Compelling themes of power, love and grief electrify Gilgamesh: Live While You’re Alive, a major new oratorio composed by some 80 high school students from downtown Los Angeles’ Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, who premiere their choral work in conjunction with the Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Singers, instrumentalists and soloists in two free performances on Thursday, February 21, 7 pm, and Friday, February 22, noon, at the high school’s main theatre. The oratorio is based on one of the earliest surviving literary works, the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient poem about an arrogant and overbearing Assyrian king, part mortal and part god, who befriends the man the gods send to humble him and whose friend’s untimely death sets into motion the king’s quest for eternal life. The performance is the culmination the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s award-winning Voices Within artists-in-residency program, designed to foster collaboration among students to create and perform original musical works. Ample free on-site parking is available.
The students, ninth- through twelfth-graders from two choir classes, worked closely over a 20-week period with the guidance and mentorship of three professional teaching artists, singer Marie Mosiman, the Artistic Director of Voices Within, lyricist Doug Cooney and composer Jonathan Beard, as well as their own choir teachers, Desiree Fowler and Christopher Rodriguez. They learned how to adapt a classic work of literature, write a libretto based on the adaptation and create the melodies and harmonic structure for each movement of the oratorio. They also learned techniques for capturing the “voice” of the characters and how to propel the momentum of the plot and paint the mood of a scene. After the work was completed, students audition for feature roles and are mentored and receive vocal coaching to prepare for the culmination performance. This is the third year LAMC has offered its Voices Within program at the school and the first time the orchestral department is involved with the culmination performance since the work features vibraphone, marimba, percussion, guitars and piano.
An oratorio is an extended musical composition with a text dramatic in character for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, performed with minimal action, costume and scenery. Complex and sophisticated musical works, they challenge even season composers, making the student’s accomplishments particularly noteworthy.
This massive undertaking is an extension of the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s award-winning music education program, Voices Within, which was originally designed to teach fifth graders collaborative and compositional skills by composing and performing their own original songs and has engaged over 25,000 children and created over 300 original songs since its launch in 2001.
Encouraged by previous successful collaborations involving elementary and middle students, and with the support of the California Arts Council’s Artists-in-School Program and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Los Angeles Master Chorale adapted the Voices Within curriculum to address the advanced maturity of high school students, specifically choral students at the new visual and performing arts high school in downtown LA.
The concert is free, and seating is first come, first served. Cortines High School for Visual and Performing Arts is located at 450 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Campus parking is free (enter on Cesar Chavez Avenue).