Sunday, December 30, 2012

Music of the Spheres



Music gave insights to Einstein and helped him think outside the box, even outside the universe.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

Los Angeles Children’s Chorus in concert


by Douglas Neslund

First time attendees at Los Angeles Children's Chorus’s annual winter program Dec. 9 might have expected to hear “O Little Town of Bethlehem” or “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. But this was not your usual Christmas concert. The event was the first of two “winter concerts” given the amalgamated title of “Confluence,” which the programme defined as “repertoire from many genres, traditions, periods and perspectives.”

Since there are too many personnel elements within LACC to crowd into just one concert, they are split into two. The first event presented the Apprentice Choir of 64 children, the Concert Choir of 93, minus the 16 Chamber Singers, who are drawn from the Concert Choir. The second event will be held on Dec. 16, and will present the Intermediate Choir of 71 children, the Young Men’s Ensemble of 31 changing and changed voices, and the Concert Choir. I’ll do the math: a grand total of 259 members.

All the organization and hard work to bring these concerts to a successful conclusion begins with Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson, who succeeded Chorus founder Rebecca Thompson in 1996. A woman of boundless energy, Ms. Tomlinson is supported by Mandy Brigham, Associate Artistic Director, Diana Landis, Apprentice Choir Director, and Steven Kronauer, Young Men’s Ensemble Director, plus many dozens of parents and friends, not to mention 24 others teaching musicianship and working behind the scenes. 

Arriving an hour early in order to gain a scarce parking place, this writer observed the beehive-like organization of many volunteers, each with a specific duty in setting up and carrying off the myriad duties to ensure a fluid event. In that regard, all were entirely successful.

With so many singers to populate the Pasadena Presbyterian Church’s somewhat limited space, the ingress and egress of the choirs throughout the evening was a wonder of organization.

The concert began with a welcoming speech by chorister Michelle Balian, which was followed by the combined choirs in King Henry VIII’s setting of “Sing We Joy” posthumously arranged by Louie Ramos. The date of composition was said to be 1513, when the king was but 22. A Christmas song? No, a song to celebrate good company and good times, and in this performance, with stylistic accompaniment provided by Bill Schmidt (organ) Inga Funck (recorder) and Bruce Carver (drum).

The Apprentice Choir, accompanied on the piano by Mitsuko Morikawa, provided the next six numbers in either unison or two-parts: “Jesus, bleibet meine Freude” (J.S. Bach), “Velvet Shoes” and “Solstice” (Randall Thompson), “Fuyu No Uta” (a Japanese folk song about falling snow), “Seal Lullaby” from The Second Jungle Book (Ruth Boshkoff) and “Hine Ma Tov” (Allan Naplan). All of the above were cleanly and clearly sung with an admirable unison in the first three items – true unisons with so many singers is not an easy goal. The two Thompson items are delights deserving to be heard more often.

Next up were the young women of the Chamber Singers in Benjamin Britten’s Missa brevis in D, written for the boy choristers of Westminster Cathedral in 1959 to mark and honor the retirement of their choirmaster, George Malcolm. This ensemble displayed what happens when children grow into young adults, with much greater maturity of voice, and additional tone colors and clearer enunciation of the text.  Ms. Tomlinson’s choice of flattening out the “eh” vowel of the Greek and Latin text tended to dilute the vowel color and tone focus, however. And one could wish for a more angular melodic line in the “Kyrie eleison” as indicated by the composer. Excellent soloists in the Benedictus were Yulan Lin and Isabella Ramos. Bill Schmidt accompanied brilliantly on the pipe organ.

The Chamber Singers continued with contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan’s setting of “Dutch Carol” – the first truly Christmas offering of the evening that celebrated the birth of Jesus while allowing pianistic themes to hint at His eventual crucifixion, with excellent accompaniment by Twyla Meyer. To conclude, the audience was treated to “Gaude virgo gratiosa”, from Samuel Gordon’s Ladymass, a tribute to the Virgin Mary.

The Concert Choir took their turn, reprising Sir David Willcock’s setting of “Psalm 150”, which the children sang in October in Walt Disney Concert Hall as guest artists of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. In that venue, the children’s voices sounded lost in the much larger space, but here, in their home, even with its quirky acoustical characteristics, we were treated to an entirely more enjoyable reading.  Ola Gjeilo’s setting of “Ubi caritas” is a beautiful treble 5- or 6-part composition that for once didn’t use the Duruflé-familiar antiphon’s Gregorian cantus firmus, but developed a devotion appropriate to its use on Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar. Francis Poulenc’s 3-part “Le Chien Perdu” (The Lost Dog) from his Petites Voix collection required use of the French language and its unique qualities and sound.

“He Came Down,” a Christmas carol from Cameroon arranged by Nancy Grundahl, and sung with appropriate movement, lit up faces all throughout the choir and audience. Premiered in 1992, Conrad Sousa's series called Carols and Lullabies, the sixth of which is entitled “En Belén tocan a fuego” (There’s a fire in Bethlehem) is the composer's attempt to write a Southwestern equivalent to Britten's iconic "A Ceremony of Carols." Accompanied by Mr. Carver (marimba), Mr. Berry (guitar) and harpist Maria Casale, the Castilian-originated carol was highlighted with a beautifully-sung solo by chorister Qaasimah Alexis, perhaps the best singing of the evening.

All hands were on deck for two final works: “Al Shlosha D’Varim” by Allan Naplan that claims there are only three things that sustain the world: truth, justice and peace. Were it only so.

A reflection of the visit last spring of the South African Drakensberg Boys Choir, and the recent visit by LACC to that choir, “Singabahambayo” (On earth an army is marching), is a tribute in song to celebrate the end of apartheid in that country, and the ideal “Each day our friendship is growing” among the peoples of that country.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Year-end Salute to Vienna Returns to Disney Hall



Preview by Rodney Punt

If you are stumped on which of the Big Three television shows to watch on New Year’s Day -- the Rose Parade, a college bowl game, or the Viennese New Year's Concert -- I have a solution. See the first two, record the Vienna broadcast, and come two days before to a live performance of SALUTE TO VIENNA, the magnificent re-creation of Vienna’s world famous Neujahrskonzert, which returns after a two-year hiatus to the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday, December 30th, at 2:30 PM.

Expect your favorite Schlagsahne-filled musical bon-bons, danced and sung by chiffon-draped ballerinas and champagne-drenched counts. This New Year’s concert features the operetta music of Johann Strauss Jr. (Die Fledermaus and Gypsy Baron) and the Hungarian-born Emmerich Kálmán (Countess Maritza). In addition, you will also hear some of your favorite waltzes and polkas and later on a few other surprises.

Conducting the program will be Southern California’s favorite Austrian transplant, Andreas Mitisek. The Viennese-born Artistic and General Director of the avant-garde Long Beach Opera (and recently also the Chicago Opera Theater) knows his way around the audience-friendly traditions of his native city, having helmed productions at the center of musical gaiety, the Wiener Volksoper. Mitisek will lead the 75 musicians of the Strauss Symphony of America, combined with the talents of two Hungarians, soprano Anita Lukács and tenor Zsolt Vadasz, and the Hungarian National Ballet and International Champion Ballroom Dancers.

Tickets to see NEW YEAR’S CONCERT 2013 – SALUTE TO VIENNA range from $35 to $115 and are available online at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Box Office or by calling 1 800 745 3000.

Visit Salute to Vienna for more information.

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WHERE: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012

WHEN: Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

TICKET PRICES: $35.00 - $115.00

PURCHASE TICKETS: (800) 745 3000 --  Or at Ticketmaster

Photos: Attila Glatz Concert Productions
Rodney Punt can be reached at Rodney@artspacifica.net

Road Accident on Fleet Street Yields A Power Duet

by Rodney Punt

OK, today we share a love story for the holidays.

A vibrant Irish baritone friend of mine, Sam McElroy, who sang a man's man's Winterreise here in Los Angeles a few years ago (with piano collaborator extraordinaire, Armen Guzelimian) and who also writes like an Irish Raymond Chandler, tells a charming story about how he met his inamorata, which music critic iconoclast Norman Lebrecht featured on his blog. You have to read it to believe it.

The link will redirect you to Lebrecht's blog and the story: ACCIDENT ON FLEET STREET By Sam McElroy

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Photo: Sam McElroy & Gabriella Montero

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

National Children’s Chorus at the Broad Stage, Santa Monica



by Douglas Neslund 

A full-scale concert on a work- and school-night in very wet weather, before an audience that filled every seat in the Broad Stage at Santa Monica College might not seem on the surface to be the optimum in scheduling. But it didn’t seem to matter for the 499 patrons, many of whom were family members of the performers. Late-comers had to find parking elsewhere. Scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM, those in charge wisely decided to delay the downbeat about 15 minutes to allow late-arrivals to find their seats.

The first half of the concert was dedicated to Gloria in D major, RV 589 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), conducted by Luke McEndarfer, Artistic Director of the National Children’s Chorus. Inasmuch as men’s voices were required, all of which were drawn from the Los Angeles Master Chorale to complement the soprano and alto boys and girls, plus a professional chamber orchestra, one anticipated and heard a fine performance.

Mr. McEndarfer chose standard tempi and other than an over-exaggerated spacing before the final notes of section-ending cadences, maintained faithful adherence to the Baroque style. Solos sections were sung by teenagers from the choir: Madeline Bogert and Casey Burgess duetted in Laudamus te; Megan Wheeler performed Domine Deus; Gabriel Ziaukas managed to negotiate Domine Deus, Agnus Dei; and Christine Ocheltree displayed fine technique in her assignment, Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris. All soloists performed from a spot behind the orchestra, and without amplification. This circumstance, even in a smallish venue, requires projection without pushing the voice. In addition to the challenge of projection, Mr. Ziaukas was battling the onset of voice change, an obstacle not anticipated by the composer but a necessarily inherent vocal pothole facing the relatively few male participants at some point.

The chorus was heavily weighted with high school-aged girls who blended well together, with the altos seemingly unable to form a focused sectional sound.

After intermission, during which candles were lit across the stage, the auditorium lights were dimmed and finally extinguished. Out of the virtually complete darkness, a single amplified female voice belonging to guest artist Lisa Vroman rang out in the John Jacob Niles carol I Wonder as I Wander, decorated by Ms. Vroman with African-American inspired filigree.

What followed was a potpourri of holiday-themed carols and songs, including familiar Christmas, Hanukkah, African, Puerto Rican and secular music written for the various holidays, some of which were conducted by Pamela Blackstone, associate artistic director and leader of the younger children’s contingent, NCC’s Debut Ensemble. Ms. Vroman participated in most of these despite health issues that were greatly challenged by the interpolation of George Frideric Handel’s aria Let the Bright Seraphim from his sacred cantata Samson, which demanded the soloist’s very last ounce of energy. Her singing in this aria was superb, as was trumpet soloist Darren Mulder and the orchestra under the baton of Mr. McEndarfer.

One of the most beautiful items was the familiar Gesu, Bambino with Ms. Vroman assisted by two choristers, Kelly Morrison and Jade Cook, choir and orchestra. The single encore was an arrangement of O Holy Night by Mr. McEndarfer.

The same concert will be performed in New York at The Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Sunday evening, Dec. 8th, together with an additional element of the NCC based in that city.

National Children’s Chorus sprang from imagination of Mr. McEndarfer, who sought to elevate the already excellent and well-regarded Paulist Choristers of California to a more public arena that would allow for children not attending the parish school to have the enhanced musical training not available elsewhere in West Los Angeles.

Further information on the choir and auditions is available at the NCC’s website: http://nationalchildrenschorus.com