The Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) kicked off their 2018-19 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall, their 55th, in September with two epic compositions that rocketed the audience to the next dimension: Shawn Kirchner’s “Songs of Ascent” and Mozart’s “Requiem.”
Artistic director and conductor Grant Gershon was very wise in laying the foundation with these two masterpieces which will be sturdy enough to build the rest of the season on.
In the first half, Kirchner warmed up the audience with his delightful and awe-inspiring work which had its world premiere in 2015, also performed by the LAMC. But this time, we got to hear the reworked, revised and expanded version which was a smashing success.
The piece is a compilation of Psalms from the Bible, including my favorite Psalm 121 (Song of Ascents): “I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?…My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth…He will not let your foot slip– He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep…The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night…The LORD will keep you from all harm — He will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Rod Gilfrey, two-time Grammy Award nominee and international baritone sensation with a golden voice got things started by delivering Psalm’s 132 and 122. As usual, with a sure confidence and great stage presence.
It was a brilliant idea to have Chorale soloists tenor Robert Norman and baritone Abdiel Gonzalez standing on opposite sides of the stage, facing each other as they capably sang their parts. At one point during the final stages of ‘Ascent,’ Norman and Gonzalez embraced each other in a moving, warm, long and heartfelt hug which created an atmosphere of positive connection and healing.
And soprano Liv Redpath and the women of the chorus created a lovely balance and a harmonious variable to the Kirchner equation.
And then came Mozart’s famous and powerful “unfinished” Requiem in the second half. The standard version completed by Mozart’s student, Franz Xaver Sussmeyr, was performed. It will always remain a mystery why it went unfinished at the time of his death at age 35 in 1791. Some say Mozart was poisoned by one of his biggest competitors, Antonio Salieri. But the official cause of death was recorded as “severe miliary fever.” Other people say that it might have been a blood infection.
Gershon conducted the Requiem without looking at a score, so you know this is one of his prized possessions. The soloists were Redpath, Gilfry, mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, and tenor David Portillo.
The piece opens with the string section creating a sense of grief in its melody, which led to the resonant Dies irae. Gershon then navigated the ship through intense drama which had a great impact and displayed the Chorale as extraordinary technicians.
Redpath managed to impeccably hit the high notes, Bridges’ voice displayed a richness in tonality, Portillo exhibited great vocal chops, and Gilfry was extraordinary again. This operatic quartet had good chemistry and was cast well as they concluded the performance with the soaring Lux aeterna in the acoustically-sound Walt Disney Concert Hall.
But one will forever wonder…if Mozart had lived to finish this masterpiece…