It would be tempting to say that having two contemporary works anchoring the Los Angeles Master Chorale concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall Sunday night was a bold bit of chance-taking by Grant Gershon.
But then, maybe not.
David Lang’s “The Little Match Girl Passion” has caught on almost everywhere since winning the 2008 Pulitzer Prize; Jacaranda presented the West Coast premiere of the four-voice version in January; the Pacific Chorale did the choral version in April; and performances proliferate on YouTube.
James Newton, whose Mass received its U.S. premiere Sunday, is a welcome regular presence with the Master Chorale. (A recording of the four-voice version with Gershon and the concert’s vocal soloists was released in March.)
Normally, Bramwell Tovey is the most incorrigibly witty of Hollywood Bowl hosts, but on this given Tuesday night, he was absolutely serious. It was only two days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and Tovey had designed and dedicated an all-choral/orchestral program that, he said, was in remembrance of “those whose lives 10 years ago were brutally cut short.”
This coupling of the classic and the contemporary -- Mozart’s unfinished Requiem and Leonard Bernstein’s marvelous “Chichester Psalms” -- would have been an inspired one regardless of the occasion. What’s interesting about both pieces is that they end with more or less the same music that can be heard in their beginnings -- which in itself is a poignant statement about the renewal of life after a catastrophe.
Bernstein spent a good deal of his 1965 sabbatical from the New York Philharmonic toying with 12-tone experiments before abandoning them in favor of this unapologetically tonal, joyful, if not completely untroubled, setting of six Psalms. In some ways, it is a microcosm of several aspects of his personality: the snazzy, extroverted Lenny of Broadway; the classically trained Great Communicator of color and form; the earnest Jewish intellectual working through a perceived crisis of faith; the fervent crusader for world peace.
“Chichester Psalms” survived the polemic wars of its time and has received many recordings, but its tricky rhythms probably limit the number of live performances it gets. Luckily, we got a good one at the Bowl from Tovey, shaped much along the lines of Bernstein’s own tempos.
Write an anthem, and if it's good enough, get it recorded by London Symphony Orchestra and some of the U.K.’s best singers. The competition is organized by Abbey Road Studios to mark its 80th anniversary.
What exactly is an anthem? Wednesday's Calendar article has your Anthem 101. Read it here.
The definition of anthem is rather elastic, so there’s no typical example. The only restriction is that it must be singable. To give you general parameters, we’ve broken down categories based on the four definitions of anthems that Abbey Road has posted in its rules. Click any video to listen. And turn up the volume.
Celebratory: As in a musical. Something great is happening, so we are going to sing about it.
Examples: "Zadok The Priest," a coronation anthem by Handel, and "We Are The Champions" by Queen.
Sacred: Old-school anthems are some gems of the choral music canon.
Examples: "If Ye Love Me" by Thomas Tallis and "Os justi" by Bruckner.
There is a small, fairly new (founded 2008) opera troupe on the Westside that chooses to bear the freight of a famous name, calling itself the Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera. Of course, there is no relation to the Met that you know in New York, nor for that matter a previous Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera Company whose proposed “Aida” back in 1984 collapsed in a blizzard of bouncing checks.
Nevertheless, this Los Angeles Met set up shop on the tiny stage of the ancient Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club on Saturday night for a production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Bare-bones pretty much sums things up. The sets consisted of just a single chair, a couple of tables, a trellis and a simulated-stone wall with door. The “orchestra” was music director Galina Barskaya playing a Yamaha Motif XS8 synthesizer, simulating a piano, strings, flutes and some rather androgynous electronic instruments.
The results were predictably modest -- and weighed down by the musical accompaniment. Despite Barskaya’s keyboard skill, the Yamaha’s characteristically mushy attacks made the pacing seem more sluggish than it actually was. Sometimes she was able to get nice results -- the imitation flutes in “Caro nome” -- but the Overture sounded hideous on the Yamaha, as did the silent-movie organ timbre for Monterone’s music.
The voices were OK for the most part -- and in the case of Erica Lazerow Davis’s often opulent-voiced Gilda, more than OK -- and the acting followed the usual routines for this opera, with Terry Welborn’s Rigoletto making a decent stab at probing this complex character.
“Macbeth,” “Die Fledermaus” and “Eugene Onegin” are planned for 2011-12, but I would suggest that this company would be better off exploring off-the-beaten-path chamber works that the big boys downtown and elsewhere are not pursuing. And, please, if you can’t afford an orchestra, use a piano.
-- Richard S. Ginell
Photo: Rigoletto (Terry Welborn) is comforted by Gilda (Erica Lazerow Davis). Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
In the end, Evancho placed second to bluesman Michael Grimm, a result some commentators put down to the voters' desire to protect her from the dark side of a career in showbiz, in particular the Las Vegas show that was also part of the prize.
The inevitable Christmas record, a four-track EP, was certified platinum, but for the most part, Evancho has kept a reasonably low profile. Her parents appear to be wisely playing the long game, doing their best to keep her in school and at home with her three siblings and various animals.
In recent week, however, she's been all over the place promoting her full-length album "Dream With Me" (released Tuesday) and a PBS "Great Performances" special with David Foster, "Dream With Me in Concert" (Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. on KOCE).
Toward the end of his extraordinarily productive career, Duke Ellington assembled three of what he called Sacred Concerts -- and that title has given commentators a hard time.
Obviously Ellington’s deep religious faith drives these patchworks of then-newly composed pieces and assorted liftings from his past. But what the term “sacred” doesn’t convey is the showbiz pizazz and shafts of emotion that these concerts generate –- and you don’t have to be religious to feel it.
Grant Gershon, co-conductor/jazz-meister James Newton and the Los Angeles Master Chorale mounted an Ellington Sacred Concert in 2004 during the master chorale’s first season in Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was a rousing success, approaching and in some cases actually surpassing the standard that Ellington’s own performances set -- which is supposed to be impossible. Sunday night, they did another one to close Gershon’s 10th anniversary season -- and it was every bit as terrific as the first.
The 2011 concert was almost a replay of the 2004 one -- the same pieces from Ellington’s first two Sacred Concerts in the same order, with “23rd Psalm” swapped for “The Majesty of God” and “The Lord’s Prayer” from the third Sacred Concert, a more-than-fair trade. Most of the players from Newton’s big band in 2004 were back -- including, crucially, the great grooving drummer Ndugu Chancler -- and while no present-day group can replicate the idiosyncratic sounds of a Cat Anderson, a Johnny Hodges, a Harry Carney, etc., this band played with a wild abandon of its own that evoked the Ellington ethos without imitating it.
Tap dancer Channing Cook Holmes returned to electrify the house in Ellington’s ingenious concerto for tap dancer, “David Danced Before the Lord With All His Might.” Singer Carmen Lundy soulfully drew out “Come Sunday,” which uses the same tune as “David.”
Yet the decisive element in this hall-rocking re-creation was the Master Chorale, a chorus with a depth and richness that Ellington never had at his disposal. These voices had the power to transform, illuminating inner harmonies in “Something 'Bout Believing” that could only be guessed at from Ellington’s recording, while swinging mightily with the band. It was spine-tingling.
Mere hours after William and Kate said "I will" on Friday morning, copies of Kate's wedding dress and flowers appeared in shop windows across the country. Although less immediate, the wedding music also has a knock-on effect.
Crimond, the obscure Scottish melody for "The Lord's My Shepherd" chosen by Queen Elizabeth for her wedding in 1947, has since become the hymn's standard tune. As such, the new anthem and motet sung at William and Kate's wedding most certainly will be appearing shortly in choir folios around the world.
John Rutter "This is the day which Lord hath made" (2011)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Commissioned especially for the wedding by the Dean of Westminster (essentially Westminster Abbey's head priest), this piece is pure Rutter from the first notes. If you're a choral singer, this is great news. Rutter has a gift for melody and is enormously popular with singers, especially in the United States. Non-singers and Anglican church musicians are more ambivalent, tending to be less impressed by the stock gestures and the propensity for cheese typical of his work.
Listen asthe choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal at St. James' Palace give the premiere performance at the wedding.
Paul Mealor "Ubi Caritas et Amor" (2011)
Publisher: University of York Music Press
This refashioning of Mealor's 2010 composition "Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal"was commissioned by Prince William. The piece is lovely in itself, but there were extra-musical reasons to include it in the ceremony too. Mealor is Welsh (when Charles ascends the throne, William will become the Prince of Wales), has a home on Anglesey (the Welsh island where William and Kate will be living for the next few years) and the original song cycle was premiered at St. Andrews, the university where the couple met.
Largely unknown outside the Anglican church music world, Mealor will find his star rising considerably after this debut on the world stage. He teaches composition at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Mealor's aesthetic is similar to that of composer Eric Whitacre, featuring the same open tone clusters, extended chords, slow-moving harmonic changes and divisi voicing. These techniques minimize any sense of a home key, which creates a sort of ethereal dissonance that doesn't feel as if it needs resolving. In this idiom, the color of the sound is more important than the shape of it, meaning there is no big tune.
What can you get as a birthday present for a man who already has two concert halls with his name on them? For Henry Segerstrom, you get America’s diva, Renée Fleming, to make her debut in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on his 88th birthday Tuesday night.
To do that, the Orange County Philharmonic Society made a mid-season insert, and Fleming squeezed the recital into her schedule in between performances of “Capriccio” at the Met. And Segerstrom had a request –- would Fleming sing selections from her 2010 venture into pop/rock, “Dark Hope,” complete with rock band backing?
Now that sounded really interesting. “Dark Hope” is no mere crossover compromise in which an opera singer wanders into pop material with pearly tones intact. It is a complete capitulation for which Fleming abandoned all traces of her operatic self -– vibrato, voice projection, the works -– to fit into David Kahne’s stark, airtight, high-tech production. As such, it’s a brave piece of work –- and could she pull it off live?
But first, it was La Fleming time in a smorgasbord of Italian, French, Czech and American opera, operetta, folk song and Bernstein on Broadway. Here was the emotive operatic actress of past recitals, putting even more intensity into Blanche’s numbers from André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” daring her pianist Richard Bado to follow her languorous rubatos through Lehár’s “Vilja.”
Midway through the second half, the grand piano was wheeled off to the wings, revealing a display of electric keyboards, drum kit (complete with her name in bold letters on the bass drum head), microphones and monitors. But rather than an attempt to reproduce the sound of the recording, we heard yet another variety of Fleming –- if not quite as radical.
The last time we saw the formidably charismatic Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, he was fronting a cavalcade of Russian religious music, opera excerpts, folk songs and "popera" in Pasadena in 2007. On Thursday night, only five days after wrapping up the title role in the Met’s production of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” (which he inherited from one Plácido Domingo), Hvorostovsky turned up at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion under the auspices of Los Angeles Opera in yet another context -– alone with pianist Ivari Ilja in a recital of often seriously esoteric songs.
You can’t say that Hvorostovsky doesn’t like to mix up his pitches. And he takes chances.
To start, Hvorostovsky strayed a bit out of his comfort zone with four songs by Fauré –- including the well-known “Après un rêve.” At this point, his command of the material seemed rote, his French mere syllables.
Then, Hvorostovsky doubled back to Russia with five songs by Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev, a friend and confidant of Tchaikovsky whose limited visibility in the West nowadays is mostly confined to record catalogs. Yet Hvorostovsky –- now in full resonant voice, the patented steady legatos rolling out in a flood –- showed that there is dramatic gold to be found here, particularly in “Menuet,” with its landscape rapidly changing from Mozartean pastiche to turbulence and a morbid conclusion.