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LA Master Chorale Tackles a 'Mass' and 'passion'

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Music Director Grant Gershon conducts the Los Angeles Master Chorale in James Newton's 'Mass' on Sunday. (Photo: Ken Hively)
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- by Ellen Reid, Special to LAist

The Walt Disney Concert Hall was packed to the brim on Sunday night for a concert by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The evening’s main draw (for the mostly Baby Boomer and older audience) was a performance of post-minimal composer David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning the little match girl passion, but the evening also featured the U.S. Premiere of renowned jazz flutist James Newton’s Mass.

The Master Chorale has been part of the LA music scene for 48 years, and its reputation and innovation earned the chorale a place as one of the founding resident companies of the Music Center and the resident chorus of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Currently led by Musical Director Grant Gershon, the varied programming that's offered throughout the season shows the ability and talent of Gershon and the chorale to tackle almost any type of music. Sunday’s concert was no exception.

Both Lang’s little match girl passion and Newton’s Mass were framed by Bach motets. Although the musical sounds of these pieces were drastically different—Newton’s was full of dissonant rich harmonies, fast melodic movement and syncopation, where Lang’s moved between gentle repetition and warm chorale— the two pieces shared similar spiritual subject matter.

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The little match girl passion was based on the Hans Christian Anderson’s the little match girl, not a religious text. But Lang aimed to heighten the suffering of the protagonist in the story—a child who freezes to death— by using the format of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, making the child’s suffering similar to Christ’s suffering.

It’s hard to determine exactly why little match girl was awarded a Pulitzer because the music, while moving and beautiful, wasn’t overwhelmingly innovative. But the genius of little match girl rests in its simplicity. Similar to a film score or incidental music for performance, the music allowed the story to be the focus, thus giving time and space for the images and words to resonate within the listener. Mezzo-soprano soloist Adriana Manfredi’s performance was excellent and added an individual dimension to the superb performance of the chorale.