Entertainment & Arts

Influences: Mark Alan Hilt of Jacaranda

Since its founding in 2003, Jacaranda has proved itself one of the best and most adventurous chamber music series in the country. Based at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica, Jacaranda offers a mix of new and old, with an emphasis on West Coast composers. (This season the group — whose motto is “Music at the Edge” — has put on pieces by Nico Muhly, Philip Glass and Toru Takemitsu, and it will close out its season in May with a minimalist piece by Terry Riley and a Lou Harrison work, arranged from gamelan for string orchestra.)

Mark Alan Hilt, the group’s music director, principal conductor and organist, has been possessed by music since he was a third-grader in small-town Kansas and a teacher played him part of Grieg’s “Peer Gynt.” (These days, Hilt runs the upper school orchestra at Harvard-Westlake.) The Jacaranda series is driven by the programming, he says, and is designed to give audiences something they’d otherwise miss. “We program what we are passionate about, then we figure out how to pay for it.”

For all the difficulties of presenting classical music, he remains an optimist about our time and place. “Los Angeles is the best place in the world right now for music — a lot of people don’t know it. But there’s more going on, more diversity, more creativity. And fewer established rules.”

Hilt, whose group performs music by Olivier Messiaen, Sofia Gubaidulina and Henri Dutilleux on Saturday, shared his influences.


Olivier Messiaen: The first time I heard it in college, I was hooked. I play a lot of it, as an organist. I listened to “The Turangalîla-Symphonie,” “Quartet for the End of Time"… It has, alternately, a very rich, voluptuous, sensuous sound, but also a massive sound — like huge walls of mountains coming at you. Then there’s the bird song. He had no fear of combining the most outlandish stuff.

Richard Wagner: I distinctly remember the first record I listened to of Wagner’s, “Tristan und Isolde” — Cleveland, with Szell conducting — from the public library. I couldn’t get over it: the harmony, the richness, the color of the orchestra. I’ve always been more of a harmony person than a rhythm person — finding new chords, the blending of colors, has always been my thing. The organ’s physical design is about combining colors.

Willa Cather: The first novels I ever read. In college I read “O Pioneers!” and “My Antonia”: They had the power — and still do — to make me feel the way music makes me feel. The lyricism, the bigness of it. Communicating more than what she says on the page. Every time I go back I still get that feeling.

Radiohead: I read once that whenEsa-Pekka Salonen was driving home, he listened to Radiohead. I thought, “If Salonen likes it …" I’m now a fan. It’s really compelling, the way the music is organized.


Jacaranda is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica. Information: (213) 483-0216,

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