California Connections

California Connections
approaching California's Sierra Nevada mountains
Photo: TheDailyNathan
Between the 80th birthday of California-native Terry Riley at the end of June and the annual ACSO conference (the Association of California Symphony Orchestras) at the beginning of August, we combed our orchestra catalogue for California Connections.

Enjoy exploring works about California, such as Nico Muhly's gamelan-colored "postcard" of animators in California and elsewhere, Wish You Were Here; or music of composers born on California soil, for example Dave Brubeck's early Elementals; and titles by those who've lived and worked in The Golden State, including Jersey-boy George Antheil's A Jazz Symphony.

Nico Muhly
Wish You Were Here (2007)I have a picture in my head of the illustrators of the 1940s and 1950, holed up in Belgium drawing the tribal peoples of the Congo, or in California articulating gorgeous Arabian landscapes for early animated films, participating along the way in all of the politically charged problems that arise from empires, colonies, and the abuses of political power.
— Nico Muhly
Michael Nyman
'The Claim' for Orchestra (2003)The film 'The Claim' was made in 2000 and moves Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge to the California Gold Rush of 1847. An Irish immigrant sells his wife and baby daughter for a gold claim…
Joan Tower
Sequoia (1981)What fascinated me about sequoias, those giant California redwood trees, was the balancing act nature had achieved in giving them such great height.
— Joan Tower

Dave Brubeck
Elementals (1963)Born in Concord CA, Dave Brubeck studied at Mills College with Darius Milhaud, who advised him to follow both jazz and classical paths. Elementals, his first orchestral work, brings jazz to the symphony orchestra.
Gabriela Lena Frank
Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout for string orchestra (2001)Leyendas merges classical motifs with Andean folk flourishes for a playful, exciting effect that is at once familiar and foreign.
— Sabine Kortals, Denver Post
David Lang
pierced (2007)I was trying to imagine a way the soloists and the orchestra could relate to each other that would not be old-fashioned. I liked the idea of an opposition between them but I didn't want the kind of competition that traditional concerti generate, where the soloists try to struggle with the orchestra for the supremacy of their ideas.
— David Lang
Andy Pape
Suburban Nightmares (2006)Andy Pape, born in Hollywood CA, moved to Denmark, studied in Copenhagen, and became a part of his new country's musical life.…Throughout all this music it is obvious that Pape has a sense of humor.
— Robert Benson,
Terry Riley
SolTierraLuna (2007)Terry Riley is a composer who challenges limitations that you never thought existed — but without any iconoclastic confrontation. During his new concerto, Sol Tierra Luna…you were ambushed by things that never happen in concertos — followed by "Well, why not?"
— David Patrick Stearns,
Nathaniel Stookey
Doubles: Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra (1999)As distinctive as Stookey's quartets are, though, some may find the succinctly named Double (1999), his concerto for two violins and string orchestra, to be the most deeply satisfying work for its soaring duets, rich harmonic language, and thoughtful moods.
— Blair Sanderson,
Michael Tilson Thomas
Street Song for Symphonic Brass (1988)Street Song is a work in three continuous parts — an interweaving of three songs.…Street Song was originally written in 1988 for the Empire Brass Quintet. This larger orchestral brass version was written for members of the London Symphony Orchestra.
— Michael Tilson Thomas

John Adams
Harmonielehre (1985)Harmonielehre…is the title of a huge study of tonal harmony, part textbook, part philosophical rumination, that Arnold Schoenberg published in 1911 just as he was embarking on a voyage into unknown waters, one in which he would more or less permanently renounce the laws of tonality.
— John Adams
George Antheil
A Jazz Symphony (1955 version)Quoting Joplin and Stravinsky, and calling upon the trumpeter to employ "all the tricks of the trade," Antheil's original and inimitable musical score marries jazz to the concert orchestra. Virtuosic piano solos look ahead to the post-bebop "free" jazz of the 1960s.
Jeff Beal
Concerto for Clarinet (1997)…the richness of Beal’s musical thinking…his compositions often capture the liveliness and unpredictability of the best improvisation.
— Steven Schneider, The New York Times

Jeff Beal's Concerto, written for Larry Combs and the DePaul Wind Ensemble, is also available for orchestra.
Ernest Bloch
Evocations: Symphonic Suite (1937)…in the spring of 1930, in the spring of San Francisco…I wrote down two sketches.…I left San Francisco, and lived several years in Roveredo, Switzerland…a reminiscence, or nostalgia, of San Francisco's Chinatown was laid down. It is the initial motif of Evocation No. III…
— Ernest Bloch
Daniel Catán
Florencia en el Amazonas (Orchestral Suite) (2003)Music from the opera Florencia en el Amazonas portrays a musical equivalent to the "magical realism" often found in Gabriel García Márquez's books. His novel Love in the Time of Cholera inspired the opera's libretto.
Stewart Copeland
Gamelan D'Drum (2010)The audience fairly exploded Saturday night in the most uproarious ovation I can remember at a Dallas Symphony Orchestra classical concert. It came at the end of a new work for "world percussion" and orchestra by Stewart Copeland — yes, that Stewart Copeland, former drummer of the rock band The Police.
— Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News
Henry Cowell
Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 2 (1944)The melodies are original, but the work pays respect to the early American modal religious musical style, containing severe simplicity of rhythm and form and many open chords incidental to fervent flowing polyphony.
— Henry Cowell
Lori Dobbins
Fire and Ice (1990)Fire and Ice posed highly rhythmic material against sustained sonorities. Her ideas and their complex action are magnetic, the work achieving genuine propulsion.
— Robert Commanday, San Francisco Chronicle
Avner Dorman
Concerto in A (1995)…its solo line is restless: it makes its way from Bachian clarity to 19th-century storminess and contemporary brashness before returning to its neo-Baroque starting point.
— Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
Gustavo Dudamel
Libertador Suite (2013)For me, the key moment in the film for Bolívar is the death of María Teresa, his wife. So from this point of view, all the motifs, all the themes that I was developing for the film, were developed from the same theme, of a melancholy and nostalgic heroism.
— Gustavo Dudamel
Roy Harris
Symphony No. 3 (1938)…the work has not lost its appeal. It seems much simpler now, which is not surprising, but the effectiveness of its spacious melodic lines, rich sonorities and kind of free, improvisatory style has not dimmed. When it was first played, it seemed destined to become an American classic, and that is exactly what has happened.
— Raymond Ericson, The New York Times
Leon Kirchner
Concerto for Piano No. 1 (1953)His music entraps the listener's feelings and perceptions with equal sureness and equal intensity. It communicates at once, with enormous gusto and force. It is intricately made, has full intellectual integrity and authority, but its big dramatic expressiveness is its overriding aspect.
— Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle
Colin McPhee
Symphony No. 2, Pastorale (1957)It is primarily a lyrical work, based largely on pentatonic scale forms, and making considerable use of Balinese melodic material collected during the years I spent on the island of Bali. The various melodies employed here no longer retain their original Balinese character. They serve primarily as motifs, as points of departure for the creation of a broader and more personal melodic line.
— Colin McPhee
Kirke Mechem
Songs of the Slave (1993)…a sensational success…beautiful writing for the chorus
Sacramento Bee
Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, became the greatest African-American leader of the 19th century. Douglass is the central figure in Mechem's powerful cantata.
Darius Milhaud
Symphony No 9 (Pastorale), Op 380 (1959)The Ninth stays on the same small scale as its…mates, making no attempt at recognizing the significance the number "9" has in some traditions. It is colorful and rambunctious in the first movement, dark and ominous in the second, and vivacious in the finale.
— Robert Cummings,
Thea Musgrave
Turbulent Landscapes (2003)Each of its six movements is based on a Turner painting, and each features a soloist from the orchestra, who personifies some aspect of the painting. The surrounding textures are beautifully yet unfussily scored. Musgrave has been living in the United States since 1970, and her style has evidently mellowed in those years.
— David Fanning, The Telegraph
Esa-Pekka Salonen
Wing on Wing (2004)Salonen's own Wing on Wing, a tribute to Frank Gehry's iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, reflects that creator's architectural principles in a number of ways. The title refers (in nautical terms) to the 180-degree angle exposing maximum sail area, and by analogy the surfaces of the edifice. The grain of material is built up with references to Salonen's Finnish heritage, to Stravinsky and to West Coast Minimalism.
— Barry Millington, The Evening Standard
Arnold Schoenberg
Suite in G (1934)Schoenberg composed the Suite in G for String Orchestra in 1934 shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles upon fleeing Germany in the wake of the growing Nazi regime. Martin Bernstein, a young bass player from New York University, urged him to write something for college orchestras and the Suite became his first piece in the New World, which Schoenberg created in between tennis games with his neighbors, the Gershwins.
Gerard Schurmann
Concerto for Orchestra (1996)This, overall, is an exhibit of compositional mastery and a mighty contribution.
— Todd Gutnick, Pittsburgh Tribune

Schurmann's Concerto for Orchestra was commissioned by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for its centenary anniversary.
Igor Stravinsky
Concerto in E-flat 'Dumbarton Oaks' (1938)Dance rhythms run through…the attractive Dumbarton Oaks concerto for which Stravinsky drew an analogy with Bach's Brandenburg Concertos — but after all, dance rhythms nudge their way into those, too.
—John Warrack, Gramophone

Nadia Boulanger led the private premiere in 1938 at the Dumbarton Oaks estate.
Joby Talbot
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Suite (2012)I can't get enough of Talbot's glorious moving toy shop of a score, with lashings of shimmer and chime. Strange percussion emerges from the musical undergrowth, while the rabbit's cornet is more of a shofar, an alarming call to judgement. And, at its heart, there's a blessed-out waltz for dancing flowers: froufrou petals in edible colours.
— David Jays, Sunday Times
Karen Tanaka
Rose Absolute (2002)Rose Absolute was inspired by a perfume of the same name, Rose Absolue, created by the French perfumery Annick Goutal located near the Place Vendome in Paris. Rose Absolute is the most beautiful and pure rose of roses. The image of this composition, sounds and colors came to my mind instantly when I visited the shop and was handed a beautiful bottle of the perfume with a lovely scent of roses. The piece was written as a floral bouquet for a lover, as my personal, romantic present.
— Karen Tanaka
Olly Wilson
Expansions III (1993)I conducted Olly Wilson's Expansions III in its Boston world premiere, and it was immediately met with great enthusiasm. It's a jazzy work, composed as sounds and motives expanding outwards from a single source, and it makes an edgy but pleasing experience.
— David Commanday
More California Connections
Paul Chihara, resident
Concerto for String Quartet ('Kisses Sweeter than Wine') (1980) "It was interesting to hear how Chihara's new version of "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," [which] featured the Arcata String Quartet for whom the revised concerto was created, incorporated the smaller ensemble into the orchestra. The orchestra served as a backup, underlining and occasionally commenting on what the quartet had to say in a decidedly contemporary idiom.
— Catherine Reese Newton, Salt Lake Tribune
Justin Connolly, resident
Antiphonies (1989) …the piece emphasizes the spatial distribution of the forces used; the five differently constituted instrumental groups state, comment upon, answer, and contradict one another’s material in a concertante manner. The five main sections of the work treat the principles of antiphony in contrasting ways.
—Justin Connolly
Danny Elfman, native
Serenada Schizophrana (2005)Danny Elfman's Serenada Schizophrana…is music that works. With six movements, rolling piano solos…and the charming hoots and chirps of eight female voices…Mr. Elfman gave us music comfortable in its own world and highly professional in its execution. Hollywood, you say. Better good Hollywood music than second-rate Brahms. The composer of this piece has an ear for symphonic colors and how to balance them.
— Bernard Holland, The New York Times
Andrew Imbrie, resident
Spectral Lovers Imbrie received his masters in music from the University of California, Berkeley. Later, he taught composition, theory, and analysis at Berkeley, as well as having a post at the San Francisco Conservatory.
Rob Kapilow, music about California
Chrysopylae (2012) For his "Golden Gate Opus," Kapilow traveled to the Bay Area for two extended stays, meeting with numerous groups of people to gather personal reflections on the bridge and brainstorm about its aural impact. These conversations continued through a Golden Gate Opus Facebook page, where followers contributed thoughts and kept up to date on the work's progress. Kapilow also spent significant time at the bridge itself sampling ambient sounds, and at the San Francisco Library researching archives.

After many months of this preliminary legwork and extensive collaborations with sound artist Fred Newman (best known for his work on "A Prairie Home Companion"), Kapilow spent the next year writing the piece for chorus, orchestra, and electronics. The result is an epic choral and symphonic masterpiece that incorporates the broad spectrum of emotion and sound associated with this major American landmark.
Dai-Keong Lee, music about California
Golden Gate Overture — for Chamber Orchestra Dai-Keong Lee studied with Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland and composed operas, ballets, and symphonies along with chamber, solo, and choral works, as well as music for Broadway theater.
Steven Mackey, resident
The Big Bang and Beyond (1984) The title refers to early cosmology, Mackey having been a physics student before switching to what he calls "that other realm of magic: music." And the work communicates this aura. Marvelously fluid, it achieves a big, breezy momentousness with massed sounds and lucid textures.
— Donna Perlmutter, Los Angeles Times
Mel Powell, resident
Modules: An Intermezzo for Chamber Orchestra (1985) The small units making up the work are independent rather than continent entities, equivalent with respect to essential content and self-containedness, while appearing throughout under continual transformation. Such structural sublevels and associational mazes, governing connectedness over local disjunction, are reflected at the sounding surface, where continuous garden-variety pulsing will be perceived as among the things this music tends to tilt away from.
— Mel Powell
André Previn, music about California
Night Thoughts (2005) I am very pleased by the idea that I am part of a celebration of Mr. Thiebaud's extraordinary artistry. He is certainly a major voice in American contemporary painting and I admire him boundlessly.
— André Previn

Commissioned as part of the California Compositions initiative, Night Thoughts honors Sacramento native and internationally known artist Wayne Thiebaud.  

Related News