Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

composer's corner

the effects of the santa ana winds

January 23, 2007

Dear readers,
I hope this finds you well. I’ve just returned from NYC where I attended the Chamber Music America conference to advertise my chamber music works. As much as I enjoyed spending time in the Big Apple, I’m glad to be back home in LA!

Today I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the inspiration behind my new piece for LACO, Desert Wind.

My initial thoughts after receiving this commission from Sound Investment were, that I wanted to write about a topic typical of Los Angeles. At the same time, as a musical goal, I wanted to create a showcase for the principal players and individual sections of LACO, a “Concerto for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra”.

After dismissing traffic gridlock, smog and other similarly tempting subjects as possible LA-related topics, I settled for the Santa Ana winds and how they interact with our city! Maybe so, because they remind me of their hard-hitting Austrian cousin, the Foehn...

Having found my programmatic topic, soon the question arose: “How, as a composer, do you approach writing a motif/theme/passage/entire composition about a weather phenomenon (or, in the bigger picture, anything non-music related)?” Every composer will have a different answer to this. For me, what definitely doesn’t work is to sit down and think: “Now I’m going to write some Santa Ana music!”.

What serves me best in such a situation is to give the subject some thought, maybe a few days, without trying to immediately come up with musical ideas.
Then, when I’m beginning to get a feel for what I’m aiming at, I start writing without thinking too much about it anymore. The subconscious will do the work at this stage. Later (days, weeks, sometimes months later), the left side of my brain will catch up with me and I might be able to say to myself: “Ok, this passage reminds me of dawn in Los Angeles, with the winds softly playing in the leaves of palm trees”!


Principal percussionist Tom Raney just called and he was able to answer some of my questions regarding the percussion setup and certain sounds that I’m looking for. He is going to try out some of the passages that I’ve written and then we’ll talk again.

Next time, I’ll get a little more into how the themes for the city and the Santa Anas turned out – as much as they can be described with words!

In the meantime, keep the music alive,

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