Long Beach Symphony To Premiere Piece For Rancho Los Alamitos
This serious pastime of cultivating flora, specifically a garden of rare palms, led him in 1996 to Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach to join his friend John Schoustra, then chief horticulturist of the property, who had invited him to take a look at the rancho’s extensive gardens. Cummings was taken by their beauty.
“Why don’t you make a piece out of it?” Schoustra suggested.
Rancho Los Alamitos is an archetype of Southern California’s recorded history, from the time the native Tongva people’s sacred village of Povuu'nga occupied the grounds, through the territory’s rapid change of hands from Spain in the 1700s to Mexico and finally the United States. The rancho’s original modest adobe structure, a cowhand shelter, was expanded and became the family home of John Bixby in 1878; it is his daughter-in-law, Florence, who is credited with establishing the varied and refined garden spaces that are considered treasures of turn-of-the-century landscape design.
The ranch house, barns, and gardens were donated to the city of Long Beach in 1968, where, as an educational and historical facility, Rancho Los Alamitos became tourist fodder. Since 1993, the ranch house, barns, and gardens have been renovated extensively under the careful watch of The Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation. It’s taken nearly 20 years to restore the site’s authenticity.
The new Rancho Center and physically rearranged Barns Area will usher in a new golden era on June 10, when Rancho Los Alamitos will open its doors to the public.
The first movement of Robert Cummings’ “Suite for Double String Orchestra for Rancho Los Alamitos,” a symphonic reflection on the beauty of the land, its generations of inhabitants, and the long-held dream to reclaim the rancho’s distinctive heritage, will be premiered by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra on April 28 in celebration of the grand reopening.
Fostered by a legacy of composers whose great works were kindled by the beauty of natural settings, Cummings’ work on “Suite for Double String Orchestra” began immediately after Schoustra’s proposition. He carries with him an organic production style that entails writing lengthy pieces longhand, rather than with tedious computer software, and exploring profound subject matter from soup to nuts.
“The tragedy of man against man. Also, growing old -- it’s not fun,” Cummings says. “The gravity of life. I write about love.”
“Being a classical composer is very difficult. The music is dead on the page for almost everyone. They can’t hear it in your head. Of all the arts, music is the most abstract, and you have to have other people involved to hear.”
And Cummings does want people to hear, so he composes music audiences can get behind. Tonal, adventurous, and full of emotional expression, his compositions are a database of musical style from mid-18th Century Classical to Mid-century Modern (Cummings shies away -- or more runs away, and fast -- from atonal and avant-garde music he describes as “almost a death knell” for classical music).
American veins of songlike lyricism and irregular rhythm associate freely with dramatic string lines, rich, complex harmonies, and impressionistic textures. Living simultaneously within and outside of canonical musical phases lends a permanence to the music, a weight and resonance, that reaches far beyond its lined pages.
The “Suite for Double String Orchestra” is meant to paint the pastoral setting of its coastal inspiration. Absent wind instruments, an expanded ensemble of strings evokes the outdoors with beautiful shimmering effects.
Image, it says, the time before housing divisions broke the seamless Rancho Los Alamitos view. Seal Beach, south to Newport Beach, pristine and unsettled; from the hilltop, Catalina Island, visible and serene in the distance. Soft wind drifting gently and the sun glinting on water, timelessly.
“It’s a reference, the first movement, to the beauty of the land,” Cummings explains, “not now, but what it must have been 150 years ago. You could see the Pacific Ocean undeveloped. The first movement is about the land, about what it was.”
“It’s all about the land. The land will always be there.”
Robert Cummings’ “Suite for Double String Orchestra for Rancho Los Alamitos” will be premiered by the Long Beach Symphony on April 28, 2012 at 8 p.m. Find more information about ticket prices and programming here.
Reach Staff Writer Leslie Velez here.