The Dec. 3 concert of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Take Joy!, was the perfect start to the holiday season. Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Susan Graham joined LACC and Artistic Director and Conductor Anne Tomlinson in a thoughtfully curated program of emotional music and poetry that showcased the exquisite voices of one of the world’s leading children’s choirs.
Over the past 20-plus years, Tomlinson has grown the LACC from 100 children and three choirs to 400 children and six choirs. The Apprentice, Intermediate, Concert, Chamber Singers and Young Men’s Ensemble performed Sunday night. LACC performs with the LA Philharmonic, LA Opera, LA Master Chorale, LA Chamber Orchestra, Calder Quartet, Jacaranda, MUSE/IQUE, Pasadena Symphony and other acclaimed groups, but it was a treat to hear the ensembles individually and combined in a program all their own.
The evening was inspired by “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” a Christmas Eve tradition introduced in 1918 by King’s College Choir in Cambridge, England. Tomlinson explained in the program notes that the music and poetry “touches on universal human experiences through thoughtful verse and moving song and has been broadcast around the globe by the BBC every holiday since 1930.”
The choirs were, without exception, phenomenal and polished to perfection. The 13 ensemble musicians included outstanding players from the LA Phil. It was an added pleasure to hear the Disney Hall organ played by William Schmidt and the harp by Maria Casale.
“O Holy Night” with Graham and the Young Men’s Ensemble was sublime. But it’s hard to pick favorites when every piece from Bach to Vivaldi and Holst to Thompson felt ethereal. Though the pieces were not standard carols, they conveyed the emotions of the season beautifully.
Particularly touching were two poems composed in the Terezin concentration camp: “The Butterfly” by Czech writer Pavel Friedman (“Butterflies don’t live here/in the ghetto.”) and the anonymous “Birdsong” (“…if the tears obscure your way/You’ll know how wonderful it is/To be alive.”). Those readings, passionately performed by choir members, introduced two heartfelt songs by Debussy, a plea for the orphaned children of France during WWI, and Norwegian composer Kim Andre Arnesen’s expression of hope found in a concentration camp.
Though I had tissue at the ready, I didn’t need it. The children’s voices resonated with hope, promise and joy.