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Music Review

A Neighborhood Sanctuary for Mozart

In its first musical event, the new cathedral in downtown L.A. welcomes the Philharmonic.

September 30, 2002|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first musical event to be given in the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was, appropriately, a free Neighborhood Concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Friday, conducted by the orchestra's music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen. Appropriate because, with all the new cathedral's size, beauty and awesomeness, it is also located across the street from the Music Center, where it will serve the neighborhood as the orchestra does already.

The fitting subject of the inaugural performance in the massive sanctuary--a room that reaches a height of 95 feet above a floor space of 57,000 square feet--was Mozart's touching and austere Requiem.

In this handsomely lighted sanctuary, a capacity audience of 3,000 listeners crowded comfortably into permanent and movable seating, and heard the performance in rapt concentration. Applause came only at the end, then enthusiastically and with the listeners standing.

The high ceilings and the volume of space in the large room produce an acoustic ambience not unlike that in the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove: The listener is awed by the perceived distance of the musical sounds coming from the front of the sanctuary. One senses no great distortion, only the sort of low reverberation associated with an outdoor setting.

Nonetheless, this Requiem was delivered across the large space by Salonen and company with warmth, astuteness and a tight balance of elements. Everything was clear but, even only halfway back in the sanctuary, apparently far away.

The orchestra numbered 55; the combined choirs of North Hollywood's St. Charles Borromeo Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem Church in Encino, and the new downtown cathedral totaled 95.

The Philharmonic, which had not played the Requiem since 1991--when Gerard Schwarz conducted it in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on the 200th anniversary of the composer's death--contributed handsomely, and the combined choir, which had been prepared by Paul Salamunovich, sang with pure and edgeless tones. Not surprisingly, given the acoustical situation in the room, the new Dobson pipe organ spoke out resoundingly--perhaps because it was built for the room.

Four promising young singers--Jessica Rivera, Deborah Domanski, Michael Slattery and Joshua Winograde--were the vocal soloists. As a group, they performed most compellingly in the Benedictus, where they were not competing with other instruments and voices. Otherwise, they provided little ring in this low-resonance venue.

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