Grant Gershon is a busy guy. You would be too, with a season as jam packed as the one he has programmed for the LA Master Chorale. He’s also an LA local, having studied at USC and working – in addition to his duties as the LAMC’s music director – with the LA Opera, LA Phil, LA Children’s Chorus, and others. I’m amazed and honored that he had the time to answer a few questions about the chorale’s current season, which began this past weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
I’m going to open with a loaded question: what concert or piece are you most excited about this season?
Hmmm, you’re asking me to choose my favorite kid! That can be very hurtful to the siblings, you know. Okay…I’m very interested to see what Gabriela Lena Frank comes up with for the chorale and Huayucaltia. David Lang and James Newton are two very good friends of mine, and I’m eager to share their music with our singers and audience.
You’ve got a lot of variety programmed, both throughout the season and within individual concerts. Could you talk about how you prepare differently for, say, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion than you do for David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion?
Someone once asked Helmut Rilling how he prepares a score, and he said, “I look at it.” Pretty much the same for me, whether it’s Bach or someone else!
Could you talk a little bit about the “LA is the World” commissioning project, and this year’s composer, Gabriela Lena Frank?
I love Gaby’s music and her sense of fantasy. “LA is the World” is a commissioning initiative that we started in 2006. The idea is to pair composers with master musicians that represent traditions within the various communities that make up Los Angeles. Gaby will work with the terrific band Huayucaltia, which specializes in Andean music. Gaby comes to this project with a lot of experience and perspective on this music of her mother’s roots.
Were you involved in the creation of the expanded choral version of The Little Match Girl Passion, or did David Lang take that on himself?
That was his deal.
You mentioned that in programming this season, you’ve focused largely on texts, and said that you would be doing “pieces of tremendous political import and works with profound spiritual implications.” Could you discuss some of the philosophical nuances of programming and performing music?
Whoa, that’s a lot to chew on! First off, did I say that? Okay, I probably did. One of the things that I find most fascinating about programming a season of choral works is that you have to deal with the spiritual implications of this repertoire. Since the most ancient times, singing in groups has had a strong ceremonial or religious underpinning. Certainly the great choral repertoire that has come down to us over the last 600 years was more often than not written either for liturgical use or to communicate the composer’s own religious or spiritual quest.
The LA Master Chorale is not a religious organization, and I’m not interested in proselytizing. The music itself has to be of such a high quality that it universalizes any dogma that the words alone would suggest. To me, that is the ultimate test of what is worthy of our programs.
At the same time, the “political” message behind a piece like Gorecki’s Miserere (support of the solidarity movement in Poland) or Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (the responsibility of society to aid the least fortunate) is amplified and made even more compelling by the brilliant musical structure of each work.
I know you’re running out of time, so just a few quick LA questions! What is your favorite:
Eagle Rock, of course!
2. Place to hear music
Walt Disney Concert Hall, of course!
Too many to say!
4. Bar/hang out
Kendall’s (after a concert).
Apple (just shoot me now!).
6. Thing to do/see
Star gaze through the light pollution!
For more information on Grant and the LA Master Chorale, visit lamc.org.