Was it not for Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) Conductor Grant Gershon announcing the 50th anniversary of Festival of Carols, the afternoon’s 115-vo Read More
Was it not for Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) Conductor Grant Gershon announcing the 50th anniversary of Festival of Carols, the afternoon’s 115-voice chorale could have been easily mistaken for a debut. Far from redundant, the ensemble was packed with newly produced songs by former assistant director Ariel Quintana, world premiered international Christmas songs and two sing-alongs. As Gershon noted, "the concert it part of the 50th season of the Master of Chorale, but it doesn’t look a day over 49."
According to LAMC Director of Development Patrick Morrow, while several arts organizations have had to make compromises and difficult choices in the last year, Los Angeles Master Chorale has flourished. "Under the bold and masterful vision of Grant Gershon, [LAMC] has experienced amazing artistic growth marked by exceptional accomplishments," he said. Such accomplishments included "a triumphant international tour with the LA Phil and unprecedented support -- including a $1 million gift from Kiki and David Gindler to name LAMC’s Music Director position."
The performance, which included John West on organ and Lisa Edwards on piano, offered a worldly disposition opening with Ralph Vaughn Willaim’s "Wassail Song," an English classic, before moving to John Rutter’s Welsh Carol, "Deck the Halls" and Donald McCullough’s French Carol, "Angels We Have Heard on High."
Quintana’s Portuguese song "Quem vidistis pastores," was delivered in three parts. For the first part, Gershon suggested that the audience imagine the singers as a mixture of trumpets and clarinets, belting back and forth. The second part incorporates Latin-flavored undertones influenced by Quintana’s Argentinian upbringing. The third part slows down a bit, Gershon noted. "Ariel is gifted as a musician in every imaginable regard," Gershon said.
LAMC’s world premiere performances "Rocking Carol," a Czech carol written by Shawn Kirchner in 1970, and Bernard de la Monnoye’s "Pat-a-Pan" were performed back to back, the first by the men and the second by the women. "This is sort of a battle of the sexes," Gershon said. Although ’Rocking Horse’ is traditionally sung in Czech, LAMC performed in English. "English and ’ooh’s," Gershon corrected, as much of the song was sung without actual words.
Gershon attributed "Wana Baraka," the Kenyan folk song that the singers performed toward the end of the concert, to the late Nelson Mandela. "It seems only appropriate to remember the legacy of a great man," he said.
The Festival of Carols also honored another important winter holiday, Hanukkah -- albeit a belated effort, performing Hiney Mah Tov, a Hebrew Folk Tune." Hanukkah came so early this year that this is the first time I can remember doing a carol before the eight days have passed," Gershon said. "We’re getting a head start. Just think of this as the first Hanukkah carol of the new year."
LAMC organist West, who performed in songs including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Joy to the World," offered the audience a improvisation performance -- his own rendition of "God Bless You Merry Gentlemen."
"This is a little unscripted moment; it’s not in your program but Grant wanted me to play a little something while the singers are coming back out," West said during the intermission. "You’ll get to hear some bells and whistles you don’t usually get to hear." Unfortunately West’s performance was cut short due to some technical difficulties, but his performance during LAMC’s rendition of "Carol of the Bells" was a noble consolation, offering the audience a large spectrum of sounds that the concert hall’s formidable instrument has to offer.
Gershon attributed "Wana Baraka," the Kenyan folk song that the singers performed toward the end of the concert, to the late Nelson Mandela. "It seems only appropriate to remember the legacy of a great man," he said. The song was an arrangement by Composer in Residence Shawn Kirchner. In fact it’s one of his greatest works, having been performed throughout the choral community worldwide, including her Majesty Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration in May 2012 at Windsor Castle.
Santa Claus -- a special guest who initially made his appearance during the concert’s second sing-along, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" -- reappeared at the end of the show for an encore performance of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," where he took Gershon’s spot at the Conductor’s stand, leading the chorale to its close, and the audience through the innocent glow of their childhood.
Festival of Carols will be performed again on Dec. 14 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. For more information or tickets, call 213-972-7282 or visit www.lamc.org.