It's strange to think of Walt Disney Concert Hall as sterile. It is an aesthetically marvelous space, boasting awe-inspiring design inside and out by starchitect Frank Ghery. Its acoustics are amongst the best possible, as long-lasting notes linger profoundly and no sneeze goes unnoticed. But for many years, the venue and its Music Center neighbors have been cloaked in a certain staidness. Older high-brow patrons and well mannered risk-averse performances have long made the hill of Bunker Hill seem all the steeper.
But my perception of sterility is fading as The Music Center's tenants follow example of their more contemporary neighbors like REDCAT, MOCA and The Broad. This was apparent in the Los Angeles Master Chorale's final performance of the season on Sunday, which took leaps towards more progressive, avant-garde arrangements than I expected from a traditional choir. They matched more classical pieces like Gregorio Allegri's "Misere" with Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," the chilling, other-worldly score of "Lux Aeterna," and a mind-altering performance of "Mouyayoum," a 14-minute-long wordless celestial ode to the aurora borealis by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. In the show's most unconventional moment, newly anointed artist-in-residence Eric Whitachre gave an emotional encore with his own arrangement of an e.e. cumming's poem, "i carry your heart with me (i carry it in).” In total, seven of the choir's 11 songs were composed by contemporary musicians.
LA Master Chorale thankfully proved that it is rising to the more exciting and innovative stature of its fellow arts companies on Grand Ave. Their Director of Marketing Patrick Brown confirmed this trend as we spoke of the group's future – they're embarking on design changes, handing more creative reigns to Whitacre, and exploring opportunities to take the choir to perform in spaces off Grand Ave. Beyond the Master Chorale, Disney Concert Hall hosts Sleepless later this month, a late night dance party in honor of hip hop history. In a few months from now, Kamasi Washington will shake the hall with Langston Hughes’ kaleidoscopic jazz poem Ask Your Mama. Though the crowds atop the hill still look older, whiter, and wealthier than one would hope for a County-funded performing arts establishment, the future for Walt Disney Concert Hall holds hope for patrons and performances that are as colorful as the rainbow lights that illuminate its iconic interior. •
by Ari Simon