Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Up All Night

September 27, 2010

Grant Gershon and the LAMC Photo: mine 2010

Sunday ended that traditional summer dry spell in Los Angeles for classical music fans. At last there was a reason to go back to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Months of gritty amplification and easy to swallow crowd-pleasers that are the coin of the realm at the Hollywood Bowl suddenly recede and for a day with highs topping out at 100 degrees, the cool environs of WDCH were doubly welcomed. Best of all, fall kicked off with a superb show from the hall’s most artistically consistent resident ensemble these days, the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The evening had all the feel of a big event, and there was plenty of reason to celebrate. The LAMC is celebrating a new recording deal with Decca, the first fruits of which, A Good Understanding with works by Nico Muhly, just came out a few weeks ago. On top of that, the organization acknowledged the start of Grant Gershon’s tenth year as Music Director. He was presented with a giant card filled with well wishes from fans and he proceeded to make comments from the stage about how much he truly loves his work here in L.A. with the LAMC.

Gershon’s contribution to the level of performance of this ensemble as well as its commitment to contemporary works is no small accomplishment. And as if to highlight some of these achievements, the evening’s program featured a reprise of perhaps one of the greatest moments of his tenure with the Chorale, the 2006 presentation of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. This a cappella work based on the chant traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church, is no walk in the park. A sort of Everest to climb for choral groups, the fact that the LAMC handles it as well as they do is remarkable. The fact that this profoundly moving and spiritual work with its setting of liturgical texts, came from a composer not known for sacred or choral music is even more surprising. Despite its veneer of simplicity, this is music with so many layered harmonies, slight errors of alignment can often grow to be much bigger problems. Gershon and the LAMC have nothing if they don’t have an impeccable sense of unison and they maneuver the most complicated bits with ease. Granted they might not have the all the bass end one would have with a traditional Russian Orthodox choir, but their mastery of the material has more than enough to recommend it on its own terms. It’s another great start to a great season for LAMC and here’s wishing them and their music director the best in the next decade.


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