MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

LA Master Chorale at 50

(The LAMC’s four music directors, left to right: Roger Wagner, John Currie, Paul Salamunovich, and Grant Gershon)

Last night the Los Angeles Master Chorale launched its 50th season with a gala looking back over a century of music-making. The program explored the half-century of this world-class choral ensemble from its beginnings under Roger Wagner for the newly constructed LA Music Center, through the innovations of current music director Grant Gershon. Most of Gershon’s tenure coincides with the 10th anniversary of Disney Hall, also being feted this fall.

Paul Salamunovich, Gershon’s immediate predecessor, had also planned to attend but unfortunately became seriously ill within the past few days. Morten Lauridsen, composer-in-residence in the Salamunovich era, was present, and I couldn’t imagine a finer tribute to the Salamunovich era than the Chorale’s transporting rendition of Lauridsen’s “Magnum Mysterium” — one of their signature pieces.

The highlights from Gershon’s own years so far encapsulated his remarkable breadth of knowledge and his subtle, sensitive choral conducting. I especially loved the connection he made between the “spatial music” both of Thomas Tallis’s “Spem in alium” (great way to show off the Disney acoustics) and of contemporary Korean composer Hyowon Woo.

It also reminded me of Gershon’s brilliance as a programmer who takes satisfying risks — forays into non-Western music as well as the roots of the American tradition, and of course commissions from living composers. Shawn Kirchner, a tenor with the Chorale, is their current composer-in-residence. His fabulous arrangements of traditional Americana are irresistible, and he recently completed an ambitious song cycle on poems of Sylvia Plath (premiered at the end of last season).

(Current and former LAMC members in rehearsal for 50th season gala concert)

While the orgy of self-praise at the Emmys was happening nearby, this was the real hot ticket. I write about the LAMC’s history and the musical selections of the evening here.

Filed under: choral music

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