LAMC at 50 – A perfect unity of tradition and innovation

Music Director Grant Gershon conducts the world premiere of LAMC Composer in Residence Shawn Kirchner’s Inscapes on June 8, 2014, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Brown

The Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) marked the end of their 50th anniversary in style with a concert of world premieres on Sunday, June 8. Long known for their ability to bring a refined sound to the warhorses of concert repertoire, they showed their ultimate flexibility in sound with a final concert of modern music. Music Director Grant Gershon is a strong proponent of contemporary music, but more importantly, he’s a supporter of exceptional contemporary music. Gershon’s ear for fine music and the ensemble’s ability to deliver a crafted sound created a concert of epic proportions.

The concert opened with the world premiere of Shawn Kirchner’s Inscapes. Not only is Kirchner a member of LAMC and an accomplished pianist, but he is also the composer-in-residence for the ensemble. Having created the work Plath Songs for the ensemble last year, he turned to the writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins for this new composition. The composer connected with the English poet’s image and rhythm rich texts, finding connections and structure that appealed to his musical sense.

Inscapes is a cycle of four settings for an a cappella double choir. Kirchner chose the title based on a term that Hopkins created to describe poetry in theoretical discussions. The composer thinks of the work as a “choral sonata,” which employs “grander gestures for the opening and closing movements, a scherzo and a slow movement.” Kirchner’s intimate knowledge of LAMC served the ensemble well, as the work played to their strengths of impeccable tuning and ability to create rich colors.

The first movement, ‘The Windhover,’ opened with a unified monophonic sound, which gently dissolved into homophony. With the texts propelling the sound, the ensemble broke into a heart-stopping wall of sound – a brilliant and transformative major chord. Another poignant moment built from the use alliteration in words such as “beauty/buckle” to create a flowing cascade of sound. The rich colors of the chorus were highlighted in the shifts of tonality through movement of the inner voices.

The second movement, ‘Inversnaid,’ had a more playful feel. At times the rhythm felt like skipping stones across the water. “Decked with dew” came as an ethereal sound from the women of the chorus. The mens’ power of sound brought a gorgeous contrast in “weeds and wilderness yet.” ‘Binsey Poplars,’ the third movement, came out of a hushed humming sound that was mystical and otherworldly. The ladies’ gentle legato was underpinned with shifts of harmony created by intervallic movements of a second. This movement drew toward the “sweet especial scene” reminiscent of the most beautiful lullaby one has ever heard. The movement left goosebumps when it diminished to niente at the end.

Inscapes closed with ‘As kingfishers catch fire,’ which was deliberately similar to the opening movement. However, the movement was anything but staid and predicable, with the additions of snap rhythms to propel the texts, and a fugue woven into the text “one and the same.” Bold chords were held by the women as the men propelled the melody forward to finish the work.

LAMC Composer in Residence Shawn Kirchner, pictured withArtistic Director Grant Gershon and members of the Los Angeles Master Choraletakes a bow following the world premiere of his work Inscapes on June 8, 2014, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Brown
LAMC Composer in Residence Shawn Kirchner, pictured with Music Director Grant Gershon and members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale takes a bow following the world
premiere of his work Inscapes on June 8, 2014, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Brown

The work was met with well-deserved applause, and a more hearty response as the composer stepped forward from singing in the chorus to take a bow. Inscapes deserves to be repeated often in LAMC repertory, as the work is noble and gorgeous in both composition and execution.

A Latin flair came next with the addition of the ensemble Huayucaltia and a pared-down chorus performing Gabriela Lena Frank’s Los Cantores de las Montañas. The six movement work was commissioned and debuted two years ago by LAMC. Gershon stated the piece was “part of the long-standing tradition to present master musicians from Los Angeles.” Frank has been a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, and is strongly influenced by the music of Peru. The six movements were unique, as some were for instruments only and some featured the solo abilities of members of LAMC. The work was very evocative of the natural elements, employing sounds of the Andean winds and percussion, and interspersed singing from the eight-part choir. Associate Conductor Lesley Leighton led the spirited work from the podium.

Composer Francisco Nunez conducts the reprise of his piece Es Tu Tiempo on June 8, 2014, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Núñez’s work was commissioned by Judi and Bryant Danner for the Chorale’s 25th Annual High School Choir Festival in May. PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Brown

Es Tu Tiempo featured the LAMC High School Choir Festival Honor Choir, as well as student instrumentalists from the Ramon C. Cortines High School of Visual and Performing Arts. The work made its world premiere last month. Composer and recent MacArthur “genius” Award winner, Francisco Núñez led his own work with vigor and joy. Opening with a gospel feel, the song soon broke into a joyous Latin groove. Embodying the words “take a chance to believe, take a chance to dream,” the infectious rhythms soon had the entire audience tapping their feet and smiling like the students performing. As heralded in the title “It’s your time,” the music brought pure enjoyment in both Spanish and English lyrics. Kudos must be given to the student singers and instrumentalists who performed as if they were born to be in Disney Concert Hall. It is a gloriously tuneful and unabashedly joyous work of music. While it’s a bit too late to be anthem for this year’s World Cup, I would like to put in my vote for the next Olympics. This is a tune that everyone could – and should – be singing. The audience was not content to let the work end, and their standing ovation was rewarded with an encore.

After the intermission, David Lang’s the national anthems made its debut. The composer researched every national anthem in the world, taking ideas from each to create his own libretto for the five movements. In his research, he was shocked at the level of violence the anthems portrayed. So in his composite texts, Lang found it moving to reflect, “how people build nations because they’re afraid.” The work is scored for chorus and string quartet. The LAMC was joined by the Calder Quartet, who brought haunting lines and a gorgeous violin solo to life. In true minimalist form, the work saw multiple repetitions of melodic and harmonic material. Gershon’s economical conducting style suited the 25-minute long work.

The concert had a poignant close with a world premiere commissioned by the singers of the Master Chorale. Amy Fogerson, the AGMA (union) delegate, explained that the chorus wanted to do something particularly meaningful and memorable to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Their thought to engage Esa-Pekka Salonen spoke to the history of the ensemble, as well as the group’s forward-thinking attitude. Iri da iri is Salonen’s second work for a cappella chorus, and uses texts from the final stanzas of Dante’s Paradiso. Salonen had stated the commission was very personal to him because of his longstanding relationship with Gershon and his appreciation for the Master Chorale.

The work has many of the elements key to Salonen’s compositional style, including strong rhythmic motion and songlike linear moments juxtaposed against densely contrapuntal moments. Iri da iri uses the full sonorities of the chorus, using the baritones and tenors at the outer limits of their ranges, and later a glorious cluster chord in the women’s voices on the words “luce eterne.” Dynamics were built by adding forces of singers, and subtracting later to a delicate pianissimo. Multiple tonalities were explored throughout the work, and gave the listeners a brilliant ride to the end of the concert.

Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights