Last night’s Los Angeles Master Chorale concert in the Walt Disney appeared to be sold out. The only thing that might surprise outsiders was that the advertising had emphasized that the program would be two works that were actually written in the twenty-first century. Oh, it was a good concert!
The two works were by Steve Reich: “You Are (Variations)” which the Chorale premiered in 2004 and performed in New York as part of the Reich birthday party, and the recent “Daniel Variations” for which this was the West Coast premiere. Reich was at the sound controls handling the amplification. “You Are” is a great work, and Grant Gershon makes this a signature piece. I’m pretty certain that most of the singers, all four pianists, and all four marimba/vibes were the same as in the recording. “Daniel Variations” uses similar resources, with a slightly smaller chorus (from 18 to 12) and a much smaller chamber orchestra (from 20 to 7 if I counted correctly), with the same four pianos and marimbas. As has been commented on, the music makes the violin quite prominent, honoring the violinist who was Daniel Pearl. Steve Reich (in his black baseball cap, of course) came down to the stage to join Gershon and the performers and receive the waves of applause and pleasure from the audience.
To complete the concert Grant Gershon gave us an interesting bit of programming. Each of the two Reich works was preceded by two short motets, one by Josquin des Prez and one by William Byrd. Instead of being linearly arranged on stage, the chorus for each set formed itself in a circle to the side of the stage, with Gershon in the center. As a result, instead of a sound stage of individual voices, the combined voices rose as a column of sound, a column expanding to fill the hall. The 400-year-old music was a pleasing introduction to the new.
Sunday afternoon’s Phil concert had the Stravinsky Violin Concert performed by Gil Shahan to give spark and verve to an otherwise uninteresting concert. (Tchaikovsky’s “Hamlet” was boring, and it’s hard to get excited about the Schumann 2nd.) The Stravinsky was elegant, and dry, and witty. The two works surrounding it achieved so much less with so many more resources.