“The next piece that we’re going to play . . . Maybe I should tell you what we were doing . . . The, the signals that we were giving, I’ll explain to you very simply: This means ‘free improvisation’ and the finger signals told the performers which of the fragments they were to uh, play at any given moment. Anyway, the next piece that we’re going to play is in standard notation, and it’s actually pretty tame compared to the “Opus 5.” It’s called “The Collage Two,” and it was written last Thursday.”—Frank Zappa
Something truly amazing for Frank Zappa fans, a 1963—yes, 1963, you read that right— concert that was taped for KPFK radio on May 19th of that year at Mount St. Mary’s College. A young Frank Zappa put up $300 of his own money in order to hear his compositions played by The Pomona Valley Symphony Orchestra (who do a surprisingly great job considering the intensely difficult music they were asked to play). There was an intriguing excerpt from this concert on The Lost Episodes rarities compilation, and where there’s an excerpt, usually there is a full recording…
The concert was taped by Chilean recording engineer, geographer, anthropologist and documentarian, Carlos Hagen, who had moved to Los Angeles the year before and was doing radio production for free-form underground FM station KPFK. Hagen provided many of the “Dear Friends” radio show tapes used by Firesign Theatre archivist Taylor Jessen in his essential Duke of Madness Motors book/DVD rom publication. I believe the story goes that Taylor found a copy of Hagen’s 1963 Zappa tape in the KPFK vaults in 1999 when he was researching Firesign tapes and sent it to the “Vaultmeister” of the Zappa Family Trust.
In a 1992 interview Frank Zappa talked about the recital:
Actually, the first time I had any of it [“serious” music] performed was at Mount St. Mary’s College in 1962. I spent $300 and got together a college orchestra, and I put on this little concert. Maybe less than a hundred people showed up for it, but the thing was actually taped and broadcast by KPFK. (...) By the time I graduated from high school in ‘58, I still hadn’t written any rock and roll songs, although I had a little rock and roll band in my senior year. I didn’t write any rock and roll stuff until I was in my 20s. All the music writing that I was doing was either chamber music or orchestral, and none of it ever got played until this concert at Mount St. Mary’s.
In the liner notes of The Lost Episodes, Zappa pal, Rip Rense describes the event:
It took place in 1963 at, of all pastoral places, lovely Mount St. Mary’s College, a private Catholic institution perched in the lush Santa Monica Mountains above West Los Angeles. (...) The program included a piece called “Opus 5,” aleatoric works that required some improvisation, a piece for orchestra and taped electronic music, with accompanying visuals in the form of FZ’s own experimental 8mm films (Motorhead Sherwood described one such film depicting the Los Angeles County Fair carnival, double exposed with passing telephone poles).
The concert consisted of:
* Variables II for Orchestra
* Variables I for Any Five Instruments
* Opus 5, for Four Orchestras
* Three Pieces of Visual Music with Jazz Group
Zappa conducted, played the zither and introduced the pieces. The was an intermission and a “Question and Answer Period"afterwards.
Carlos Hagen discusses the concert before it begins. The music starts at approx 14:30.