It’s been said that Los Angeles is in the middle of a cultural renaissance, and that the best art in the world is being produced right here. What some might not realize is that one of the finest choral ensembles in the world has been here for over 50 years. But it can be argued that the Los Angeles Master Chorale has never been as great as it is at this very moment.
The audience at the Walt Disney Concert Hall was treated to a heroic performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, which concluded LAMC’s 2017-18 season. Director Grant Gershon mused that ending a concert season with a requiem might be considered morbid, but surely, we can agree that Brahms is always a good idea. When would it be the wrong time to hear music so beautiful that it envelops you like a warm embrace, and comforts your deepest, most secret passions?
The concert began with two modern choral works, “Fly Away I” by Caroline Shaw and “where you go” by David Lang. Ms. Shaw’s work was a riff on a well-known gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away”, which was charming and disarming. At the onset, one had the feeling of lying in a field of grass and hearing the quiet noises close by, only to slowly take in the giant sky and realize how very small we are compared to the great, wide world. While the composition was not exactly unique, fraught with the cluster chords we’ve come to expect from modern choral composers, it was delightful just the same.
Similarly, Lang’s piece reminded one of the minimalist composers of the last fifty years, and featured a beautiful text from the story of Ruth. There were many clear and lovely melodies repeating throughout the first part of the piece, but the repetition began to feel uncomfortable, even frustrating. Finally, the droning ended and the piece took on a new color and ended gloriously, albeit about two pages too late.
Then, with still anticipation spreading through the hall, the orchestra began to play Brahms’ Requiem. The cellos tugged immediately at our hearts with that haunting melody meant to console those stricken with grief, instead of judging the dead. The choir began, and we were in awe of their ability to sing so freely, yet still with one voice. It was a perfect democracy where each individual voice of varying size, shape, and color came together in a collective wall of sound. If you want to see what LAMC sounds like, then you must pay close attention to the director, Maestro Gershon. His movements are open and clear, while also expressive and honest.
Each vocal part of the Chorale was well-balanced, and produced a tone professional choirs strive to achieve: weightless yet full. A special nod goes to the sopranos for never sounding fatigued, even though the tessitura was often high and pianissimo. But the prize of the night goes to the tenor section, which could make any choir director in the world want to donate a kidney in order to recreate that quality of sound. Not only did they sing at full voice, in tune, in the upper register, but they also managed to sing so well in the mixed range that I almost thought they were altos.
The soloists for the evening were the fresh faces of bass-baritone Justin Hopkins and soprano Jeanine De Bique:
Hopkins (pictured right) has a deep, resonant voice that is destined for great things. He was able to glide through multiple registers effortlessly, with poise and presence. One can hear that with care and good repertoire choices, Mr. Hopkins has immense potential.
Ms. De Bique (pictured below) is not an ordinary soprano – she is a refined artist. Her presence on stage commanded attention as she communicated the music in a way rarely seen in a concert soloist. Her interpretation of “Ihr habt nun traurigkeit” bordered on being over-stylized, but her voice and artistry were moving enough to make one forget the rules of any sanctimonious classical upbringing.
Overall, it was an incredible evening of superior singing in one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. Sadly, there were only two performances. But perhaps that desire to hear more means we will pay closer attention to what LAMC’s 2018-19 season will bring.
Learn more about the Los Angeles Master Chorale and their upcoming events at lamasterchorale.org
Photos are by Patrick Brown, and were provided by the Los Angeles Master Chorale.