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Composed: c. 16 minutes

About this Piece

M.A. Tiesenga’s Sketches of Chaparral is a world premiere LA Phil commission with generous support from the Hillenburg Family. The piece will be performed by the LA Phil New Music Group conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni for a special California Festival edition of Green Umbrella.

For the commission, the composer created an original graphic score reflecting Southern California’s chaparral landscape. Tiesenga says, “I wanted to make something capturing and responding to the multifaceted character of the chaparral in all of its texture and diversity - from hillsides that form planes of fuzzy splotches, rugged juniper bushes that find homes in remote boulder crags, to the complexity found in a single branch of chamise. Chaparral plants are often overlooked, and I wanted to bring out some of the beauty in their banality. What can we learn, if anything, from these humble perennials? How might these disparate influences be expressed in orchestration?” 

Read M.A. Tiesenga’s full essay about the genesis of Sketches of Chaparral including photos and sketches from the field research that informed the composition at

Sketches of Chaparral is a composition inspired by the unique beauty and complexity of California’s chaparral. This piece, commissioned as part of the 2023 California Festival, is an exploration of the multifaceted character of the chaparral biome—a collection of ecosystems that form ubiquitous emblems of California.

The score itself is derived from a collection of observations, sketches, and charcoal rubbings of the chaparral. This creative process gives the music an abstracted and textured character, mirroring the richness of the chaparral ecosystem. The flow of the piece is meant to mimic the effect of a walk. As we traverse the natural landscape, what elements seize our gaze? At one point, it may be the intricate detail of a delicate shrub’s thorn, only to have our focus shift next to the vast mountain that serves as its backdrop.

The collage of elements within the piece emulates the simultaneity of various ways that biota interact with each other and the land. Just as each living thing affects the things around it, so do the choices of the performers ripple to affect the composite fabric of the piece. After all, the process of creating a sketch is as much of an impression, a representation, a depiction of an object as it is one of our own relationship to that object. In this way, I seek to create analogies between the components of a habitat and the musical ensemble through the aperture of the sketch.

Influenced by composers such as Wadada Leo Smith, James Tenney, Julius Eastman, and Pauline Oliveros, the piece integrates a hybrid of graphic, open, and traditional notation techniques. The “full score” of the piece is entirely graphic and is meant to contain the pool of information and structures from which all content of the piece is derived. From the full score, parts are extracted and provided to the instrumentalists. My purpose in incorporating improvisatory elements and elements of chance procedure is to create something that reflects and celebrates the uniqueness of the people present within the space.

Sketches of Chaparral is meant to illustrate our intricate relationship with our environment, encouraging us to perceive the elegance of our ecosystem and appreciate our shared symbiotic existence within it.” —M.A. Tiesenga