By David Spear

Mr. Spear was the first Artistic Director of the Shumei Concert Series.

Contemporary American Lyricism

Los Angeles Chamber Singers

Peter Rutenberg, Conductor

Alan Steinberger, Piano

Music is meant to be shared. If a troubadour sings a song alone in the woods, his melody will be just like another tree that falls without sound. Let's invite that minstrel to sing for us, so that his song can be heard.

Most of us are blessed with a voice, giving each of us our individuality and identity. We use our voices every day to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and feelings. The first musical sounds were emitted by voices, and the human voice remains one of the world's most cherished and expressive musical instruments.

On Sunday, October 10 for the first performance of the 1999/2000 Shumei Concert Series, the Los Angeles Chamber Singers filled Shumei Hall with a splendid sound. Under the masterful direction of conductor Peter Rutenberg, these 21 singers blended beautifully in a concert of contemporary American lyricism featuring music by Randall Thompson, Matthew Harris, Aaron Copland, Morten Lauridsen, and some jazzy arrangements by Gregg Smith.

Exquisitely framed by Thompson's settings of Robert Frost's poems, the tone of the concert was set from the first notes of "The Road Not Taken." This elegant and simple folk song was gracefully accompanied by pianist Alan Steinberger who followed the singers' phrases effortlessly and, with Mr. Rutenberg's lead, pulled the chorus forward when necessary. What we were hearing and seeing was a great collaboration of poet and composer, lovingly sung by these sonorous voices, and sensitively shaped by the hands of the conductor and pianist.

We were then treated to Matthew Harris' a cappella settings of four Shakespeare texts taken from the Bard's great plays. In these works, the chorus is given another opportunity to enhance the collaboration of poet and composer. It's amazing how these words, which were written centuries ago, sound so fresh when they are set to marvelous melodies by a young contemporary American composer whose style is so easily accessible.

Rounding out the first half of the program were five Old American Songs that were originally transcribed by Aaron Copland, the dean of American composers. Copland, who lived until the ripe old age of 90, collected American folk songs, and was always adapting them into his scores. Written in the 1950's, the arrangement by R. Wilding White of the lullaby "The Little Horses" featured the velvety sound of the men of the group, and Irving Fine's arrangement of "Simple Gifts" gave the women their moment to shine.

The heart of the second half of the program was devoted to the music of Morten Lauridsen, a Los Angeles composer who was in attendance for the performance of "Les Chansons Des Roses", written in 1993. These beautifully crafted songs, all scored from texts about roses by Rainer Maria Rilke, elevated and illuminated the words, giving us another wonderful example of the powerful collaboration of poet and composer. Mr. Lauridsen's achingly beautiful melody for "Dirait-on", the last song of the set, lingers on, as does the unforgettable scent of the mighty rose. The audience applauded the composer twice with great appreciation.

As Artistic Director of the Shumei Concert Series, I am honored to work with such distinguished artists, composers, conductors, and performers. So far, we have committed ourselves towards the goal of bringing people closer to the source of artistic creation, while trying to dissolve the barriers between audiences and artists. In that respect, our concert series so far is a success. As our series continues and we present more concerts, we will begin to put into place some of our other goals.

All of us are woefully aware of the lack of music classes and music appreciation courses in our public schools. It is a shame our society does not place enough value on the civilizing and humanizing influence of music to support its function as a vital part of a well rounded education. In our modest way we hope to help remedy this on a local level. We are committed to bringing music and the concert experience to young people. Blocks of complimentary tickets will be sent to area schools so that students can attend our future concerts and next year we will present our first children's concert entitled "Cello Man" with the acclaimed cellist Eugene Friesen.

Another goal that we have set for ourselves, one particularly dear to me, is to foster new talent and give younger musicians a venue in which to perform. Our upcoming concert in December, "A Jazz Duet' with Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone, will feature within the performance special guest appearances by young jazzmen who live in the Los Angeles area. This is especially appropriate for this concert, as Gary Burton not only has a formidable reputation as an innovative musician but also as an educator and discoverer of new talent.

Most of us are blessed with a voice, a voice that gives each an individuality and identity. It is through our goals and dreams, our commitment to share our love of music by bringing people closer to the source of its creation, by fostering new talent, and by introducing children to their cultural heritage that the Shumei Concert Series will find its own extraordinary and distinct voice.

From SHUMEI MAGAZINE, VOL. 224, november/december, 1999


Peter Rutenberg, Conductor, and the Los Angeles Chamber Singers in performance at Shumei Hall, Pasadena.