The gala concert of the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 50th season given this past Sunday, Sept 22, 2013 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, was a gorgeous tapestry of vocal and musical forms presented to a sold-out audience.
The LA Master Chorale under the leadership of Grant Gershon proved again that this ensemble is a leader in setting a gold standard for choral music. Performing a concert that presented a dizzying array of musical genres, the Chorale members were in splendid vocal form. There was an engaging harmony between the singers and their Music Director, Grant Gershon. Under his expert and joyful conducting, these accomplished vocal artists effortlessly breathed as one body, releasing the text with clarity and spinning phrases filled with emotional conviction.
The concert focused on presenting the different vocal styles and signature repertoire of each of the Chorale’s directors for the past 50 years, beginning with the visionary founder of the group, Roger Wagner, followed by John Currie, Paul Salamunovich and concluding with the present Music Director, Grant Gershon.
The evening started out in the style of Roger Wagner, emphasizing traditional repertoire, pure vocal beauty and balance. Featured were early Renaissance a cappella choral works and engaging American folks songs. The program moved on to lyrical Scottish folk songs and a surprise appearance of Scottish Bagpipes and drums in full dress regalia, marching onto the stage in the dramatic fashion of John Currie's tenure as Music director.
The evening’s program was supplemented by excellent videos about each of the LA Master Chorale’s great conductors. The program allowed the singers to shift from projecting classic and balanced choral sounds to an almost revolutionary symphonic style of choral singing, under the inspired conducting of Grant Gershon. He has enabled this vocal group to become something new - a vocal instrument capable of articulating complex musical forms, in the manner of a great orchestra.
After the intermission, the Chorale continued with a beautiful rendering of Paul Salamunovich's era featuring more Gregorian Chant and early music. The last half of the evening was devoted to the dynamic range of Grant Gershon's tenure. As a superb conductor with orchestral experience and champion of both traditional and modern repertoire, he did not disappoint.
For two works, Grant Gershon conducted eight antiphonal groups spaced in different levels and several directions in the Walt Disney Hall. The first piece utilized antiphonal groupings in a stunning early music Renaissance work by Thomas Tallis “Spem in alium,” sung in Latin. Directly following was a new work “ME-NA-RI” composed in 2011 by the Korean composer, Hyowon Woo. This hypnotic, meditative and compelling work, impeccably performed and sung in Korean, evoked the ancient sacred chants of the east.
The selection of these complex works also maximized the acoustic perfection of the Walt Disney Hall. The effect of both "Spem in alium" followed by the contrasting but equally spellbinding "ME-NA-RI," was tremendous. Though the first work was from the 16th century and the second from the 21st century, the listener experienced being surrounded and bathed in a luminous sonic bath that was both healing and rejuvenating.
Following these tour-de-force numbers, the remaining six selections continued building momentum and vocal power. The evening concluded with a thunderous "Alleluia” by Randall Thompson. as over 100 alumni joined the Chorale on the stage.
The soloists in several of the works presented were all excellent. The lovely voices of Ayana Haviv, soprano, Alice Kirwan Murray, mezzo-soprano, Sunjoo Yeo, soprano (whose plaintive singing and exquisite voice added passion to ME-NA-RI) along with the beautifully lyrical baritone voices of Steve Pence, and Abdiel Gonzalez added to the richness of the evening’s program.
Special percussion was performed by outstanding artists, Alex Acuna in the 16th century Gaspar Fernandes's “Dame albricia mano Anton” and the Korean percussion instruments for “ME-NA-RI” performed by Theresa Dimon and Timm Boatman.
This was a gala musical event that will long be remembered by those fortunate to have been there.