Los Angeles Master Chorale to Perform Beethoven's Missa solemnis This January
The Los Angeles Master Chorale will present its first performances of Beethoven's powerful Missa solemnis in 13 years on its own concert series on Saturday, January 21 at 2 PM and Sunday, January 22 at 7 PM at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Heralded as a pillar of the choral and orchestral repertoire, the work is considered a specialty of the Master Chorale that last performed the work with Artistic Director Grant Gershon in Disney Hall in 2004.
Although Beethoven is believed to have called Missa solemnis ("solemn Mass") his greatest work, the piece is not frequently performed owing to the large number of resources it requires including a full choir, large orchestra, and four soloists. It is also exceptionally technically challenging.
"The Missa solemnis is like an epic journey up the river of Beethoven's tormented psyche as he struggles to find faith at the end of his life," says Gershon. "There is no chorus on the planet that sings this transcendently challenging music with more visceral power and breathtaking beauty than the Los Angeles Master Chorale. If you love Beethoven, you cannot miss this!"
Composed between 1819 and 1823, the five-movement Missa solemnis was a pivotal work at a time when Beethoven was struggling with writer's block and deafness, and inspired a prolific flurry of new music - including his 9th Symphony - before he died just a few years later in 1827. Missa solemnis in D major, op. 123 and his iconic Symphony No. 9 in D minor were premiered in the same year, 1824. These two works not only created a new musical language but were to arguably set the bar for every major choral and orchestral work to come.
Although taking the liturgical form of a mass, Gershon says one of the most powerful aspects of Missa solemnis is its innate humanity: "Beethoven, who had a deep distrust of the church and of authority figures in general, asks us to bypass any intermediaries and to listen to the words and music directly in the deepest emotional and spiritual level."
Beethoven dedicated the Missa solemnis to his close friend and patron, the Archduke Rudolf of Austria. On the title page of the score he wrote: "From the heart; may it return to the heart!"
"Beethoven is putting his trust in the listeners to open their hearts, even to a work of great length and complexity," says Gershon.
One of the most compelling elements of the 80-minute work is the fifth and final movement, Agnus dei, a fraught but ultimately unanswered plea for peace suggesting that peace will come from within mankind and through universal brotherhood: "The drums of war that have haunted the Agnus dei have retreated into the distance but the final prayer for peace is left unanswered," notes Gershon. "It leaves all of us to search our own hearts, as Beethoven has asked us to, for the answers to the questions posed by the Missa solemnis."
Joining Gershon and the 115-member Master Chorale for the January performances will be soloists Raquel, González (soprano), Allyson McHardy (mezzo soprano), Arnold Livingston Geis (tenor), and Rod Gilfry (bass).
Although performed infrequently, the Master Chorale's history with Missa solemnis is relatively extensive, beginning with its first performance in 1965 under legendary choral conductor, Robert Shaw. Performances with the Master Chorale's founding director, Roger Wagner, followed in 1972 and subsequent performances were presented in 1977 (AlFred Wallenstein), 1986 (Roger Wagner), 1990 (John Currie), and 1997 (Paul Salamunovich.) The 2004 performances with Grant Gershon marked the Los Angeles Master Chorale's first performances of the work in Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Outside of its own concert series presentations, the Master Chorale has performed the work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic several times including, most recently, the world premiere of a new staged and multimedia production with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas in 2015.