A year later, when the LAMC was founded, Lauridsen began attending concerts in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, “from the cheap seats, high up,” he noted with a chuckle last night. In 1972, Lauridsen — now age 71 — joined the faculty of the USC School of Music where he still teaches. He served as LAMC’s Composer-in-Residence from 1994-2001.

For Gershon, Lauridsen’s music is truly in his DNA. Midwinter Songs on Poems by Robert Graves, which opened last night’s concert, was commissioned for the centennial of USC’s founding in 1980. It was premiered by the USC Chamber Singers, which included not only Gershon among the singers but also current LAMC members Elissa Johnston and Nancy Sulahian.

Midwinter Songs was one of many pieces that reflect the composer’s life-long love of poetry (he begins each class at USC by reading a poem). Stylistically, however, it’s quite different from the lush Lauridsen music for which he is now most famous (including Lux Aeterna, which didn’t appear on the program). The Chorale sang the icy music of Midwinter Songs expertly, accompanied by pianist Lisa Edwards (Lauridsen originally wrote the treacherous piano part for Mack Wilberg, now music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).

Gershon had his singers performing in different locations throughout the evening: men in the center, women in the center and then all women left and all men right. He also programmed one piece, Ave Dulcissima Maria, for men alone and another, Canticle/O Vos Omnes, with the women accompanying Gary Bovyer who played a hauntingly evocative clarinet. Theresa Dimond played finger cymbals on the former piece and chimes on Canticle.

For choral singers in the audience, Gershon — now in his 13th season at the fourth music director of the Master Chorale — continues to be a pleasure to watch, his hands sculpting phrases elegantly and his cutoffs nearly imperceptible but nonetheless precise. The choir nearly always sings as a flexible, unified ensemble and they were particularly elegant in Sure on This Shining Night from Nocturnes, which was premiered by the Donald Brinegar Singers in 2005.

The second half began with Madrigali: Six “Fire Songs” on Italian Renaissance Poems and continued with Les Chansons des Roses. After its performance of Prayer, the Chorale concluded the program by singing one of Lauridsen’s best-known works, O Magnum Mysterium, which Gershon dedicated to Paul Salamunovich, the ensemble’s Music Director Emeritus, who is gravely ill.

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• CK Dexter Haven has a very long, but fascinating interview with Lauridsen posted on his Web site “All is Yar” HERE. If you’re a hardcore Lauridsen fan, you’ve heard much (but not all) of this before but it’s still worth reading.

• The documentary Shining Night is available through many brick-and-mortar stores, as well as on amazon.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.