The annual Christmas Concert of the Los Angeles Master Chorale was a glorious, lively and heart-warming experience of rejoicing in song. It kept all of its promises and then some. This dog on the program cover even looks like he's "rejoicing!" Maybe he's one of the 10 Dancing-Dalmations in "The Twelve Dogs of Christmas".
This time I gave myself plenty of time to get there and partake in the ambiance of the festively decorated Disney Concert Hall. I tried to take pictures of the star-bedecked foyer/lobby but it was too immense and ill-lit. Hanging star mobiles and a gigantic, rotating star-shaped light show made its lofty, sweeping, serpentine facades sparkle. There were even projected stars in the "lecture area". There I was warned about taking picture in "The Disney". "Cameras are not allowed." I put mine away and decided to just enjoy the whole experience aurally. But first, some sustenance at the cafeteria now run by "Patina Group". I noticed the prices had gone up again. I had two side dishes and a drink for $15.50. I mentioned to them that yesterday I had eaten at another one of their restaurants in Downtown Disney called Naples/Napolini. They knew of it. Excellent food at both places. Then I strolled around the Philharmonic Gift Shop and bought some extra Christmas gifts for my grandchildren, come on, it's Christmas. I asked to be shown the L.A.M.C. CD's and the clerk almost didn't know where they were and there was nothing new, nothing I didn't already have. I even got a gift for myself "Conductor-obics" w/ baton!
My first, unexpected treat was a mini, acapella concert from the La Canada High School Chamber Singers. Some thirty or so in number; they got the Christmas Spirit going in me and brought back many pleasant memories of my high school days as a "madrigal singer". The ill-fitting tuxes, the o-so formal long dresses. These kids were good, well-rehearsed and some even smiled. Their director was a pro and so proud of them. They did many of the usual carols and then one of my favorites, "Carol of the Bells", I sang that back in Jr. Hi. Their conductor did a real "showman thing" ie. she started them and then just walked away to the back and sat down. They then did a "rock" version all by themselves. Excellent!
When I got into the auditorium to my assigned, season seat in front of the "Wells Fargo Stage" sign, I was surprised to see more stars...in the forms of poinsettias, nine pots of them lining the stage. They looked very appropriate for the season and against the preponderance of the lighter- stained wood of the the stage, the organ pipes, they looked quite "Christmasy". The members of the orchestra were sauntering in and tuning up. They were just the strings and woodwinds, sans the violas. It turns out that 300 + years ago Dietrick Buxtehude, composer of our first cantata, didn't have violas to work with. I also learned that Bach walked over 200 miles to hear his mentor's fugues and compositions. Before our own lively conductor, Grant Gershon, bounded on to the podium, we got the "lu-lus" again. These are triads sung, by him, I think, to get everyone's attention to not use their cell phones or cameras. What is funny is the Spanish version of that announcement and the use of the new word "pager". Everyone chuckles.
With just a few announcements about the evening's offerings, off we went on a wonderfully lively and spirited "ride" with "Das neugebor'ne Kindelein". (the Newborn Child) It was so full of joy and lightness which is so amazing to me because it is hard to sing that way in German. Most of their sounds are in the back of the mouth and throat. Grant was literally up on his toes bouncing with the meter and expression of the short pieces. Very enjoyable.
Next, after the entrance of the violas, we went galloping off into Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Cantata #5 our of 6. This is the one about the Three Wise Men and an Evangelist. Two of the three "Kings" were female. It think they were L.A.M.C. members because there are so many soloist in the group (a quote from Grant). They were gorgeous, and so were their voices as soprano and mezzo. Later, the other "wiseman", a baritone, went back and sang a haunting duet with a virtuoso oboeist. It too was gorgeous. The cantata is quintessential Bach with all the interwoven fugue-like melodies. Again, very prancy and toe-tapping. I was mesmerized by two of the sopranos in the choir on the ends and how they were "just loving" singing and "selling it". One, had curly red hair, so angelic in her way of moving to the music. She later turned out to be a soloist, without her own microphone, towards the middle in front of the tenors singing "There is No Rose of Such Virtue" I would have to agree just listening to the purity and line of her high soprano voice. The other was behind her on the end, stage right, a wonderfully expressive black woman with lustrously large hair and a smiling confidence in all she sang. I'm guessing a rich, voluptuous voice. I later wondered why she wasn't singing the solo in the Moses Hogan, "Glory, Glory, Glory to the Newborn King". Not to say that the "coloraturist" soloist they had chosen wasn't magnificent when she "belted" out that last phrase. She got a second round of applause. I was probably 10 feet away from her and WOW! That is what Moses, rest his soul, would've wanted I'm sure.
At intermission, the ornate, turquoise and gold harpsichord and pipe-bedecked "continuo" were wheeled off-stage right before me and a grand piano was brought in. I knew there was a change in the air and rightly so, according to Maestro Gershone, when he came back. The second half of this longer concert was wonderfully different. We even got to "sing-along" with "The Beast", the over 6000 piped organ. Christoph Bull, after "continuo-ing", was at his best with "Angels We Have Heard On High". The whole hall was a-vibrating with those basso pipes. I could go on and on...this was such a full-of-surprises concert. The Haitian Noel with their "Clicking" accompaniment. The Chanukah Suite with its rhythmic clapping. The Toni-Award Winning Composer, Jason Robert Brown, was there...and took a bow. WOW! The Concert Master's standing duet with the harpsichord, I think, was so perfect. He so looks the part of one of our major composers with his long grayish-white hair and beard.
Grant's favorite carol, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was seamless and flawless and so "cozy"-feeling. Staggered breathing, I would assume. I can hear why he likes it, yet can't remember the title. As he made each of his final curtain calls, and bows with his musicians, he would sheepishly wave to "someone" up in the right balcony; as if to say, "Isn't this grand, isn't it wonderful that I have the priveledge of doing this with these talented artists." I'm sure he and his performers were also remembering what Bob Dylan said, "An artist has to be careful to never think that he's arrived somewhere. He has to be in a constant state of becoming." With his leadership and his wonderfully supporting organization, the L.A.M.C. will continue to "become" and show us all how to "Rejoice!" in the Message of this Season. Bob