Influences: Los Angeles composer Hugh Levick

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Saturday will see an ambitious grab bag of daring music on the Westside. Hear Now: A Festival of New Music by Contemporary Los Angeles Composers will offer pieces by a few well-known figures -– provocative British transplant Thomas Adès, longtime USC professor Stephen Hartke, someone named Esa-Pekka Salonen -– as well as less celebrated ones. A number of chamber groups –- including the Lyris, Eclipse and Calder quartets -– and solo artists will render the works in afternoon and evening programs at the First Lutheran Church of Venice.

One of the composers whose work will be performed is Hugh Levick, a longtime Angeleno, who also organized the festival. As a young man, Levick earned a writing degree at the University of Iowa and headed to Paris to write a novel, but his interest in jazz saxophone and its furthest edges brought him back to music.

He’s written pieces that employ video and voices –- including “The Man Who Disappeared,” an opera adapted from Kafka’s distorted first novel “Amerika.” The The Diotima String Quartet will soon record a CD of Levick’s string quartets.

The festival, he says, came out of his sense that “there were a lot of composers writing interesting and significant contemporary music in L.A., and that it was difficult to get it performed. I wanted to try to shine a spotlight on this work both for the benefit of those making the work and those who would get to hear it.” His influences:


Alban Berg: A rigorous approach to structure and the imperatives of 20th century compositional materials did not keep Berg from understanding the expression of extreme emotion as one of the foundations of his work.

John Coltrane: From bebop, to hard bop, to post-bop, to modal, to free jazz, Trane never stopped stretching the limits of the possible. His striving, his reaching toward new and other dimensions, has always inspired me.

William Blake: Born into the explosion of the Enlightenment and its belief in reason as beacon, Blake refused to abandon the reality of the metaphysical. For Blake divinity was within and vast; the prevailing cultural current was narrow in scope and reduced society to reason and the material. To see that Blake was right in judging this to be catastrophic we need do no more than look around us at today’s world.

Franz Kafka: For me Kafka, the bohemian Jew, has always been the consummate Buddhist: Not this not that. Is K being put on trial by society or by God? The right answer is probably neither and both. Kafka’s work is in language, but like music it dances around meaning by being other and just beyond one’s reach.

Walter Benjamin: Benjamin postulated that history and time are two different things. History is a linear continuum that moves inexorably forward from beginning to end. Time, on the other hand, zigs and zags, breaks, changes direction, ruptures, and moves through different dimensions. It is through these breaks in ‘time’ that light can shine and, Benjamin believed, the Messiah could — doubtful as this might be — erupt into the world.

-- Scott Timberg

Hear Now takes place at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the First Lutheran Church of Venice. Info: