Los Angeles Music Review: TEMPUS (Metropolitan Master Chorale in West Hollywood)

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by Barnaby Hughes on March 29, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


“There is a season for everything… a time for losing, a time for keeping… a time for keeping silent, a time for speaking. A time for loving, a time for hating; a time for war, a time for peace” (Eccl. 3:1ff.) There is also a time for singing about time, and that would be the first weekend of spring. On March 22 and 23, the Metropolitan Master Chorale (MMC) presented Tempus, a concert exploring the creation and passing of time. Apart from Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), the repertoire was entirely written by living or recent composers. Nevertheless, there was plenty of variety both in style and presentation.

Tempus began with a lively song called “Day Break” by Stephen Paulus (b. 1949) sung solely by male voices. After that rousing introduction, the chorale’s female members entered, but did not join the men. Instead, they stood apart and sang a Japanese children’s song called “Hotaru Koi” (in Japanese). This unusual piece (at least to Western ears) featured some interesting percussive vocal effects. For the next piece, the premiere of a new arrangement of an English Folk song called “Early One Morning” by conductor and artistic director Glenn Carlos (b. 1961), the men and women joined together and remained that way until the end. Their voices blended beautifully and harmoniously in the excellent acoustics of the West Hollywood City Council Chambers.

I had really hoped to like the song “Little Birds” by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970), the only one of the contemporary composers whose work was familiar to me. It was a very startling piece—a bit too dissonant, yet playful, involving imitative bird calls and the rustling of sheet music. My favorite pieces, surprisingly, where those written by the youngest composers. These included “A Soft Day” by Daniel Brinsmead (b. 1988), “Break of Day” by Michael John Trotta (b. 1978), and “Lullaby” by Daniel Elder (b. 1986). All three weave rich harmonies and memorable melodic lines into delightful tapestries of sound.

The weakest portion of Tempus consisted of excerpts from Haydn’s Creation. While the choral singing was enjoyable, the solos were not. Simply put, the soloists had pretty voices, but not solo voices. They clearly did not have the vocal training necessary for the music of Haydn’s era, with its highly ornamented cadences. Another ambitious piece was the premiere of a new work commissioned by MMC. Written by Ken Eberhard (b. 1972), “As the Hours Pass…” is a setting of three poems by Emily Dickinson. It makes for an enjoyable song cycle, but would be more accessible without some or all of the instrumental accompaniment. This consisted of Erik Belsheim on piano, Gina Luciani on flute, Aki Nishiguchi on oboe, Ban-Eunn Lee on cello, and Artashes Sinanyan on percussion. One or more instruments accompanied the chorale throughout the whole concert, apart from the final piece, “Let There Be Light” by Craig Courtney (b. 1954).

MMC has obviously attracted considerable talent in the five years since its founding (tempus fugit!). It also gains from Glenn Carlos’ capable direction. Yet, the chorale needs a more balanced ratio of men and women (a perennial problem among choirs). In general, female voices dominated. Finally, a few suggestions: 1. Please sing more a capella music. 2. Print song lyrics in the program. 3. Perform more songs without sheet music. When the chorale did this with the last two pieces, it resulted in a more engaging experience and better singing.

Metropolitan Master Chorale, LOGO

Metropolitan Master Chorale
West Hollywood City Council Chambers
625 N. San Vicente
played on March 22 & 23, 2014
for more info, visit www.metrosings.org

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