Jacaranda Music opened its sixth season last night, but not in their usual home. Instead, they opened in Santa Monica’s lovely new Broad Stage, a 500-seat venue at the grounds of the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center. The opening concert was given the title “Tipping the Scales” for works by Harrison, Cage, and Partch.

The opening half of the concert comprised four late-period works by Lou Harrison, the period in which his core work explored use of the gamelan, implementing the sounds, textures, and scales into his music. The 12-person CalArts Gamelan Ensemble (see them in this short video from 2007) provided the gamelan. The works included two of Harrison’s best works of the period: his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Gamelan (1982), and a work I really like, Cornish Lancaran (1986) for soprano saxophone with gamelan. The middle movement of the Double Concerto, in which the gamelan rests while the violin and cello are accompanied by hand drumming on a Western drum, was particularly effective. Works for other combinations were In Honor of the Divine Mr. Handel (1991) for harp with gamelan and Main Bersama-sama (1978) for flute and French horn with gamelan. The best of these works rise from being merely pleasant sounds to works in which the contrasting textures, tones, and attacks play off against each other.

The second half of the concert began with John Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts (1950) in an impressive performance by the Denali Quartet, the resident quartet of the Jacaranda series. The music was both contemporary and timeless, strong in its simplicity. It was the sort of performance in which I really wanted the concert to stop right there and play that work once again.

The concert ended with a performance by the Partch Ensemble of Harry Partch’s Castor and Pollux (1952) for harmonic canon, kithara, diamond marimba, cloud chamber bowls and bass marimba. We’re lucky that we have John Schneider and a group of dedicated musicians to keep the unique sounds, scales and instruments of Harry Partch around and occasionally performed.

The majority of programs in Jacaranda Music’s season will center on works by Olivier Messiaen, in Jacaranda’s second year of recognizing the Messiaen centenary.

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