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The Master Chorale sings a song of L.A.

MUSIC REVIEW

May 06, 2008|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Sunday night, music director Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale presented a program at Walt Disney Concert Hall devoted to music written within the last 10 years -- and no one seemed to bat an eye. But it should also be noted that these pieces were mostly extraordinarily audience-friendly, and none more so than David O's sassy new "A Map of Los Angeles," the second of the chorale's three "L.A. Is the World" commissions.

It has been a long-standing joke that Los Angeles doesn't have a theme song -- a real song of praise -- nor is it easy to find any love letters to L.A. in so-called concert music. Something about the city more readily inspires mockery, such as Randy Newman's "I Love L.A.," or jaundiced depictions of urban madness, such as J.J. Cale's "Downtown L.A." or Michael Gordon's recent, hyper-frenzied "Dystopia."

"A Map of Los Angeles" seemed to fall into the mockery category at first. David O took us on a snapshot tour of a handful of sites, making fun of their weird misuse of the English and Spanish languages, having his singers proclaim with angelic pomp the redundant new name of a local baseball team, Los Los Angeles Angels . . . of Anaheim! He did so with terrific verve, grooving Latin rhythms, canny use of crescendos, the rippling Mexican harp of Sergio "Checo" Alonso and -- most crucially -- good, simple melodic ideas.

Yet in the finale, the composer tapped into a feeling of community. Over a gentle habanera rhythm, the chorus intoned names on Evergreen Cemetery tombstones; the effect was touching and lingering.

Gershon made sure that every other piece on the program, save Henryk Gorecki's lovely "Lobgesang," had an L.A. connection. The Los Angeles Philharmonic was represented by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen's sensual "Two Songs From the Kalender Rod" and consulting composer Steven Stucky's lush Three New Motets. Local composer Eric Whitacre's "When David Heard" focused on the words "my son" in fragments that were shouted or whispered. Finally, former Master Chorale composer in residence Morten Lauridsen accompanied Gershon's matchlessly polished choir on piano in his gracefully caressing "Nocturnes." For this occasion, he also added a quiet benediction on Rainer Maria Rilke's "Voici le soir" to the three-movement piece.

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