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Music review: Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Concert Hall

November 23, 2009 |  3:00 pm

Having eagerly embraced the John Adams-curated Minimalist Jukebox festival three years ago,  Grant Gershon rounded up his Los Angeles Master Chorale for another Adams festival, West Coast, Left Coast, Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. 

Gershon copyResult – another innovative, sometimes off-kilter program that was unafraid to mix up the idioms, stretch outside the sanctified boundaries of so-called classical music, and provide a contemporary music experience that was both thoughtful and entertaining. 

This is what Gershon has done best in his nine years here – and it dovetailed right into the eclectic mission of West Coast, Left Coast. He even made a point of having all four of the evening’s composers present at the pre-concert talk and curtain calls, as if to shout that there is still plenty of life in the choral medium.

There was no mistaking the antiwar motivation – a programming bent that Gershon has pursued before – of Ingram Marshall’s “Savage Altars,” which juxtaposes narratives of Roman wars with extracts from the Magnificat that glorify the humble, and humble the mighty. But Marshall doesn’t hit you over the head with politics; he softens the impact with chiming digital sounds from a laptop and lyrical violin/viola backdrops. The choral writing is beguiling, overlapping, sometimes archaic, at one point breaking into a folksy dance.

Morten Lauridsen’s eloquently durable “Mid-Winter Songs on Poems by Robert Graves” now has the distinction of having been conducted by all four Master Chorale music directors over a span of 24 years.  For this occasion, Gershon chose the piano-accompanied version, where the rich Lauridsen choral sound – the equivalent of a smooth, relaxing jacuzzi – washed through the hall in stark contrast with the exposed keyboard interjections and meditations. I missed the warmer, more integrated blend of the orchestral version, but pianist Lisa Edwards performed formidably and the choral enunciation was bright and clear.

Following Eric Whitacre’s compact bundle of ideas, “Cloudburst” – the most arresting of which was an ingeniously concocted thunderstorm – Gershon gave David O’s “A Map of Los Angeles” that much-coveted, not-often-achieved thing, a repeat performance. This mostly irreverent, zany, scatting, Latin-grooving and, in the end, touching jaunt through the city was a hit when unveiled here in May
2008 – and it sounded even more winning and fun upon a second hearing. 

Just to show that they were good sports about being kidded in the text where they are referred to as “Los Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim,” the Angels provided team uniforms to some of the musicians, and a baseball bat with which to hit the chimes.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Grant Gershon. Credit: ©2006 Steve Cohn Photography