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Patrick Scott of 'Jacaranda' Talks About L.A.'s Classical Music Scene's Decade of Transformation

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Since 2003, the music series Jacaranda has provided the Los Angeles music scene with a much-needed boost of contemporary music programming, specializing in chamber music with an emphasis on West Coast composers. After centenary tributes to Messiaen and John Cage, they now have Benjamin Britten's centenary in 2013. Patrick Scott, Jacaranda's founding (and current) artistic director, took some time to answer questions on celebrating the accomplishments of Britten and Jacaranda's role in the LA Classical music scene today. The three concerts take place on April 7th, 27 and June 1, at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. For more information on the concerts, click here.

What led you to form Jacaranda, and what do you do as artistic director?
Music, especially classical music, has been an obsession since I was in middle school, despite subsequent periods in visual art, stage design and non-profit administration. For years I would jot down possible concert programs in a small notebook. Since founding Jacaranda in 2003 with Mark Alan Hilt, that is what I do—select music, give the season of concerts a sense of balance, promote and build upon previous seasons to enrich the experience of the audience.

What's changed in the local classical music scene?

Jacaranda and Disney Hall were both “born” in October almost ten years ago. Until The Broad Stage opened in 2008, our series at the First Presbyterian Church was the only place in Santa Monica where high-quality performances of mostly-non-standard repertoire music could be regularly heard autumn through late spring. As our audiences grew, especially for newer music, other organizations have sprung up. Today there is a vibrant new music scene across LA. In 2009-10 the LA Phil included Jacaranda in two focus festivals curated by John Adams and by Gustavo Dudamel. The partnership recently became more ambitious when Jacaranda was invited to co-commission a new work by Peter Eötvös as part of another focus festival in January. Eötvös conducted the work’s U.S. premiere to a standing room only crowd.

For those unfamiliar with Benjamin Britten, who is he and how did he get a three concert tribute for his centenary?
Britten restored English language opera to world-class importance after centuries of inactivity. He is a prolific composer in many forms whose music manages to communicate within tradition, while defying convention at every turn. A committed pacifist, his themes include loss of innocence, the challenges of being an outsider, and the radiance of youth. It took courage for Britten and Pears to live openly as a couple from 1939 on until Britten’s death in 1976. Jacaranda loves to celebrate anniversaries of great composers who are not performed enough in Los Angeles. We devoted four concerts to John Cage for his centenary last September, and two years of concerts (2007-09) explored the music of Olivier Messiaen, as well as his musical models and students.

How did you come up with the particular program for each concert?
The first concert is set in February House, a notorious party place in Brooklyn 1939-42. It was the first place Britten and tenor Peter Pears called their own after sailing from England in 1939 and living as guests of friends. Most of the music on the concert is from that time and includes contemporary works by frequent visitors to February House including Aaron Copland, Colin McPhee (the Canadian expert in Balinese music) and the composer/critic Virgil Thomson. Paul & Jane Bowles lived there also with many famous art-world celebrities. His music is included too.

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The second concert is a semi-staged presentation of the overlooked chamber opera "Curlew River." And finally, we close the season with a magical career survey of very early and very late chamber music as well as string orchestra works with soloists. The Serenade for Tenor Horn & Strings is a beloved masterpiece, while the uncommonly brilliant Young Apollo for piano string quartet & strings, is virtually unknown as it was published posthumously.

“Curlew River” features an all-male ensemble with members of the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus. What was the reasoning behind this? This is essentially the first major performance of this chamber opera in Los Angeles, why has it taken so long?
The story of "Curlew River" comes from the all-male tradition of Japanese Noh theater. Britten translated it to the all-male tradition of Medieval English mystery plays. He cast Pears in the central role of The Madwoman. Jacaranda has long-admired the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and knows that there is a core of highly skilled singers who are hungry for such a challenge as performing Curlew River. The score calls for a chorus of eight men. The primary reason why this astonishing opera is unknown here is that it was written for church performance. Working without a conductor is tricky, and while the music is quite accessible it is very demanding to play. British music, in general, has not really flourished in Los Angeles. It took an enterprising concert series located in a church to make this particular opera happen.

Since Britten’s birthdate is in November, do you have anything special planned for the Fall?
Britten’s actual birthday is also Saint Cecilia’s day. She is considered the patron saint of music. There is a marvelous Hymn to Saint Cecilia by Britten for chorus, but we have currently no plans to perform it. Apparently, school age children around the world will be singing Britten songs on November 22 as part of the BRITTEN 100 celebration.

For those attending the concerts and wish to make a day of it, do you have any recommendations?

Jacaranda is one block from the parkland at the edge of the ocean to the west and one block from the Santa Monica Promenade. The newly renovated Santa Monica Place, as well as two cineplexes and the Santa Monica Pier are walking distance from Jacaranda. If you are an architecture fan the bookstore Hennessey & Ingalls around the corner is a must. The nearby Fairmont Miramar Hotel has patio dining and a bar. Also close is the fabled Michael’s Restaurant. Across the street is my favorite lunch & dinner spot Hillstone. Although the kitchen closes at 11 pm, Jacaranda’s musicians usually gather after concerts for drinks and late night eats. Making an afternoon and evening junket to Santa Monica is filled with possibilities.