Music by, for, and of a Community

I had the great good fortune of attending one of the LA Phil's last West Coast Left Coast concerts two weeks ago. It had the intimacy and ambiance of a community event unlike most orchestra concerts I attend. I came away understanding more than ever how effectively the LA Phil plays the role of community convener for its city.

I went to hear William (Bill) Kraft's "Timpani Concerto No. 1" because he'd been the composer-in-residence at San Diego Youth Symphony during my first year as CEO. I knew from working with him that he'd been the Phil's timpanist, assistant conductor, composer-in-residence, and founder of its new music ensemble during his tenure there. I understood that this concert would be a homecoming for him. What I didn't expect was the depth of community connection that would exist throughout.

Bill and John Adams (the festival's director and concert's conductor) shared the honors of speaking during the pre-concert talk with Molly Sheridan (of AJ's Minding the Gap) moderating. Mr. Adams articulated the arch of connectivity between the music on the program and Los Angeles: Paul Dresher was born in LA; Bill Kraft's connection to the LA Phil needed no mention; Leonard Rosenman's music for "Rebel Without a Cause" was written in LA for a movie set in LA; and Adams' own "The Dharma at Big Sur" was composed for the opening concerts of Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Bill Kraft recounted stories of his recently passed friend Mr. Rosenman and the Phil's efforts over the years to perform works by LA composers, including Frank Zappa and Mel Powell. As he told one story the man next to me leaned over and said, "I was at that concert." John Adams stated that he could not have programmed this new music festival in any other US city and drawn a large and consistent audience as they had in LA. Bill, the founder of the Phil's new music efforts in the early 80s, explicitly credited Esa-Pekka Salonen with building the orchestra's audience for contemporary music.

To add to the sense of community experience, John Adams mentioned on stage before performing the Rosenman piece that someone told him earlier in the day the composer was once roommates with James Dean. He asked if Mrs. Rosenman was in the audience and could confirm the story. She did!

The LA Phil has been securing accolades recently for its El Sistema inspired programs and expanding community commitment. I don't believe this is a new phenomenon but one that is only now being recognized because of the attention that has come with the arrival of Gustavo Dudamel and his own remarkable community music experience in Venezuela. The LA Phil has been changing since the late 80s when it seemed remote and insulated during my college years in the city. Esa Pekka Salonen's legacy is much more than an audience for new music. During his tenure the institution transformed into the community resource it is today with points of entry for people from all walks of life, heritage, and musical tastes. 


UPDATE: Here is a photo of Molly, Bill, and me 


December 20, 2009 5:56 PM | | Comments (1)


This comment came via email to me. DS

Great insight here, and at the center of why I believe the LAPhil continues to be such a powerful cultural resource for that community, as Salonen passes the reigns to Dudamel. I so wanted to attend that very same concert, but could not 'tear away' to do so. I have been a longtime devotee of Zappa's music and was very pleased to see his inclusion in this examination of west coast influences as well.
Adams, Kraft, Dresher and Powell are all formidable archetypes of the left coast scene and so worthy of special treatment within the context of this intimate series.

LAPhil's uncanny ability to innovate & 'excavate' their community links, is, I believe, what keeps them at the heart of that city's music aspirations. Gives me faith that such peripheral forms as symphonic music can still make their contribution to the mainstream culture. Thanks for your thoughts!

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