Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Good Spirits

May 21, 2015


Eric Whitacre and Arvo Pärt
The Los Angeles Master Chorale wrapped up its season this past weekend with one of their many strong suits – contemporary music. In his opening remarks from the stage, Music Director Grant Gershon made reference to numerous differences between the two living composers whose works were featured in the program – Arvo Pärt and Eric Whitacre. He’s got a point. Outside of a mutual love of richly textured clean harmonies, the two have almost nothing in common. They’re from different parts of the world and separated by almost forty years. The inspiration and subject matter of their choral works are also substantially different. Much of Pärt’s work grows out of medieval and Renaissance influences and is often informed by his Russian Orthodox faith. Meanwhile, the American Whitacre draws on a more contemporary, non-denominational sense of spirituality and is rife with explorations in technology and genres such as fantasy.

But the two share something much more than just writing great choral music. They also are perhaps two of the most frequently programmed living composers of choral music around, particularly by the LAMC. Their music is more than just a regular visitor here but a constant friend. So differences aside, this program — accompanied by little more than organ and piano — featured the Chorale at full force and with beautiful warm textured sound throughout. It was not a night for individuals to shine, but a time to really appreciate the quality of the ensemble as a whole whether singing in English or Latin.

In many ways the evening’s cross programming provided a nice counterpoint. Pärt’s preference for reverent simplicity set nicely against Whitacre’s penchant for wit and invention. The evening ended with Whitacre’s setting of e.e. cummings’ poems in the cycle The City and the Sea that was firmly tongue in cheek. Perhaps the highlight of the Whitacre portion of the evening was a performance of Cloudburst under Associate Conductor Lesley Leighton. The choristers produced a shimmering sound that evolved into drops and splashes of their own making in perhaps one of Whitacre’s most compelling artistic statements. But as wonderful as the Chorale was in these moments, they excelled with Pärt’s clear-headed spiritual sobriety. His Beatitudes is one of those moments where even the non-religious can touch a deeply felt spirituality through the human voice and it certainly did this weekend. And when you get right down to it, that’s part of what makes great music and great choral music in particular. And last weekend we were again reminded of how lucky we are to have that right here in Los Angeles.


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