Synchromy – a collective of Los Angeles area composers – presented their second concert of the season at Occidental College’s Bird Studio on Saturday night, Feb. 12. Joining Synchromy composers Daniel Gall and Jenni Brandon were the works of their fellow Synchromy members Eric Guinivan, Jason Barabba, Vera Ivanova and Yalil Guerra. All composers were present except for Guerra who was away preparing for a performance at the Latin Grammy Awards.
Deploring how mainstream musical organizations have ignored Los Angeles area composers, Synchromy is working hard to change audiences’ attitudes about their local composers. “We want to create a space for music by composers from Los Angeles played by musicians from Los Angeles,” said Brandon who served as the emcee for the concert. “We’re new music, locally grown.”
Beginning the evening was Guinivan’s work for flute and percussion “Autumn Dances.” Evoking the sound of the Japanese koto (a traditional flute), Guinivan’s composition whirred with dazzling and piquant sonorities. Woodblocks, tuned metal Tibetan bowls, and even slabs of plywood were all used in this brilliant work. The sounds emitted by the tuned bowls were especially memorable. Hazy overtones resonated and reverberated across the hall, giving an organ-like pedal point quality. The composer himself was the percussionist and he was coupled with the impressive artistry of flautist Michael Matsuno.
Continuing this Japanese tangent was a ravishing song cycle by Brandon entitled “Imperceptible.” Using Japanese poems translated into English by Kenneth Rexroth, Brandon’s song cycle was a sensitive fusion of the song idioms of Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein, with a bit of the Puccini from Madame Butterfly hovering in the background. Soprano Keiko Clark, the inspiration for this song cycle, performed the work with superb vocal luster and total emotional commitment. The heartbreak pulsating in the notes of Brandon and her selected poems were brought to life through Clark. Clark’s piano accompanist, Lisa Edwards, was a truly equal partner that assertively matched Clark’s voice note-for-note. A superb accompanist.
Not overstaying its welcome by even one second, this song cycle demonstrates Brandon’s genuine talent for word painting and song craft. Very few composers are able to write convincingly for voice – Brandon possesses a rare gift.
Gall’s “Traveling through many places… and standing still” dispelled with an effortless grin the hothouse moods of Brandon’s song cycle. Composed for flute and clarinet (played superbly by Rachel Woolf and David Allen respectively), the work beguiled the listener with its disarmingly goofy and warm charm that recalled the work of such composers for cartoons as Milt Franklin and Scott Bradley. Especially ravishing was the work’s second movement, a lovely Copland-esque song that evoked wide-open spaces under moonlight.
After the intermission came Barabba’s “Diddling” for baritone and piano. Setting to music a serio-comic essay by Edgar Allan Poe, Barabba’s work brought Poe to life before the audience, sputtering and venting his spleen to anyone who cared to listen. One often forgets that, aside from the Gothic grotesqueries he is best remembered for, Poe was a revered humorist and satirist whose work was beloved of his fellow cadets at West Point. Rhythmically fidgety, harmonically acidulous, and uproariously hilarious, Barabba’s “Diddling” was plain evidence of this composer’s tremendous talent and ability to evoke laughter from the listener – not an easy task. Scott Graff, baritone and the dedicatee of the work, was ideal. His sonorous baritone easily glided between daffy lightness and mock stentorian tones. That Graff enjoyed performing this work was obvious and contributed enormously to the work’s effect. Edwards returned as accompanist and was, again, superb.
“Three Chants and Three Interludes” by Chapman University professor Ivanova was perhaps the most serious work on the program. Composed for flute (alternating with alto flute), clarinet (alternating with bass clarinet), and cello, the work’s dark moods seem to belong to the world of Alfred Schnittke and Lera Auerbach. The three instruments compete and jostle side-by-side in an attempt to overtake the other until, at the end, only one emerges the “victor.” Ivanova’s thorny work was played with power and accuracy by flautist Amy Tori, clarinettist Andrew Leonard, and cellist Ana Kim.
Closing the evening was Guerra’s work for flute and cello “Ache.” A composer with roots in Cuba and Spain, the work’s languorous harmonies and rhythms – the sounds of Ernesto Lecuona, Amadeo Roldan, and Latin jazz was never far away – brought hearty applause from the audience. Rachel Woolf returned on the flute and was partnered with cellist Bryan West. Both of them navigated this sunny score with sympathy and commitment to Guerra’s voice.
Synchromy’s next concert will be held in May in the city of Venice. More information about the group and their concerts can be found at www.synchromymusic.org or by visiting their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Synchromy.
In Synchromy we have six composers who give a black-eye to the notion that the era of great music is past. Synchromy may be one of the most exciting new music projects in the Los Angeles area today.