Composer Derrick Spiva to Premiere ‘Grace Unbound’ at Villa Aurora

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra composer and artist educator Derrick Spiva will premiere his new work, “Grace Unbound,” at Salastina Music Society’s Sounds Local: Annual Composers of Los Angeles concert Sunday, April 7, 8 to 10 p.m. at the Villa Aurora in Castellammare.

The Sunday concert will feature four world premieres of works by composers from the greater Los Angeles area.

“This will be the first time I’ve premiered a piece in the Palisades,” Spiva told the Palisadian-Post in a recent interview. “I want to thank Salastina and Benjamin Smolen for the commission, and for the opportunity to perform in the Palisades.”

Spiva has also been commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale for the 2019-20 season. Next spring, he will premiere two new works on the same night in Los Angeles: one for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and one for the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

“Sadly, I won’t be at one of those performances, because I can’t be in two places at once,” Spiva said with a laugh.

Known for integrating musical practices from different cultures into his work with classical music communities, Spiva’s “Grace Unbound” will incorporate melodic and rhythmic techniques often heard in the music of the Balkans and Northern Ghana.

“My whole life has been about integration and overlap,” Spiva said. “My ancestry is Ghanaian, Nigerian, British, Irish and a whole lot of other stuff within my own body and that resonates in my music.”

At UCLA, while studying musicology, Spiva performed with several performing ensembles, including the Balkan ensemble, West-African dance ensemble and Balinese Gamelan dance ensemble.

“I took a lot of these things and really let them influence my voice; it took me years to write music that includes those aesthetics,” he explained. “There’s a question of how to do that respectfully and honestly, of course, giving homage to where the music comes from.

“I do a lot of integrated classical music, and I try to include the voices of some of the other cultures of people I’ve met in my life, my own ancestry, into my classical music.”

Inspired by Aretha Franklin’s 1972 performance of “Amazing Grace” at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, “Grace Unbound” includes asymmetrical metering, unique melodic ornamentation and polyrhythmic grooves.

“The real inspiration for ‘Grace Unbound’ was Aretha Franklin’s performance of ‘Amazing Grace,’ and the kind of openness and freedom with which it was performed, how untethered the movement was. For me, that’s what really made it profound and meaningful.”

Following on the heels of his haunting 2017 string composition “American Mirror” and 2018 choral and orchestral work “A Vision Unfolding,” “Grace Unbound” promises to be another worldly, complex and unforgettable mélange of musical styles.

“This town’s got people in it from all over the world, this country has people in it from all over the world, and people bring their aesthetic and their style to everything, to this culture, creating a different culture all together.

“It’s not new—as the world gets smaller and people are able to communicate more and more, these things happen, but for me directly in my music this is something I find quite the challenge, to see how all of these things can work together. I try to write music that makes all people feel at home.”

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