Los Angeles Music Preview: AMERICAN SONGS & SPIRITUALS (Los Angeles Master Chorale at Walt Disney Concert Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on May 25, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

COME FOR THE SONGS; STAY FOR THE SPIRIT.

It’s fitting that Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night” opens American Songs & Spirituals, Los Angeles Master Chorale’s final program of its 49th season: Residing within the text from an untitled poem by James Agee are the lines which augur the spectator’s experience after witnessing this collection of American choral music – “All is healed, Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema music feature: AMERICAN SONGS & SPIRITUALS Los Angeles Master Choraleall is health” and “Hearts all whole.” Under the leadership of Conductor Grant Gershon, 115 singers will present beloved romantic pieces such as the Barber, new standard-setting works by today’s brightest composers, plus “blow the roof off” arrangements by masters of the American spiritual. Harkening back to the time before the modern age when most parlors in America had but one instrument to celebrate American song, the chorus will be accompanied solely by piano. The jubilant concert will be healing hearts for one night only on Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Many of the selections will also celebrate the art of poetry: In “Songs of Smaller Creatures” (2005-6), the superbly gifted composer Abbie Betinis (b. 1980) exposes her inventive and chorally idiomatic approach to the vivid verbal descriptions of bees (English poet Walter de la Mare), a spider (Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass), and a mass of butterflies (Charles Swinburne).

Charles Ives’ brash, stirring, and musically ambitious “General William Booth Enters into Heaven” (1914) utilizes the text of Vachel Lindsay’s 1912 ode to the founder of the Salvation Army, which envisions Booth marching into heaven followed by “vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath.”

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema music feature: AMERICAN SONGS & SPIRITUALS Los Angeles Master ChoraleAlthough his output was mostly instrumental music, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Elliott Carter did indeed write choral music. “Tarantella,” written for the Harvard Glee Club, was his first published work in 1937. The Latin text is from the Roman poet Ovid’s Fasti, a celebration of the origins of feasts and the deities associated with various months.

Seven poems by American poet Sylvia Plath have been set to the music of Shawn Kirchner (b. 1970), a longtime tenor with the Master Chorale. In this world premiere of his new choral song cycle, Plath Songs, Kirchner chose poems which have “a luminosity that balances the darker, disturbing streak of her work.” They are “Morning Song,” a reflection on the birth of her daughter Frieda; “Mirrors,” which addresses the prospect of aging and mortality; “Lady Lazarus,” which the composer describes as “a swirl of emotions that gives a clear picture of both her anger and her brilliance”; “Tulips,” written while Plath was recuperating from physical illness; “Poppies in October,” which the composer says “almost seems to express Plath’s own sense of awe at the process of inspiration”; “Blackberrying,” a nature poem; and “Child,” written two weeks before Plath’s suicide in 1963.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema music feature: AMERICAN SONGS & SPIRITUALS Los Angeles Master ChoraleEnormously popular composer Eric Whitacre will be represented by his Three Songs of Faith, with text taken from E.E. Cummings, and Barber is heard from again in his “Agnus Dei,” which sets a Latin prayer to a section from his preexisting Adagio for Strings (this selection will be led by Associate Conductor Lesley Leighton).

Over the past century and a half, the spiritual has proved to be a powerful vehicle calling for social justice, as well as a timeless source of inspiration for composers and performers. To close this concert, examples of this rich legacy by legendary figures who worked extensively with the genre will create a joyful noise. Moses Hogan’s “The Battle of Jericho” will elucidate why he is admired for rousing and rapturously virtuosic arrangements of spirituals. Combine Hogan with William Levi Dawson’s “Aint’a That Good News,” Jester Hairston’s “Hold On!,” and André Thomas’ “Keep your lamps,” and the audience is sure to leave healed, healthy and whole.

photos by Lee Salem

Los Angeles Master Chorale: American Songs & Spirituals
Grant Gershon, Conductor

Program:

Samuel BARBER / Sure on this Shining Night
Abbie BETINIS / Songs of Smaller Creatures
Charles IVES / General William Booth Enters Into Heaven
Shawn KIRCHNER / Plath Songs (World Premiere)

Intermission

Elliot CARTER / Tarantella
Samuel BARBER / Agnus Dei (Lesley Leighton, conductor)
Eric WHITACRE / Three Songs of Faith
William DAWSON / Ain’-a That Good News
Jester HAIRSTON / Hold On!
André THOMAS / Keep your lamps
Moses HOGAN / The Battle of Jericho

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm
ListenUp! (pre-concert talk) with Grant Gershon and Alan Chapman at 6:00 pm
for tickets, call (213) 972-7282 or visit http://www.lamc.org

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