Category Archives: Blog

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.

An Algorithmic, Emotional New World

“It’s not enough to slow down. You have to relax your soul, then it becomes organic.”

Sound like a yoga class? That’s music director Julia Tai, guiding the musicians of Philharmonia Northwest through their first rehearsal of this concert cycle as they prepare their season finale: a trio of immersive works spanning 250 years.

For Sunday’s concert, Julia has chosen music that looks into the future: a world premiere by Seattle composer David Schneider, computation[0]: algorithmic thoughts of the electric brain for amplified orchestra, and Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, “From the New World,” signifying the beginning of a new era for the orchestra.

Dipping into the past, the program continues with an unusual pairing of concerto instruments in Michael Haydn’s Duo Concertante for Viola and Organ, with soloists Mara Gearman (viola) and Leslie Martin (organ).

Mara Gearman and Leslie Martin rehearse Haydn's Duo Concertante at North Seattle College.
Mara Gearman and Leslie Martin rehearse Haydn’s Duo Concertante.

Philharmonia Northwest has a 40-year history of producing high-quality concerts and promoting local composers and performers. The musicians have an unmistakable common love and passion for music that is shared by all.

When I ask Julia what she is most looking forward to about this concert, she mentions the beautiful program and wonderful soloists – and the challenges around computation[0], a minimalist piece structured around four sorting algorithms. [Listen here]

“Since I’m not a computer person, David had to explain to me how sorting algorithms work and how the piece was composed to illustrate these processes,” she says. “Working on David’s piece is something new for the orchestra. It requires a different mindset and musical discipline. But we like challenges and learning new things all the time. It expands our horizon and improves our musical skills.”

Julia explains that the piece is difficult because it is very minimalistic – there are repeated musical patterns and slight changes with each repetition. The music then changes and morphs over time (a technique developed mostly by John Adams, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass). There are also passages that use the Hocket technique, where each group of instruments plays alternating notes that make up a melody. It is extremely difficult to be precise on those fast notes and rests.

Philharmonia Northwest rehearses 'computation[0]' at North Seattle College.
Rehearsing ‘computation[0]’ at North Seattle College.
Algorithms might seem like a strange muse for an orchestral work, but like other sources of creative inspiration – nature, people, history – algorithms are part of daily life. And they are on David’s mind. For the past year and a half, he’s been on the path to becoming a software developer – and has been devoting most of his energies to learning programming and the math and computer science upon which modern software is built.

“In addition to the fact that algorithms help power the technology I – like just about everybody in our society – use every day, I’ve gotten to know some of them much better in the recent past,” he says. “The thinking required for understanding and applying algorithms is quite abstract, and it occurred to me that music might actually be a very good medium for expressing such abstraction. So in part, this piece is an attempt to capture the logical processes that go on in the ‘mind’ of a computer and convey them to an audience in a way that’s understandable on an intuitive level.”

When David joined for the orchestra’s fourth rehearsal, he heard computation[0] live for the first time – toes tapping, score open, his face a mask of mild concentration. I watched, wondering what it’s like to experience your creation coming to life.

Composer David Schneider looks on as he hears computation[0] live for the first time.
Composer David Schneider follows along in the score as he hears ‘computation[0]’ live for the first time.
“The first time hearing a piece in rehearsal is always an interesting experience, and with an orchestral piece, it tends to be a bit of a blur,” David says. “I try to take in as much as I can, but it’s difficult, because there’s so much going on. What I’m mainly concerned with is: Can I hear the musical narrative unfolding the way I intended?”

Micro-negotiations unfold after the orchestra plays through David’s piece. The opening section needs more trombone. The woodwinds can’t be heard. (In fact, this is a feature of the rehearsal space, which absorbs their sound entirely.) And then there is some rethinking of whether to use the shaker or a different type of percussion.

Philharmonia NW

David explains later why this process is necessary.

“Sometimes in writing a piece there are details that I’m not quite sure about,” he says. “I’ll wonder if maybe I actually want the glockenspiel an octave higher. Or I might worry that I have too many instruments playing a particular line, and maybe they’ll overpower the other parts. The truth is, while I think I have a pretty good sense of how things will sound, there’s still a fair amount of uncertainty, particularly in the way a large number of instruments sound when playing together. And there are other variables that add to this uncertainty, since, for instance, every performer is different, and every space is different.”

Occasionally, David will write something one way but also have in mind one or more alternatives in case it doesn’t work quite the way he wanted.

Julia explains that many composers like to make changes to their work on an ongoing basis, from small changes like dynamic marks to bigger ones like cutting out a few bars. Composers throughout history have done this too, making changes or creating different versions during rehearsal cycles or for different concerts or orchestras.

Philharmonia Northwest rehearses at North Seattle College.

With less than a week to go before this concert, I wonder: At what point do you put down the pencil?

Says David: “If there’s enough rehearsal time, I might ask the performers to try an alternative, but typically these changes are quite small, because it would be extremely impractical to make major changes to the piece at that stage.”

Says Julia: “That’s the beauty and fun about working with living composers! We can have a dialogue on the music, exchange ideas, edit some parts of the music or instruments, and be in the exciting process of creating something new that no one has ever played before!”

Any collaboration between composer and musician produces a work of art that is greater than the sum of its parts; in an orchestral work, the composer has a vision, the conductor communicates that vision to the players, and the players bring it to life. All of these moving parts come together to create a conversation between composer, musician, and audience whenever a piece is performed.

“We can’t forget that music is a living art that breathes and changes, and it can sound very different with different players too,” Julia says. “This is why live music is so amazing. You have to be in the moment to experience it!”

julialaughing
Music director Julia Tai.


Philharmonia Northwest will perform Schneider, Haydn, and Dvorak at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church at 2:30pm on Sunday, April 24, 2016. For details and tickets, click here.

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.

New Music Concerts: April 2016

Visit Second InversionVisit the Live Music ProjectThe Live Music Project and Second Inversion are curating a monthly calendar of contemporary classical, cross-genre, and new composed music in Seattle, Eastside, and Tacoma.

This music is the cutting edge of classical composition and improvisation, and we invite you to check it out!

Keep an eye out for this flyer at concerts, coffee shops, and online. Feel free to share, download, and distribute it too!

If you’d like to be included in the flyer, please submit your performance to the LMP calendar and drop a note to secondinversion@king.org.

Here’s the April flyer (click to enlarge):Program Insert - April 2016 - onesided

More information about this month’s new-music performances:

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based
on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation,
electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Kaley Lane Eaton: ANIMAL
A psychedelic, post-minimalist kaleidoscope of recent work, dancing the tension lines between body, mind, instrument, & computer.
Fri, 4/1, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Second Inversion Presents: SRO Quintet
The Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet transforms popular song into art song with Radiohead, Bjork, and original emotional chamber works.
Sat, 4/9, 8pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $25

Seattle Modern Orchestra: Musica Electronica
Three electronic works from three generations, including works by Berio and Saariaho, and a world premiere by Ewa Trębacz.
Sat, 4/9, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$20

Cornish Presents: A Tribute to Janice Giteck
Cornish celebrates the teaching career of Janice Giteck with a concert of her music performed by long-time friends & former students.
Tues, 4/12, 8pm, PONCHO Hall | $5-$10

Seattle Symphony: Silvestrov U.S. premiere
Guest conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov leads SSO in the U.S. premiere of Silvestrov’s Symphony No. 8.
Thurs, 4/14, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $21-$121
Sat, 4/16, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $21-$121

2Cellos
This Croatian cello duo breaks down boundaries between genres, equally comfortable playing Bach or rocking out to AC/DC.
Sun, 4/17, 7pm, McCaw Hall | $36.50-$56.50 (+ fees)

Cornish Presents: Friction Quartet
This San Francisco quartet has a reputation for edgy programming and exhilarating performance of contemporary string quartets.
Thurs, 4/21, 8pm, PONCHO Hall | $10-$20

(re)MOVE: Back Toward Again the (re)TURN Facing
This evening of dance & live music (by Horvitz, Owcharuk & Omdal) ventures into personal & feminist injustices of earth & the female body.
Fri, 4/22, 7:30pm & Sat, 4/23, 7:30pm, Velocity Dance Center | $15-$50
Sun, 4/24, 6:30pm, Velocity Dance Center | $15-$50

Philharmonia Northwest: The New World
Featuring a world premiere by David Schneider that illuminates new forms of communication between computer and orchestra.
Sun, 4/24, 2:30pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church | $15-$20

Music of Today: The Music of Harry Partch
This performance of music by Harry Partch features the composer’s collection of handmade instruments, housed at the School of Music.
Tues, 4/26, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$15

Erin Jorgensen
Soundscapes from a 5-octave marimba, with intimate vocals, backing electronics, stream-of-consciousness thoughts ideal for closed eyes.
Tues, 4/23, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

UW Guest Artist Concert: Decoda
This Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall presents fresh insights into works both new & old, culminating a week-long residency at UW.
Thurs, 4/28, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$20

UW World Series: Daedalus Quartet
Daedalus Quartet makes their Seattle premiere with Beethoven quartets and a commissioned work by composer Huck Hodge.
Fri, 4/29, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $34-$38

NWSO: Johnston, Bassingthwaighte, Dvořák
Join the Northwest Symphony Orchestra for a world premiere flute concerto by Sarah Bassingthwaighte.
Sat, 4/30, 8pm, Highline Performing Arts Center, Burien | $12-$15

New Music Concerts: March 2016

Visit Second InversionVisit the Live Music ProjectThe Live Music Project and Second Inversion are curating a monthly calendar of contemporary classical, cross-genre, and new composed music in Seattle, Eastside, and Tacoma.

This music is the cutting edge of classical composition and improvisation, and we invite you to check it out!

Keep an eye out for this flyer at concerts, coffee shops, and online. Feel free to share, download, and distribute it too!

If you’d like to be included in the flyer, please submit your performance to the LMP calendar and drop a note to secondinversion@king.org.

Here’s the flyer (click to enlarge):March new music concerts in Seattle, Eastside, and Tacoma

More information about this month’s new-music performances:

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation,
electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

Seattle Composers Salon
Informal presentation/discussion of works by Jeremiah Lawson, Sean Osborn, Nicole Truesdell, Neil Welch & Marcin Paczkowski.
3/4, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

STG Presents: José González with yMusic
González’s melodies & lyrics will be reframed by new chamber orchestra arrangements in a collaboration with yMusic.
3/6, 7:30pm, Moore Theatre | $37.50 (+ fees)

Inverted Space: Mystery Concert (Long Piece Fest)
For those looking for a bit of an aural adventure, this concert’s works will be announced from the stage.
3/8, 7:30pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Universal Language Project: SCRAPE
The innovative ensemble Scrape (15 bowed strings, harp & electric guitar) perform new works by Jim Knapp and Brian Chin.
3/11, 8pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $10-2$5
3/12, 8pm, Velocity Dance Center | $15-$25

Northwest Sinfonietta: Mass in the Time of War
Artistic Partner David Lockington conducts Aaron Jay Kernis’
Musica Celestis alongside music by Haydn and Mendelssohn.
3/11, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $20-$40
3/12 7:30pm Rialto Theatre, Tacoma | $20-$60
3/13 2pm, Pioneer Park Pavillion, Puyallup | $40

STG Presents: Well Strung
An evening of string quartet music fusing pop and classical music from Madonna to Beethoven.
3/16, 8pm, Neptune Theatre | $28 (+ fees)

UW World Series: Jeremy Denk, piano
This MacArthur “Genius” Fellow performs music by Bach, Bolcom, Tatum, Ives, and much more in between.
3/18, 7:30pm, Meany Hall | $45-$50

The American String Project Chamber Players in concert
Barry Lieberman, Maria Larionoff, and friends reunite to
perform Ligeti’s String Quartet No.1 and Beethoven’s String
Quartet, Op. 127.
3/18, 7:30pm, Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Director’s Choice
A performance of new ballet works featuring music by American singer/songwriters including Andrew Bird & Sufjan Stevens.
3/18-27, McCaw Hall | $37-$142

Seattle Rock Orchestra: Electric Light Orchestra Tribute
SRO pays tribute to their upbeat and imaginative compositions, drawing from their extensive discography.
3/19, 8pm, Kirkland Performance Center | $40

NW Symphony Orchestra: Poteat, Benn, Beyer,
Medina & more
This program features female composers Angelique Poteat,
Hanna Benn, & Kari Medina and soprano soloist Alexandra Picard.
3/19, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church | $12-$15

Tacoma Symphony Orchestra: Water Passion After
St. Matthew
TSO presents the Water Passion by Tan Dun, a refreshing blend of Western classical music & traditional Chinese ritual.
3/20, 2:30pm, Pantages Theatre, Tacoma | $12-$80

Washington Wind Symphony: Of Commoners and Kings
This program will showcase David Holsinger’s dynamic composition In the Spring, at the Time When Kings Go Off to War.
3/20, 2pm, Kirkland Performance Center | $6-$16

Listening as an Ensemble, Playing as a Family

It’s the before of the before: a dark evening in early January, Puget Sound Symphony Orchestra not quite poised for downbeat at their first rehearsal of the quarter. Conductor standing at the podium, brushing up on the score. Musicians wandering in, greeting each other, moving chairs into place, straightening music stands, filling the room with an unmistakably orchestral sound as they warm up and tune their instruments.

From the center of the room comes an arresting thread of melody – sweet and sudden, an achingly beautiful skein of sound – English horn serenading the setting-up of this high school classroom as the orchestra prepares, at last, to begin. A hush falls, eyes turn to the conductor, and off they go.

PSSO rehearsal at Roosevelt High School
PSSO rehearsal at Roosevelt High School.

The PSSO is an all-volunteer ensemble whose members’ formal professions range from computer scientist to radio programmer. Conductor Alan Shen founded the group in 1999 with a vision of sharing fun, musically inspiring concerts at prices affordable to anyone.

Friday’s concert will feature Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ Symphony”), Marquez Danzon No. 2, and Ravel Piano Concerto in G. This immersive landscape of sound is offered at $5-$8 per ticket, continuing to deliver on the orchestra’s mission more than 15 years later.

Conductor Alan Shen reviews scores on his tablet at First Free Methodist Church
Conductor Alan Shen reviews scores before rehearsal at First Free Methodist Church.

Alan has a fluid, democratic rapport with the members of the orchestra. His commentary is laced with encouragement (“I know it seems like we’re chewing our broccoli, but really good work!”) and chuckles (“Don’t succumb to all the business that’s going on over here. You guys hold your ground!”). Alan’s easy communication style extends to the audience, and he is known for enabling listeners to relate to complicated pieces at a personal level.

I asked Alan if he would share a few thoughts about Friday’s concert program, his conducting style, and the role of PSSO in our community.

How did you build the program for this concert?

Knowing that we were going to try out First Free Methodist Church this season, I was excited to leverage the venue’s organ. That’s why we ended up doing the Saint-Saëns Organ symphony. The Marquez continues our Latin theme for the season, and the Ravel rounds out the mix. I always try to build a program with variety so that everyone who attends identifies with at least a couple of the pieces.

Rehearsing Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony at Salvation Army.
Rehearsing Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony at Salvation Army, with Susanna Valleau at the keyboard.

What is one thing the audience should listen for in each piece?

In the Marquez, it’s about achieving that punchy and rhythmically driven sound vs. playing it too much like a traditionally “classical” work. It is a dance after all!

On the Ravel, the middle movement’s simplicity is also its beauty. The English horn duet with the piano highlights this effect.

Brooks Tran is a blur.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. Brooks Tran is a blur.

And finally, for the Organ Symphony, Saint-Saëns was very clever in taking a single melodic line and transposing it in many different ways. See how many of those you can point out!

What are you most looking forward to about this concert?

The massive organ chord in the Saint-Saëns is always a fun one!

What are some challenges facing the orchestra for this program?

The Marquez and Saint-Saëns both have several areas where aligning the rhythms across sections is a challenge. We worked on this ensemble aspect quite a bit this quarter.

Cellos strumming away during the Marquez.
Cellos strumming away during the Marquez.

Have you always conducted from a tablet – and has it ever gone very wrong?

I only started in the last couple years. Partly, I want to save on printing paper. But it’s also easier to “turn” pages on a tablet and study scores on the go. So far, I haven’t had any score malfunctions… knock on wood.

I’ve noticed you conduct certain pieces with or without a baton. Why is that?

As an orchestra matures, they rely lesson the conductor to define the beat and more on guiding the musical direction of what’s about to come. Sometimes I stop using a baton so that my gestures focus on musical direction. In doing so, this places more responsibility on the musicians to listen to each other. Sometimes it’s good to just stop conducting altogether.

What is the role of PSSO in our community? What makes it different from other community orchestras?

I’m proud that we’re an all-volunteer orchestra, including the conductor role. From an audience standpoint, this enables our tickets prices to be accessible to a wide range of the community. But there is also a special sense of community that the musicians feel in playing with PSSO. This is what draws many of our musicians back quarter after quarter. We really are a family, and making music as a family is very different than just having another community orchestra to play in.

Cello and friends

 

The Puget Sound Symphony Orchestra will perform Saint-Saëns, Marquez, and Ravel at First Free Methodist Church at 7:30pm on Friday, February 26, 2016. For details and tickets, click here. You can also watch the concert online – look for a broadcast link on the LMP’s Twitter page after 6pm on the night of the concert.

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.

February New Music Concerts

The Live Music Project and Second Inversion have partnered to create a monthly calendar of new music performances in Seattle, Eastside, and Tacoma.

This genre – also known as art music, indie-classical, new composed music, modern classical, contemporary classical, and many other names – is the cutting edge of classical composition and improvisation, and we invite you to check it out!

The ensembles on this flyer will be displaying it at their own events. Feel free to share, download, and distribute it too!

If you’d like to be included in the flyer, please submit your performance to the LMP calendar and drop a note to maggies@king.org.

Here’s the flyer (click to enlarge):

New music concerts in Seattle, Eastside and Tacoma: February, 2016
New music concerts in Seattle, Eastside and Tacoma: February, 2016

Music to Inspire Dialogue

Composer Angelique Poteat and the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra rehearse at Roosevelt High School. (Photo: Shaya Lyon / LMP)
Composer Angelique Poteat and the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra rehearse at Roosevelt High School. (Photo: Shaya Lyon / LMP)

It is an interesting thing to watch an orchestra rehearse the unheard work of a modern composer. It is even more interesting to watch them rehearse with her in the room, offering suggestions where needed. Nestled among the musicians. Playing the clarinet.

Angelique Poteat – composer, clarinetist, loser of sleep – is doing just that: premiering her new work Listen to the Girls with the inter-generational Seattle Collaborative Orchestra and Northwest Girlchoir, while lending her own voice to the mix with the deep, lusciously vibrating sighs of her bass clarinet.

In Listen to the Girls, Angelique sets the thoughts of teenage girls to an orchestral score. It is a complex, layered work with challenging meter and rhythms that seemed, in early rehearsals, to have a mind of their own. Orchestra and choir are slowly bringing these into focus, wrestling with each until finally weaving a tapestry of sound, rhythm and meaning that is at once elusive and approachable.

Feedback in progress: Anna Edwards (music director), Angelique, and the SCO. (Photo: Shaya Lyon / LMP)
Feedback in progress: Anna Edwards (music director), Angelique, and the SCO. (Photo: Shaya Lyon / LMP)

I asked Angelique how she came to write this piece, and what she hopes it will communicate.

What inspired you to choose the theme of girls for this particular concert?

I wanted to write something for girlchoir with orchestra; partially because of my experience working with the Northwest Girlchoir, who I knew would be fantastic, and because I was disappointed with the lack of repertoire for that particular combined medium. The question was, what to use as source material for a piece?

The more I thought about young women today and the issues that plague them in society and popular culture, it became apparent that I needed to write something that addressed this relevant topic. The rest of the concert was programmed around this piece.

How did you prepare to write Listen to the Girls? What kind of guidelines/constraints were you working with? Was there a research stage before you began composing?

The piece was created in several stages. It took me a little while to come up with the questionnaire that I presented to high school and middle school aged girls to complete anonymously, creating the inspiration for my text.

In addition to reading up on a number of psychological articles on the development of young women today to start, I asked friends, male and female, for suggestions on questions to include in the questionnaire, trying to touch on a broad group of points while leaving the questions open-ended.

When I collected the answers from the anonymous girls, I had another long process of sorting, rewording, adding to, and finalizing text from these responses. I wanted the music itself to reflect the energy of these words and to be somewhat accessible to a younger audience while still fitting within the category of “serious concert music.”

Is composing for an orchestra of widely ranging ages and skill levels different from composing for an orchestra of more consistent skill levels?

I tried not to take the varying “skill levels” of the musicians in the orchestra into too much consideration when I wrote this piece. I wasn’t aware of who would be playing which part, and I had confidence that the very talented student musicians would be up for the challenge, especially because of the way the rehearsal schedule is set up.

Writing for a professional orchestra as a living composer, I have had to be slightly weary of limited rehearsal time, which certainly influences certain organizational aspects of my music. For this group, some of the performers will have had upwards of six rehearsals of my piece, while others only get one or two, so I chose to write what I wanted.

In rehearsal, I’ve had the chance to get to know many layers of Listen to the Girls through repetitive listening and section-by-section focus as I move around the room. The audience will be hearing it just this once (for now). What sounds, rhythms or motifs should they keep an ear out for?

I have various motives that recur throughout the work. Listen for the first four notes of the piece – these come back a lot. I’ve gotten to calling this my “strength” motive.

The fast-paced lines that layer over each other return in the fourth movement, my “real life” motive.

The soprano solo at the end of the third movement is actually the inspiration for almost all melodic material in the entire piece.

The last four notes of that solo, the “doubt” motive, becomes the primary material for the fourth movement, started off by the celesta. As for the rest, just listen to the girls!

A snippet from the score of 'Listen to the Girls' by Angelique Poteat.
A snippet from the score of ‘Listen to the Girls’ by Angelique Poteat.

While I was chatting with a few of the young female musicians during break on Monday, they described the text as “relatable” and said that even the sounds themselves are of their generation. What do you hope the musicians and choir will come away with after performing the piece? What do you hope the audience will come away with after hearing it?

I want this piece to inspire dialogue and conversation: between girls, parents, male peers, anyone, really. This is something that I feel can be related to, which I believe is so incredibly important in concert music today. How great, to go and hear live music that is relevant, exciting, involving of so many people with different and unique things to share.

For the musicians, I hope they welcome the new music and have fun with it, and eventually seek out more opportunities to expand their repertoire to include new works and commissions.

The Seattle Collaborative Orchestra and Northwest Girlchoir will perform Listen to the Girls, as well as works by Michael Daugherty, Leanna Primiani and Richard Strauss, at the University Christian Church on Wednesday, November 18, 2015, at 7:00pm. For details and tickets, click here.

A Concert for All

RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park
(RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park. Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

Chamber music is music written for friends to play together: two, or three, or four instruments talking to each other. It is intimate music, not meant for big concert halls that perform symphonies. It is that contented feeling of being with friends, expressed in music.

So when the Russian Chamber Music Federation of Seattle put on a summer concert in the park a few weeks ago, they extended this familiar and intimate feeling to the community. There was a palpable welcoming: an inviting aroma of seasoned hot dogs stirred happy feelings of food-sharing, and a face-painter was hard at work at the periphery of the seated crowd. In the audience, the eager (decorated) faces of young children made it clear that this was a concert for them, too.

RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park
(Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

The music choices were varied and winsome: a tango, waltzes (three young siblings sitting together at the piano), a world-class performance of Beethoven’s 11th string quartet, the theme song from Schindler’s List, Rachmaninoff art songs in his native Russian tongue, Liszt and Rachmaninoff piano works – and at the evening’s end, a delightful surprise cello duet with two players, two bows, and one cello. Bows crossed during the playing, and the two tangled players traded positions on the fingerboard. This finale was a surprise full of delight, and another boost to the warm community outreach of this chamber group.

All of the performances were excellent, and many of the pieces were virtuosic. It was so right for whole family to get to experience the exuberant, outstanding Beethoven quartet together.

RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park
(Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

Mikhail Shmidt’s presentation of the theme song from Schindler’s List was expressive, but with a dignified restraint that upheld the somber beauty of the music. I often imagine the story music might be telling, and Mikhail’s playing encouraged this; it was as though he was telling a story with his bow. The deliberate emphasis of his bowing gave the impression that he was sharing an important message, one that was beautiful in spite of its dark historical context.

And as I listened to the young, accomplished pianists perform beautifully prepared and polished works by Rachmaninoff and Liszt, I imagined their parents’ pride and sense of accomplishment.

It was impossible not to smile often at everyone around me throughout the hour-long concert. This was, indeed, intimate music shared warmly and inclusively by and for our community.

Guest contributor Roberta Kanive performs with the Ravenna String Orchestra. This RCMFS community concert took place at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island on August 15, 2015 (see full program details).


Were you moved by a concert recently? Share your audience experience on the LMP! Submit your thoughts in 1,000 words or less to audience.encounters@livemusicproject.org.