OVERNIGHT REVIEW: L.A. Master Chorale sings beautiful, varied program at Disney Hall

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Grant Gershon conducts the Los Angeles Master Chorale and pianist Lisa Edwards during last night’s “Wade in the Water” concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photo credit: LAMC
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When I sang with famed choral conductor William Hall several decades ago, he used to say that the hardest type of a program for a choir to sing was one with a dozen small, anthem-sized pieces. “It’s much easier to prepare Bach’s B-Minor Mass,” he said with a grimace.

For the penultimate program in the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2016-2017, Artistic Director Grant Gershon defied that perspective with a program that included 14 anthem-sized works (counting two encores) and one larger piece (Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor). To no one’s great the Chorale pulled it off beautifully.

The program was titled “Wade in the Water,” which Gershon said in his preconcert talk was to convey, “Music of the spirit and music of renewal.” Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong termed the evening one of “humility and harmony.” The title came from a spiritual of the same name arranged by Moses Hogan that was the second piece performed. During the program.

Gershon began with a twist. For the opening work, Stand in That River by Moira Smiley, Gershon had the singers enter the hall down four staircases leading from the Orchestra View level to the stage where they arranged themselves not in the four standard groups (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) but mixed together with two men standing next to two women who were next to two other men, etc. It made for a more homogenous sound throughout the evening.

The only work where that wasn’t the case was Vaughan Williams’ Williams Mass in G minor, which was written for double choir and four soloists. The two choirs were arranged in the Chorale’s standard horseshoe setup rather than being spatially separated but they sang this treacherous a cappella work with elegant precision.

The solo quartet, perched on an elevated riser behind the other singers, sounded like a separate choir when they sang together. The quartet — Andrea Zomorodian, soprano; Laura Smith Rethe, mezzo soprano; Michael Lichtenaur, tenor; and James Hayden, bass— sang with a purity of tone that resembled English singers. Lichtenaur was particularly effective in his solo lines.

All of the evening’s soloists were Master Chorale members. They included soprano Zanaida Robles, who delivered delicate but heartfelt lines in Wade in the Water, and later received a standing ovation for her gripping arrangement of Lift Every Voice and Sing, which included powerful solos from mezzo-soprano soloist Garineh Avakian.

Many of the works sung last night are in the repertoires of mainline church choirs and educational institutions. For those of us who are choral singers, it was a particularly glorious night. LAMC Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong conducted two of those familiar pieces in the first half: a rhythmically driving rendition of Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal and a breathtakingly gorgeous performance of Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas. At the conclusion of the latter, I said to my wife, “Oh! That’s what it’s supposed to sound like.”

The second half of the program opened with the Chorale delivering top-flight diction and intonation in The Word was God, a complex anthem by Rosephanye Powell. They continued with Randall Thompson’s famous Alleluia; the Alice Parker/Robert Shaw arrangement of Amazing Grace, which featured a luscious solo by tenor Nate Widelitz; and Bright Morning Star by Master Chorale member and former LAMC Composer-in-Residence Shawn Kirchner, with bass-baritone Luc Kleimer as the sensitive soloist.

A noble rendition of Moses Hogan’s arrangement of the hymn, Abide With Me, and rollicking account of Rockin’ Jerusalem as arranged by Rollo Dillworth closed the formal part of the program.

Wong conducted the first encore: another arrangement of the “Ubi Caritas” text, this one by Welsh composer Paul Mealor, which was written in 2011 for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Gershon then capped the evening by leading a luscious account of Deep River, third Moses Hogan arrangement during the evening.

Hemidemisemiquaver:
The final concert of the Master Chorale’s 2016-2017 season, on June 18, will be a tribute to composer Morten Lauridsen with, among other works, a performance of Lauridsen’s iconic ZZZLux AeternaZXZ on the 20th anniversary of the piece’s premiere by the Master Chorale. Information: www.lamc.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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FIVE-SPOT: April 27-May 3, 2007

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending. As usual, Saturday requires tough choices this week but Sunday is also chock-full (and I didn’t even include LA Opera’s “Tosca” performance on that afternoon).

APRIL 27, 28 and 29: PACIFIC SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; Costa Mesa
Two French Canadians are on the program. Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads music by Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and Ravel. Louis Lortie will be the soloist in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

APRIL 28, 29 and 30: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
11 a.m. April 28, 8 p.m. April 29 and 2 p.m. April 30
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Swiss conductor Phillipe Jordan will join with soprano Iréne Theorin and the Phil for an evening of portions of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelung. Jordan seems like a natural choice for this program, since he is music director of the Paris Opera where he succeeded James Conlon, and has recorded a CD with his Paris forces of this program.

The L.A. Phil concerts will include the excerpts from all four “Ring” operas that one would expect in this type of program. However, because the program also includes the Prelude and Orchestra Interludes from Das Rheingold, the orchestration includes six anvils, six harps, nine horns, two timpani and one hammer.

The climax, literally and figuratively, will find Theorin singing “Brunhilde’s Immolation” scene, the conclusion of Götterdämerung and the entire cycle. Hearing this music with the L.A. Phil on stage at Disney Hall should be one of the season’s highlights, at least for Wagner lovers.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

APRIL 29: PASADENA SYMPHONY
2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium; Pasadena
Music Director David Lockington will be on the podium for the final concerts in the PSO’s season. The first part of the program includes music by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. The second half is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, with the Donald Brinegar Singers, JPL Chorus and four soloists joining the orchestra in this monumental work.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

APRIL 29: LONG BEACH SYMPHONY
8 p.m. at Terrace Theatre; Long Beach
Robert Istaad, incoming music director of the Pacific Chorale, leads an evening of Mozart: Overture to The Magic Flute; Symphony No. 25; and Requiem, with the Long Beach Camerata Singers and soloists Elissa Johnston, soprano, I-Chin Lee, alto, Nicholas Preston, tenor, and Randall Gremillion, bass.

BONUS: The Terrace Theatre is easily accessible via the Metro Blue Line. Exit at 1st St. in Long Beach, walk a block south and cross the street to reach the plaza where the theatre is located..

Information: longbeachsymphony.org

APRIL 30: PACIFIC SYMPHONY AT SOKA
3 p.m. at Soka University; Aliso Viejo
Music Director Carl St.Clair leads his ensemble in an all-Beethoven program: Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”), with Joyce Yang as soloist; and the Triple Concerto, with the Faktura Piano Trio (HyeJin Kim, piano, Fabiola Kim, violin and Ben Solomonow, cello) as soloists.

BONUS: This is a great chance to experience one of the region’s unsung concert halls.

Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

APRIL 30: LOS ANGELES MASTER CHORALE
7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs an eclectic collection of spirituals and other music on April 30 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Artistic Director Grant Gershon and Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong will conduct 48 LAMC singers in a program entitled “Wade in the Water” (the title comes from the spiritual of the same name by Moses Hogan that will be on the program). The program ranges far and wide, including Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.lamasterchorale.org

APRIL 30: BENJAMIN GROSVENOR AT THE WALLIS
7 p.m. at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; Beverly Hills
The British pianist plays sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Scriabin and other works.

BONUS: Grosvernor also appears with the same program on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa (philharmonicsociety.org).

Information for April 30: www.thewallis.org

APRIL 30: PENINSULA SYMPHONY
7 p.m. at Redondo Union High School; Redondo Beach
The orchestra continues its 50th anniversary season as Music Director Gary Berkson leads a program of suites by Grieg, Prokofiev, Vaughan Williams and Ravel. Baritone Vladimir Chernov will be the soloist in Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kïjé suite.

BONUS: Free admission.

Information: www.pensym.org

MAY 3: YO-YO MASS, EDGAR MEYER and CHRIS TILE
8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Three of the world’s most celebrated soloists play a series Bach Trios, arranged for cello, string bass and mandolin.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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SAME-DAY REVIEW: 1,000 students shine during L.A. Master Chorale High School Choral Festivazl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
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
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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FIVE-SPOT: April 20-23, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending. Once again, Saturday will be a VERY busy day.

APRIL 20, 22, 23: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
8 p.m. April 20 and 22; 2 p.m. April 23
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony, returns “home” (he’s a Santa Monica native) to lead the Phil in a program that features the west coast premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Organ Concerto, with Paul Jacobs as soloist. The concerto is bookended by Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“from the New World”). The Rouse concerto, a L.A. Phil co-commission, debuted last fall in Philadelphia.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

APRIL 21: HIGH SCHOOL CHORAL FESTIVAL
1 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles (see “Additional Concert” below)
1,000 high school students from 30 Southland schools can be heard in a free concert when the Los Angeles Master Chorale presents the 28th Annual High School Choir Festival. The Festival choir will be led by LAMC Artistic Director Grant Gershon in a varied program that features works by this year’s guest artist singer/composer Moira Smiley. Smiley will also teach the massive choir body percussion to accompany one of her songs.

BONUS: Free admission, first come, first served (which means it’s a great — and cost effective — opportunity to hear choral music in Disney Hall).

ADDITIONAL CONCERT: Assistant conductor Jenny Wong will lead 16 members of the Chorale in a concert at 11 a.m. This one is also free but tickets must be arranged through the Master Chorale Web Site (see below).

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.lamasterchorale.org

APRIL 21: THE COLBURN ORCHESTRA
7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Guest Conductor Christian Arming (music director of the Liège Royal Philharmonic) leads this top-notch conservatory orchestra in a program that features a collection of songs by Irving Berlin sung by tenor Joshua Wheeker and danced by The Colburn Dance Academy. The songs are bookended by Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

BONUS: This concert is part of the L.A. Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series, which means that tickets are very reasonably priced ($15-$44). So, if you’ve never heard a concert in Disney Hall, this is a great opportunity.

Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laphil.com

APRIL 21: “WEST SIDE STORY”
8 p.m. at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts; La Mirada
The McCoy-Rigby mounting of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, his iconic retelling of Romeo and Juliet, moves to La Mirada for an extended run that lasts through May 14.

BONUS: Nice ticket prices: $14-$70.

Information: lamirdadatheatre.com

APRIL 22 AND 23: LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
8 p.m. April 22 at Alex Theatre; Glendale
7 p.m. April 23 at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
In his penultimate concert as LACO Music Director, Jeffrey Kahane leads the orchestra, soloists and members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Information: www.laco.org

APRIL 22: BACH’S “GOLDBERG VARIATIONS”
3 p.m. at The Huntington Library; San Marino
Harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon will play one of Bach’s most famous keyboard works as part of Camerata Pacifica’s 27th season.

Information: www.cameratapacifica.org

APRIL 22: AMERICAN YOUTH SYMPHONY
6 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA; Westwood
Music Director Carlos Izcaray leads his young musicians in a performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, and Korngold’s Violin Concerto, with Rachel Ostler as soloist.

BONUS: Tickets are free but should be reserved in advance (the concert is nearly sold out). The concert is followed by a ticketed gala dinner; reservations are required.

Information: aysymphony.org

APRIL 22: PUCCINI’S “TOSCA”
7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; Los Angeles
Sondra Radvanovsky returns to L.A. to reprise her role in Puccini’s tear jerker. James Conlon conducts and John Caird oversees his original LA Opera staging. Other performances are April 27, May 2, 5 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 30 and May 7 at 2 p.m.

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then west up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laopera.org

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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: L.A. Master Chorale unveils 2017-2018 season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale perform in “Lagrime di San Pietro” last fall. A possible tour of the production, which received widespread critical acclaim, was part of the Master Chorale’s presentation of its 2017-18 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
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Once upon a time, not so many years ago, classical music organizations made a big deal of announcing their upcoming seasons. Most were a waste of time. The presentations weren’t well done (I can still remember Plácido Domingo reading the media release at one such occasion) and the news could have just as easily been disseminated by emailing a release, which is what usually happens these days.

This morning the Los Angeles Master Chorale revived the old tradition with a concise, informative event that included — for a change — some genuine news, well presented by Artistic Director Grant Gershon, President and CEO Jean Davidson and others who will be involved in the upcoming season, the Master Chorale’s 54th and Gershon’s 17th as the ensemble’s AD.

You can read the media release HERE but among the news items were:

• The Chorale has now remade itself as a fully professional ensemble. At 100 members it’s one of the largest fully professional choral groups in the world.

• Gershon will conduct six of the nine concerts (12 performances) in the upcoming season, which begins on Sept. 23 and 24 with Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Orff’s Carmina Burana and concludes on June 9 and 10, 2018 with Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem and works by Caroline Shaw and David Lang. The Bernstein piece is part of a world-wide celebration of the centennial of Lenny’s birthday (Aug. 25, 2018).

• In addition to the main season the LAMC will headline “Big Sing California,” a project led by LAMC Artist-in-Residence Eric Whitacre. The year-long event begins with a mass sing in Grant Park on June 24 as part of the 2017 Chorus America conference and will conclude in July, 2018 when people around the world will join together via a live stream to sing with the Whitacre and the Master Chorale performing in Disney Hall.

• The world premiere of dreams of the new world by Ellen Reid combined with one of the most iconic minimalist works: Terry Riley’s In C. Gershon and the Master Chorale will be joined by the “Wild Up” ensemble on May 13. It will be Reid’s second world premiere locally in 2018. She will be featured in Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts with a LACO “Sound Investment” commission on Feb. 24 and 25 (INFO)

• In the second installment of the LAMC’s “Hidden Handel” cycle, Gershon and 80 singers will sing Israel in Egypt in collaboration with visual artist Kevork Mourad. A clip on Mourad’s vision for this piece and his artistic style is HERE.

• Gershon will lead performances of Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 17 and the 27th annual “Messiah Sing-Along” on Dec. 18. This year is the 275th anniversary of the work’s premiere.

• Maria Guinand, conductor of Venezuala’s Schola Cantorum and head of the choral portion of the country’s El Sistema program, will lead a program on Oct. 29 of Latin American music as part of the annual “Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)” remembrance.

• Jenny Wong, the Master Chorale’s new assistant conductor, will lead a concert of Bach’s Six Motets on Dec. 10 and Whitacre will lead “Festival of Carols” concerts on Dec. 2 and 9.

Gershon ended the gathering by telling those assembled that plans are being developed to take the production of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter) on the road. My preview of the concert is HERE. Mark Swed’s L.A. Times review is HERE. Details to come, we are promised.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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