Hollywood Master Chorale concluded their Songs of Experience concert series Saturday night at the West Hollywood Library. Since the concert was inspired by Poet-painter William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” the library was an an apt location to showcase his intimate, poignant poems set to song. The composers enlisted for this two-year commissioned project (Voices of Los Angeles) ranged from individuals newly graduated from their studies to individuals long tenured at respected institutions, both academic and religious.

The seventy-seven-minute program featured nine songs totaling forty minutes, while the remaining thirty-seven minutes were comprised of lengthy introductions either by the composer or someone close to the composer before each song. While it was illuminating to step through the portal of the composers’ process and understand their personal resonance with their respective piece, the overflowing amount of detail (describing the song’s path and trajectory) obstructed the opportunity of listening to these new works with fresh ears. It would have been better to have such sentiments presented in a succinct manner in the program’s notes, so that an evening of Romantic music could be sung and enjoyed uninterrupted by lengthy speeches.

Mark Popeney’s “Love Seeketh,” based on Blake’s “The Clod and the Pebble,” started the program with a plaintive, canticle quality that delicately established the chamber mood for the evening. Michelle Green Willner’s stormy and dissonant waltz, “Garden of Love,” bellowed forth with great fury, and contrasted with Jeffrey Bernstein’s British-flavored, daintier take on the poem of the same name. Joshua Fishbein’s “A Divine Image” served as a musical palindrome; beginning and concluding with great force while its middle was filled with passages both serene and distressed in equal measure.

Sage Lewis’ “The Little Girl Lost” was full of polyrhythms and dissonance, but unfortunately it proved to be a challenge for the audience and the chorale: While the grating sounds and multiple rhythms communicate the lost and apprehensive feelings a little girl would have, the chorale needed to be tighter and more in sync. But they sang best after that unsettling number on Jordan Nelson’s rapturous composition, “Blake’s Ode: A Love Song,” a succinct yet powerful anthem imploring future generations to appreciate the freedom they have to love.

Saad Haddad’s “Ah Sunflower” was full of bright, strident dissonance that recalled Copland, while Nick Strimple’s “Two Flowers” felt more liturgical and evoked a more contemplative, mournful atmosphere. An encore song was performed and ended the evening on a sweet, tender note.

Led by Lauren Buckley and composed of volunteers both amateur and professional, the Hollywood Master Chorale may not have a distinctive, authoritative sound, but they do sing well. The compositions carry complex, inventive flair, and are rich in tunefulness. The showcase for these “Voices in Los Angeles” honored the legacy of William Blake’s work with artful compositions that ought to be heard in places grander than a library.

Hollywood Master Chorale
Voices of Los Angeles: Songs of Experience
West Hollywood Library, June 22, 2013


Reprinted from Stage and Cinema - Los Angeles Music Review: VOICES OF LOS ANGELES: SONGS OF EXPERIENCE (Hollywood Master Chorale)