The Bradbury Concert


We reported on December 22nd, 2017 that one Downtown resident stated, “It’s going to go by quickly, so, take full advantage!” He of course was referring to the 2017 Holiday Season, which looking back on it now, did accelerate at blinding speed. The Season is always over too soon— any thoughts why? Comment below!

A December highlight for us was attending The Da Camera Society’s annual musical holiday ritual, Christmas at the Bradbury. This year The Society invited, Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, which was much to the benefit of all who attended. The show was inspiring and Clare College Choir made use of the space in a way that demonstrated their legacy as an institution.

Mount St. Mary’s University founded The Da Camera Society in 1973, under the direction of Professor Dr. MaryAnn Bonino. Its original intent was to, ‘Foster the return of chamber music to the salons for which it was originally intended.’ As it happened, the founding of The Da Camera Society perfectly coincided with the Bi-Centennial of the City of Los Angeles. Their original concept has since expanded to, ‘ Celebrate the experience of music,’ while simultaneously honoring Los Angeles' historic architecture. Over the past ten years, The Society has performed fifteen concerts at the historic Bradbury Building.

“The setting becomes part of the program itself,” said Kelly Garrison, General Director of The Da Camera Society. “The Bradbury has a lushness, a special quality that creates a presence all its own.”

The Bradbury Building is a five-story sky-lit atrium with two grand staircases on congruent sides of the building's equiangular quadrilateral interior. Audience members were seated along the oblong corridors of the building's four iconic floors, and the choir made use of its gorgeous staircases for the backbone of their staging— they also mingled among the spectators at times, to give a feeling of complete immersion. During one particular number, the choir utilized the building's open air elevators to sing and quickly move between levels. Everyone laughed and cheerfully giggled.

“They had one hour of rehearsal, which I find staggering,” remarked Kelly, at the Choir’s professionalism. “The general rule is that the more resonant the space, the more challenging it is to adapt to. And at The Bradbury, the test is keeping the choir together.” This job of course falls to choir director Graham Ross, who, self-admittedly, has a great love for breaking the original confines of traditional staging.

After the show we asked Graham, via email, about his experience at the Bradbury.

Below is our conversation:

Did you enjoy performing at the Bradbury?

Ever since I was asked to present, Christmas at the Bradbury with my Choir, I have been much looking forward to performing there. Over the last eight years that I have directed the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, I have become known for re-imagining concert spaces; to shake up the traditional format of performers static on stage, to create what I hope is a much more immersive experience for our listeners.

There is so much music (especially choral music) that works with performers placed spatially around a building, ‘scrambled’ as we often say, with the audience in amongst the ensemble. When I knew that the Bradbury Building was not a conventional concert venue, it enabled me to put together a programme that I thought would work well in the space, utilizing the main staircases for antiphonal effects, and the multi-leveled layers to enable the voices to resonate from all parts of the building.


Were there any specific challenges, and advantages, you faced?

In a venue like the Bradbury Building, there will always be some seats that have better sight lines than others. I thought hard about ensuring that every audience member felt connected with the performers for at least part of the concert. As a result, we tried to even out what we considered to be main performing spaces for each piece. This meant for a large memory test of where to move between pieces! 

For the final songs in the programme we enjoyed being creative with the choreography, even utilizing the lifts mid-performance at one point for my vocal trumpeter in ‘Santa Baby’! The three main tiers of the staircases made for a perfect shape for us to stage ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ at the end, with the Partridge positioned high up in the rafters. Musicians are used to having to adapt to their new surroundings at relative speed, and being on tour, as we were, meant that I quickly assess the performing space on arrival to make my spatial arrangements work.

This does require both a relatively efficient rehearsal and willingness on the performers’ behalf to make things work, but my singers are used to this now. I’m pleased that the comments we have been receiving seem to have shown that our efforts paid off.


How did the students feel about the show?

My students loved performing in the Bradbury Building. Our three concerts there marked the end of a 9-concert USA tour, which had taken us across the States with performances in New York, North Carolina, Vermont, Texas and California.

It was a wonderful way to finish the tour. Our audiences in America are always so welcoming and keen to hear our music making. We look forward to returning again soon!

One note that intrigued us was the diversity in this audience. At a traditional Christmastime chorale concert a person might be inclined to believe that only a certain type of Santa-hat-wearing character would attend— this cliché couldn’t be further from reality. In attendance was an assorted group of faith traditions, generations, and cultural backgrounds.

“There’s something transcending about this music and the setting itself,” said Kelly Garrison. “We have a core membership that returns each year in excited anticipation of, ‘How will the ensemble use the space this time?’ You’re always in for a musical treat.”

We asked Kelly, “Anything surprising this year?”

“We’ve had shows in many of DTLA’s buildings: City Hall, Union Station, Million Dollar Theater, etc. and I’ve been noticing over the last few years that there’s a lot more 30 somethings attending, many of whom are DTLA residents.”

“Is that a big change?”

“Compared with ten years ago... huge.”

The Da Camera Society & Choir of Clare College, Cambridge.