On Monday at Walt Disney Hall, the men and women comprising the Los Angeles Master Chorale (LAMC) took a break and sat out the performance scheduled that night. In their place were over 2,200 enthusiastic amateurs eager to participate in the LAMC’s 31st annual sing-along performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” Joining them was the LAMC’s orchestra and a superb quartet of singers.
Grant Gershon, the LAMC’s music director, got the proceedings underway with a run-through of Messiah’s iconic “Hallelujah” chorus. The audience gave its best, responding with lusty and hearty singing.
In a performance like this, it would have been easy for the LAMC to switch to auto-pilot and simply run through the motions. It’s safe to say that many in the audience would probably not have noticed the difference and would have left just as happy. But for an ensemble of peerless musicianship like the LAMC, that clearly won’t do.
Culling four choice soloists from the chorus that joined the LAMC orchestra and Gershon, they proceeded to demonstrate the lavish care with which they prepared this “Messiah.” The orchestra, led by concertmaster Steve Scharf, provided playing of great polish and rhythmic pliancy. Alert to baroque style, but without sacrificing tonal beauty and luster, the sound they produced was refined and elegant. The seraphic trumpet work of Marissa Benedict and the eloquent musicianship of cellist Dane Little in his solos were among the many highlights of the evening.
Superb, too, were the singers: Ayana Haviv (soprano), Tracy van Fleet (alto), Jon Lee Kernan (tenor), and Steve Pence (bass). Kernan’s voice was sensitive and warm; never stentorian and always musical. His effortless legato and clear diction were a wonder. Sonorous power and burnished tone were the keystones of Pence’s musicianship. Topped with Van Fleet’s creamy alto and Haviv’s light, airy soprano, this was a quartet of formidable musical strength and intelligence.
Joining the proceedings was also Jim Lyerly, winner of an auction held during the LAMC’s Opening Night Gala earlier this year in which the prize was the opportunity to lead the orchestra and audience in a rendition of the “Hallelujah” chorus. He is also van Fleet’s husband, who smiled and sang along with the rest of her colleagues.
Following the stirring final chorus of the “Messiah” were encores in the form of Christmas carols and – what else? – a third run-through of “Hallelujah.”
“This may be the best group of singers we’ve ever had,” Gershon playfully addressed the audience at the concert’s close. “But I’ve said that every year. Guess you guys are just getting better and better.”