The Los Robles Master Chorale’s Saturday performance will feature the world premieres of three UCLA student compositions.
The pieces “America,” “E Novem Punctis Unum” and “Loam” by students Nicholas Carlozzi, Vittorio Russo and William Cabison, respectively, were commissioned in fall 2016 by Lesley Leighton, the artistic director of the Los Robles Master Chorale and a former choral composition instructor at UCLA from 2014 to 2016.
This weekend, 97 members of the Los Robles Master Chorale, including the three student composers, will perform a setlist of pieces, including the three world premieres, at the Church of the Epiphany in Oak Park, California.
Carlozzi said he wanted to compose a piece that reflected his feelings about the current divided state of the country, which he believes stems from the recent presidential election.
In March, the music composition graduate student finished writing “America,” his spin on the song “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” which stems from his desire to express his views about the current political climate.
“I feel more and more every day that our political institution is being ransacked, being disrespected,” Carlozzi said. “That indirectly disrespects all of us as citizens, as Americans.”
Carlozzi focused on the reality that America is a country in need of repair, but also a country that has the potential for improvement.
“All I wanted to do in this piece is express the sadness that we are so torn, as well as perhaps a longing and optimism for better days,” Carlozzi said.
To musically represent the nationwide division, Carlozzi composed two splits in the choir during the four-minute performance. The first split segregates the choir between men and women with both groups singing in different keys to create a deliberate discordancy.
“You hear this clear warping and distorting of a very familiar tune,” Carlozzi said. “The feeling is that of conflict.”
Later, the choir is split into halves led by two different conductors. They sing in contrasting tempos accompanied by a bell-like sound played on a piano. This juxtaposition is a metaphor for people that stubbornly hold on to their own views without considering other perspectives, Carlozzi said.
Carlozzi struggled to ensure that the piece was not too depressing, and wove optimism into the performance by reuniting the initially separated choirs at the end.
“For me, it’s a powerful moment because we’re finally together,” Carlozzi said. “After going through all this change and singing against each other, we finally sing together.”
“E Novem Punctis Unum”
Russo used his composition for the Los Robles Master Chorale to showcase his passion for Renaissance vocal music.
The fourth-year music composition student’s piece, “E Novem Punctis Unum,” is a literal translation of “From Nine Points One,” a poem he wrote in English about the concept of the self and the persona one projects outwardly in social settings.
Russo started studying Renaissance vocal music in winter quarter. He fell in love with its contrapuntal style of combining voices that are melodically independent but harmonically interdependent, and its chanting that stems from Gregorian traditions. He then had a scholar translate his poem from English to Latin, and finished the piece in February.
“(Latin) contributes to the ethereal beauty of that music,” Russo said. “My study of Renaissance vocal music influenced me to have my text translated to Latin, just to embody that quality.”
Russo’s composition features a blend of stylistic elements from Renaissance vocal music, such as chanting, and elements from contemporary impressionistic music, such as jazz-like harmonies, he said. Unlike “America,” which uses the piano, Russo’s a cappella piece includes no instrumentals.
Russo considers the Los Robles Master Chorale commission an essential milestone in his development because he believes that composing for ensembles is important as a young artist.
“I feel like I grow with every piece I write,” Russo said. “Even if I’m not satisfied with it for whatever reason, I always take away something from the experience and apply it to whatever I do next.”
Cabison’s best pieces are the ones he writes in haste, he said.
This was the case for “Loam,” the fourth-year music student’s composition for the Los Robles Master Chorale.
“Loam” is Cabison’s musical rendition of a poem of the same name by Carl Sandburg
. The title refers to a type of fertile soil; to Cabison, the earthy visual became the inspiration for a piece about optimism in a time of political unrest.
“We’re in the dirt now,” he said. “We can come out of it – there’s possibility for change.”
The a cappella music begins softly, but gains intensity as singers gradually join in. Cabison said the buildup is meant to resemble a growth, like that of plants in loam.
Cabison struggled to fit the piece within the time restriction of three to four minutes, but enjoyed concentrating his efforts in a shorter length of time.
“As composers, we always have to respect these boundaries, these requirements to make for a successful program,” Cabison said. “But it turned out fine because a compacted work is as good as a 10-minute work.”
The student composer said his ultimate wish for “Loam” is for it to create a sense of unity among listeners.
“There’s a lot of usage of the word ‘we’ in it, so for the listener, I hope that that can be somewhat comforting,” Cabison said. “I want the listener to feel more hopeful at the end of the piece than they were in the beginning.”