Los Angeles Music Preview: STAGE AND CINEMA’S TOP HOLIDAY CHORALE CONCERT PICKS, 2014

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by Tony Frankel on December 1, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

TESTED AND APPROVED

Whether amateur or professional, containing sacred pieces or hummable traditionals, a cappella or accompanied by orchestra or just piano, the list of worthy chorale holiday concerts in the Los Angeles area numbers more than 40 this year. Allow me to whittle down your choice of choral affairs by offering the Stage and Cinema editor’s pick for the top five musical happenings, not just based on the programming, expertise, and freshness, but our staff’s personal experience.

THE TALLIS SCHOLARS

Tallis ScholarsAdvent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word “adventus,” meaning “coming.” Thanks to the Da Camera Society, which offers chamber concerts in historical sites, the celebrated British consort The Tallis Scholars are coming on Dec. 7 to perform in one of Southern California’s great acoustical wonders: St. Basil Catholic Church. Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars, founded 1973, have done more than any other group to establish the sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western classical music.

st-basils-catholic-church-lightSavor Josquin Des Prez’ monumental vision of heavenly bliss, the Missa Gaudeamus (“Let us rejoice!”), and a group of shorter works by William Byrd, including “Laetentur caeli,” “Ne irascaris,” and “Ye sacred muses,” his heart-melting lament on the death of Thomas Tallis (Byrd’s mentor and the ensemble’s namesake). The pure and clear voices will soar into the heavens through St. Basil’s towering forest of vertical concrete volumes, ending with the astonishing “Magnificat” by Edmund Turges—like the fan vaulting in late 15th-century buildings, the decoration in this music could go no further. “Magnificat” may represent the spectacular end of an amazing era, but this concert is the perfect beginning for the holidays.

GAY MEN’S CHORUS OF LOS ANGELES

GMCLA Holiday Spectacular 2014 - A GLEE-FUL CELEBRATION.Attending GMCLA’s Holiday Spectaculars is more like a pilgrimage for me, and is a no-brainer when choosing my wintertime concerts. This year’s musical extravaganza, Holiday Spectacular: A Glee-ful Celebration, plays at the gorgeous deco-infused Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Dec. 13 & 14. Their combination of vocal prowess with a heartfelt celebration of community is simply incomparable. One moment they make the yuletide gay with a supremely silly twist on an all-too-familiar holiday favorite (replete with colorful costumes, theatrical performances, and cute choreography); the next they lovingly rip your heart out of your chest with a soul-stirring rendition of a nonsecular hymn. First-timers will be dumbstruck by the sterling, world-class musicality of the chorus, which numbers 260 members this year.

GMCLA Holiday Spectacular 2014 - A GLEE-FUL CELEBRATION - posterArtistic Director Joe Nadeau, who led last year’s gleaming program, returns to conduct the chorus, which will offer joyous selections from both men’s glee clubs and songs from the TV show Glee, such as “A Gleeful Christmas Medley.” Next to dazzling a cappella arrangements will be traditional holiday classics like “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” GMCLA is also puréeing together the best holiday music with unique songs like “New Year’s Mash Up.” From the look of things, I’m told, it’s going to be an extra sparkly, shimmery (and maybe slightly flammable) affair.

LOS ANGELES MASTER CHORALE

lamc-home-xmasWith the indefatigable Grant Gershon at the helm, Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) can easily be labeled one of the best choirs on earth, and you have a chance to see four separate holiday concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Naturally, you can attend on Dec. 17 or Dec. 21 their Handel’s Messiah, which is so glorious it could raise the dead (soloists this year are Soprano Christina Bristow, Mezzo Soprano Niké St. Clair, Tenor Arnold Livingston Geis and Baritone Chung Uk Lee). Or you can dust off your pipes and participate in the extremely popular Messiah Sing-Along on Dec. 7 (with soloists and orchestra onstage, you’re the chorus). And don’t miss 62 singers in Rejoice! A Cappella Christmas on Dec. 14, which offers 12 selections, including 3 versions of “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and LAMC tenor/composer Matthew Brown.

As I’ve said before, there’s something special about the octet of carolers on Disneyland’s Main Street (yeah, you should see them, too), but you simply can’t miss LAMC detonate nuggets of Noel gold at the stocking stuffer of a concert named Festival of Carols on Saturday, Dec. 13 at 2:00, an especially uncluttered time slot perfectly situated between your shopping and that holiday party.

jpegThe 100-member chorale will illustrate their vocal brilliance performing beloved seasonal carols and favorites. If you think you’ve heard “The Christmas Song,” “White Christmas,” and “Christmas Time Is Here (Charlie Brown Christmas)” enough to last a lifetime, let these perfectly pristine vocalists have you believe you are hearing them for the first time. They will be backed by Lisa Edwards on the piano and John West on that Disney Hall organ, powerful enough to cause an avalanche at the North Pole. Plus, LAMC’s composer-in-residence Shawn Kirchner offers his gorgeous arrangements of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” “Pat-a-Pan,” and “O What a Beautiful City.” And local arranger, the great David O, will contribute his version of “Silent Night.”

The program also features the live performance premiere of Eric Whitacre’s “Glow,” the song that became a global phenomenon when recorded singers from around the world were synchronized into a single video performance.

PASADENA SYMPHONY

Pasadena-Symphonys-HOLIDAY-CANDLELIGHT-CONCERT-at-All-Saints-Church-in-PasadenaI always waited until too late to procure tickets to Pasadena Symphony’s enormously popular extravaganza, Holiday Candlelight. Consistently a sell-out in the past, they added an extra performance, which allowed me to finally see what all the ho-ho-hoopla was about. Last year’s concert actually exceeded expectations, proving Photo-from-PASADENA-SYMPHONY-AND-POPS-by-Kay-E.-Kochenderferitself to be one of the finest holiday concerts on record. On Dec. 13, you have two chances (at 4 & 7) to witness this gorgeous and intimate lollapalooza by candlelight in the architecturally exquisite and acoustically sonorous All Saint’s Church.

In this case, you get to hear two choruses for the price of one: The Donald Brinegar Singers and the remarkable Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (which will be offering its own event, listed below). Led by conductor Grant Cooper, the merry mix includes the LA Bronze hand bell choir and the Pasadena Symphony’s musicians, many of whom get a chance to shine with superb solos. The vocal soloist this year is Broadway’s Susan Egan (the original Belle in Beauty and the Beast), one of the most luminous performers I know.

holiday-231x231Another draw of this concert, aside from the schmaltz-free eclectic offerings, is the continuous, immersive staging, which means there is no audience applause to interrupt the aural reverie. Expect traditional carols, masterpieces of modern choral composition, and inimitable arrangements. I promise that holiday favorites, such as this year’s “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Away in a Manger,” will be given fresh treatment. Also included in the 18 selections are Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque,” Hanukkah’s “L’dor vador,” Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and an orchestral premiere of Henry Mancini’s “It’s Christmas Again.” New this year is the reserved seating, and tickets start at just $20. Prepare to have your soul revived at this Gothic Revival-style church.

LOS ANGELES CHILDREN’S CHORUS

Los Angeles Children's Chorus. Photo by JP Candelier.It’s time that you learn the Vienna Boys’ Choir does not have the market on children’s choruses. Time and again, the bright-toned Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) has proved itself a sublime interpreter of all music, not just holiday. Their impeccable enunciation, professionalism, and pitch-perfect tones have made this one of the most in-demand children’s choruses nationwide (they even matched the glory of LAMC singers during Carmina Burana). The recipient of Chorus America’s 2014 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, the nation’s highest choral honor, LACC offers its annual Winter Concert on Dec. 7 & 14 at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.

header-logoYou will see a range of LACC’s choirs: The elite Concert Choir, the Chamber Singers (conducted by Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson), the Intermediate Choir (Mandy Brigham, conductor), the Apprentice Choir (Diana Landis, Conductor), and the Young Men’s Ensemble (Dr. Steven Kronauer, Conductor). It’s a terrific way to get a feel for the way singers advance through LACC to the choice groups you see performing with the LA Phil, LA Master Chorale, LA Opera, and more.

10660155_743104839099622_1556134356880530247_nThe adventurous program this year is hardly kid stuff, and many of the selections will be brand new to patrons inured by holiday chestnuts. The program features works by a number of eminent American composers, including “Ching-a-ring Chaw” (Aaron Copland); “A Christmas Carol” (Charles Ives); “Let Every Breath” (a round in the shape note tradition by William Billings, considered the country’s first choral composer); and Knee Play V (Philip Glass, from his groundbreaking opera Einstein on the Beach).

JACARANDA

WINTER DREAMS JacarandaIf you’re looking for an adventurous holiday concert unique to any other, check out the Winter Dreams program on Dec. 6 at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica. Throughout the year, Jacaranda’s intimate presentations are voyages into the realm of new and rarely-heard classical music designed to awaken curiosity, passion and discovery. As with Pasadena Symphony, this is a great way to mix up choral work with instrumentals. Joining the Jacaranda Chamber Singers and the ridiculously busy Los Angeles Children’s Chorus are mezzo-soprano Janelle DeStefano, musician/voice actor Anthony Parnther, actress Gina Ravera, and opera singer/actress Suzan Hanson. Join conductor and organist Mark Alan Hilt, the Lyris Quartet, keyboardist Aron Kallay, harpist Maria Casale, violinist Joel Pargman, and the Jacaranda Chamber Orchestra as they present selections both old and new.

WINTER DREAMS Jacaranda POSTERModernist George Crumb’s reputation as a composer of hauntingly beautiful scores has made him one of the most frequently performed composers in today’s musical world, yet his seven-part A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979 can only be found in L.A. at Jacaranda. And nowhere else will you get Ben Johnston’s microtonal Quartet No. 4 (Amazing Grace) or Gustav Mahler’s “Three Angels Sang” from Symphony No. 3. Toss in some Bach, Ives, Britten, Tchaikovsky, and Glass, some with new arrangements, and you have a recipe for a knockout holiday punch.

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The Tallis Scholars
Gaudeamus!
presented by the Da Camera Society
Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 7:30pm
St. Basil Catholic Church, 3611 Wilshire Blvd.
for tickets, call 213-477-2929 or visit www.DaCamera.org

Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles
Holiday Spectacular: A Glee-ful Celebration
Saturday, December 13, 2014, at 3:00 and 8:00
Sunday, December 14, 2014, at 3:00
Saban Theatre
8440 Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills
for tickets, call 800.636.7464 or visit www.gmcla.org

Pasadena Symphony
Holiday Candlelight
Saturday, December 13, 2014, at 4:00 & 7:00
All Saints Church
132 N Euclid Ave. in Pasadena
for tickets, call 626.793.7172 or visit www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Los Angeles Children’s Chorus
Annual Winter Concert
Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 7:30
Concert and Intermediate Choirs, Young Men’s Ensemble
Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 7:00
Concert and Apprentice Choirs, Chamber Singers
Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd.
for tickets, call 626.793.4231 or visit www.lachildrenschorus.org

Los Angeles Master Chorale
Messiah Sing-Along
Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 7:00
Festival of Carols
Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 2:00
Rejoice! A Capella Christmas
Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 7:00
Handel’s Messiah (concert)
Wednesday, December 17 at 7:30 & Sunday, December 21 at 7:00
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 South Grand Avenue at First Street
for tickets, call (213) 972-7282 or visit www.lamc.org

Jacaranda
Winter Dreams
Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 8:00
First Presbyterian Church
1220 Second Street in Santa Monica
for tickets, call 213-483-0216 or visit www.jacarandamusic.org

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