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Derrick Spiva with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

March 2, 2016

Working with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was amazing. Jeffery Kahane is a fantastic conductor. Prisms, Cycles, Leaps is full of polyrhythms (found in West African music) and asymetrical rhythms (found in Balkan music), which presented some challenges when notated in a Western musical staff. Jeff’s keen ear for rhythms, attention to detail, and desire for perfection made the piece come alive. In consultation with Jeff, several sections of the piece had to be re-notated in order to emphasize a different pulse (many of the rhythms can be felt in multiple meters). Although the difficulty level of Prisms, Cycles, Leaps was high, the musicians’ dedication to the piece and their readiness to tackle a good challenge made preparations and rehearsals for the performance an experience full of joy, especially with the leadership of LACO’s fabulous concertmaster Margaret Batjer.

Many classical music audience members may not have been familiar with hearing the polyrhythms and asymmetrical rhythms that occur in the piece. In the hopes of promoting cross-cultural musical understanding, LACO invited the Zadonu African Music and Dance Company to join us during the pre-concert lectures to demonstrate some of the musical ideas incorporated into the orchestral piece. It was here that we were able to clarify some common misconceptions about the nature of West African music, which is highly complex and organized. Zadonu also performed a lively show at the post concert reception. I’ve had the honor of working with Zadonu for over a decade, and it was such a thrill to bring together the classical music community and the West African musical community. I’m looking forward to more of these collaborations between the world music and classical music communities in the future!

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LACO also organized several outreach activities in local schools and an open rehearsal with the American Composers Forum. I was able to connect with young developing musicians by conducting West African music workshops and get feedback from Los Angeles-based composers while sharing with them my struggles and experiences with integrating world music traditions into a contemporary classical music setting. I was also honored to be featured on several media outlets, including an interview on NPR’s “The Frame” with John Horn and “Arts Alive” with Brian Lauritzen, as well as great reviews of the LACO performances from Classical Voice North American and The Los Angeles Times.

The whole experience was humbling and inspiring. It has made me believe even more strongly in the power of music to bring people from different cultural backgrounds together through a shared, communal, experience. Music, for me, has always been a doorway into understanding other cultures and different ways of living. Through learning the music of other cultures, I believe the opportunity for dialogue rather than conflict between strangers is opened, and we can be a society with less conflict due to cultural misunderstanding. I remain deeply invested in fostering creative and effective collaboration between musicians of different disciplines.

Media Links:

Meet the Composer Video Interview with LACO:


Los Angeles Times Review:


The Frame Interview:


All is Yar Review:


This is a Music Alive New Partnerships funded residency, a joint program of the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA.