MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Morten Lauridsen and Lux Aeterna

Lauridsen_piano_web

Today begins the 2017 Chorus America Conference, hosted by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. There will be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, which the Master Chorale commissioned when he was composer-in-residence.

My essay for Chorus America on the enormous impact Lauridsen has had on the contemporary choral music has now been posted:

In the last decade of the 20th century, the composer Morten Lauridsen wrote a series of pieces while serving a residency for the Los Angeles Master Chorale that have had a lasting and international impact. This year the choral world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the largest of these milestones, Lux Aeterna. What has given the Lauridsen aesthetic its power to connect and attract? And why does it continue to move performers, composers, and listeners?

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Filed under: choral music, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Morten Lauridsen

Adams & Stravinsky with the LA Master Chorale

My essay for tonight’s program by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. On the menu are some of the great choruses from John Adams’s operas (with brand-new piano transcriptions) and one of his favorite works of all time, Stravinsky’s Les noces.

Filed under: essay, John Adams, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Stravinsky

Reactions to LA Master Chorale’s Lasso

img_5830The opening weekend of the new Los Angeles Master Chorale season was devoted to Orlando di Lasso’s late masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro. I’m still working through the extraordinary effect the performance had on me — and I know I’m far from alone.

Overall, I was left with an experience I associate with late Beethoven and Parsifal. It was genuinely that special. I’m fascinated by the line of development in Peter Sellars’s work from his stagings of the Bach Passions through John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary (also with the Master Chorale) and Kaija Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone. And of course his work on Stravinsky. James F. Ingalls’s lighting design added a rich layer, yet another strand of counterpoint.

The rehearsals — a record total of 26 to bring this to the stage — were reportedly grueling: a combination of boot camp and spiritual retreat. And the incredible technical challenge of committing so much of this music along with the choreography and gestures was taken for granted. Not that this was an “effortless” performance — far from it, the strain and exhaustion entailed in bringing this music and its message to life added to the powerful impact.

Mark Swed’s review I found especially incisive:

Normally, we turn to death-invoking music for its transformative powers. The final great works of Beethoven (the late string quartets), Mozart (the unfinished Requiem) or Mahler (the Ninth Symphony’s probe of dying embers) help us transcend despair.  Di Lasso’s “Lagrime,” however, is by a deeply depressed composer in the days before meds, someone who only wants his misery to end. It did in 1594, three weeks after finishing the score.

[…]

“Lagrime” is a major accomplishment for the Master Chorale, which sang and acted brilliantly. It is also a major accomplishment for music history. The company hopes to keep this production alive, touring it, and if the music business chooses to honor the just, that will be a saint’s compensation.

Remarking on the austerity and challenge of Lagrime that make it an improbable choice for a season-opener, Richard S. Ginell gave this assessment: “[T]he Master Chorale sounded glorious — rich, accurate, seemingly unaffected by all of the physical contortions Sellars put them through, even when singing face-down on the stage muffled their voices.”

Filed under: early music, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars

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

Lagrime di San Pietro

Overwhelmed by this late Renaissance masterpiece from the end of Orlando di Lasso’s life: Grant Gershon will lead the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a performance to open their season next month — in a new staging by the brilliant Peter Sellars.

A teaser, from an interview I just conducted with Sellars:

Lagrime is one of the most magnificent pieces in the history of music: vivid and complex and yet an incredibly humble last work .

Orlando at this point in his life — just 30 years after the death of Michelangelo — does not need to prove anything to anyone. He is writing because this is something he has to get off his chest to purify his own soul as he leaves the world. It’s private, devotional act of writing, but these thoughts are now shared by a community — by people singing to and for each other…”

Filed under: Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars, Renaissance music, Uncategorized

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

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

Saluting Terry Knowles and the LA Master Chorale

The goddess: Terry Knowles

The goddess: Terry Knowles

This weekend brings the final program of the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s current season — and with it the conclusion of Terry Knowles’ tenure as President & CEO of the LAMC. A bittersweet weekend indeed.

There are executives of organizations, and there are genuine arts leaders — and Terry has carved out a niche all her own in the latter category during her 15 years leading the LAMC. Along with overseeing the transition to the Chorale’s new home in Disney Hall, Terry spearheaded an incredible period of growth — artistic and budgetary — in the LAMC’s history, expanding audiences and educational outreach and increasing the organization’s operating budget by more than 80% (!), to $5.4 million: all this in the face of the Great Recession.

Terry not only refused the direction of “dumbing down” that has been fruitlessly followed by so many other performing arts organizations but ramped up the Master Chorale’s commitment to daring, innovative, thoughtful programming and important commissions. She oversaw the appointment of music director Grant Gershon — a brilliant choice — and their shared vision has earned international preeminence for the LAMC.

Here’s just a partial list of the astonishing caliber and range of living composers whose works the LAMC has premiered or championed during her tenure: John Adams, Steve Reich, Gabriela Lena Frank, Philip Glass, Steve Lang, Chinary Ung, Esa-Pekka Salonen, James Newton, Morten Lauridsen, Shawn Kirchner (currently serving as resident composer), and Nico Muhly — whose works formed the basis for A Good Understanding, the LAMC’s first CD marking a new partnership with Decca.

Listen to what some of the leading figures in music today have to say about Terry’s legacy:

Next month Chorus America will recognize Terry Knowles with its 2015 Distinguished Service Award. During Chorus America’s annual conference in Boston, Grant Gershon will also receive the Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal.

It would be hard to overstate the impact Terry has had through her tireless dedication, wise leadership, and inspiring love of the art.

Filed under: arts leaders, choral music, commissions, Los Angeles Master Chorale, new music

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