This month, Grant Gershon is doing something no other person has ever done. He is conducting performances at three of the city’s most celebrated music organizations – LA Opera (Wonderful Town), LA Philharmonic (John Adams’ El Niño), and the LA Master Chorale (Festival of Carols and Handel’s Messiah) – all in one month. This is an exciting time for the renowned conductor and Artistic Director of the Master Chorale, who has a lifelong relationship with the Music Center (including LA Opera).
Gershon is a Californian through and through, hailing from the city of Alhambra, and educated at Chapman University and at the University of Southern California. He first pursued a career as a pianist and was suspicious of conductors with the anti-authoritarian spirit of a teenager growing up in the 1970s. Twenty years later, Gershon found himself at the Music Center, working as an assistant conductor and principal pianist at LA Opera. It was here that Gershon discovered a passion for conducting.
“I noticed that I was on the same path that so many celebrated 19th-century conductors took to the podium,” recalls Gershon. Namely, he was a talented pianist with a reputation as one of the country’s most exceptional vocal coaches.
After six years at LA Opera, Gershon became an assistant conductor at the LA Philharmonic, working with Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen.
“Esa-Pekka Salonen is the person who really encouraged me to pursue conducting. He became my mentor and I learned virtually everything about conducting from him,” says Gershon, whose conducting career took off following his tenure at the LA Phil.
Since 2001, Gershon has served as the Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. He has led the chorale to worldwide acclaim in over 100 performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall and has been a champion of new music (including world premieres of works by Steve Reich, Christopher Rouse and Salonen). Additionally, Gershon is LA Opera’s Resident Conductor and Director of the LA Opera Chorus.
Gershon has worked separately with the three classical music organizations making up the Music Center for years, but this is the first time that he (or anyone else, for that matter) will be conducting at all of them in a single month—sometimes two different performances in one day.
“As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, it is a dream come true and incredibly humbling to lead performances with three companies that define the classical music scene in Los Angeles and around the country,” says Gershon. “I do occasionally pinch myself to make sure I am awake,” he jokes.
While all the pieces Gershon will conduct this month have their differences, Gershon sees that they are all connected by something greater.
“What binds all of these performances is a sense of joy. These pieces—Wonderful Town, El Niño, Festival or Carols and Messiah—are all filled with exuberance and an enormous life force. That is something we cherish during the holidays,” says Gershon. “If we can focus that positive energy back to the community, we will have fulfilled the mission we are here for.” Namely, to offer audiences a transformational experience of the power of classical music.