By Douglas Neslund
If you are ever in need of life-affirmation, there is at least one chance per year to pump the sunshine of the future. Sponsored by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and conducted by its Maestro Grant Gershon, almost 900 high school singers from 25 Southern California secondary schools, from Agoura in the west to Rancho Cucamonga in the east, from Pasadena in the north to Long Beach in the south, they came. And they decorated and musically blessed Walt Disney Concert Hall, performing with an excellence and a tone quality throughout that offers assurance for a future Master Chorale as high in quality as we now have, should these young people choose to sing in their adult years. The Festival was attended by a very large and appreciative audience, a difficult turnout to achieve on any Friday afternoon.
Beautifully accompanied at the piano by Louise Thomas, Maestro Gershon chose a potpourri of choral items, starting perhaps a bit ironically with Verdi’s immortal chorus from the opera Nabucco: Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves). What followed was an appetizer each from various cultures and ages, most memorable of which was “Yo le Canto Todo el Dia” by that famous Hispanic composer, David L. Brunner, featuring tricky rhythms and choral clapping reminiscent of flamenco dancers cum castanets.
A smaller group was chosen out of the aggregation by their own directors to form the Festival Honor Choir, which performed “Come away, sweet love” by Thomas Greaves (who flourished in 1604), which was pretty obviously in a style foreign to the singers. The Honor Choir rebounded with LAMC composer-extraordinaire-in-residence, Shawn Kirchner’s beautiful “Tu Voz” and Aaron Copland’s familiar “Ching-a-Ring Chaw!” delivered at warp speed with all syllables in place.
From the uppermost balcony, one could spot members of the Master Chorale seeded throughout the Honor Choir, who provided gravitas to the Honor Chorus but who inexplicably departed the stage before the entire Festival Chorus rose to sing the finale, Joseph Haydn’s “The Heavens are Telling” from The Creation, accompanied on the pipe organ by John West. Again, perhaps it is difficult to tell balances from the stage, but in nose-bleed territory, the organ managed pretty much to bury the vocal efforts of the assembled singers.
Since 1990, 167 high school choir directors have sent their young artists to the Master Chorale sponsored Choir Festival. Applause all around, especially to this year’s choir directors who so ably prepared their singers. Bravi, tutti!
John Mosley, Agoura High School
Jennifer Stanley, Arroyo High School, El Monte
Carolyn Kelley, Bellflower High School
Michael Suffolk, Birmingham Community Charter High School
Dan Hawkins, California High School, Whittier
Desiree Fowler and Christopher Rodriguez, Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts
Susan Silver, Covina High School
Tony Spano and Aaron Sim, Culver City High School
Joel Whisler, El Monte High School
Grace Sheldon-Williams, Glendale High School
Marsha Lynne Taylor, Grant High School, Van Nuys
Aaron Kolbert, Maranatha High School, Pasadena
Tony Azeltine, Mark Keppel High School, Alhambra
Nancy Ludwig, Mountain View High School, El Monte
Nancy Lanpher, Norwalk High School
Dan Doctor, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School
Kelley Squires, Rancho Cucamonga High School
Drew Holt, Renaissance High School for the Arts, Long Beach
Ruth Gray, Rosemead High School
Cecelia Ravilla, San Gabriel High School
Suzanne Brookey, Sierra Vista High School, Baldwin Park
Elizabeth Turner, South High School, Torrance
Tom Pease, Taft High School, Woodland Hills
Kathleen Jensen, West High School, Torrance
Curtis Heard, Wilson Classical High School, Long Beach