Grant Gershon, Music Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, took some time out of his schedule to answer our Bachtrack questions about the choral scene in Los Angeles. We were keen to find out which styles of choral music are engaging audiences there and how healthy the situation is with young singers joining the choral scene.

Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale © Lee Salem
Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale
© Lee Salem

In the UK, choral singing is enjoying a huge renaissance at the moment. What is happening in Los Angeles? Can you give us any examples?

In Los Angeles, we are also experiencing a lot of excitement and energy around this resurgence of choral music. Of course, we are in a unique position in that the Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC), the region's most prominent ensemble, enjoys an especially high profile due to its position as a Resident Company at The Music Center.  This means that the LAMC is seen as an equal partner with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Opera and the Center Theater Group. I think that this sends a powerful message throughout the arts community about the "legitimacy" of choral music. There are, of course, countless other very accomplished choral ensembles in the region, including some amazing gospel choirs, ethnic ensembles and other "specialist" groups.

Which styles of choral writing do you think are engaging audiences (and performers) the most? Why do you think they're so popular?

I am particularly happy and encouraged by our audiences' hearty embrace of new music. The Los Angeles Master Chorale has often been selling out Disney Hall these days with music of John Adams, Steve Reich, Tan Dun, David Lang, Arvo Pärt and, of course, our former composer-in-residence, Morten Lauridsen. I think that this generation of composers has rediscovered the beauty, power and versatility of the human voice.  That's terrifically gratifying for our singers.

Los Angeles Master Chorale © Lee Salem
Los Angeles Master Chorale
© Lee Salem

What is the usual route for singers in the USA into choral singing? How far does the education system go into training young voices? Are there many young people singing in choirs or is it mostly a more mature scene?

This is a complicated set of questions. There is a shocking disparity in the level of music education in California. Many children have no exposure whatsoever to choral singing in school while others are fortunate enough to be in districts that have extremely vibrant choral programs. Things are much brighter at the university level, where there is, indeed, a clear renaissance in the choral scene. Almost all of the professional singers in the Los Angeles Master Chorale have come to us from these extremely accomplished university ensembles. The competition to get into the LAMC is so keen that I often say that I could form an excellent chamber choir from the singers that we turn down each year!

Who are the other new, exciting choral composers and choirs emerging in the USA? Eric Whitacre has a very high profile over here, but which other composers should we be aware of?

We have been very fortunate in Los Angeles to have so many great choral composers based here. Of course, Eric Whitacre recently relocated to the UK (darn it!), but we still have Morten Lauridsen, Shawn Kirchner (our current FABULOUS composer-in-residence) and many others. I am also very excited about the music of Abbie Betinis (based in Minneapolis), Matthew Brown (based here in LA) and Caroline Shaw (Pulitzer and Grammy Award winner) among the new generation of composers. Hey, I know, let's arrange for a composer swap with the UK! With all the talent on each side of the Atlantic, we could have an incredible game of musical Show And Tell, don't you think?

 

Grant Gershon was named the Kiki and David Gindler Music Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 2001and also serves as Resident Conductor of LA Opera. Heralded by critics, the Los Angeles Times declares that the Chorale "has become the most exciting chorus in the country under Grant Gershon” and Opera News proclaims him “a first-rate conductor.” During his tenure with the Chorale, he has led more than 100 performances at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, including virtually all of the major works in the choral repertoire. A champion of new music as well, Mr. Gershon has led world premiere performances of major works by Louis Andriessen, Christopher Rouse, Steve Reich, Gabriela Lena Frank and Chinary Ung, among many others. His discography includes two Grammy Award-nominated recordings: Sweeney Todd (New York Philharmonic Special Editions) and Ligeti’s Grand Macabre (Sony Classical); and six CDs with the Chorale.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale

Giving a voice to Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Grammy-nominated Los Angeles Master Chorale is led by Music Director Grant Gershon. The New York Times calls the choir “inspired,” and The New York Observer declares it “a superb vocal ensemble.” The Chorale is currently in its 50th season as a resident company of The Music Center of Los Angeles County and its 11th Presenting its own concert series each season, it performs choral music from the earliest writings to the most recent contemporary compositions. It has been awarded three ASCAP/Chorus America Awards for Adventurous Programming as well as Chorus America’s prestigious Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence. The Chorale has performed in hundreds of concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at both Disney Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, and recently toured with the orchestra to Europe and New York City. It has also appeared at the Ojai Music Festival, the Great Performers series at Lincoln Center, and the  Overture Center in Madison, Wisconsin, among others. Its discography includes six CDs under Gershon’s baton and three under Music Director Emeritus Paul Salamunovich, including the Grammy-nominated Lauridsen-Lux Aeterna. The Chorale is also featured with Gershon on the soundtracks of such major motion pictures as Lady in the Water and License to Wed. Serving more than 30,000 audience members of all ages annually, the Los Angeles Master Chorale also provides education outreach to some 6,000 students each year.