Royce Hall
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Music Director Jaime Martín, and Derrick Skye at UCLA’s Royce Hall | Credit: Brian Feinzimer

As the final fortissimo of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony resounded and faded away into the gilded coffered ceiling of UCLA’s Royce Hall, an era in the performing history of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra came to a close.

It was the last concert LACO would ever give in the hall, marking the end of an artistic residency that was so long no one was quite certain when it began. “It has to have been at least 30 years,” observed the orchestra’s executive director, Ben Cadwallader. Even Google was perplexed by the question and unable to provide a definitive answer.

What we do know is that the Los Angeles Philharmonic (under Otto Klemperer) first performed in Royce Hall in 1936 as part of the venue’s inaugural season. And prior to the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall, the LA Phil often used Royce Hall for performances and recordings, including a memorable series for Decca conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Jaime Martín
Jaime Martín conducts Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra | Credit: Brian Feinzimer

But with its 1,800 seats and ever-rising rental cost, Royce Hall has simply become impractical for LACO. So, beginning next month, the orchestra will be performing in the more intimate 500-seat theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Equally exciting is the outlook for LACO’s future downtown home, the 1,000-seat Kohl Hall in the new Frank Gehry-designed Colburn Center. That project broke ground on April 5, with a goal of being up and running in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Sunday’s Royce Hall concert opened with the premiere of Derrick Skye’s Prisms, Cycles, Leaps 3 in a revision version. Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 filled out the program.

Skye has maintained a long relationship with LACO, both as a composer and artistic advisor. In 2015, the orchestra’s then-music director, Jeffrey Kahane, presented the first incarnation of Prisms, Cycles, Leaps, a performance that Skye recalls “launched my career.” The second iteration was commissioned as part of LACO’s Sound Investment program and premiered in 2018. Prisms, Cycles, Leaps 3 was commissioned and scheduled to be premiered in 2020, but the pandemic intervened.

Derrick Skye
Derrick Skye | Credit: Brian Feinzimer

The lockdown was not, however, completely unkind to Skye. It spawned his brilliant collaboration with LACO and director James Darrah, Mind the Rhythm. Created as a episode in the orchestra’s Close Quarters music video series, the work led to Skye being recognized as one of the 2021 Princess Grace Award Honoraria in theater.

To label Skye a crossover composer would be to display a serious misunderstanding of his intent and the dynamically expressive vocabulary of his music. He is not interested in creating Western music with “exotic” Eastern influences or vice versa. He sees his music as “holistic,” able to embrace a multitude of influences simultaneously.

The goal, as Skye expresses it, is to create music where every influence is presented “on a level plain.” Thus, the musical structure of a Beethoven symphony and the ancient traditions of an Indian raga, the music of Hollywood and the music of Bollywood, are considered equally significant. Skye creates music in which these different cultural traditions ebb and flow into each other and can be juxtaposed and interchanged. Think of the bullet-point style of modern social media communication but delivered with subtlety and craft, and you have a sense of the style Skye is aiming for. What’s more, it’s a style that has close connections to the multitasking, channel-surfing idiom of a work like Andrew Norman’s Play.

As its title implies, the musical structure of Prisms, Cycles, Leaps 3 functions the same way a prism does, separating light into its spectral components, while at the same time shifting it into glittering shafts whose seemingly primary colors dissolve, reform, and repeat in ways that are the same, similar, and totally different.

In and of itself, a prism has no color; it’s clear as crystal. And it is with that sense of crystalline clarity that Skye’s work begins with a shimmering luminescence in the high strings. From that point on, the rhythms, instrumental combinations, and musical influences change as fast as a speeding bullet. If there is a signpost up ahead, it’s gone before you have a chance to read it, and you’re already miles down the road of Skye’s musical highway. All you can do is go with the flow.

Tereza Stanislav and Yura Lee
Tereza Stanislav and Yura Lee solo with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra | Credit: Brian Feinzimer

Sunday night’s performance was a reflection of how adept and cohesive the musicians of LACO are and how in tune they have become with Music Director Jaime Martín. To borrow a clever title from composer John Adams, we were taken on a short ride in a fast machine.

It might seem strange, but both Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, accentuated by brilliant performances by violinist Tereza Stanislav and violist Yura Lee, and the following Beethoven symphony seemed to exhibit a heightened degree of musical luster from being paired with Prisms, Cycles, Leaps 3. You could almost imagine Mozart and Beethoven saying, “Cool, man. I can dig where you’re coming from.”