The Gala Bel Canto event on April 11th in the Crystal Ballroom of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, proved to be a beautifully emotional evening for two-hundred members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) — aged 6 through 18 — and the 280 adult attendees alike. Affectionately known as “Mrs. T,” Anne Tomlinson, the Artistic Director of the last 22 years for the 1986-founded LACC, bid a poignant farewell to her adoring choristers and professional peers in what will be her last season. The passage of time has judged the legacy of Tomlinson very favorably, who first set out on her heroic journey upon being educated at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, followed by graduate school at Northwestern University for conducting.
Emceed by John Horn, the host of KPCC’s The Frame, and co-chaired by Jennifer and Joe Sliskovich, the four-hour spectacular was not only centered around the contributions of Tomlinson, who was fêted with various video tributes and was the recipient of the prestigious Bel Canto Award, but featured a scrumptious three-course dinner (plus appetizers), and a series of moving performances by five of the LACC’s six ensembles. Not to mention, boosted by the passion of auctioneer Mike Shumard, who sold a pair of Grammy tickets for $3,000, four tickets to Tomlinson’s last hurrah with Otello at the Hollywood Bowl for $7,250 – and much more, including an array of individual donations — the gala raised a record-breaking $320,000. The funds will go a long way in furthering the education of the children from 50 of Southern California’s communities.
The night’s entertainment underscored the already polished talent of the young singers, a third of whom have been awarded scholarships. There is no weak link among any of them, as they’ve thrived in not only their own setting but via successful artistic partnerships under Tomlinson’s direction. Whether it’s working with Grant Gershon of the L.A. Master Chorale at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Gustavo Dudamel of the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, or Plácido Domingo and James Conlon of the L.A. Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the children have often brought the best out of their adult counterparts. As Gershon, the presenter of Tomlinson’s Bel Canto Award, quipped: “When they [the LACC] sing with the L.A. Master Chorale, our grown-up singers stand up straighter and behave better for fear of being shamed by the kids!”
To pay homage to the fantastic stage collaborations with SoCal’s world-renowned musical organizations, there were several mini-performances of which the highly skilled Principal Pianist, Twyla Meyer, provided most of the accompaniment for. To honor the L.A. Opera, the chamber singers performed a lovely rendition of “Dôme épais” from Lakmé (by Léo Delibes, arranged by Francisco Núñez), which highlighted a resplendent and unified vocal lucidity that illuminated the ballroom. To recall last fall’s alliance with the L.A. Master Chorale, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (specifically “No. 15 Amor volat”) was next and underscored the effortlessness of the Intermediate Choir and the gorgeous legato of soprano alumna, Nicole Toto. Then, to remind of the remarkable association with the L.A. Phil, the Concert Choir, with Evan Roberts on percussion, sweepingly and enthrallingly sang out the “Gloria Tibi” section of MASS by Leonard Bernstein.
Of course, a celebration of Tomlinson’s tenure and her positive impact on the LACC at large would not be complete without acknowledging the LACC’s presence around the globe, domestically and in six continents abroad. As eloquently stated by Diana Landis, the Apprentice Choir Director, touring is “part of the integral experience of meeting with several cultures to create hope and peace for our world.”
Landis’ Apprentice Choir fittingly recognized a past trip to China by singing “Moh lee hwah” (“Jasmine Flower”) – a Chinese folk song arranged by B. Wayne Bisbee – which offered a vivid cultural snapshot in sonorous form comprised of sweet voices that echoed melodiously. In addition, Dr. Steven Kronauer, the Director of the Young Men’s Ensemble, conducted “Brothers, Sing On!” as the males’ developing and dynamic vocals alternated between a softness and booming power. Subsequently, the choirs joined forces to recognize the splendor of South African heritage by performing the percussively energetic and tremendously tribal flair of “Amavolovolo” – a traditional piece arranged by Rudolf de Beer.
The expert and soulful quality with which the children sang has undoubtedly been a testament to the determined efforts of Tomlinson, a humble and gracious leader who helped expand the number of choirs from 3 to 6 and the number of choristers from 150 to 400. Certainly, it has been Tomlinson’s “incredible devotion to beauty and professionalism in generations of young people” — a movingly accurate statement professed by Gershon — that has been most conducive to her students’ success. They have learned to bridge the gap from being choral singers to becoming full-fledged artists, who can ply their craft by thinking critically and examining music from different angles.
When Tomlinson accepted her Bel Canto Award from Gershon, she stood tall and proud as the first-ever Artistic Director Emeritus, more than two decades removed since initially being asked to be the interim Artistic Director. She has been empowered by what her students have given her and yet emboldened to take on the next stage of her life with her supportive husband, David. “My greatest honor and privilege has been working with you children – you are my inspiration each day. David and I might do some traveling, but we’ll be the greatest supporters of this organization, and my heart is always with you,” Tomlinson tearfully expressed.
At last, when Tomlinson’s gifted choristers toasted her one more time with the time-honored salute, “Here’s to Song” by Allister MacGillivray, there was not a dry eye in the house, as her students and their parents tenderly celebrated how much richer Tomlinson had made their lives.
For more information about the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC), please visit lachildrenschorus.org