Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Hand to God
January 25, 2017
The topic of how the arts should respond to political upheaval has unsurprisingly been in the news again. And given the events of last weekend, how could it not be? But regardless of what the arts can or should do, Los Angeles audiences were reminded this weekend of some of what they already have done for centuries in very pointed and dramatic ways – build community and provide a space to dream of a better world. Take the Los Angeles Master Chorale for instance. The performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis this weekend had been scheduled for months and months. But here the large chorus, orchestra and Artistic Director Grant Gershon were playing grand music about the deepest questions mere feet from some of the largest protest crowds this city has ever seen streaming past their doors on Saturday afternoon. And if the challenges humanity presents weren’t enough food for thought, nature itself stepped in on Sunday night challenging everyone in attendance with one of the largest winter storms the region has seen in quite a while. The LAMC and the near capacity crowd responded superbly. Gershon addressed the audience from the stage noting the connection between recent events and Beethoven’s massive final meditation on the nature of the world to come and meeting suffering and tyranny with belief in something better. It was a gutsy and heartfelt performance that focused less on the very good soloists recruited for the evening (including a very welcomed local return of Rod Gilfry) and more on the chorus and ensemble as a whole. Gershon was looking for the universally human in this performance and while polish and finesse sometimes took a back seat, no one could argue with how heartfelt and sincere the evening was.
Meanwhile, across town, The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra found itself in the midst of a major programming initiative for this season concerning similar themes. “Lift Every Voice” is a series of programs designed to encourage understanding and promote peace inspired by the lives of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, Kurt Weill and Martin Luther King, Jr. The concerts and lectures in the series have featured contributions from a number of guest performers including violinist David Hope who was on hand to perform Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto “I Will Not Remain Silent” and arrangements of several Weill songs by Paul Bateman for violin and orchestra. These were paired on Saturday with Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins which were headed by vocalist Storm Large. Weill’s song cycle, like all of his work, bursts with theatricality and Ms. Large has made it her specialty in recent years. She‘s undoubtedly charismatic and versatile enough to make these songs sing with a weariness and trepidation that echo these current times so closely — they have an extra punch right now. The LACO musicians were no less dramatic with their taut performance of the score.
But perhaps the highlight of the evening was Jeffrey Kahane’s own comments from the stage at the start of the evening. He too noted how unexpectedly poignant this programming series had become in the wake of the disastrous scenario our country now faces. By tying in themes from Mozart’s operas he built an argument for these works that remind us of the good we are capable of making together, speaking out, and standing up to tyranny. He touched many in the audience including myself. Better yet is the fact that there are more performances for LACO next weekend when they will bring a staged performance of Weill’s Lost in the Stars to UCLA on Saturday and Sunday in collaboration with SITI Company and director Anne Bogart. It’s a rare opportunity to hear Weill’s late Broadway gem and is a must see for local audiences.