Pacific Chorale joins the LA Phil to help bring Mozart’s film to life


Ask any classical musician: Playing Mozart is hard. It requires a combination of precision, virtuosity, sensitivity, balance, and a myriad of other qualities working together to make something incredibly difficult seem effortless.

Now imagine performing Mozart live at the Hollywood Bowl in front of thousands of people. But it’s not just a concert. You are part of a massive ensemble accompanying a projection of “Amedee,” director Miloš Forman’s famous 1984 film about Mozart. You present the original music from the film live, following the action exactly, observing all the sudden starts and stops, sometimes mid-sentence.

The artistic director of Pacific Chorale, Robert Istad. Credit: Photo courtesy of Pacific Chorale/Doug Gifford Photography

That’s the daunting task the Orange County Pacific Chorale will tackle on August 23. Under the direction of Artistic Director Robert Istad, members of the Chorale will learn the chorus parts, then join forces with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra to accompany the Oscar-winning film. while it is broadcast on a giant screen. The score is composed primarily of compositions by Mozart, and the centerpiece of the film, both musically and dramatically, focuses on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the commissioning and composition of Mozart’s only requiem mass.

The challenges of accompanying a film in which music plays a defining role are immense, Istad said.

“A lot of times we start in the middle of a move. Sometimes there is a soloist who sings in front of the camera, then the choir must come to accompany them. Sometimes a choir starts singing on a film and then our choir joins them. Trying to align ourselves with the performance events of the film is what I work on the most.

Accompanying a film presents other challenges, Istad said — interpretation, for example.

“A big part of the preparation was really listening to the music from the film and making sure that the interpretation that I’m preparing really matches the recordings that they used in the film, as opposed to Robert’s idea. Istad from Mozart’s Requiem, or whatever.”

Istad said the process is profoundly different from collaborating with another musical group. “Normally I would talk to the conductor about tempos and other considerations. I would say (to the conductor) ‘What is your concept of Mozart’s Requiem?’ And then we would talk about it and collaborate on certain things. We would both contribute to the interpretation as a whole. And as a result of this process, I would know what to do and how to lead the choir. But in this case, we have to bow to the film. It dictates the interpretation, and we have to follow.

Despite all the complexity required, the performances must be put together very quickly, Istad said.

‘Amadeus’ Live Concert

When: 6 p.m. August 23

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles

Tickets: $19 to $79


“We’ve only been with the LA Phil twice in rehearsal. During the first rehearsal, Sarah Hicks, their bandleader for this event, will tackle the more complicated parts. And then, during the second rehearsal, we will launch the film and play with it in real time. »

Istad stressed that the ultimate responsibility for keeping things together rests with Hicks. “She tackles the Herculean job of aligning all the gathered musical forces and starting and stopping them at just the right time. It’s all up to her.”

Istad said the challenges of performing with the film are more than outweighed by the joy of performing some of Mozart’s most famous works using the combined strengths of a large choir and a full orchestra. “The funniest thing about this whole piece is that you sing Mozart’s greatest hits. When else can you sing movements from the Requiem and all those wonderful operatic choruses? It’s really fun.”

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One of the most enjoyable moments for Istad is the performance of the fictional opera – a vaudeville scene set in the Theater an der Wieden in which many of Mozart’s most famous operatic moments are parodied by a bizarre cast comedic actors and, memorably, a huge pantomime horse. “You know, this moment is so much fun – it’s freakishly funny. I think the choir is going to have a great time doing this.

Landing Orange County’s first classic Grammy

It has been a busy and rewarding year so far for the Pacific Chorale. The group made history by becoming the first classical music ensemble from Orange County to win a Grammy Award. They won in the Choral Performance category at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas on April 3.

The chorale – featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, National Children’s Chorus and eight soloists all under the direction of LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel – won the Grammy for a recording from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in E flat major, the “Symphony of a Thousand”. The recording also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Album, Classical.

Istad was impressed and inspired by the forces involved in this massive project.

“When we put it together, it was a hundred singers from the (Los Angeles) Master Chorale and a hundred singers from the Pacific Chorale. We really worked hard to make sure we brought together the best choral forces possible. else will you have the opportunity to do this work at Disney Hall with two professional choirs and a large symphony orchestra?”

The 2022-23 season of Pacific Chorale has been announced. It includes the works of composers Maurice Duruflé and Jocelyn Hagen (October 15), two separate holiday concert programs (“Carols by Candlelight” on December 3 and 7 and “‘Tis the Season!” on December 18 and 19), Vespers by Monteverdi (March 4, 2023) and the music of revolutionary composer Florence Price with Nelson Mass by Haydn (May 20).

Istad is happy with the direction of the choir coming out of the pandemic. “I’m really thrilled with the sound we’re getting. We have made many changes in personnel and in the way we generally work at the choir. I’m also happy that everyone in the choir seems genuinely interested in exploring new ideas. Any good performing arts group these days is supposed to experiment and push certain boundaries, and that’s what we do.

Paul Hodgins is the founding editor of Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at [email protected]

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