Price Duo


Within the last few years the City of Culver City, a small but culturally adept city in West Los Angeles, has sponsored two concert series which have already captured the attention of cities throughout the west. The best attended and most popular series is the Summer Sunset Music Festival, which offers a large variety of jazz, Cuban, Brazilian, folk, pop and country music performers in free weekly outdoor concerts from June to September. This series draws hundreds of eager fans from all over the L.A. area to the courtyard of the new Culver City city hall. Not so well known or attended are the intimate chamber music concerts held in the city hall council chambers. This series of 4 spring concerts, also free and with free parking, is called Music In The Chambers, and features Los Angeles performers.

Thursday evening, May 22, the final series concert, brought distinguished composer and pianist Deon Nielsen Price to the city hall chambers. Deon is a 30-year Culver City resident, and a prominent participant in the Los Angeles musical world. The Price Duo, which features Deon on piano and her son Berkeley A. Price on a vast array of clarinets, has performed across the world, from Europe to China. Deon, who earned her D.M.A. at the University of Southern California, is a former President of the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM), and serves on the boards of IAWM and the National Association of Composers, U.S.A. Berkeley earned his doctorate from the Eastman School of Music and directs the instrumental music program at the well-known Windward School in Culver City. For the May 22 concert they were joined by Nancy Roth, a popular Los Angeles recitalist and chamber music player on violin and viola. She earned her D.M.A. from USC, and serves as concertmaster for several orchestras in the L.A. area.

The three outstanding musicians performed a group of Deon’s own compositions in a tribute to the sights and sounds of California with the overall title of California Dreamin’. Deon had composed a special work for this concert and its setting titled Serenade in the Chambers, and the program opened with its premiere.

Deon sat at a beautifully-toned 7-foot Kawai grand in the middle of the chamber room, while Nancy, on viola, stood at one end of the dais and Berkeley, on Bb clarinet, stood at the other end. Over arpeggios based on fourths on the piano, the viola and clarinet interacted with lyrical lines as the players slowly walked to the piano, then careened together in an exuberant froth. The physical movement of the players seemed to symbolize the interaction of Culver City’s council meetings. The second work, Big Sur Triptych, for clarinet and piano, included three movements, “Sea Otters,” “Redwoods,” and “Crags.” In describing “Sea Otters” to her audience Deon explained that its musical roots were a triad, juxtaposed with another triad a half step higher to create a humorous sound. “Sea Otters” seemed to depict the cavorting animals with a kind of gamboling counterpoint, while “Redwoods” presented majestic lyrical lines, and “Crags” was fraught with jagged dissonances of minor seconds.

Mesuree Mexicana, Deon explained, was originally composed for soprano saxophone and guitar. This piece, in this version for clarinet and piano, has 6+4 beats in each measure in a kind of dance-like counterpoint. Nancy’s luscious-voiced solo violin was featured in Stile Antico, and she talked about how she came to know and understand the piece. She described the introduction of the work, a series of four long and passionate phrases, as a kind of philosophical question, “What is life?” and the body of the piece, comprising rhythmic 5- and 7-beat patterns contrasting open-string drones and left-hand produced pizzicatos. Diversions for solo piano is probably one of Deon’s best-known piano works. A kind of California fantasy, it includes the movements “Freeway Fugue,” “Desert Impression,” “Surf Dance,” and “Quake Fantasy.” In the freeway music a 4-note kernal spins out into striking tangled lines replete with minor seconds. The desert is depicted in a lovely extended melody over repeated intervals slowly descending, reminiscent of Chopin’s famous Prelude in E minor (Op. 28, no.4). The surf dance is a whimsical scherzo, also filled with minor seconds, and the earthquake combines deep chords with jagged phrases and trills in all the piano’s registers.

The first half of the concert finished with another of Deon’s better known works, Crossroads Alley Trio, composed for viola, clarinet and piano for the Crossroads School in Santa Monica where Berkeley studied and performed. The work’s sections, “The Alley,” “Pacific Breeze,” “Willful Student,” “Determined Teacher,” “Confrontation,” “Night in the Alley,” “Feline Love Duet,” and “Sunrise in the Alley” go quickly from one to the next without break, featuring a variety of extended techniques for the instruments, including bends and glissandos.

After the intermission Berkeley brought in his large collection of clarinets, including the Eb soprano, soprano clarinets in Bb and A, a basset horn and the giant Eb contrabass to perform Clariphonia. Again addressing the audience, Deon noted that Berkeley had acquired his collection of instruments from one of the premiere studio clarinettists in Los Angeles. The work, with the movements “March to the Clariphones,” “Dance on A,” “Basset Horn Romance,” “Eb Soprano Scherzo,” and Eb Contrabass Finale” had Berkeley switching from one to another instrument with little pause, sometimes holding one large instrument while he played on a smaller one. Three faces of Kim, the Napalm Girl for clarinet and piano, Deon noted, was inspired by the famous Vietnam War photo of the tiny girl on the road. Its first movement, “Soulful,” featured long mournful tones on the A clarinet. The “Playful” movement was a brief scherzo, and the “Fearful” section depicted its theme with extended clarinet sounds including bends, growls and flutter tongueing.

The concert concluded with America Themes, a moving pastiche of our patriotic songs cleverly combined. Deon pointed out to the audience that this work was composed to commemorate the 9/11 attack on the New York Trade Center. The piece opened with Deon strumming inside the piano while Berkeley played “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home.” Portions of “Taps,” “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” “Yankee Doodle,” “America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “Amazing Grace” were all artfully combined in a magnificent patriotic counterpoint.

Deon Price’s sophisticated, innovative and beautifully performed music brought great delight to the more than 150 people who had gathered for this concert. The program evoked a wide range of emotions, from solemnity and patriotism to romance and humor. Besides many friends, neighbors, and students, the audience included enthusiastic IAWM members, including Jeannie Pool, Nancy Fierro, and Adrienne Albert.

Stephen M. Fry
UCLA Music Library Emeritus

Published in the Blue Pacific Newspapers in Culver City, West Los Angeles, and Westchester, May 29.2003