Santa Monica Mountains

Sounds Of Our Time
Dec 10-11 2022

Santa Monica Mountains
Bevan Manson

Santa Monica Mountains’ is an orchestral love letter to the vast and myriad wonders of the lands spanning from the Malibu beaches to mysterious hidden valleys, trails, and endless canyons in the Topanga and Calabasas backcountry.  The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is, in fact, the largest urban park area in the world. It is no surprise then, that it brings us into contact with so many of nature’s most beautiful aspects-and threats to them.  

The first movement of Santa Monica Mountains, ‘Moderato, poco mysterioso’ is perhaps a tone poem in itself. I thought of evoking the cool morning fog that drifts, often unpredictably, over the Pacific beaches and into mountain crevices-bringing dark and yet a kind of light to the land. The sun can emerge quickly and majestic views of the Pacific need to be ‘heard’ -so out of the fog-notes, the main theme of the movement emerges from the solo guitar and violin sections to portray those. Just as quickly the fog can obscure. But not for long-the human presence is noted in a perhaps Ivesian view of a traffic jam on the 1 Highway. The main theme gets developed in many ways, just as one can climb so many hills and peaks here to develop different views of mountains, sky, trails, chaparral, flowered meadows. The music tenses, as there is sometimes the threat of too-dry winds from climate change sending fire over the hills. 

When that recedes, life goes on with unexpected togetherness. Several different parts of the theme are entwined together-just as the spectacles of dolphins doing their dance while nearby surfers do their own are entwined. Majestic that might be as a whole, but a solitary wanderer (the solo guitar) might want to find a small rocky sandspit for contemplation. The movement ends with the mystery of the fog returning, into silence. 

The second movement, ‘Vivo ritmico, quasi rhumba’ is a little dance of a scherzo-just a snapshot of children and dogs at play at Sycamore Cove. Kites fly, and the surf is never still. A trio of percussionists enliven the action. A little chaos ensues when the barbecues get going, and a small wedding party collides with a group of mimes and yoga folks. It’s all good. Fun can be inexpensive. Timpani on the beach? You never know. 

An Adagio, the third movement is a personal memory, but also a lyrical evocation of the sunrise over Boney Peak, near Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, where the Chumash Indians lived for thousands of years.  The solo guitar, trumpet, cellos, and oboe at different times ask the question: do you hear the loneliness of a mountain crying out for long lost voices, or your own loneliness? Or, does the wind from the sea bring voices to you? This is the undiscovered country. Perhaps it needs to remain undiscovered.

The fourth movement, ‘Allegro con brio’ is a race to the finsh line-perhaps without a program, yet I think of an exciting marathon race I once witnessed in Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway. The sun, the sea, the beach, and the mountains are all  backdrops and yet integral to the fun of the race. Musically, after timpani and strings set a fast pace, the woodwinds take up a theme derived from the first movement. The violins respond with a competitive version of their own, with violas, cellos, and basses roaring behind them, and we are at a standstill for a moment. For just a moment. The race resumes again with the woodwinds singing the theme over the strings’ breakneck speed. The solo guitar enters with what it wants to shout out: a development of both themes. Percussion approves it with instrumental versions of handclaps.

The ideas get tossed around, with the heroic guitar getting more and more virtuosic.  Speed is the name of the game, and each instrument wants to ‘get there’ first. There are twists and turns in the road. The Santa Monica Mountains can suddenly impose a new vista, as the guitar discovers; it then discourses on a new development made out of the original idea-new wine in an old bottle. Perils and obstacles arise for a few moments, but the orchestra and soloist climb to an all-out climax to surmount them all. 

I would like to thank conductor KuanFen and soloist Evan Taucher for working so hard to make this music happen, as well as all the orchestra members! Also a shout-out to the memory of the great Hans Ottsen, a most giving person and musician, who performed this piece in an earlier version with CHICO in 2019.

Bevan Manson

Bevan Manson has written arrangements for various jazz musicians ranging from Manhattan Transfer vocalist Cheryl Bentyne to N.Y. saxophonist Gary Smulyan, to Orchestra National de Jazz Montreal. His classical compositions and arrangements have received commissions from Sierra Chamber Music, the San Francisco Symphony, First Night Boston, the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra, clarinetist Gary Gray, and L.A. Chamber Orchestra violist Victoria Miskolczy, among others.

He has performed with George Garzone, Cecil McBee, Ira Sullivan, Jimmy Guiffre, Gunther Schuller, Ron Jones L.A. Big Band, Bob Sheppard, Matt Wilson, Darol Anger, Howard McGhee, Walt Weiskopf, Joe LaBarbara, Brad Dutz, The Fringe, and his own trio. He also worked on various TV shows such as ‘JAG’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’ among others.

Bevan’s (mostly) trio album, ‘The Jazz Cave’, featuring vocalist Tierney Sutton, has been released on the Meistero Music label. He has previously been recorded on Iris Records, and A-Records (Netherlands).

Katherine Fink of the Brooklyn Philharmonic premiered Bevan’s ‘California Concertino’ with Paul Dunkel conducting, at the N.Y. Flute Fair. Along with chamber music, a version with soloist Sara Andon and the Hollywood Studio Symphony was released on Albany Records.

Bevan is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music.