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Master Chorale in the Persian market
Eve Beglarian's 'Sang' (Stone) draws on age-old texts and varied musical traditions in its world premiere at Disney Hall.
Josef Woodard, Special to The Times
June 5, 2007
When the stars align and the programming manages to both soothe and challenge,
the Los Angeles Master Chorale's current Grant Gershon-directed era can suggest
a high-water mark in choral aesthetics.
Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall was one of those nights, as the chorale offered up an evening of music from the last quarter-century by living composers with profound and fresh ideas of how to refresh vocal music while respecting an orthodoxy that goes back centuries. What with Disney Hall's enchanted acoustical kingdom and inspired ambience, the pieces were in place for a profound choral encounter.
Centering the program was a world premiere, "Sang" (Stone) by Eve Beglarian, a composer increasingly well-known for her inventive culling of elements from different musical traditions, texts and cultures. As part of the Master Chorale's "L.A. Is the World" commissioning project, designed to showcase new compositions and the healthy population of musicians from varied cultures living in the Southland, this project put Beglarian's symbiosis-seeking energies to fruitful use.
Initially drawing on a parable from the 10th century Persian epic "Shahnameh, the Book of Kings" for inspiration, Beglarian also wove in biblical texts from the Hebrew and Greek. Musically, she combined choral sounds and the masterful improvised work of two L.A.-based Persian musicians: percussionist Pejman Hadadi and santur (71-string hammer dulcimer) player Manoochehr Sadeghi.
Hadadi opened with a nuanced drum solo, out of which a soft thrum of voices built up an atmospheric rather than emphatic effect. After a vibrant santur and percussion interlude in the middle, a choral vapor washed into the ensemble sound.
In the main, the chorale was used to generate an impressionistic blur, with little in the way of detectable structural parameters. But the piece affirmed that among her contemporaries, Beglarian is a humane, idealistic rebel and a musical sensualist.
Cross-hatching of a different sort underscores Scottish composer James McMillan's "Magnificat and Nunc Dimitris," which opened the program. Drawing on two separate textual sources, the work also weaves together contrasting musical parts. An often dissonant and querulous organ part — played grandly by David Goode — includes fistfuls of notes that nicely rattled the Disney rafters, while the choral parts are more pure and "in the tradition."
Perhaps inevitably, though, Estonian-born composer Arvo Pärt's music stole the show on this night, as it is wont to do. The glibly but reasonably dubbed "mystical Minimalist's" sweeping "Te Deum" is as moving, if not more so, than when it was first heard in the mid-'80s, especially when given as conscientious and lucid a performance as Gershon led Sunday.
With a luminous chamber-sized orchestra onstage and singers scattered both onstage and up in the rear of the hall, the antiphonal and scattered parts were exchanged both spatially and musically. In short, the evening's Pärt boasted the desired blend of qualities at once modern and medieval, visceral and ethereal. Such Pärtian paradoxes find an ideal forum in the ancient realm of choral music.