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Alarm Will Sound takes The Nimoy on orchestral journey of self-discovery

Alarm Will Sound performs onstage amidst a blue and orange backdrop. The 20-member ensemble shared The Nimoy stage with Nathalie Joachim and Alyssa Pyper on Saturday night. (Courtesy of Wojciech Wandzel)

By Gavin Meichelbock

Dec. 4, 2023 12:17 p.m.

An orchestral exploration of self-discovery finds a home at The Nimoy for one night only.

The historic theater hosted Alarm Will Sound, a 20-member ensemble known for its arch-modern and pop-influenced repertoire of energetic works. On Saturday night, Alarm Will Sound was joined on stage and performed special arrangements from violinist and vocalist Alyssa Pyper, Haitian American artist Nathalie Joachim and an original six-movement arrangement written for Alarm Will Sound by the composer Eartheater. These individuals shared their journey of themselves and their family history with the Los Angeles audience. Following a formal land acknowledgment to the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, Alarm Will Sound took the stage at 8:07 p.m.

Blue and purple lights set the tone as the ensemble began to play a selection of three songs, “Ruin-ate,” “Cradle” and “Wellspring IV. Prayer” from Pyper’s debut album, “Salt Crust.” The crying wail of a violin filled the crowded room while the lights changed from a purple gradient to yellow before settling on orange as the piece became chaotic with volume and dissonance.

[Related: Hilá Plitmann, UCLA music students debut original compositions at Schoenberg Hall]

Pyper began a duet with themself, playing the violin and singing as the orchestra faded into the background. The lights became a deep, violent red as the lyrics gained intensity. They soon faded back to a pale purple as a spotlight illuminated the soloist. The woodwinds take over, followed by the percussion to reach a crescendo for the piece’s conclusion. As the song ended, the stage was then enveloped in blue light, leaving Pyper standing there with tears in their eyes.

After the applause died down, Pyper explained the deeper meaning of their composition. As a queer, gender-nonconforming woman of Mormon descent, Pyper spoke about how they were raised in a culture that didn’t allow them to be themselves.

“This music comes from my body,” Pyper said in a written statement in the program. “It has now found a home with the thoughtful, resonant musicians of Alarm Will Sound. I am grateful for the container they hold. I no longer have to hold myself alone.”

The Alarm Will Sound chamber musicians play their string and woodwind instruments. The night&squot;s performance included a rendition of "Candied Inferno," which was written specifically for the ensemble by multi-instrumentalist Eartheater. (Courtesy of Wojciech Wandzel)
The Alarm Will Sound chamber musicians play their string and woodwind instruments. The night's performance included a rendition of "Candied Inferno," which was written specifically for the ensemble by multi-instrumentalist Eartheater. (Courtesy of Wojciech Wandzel)

The stage took on an orange hue as the lights changed, and the next song began, “Candied Inferno” by Eartheater, a six-movement piece. Featuring the piano, the piece weaved the instrument in and out of musical conversation with the rest of the ensemble. A series of bouts between the piano and flute became wild and sporadic as a repetitious and rhythmic squeal could be heard from one of the violins. The song gained a quickening pulse as rolls on the snare drum entered the orchestration. A brass section made up of a trumpet, trombone and French horn was supported by the timpani to add powerful segments of crescendo to the piece. These segments were given a rich tone from the accompanying bassoon, bass clarinet, as well as the upright bass and the cello.

“The next piece we’re playing, which is by Eartheater, is a reflection on the emotional landscape after a painful breakup,” said the conductor, Alan Pierson. “It explores all these emotions of rage and loss and feeling stuck and not feeling stuck.”

As persuasive thwacks and a metallic hiss of traditional Haitian folkloric music filled the theater, the final act of the night came from the world premiere of Joachim’s album, “Ki moun ou ye.” Lush brass and piano backgrounds laid the groundwork for swelling woodwind lines and a full-string harmony. Joachim eventually entered the piece singing, switching between Haitian Creole and English. After the song ended, Joachim said her new album translates to “Who are you?” The title track and her first song explored this question by reflecting on her ancestry and the enslavement of the Haitian peoples, she added.

“It’s a heavy question,” Joachim said. “It’s a rich question to ask oneself, and it’s something that I have spent a lot of time wrangling, discovering myself through the songs.”

[Related: Nimoy Theater hosts glittering opening night with musical performances]

Joachim’s second song was called “Kanpe anba solèy,” meaning “Standing beneath the sun.” Blue light once more flooded the stage to fit the song, which Joachim said is a tribute to her ancestors who fought and died in the Haitian Revolution. The song is a melancholic ballad for the woodwinds and strings that features Joachim’s heartbreaking vocal cries and lamenting lyrics that are accompanied by haunting string backgrounds.

The final song of the night was “Zetwal,” and saw Joachim answer the question of “Who are you?” from a place of love and happiness. This third movement was a soaring ballad for woodwinds and vocals that drew upon the vibrant colors and feelings of love. The song ended, the performers took their final bows, the lights went on at 9:30 p.m., and the musical journey of self-discovery came to a conclusion. As the audience left The Nimoy, the questions posed in the theater about finding oneself escaped into the night.

“Who do you belong to?” Joachim said. “Which of the multitudes of people who make you who you are, which of those people are you and who do you choose to be?”

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