Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Critical Mass

February 02, 2016


Artistic Director Grant Gershon conducts the Los Angeles Master Chorale's performance of the Verdi Requiem featuring guest soloists soprano Amber Wagner; mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung; tenor Issachah Savage; and bass Morris Robinson on Saturday, January 30, 2016, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photo: Patrick Brown 2016
It was a weekend of big gestures and major staples this weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall. While Esa-Pekka Salonen was reminding everyone of what the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been missing for a long time with some clear-headed adult-sounding Mahler, the Los Angeles Master Chorale was doing what they do best delivering a varied and powerful version of Verdi’s Requiem. The piece is a perennial favorite; omnipresent despite the large resources that go into its performance. Opera companies and symphonies trot out this choral masterwork for anniversaries, memorial services and sometimes for absolutely no notable occasion whatsoever. But who needs an excuse with music that so magnificently straddles the world of the sacred and the more profane theatrical realm of opera. It’s a flexible piece with tons of interpretive space within its sturdy frame for conductors to run within, taking off in any number of directions. LAMC Music Director Grant Gershon did just that, having it all with this past weekend’s performances. At times the piece sounded appealingly ecclesiastical. The opening Kyrie was so reverent that the performance seemed out of place outside of a church. But while Gershon milked the stately mass version of the piece, this wasn’t a one note performance. He and the chorale would later turn to the more theatrical and often cited operatic overtones of the piece giving a performance that was equal parts sacred and profane.

It was always thrilling, of course. But the show benefited from some superb soloists who represented a mix of veterans and some very inspiring newcomers. The much loved mezzo Michelle DeYoung joined bass Morris Robinson as the more experienced members of the team and neither disappointed. Soprano Amber Wagner, who has been making a name for herself in high profile Wagner and Strauss parts in Chicago in recent seasons, soared above the assembled forces with real grace and power. But the biggest discovery for me was tenor Issachac Savage. He was unnervingly good – warm, easy and unforced with plenty of power. Easily the most exciting American tenor I’ve heard in years. More of him please, right away. It’s always nice to start the year on a high point and the Los Angeles Master Chorale did just that.


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