‘Odyssey’ Journeys to La Jolla

Daniel Cariaga is The Times' music writer

Roger Reynolds’ “Odyssey,” an “opera for the mind,” received its world premiere in two performances at IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in 1993 as part of a two-week Samuel Beckett celebration at the music center in Paris.

This week, “Odyssey” reaches the United States. Sonor, the UC San Diego resident contemporary ensemble, will present the 75-minute work Wednesday night in Mandeville Auditorium at UCSD, under the direction of Harvey Sollberger. Soloists are the same ones who sang the work at the Pompidou Center, mezzo-soprano Marie Kobayashi and baritone Philip Larson.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Reynolds--he won in 1989--says he read the complete works of the Irish poet-novelist-playwright, and that, for “Odyssey,” “four pieces jumped out at me. It was only after setting to work on them that I realized they constitute a continuity, a narrative.”


On the phone from La Jolla, Reynolds works at explaining “Odyssey.” “The fact that you even ask the question, ‘Is it an opera?,’ proves that its form is quite new,” he says. He calls it “cantata-like.”

And what will the audience see?

“What the audience sees is three percussionists and three instrumental groups, plus piano, all on very high risers. There are no costumes and no set--the musicians are the set.”

Lighting is by the Tony-winning Chris Parry of the UCSD faculty. Beckett’s texts, the composer says, come from that decade, 1937-48, beginning with Beckett’s move to Paris and ending with his writing of “Waiting for Godot.”

This is the period during which Beckett “discovered what he was going to do.”

“The words, recorded by the same bilingual speaker, are spoken in both English and French, intertwined but clearly laid out spoken.” According to Reynolds, this constitutes “built-in subtitling.” Later, the singers use some of the same texts.

Around the spoken and sung words, framing and commenting, there is a great deal of instrumental music, and electronic pieces.

In addition to the taped voice, the live solo singers, and three instrumental ensembles, the work requires the use of eight streams of computer-processed sound. Parry’s contribution makes up, Reynolds says, “two contrasting worlds of lighting that alternate throughout the performance, reshaping one’s view of the staging structures.”


Before the performance of “Odyssey,” Sonor will play Reynolds’ new “Elegy for Toru Takemitsu,” in tribute to the Japanese composer, who died in February.


Haydn will be the focus of the 16-performance, seven-program Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra season in 1996-97.

Leading the orchestra will be principal conductor Iona Brown and guests Matthias Bamert, Jaime Laredo, Gilbert Varga and Paul Daniel. In the season-long Haydn celebration, five symphonies, two concertos and a mass will be represented.

Other composers will be Prokofiev, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Vivaldi, Corigliano, Britten, Mozart and Beethoven, among others. The West Coast premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Double Concerto for violin and guitar will be given. Brown presides over three of the program sets, which make up half the subscription performances.

Non-subscription events include five Neighborhood Concerts, a “Bach at the Beach” picnic-concert in Santa Monica on July 13, and three performances of a Copland-Gershwin-Haydn concert to be conducted by William Eddins in October. The annual silent film benefit, featuring the Marion Davies film “Show People,” will be given next April 12 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.