MUSE/IQUE fetes LA’s music scene
By Kamala Kirk
Robert Latour/Submitted Photo
Los Angeles is home to iconic performance venues and an impressive history of musicians that includes the Beach Boys, The Mama & Papas, and the Eagles.
In its new season, MUSE/IQUE’s “LA Composed: A Festival of Los Angeles Music” celebrates the city’s musical legacy with a yearlong concert series.
Curated and led by Artistic Director Rachael Worby, the series features renowned musicians and performers celebrating at cultural institutions such as Caltech and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens through November.
“For us, curation is illuminating the connection point between the inspiration of the artist and the curiosity of the audience,” Worby says.
“We try to follow the music to that magical place where understanding flourishes. ‘LA Composed’ started from an idea to focus a season on the unique musical history of LA. We started by focusing on genres that are associated with LA, such as film scores or the legendary club scene. We also studied with awe the wide range of cultural influences that feed the LA music scene.”
As the organization studied LA’s music giants, it found these entertainers could not be easily defined. Instead, their genius reflects the wild interconnectivity and infinite creativity of the city, Worby says.
“It began to occur to us that LA music is much like its most famous streets — brimming with energy and absolutely distinct local flavor — and yet remarkably global and even universal in appeal and influence. We started thinking about composers, singers and musicians in the place of creation — on these incredible streets of LA. From that point, ‘LA Composed’ almost curated itself.”
The first concert of the series, “Sunrise on Sunset,” debuted in mid-March at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Featuring vocalists Brandon Victor Dixon, Kecia Lewis and the DC 6 Singers, it explored the music intersections of Sunset Boulevard, the epicenter of cultural revolution.
“When Brandon sang Leon Russell’s ‘A Song for You’ for the Sunset Boulevard show, it was a convergence of genius,” Worby says.
“We showed a clip of Russell revealing his reverence for B.B. King, and then we talked about how so much of what we hear in music today is influenced by Russell. Then Brandon, who is an unparalleled interpreter of song, seemed to bring that whole history of inspiration to life in a way that resonated with our modern audience. To make it even better, we were able to link the history of the song to Sunset Boulevard to give a relevant time and place context for listeners.
“Bringing history and context together with genius songwriters, musicians and singers in a way that speaks to our own times. That’s what we aim for with every moment of every show. We had more moments like that with Nikka Costa channeling James Taylor and Carole King in our Laurel Canyon show. And we expect our artists to come up with more intellectually and emotionally thrilling moments as we examine the history of Whittier Boulevard, Route 66, Highway 1, Central Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Hollywood and Vine in our upcoming shows.”
Upcoming concerts in the series include “Route 66 and Highway 1” on Wednesday, June 22, and Thursday, June 23, at Caltech, which highlights how the most numbered highways come together and intersect to define surf and sand from the Beach Boys to Beach Blanket Bingo.
On Wednesday, July 20, and Thursday, July 21, “Whittier Blvd.” at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens will tell the story of how Mexican American musicians blended music from across LA to create a whole new genre whose influences rang from coastal rock to the rhythms on Central Avenue. Additional concerts and venues will soon be announced.
“I think the reason our shows resonate so deeply is that we ask our performers to assert their own personality, their own spirit, their own unique character and charm into the performance,” Worby says.
“We don’t ‘cover’ songs. We discover their true depth and meaning by attaching the deepest parts of ourselves to them. So the personality of the artists really becomes the conduit by which audiences find new ways into familiar songs. I’d say our work is more than collaboration — it’s a brave adventure that would not be possible without gutsy artists who are willing to expose their vulnerabilities and their true character.
“I never know exactly how we are going to perform a song until I get the artists in a room together and hear it in their true voice. We don’t ask them to conform to a specific vision of a song. We ask them to help us discover what the song really means. For that reason, we are dependent on a wide range of personalities and performers.”
Worby says it’s the same with the venue partners.
“Place matters in the mind of the audience,” she adds.
“It informs the meaning of the performance. So, a performance changes and takes on new values when we change the venue. This is especially true when we encourage the personality and community of each venue to shine through in the event. By presenting music in so many varied and iconic locations, we are able to find ever deeper meaning in the music.”
MUSE/IQUE is a member-supported, nonprofit performing arts organization that makes engaging live music experiences accessible for all. Its mission is to build empathy and expand imaginations through transformative live events.
Members receive complimentary admission to all MUSE/IQUE events. Membership begins at $200. Admission for nonmembers starts at $75 and includes a trial membership along with admission to MUSE/IQUE’s next three events.
“This is more than the history of LA music; this is their history,” Worby says.
“Our secret is that these shows are really about the audience. The songs form an emotional language to tell the story of their community in a way they have never heard before. The streets and music we will explore are familiar to our audiences.
“But we know they will leave with a whole new sense of themselves, their culture and the songs they love. It’s really about discovering a profound kind of civic pride. This year will conclude an 18-month cycle of examining the history of LA music through its streets and iconic artists. We could, of course, devote 10 seasons to this topic. But one thing I have learned is that it is always best to leave them wanting more and move on to new ideas to pique audience curiosity. So next year we will be on to a new exploration, to be announced soon.”