MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

New from Los Angeles Master Chorale and Peter Sellars

At the end of the month the Los Angeles Master Chorale and artistic director Grant Gershon will open their season with a brand-new staging by Peter Sellars of Lagrime di San Pietro. This is the cycle of “spiritual madrigals”Orlando di Lasso composed at the very end of his life in 1594. Here’s my essay for the program:

A SAINT’S REMORSE: LASSO’S HIGH RENAISSANCE MASTERPIECE

What’s the correct way to refer to one of the most extraordinary musical minds in history: Orlande/Orlando/Roland de Lassus/di Lasso? There’s a Franco-Flemish form and an Italianized one; sometimes the two get mixed together. There’s even a Latin option intended to standardize the situation. The very profusion of variants points to the internationalism and cross-pollination across borders that marked the era of the High Renaissance in Europe.

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Filed under: choral music, directors, essay, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Sonic Masterworks

Grant Gershon leads the Los Angeles Master Chorale in the final program of the season this weekend. Here’s a bit about one of the pieces, Anders Hillborg’s Mouyayoum:

Mouyayoum dates from 1983 – relatively early in Hillborg’s career – and represents a Nordic take on Minimalism. The title is merely a formula: a phonetic reference point for Hillborg’s wordless music. During rehearsal of the piece, he asks the singers to “choose a comfortable pitch and sing the formula [mouyayoum] at a slow tempo such that each individual phoneme is consciously articulated (legato); once this starts to work, gradually increase the tempo; finally, sing so quickly that the individual phonemes cannot be articulated clearly and the formula is perceived as a single sound.”

The musical material derives from transparent harmonies and two types of phrases extending over 16 quarter notes: one sustained and one broken into a flow of 16th notes.

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Filed under: choral music, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Mystery Mass: Seattle Pro Musica celebrates Bach’s enigmatic masterpiece in B minor

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Here’s my Seattle Times story on Karen Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica’s preparation for the Bach Mass in B minor, their concluding program of the season (this weekend):

Many classical-music fans consider Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor as the ultimate peak of Western choral music — but the composer never heard it performed in its entirety.

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Filed under: Bach, choral music, preview, Seattle Times

Alexander’s Feast: A Handelian Ode to the Power of Music

2016-04-16-alexanders-feastMy essay on Handel’s magnificent ode Alexander’s Feast has been posted on the LA Master Chorale Site:

It sounds strange to refer to George Frideric Handel as a neglected composer. Messiah is such a fixture that the holiday season would feel bereft   were it suddenly to disappear from the scene. (Never mind that its association with Christmas postdates the practice during the composer’s lifetime.)

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Filed under: choral music, Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Hidden Handel

Director Trevore Ross on staging Handel’s oratorios for the LA Master Chorale. First in their five-season-long project is Alexander’s Feast.

Filed under: choral music, directors, Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Americans at Work

2016-03-06-music-of-the-coal-minerHere’s my program essay for the upcoming West Coast premiere of Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields, a remarkable oratorio:

“The thing I love about music is, it’s beyond words. But somehow the words crept back in — big time,” remarked Julia Wolfe in an interview on NPR’s Studio360 following the announcement that she had won last year’s Pulitzer Prize in Music for Anthracite Fields. Wolfe’s moving and innovative new oratorio fuses music with words to tell a story deeply rooted in American history — and one inextricably connected to how we live today.

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Filed under: choral music, Julia Wolfe, Los Angeles Master Chorale

In Sweet Jubilation: Festive Holiday Music

A new essay for LA Master Chorale’s recent holiday program:

Senex puerum portabat/Puer autem senem regebat: “The old man held up the boy, but the boy upheld the old man.” Set to unforgettable music by the likes of William Byrd and Palestrina, this text comes from an antiphon marking the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple: an old man (the “righteous and devout” Simeon) greets the Holy Family in the Temple 40 days after the birth of Jesus and rejoices in proclaiming the significance of the newborn.

 

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Filed under: choral music

Aurora chorealis: Seattle Pro Musica

Encountering a concert as imaginatively programmed as this makes you wonder why so many resign themselves to the same old boring, predictable holiday music rituals year after year. Leave it to Seattle Pro Musica (SPM) to design a yuletide concert replete with ear-opening discoveries. Billed as Northern Lights, the programme celebrated the winter spirit with a survey of choral music from Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, much of it by contemporary composers.

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Filed under: choral music, review

Made in LA

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Tonight the Los Angeles Master Chorale performs a program celebrating the hotbed of creativity this amazing and diverse city inspires. Here’s my essay for the program:

A couple of months ago, Angelenos were treated to a concert by a chamber ensemble known as The Golden Bridge (whose singers include some members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale). Led by Suzi Digby, Lady Eatwell OBE, and true to its name, the ensemble links two golden ages of choral music: Tudor England and the remarkable choral creativity now flourishing in California — particularly in the Los Angeles region.

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Filed under: choral music, commissions, Los Angeles Opera, new music

A Golden-Mouthed Choral Tradition

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The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s new season will start in another week with a concert titled “The Russian Evolution.”

Here’s my introduction to the program:

In few areas has the tension between longstanding tradition and cataclysmic revolution played a more dramatic role than in the history of cultural expression in Russia.

Along with the First World War that framed it, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 marks a radical dividing line – as abrupt as traveling across multiple time zones in a single flight.

The transformation of the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union had a particularly devastating impact on the tradition of sacred choral music, not long after a fresh impetus from composers like Grechaninov and Rachmaninoff – a movement known as the New Russian Choral School – had begun revitalizing that tradition.

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Filed under: choral music, Gubaidulina

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