Orchestra teacher hosts, plays organ in concert

By Jack Goldfisher

Orchestra director Mark Hilt sat down at the organ bench in Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church Saturday in a concert held by Jacaranda, a series of chamber music shows that he co-founded.

The group’s purpose is to reintegrate classical music into Los Angeles culture and provide residents with music they might not hear elsewhere.

“We program what we are passionate about, then we figure out how to pay for it,” Hilt said.

The organ sat in the middle of the church in a small sunken area surrounded by wood and glass panels. The closest audience member sat less than six feet away from Hilt. The lights dimmed, and Matthew Lucas ’14, who assisted Hilt during the show by turning the pages in his songbook, crouched next to the organ. The pipes, not directly connected to Hilt’s organ, stood high in the upper back corner of the church hall, and they bellowed as Hilt’s fingers flew across the three terraced keyboards of his instrument.

Saturday’s show, titled “Rosary Mantra,” focused on works by Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux and was the West Coast premiere of Risonanza, a 2001 composition by Sofia Gubaidulina. Patrick Scott, Jacaranda’s artistic director, described the show as a “baptism of fire,” meant to give the audience “incredible waves of pleasure.”

“This concert is a 20th anniversary tribute to Messiaen that also celebrates two of his great successors,” according to the group’s notes about the show.

Hilt started the show by playing two solo pieces on the organ, both composed by Messaien. Between each one, he walked onto the church’s main stage and bowed to his audience, which applauded thunderously. After intermission, Hilt played one more solo composition, a piece by Gubaidulina. He returned to the show for the last song with a fourteen-piece orchestra.

Hilt, who has been teaching at the Upper School since 1997, was inspired by Messiaen, composer Richard Wagner, author Willa Cather and rock band Radiohead, he said to the Los Angeles Times before the concert. Hilt serves as the musical director and principal conductor of Jacaranda and has been with the group since its inception in 2003. Film and theater studies teacher Ted Walch is the vice chair of the group’s board of directors and attended the show.

The group will play another show on May 20 again at Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church. The final concert will feature a piece from Lou Harrison and will be the United States premiere of Terry Riley’s Olson III. Hilt, who will conduct in the final show, said he is enthusiastic about presenting classical music in Los Angeles.

“Los Angeles is the best place in the world right now for music — a lot of people don’t know it,” Hilt said. “But there’s more going on, more diversity, more creativity. And fewer established rules.”