When minimal music pioneer Steve Reich was just one years old, his parents divorced. Through the 1940s, their separation caused him to divide his time between the coasts, taking trains from his mother's home in New York to his father's in Los Angeles. "As an adult, he realized if he had been a child at that time in Europe, he would've been on a different kind of train entirely," says Patrick Scott, artistic director of the Santa Monica-based avant-garde music company Jacaranda, referring to the trains that took Jewish prisoners to concentration camps. In 1988, Reich performed interviews with Holocaust survivors and set the tapes to chugging strings. The resulting composition, "Different Trains," a three-movement piece for a string quartet, will be performed by the Lyris Quartet as part of "Shattered Glass," Jacaranda's concert program dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Named for the purple flowering hardwood trees imported from Portugal to Glendale in the 1890s.Jacaranda is commemorating an anniversary of it's own: this year's concert series will be their 10th at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. Throughout Jacaranda's history, they've curated challenging programs like "Shattered Glass," each with an eye towards avant-garde and minimalist classical music by composers such as John Cage, Olivier Messiaen, John Adams, and Erik Satie.
But where the L.A. Philharmonic's similarly avant-garde Green Umbrella program tends to lean towards classic compositions from these composers, Jacaranda digs deeper into the oeuvres of the better known artists, while exploring obscure composers' work that the more mainstream L.A. Phil might not be able to. "The music is carefully selected to be a journey from one place to another," Scott says. "Even though there may be some music that's challenging to anybody, there's always some effort made so that people leave feeling that they've had some sort of experience that gets them out of their routine."
To achieve this sensual experience, Scott -- a former set designer for theater and dance companies -- works with his partner, Mark Alan Hilt, a classically trained organist who serves as music director and conductor. Scott met Hilt while on a shopping spree to celebrate finishing a research project. First, he bought books, and then headed to Tower Records to purchase music. As Scott tells it, he walked through the door, and Hilt "swanned out from behind the counter" to help Scott, their fingers entangled in Scott book-heavy bags. Soon, Scott found himself at a production of Madame Butterfly that Hilt was conducting at the Santa Monica Grand Opera, dubious of the quality of music that the evening foretold. "I went there thinking, 'If this guy can't conduct, I can't do this. I can't be with somebody that I can't respect musically,'" says Scott. "But [the orchestra] sounded like a million bucks. I thought, 'Okay, he's a keeper.'" They bonded over Bach and Messiaen. "And we're both Mahler people," adds Scott. They've been together for 19 years, with over half of that being dedicated to Jacaranda.
Their peculiar tastes have led to things like Jacaranda's presentation of "Hallucination," a program of works composed in 1968. With the performance, Scott and Hilt aim to show that mind expansion wasn't confined to the acidheads. "Hallucination" features a piece called "Stimmung" by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the most ambitious and strange pieces of choral music written in the 20th century, as well as a paean to free love. "There's a lot of erotic poetry [in the piece]. Most [creative directors] choose a language other than the language of the audience," says Scott. His mouth curls into a rascally grin. "We're not."
In honor of the piece, which will be performed by renowned Italian choral sextet VOXNOVA, Scott plans to bring over Stockhausen's widow Mary Bauermeister, a visual artist, who is credited with starting the Fluxus art movement. The story goes, when she was pregnant, she was doing harmonic vocal exercises to deal with the pregnancy, and Stockhausen was inspired to create choral works from these strange noises she was making. "Much like the [Jean-Claude and] Christo story, she never was given enough credit," says Scott. "Her 80th birthday is in 2014, so we're bringing her over, and we're trying to get a venue to exhibit her artwork while she's here. I'm hoping we can reach the art world, and [attract] people who have a curiosity about her relationship with Fluxus."
Classical music is already having a difficult time finding an audience, and Jacaranda is constantly experimenting with new ways to attract listeners. In addition to tapping into Bauermeister's built-in fine art connection, Scott is fastidiously recording each of Jacaranda's performances, eventually leading up to a record label that will compliment the performances. He's also working on putting together a performance of several pieces David Byrne composed for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The details are still being worked out, but Scott remains confident he can put the show together, which would bring heaps of attention to Jacaranda. Says Scott, "We will do it, because I never don't deliver."
"Shattered Glass" will be performed on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, 1220 2nd St., Santa Monica, 90401. Visit the Jacaranda Music website for more information.
Top Image: Pamela VliekMartchev | Photo: Courtesy of Jacaranda Music.
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