In this era of New Age and New Romanticism it is now hip to be tonal. If that's the case, the members of the Pacific Composers Forum are the hippest folks in town.
Making its formal debut, the PCF offered unabashedly conservative works for chamber orchestra Tuesday at the Japan America Theatre, as part of the New Music L.A. Festival--though it would be misleading to call this new music.
Under the capable guidance of Shahrdad Rohani, the orchestra (developed from the COTA Symphony) sailed easily through an evening of deja entendu by four film composers.
In Don Ray's bit of Cowboy nostalgia, "Homestead Dances," there were effects borrowed from Copland's "Rodeo." Scored for strings and two unnecessary oboes (Barbara Northcutt and David Sherr), the piece merrily and tunefully bounced along.
Similarly, Mark Watters' "From the Hobbit" offered more folksy Americana. Geoffrey Lardner provided narration of the whimsical story, while soprano Vanessa Vandergriff added a few catchy, perkily sung tunes. Overly cute.
Joey Rand's Violin Concerto proved the most ambitious, if not most successful, work on the program. A full 30 minutes of virtuosic writing, the piece placed heavy demands on soloist Sid Page, who tossed off every written note and improvised passage as if he'd been playing this music all his life. As ear-catching as the heavily scored piece was, it never seemed certain where it was heading: Ideas came and went, jazz motifs surfaced and quickly submerged. The pleasures were all short-lived.
Also short-lived, but most effective in its alloted time, was Robert Resetar's "Afghanistan, Yesterday, Today and Forever." Rather than offer a heavy-handed diatribe against invaders (a la Prokofiev's Seventh Piano Sonata), the composer simply portrayed the Afghans in a brief folk melody, and the Soviets' tactics in a closing electronic-created bombing run. The point was well made within five minutes.