Even with so many composer-in-residence positions in ensembles large and small, it isn’t very often that a composition produced during those residencies becomes an enduring hit. So it was with Morten Lauridsen, whose six-year residency with the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1995 to 2001 produced not one but two such hits — first the motet “O Magnum Mysterium” and then the larger-scaled “Lux Aeterna.”
Led by Grant Gershon, the Master Chorale celebrated the 20th anniversary of “Lux Aeterna” on Saturday afternoon at Walt Disney Concert Hall — and well they should, because it is a masterwork of its kind. Lauridsen somehow found a magical zone, and the piece resolutely stays there for half an hour. Although many use it as chill-out music, there is something deeper going on beneath the serene surface and luxurious consonances that draw you in.
The Master Chorale last sang “Lux Aeterna” in 2011, but that was the choral/organ version; the group had not performed the choral/orchestral version since 2001 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion under the late Paul Salamunovich. For Disney Hall, Gershon had a very different take than the one preserved on Salamunovich’s Master Chorale recording, which can be heard on YouTube or downloaded. Whereas Salamunovich’s was richly symphonic and heavily reverberant, Gershon’s performance was brighter, drier, more urgent, more transparent and chamber music-like in texture. The character of the piece seemed to change as a result — less consoling, perhaps, yet now more joyful and even exultant. Perhaps they ought to record it again.
Elsewhere, Gershon included a clutch of short a cappella works written by composers associated with the Master Chorale in wake of “Lux Aeterna,” though none seemed to directly reflect its sound world.
Two were world premieres. Billy Childs’ “In Gratitude” sought to respond to Lauridsen’s piece with a poem that acknowledged gratitude for love, then pain, and finally the gift of song, but in a rather different musical language with occasional syncopation. Moira Smiley’s “Time in Our Voices,” led by assistant conductor Jenny Wong, had the novelty of a recurring babble of voices recorded on mobile phones interrupting or complementing the music. The voices were meditating on the subject of time, while the choral voices were occupied with sophisticated harmonies and some antiphonal face-offs.
In Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Dante setting, “Iri da Iri,” atonal lines rose over choral drones, uniting just before Dante admits that love makes the universe go ’round. (Child’s piece aptly picked up the theme from there.) Shawn Kirchner’s “Heavenly Home: Three American Songs” elaborated agreeably upon three spirituals, the order of which was inverted, apparently, for maximum effect on the audience.
Yet the most dramatic and interesting composition of the five was artist-in-residence Eric Whitacre’s “I Fall,” a West Coast premiere and part of a larger work-in-progress, “The Sacred Veil.” As led by Whitacre, “I Fall” had the voices sliding upward in microtones, then downward ever so slightly, eventually falling deep into the bass section as it faded.
The concert was dedicated to the memory of Master Chorale tenor Daniel Chaney, who died in April at age 49.
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Los Angeles Master Chorale
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Info: (213) 972-7282, or www.lamasterchorale.org
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