How does a major choral group return to live performances in 2021? For the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the answer is: with a masked audience and a far more diverse lineup of composers. The ensemble’s 2021–2022 season, which marks its return to Walt Disney Concert Hall after a year and a half, is responsive to both the pandemic and the social justice protests that enveloped the nation during the hiatus.
Health guidelines will be strict: Before being admitted, all members of the audience will have to present evidence they are fully vaccinated, or that they have had a negative coronavirus test over the previous 72 hours. In addition, “all concertgoers, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask indoors, per the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s mandate,” the Chorale writes on its website.
These protected people will hear established masterpieces such as Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Handel’s Messiah, along with numerous works by Black composers and music by artist-in-residence Reena Esmail, whose work incorporates elements of both Indian and Western classical music.
Seventy percent of the works the Chorale will perform are by composers from traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. That’s a huge jump in representation from the 2019–2020 season, when works by such artists represented 30 percent of the repertory.
“I think that it’s clear that the programming of this coming season reflects a conscious and systematic decision for the Master Chorale to be a forum for more voices, in particular those from historically excluded groups in classical music,” said Grant Gershon, who will be celebrating his 20th season as music director.
“I believe that we have been heading in that direction for some time, particularly in the composers whom we’ve commissioned since I joined the Chorale. The difference now is that we are consciously acknowledging the systemic biases that have shaped music curation in this country, and we are responding accordingly.”
The season will kick off Sept. 25 and 26 with a program featuring music by Esmail, Morten Lauridsen, and Los Angeles-based composers Nilo Alcala and Shawn Kirchner. Teachers will be admitted free to the Sept. 25 concert. Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (aka “Vespers”) will follow on Nov. 20 and 21.
Diversity dominates the concerts of early 2022: The Jan. 30 performance features the delayed premiere of Derrick Skye’s Ready, Bright, while the Feb. 20 performance, conducted by Associate Artistic Director Jenny Wong, features music by Esmail along with Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir.
A double bill of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum will be performed on March 20. Guest conductor Rollo Dilworth returns May 8 for a program entitled “United We Sing,” which will feature works by the veteran African-American composer and arranger Alice Parker and jazz great Mary Lou Williams.
The Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra joins the Chorale for the season-ending performance of Bach’s B-Minor Mass on June 25 and 26.
In addition, the ensemble will present its usual mix of holiday-season programming, including a Festival of Carols, Handel’s Messiah, and the 40th-annual Sing-Along Messiah. Unless the pandemic has been tamed between now and then, participants will be proclaiming “Hallelujah!” from behind their masks.