The Fullerton-based Illustrious Theater Orchestra was a five-piece chamber group made up of Paul Greenhaw on piano, Shane W. Cadman and John P. Hoover on saxophones, Scott McIntosh on clarinet, and Christine Dietrich cello. This unusual chamber combination blends quite well, and Greenhaw occasionally moves away from his piano to play parts on electric organ or harpsichord. Although technically a new music ensemble, Illustrious Theater Orchestra was not at all like Bang On A Can; the musicians performed their own scores with some small liberties taken for improvisation. Their music was not "jazzy" in the usual sense associated with crossover, nor does it reference other vernacular music, such as Yo-Yo Ma's Appalachia Waltz. The Illustrious Theater Orchestra was a straight-up classical chamber music ensemble that borrowed some harmonic ideas and rhythms from pop music, but put these elements together in an original and imaginative way that was immediate and appealing, yet still provocative and "new."
Pythagorean Xydiko Machine by the Illustrious Theater Orchestra, originally issued by the orchestra on the tiny Trompe l'Oreille label in 1993, was a forward looking and important disc then, and remains a vital and indispensable item within the context of its own time. Returning to it reveals that Pythagorean Xydiko Machine wears well and there are not a great many things that have come along since quite like it. Many retail stores in the '90s stocked it in the new age section, which it definitely is not -- along with the pastoral beauty and calm expressed in Cadman's clarinet concerto All Night I Heard the Birds Flying, there is the nervousness and urban anxiety in Greenhaw's Cool Shoes that follows it. Each writer within the ensemble is fully aware of the other musicians' capabilities and writes with the group in mind, but the individual pieces nonetheless reflect each composer's signature style. The music is tonal without exception, but does not sound "old" -- clearly the Illustrious Theater Orchestra was striking out on its own melodious path, braving the brickbats of conservatory-bred atonalists and critics, particularly the ones in New York already immunized against any fresh air wafting from California.
While the Illustrious Theater Orchestra is no more, Pythagorean Xydiko Machine remains easy to enjoy and timely as well. As Shane W. Cadman has reflected on the group "(all we sought) was to bring a little beauty into people's lives." In the congested, hyperactive, and angry musical world of the early twenty-first century, this seems to be a minority view; nonetheless, Pythagorean Xydiko Machine still works for that.