An interview with Downey composer Lars Clutterham

How does one imagine one’s own life before birth? “The first melodic instruments to appear In The Arc of My Life,” says Lars Clutterham, “are two flutes, since I am a twin.”

“They are playing very high in their range,” Lars says. “They slowly descend, as I imagine them floating down towards birth, and are replaced by two oboes just before the strings enter, with a dissonant rhythmic pulse, representing labor and childbirth.”

“That builds to the whole orchestra, and after a quiet peaceful harmony from woodwinds, representing that beautiful moment after birth where the now peaceful mother holds her children, the twins, this section concludes with a very brief oboe duet.”

Concert-goers will be able to hear this transformation when the Downey Symphony performs the premiere of Lars’s piece, on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 8 pm at the Downey Theatre.

Lars Clutterham, center, flanked by Councilmember Alex Saab and Downey Symphony music director Sharon Lavery.

Lars Clutterham, center, flanked by Councilmember Alex Saab and Downey Symphony music director Sharon Lavery.

“Downey, you are blessed to have him.” Attendees at the December Cathedral Production of “Christmas in Downey” will remember Lars’s imaginative arrangement of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for a basso opera singer-narrator. Director Chad Berlingheiri praised Lars from the stage, “What a treasure!”

As for his first memory of himself as a musician, Lars shows that with a song-like melody, “Actually the first melody I remember writing down, as a junior in high school,” he says. That melody, aside from a couple of brief interruptions, defines the rest of the piece. “The timing elements from that point on are really dictated by the musical phrases of the song form, rather than by any specific biographical details.”

“The ‘jazz’ interlude,” says Lars, “is actually a brief nod to a period in my life when I first became interested in jazz. In a similar way, I was also involved in a very abstruse style of music called “dodecaphonic” or “twelve-tone,” which is also briefly presented. In my score, I call the jazz interlude “Recreation,” and the word I used for twelve-tone is “Dissonance.”

For Lars, “Music is my life.” A professional musician, it means a lot to him to hear his work performed by the Downey Symphony Orchestra. “First,” he says, “no matter how well one ‘reads’ music, there’s a tangible perception of the real sounds when hearing it live. And second, that produces a genuine emotive impact, as one hears other musicians adding emotional content through how they perform the music.”

Lars Clutterham at his desk at JoAnn Kane Music Service.

Lars Clutterham at his desk at JoAnn Kane Music Service.

“And third,” says Lars, “there’s simply the pride that, for whatever reason, a full orchestra of musicians is realizing one’s own creative ideas.”

Lars has always promoted physical fitness, and for years rode his bicycle on weekends to the studio in Santa Monica where he worked. How does that show up in the music?

“These days I’m not riding,” Lars said, “nor currently involved in environmental advocacy, as much as I used to be. I do yearn to get a regular ride on my schedule down the Rio Hondo-L.A. Riverbed from northwest Downey to the Long Beach Lighthouse. In this piece, both strings and woodwinds have some fast ascending passages that are designed to show energy and vitality.”

Lars is bringing some young people to the concert. “Through the Downey Federation for Educational Opportunities, now in its third year, I am conducting and writing for a new string ensemble, whose two dozen members are mostly elementary school kids taking after-school violin classes through the DFEO program.

“Our long-term goal,” said Lars, “is a youth orchestra in Downey, and meanwhile they are showing great enthusiasm for orchestral music, so a group of parents, students, and teaching faculty from that ensemble are planning to attend the concert.

Since piano was his first instrument, what other instruments does Lars bring in to show “experience?” “Actually,” said Lars, “piano never comes into play. I promised Sharon Lavery, the Downey Symphonic Society’s Music Director, I would orchestrate using the only the instrumentation of the Prokofief Peter and the Wolf, and Mozart’s Great Symphony in G Minor, the other pieces in the program. So my musical choices,” Lars said, “were designed mostly to build momentum before the peaceful ending.

Since Lars is by no means at the end of his own Arc, how does he end the piece? “Great question,” Lars says. “Since that first song melody has by now become the primary theme of the piece, the rest of the composition simply expands on the main theme, using the broad terms ‘Felicity,’ ‘Exuberance,’ and finally coming to a quiet ending: ‘Peace’ and ‘Rest.’”

“The only thing I would like to say,” said Lars, “is that it’s been a great honor that Sharon Lavery, the Downey Symphony’s conductor, has invited me to write a new piece for the DSO for three consecutive years.”

In twenty more years, Lars will have that many years of accomplishments to add, and more themes may emerge, to the peace and balance he has now achieved. Perhaps before then a new piece, without the constraint of this commission, will let the piano emerge in concert with the full orchestra. Not only for the piano’s brilliance and its range but because it can express modulation. In a way the other instruments can’t.

Tickets to the concert are still available at the Box Office, or go to downeysymphony.com. Parking at the Downey Theatre is abundant and free.