Dylan Mattingly
Dylan Mattingly | Credit: Hannah Davidman

One of the interesting aspects of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s recently announced 2022–2023 season is the orchestra’s continued support of a group of artists that Phil fans may be getting accustomed to. Many of the former Dudamel Conducting Fellows are back on the podium this season, and one of the most famous of them, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, is coming with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, of which she is music director. Composers like Gabriela Ortiz and, of course, John Adams continue their association with the orchestra.

When SFCV asked the orchestra’s humanities director, Julia Ward, about this, she wrote back saying, “The goal is to support artists over the course of their careers, from emerging to mid-career to established. This kind of sustained support is essential to the health of our art form, and it matters to our audiences and musicians as well. By taking a chance on promising young artists and forming relationships over time, the beauty and depth of the musical experiences we are able to offer only grows.”

One of the lucky winners of the orchestra’s patronage is Berkeley-born Dylan Mattingly (b. 1991), a composer who descends from a line of Los Angeles-based musicians and artists that include conductor Leonard Slatkin (who’s a cousin). He has had a couple of works commissioned and played by the Phil, most recently Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (these are the tears of things), performed by the LA Phil New Music Group on Sept. 19, 2021. His six-hour opera/ballet/concert work Stranger Love premieres on May 20, 2023, on the orchestra’s Green Umbrella series, with the composer’s new-music group, Contemporaneous, playing the instrumental parts and Obie Award-winner Lileana Blain-Cruz directing. With a libretto by Thomas Bartscherer, it’s a departure for Mattingly in one way, but it’s a continuation, in another way, of a seed idea that informs his desire to communicate.

Contemporaneous | Credit: Bruce Kung

Stranger Love is more of an ecstatic experience than an opera,” he says. It’s not really story but about world-building or communal experience. It’s about the love of being alive, the joy of communicating through art.

I’m constantly overwhelmed by how much I love everything, but to some degree the massive superabundance of experience is around at all times, and it feels like I just want to take moments of that and allow people to focus on those things that they really love. And we have so much opportunity in our lives to consider thoughtfully all of the problems in this world that are very real and very present and at the same time there’s very little space that is provided, in a communal way, for us to remember and revel in the things that we love about being alive. And so, what Stranger Love tries to do is to give you that experience, not just the images but, in the music, like going from the I chord to the IV chord and back, things that are just deeply ingrained as our favorite things, and create ways to experience them new. To put people in a place that is filled with the things that they love the most.”

That’s not so different from Sunt Lacrimae Rerum, which the composer describes asmusic for dancing, the barbaric yawp, a scream of joy.” It’s the same barbaric yawp that he hopes to bring to his spring equinox community performance of Terry Riley’s In C.


Dylan Mattingly
Dylan Mattingly

Stranger Love essentially takes up humanity’s relationship to time, beginning with an operatic story of a couple’s relationship through four seasons. This is a close-up timeline — that takes four hours. Then, says Mattingly, the second act moves through the seasons again, but at a higher level of abstraction. “There are six dancers, who move inexorably slowly toward each other over the course of the hour-and-a-half. And they meet in different outcomes. One pair meet in a kiss or an embrace, one pair collides, and the third pair passes by each other. The half-hour third act zooms out even further: There are no more people on stage at all except the musicians, and it’s just music and light. And the music is pure joy; it’s the velocity of universal expansion and what you see are little lights scattered around the space like stars that move slowly away from each other. So it creates depth, as though you’re traveling into it and the music is that velocity.”

It took a leap for Mattingly to reimagine his career as the producer of almost impossible-to-realize artistic acts. “I started working on Stranger Love 10 years ago; just about 33 percent of the days I’ve spent on this planet, by the time it premieres. When I was six years old, I knew I wanted to be a composer, and to some degree, I’ve been following this path that’s laid out for composers, where you get commissions, usually for five -to-10-minute pieces, and that’s great. But I realized, about 10 years ago, that the things I really wanted to create with my life, and that I felt I had the capacity to do, were things that would never ever be commissioned.”

It’s no put-down to say that Mattingly has lived a privileged life, but his leap of faith is still impressive, as is the LA Phil’s in deciding to present the premiere of this decidedly off-the-beaten-path music theater piece. The Phil likes to take big swings, and Mattingly has ambition to burn. It’s a match.

NB: The original version of this article reported that Mattingly was living in New York, when he actually lives in Berkeley. We regret the error.

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