I'm gona let it shine..."
"Shine on me,
These little song phrases in my memory are conjured up when I think of "shining on" someone or something. The first is a Sunday School song I was taught and the second is a Barbershop Quartet Chestnut I enjoy singing. So I thought the concert last Sunday night at L.A.'s Disney Concert Hall by the L.A. Master Chorale was going to be a "shining tribute" to Steve Reich, one of our best modern, minimalist composers on the occasion of his 70th Birthday. Well, it truly was. And yet it was so much more for me, casual, amateur choral music singer/fan/blogger. The graphic from the printed program shown above gave me a hint of the rich and textural experience I was to have musically with the shining, dark, pock-marked pebbles glistening from the signature architectural shapes of the, now familiar, L.A. Landmark.
I arrived five minutes late to "Listen Up" only to find standing room only. This rarely happens at these pre-concert lectures i.e. mainly populated with early-bird retirees, like me, who have nothing better to do before the concert. I stood for awhile, listening and taking some notes while Alan Chapman from KUSC, Grant Gershone, L.A.M.C.'s Director and Steve Reich, honored, baseball capped composer held forth. These sessions are usually very conversational with little interacting from the masses. What seemed to be the fascination with this particular concert was the West Coast Premiere of a recently commissioned work by Reich on the tragic kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl by Islamic extremist in Pakistan in 2002. Daniel was a Wall Street Journal reporter of American Jewish decent. He also played the jazz and blue grass fiddle. My interest was piqued and my memory was jarred back to that loathsome event. Even though I wanted to hear more about the inner workings of the minds of the composer and the director, I needed alittle fuel and a pit-stop before the concert that I knew would be emotionally draining on me. So I stopped standing in the side/back and went back downstairs for refreshment.
I had missed the Christmas concerts due to illness and family obligations and I wasn't about to miss this one for other reasons. I usually like to come into my seat early and get settled and read the blurbs in the program. I sit on the extreme stage left now, just three rows from the lip of the apron. It is an area that I can stretch out my legs and relax and not have to get up 17 times for latecomers. Usually a little usherette stands in the corner holding a pile of programs that she offers to no one. It seems her main purpose is to spot "flash photographers" and tattle to her superiors on just exactly where they are sitting. He then "walkie-talkies" to his cohorts on that level and, boom, they're busted. Never mind that the hidden, slanted, unmarked steps are there to trip up unsuspecting, older, disabled ticket holders. She does give the verbal warning but there are a series of three steps that usually surprise most. Someone will have to fall and...threaten to get letigious before the steps will be marked with glow-in-the-dark caution tape and have extra ushers there to grab an arm. Anyway, I go on...too much. I usually make sure my cell phone is off or turned to vibrate. I've recently upgraded my phone to one that takes pictures. It doesn't flash...so...yes, I was tempted to take a picture of the organ pipes and send them to my musician son. No one would be the wiser. Good thing, I don't tempt too easily.
I was amazed at the set-up on the stage, a first. Everything was mic-ed. Eighteen music stands and eighteen microphones for the singers in the back of a small complement of an "orchestra" i.e. four grand pianos, four marimbas, a few reeds, horns and strings. Only one bass viol.
This was the set-up for the first half, "You Are Variations" by Reich which the chorale used to open the Disney a few years back. For the second half the marimbas were replaced with "vibes" (vibraphones) and the strings were cut to a quartet with a bass drum (muted) and a "tam-tam" (gong) I knew we were in for a ton of percussion.(usually always fun for me) The "Daniel Variations" singer were reduced to 12 and excluded any basses or altos...interesting. My excitement and anticipation was rising. Everyone/thing was amplified so there were two gigantic multidirectional speakers on either side down stage right and left.(also a first for me) Usually the accoustics in this special hall were unaided (very lively) Wow! Then I saw and read that the composer himself would do the "mixing" from the booth in the back. This was just like a recording session...which, I guess, there will be in the future with "Nonesuch".
The first introductory, companion works performed were motets from the Renaissance Period by Josquin des Prez and William Byrd. They can be very beautiful, flowing and polyphonic(weaving melodies like canons or rounds) Their subject matters were very fitting from Psalms. "Jubilate Deo Omnis Terra" and "Haec Dies" in the first half and "Absalon Fili Mi" and "Justorum Animae" introducing the darker second half. I was all set to be awed...and musically, I was; but visually, staging-wise I was distracted. The professional singers came out in their "informally diverse and black costumes and proceeded to sing to each other in a circle near the edge of the apron. In the first half, they were very near me and I had an excellent view of some basses big behinds (eye-level). I also heard individual voices, especially a tiny tenor one. Now, granted, as a singer, I have practiced this way so to better hear each part/voice and blend, but to perform this way, even in a concert hall with "surround seating", no thanks. There were two areas of risers that could've been used in these small side areas without mic cords...at least face one direction and smile at the audiences instead of each other (which they didn't do either)
I was prepared for non-harmonic, minimalist music with few cadences. This was the least of what I got; especially with the "Daniel Variations" The driving, repetitive nature of the percussive pianos and marimbas. Soon I was in another world of my thoughts and dreams/nightmares about this horrific lapse in justice. The minor dominant chords were taking me back to Daniel in the lion's den and the Persian King, Nebuchadnezzar's demands and dictates. History? repeating itself? "Handwriting on the wall..You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting." always was used to scare us kids. Nightmares coming true for many of our best and brightest/youngest even today. Yes, the music was disturbing, that was its purpose. Yet at the end, the major dominant chords helped bring me back to our modern day Daniel who simply stated his name, "My name is Daniel Pearl." for all the world to hear and know that he still existed, his strong will would proceed. "He was what his thoughts were. Explanations come to an end somewhere. Say little and do much." Even today, we commemorate his sacrifice and we too hope, as he did, that the Angel Gabriel likes his music.
"Hide it under a bushel,
I'm gona let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
All the time!