The future is now, at least musically. And, as Carter Larsen sees it, not a moment too soon to launch “Fantasia Suite,” his opus designed to bridge the musical chasm between classical romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries to a 21st century mindset that demands freer form and expression.
“Fantasia Suite is forever,” Larsen explained recently from his Point Dume home.
In describing the scope of his dream, he said, “It is a concept of style and performance that creates a continuous cycle of music. Hopefully, never ending.”
Larsen is a concert pianist, classical composer and writer of film scores, having performed extensively with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic.
He started composing at age six and followed a degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with 20 years of concert performances throughout Europe, famous for his repertoire of Romantic classical composers like Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Saint-Saëns.
His own composing reflected these masters’ influences, but his compositions in “Fantasia Suite” “re-introduce” an element popularized in 20th century music-improvisation, a basic component of jazz.
“Back when Chopin or Schumann played, people would ask ‘What are they doing?’ They were improvising!” Larsen explained. “It was the same with Chopin in his era and Ravel in his. They all improvised.”
Larsen believes that modern culture has isolated classical music so that it is accessible to only a select few.
“People can’t listen to symphonies,” he said. “That kind of music is no longer living for them.”
Larsen maintains that this is simply due to lack of opportunity to reinterpret the rules of the past. And so he is re-writing the rules.
“Fantasia Suite already has about 50 movements,” Larsen said. “It is a cycle of compositions that I teach my performers and they, in turn, create a new sound with their own improvisation.”
Larsen plans to introduce this fresh approach to hearing, teaching and performing classical music through the Fantasia Suite Foundation, a nonprofit charitable foundation dedicated to promoting music education worldwide.
Through a series of concerts, workshops and outreach programs starting in local schools, Larsen’s foundation aims to reanimate not just the music of the 18th and 19th century composers, but the style and passion of classical music for a generation and a society that has developed tastes for the likes of AC/DC and Jessica Simpson. Larsen said that it is purely a matter of exposure to see just how free, joyous and hip classical music can be.
“Look it’s not rocket science,” he said. “When we went into Malibu High to show them what we are doing, these kids got excited!”
Larsen has weighted his board of directors and roster of patrons with some of the most respected and distinguished names in music today, such as Andrea Van de Kamp, chairman emeritus of the Music Center of Los Angeles County. He is launching the introduction of “Fantasia Suite” through a series of concerts of his own compositions being played by his students, all “top-notch, cutting edge, serious performers,” Larsen said. “Some of my students are in the doctoral programs at USC and UCLA and will be performing “Fantasia Suite” for their thesis.”
His foundation will kick off a concert series Saturday, Sept. 30, at Raitt Recital Hall at Pepperdine University.
True to his philosophy of teaching as well as creating a new musical form, Larsen is turning the piano over to his students, who will play different compositions from “Fantasia Suite.” Larsen showed a reporter the score of one of his pieces, with the notations penciled in.
“This is one of the pieces they will be performing. I don’t give them the scores they will be playing until a week or so before the performance,” he said.
Aaron McClaskey is one of Larsen’s students who will be performing at the concert, and he confirmed his teacher’s by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to learning a new piece. “Yeah, Carter finished one piece we’ll be performing the end of July, I think,” said McClaskey, who is a doctoral student in USC’s music department. “But this is kind of fun ’cause the composer will be sitting right there and can listen to how we play. You don’t have to guess at how the composer would want something interpreted, as we have to do with Mozart’s music.”
As Larsen emphasized, this “living interpretation” approach to playing classical music “is about challenging the status quo of the last 100 years of music. The sound may be familiar, but it has never been heard before.”
Larsen continued, “This is the natural step forward for classical music… it brings an immediacy to the work by improvising a new sound, so that players are composing even while they are performing their own music.”
“Fantasia Suite” will be introduced at the Pepperdine concert by Catherine Goldwyn, new to Larsen’s methods. Goldwyn heads the musical education and outreach program called Sound Art, profiled in The Malibu Times in August.
“I have studied music for years, and Carter’s approach to teaching and appreciating classical music was something we have been trying to do for pop music with our own program,” Goldwyn said. “It’s about making it accessible to everyone, yes, but it is also about hearing, perhaps for the first time for many, the real joy in classical music.”
Foundation scholarship information and tickets for the “Fantasia Suite” concert are available by telephone at 310.58.5448 or on-line at www.FantasiaSuite.com. Entry is free to all students.