Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Lift and Separate

June 07, 2007

LA Master Chorale with Grant Gershon
Photo: mine 2007

This evening was the final program in the LA Master Chorale’s season, and like most of their concerts were most noticeable for its thoughtful and vibrant programming choices delivered with the finest of performances under their esteemed leader, Grant Gershon. The show was a bit of a weekday add-on, repeating a performance from Sunday in part to acknowledge the presence of Chorus America’s 30th annual conference taking place in LA this week. The program, designed to show off the LAMC’s many prodigious strengths, included Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum, James MacMillan’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and a new commission from Eve Beglarian, Sang. As usual, the biggest problem with the show had nothing to do with the actual performance of the music, but with the insipid marketing and packaging of the material. The program was entitled “Lift” exhibiting the LAMC’s clear preference for action verbs (like Embark or Awaken) over the adjective/noun combinations the LA Philharmonic tends to go with like “Concrete Frequency,” “Minimalist Jukebox,” and “The Tristan Project.” Grant Gershon referred to the program tritely as “a spiritual journey” which I suppose is true in that they were all based on religious texts but it’s not clear to me what the journey business is. Why the LAMC management persists in describing their often brilliant and challenging programming to the basest possible terms is beyond me. Do people really find this necessary? Does it honestly sell more tickets?

Enough of the rhetorical questions and the complaining. Let’s talk about the good stuff, of which there was plenty. The MacMillan and Pärt performances were LAMC at their best. The chorus was highly evocative and well controlled. As always the beauty of the WDCH showed through, creating the frequent sensation that you could hear each individual member of the chorus simultaneously. However, this probably gives the building too much credit considering how talented these individual and their fearless leader Mr. Gershon are.

Another hallmark of the Master Chorale has been their commitment to new and recent works, exemplified here by the world premiere of Eve Beglarian’s Sang, which is not the past tense of the Master Chorale’s main activity, but the Persian word for stone. The work concerns an ancient Persian parable set along side short bible verses and sung in a combination of Farsi, Hebrew, and Greek. The work was the first of a multi-year commissioning project from the LAMC inanely titled “LA is the World.” The work’s main strength and its calling card is the contribution of two masters of Persian music, Manoochehr Sadeghi and Pejman Hadadi (both of whom reside in Los Angeles) whose performances lived up to their hard earned reputations. However, I think that the piece overall was rather tepid and uninteresting. While pretty, the choral writing is particularly undynamic making the Pärt later on the program sound like a Verdi chorus. The Persian themes are played up for their (surprise!) mystical and exotic content which is both obvious and rather uninspired. As the banal “multi-culti” theme “LA is the World” might suggest, Beglarian’s work may be the harbinger of not so great things to come. Instead of a more complicated view of cultural difference and how it plays out in a dense urban landscape, here we are presented with facile and easy-to-swallow pluralism. Apparently we all can just get along if we stick to our respective places. And so it goes in LA as everywhere, the more things change…


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