Category Archives: Blog

The Sound Ensemble: A crucible for new ideas in music

In Nature’s Realm
Saturday, October 29, 2016 @ 7:00 pm
The Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center, Seattle

“One of the best parts of going to concerts is having the freedom to disagree,” Bobby Collins tells me over coffee at Ada’s in Capitol Hill. “When I go see a live performance, I’m simultaneously enjoying and critiquing it, thinking things like, ‘That was interesting. I might have done it differently, but it works.’ We’ve all been to concerts where you go and the whole thing washes over you. But nothing challenged you or changed in you, and you forget about it the next day. That’s not what I’m interested in creating. I’m interested in creating immersive experiences of art.”

Bobby is the conductor and co-founder of The Sound Ensemble, a self-governed group of professional musicians seeking to “break down the expectations of the traditional concert hall and provide transformative musical experiences.” He also enjoys a good triple entendre: “[W]e create sound, we’re based near Puget Sound, and we’re a sound investment.” He says he likes to use the word “sound” – rather than a specific genre – when describing the product of the ensemble, in order to avoid labeling the many kinds of music they perform.

(Photo courtesy of The Sound Ensemble)
(Photo courtesy of The Sound Ensemble)

In 2015, Bobby connected with his former high school classmate and tubist Jameson Bratcher over the great experimental and community-building properties of music. They discussed what they could do to bring this into Seattle communities and formed The Sound Ensemble. Bobby sees great potential in the group, formed in August 2015 and now in its first full season, as a crucible for new ideas in music, and works to “bridge the gap between old and new music.”

As for being a sound investment, Bobby cites the ensemble’s 10-member core group of seasoned professional performers. His 10-year plan for the ensemble includes expansion to a sufficient size for orchestral performances (35-45 members), development of programs on Seattle’s east side, and steady wages for its members.

Predisposed to classical music, Bobby did not immediately take to contemporary forms and structures. “I had to get over an ‘Oh, that’s weird’ factor and see the beauty in [more textural soundscapes]. Although I love a good melody, I have always been drawn to dissonant music, and music that communicates powerful images or emotions,” he says. “When I encounter a piece I don’t understand, I want to take it apart until I figure it out. In entering into the world of contemporary music over the last five or six years, I have found a diverse palette of techniques that become powerful expressive tools in the hands of skilled composers. I am continually inspired and challenged as I learn how to harness those tools as a conductor and help realize their full potential.”


Great music prepares us to engage with those around us, those who are different from us.


As a child, Bobby was gripped by the idea of experiencing life through the perspectives of others. “I heard Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony when I was in a youth orchestra. I was immediately drawn in, and experienced emotions I could not have had otherwise,” he tells me, adding that great music challenges people to have experiences outside of themselves. “It prepares us to engage with those around us, those who are different from us.” Now, he is the enthusiastic and selective curator of The Sound Ensemble’s programs.

The Sound Ensemble’s next performance, In Nature’s Realm, pays homage to the eponymous Dvořák overture. Each piece in the program was inspired by nature, and allows us to explore nature through the minds of each composer. Also on the program: John Teske’s susurrus, Greg Dixon’s Cedar Forest, John Cage’s Litany for the Whale, John Luther Adams’ songbirdsongs, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Hrim.

Bobby plans on doing the entire 25 minutes of John Cage’s Litany for the Whale and is excited to perform Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Hrim; Anna inspired the theme for this concert when speaking on the podcast Meet the Composer.

“A concert is essentially a listening party,” Bobby says, and this is particularly true in the case of Greg Dixon’s Cedar Forest, in which a track is played through a sound system with a video accompaniment, without live performers on stage.

Another multimedia element will be introduced at their January concert, when the ensemble is joined by accelerometers for Marcin Paczkowski’s Deep Decline.

One of the cornerstones of Bobby’s vision for The Sound Ensemble is accessibility in terms of music, location, and cost. It is important to him that audiences be able to come and have their own experiences with this music. With help from donors, the ensemble has been able to keep ticket prices low: $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and $5 for youth symphony members.

The low price point for members of youth symphonies comes from conversations between Bobby and other musicians, in which they realized why they hadn’t gone to concerts when they were young: there was a real or perceived inaccessibility to those concerts. He aims to mitigate that perception – and reality – and provide quick-moving, engaging experiences for kids.

Further opening up channels of accessibility, Bobby tells me about The Sound Ensemble’s equally well-punned happy hour event, The Buzz. Ensemble members, composers, and audience members will have a chance to meet and mingle over a drink and some bar food.

“Ultimately,” he says, “we want to connect with the community and let them know that we’re just people who want to share some really cool stuff with them.” Agree, disagree, be transformed, or remain unmoved – whatever your experience, The Sound Ensemble wants to connect with you.

The Sound Ensemble will perform on Saturday, October 29, 2016 @ 7:00 pm at The Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center. Full program and details are here.

BrendanHoweOakland native Brendan Howe grew up surrounded by music and has been performing since the age of six. He has been listening to a lot of Tom Waits, Sviatoslav Richter, and Kate Bush lately.

Community update: October 2016

Epic event-a-thon
There’s nothing like an LMP event-a-thon – except, maybe, an LMP event-a-thon with headbanging…

In this edition: An epic event-a-thon, organ trail, local media & grant deadlines, and more!

LMP news

We evented, epically
e·vent, vb 1. The act of submitting events to the Live Music Project calendar.
We had an epic volunteer event-a-thon last weekend! 7 volunteers submitted 100 events in 4 hours, joining the efforts of dozens of organizations already submitting their performances to the calendar. It’s not all visible yet, but we should have the full season on our calendar in the coming weeks.

Internal organ…?
Channelling a bit of Magic Schoolbus wizardry, we took several thousand people into the guts of a pipe organ and watched with amazement as the bellows and trackers danced to music played by Susanna Valleau.

We felt your support!
A heartfelt thank you to our donors this month: Jessica Fredican, Mike Holzinger, Joachim Lyon, John Reale, and Kate Ross & Tim Schmuckal! And to our volunteers: Andrea, Brendan, Cam, Ellen, Emily, Gillian, Jon, Maggie, Marjorie, Nick, Philippa, Thomas, and Veronica. You rock! (Do you love the LMP? Join us as a volunteer or a donor!)

Community announcements

  • The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture is hiring a half-time digital media specialist.
  • KING FM is hiring for several positions – Webmaster and Internet Operations Manager, Accounting Manager, Membership Coordinator, and more!
  • Bremerton Symphony seeks Principal Bassoon and Section Horn.
  • Seattle Music Partners is seeking volunteer music tutors.
  • Second Inversion launched a Women in (New) Music blog series: an ongoing exploration into the past, present, and future of feminism in classical music which invites female-identifying artists to share their own experiences.
  • ECCHO (the Emerald City Chamber Music Organization) launched in September, providing weekly coaching to young chamber ensembles during middle and high school orchestra classes.
  • Join Town Hall Seattle for a behind-the-scenes tour of their historic building on Thursday, October 13th at 11am, complete with an outline for how they have envisioned it for the future.
  • New Music Happy Hour returns on October 27, 5:30 pm at Queen Anne Beerhall.

Notable deadlines

  • October 1 – CityArts calendar (November issue) submission deadline
  • October 6 – Seattle Magazine January print calendar submission deadline
  • October 17(ish) – Seattle Times 2016 Holiday Entertainment Guide submission deadline
  • October 19 – 4Culture Arts Sustained Support Grant application deadline
  • October 19 – Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Neighborhood and Community Arts Grant application deadline
  • October 19 – Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Arts in Parks Program Grant application deadline
  • November 2 – CityArts calendar (holiday issue) submission deadline
  • November 2 – The Stranger: Seattle Art & Performance (winter issue) submission deadline
  • Rolling – 4Culture Open Arts Grant; apply at least 6 weeks prior to event date
  • Rolling – Seattle Times calendar (digital and print); submit 14 days in advance
  • Rolling – Seattle Met digital calendar; submit 2-4 weeks in advance
  • Rolling – LMP calendar submission deadline is 1 week prior to performance date; deadline for weekend digest is Wednesdays @ 5pm
  • Rolling – Spontaneous Free Tickets may be donated up to 1 day prior to performance date

To receive this LMP monthly community update by email, subscribe to our newsletter and select “LMP & community news.”

Submit announcements for inclusion in this newsletter by the 25th of each month.

A program soaring and gorgeous, torn and crumbled: Organist Susanna Valleau in Recital

Susanna Valleau Organ Recital
Sunday, September 18, 2016 @ 2:00 pm
Plymouth Congregational Church, Seattle

“As an audience member, I appreciate being informed during concerts,” Susanna Valleau tells me. She is a vivacious, charismatic organist with an impressive collection of awards and degrees in organ performance on her résumé – and at the moment, she is turned around on the bench of the monumental, one-year-old Fisk organ in the airy yet intimate Plymouth Congregational sanctuary downtown. We are chatting before one of her three-hour-long rehearsals.

Susanna Valleau (Photos: S. Lyon/LMP)

“I’ll talk to the audience before pieces, let them know to listen for this chord or that harmonic flute, what the pieces mean to me. As a performer, I’m very interested in the audience having that kind of depth of experience.”

She is particularly keen on making her concert accessible and acknowledges the intrinsic obstacles toward that end: organ music performed in a church can be a tough sell. “A lot of people I know have said things like, ‘I’d love to go but, you know, the wrath of God…’” she says, and we joke about the fear of bursting into a ball of flames while on a quest to hear some Bach.

She explains that her favorite organ recitals show variety in both repertoire and registrations.

Susanna has indeed been extremely discerning and intentional in choosing her repertoire. “I picked pieces with which I feel strong personal connections and have spent a lot of time studying,” she says. The first of these is Arvo Pärt’s 1980 work Annum per Annum.

The spectacular, colossal D-A open fifth chord of Annum grandly swells the sanctuary for a full minute after Susanna’s father Reed, dutifully playing the assistant during rehearsal, shuts off the air to the compressors downstairs. Gradually, the chord evaporates into the vaulted ceiling.

The rest of the piece is built around a Minimalist interpretation of a sacred Renaissance theme, and Pärt weaves a tapestry of stunning sound. It is the sublime, musical equivalent of visiting the ruins of an ancient abbey – the construction is majestic, soaring, and gorgeous, but torn and crumbled by diminished and dissonant chords, the fallen notes strewn around the base or gone entirely.

Susanna

Following the Pärt part is Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 6 in G major, an immaculately structured work composed around 1730 that serves as a sort of control for the rest of the program, as many Bach pieces do – the categorically perfect piece for organ against which all other organ music shall be compared.

Pamela Decker’s 2011 piece “Jesu, dulcis memoria” also acts as a control in a way, explicating the implicit connection between organ music and Christianity. It hovers in a quiet register at the border between the conscious and subconscious mind before building in speed and volume to a glorious conclusion.

Four Noble Gases by Daniel Gawthrop comes next, describing neon, argon, krypton, and xenon with musical reverence, revealing the sort of religious wonder inherent in chemistry.

Susanna will finish the set with Charles Tournemire’s Office de l’Epiphanie from L’Orgue Mystique. It is a grand piece that was written in 1922 for the end of Mass at Epiphany, when the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.

2016-09-11-15-09-12-1_susannavalleauorganhands

Susanna has spent hours experimenting with sound possibilities and choosing the stops carefully in order to achieve the right timbre for each piece. To someone unfamiliar with the inner workings of a pipe organ, the process seems painstaking, exacting, and complicated, and I ask her about it.

“It is. It is extremely complicated,” she confirms. The instrument requires three rooms. The first is the sanctuary, which houses the console, keyboards, and the congregation (or audience). Behind the console is a room walled off from the sanctuary that contains the rollers and trackers. These pull the pipe pallets open, allowing wind to blow through the pipe when their corresponding key is played. The pipes are housed in the chambers above the back room, and two plywood box tubes burrow through the floor to the air compressors in the basement.

Back at the console, Susanna explains that the many stops can be used in endless combinations. “Part of the art of playing the organ is choosing these stops to bring the music to life,” she says. They are labeled – in French, as the organ itself is French Romantic in style – as the sounds they are meant to resemble, such as “Viole de gambe,” “Trompette,” and “Bombarde,” which refers to an extremely powerful reed stop.

Inside the Opus 140 organ at Plymouth Church
Inside the Opus 140 organ at Plymouth Church.

Susanna explains that there are 3,400 pipes in this particular organ, ranging from 32 feet to about the size of a pencil, and that each was handcrafted in Massachusetts and then shipped across the country. After that, a team of “voicers” went through each pipe to ensure they speak correctly.

The possibilities do feel pretty close to limitless, and the three of us discuss how awed we are by the craftsmanship required to build such a work of art as this.

“When you can go in and actually see how the whole thing works, you really appreciate the time and dedication that goes into it,” Susanna says. “The Fisk organ builders have crafted a phenomenal instrument where every voice is beautiful. This allows the organist to sit down and have a full color palette of sounds to choose from in order to bring each piece to life.”

The concert will take place on Sunday, September 18th, 2016 at  Plymouth Congregational Church. Full program and details are here.

BrendanHoweOakland native Brendan Howe grew up surrounded by music and has been performing since the age of six. He has been listening to a lot of Tom Waits, Sviatoslav Richter, and Kate Bush lately.

Community update: September 2016

The Opus 140 organ at Plymouth Church in Seattle.
The Opus 140 organ at Plymouth Church in Seattle. (Photo: S. Lyon)

In this edition: Exploring cultural access, organ innards, local auditions & media deadlines, and more!

LMP news

We took a look at cultural access
This week, we met with other cultural organizations to look at the barriers to cultural access – why people may not feel comfortable participating in cultural events – in order to come up with a shared definition of public access. Sometime next year, voters will be asked to approve Cultural Access Washington (CAWA), an 0.1% sales tax increase to improve access to cultural programs in King County. This will be the first time public support for arts, heritage, and culture will be submitted for voter approval – and public access is at the core of how CAWA will impact the region if passed.

Here are some barriers that caught our attention:

  • Information: believing you have to be a certain type of person to participate (for example, self-selecting out of a cultural event at a library because “libraries are for smart people”).
  • Transportation: being unable to attend events within Seattle if the event ends late enough that there is no bus service to your home outside Seattle (this especially impacts young people and all who rely on buses).
  • Relevance: feeling distance from a cultural program (often because the program was designed for a specific community without talking with members of that community).

Since this will be a King County initiative, 4Culture – the county’s cultural funding agency – will be responsible for developing and administering the funding program for it. You can learn more about CAWA here.

Barriers to cultural access in Washington
What are the barriers to cultural access in Washington? (Photo: S. Lyon)

We went inside an organ
Hidden rooms. Circuit boards. We took a tour of the incredible Opus 140 organ at Plymouth Church, and heard a sneak preview of organist Susanna Valleau’s upcoming concert. On Sept. 11, we’re going back in for a rehearsal – and this time, we’re taking you with us! Come along as we poke around the inner workings of this Fisk organ, and catch a few notes of some truly dramatic music. Watch our Facebook page for details.

We felt your support!
A heartfelt thank you to our donors this month: Kevin Clark, Jessica Fredican, Kiesha Garrison, Jane Harty, Mike Holzinger, Eric Niebler, John Reale, Nadine Stock, and Mitsuo Tomita. Would you like to donate too? We’d love your support! Please donate here.

Community announcements

  • Second Inversion is celebrating Steve Reich’s 80th birthday with a 24/7 marathon of his music – email Maggie Stapleton to find out how to share a favorite piece or memory during the broadcast.
  • The upper floors of King Street Station are being transformed into a cultural hub; the next public working meeting to explore possibilities for the space is September 14.
  • Sine Nomine: Renaissance Choir warmly welcomes Dr. Anne Lyman, DMA, as their new artistic director and conductor to begin their 9th season this fall.
  • Saratoga Orchestra of Whidbey Island announces auditions on September 10 and 17 for violin, cello, and substitute positions for all instruments.
  • Seattle Bach Choir is holding auditions on Sept 6 at St. Catherine of Siena Church, appointments between 4:30 and 7:00 PM.
  • Bremerton Symphony Orchestra will hold auditions September 6.
  • Bremerton Symphony Chorale will hold auditions September 6 and 13.
  • Seattle Collaborative Orchestra is seeking highly capable diverse student and community musicians who are interested in participating in an innovative orchestra devoted to mentorship and bringing classical and new symphonic works into Seattle communities.
  • Bellevue Chamber Chorus is holding auditions for experienced choral singers to join them for the 2016-2017 concert season!
  • Philharmonia Northwest will hold auditions this summer for the following positions to be filled before the start of the 2016/17 season: violin, viola, cello, horn, trumpet.

Notable deadlines

  • September 6 – Seattle Magazine December print calendar submission deadline
  • September 29 – 4Culture tech-specific project grant application deadline
  • October 1 – CityArts calendar (November issue) submission deadline (submission form also available here)
  • October 17 – Seattle Times 2016 Holiday Entertainment Guide submission deadline
  • October 19 – 4Culture Arts Sustained Support Grant application deadline
  • October 19 – Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Neighborhood and Community Arts Grant application deadline
  • October 19 – Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Arts in Parks Program Grant application deadline
  • Rolling – 4Culture Open Arts Grant; apply at least 6 weeks prior to event date
  • Rolling – Seattle Times calendar (digital and print); submit 14 days in advance
  • Rolling – Seattle Met digital calendar; submit 2-4 weeks in advance
  • Rolling – LMP calendar submission deadline is 1 week prior to performance date; deadline for weekend digest is Wednesdays @ 5pm
  • Rolling – Spontaneous Free Tickets may be donated up to 1 day prior to performance date

To receive this LMP monthly community update by email, subscribe to our newsletter and select “LMP & community news.”

To submit an announcement for inclusion in this newsletter, send 1 sentence and 1 link to: shaya@livemusicproject.org. Deadline is the 25th of each month.

Community Update: August 2016

LMP board meetings are long, productive, and requiring of sunset breaks.
LMP board meetings are long, productive, and requiring of sunset breaks. (Photo credit: M. Holzinger)

In this edition: We’re officially a 501(c)3, local auditions & job openings, media deadlines, and more!

LMP news

  • We’re officially a registered 501(c)3!
    Hot on the heels of incorporating in WA state, we are now officially also recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. This means you can support us in a way that is also tax-deductible. Please support us!
  • We got spontaneous!
    Pssst. This is our best-kept secret. Through our Spontaneous Free Tickets program, we have given away more than 200 free concert tickets this year. The tickets are donated by local performing arts organizations like the Seattle Chamber Music Society, Northwest Sinfonietta, and Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. We want to give you tickets. Get in on this goodness!
  • We stayed happy!
    It’s been rough for some of us to maintain our sparkly happy glow under Seattle’s weirdly cloudy “summer” skies, but one thing that has helped immensely is the New Music Happy Hour that we co-host with KING FM’s Second Inversion! It was wonderful to sip and snack among a few dozen friendly smiles on July 19. We’ll continue to meet monthly-ish; subscribe to receive dates as we schedule them. (Yes, NMHH has its own mailing list!)

Community announcements

  • Emerald City Music seeks an arts administration intern for the Fall semester, August 21-December 1, 2016. Email info@emeraldcitymusic.org for more information.
  • Music of Remembrance is currently taking applications for the full-time position of development associate.
  • Town Hall has job openings for event staff, house manager, development director, and more.
  • The upper floors of King Street Station are being transformed into a cultural hub; the next public working meeting to explore possibilities for the space is August 10.
  • Thalia Symphony will hold auditions for all string sections and principal bass on August 16, or by appointment.
  • Bremerton Symphony Orchestra will hold auditions August 23 & September 6.
  • Ensign Symphony & Chorus will be auditioning tenors and basses for their 2016/2017 season on August 25.
  • Philharmonia Northwest will hold auditions this summer for the following positions to be filled before the start of the 2016/17 season: violin, viola, cello, horn, trumpet.
  • Northwest Chamber Chorus is holding auditions on Sunday afternoon, August 28 at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church in Seattle.
  • Bellevue Chamber Chorus is holding auditions for experienced choral singers to join them for the 2016-2017 concert season!
  • Seattle Bach Choir is holding auditions on Sept 6, 2016 at St. Catherine of Siena Church, appointments between 4:30 and 7:00 PM.

Notable deadlines

  • August 5 – Seattle Magazine November print calendar submission deadline
  • August 10 – The Stranger’s Fall issue of Seattle Art & Performance submission deadline (publication date: September 14)
  • August 15 – CityArts October calendar submission deadline
  • August 15 – 4Culture Conductive Garboil grant application deadline
  • September 29 – 4Culture tech-specific project grant application deadline
  • Rolling – LMP calendar submission deadline is 1 week prior to performance date; deadline for weekend digest is Wednesdays @ 5pm
  • Rolling – Spontaneous Free Tickets may be donated up to 1 day prior to performance date

To receive the LMP monthly community update by email, subscribe to our newsletter and select “LMP & community news.”

To submit an announcement for inclusion in the newsletter, send 1 sentence and 1 link to: shaya@livemusicproject.org. Deadline is the 25th of each month.

Community Update: July 2016

Researching summer music festivals during our summer event-a-thon. (Photo: J. Icasas)

In this edition: An event-a-thon, local auditions, media deadlines, and more.

LMP news

  • We had an event-a-thon!
    With summer festivals under way and orchestras announcing their new seasons, there are a ton of great concerts to add to the LMP. So we gathered together on a Saturday morning with volunteers, bagels, a magically endless supply of coffee, and a banana or two and submitted more than 90 (yes, NINETY!) events to the calendar. Thanks to Anna, Jon, Marjorie, Kevin, Maggie, Emily, Jennifer, Nick, and Cam for epic eventing. (Sound like fun? Join us next time!)
  • We got happy!
    Together with Second Inversion, we hosted a happy hour for musicians, new music enthusiasts, non-musicians, and curious bystanders to come together and share ideas, create connections, and strengthen Seattle’s ever-growing network of artists and musicians. Ideas were spawned, connections were made, and we had such a great time that we’re hosting another happy hour on July 19. Many thanks to LMP board chair and friend Kevin Clark for organizing. See you there!

Community announcements

  • The Seattle Symphony launched a multi-year commitment to respond to homelessness through artistic projects, residencies, and access to performances.
  • The Rainier Symphony announced that Jeffery Lund has accepted the position of music director and conductor with the orchestra.
  • Emerald City Music seeks event volunteers and an artist home host in the Seattle Area for the week of July 11-16. Contact Andrew Goldstein for details.
  • The upper floors of King Street Station are being transformed into a cultural hub; the next public working meeting to explore possibilities for the space is August 10.
  • Thalia Symphony will hold auditions for all string sections and principal bass on August 16.
  • Bremerton Symphony Orchestra hold auditions August 23 & September 6.
  • Philharmonia Northwest will hold auditions this summer for the following positions to be filled before the start of the 2016/17 season: assistant concertmaster, viola, horn, trumpet.

Notable deadlines

  • July 5 – Seattle Magazine October print calendar submission deadline
  • July 15 – CityArts September calendar submission deadline
  • July 20 – CityArtist Projects Grants application deadline (workshop on July 6)
  • July 25 – LMP monthly community announcements submission deadline
  • July 29 – Seattle Times Fall Arts Guide submission deadline (publication date: September 14)
  • August 1 – GiveCamp 2016 application deadline
  • August 10 – The Stranger’s Fall issue of Seattle Art & Performance submission deadline (publication date: September 14)
  • Rolling – LMP calendar submission deadline is 1 week prior to performance date; deadline for weekend digest is Wednesdays @ 5pm

To receive the LMP monthly community update by email, subscribe to our newsletter and select “LMP news.”

Open rehearsals are a great way for listeners to experience the collaborative aspect of music-making. The Fulton St. Chamber Players held an open rehearsal at Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum earlier this month. (Photo: S. Lyon)

LUCO’s Ambitious Russian Repertoire Takes A Delirious Path Through Spectacle, Grim Urgency, and Bleak Hope

As the members of the Lake Union Civic Orchestra (LUCO) took the stage for their season finale performances of Stravinsky and Shostakovich at Meany Hall on Saturday evening, granite clouds rained dramatically over the surrounding University of Washington campus, appropriately evoking the composers’ St. Petersburg roots. The program consisted of Stravinsky’s bright, showy Circus Polka (1942), as well as two works by Shostakovich – the notoriously technically challenging Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major (1959) and the emotionally shattering, rarely performed Symphony No. 8 in C minor (1943) – a set that only orchestras as adventurous and spirited as LUCO would work into one program.

LUCO at Meany Hall. (Photo: Shaya Lyon)

The prolific and buoyant director of LUCO since 2000, Christophe Chagnard, joyfully swept up to the conductor’s platform and led the group through the two-toned tents, popcorn, and enraptured crowds of the Circus Polka. Upon commission, Stravinsky had famously declared that he would only write a polka per the Ringling Brothers’ request if it were intended for “very young elephants.” LUCO succeeded admirably in rallying the energy of several young circus elephants and bringing them to life for the four-minute piece.

In a significant shift in tone, the orchestra then moved away from Stravinsky’s carnival and into Shostakovich’s feverish cello concerto. Virtuosic soloist Michael Center expertly navigated the two worlds of extreme technicality and emotional expression, proving an excellent interpretive match for the solo, 148-bar cadenza. The percussion section and timpanist Rachel Dobrow Stone joined with high-register winds to effectively fill out the mood of grim urgency in the finale.

LUCO at Meany Hall. (Photo: Shaya Lyon)
LUCO at Meany Hall. (Photo: Shaya Lyon)

Following intermission, Chagnard depicted Leningrad (St. Petersburg) of 1943 for the audience, proclaiming that it would be “difficult to think of a darker year in human history, and for Russia [in particular]”. It had been two years since the initial printing of the Soviet propaganda poster featured on the concert program, showing a square-jawed, hawk-eyed, Red Army soldier determinedly glaring into the future, tank cannons ablaze in the background, above the phrase “Вперед! Победа близка!” (Forward! Victory is near!), and the Nazi siege of Shostakovich’s hometown would continue for yet another year. Supplies were extremely scarce, the Russian winters brutal without fuel, and “every month, [tens of thousands] more people died of starvation.” On top of that, Stalin’s authoritarian government was extremely adept at making people disappear if they spoke one wrong word or made art that was not precisely just so.

Such was the context in which Shostakovich penned his heartrending Symphony No. 8 in C minor.

LUCO captured the gravity and depth of the 8th Symphony with a highly conscientious, present performance. As a unit the winds and strings moved under the radar at speeds of varying levels of caution and anxiety. The brass followed Chagnard’s orders closely, joining the winds and strings for several horrific, hair-raising howls, representing the thousands of people the city lost month after month.

Moving deliriously through the constant fear of a knock at the door, imprisonment, and finally to the faintest shred of hope sans optimism an hour later, LUCO performed the five movements of the symphony with careful attention and stirring aptitude.

Storm clouds at the University of Washington on the eve of the performance. (Photo: Shaya Lyon)
Storm clouds at the University of Washington on the evening of the performance. (Photo: Shaya Lyon)

BrendanHoweOakland native Brendan Howe grew up surrounded by music and has been performing since the age of six. He has been listening to a lot of Tom Waits, Sviatoslav Richter, and Kate Bush lately.

Seattle Modern Orchestra Challenges Expectations, Musical Limitations in Season Finale

The Seattle Modern Orchestra, directed by the charming and vivacious duo Julia Tai and Jérémy Jolley, rounded out its 2015-2016 season on June 11th at the Good Shepherd Center with pensive, erudite performances of three notable contemporary concept pieces: Gérard Grisey’s Périodes (1974), Claude Vivier’s Samarkand (1981), and the West Coast première of Anthony Cheung’s Discrete Infinity (2011).

Seattle Modern Orchestra (Photo: Huck Hodge)

Several elements came together to make this performance particularly unique and engaging. First, the remarkable, apparent ease with which the musicians performed both as a unit and as individuals at will. Second, the clear relationship between the three pieces, as each exhibited a shuttering of tradition in favor of using the parts for other purposes. And, finally, the surprising parallels between the pieces and the turning points in the history of the Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford in which they were performed.

Grisey notes that his Périodes for seven instruments represents the “soft” periodicity of the respiratory cycle (organic and varied, as opposed to mechanical and precise): inhalation, exhalation, and rest. A noted proponent and composer of liminal music, which emphasizes the perpetually transitory nature of music itself, Grisey wrote Périodes to explore five of these breathing cycles. Each sequence constructs increasingly complex series of harmonics that share a single fundamental note.

In the first derivation, violist Heather Bentley droned on a dark, controlled low D while the other instruments built up a harmonic profile around it, cut through by a sort of tolling-bell rhythm by trombonist Rebecca Good. The sequence resolved into a calm yet apprehensive whole tone melody before coming to a rest and beginning a new sequence, this time focused on rhythmic structures.

The final cycle included a comedic, revelatory sense of perpetuity, reminiscent of the introduction to Mel Brooks’ 1987 film Spaceballs – just when it’s almost certainly over, it continues. Then it continues to continue, similarly to the intended function of the respiratory cycle.

To open Vivier’s Samarkand, clarinetist Angelique Poteat and oboist Ursula Sahagian joined forces with flautist Jessica Polin, bassoonist Steven Morgen, and Josiah Boothby’s French horn to create a dissonant groundswell of sound while Bathsheba Marcus’ heavily-accented piano forged its own path, stoking an unmistakable sense of fretfulness. The effect was similar to that of listening to a rant of a bona fide mad scientist in a basement lab, whose thread could be logically followed to a point before veering off in a completely unpredictable direction – simultaneously unnerving and enthralling. Gradually, the winds and brass echo the piano, adding a new dimension of depth and clarity, and Vivier again surprised with instructions to rap lightly on the piano’s open lid with a rubber ball.

As the piece came to its glacial close, the winds remained unflinchingly discordant, and the structure of their details lost within each other created an atmosphere of blended, inextricable tension. The SMO’s meticulous interpretation of Samarkand challenged the audience to break free of assumption again and again.

The intermission allowed audience members and performers to mingle over wine and cookies, which fostered a welcoming sense of conversation and community. I was fortunate enough to speak with composer Anthony Cheung about his piece, Discrete Infinity.

A well-spoken, thoughtful, engaging man, Cheung revealed that the piece had taken on a life of its own before he perceived its connection with Noam Chomsky’s idea of discrete infinity: that despite the finite nature of certain systems, such as language, infinite meanings are possible.

Cheung recognized that he could apply this idea to his music. He knew that he wanted his as-of-yet-untitled piece to build on harmonics, primarily those of strings, which derive their intricacy from a single tone or series.

He wrote ascending lines for the brass and wind sections, building upon tones with strong harmonic relationships, then introduced a cacophony of sound from all instruments to break them all down again. The sounds reduced into their discrete properties, leading to previously undiscovered combinations. Cheung accomplished his goal of representing the idea of infinite possibilities in music over time in Discrete Infinity, the limitations of resources and equipment notwithstanding.

BrendanHoweOakland native Brendan Howe grew up surrounded by music and has been performing since the age of six. He has been listening to a lot of Tom Waits, Sviatoslav Richter, and Kate Bush lately.

Community update: June 2016

Exploring our reasons for getting involved with the LMP during our community kickoff meeting in March. (Photo: J. Icasas)
Exploring our reasons for getting involved with the LMP during our community kickoff meeting in March. (Photo: J. Icasas)

In this edition: The LMP is officially a nonprofit (!), Seattle Symphony’s Philip Glass photography competition, a new-music podcast, and more.

LMP news

  • We’re a nonprofit!
    The LMP began as a side project in September 2013; in March 2016, we formalized the organization as a Washington State nonprofit corporation. We’re here to support our community for the long haul, and we’re thrilled about it! Meet the wonderful team that is making this possible.
  • We had a community kickoff meeting!
    Earlier this year, we gathered with friends and colleagues from across the community to eat chili, get creative with post-its, and talk about the current state and future plans of the LMP. We explored our reasons for being involved (“passion is contagious,” “love of the arts,”good people,” “fostering community,” “desire to build and contribute”) and hopes for the future (“the audience is as diverse as the city,” “musician-audience interaction is safely encouraged,” “musical organizations share resources and information”). We were encouraged and inspired by the incredibly passionate, talented, committed community we are in.
  • We shadowed a few orchestras
    Making music is a collaborative process, and we love collaboration. Every few months, our intrepid executive director, Shaya, tags along with a local orchestra as they prepare for a concert, telling their stories along the way. Read about what it’s like to conduct an orchestra while playing piano, the compositional muse of sorting algorithms, and how a collection of teenage chatter inspired a new work for girlchoir and orchestra.

Community announcements

  • John Cage Musicircus is seeking artists to participate in a celebration of Cage’s works at Town Hall in November; paid artist spots are available.
  • The upper floors of King Street Station are being transformed into a cultural hub; the next public working meeting to explore possibilities for the space is August 10.
  • Congratulations to violinist Takumi Taguchi (age 15) and pianist Alexander Lu (age 16), winners of the 2016 Young Artist Awards Competition presented in partnership by Seattle Chamber Music Society and Classical KING-FM 98.1; hear them perform on KING FM’s NW Focus Live, June 24th at 8pm.
  • The Universal Language Project (in partnership with Second Inversion) has launched a new podcast, which features 20-minute composer interviews followed by recordings of new work – often from the premiere, live in all its unedited glory.
  • Philharmonia Northwest will be holding auditions this summer for the following positions to be filled before the start of the 2016/17 season: assistant concertmaster, viola, horn, trumpet.
  • Using The Light by Philip Glass as your inspiration, share your photos with the hashtag #TheLightSSO on Instagram and Twitter to receive two complimentary tickets to the Seattle Symphony performance on June 30.
  • The Thalia Symphony Orchestra announces the appointment of Joseph Pollard White as music director starting with the 2016-2017 season; Maestro White is guaranteed to generate excitement with his programming and the enthusiasm he inspires in his players.
  • Join musicians from Emerald City Music for a summer hike up Issaquah’s jaw-dropping Tiger Mountain, with a chamber music performance at the peak, on July 16.
  • Registration is open for Tuned In! Summer Student Festival, an intensive and comprehensive musical learning experience for students aged 13-20, with renowned violinist Dr. Quinton Morris.
  • The Hummingbird Suzuki Academy has launched a prenatal, baby, and toddler Suzuki music program dedicated to music ability development from age zero in the Seattle area.
  • The Northwest Mahler Festival will be holding auditions June 14 and 15 for all string, wind, and percussion principal positions for its 20th Anniversary Festival Gala Concert on July 17.
  • Second Inversion and the Live Music Project are hosting a happy hour on June 22 for musicians, new music enthusiasts, non-musicians, and curious bystanders alike to come together and share ideas, create connections, and strengthen Seattle’s ever-growing network of artists and musicians.

Notable deadlines

  • CityArts August calendar – submit events by June 22
  • LMP community news – submit announcements by June 25 (1 sentence, 1 link)
  • LMP calendar – submit concerts 1 week prior to performance date; deadline for weekend digest is Wednesdays @ 5pm
  • Seattle Magazine October calendar – submit events by July 5

To receive future monthly newsletters from us, subscribe to our newsletter and select “LMP news.”

Seattle Collaborative Orchestra rehearses at University Christian Church last fall. (Photo: S. Lyon)
Seattle Collaborative Orchestra rehearses at University Christian Church last fall. (Photo: S. Lyon)

A Very Personal Sound

I am mesmerized, watching a pair of hands dip and soar with a melody, like birds dancing their own flight paths. Clinton Smith, music director, is not far behind, floating a bit himself as he leads Orchestra Seattle through their first reading of Edward Elgar’s From the Bavarian Highlands, which will close their final concert of the season.

The music is beautiful, the rehearsal room absolutely filled with sound, and I am surprised to learn that the 70-member orchestra is seeing their parts for the first time tonight. They are all sight reading, as is Clinton, and yet the music is very much alive. (It turned out the score was late, and had arrived that day from the publisher.)

“You have to dance with me a bit.” ~ Clinton Smith, on tempo
“You have to dance with me a bit.” ~ Clinton Smith, on tempo

It has now been a month since that first rehearsal; on Sunday, the orchestra will perform a program of Elgar, Mozart, and Kai-Young Chan together with their other half, the Seattle Chamber Singers.

Founded in 1969, Orchestra Seattle | Seattle Chamber Singers (OSSCS) pairs chorus and orchestra on equal footing – an unusual undertaking for a community group, and unique in the Pacific Northwest.  The group also works with Cornish College of the Arts and Seattle University to provide ensemble credit for musicians who are pursuing a music degree and wish to play or sing for credit.

I asked Clinton if he would share a few thoughts about Sunday’s concert program, conducting from the piano, and unique character of this ensemble.

 
How did you choose the repertoire for this program?

I came to the idea of the program from reading the texts and the story behind Elgar’s Bavarian Highlands. He and his wife were on vacation in Bavaria, and you can tell they were having a great time together, making happy memories. I wanted to create a program that reflected a happy-go-lucky atmosphere, so I chose the Mozart concerto – which I’ve performed several times, as it represents a happy and successful brief period in Mozart’s life – and the Elgar Serenade. His publisher told Elgar it wasn’t publishable, but he forged ahead and created this well-known gem.

“The beautiful lilting phrases must have just the right amount of emotion, both for the orchestra and the chorus, in order to pull off the simple beauty of the music… Clinton has a strong emotional connection with the piece and the skill to communicate that connection to the musicians, making the performance light, lovely, and carefree for all of us.” ~ Laurie Medill, alto, on ‘From The Bavarian Highlands’

 
What should we listen for?

The Elgar Serenade is a lush, beautiful, strings-only piece written for the fun of it. Listen for Elgar’s very personal sound – the sound of a composer writing from the heart, for fun, instead of for a paycheck.

The Mozart piano concerto is very unique in that he wrote this piece most likely for himself to take on the road and play for high society. It was composed the same year as The Marriage of Figaro, his most famous opera, and one can hear opera characters darting on and off stage even in this, his most famous piano concerto.

The composer competition winner by Kai-Young Chan, Seeking, Searching, is inspired by the poem Sheng Sheng Man by Li Ching-Chao (1084-1155). The audience should listen to the entirely new sound he creates, utilizing new ways of playing the instruments, complex rhythms, and traditional Chinese instrument-inspired sounds with glissandi, grace notes, and tonality.

Finally, Elgar’s From the Bavarian Highlands, we hear the sounds of Elgar and his wife’s travels together around Bavaria on vacation. His wife wrote the text, and he wrote the music, and together they create a delightful six-movement choral work free of worries.

IMG_5146
“It’s a matter of figuring out the rhythms in your own time. You’ll need to do the math, sitting with the part, figuring out where the rhythms go. You have everything you need.” ~ Clinton Smith

 
You will be playing the Mozart piano concerto while simultaneously conducting it. Is that different from doing just one or the other?

Playing and conducting is all about trust – trusting the musicians to listen to each other, and play together without a conductor. Essentially, we are having a conversation, and when I’m not playing, my conducting is part of the conversation the musicians are having with each other.

It’s tricky to do both, and I have to take care of myself first as a performer. That’s where the trust comes in – I know the orchestra can play without me, and when I need to focus on my playing, they will take charge, and together we will perform the piece as chamber musicians.

Clinton Smith conducts Mozart's piano concerto from behind the piano.
Clinton Smith conducts Mozart’s piano concerto from behind the piano.

 
Seattle has dozens of community orchestras. What drew you to OSSCS?

The draw was the repertoire possible with the pairing of a chorus and an orchestra. Where else can you do a concert with Beethoven 9 and Schwanter’s New Morning for the World? A professional orchestra would be far too expensive for such a concert, and the prohibitive difficulty level of the music would exclude most community orchestras. OSSCS can pull off this type of concert beautifully, then turn around and perform a pair of Messiah performances less than a month later.

 
What are you most looking forward to about this concert?

Bringing new works to life is a great privilege and responsibility of mine, and OSSCS is known for its adventurous programming with regard to new music. I am also thrilled that we are able to present Elgar’s Serenade. This is on the program because the violins last year won a fundraising competition. I studied the piece early on when I was just starting to conduct with my teacher Ken Kiesler, and am happy to revisit an old friend.

~

OSSCS will perform “Devil may Care” at First Free Methodist Church at 3pm on Sunday, May 22, 2016. For details and tickets, click here. Watch the concert LIVE on Facebook.

“You really have to open your mind and be willing to accept that there are and should be many ways to express emotion through music.” ~ Kenna Smith-Shangrow, violin

Would your ensemble like to be featured on the Live Music Project? Drop us a note at info@livemusicproject.org. All photos © 2016 by Shaya Lyon for the Live Music Project.