Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Parting the Waters

February 12, 2018


The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs Israel in Egypt Photo: Patrick Brown 2018

Like many music organizations, the Los Angeles Master Chorale has increasingly ventured into artistic collaborations with artists in other genre and media in recent years looking for new and compelling way to interact with their audiences. Last year the group presented a staged version of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro under the direction of Peter Sellars that received rave reviews and is about to become the ensemble’s calling card around the world. They’ll be taking it on the road all on their own around the country and around the world in their first ever international solo tour. Needless to say, these are exciting times for the LAMC and Kiki and David Gindler Artistic Director Grant Gershon, who also just announced an exciting 2018/2019 season filled with new work to rival their colleagues at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

However before those events, the Chorale this weekend presented another major collaboration. This time out it was the complete version of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, which was accompanied by a large scale real-time painting and video installation from Kevork Mourad. The pairing couldn’t have been more appropriate as Mourad has often returned to themes of immigration, displacement, and refugees in his work in other contexts, which he did again Sunday night. Handel’s oratorio is similar to his Messiah in that it is primarily written for full chorus with few solo interjections. There are no individual characters per se and much of the dramatic action is described as opposed to acted out. And though the material is somber, the interaction between these artists produced a work of astounding beauty much of the time. Mourad’s process is a fascinating combination of pre-existing animated elements combined with projections of real-time painting he does with ink on paper. The two different image feeds are then mixed and projected together in different combinations in the moment not unlike a DJ might do with audio tracks. The largely monochromatic images clearly contained figurative elements suggesting refugees wandering through evocative unspecified cityscapes that recalled Egypt. But at the same time, ink unfurled on the page like plumes of smoke.

The net effect was profound and the chorus sounded assured. Admittedly the tone was also unrelenting and methodical at times giving the proceedings an unmistakably dire tone that, while appropriate, ran the risk of monotony as the performance went on. Still the quality of the musicianship overcame any of these concerns and the LAMC delivered another winning evening of incredibly moving and reflective music. This intensity is going to serve them well very soon on the road.


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