Welcome to SFCV’s year-end roundup of recordings released in 2020 by local artists — our first roundup for the Los Angeles area. Every year we’re amazed at the musical riches from the cultural scenes we cover, and this year more so than ever. Despite the strictures of the lockdown, artists managed to create a lot of brand-new music and find creative ways to record it, while many organizations scoured their archives for great, unreleased music that deserved a fresh listen.
Our list isn’t limited to classical music: We have a little bit of everything to offer. We can’t claim that our roster is comprehensive, but we tried to provide a solid sample of the area’s musical wealth. There is so much great music here that we aren’t able to hear or review over the year, and this is one way for us to catch up.
We offer this listing with no editorializing or reviews: Blurbs are drawn primarily from artist and label promotional materials. Album titles and cover images are linked to sites with more information and purchasing options. We hope you find something new and interesting as you peruse the listing. Take a chance and enjoy the diversity of sounds available here. Visit us on Facebook to add your comments and suggestions, and please share this with your musical friends.
Nicolas Lell Benavides
A new comic opera from L.A.-based composer Nicolas Lell Benavides and librettist Marella Martin Koch. Pepito, a lonely shelter dog, misses his old family and his old life. Camila and David, young married professionals, are searching for the perfect dog. As the cracks in Camila and David's marriage deepen, Camila and Pepito form an unshakeable bond. Commissioned by the Washington National Opera at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and first produced at the Kennedy Center during the 2018–2019 season. Recorded in USC’s Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld Symphonic Hall with the original singers from the premiere performance.
“On my first Mack Avenue recording, Rebirth [Billy Childs’s 2017 album which won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album], I wanted to return to a focus on my jazz piano playing,” Childs states. “Acceptance is an extension of that, and the musicians make it very comfortable for me.” Childs thrives on group improvisation and has recruited fellow master musicians — saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Eric Harland — as the core ensemble for this collection. Elena Pinderhughes on flute; vocalists Alicia Olatuja, Aubrey Johnson and Sara Gazarek; and percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Munyungo Jackson complete the stellar lineup on this recording. (Mack Avenue Records)
Richard Danielpour’s dramatic oratorio The Passion of Yeshua — a work which has evolved over the last 25 years — is an intensely personal telling of the final hours of Christ on Earth. It incorporates texts from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Gospels, inspiring extraordinarily beautiful music that stresses the need for human compassion and forgiveness. Danielpour returns to the scale and majesty of Bach in this oratorio, creating choruses that are intense and powerful and giving both Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene a central place in a work of glowing spirituality. Conductor JoAnn Falletta considers The Passion of Yeshua to be “a classic for all time.” SFCV spoke with featured soloist James K. Bass, also director of the UCLA Chamber Singers, about the piece. (Naxos Records)
Pulitzer Prize finalist, composer, singer, and conductor Ted Hearne, who is “not afraid to bring politics and social justice issues into his music” (WFMT), grapples with the generational conversation of gentrification in Place, an “explosive, restless, fragment-laden score” (The New York Times), written in collaboration with poet/activist Saul Williams. This expansive hybrid album produced by Nick Tipp features an all-star ensemble of musicians from the divergent worlds of hip-hop, R&B, experimental, and noise music to contemporary chamber ensembles. Place is a multifarious meditation on white supremacy, fatherhood, displacement, and loss, at once intimate and monumental. SFCV reviewed the work back in April. (New Amsterdam Records)
Jacaranda has worked its audacious magic for over 15 years by collaborating with many of the finest musicians in Los Angeles, which is to say the world. Now, the Santa Monica-based concert series presents Jacaranda Live Recordings. Since 2006, every Jacaranda concert has been preserved and mastered with extraordinary and consistent care. One of the first releases, A Charged Embrace, features music by L.A.-based composers: William Kraft, Bruce Broughton, and Veronika Krausas. SFCV covered the launch of Jacaranda’s record label earlier this year. (Jacaranda Live Recordings)
Another release from Jacaranda this year, Rebellious: Music of Julius Eastman features live performances of Gay Guerrilla from 2018 and Stay On It from April 2019. Reviewing the album for SFCV, Richard S. Ginell wrote, “Rebellious [is] a valuable contribution to the revival of the ill-fated, now posthumously recognized early minimalist composer Julius Eastman … the packaging is a handsome, fold-out digipak … what promises to be an adventurous new indie label.” (Jacaranda Live Recordings)
The premiere recording of Rzewski’s latest solo piano work, based on seven international protest songs. This 75-minute work by the famously left-leaning composer is a pianistic tour de force that took Kotcheff more than a year to learn. “Rzewski wrote Songs of Insurrection in 2016, the beginning of a very trying time in U.S. and world politics,” says Kotcheff. “I wanted to perform and record a piece that represented what it means to be alive at this moment in history.” Rzweski has praised Kotcheff’s rendition as “magnificent,” while Mark Swed (LA Times) called it “dazzling.” Kotcheff’s live performance of the piece was a favorite in SFCV’s Audience Choice Awards. (Coviello Classics)
Chinese-born American composer Lei Liang is the recipient of numerous awards and commissions. On the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, Liang studied at the New England Conservatory and Harvard. Inheritance, his chamber opera with libretto by Matt Donovan, draws attention to the hopelessness associated with gun violence in the U.S., exploring the psychological effect on one of the heirs to the fortune made by the Winchester rifle, Sarah Winchester. That role is performed by the extraordinary soprano Susan Narucki, who has presented more than 150 world premieres in opera, concert, and recording. Conducted by Steven Schick. SFCV reviewed the recording earlier this year. (Albany Records)
The Sacred Veil is a powerful, thought-provoking new 12-movement work scored for SATB choir, cello, and piano from composer Eric Whitacre and poet-lyricist Charles Anthony Silvestri. Silvestri's wife, Julie, died of ovarian cancer at age 36 in 2005, leaving behind two young children. His texts (written collaboratively with Whitacre) tell a story of courtship, love, loss, and the search for solace. The 56-minute work, described by Grant Gershon as Whitacre’s “Requiem,” was commissioned, performed, and recorded by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. SFCV was at the live premiere in 2019 and reviewed the recording this year. (Signum Records)
Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil present the world-premiere recording of John Adams’s Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? for piano and orchestra, recorded live at Walt Disney Concert Hall in November 2019. Adams’s ability to deconstruct aesthetic clichés and bridge the gaps between different forms of music has earned him worldwide appreciation. This work deepens that tradition and the composer’s close connection with the LA Phil; he was appointed to the newly created position of Creative Chair in 2009. In this vibrant new release, soloist Yuja Wang’s electrifying technique effortlessly masters the intricate “diabolical” piano part. SFCV covered the work’s world premiere at Disney Hall in March 2019. (Deutsche Grammophon)
Charles Ives – Complete Symphonies offers fresh insights into the music of a radical thinker, creator of what Leonard Bernstein called “his own private musical revolution.” The LA Phil’s performances of these works at Walt Disney Concert Hall, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, received rave reviews. SFCV wrote about the live performances in the LA Phil’s Ives cycle back in February. This vibrant recorded collection includes the composer’s four symphonies, written between 1898 and 1918, though they were premiered decades later. (Deutsche Grammophon)
On June 19, Pacific Chorale and Yarlung Records released All Things Common, a recording of choral music by composer Tarik O’Regan. The album features Artistic Director Robert Istad conducting the singers of Pacific Chorale with instrumentalists from Salastina in selections spanning O’Regan’s distinctive development as a composer of choral music. Never-recorded works from 20 years ago are heard alongside new pieces, including the premiere of “Facing West,” on text by Walt Whitman, commissioned by the Chorale in 2019. All Things Common was recorded in Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. (Yarlung Records)
Performer-composer Molly Pease created the multimedia project Inner Astronomy using poetry written by her father, the late Randall Pease. She set a series of her father's poetry to voices and strings, creating a cantata of pieces that were recorded at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The pieces reflect the poet’s search for strength and meaning through spare and metaphorical language as he battled depression, addiction, and early-onset dementia. Pease used experimental vocal and string techniques throughout the cantata, reflecting her father’s struggle and ultimate spiritual renewal. SFCV reviewed the album this week. (4Tay Records)
A one-woman monodrama by composer David Serkin Ludwig and Pasadena-based poet Katie Ford that explores struggles with faith, alienation, gender, and social power through the imagined person of an anchoress, a medieval mystic who spent her life confined to a cell attached to a church. Bearing the unusual instrumentation of soprano, early music ensemble, and saxophone quartet, this distinctive recording has been hailed as “an intriguing musical experience from start to finish” (The Theatre Times), “accessible and profoundly relevant” (Lucid Culture), and “a thoroughly rewarding and complete experience” (Textura). (XAS Records)
Originally composed over 50 years ago, The Sinking of the Titanic proves to be one of most innovative and iconic pieces of program music of the 20th century. Gavin Bryars released the original recording, produced by Brian Eno, in 1975 through Obscure Records. Since its debut there have been many different versions performed and recorded, all of them with variations in length, instrumentation, and form. Sonic Open Orchestra, under the direction of Jason Martin Castillo, now takes this masterwork of program music into the 21st century as their record release debut. SFCV wrote about the ensemble’s debut recording in October. (Ambedo Records)
Hailing from L.A., Tasting Menu is a collaborative project featuring Cassia Streb, Cody Putman, and Tim Feeney, exploring instrumental and found sound, movement, tape recorders, door frames, window panes, rainstorms, pine cones, concrete floors, and children’s cartoons. Mueller Tunnel documents a site-specific performance recorded at the title location, in the Angeles Mountains, roughly 20 miles north of Pasadena, California. The 100-yard tunnel was blasted out of the middle of the mountain by the U.S. Forest Service in 1942 to serve as a fireroad gateway to the summit of Mount Lowe. A landslide in 2009 closed the tunnel to motor vehicles, and today it is only accessible by driving to the Eaton Saddle trailhead and hiking or cycling further towards Mount Markham. (Full Spectrum Records)
Pianist Richard Valitutto releases nocturnes and lullabies, a collection of works organized around themes of transitional states between light, dark, consciousness, and unconsciousness. Featuring premiere recordings of music by Nicholas Deyoe, Rebecca Saunders, Philip Cashian, Marc Sabat, Maura Capuzzo, and Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Valitutto’s poignant performances and poetic curation make this a unique and compelling release, containing works that explore a new virtuosity engaged with the delicate management of the piano's resonant properties. SFCV reviewed the recording earlier this year. (New Focus Recordings)
Austrian-American composer Eric Zeisl fled Vienna in 1938 and found refuge first in Paris before relocating to Los Angeles. This album depicts the friendship between Zeisl and Darius Milhaud, their exile to California, and their mutual admiration for each other’s work and revisits Mozart’s Sonata in E Minor, K. 304, which fascinated Zeisl. From violinist Ambroise Aubrun and local favorite, pianist Steven Vanhauwaert. (Editions Hortus)
Kamasi Washington composed and produced the original score for Becoming, the four-time Emmy-nominated film that provided an intimate glimpse into the life of Michelle Obama. Produced by Netflix Originals, Becoming documented a moment of profound change for the former First Lady, not only for her personally but for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House. Washington, who joined the project in its embryonic stages, provides the powerful musical backdrop. SFCV readers may know: Washington played the concert version of his score with the LA Phil earlier this year. (Young Turks Recordings)
In January 2018, cellist Sophie Webber released her acclaimed debut album, Escape: Six Suites for Solo Cello by J.S. Bach, recorded at St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego, with multi Grammy-winning audio engineer Chris Willis. This year, she released her second album, B2C: Bach Cello Choir, recorded with Chicago’s Choir of the Ascension. She reimagines Bach’s iconic Suites for Solo Cello Nos. 1 and 3, combining the original cello writing with newly arranged choral accompaniment.