by Douglas Neslund
No decently performing, nonprofit, volunteer, amateur community chorus ought to perform under the title "Master Chorale" no matter the best intentions or how urgent the financial pressures. But alas, many do. If truth be admitted, there is but one Master Chorale in the County of Los Angeles ... the magnificent ensemble that performs in Walt Disney Concert Hall.
But does a presumptuous name serve to defeat a noble purpose? Not at all. Does plumped-up publicity diminish the need for such community organizations? Also, not at all.
Given the very nature of such an organization, the Hollywood Master Chorale deserves the highest praise and support for concluding its 17th season of music making with an innovative, creative project known as "Voices of LA" in which four young composers (three of them composition students at USC, the fourth from UCLA) were tasked with setting four "Songs of Innocence" by William Blake into song.
Joshua Fishbein, Jordan Nelson, Mark Popeney and Saad N. Haddad were winners of the competition and each provided music to four Blake poems, respectively: "Piping Down the Valleys Wild," "The Echoing Green," "Night" and "The Little Boy Lost / The Little Boy Found."
The impression made by these four works was generally positive, but for better or for worse, the young composers seem determined to avoid anything approaching a major or minor chord, much less a melody. One entertains the notion that once they shed the need to be "different" from composers contemporary or ancient, they will begin to appreciate the value of other works performed on the same program composed by Eric Whitacre.
We will find out a year hence, when these same four will each be paired with an established composer from the Los Angeles region who will mentor them through another of William Blake's poems, "Songs of Experience."
The Chorale sang with inconsistent sound, although given the complex and unknown material en debut, the singers seem to have met most of the challenges. Their music making was strongest in the aforementioned Whitacre songs, "Animal Crackers, Vol. I" and "The Seal Lullaby" and weakest in the opening William Billings song, "Modern Musick." Samuel Barber's and Morten Lauridsen's respective settings of "Sure on This Shining Night" neither inspired nor repelled.
All of the above was professionally directed by Artistic Director M. Lauren Buckley, and wonderfully accompanied on the piano by Irene Gregorio. Ms. Buckley kept choristers and piano moving forward with few lapses noted in ragged phrase attacks and releases. As is the case with almost all volunteer choruses, rehearsal time is limited, and a performance of such challenges exponentially increases the need for rehearsal. Hopefully, Ms. Buckley, a graduate of Princeton University, will find additional time with her choristers to meet the challenges of the coming season.
Inasmuch as HMC is providing an unique opportunity for young composers, it could also benefit from the services of additional competent singers. Auditions are pending in the fall.