Hear Now Festival of Contemporary Los Angeles Composers

Why are LA concert composers so often ignored in this city? None of the top performing orchestras champion local composers. The HEAR NOW Festival of Los Angeles Contemporary Composers sought to remedy this situation with concerts that took place on May 14, 2011. Please feel free to add your comments and reactions about the question of why LA concert composers stay under the radar of the music scene, or to the HEAR NOW Festival of Contemporary Los Angeles Composers. My description of the event is below:

Composers take a collective bow at the evening performance from the HEAR NOW Festival. Left to right:
Hugh Levick, Joan Huang, Frank Campo, Anne Lebaron, William Kraft, Patricio da Sliva, Shaun Naidoo, Jeffrey Homes, Sean Helm, Gernot Wolfgang, Russell Steinberg.

HEAR NOW Festival of New Music by Contemporary Los Angeles Composers

“HEAR NOW, GONE TOMORROW ” was the motto that haunted composer Hugh Levick and cellist Timothy Loo to create a music festival dedicated specifically to Los Angeles composers. As the motto foretold, this piece of Los Angeles history came and went Saturday May 14, 2011 to a wildly enthusiastic packed house at First Lutheran Church of Venice—but without a peep of attention from any music critic in the city.  Those who were there, however, realized something important happened that afternoon and evening.

The assembly of forces was impressive: 45 of the best players in LA presented the works of 14 composers on two separate concerts, afternoon and evening. For another thing, the performances glowed with technical and musical command of the highest order. These concerts were not the typical rush job just getting through the music respectably. These were true interpretations, labors of love that clearly were the result of many rehearsals— the way we expect musicians to perform Chopin or Brahms. It made a difference. There was an electricity and intentionality in each piece often missing in contemporary music concerts, even by the top groups in town.

The composers did not hail from a single university or musical aesthetic. Levick was quick to point out that the limitation of a single day allowed only a small fraction of the city’s talented composers to be represented. The composers ranged from acknowledged local masters William Kraft and Frank Campo, to local former celebrity resident Esa-Pekka Salonen, to recognized current university composers Stephen Hartke and Anne LeBaron, to local “composers at large” Gernot Wolfgang, Joan Huang, and myself.

I don’t mean to give the impression that no other groups perform LA composers. Mark Carlson’s Pacific Serenades has commissioned over 100 new works, many by LA composers. The What Next? Ensemble has created an LA Composers Project., now in its third year. The Southwest Chamber Ensemble recently presented an entire series on the remarkable music of William Kraft. What makes HEAR NOW different is its recognition of LA as a noteworthy placethat produces concert music that should not be ignored. It celebrated plurality in its wide variety of individual performers and ensembles, as well as its composers. In the future, Levick would like to extend the HEAR NOW festival properly over several days to permit a much wider representation of composers. That will require financial support from all of us to make it happen—a worthy cause, indeed.

The afternoon concert featured Isaac Schankler’s Ghost Almanac, Joan Huang’s Yang-Guan Songs for string quartet, Frank Campo’sQuintetto Vincentino for clarinet and piano quartet, Stephen Hartke’s violin duo O’ Them Rats is Mean in my Kitchen”, Sean Helm’s Holomovements, Shaun Naidoo’s Triage, and Jeffrey Homes’ Oscularum Infame.

The evening concert began with Anne LeBaron’s Concerto for Active Frogs (in costume!), then continued with Patricio Da Lilva’sClarinet Quintet, Gernot Wolfgang’s Short Stories for clarinet and bassoon, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Preludes for solo piano, Hugh Levick’s soprano work Victory and the Angel of History,  Russell Steinberg’s String Quartet No. 1, and William Kraft’s Vintage Renaissance and Beyond.

The impressive roster of performers included:

Eclipse Quartet: Sara Parkins, Sarah Thornblade, Alma Lisa Fernandez, Maggie Parkins

Lyris Quartet: Allyssa Park, Shalini Vijayan, Luke Maurer, Timothy Loo

Sara Andon, Pamela Viek Martchev, flutes

Leslie Reed,  oboe

Eric Jacobs, Alex Sramek, Stuart Clark, clarinets

Doug Masek, alto saxophone

Archie Carey, Judith Farmer, bassoons

Kevin Austin, Trombone

Marcia Dickstein, harp

Ted Atkatz, Linnea Sablosky, percussion

Gloria Cheng, Aron Kallay, Joanne Pearce Martin, Vicky Ray, pianists

Rebecca Tomlinson, soprano

Bobby Halvorson, Soloist

Odeya Nini, Claire Gendler, Brain Cramer, Brandon Becker Archie Carey, chorus

Ben Jacobson, Tereza Stanislav, violins

Joel Moerschel, viola

Eric Byers, John Walz, celli

David Parmeter, double bass

Travis Kane, Elisabeth Wright, conductors