There was more than American pop music on the non-subscription Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion over the weekend. There was a brand-new Philharmonic-commissioned work, handiwork of Joe Westmoreland and Charles E. May, for gospel choir, soloists, narrator and symphonic and gospel ensembles, as conducted by Yvette Devereaux.
The co-composers' hearty "Easter Suite" would have been ear-opening for denizens of the pavilion in any case--music with religious content, from Haydn to Part, is heard here regularly, but not gospel music. The premiere Friday was notable not only for its deep spiritual content and enthusiastic performances, but also, and sometimes offensively so, for the heavily amplified sound broadcast to the 3,200-seat auditorium.
Nevertheless, the new, five-part, 32-minute work, utilizing half the philharmonic, extra instrumentalists, a choir made up of members of the First A.M.E. Choir plus three academic choirs (from Crenshaw, Hamilton and Verbum Dei high schools) and soloists, made a loud noise unto the Lenten season. It was attractive and tuneful and performed with raucous stylishness.
Devereaux--this was not her philharmonic debut, but her first conducting appearance in the pavilion--held it all together authoritatively. The overmiked vocal soloists were the accomplished, impassioned Carol Dennis and Daryl Foley; Pastor Cecil L. Murray intoned the narration.
Before the premiere, there was rejuvenation galore in Eric Huebner's jazzy, pointed, poetic reconsideration of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," a performance beautifully paced and intelligently laid out. The 17-year-old, redheaded pianist displays a mordant technique--his playing has both weight and transparency--and promises much.
The program opened with a suite from Copland's "Appalachian Spring," which showed off all parts of the reduced orchestra and the conductor's aplomb.
Incidentally, while half the orchestra was occupied with community outreach downtown, the other half labored for neighborhood good in Sylmar (Mission College, Friday) and Cerritos (Cerritos College, Saturday) under guest conductor Jaime Laredo.