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March 20, 2018

The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs Lagrime di San Pietro Photo: Patrick Brown 2018

The Los Angeles Master Chorale is having a moment. They’ve had many before but this past weekend was clearly another. It was the Chorale’s annual Gala and there was feeling of anticipation in the air. Not only over the encore performance of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro, which garnered critically ecstatic reviews for the ensemble in 2016, but also because of the coming world tour they will head out for next fall and spring. The LAMC is no stranger to touring, but it has often been in conjunction with other groups like the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But this tour, which will take them to London, Paris, and other points around the globe is a solo, a cappella endeavor that will feature the performance of Lagrime.

And from the looks of things this past weekend, the Chorale is in for even more accolades. Lagrime, with a staging by Peter Sellars and conducted by Artistic Director Grant Gershon, is even stronger and more natural than before. The 75-minute work consists of 20 madrigals and one Latin motet performed in this instance by 21 choristers. The text concerns the stages of grief experienced by St. Peter after his denial of Jesus and the work has an intriguing shifting perspective over the course of its sections. Sellars casts the work as one not only about regret but of forgiveness, with the choristers constantly in motion having memorized the text. It’s vintage Sellars mining the most human aspects of the work by joining them to basic, clearly expressed emotional states and interactions of the performers. The sacred becomes fleshy and earthbound in bodies pleading, reaching and touching. There is an immediacy to it that draws the audience in and never quite lets go. It is undoubtedly a huge challenge for the Chorale who are often operating well outside their comfort zone. The choristers at times sing in prone positions or supine on the floor. All of it looks very natural. But this time around compared to 2016, the piece seemed even more fluid and intense. But it is perhaps the final motet that packs the strongest punch. In this last stanza the voice of the text shifts to that of Jesus himself commenting on Peter’s betrayal and the sinfulness of the world. It’s an angry and accusatory Jesus, but Sellars has placed these words in the voices of two rows of vocalists slowly approaching each other from opposite sides of the stage only to meet in the warmest of embraces at the end. It’s a profound and stirring image of love in the face of betrayal and conflict. Simply put, the LAMC has a new calling card. So watch out world; it’s coming your way.


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