Category Archives: About the artists

The Unintuitive Symphony: LUCO plays Sibelius’ 1st

Picture a darkened Parks & Rec building in West Seattle. In the single lit room, some 70 members of the Lake Union Civic Orchestra are arranged in arcs, with Maestro Christophe Chagnard at the center. And then there’s the stuff that doesn’t usually adorn an orchestra space: gym equipment, a wall of folded bleachers, a computer lab, ominous air ventilation tubes…

It is in this unlikely setting that a wonderful concert is taking shape – a balancing act in three parts: first, a rousing debut fanfare by Cornish student Lydia Park, followed by Mendelssohn’s gracefully harmonious Violin Concerto, and finally, Sibelius’ deeply moving Symphony No. 1.

Here’s a modest guide to the concert, and notes on what to keep an ear out for.

Park – A Serenade Fanfare

Cellist Michael Schick rehearses A Serenade Fanfare.
Cellist Michael Schick rehearses A Serenade Fanfare.

A Serenade Fanfare is Lydia Park’s first composition for orchestra. It is a short work whose theme gets into your head and stays there. Lydia was inspired by the ability of a fanfare to convey a rich, powerful feeling that the audience connects with immediately, and she kept this connection in mind as she wrote the piece.

I asked Lydia what it was like to compose for so many instruments at once.

“When I write on the piano, the notes usually scream for themselves which instrument they want to be played on,” she says. “For example, when I’m playing a series of chords with both my hands that create a certain smooth, self-defining harmony, I give these roles to the strings, who will be able to bring out the ultimate sensation of the harmony.”

How does she decide when to let a single instrument shine through?

“The idea of ‘giving’ solos to instruments is amusing,” she says. “The melody itself already knows which instrument it would be best suited for.”

Lydia is a winner of LUCO’s 20th anniversary fanfare competition, which aims to help aspiring young composers meet the challenge of getting original music performed.

LISTEN FOR…
> The theme, which is played first by solo trumpet, then magnified in a majestic crescendo as the entire orchestra joins in.

Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto

Soloist Denise Dillenbeck
Violin soloist Denise Dillenbeck.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto – considered one of the finest in the violin repertoire – is all about grace and virtuosity, says Chagnard. “Mendelssohn is an absolute genius, and the ease in which he crafts the most sublime harmonies and melodies is astonishing.”

(Have you ever heard an orchestra hum? LUCO rehearsed Mendelssohn’s violin concerto several times without soloist Denise Dillenbeck before she joined them; in her absence, Maestro and the orchestra hummed her part. It sounded excellent.)

LISTEN FOR…
> In the first movement, look out for the ricochet bowing (bouncing the bow across the strings) at the end of the solo. This is very challenging.
> Also note the concerto’s harmonious nature, which will provide a perfect setup for the troubled Sibelius that follows.

Sibelius – Symphony No. 1

(Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

“It has to have more angst! It’s a bit banal. Violas – give me something!” Chagnard is enthusiastic about conducting Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1, a powerful, angsty, unintuitive piece that unsettles even the musicians playing it.

“It is music that is not self-evident. You really have to immerse yourself in this language to understand it,” he says.

During rehearsal, the musicians express concern that the Sibelius sounds wrong, that perhaps their scores have an incorrect note here or there. Chagnard explains that the dissonance is not a typo but rather an expression of Sibelius’ angst.

The Russian oppression of Finnish independence was a source of tremendous anger for Sibelius, who was putting the finishing touches on this symphony in 1899 as the Emperor of Russia issued the “February Manifesto,” which restricted the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Finland.

“His music is fiercely individualistic, and a reflection of his strong Finnish identity (against the oppression of Russia’s iron-fist rule at the time),” says Chagnard. “There is great poetry and nature, as well as rebellion and anger, in his music.”

A century later, LUCO reminds us of Sibelius’ strikingly original genius from the very beginning of his creative output.

“It is a musical language like no other,” says Chagnard. “The Sibelius is very esoteric and most unusual in its structure… He presents themes as fragments and later builds them into a whole, which is the reverse method from most other composers.”

During rehearsal, as more questions arise about timing, he dispels them all. “I tell you,” he says, “– angst!” Someone in the orchestra calls out, “I feel it!” and they press on, angst and longing welling up from the strings.

Chagnard is delighted. “What a great passage, eh? It’s a we’re-going-to-kick-the-Russians-out kind of passage. Took a while, though. Took a while.”

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One of the most captivating moments of the symphony is its opening. A solemn, pensive melody rises up from the clarinet, accompanied by a low rumble from the tympani, while the orchestra waits silently.

This solo seems, to me, like a massive responsibility. I asked the clarinetist, Steven Noffsinger, what it feels like to play those opening notes.

“The best description I’ve found, and which is running through my head while I’m playing, is this: a solitary clarinet solo breathes a sense of desolation, which is from time to time emphasized by the distant rumbling of the timpani​. The wintry Finnish landscape is unmistakable, and a sense of expectation fills the air.” (See www.sibelius.fi and inkpot.com for the sources of this quote and more on Sibelius Symphony No. 1.)

LISTEN FOR…
> A sense of desolation and expectation in the clarinet’s opening notes
> Unexpected notes and timing
> Themes that build in small pieces and later come together as a whole

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The Lake Union Civic Orchestra (LUCO) will perform Park, Mendelssohn and Sibelius at Town Hall on Friday, February 27, 2015, at 7:30pm. For details and tickets, click here.

Would you like to be featured on the Live Music Project? Drop us a note at info@livemusicproject.org. All photos © 2015 by Shaya Lyon for the Live Music Project.

Passion, energy and expertise: SYSO teams up with the Seattle Symphony

SYSO_SSO
SYSO and Seattle Symphony musicians rehearse together with maestro Ludovic Morlot at Benaroya Hall.

The labyrinthine passageways of Benaroya Hall are filled with teenage giggles as young musicians make their way to lunch after an intense rehearsal. These ebullient high schoolers – the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra – are readying to share the stage tomorrow (Jan. 25) with the Seattle Symphony in a side-by-side concert featuring works by Chabrier, Tchaikovsky and Hindemith.

Onstage, they’re all business. In the morning, they rehearse with Seattle Symphony conductor Ludovic Morlot. He offers constant feedback, pausing to explain his rationale. “I’m not slowing this down because the solo is difficult,” he says of the Hindemith. “I really think it’s much sweeter this way.”

In the afternoon, the students meet in sections to work more closely with their Seattle Symphony counterparts. The harps are tucked into a dressing room; woodwinds are in the basement; cellos take to the stage. The feedback continues.

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Harp sectional with the Seattle Symphony’s Valerie Muzzolini Gordon.

“How many of you drive?” SSO violinist Mikhail Shmidt asks the young violins. (He’s also a SYSO parent.) “You can’t just drive, right? You have to look at the road. I personally don’t remember how Ludovic is going to conduct everything, so I look at my colleagues, I look at Ludovic. I urge you to look at each other as you play.”

You might wonder, as I did, how the students will incorporate everything they have learned today into the concert tomorrow. Four hours of feedback seems like a lot.

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Violin sectional with Seattle Symphony violinist Mikhail Shmidt.

Fear not.

“They came ready, and the concert will be great,” says Maestro Ludo when I ask. “More important than what gets into the concert is what they take home. What they learn about the process will stay with them.”

What of the process?

“We need to listen while we play, stay connected, build beautiful musical phrases,” says Ludo. “We get excited and we speed up and start moving. The more we move, the less we hear. We forget to listen, forget to enjoy a 16th note, the breath between phrases. When we listen, it becomes less about this note and that measure, and more about the whole piece.”

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Brass sectional with the Seattle Symphony’s Mark Robbins.

Please come hear the breaths between phrases, those pregnant silences created by a wonderful group of young musicians. The concert is free. Children age 5 and up are welcome. Tickets are available at the door.

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CONCERT INFORMATION

When: January 25, 2015 @ 2:00 pm
Where: Benaroya Hall
Who: Stephen Radcliffe, conductor; Ludovic Morlot, conductor; Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra; Seattle Symphony

Program:
Chabrier – España
Tchaikovsky – Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32
Hindemith – Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

Details and RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1552335261650694/

Would you like to be featured in the Live Music Project’s “About the artists” series? Drop us a note at info@livemusicproject.org.

All photos © 2015 Shaya Lyon.

A ride-along with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra

IMG_0306It’s a typical Wednesday evening in Seattle; the only man here without an instrument in his hands is standing with arms raised, face beaming, nearly defying gravity, carried aloft by the notes that fill the room. Ladies and gentlemen, this adventurous ride is the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra, and we invite you to follow along from beginning to end as they prepare to perform their first concert of the season.

The theme is “Danses Macabres” – ghoulish, Halloweeny tunes by American composers. But while the music may be moody, the musicians are convivial. Volunteer performers – many of whom have chosen to pursue careers outside of music – they gather weekly in high school band rooms, practice rooms and concert halls to make the kind of music that can only be made together.

Under the careful eye (and ear) of Music Director Adam Stern, the Seattle Philharmonic brings forth subtleties that – as a listener – are a pleasure to discover. In a room often filled with laughter, Stern speaks about the music using a gentle and humorous language that brings everyone onto the same page. Gould’s Tap Dance Concerto is “Gershwiny,” sort of a “controlled madness.”

Of Copland’s Rodeo, he requests: “Let it smile.” (And yet, “It can be a bit harsher. Not angry, but a little harsher… rattier.”) As if there weren’t already enough mischief in Herrmann’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, Stern asks gently, “Can you give me a little more sting?”

“Edgar Allan Poe took me by the hand and said, ‘Now I’m going to take you to your dark side.’ And I let him.” ~ Adam Stern, music director

Alongside works by Copland, Gould, Kubik and Herrman, the orchestra is preparing one of Stern’s own: Spirits of the Dead, set around a narration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name. Muted instruments create tomblike, oppressed sounds that evoke the struggle of a man imagining the terrifying fate of life among dead souls after a life among the living.

Well, that’s creepy.

And fun.

The orchestra has rehearsed these works, old and new, for eight weeks – casually at first, playing pieces from start to finish and slowly dissecting them, then intensifying in a crescendo of urgency and precision, the mood becoming determined, focused and efficient. The outcome for listeners is a nuanced, immersive musical adventure that will jump-start your imagination and make you glad to be alive.

Don’t you want to hear it now? You can, if you hurry, or if you have a time machine.

The Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Danses Macabres at Benaroya Hall on October 22, at 7:30pm. Click here to get tickets and read more about the program.

Continue below to follow the orchestra through their rehearsal adventure. All photos by Shaya Lyon for the Live Music Project.

In her own words: Denná Good-Mojab

Opera singer Denná Good-Mojab
Good things come in small packages. Take the pun or leave it, but definitely hear for yourself this Saturday as Denná Good-Mojab takes the stage at the University of Washington’s Brechemin Auditorium in Seattle.

Denná – a 17-year-old opera singer who will graduate cum laude next month from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Music in Voice – is petite, with an easy smile and tinkly laugh. A few minutes of conversation reveal that she is also passionate, curious, and a second-degree blackbelt in Taekwondo (she started when she was 6).

As if this wasn’t enough under one belt, Denná has performed in ten operas, most recently Händel’s Semele with Pacific MusicWorks and the University of Washington. She has also earned numerous awards, among them the 2014 Young Artist Awards Competition co-presented by KING FM 98.1 and the Seattle Chamber Music Society, which she won last week. She is set to continue her vocal studies at the University of Washington this fall as she pursues a Master of Music in voice.

Here is more about Denná in her own words:

How does a person come to zoom through all these phases? Do you feel like it’s been a fast pace, and do you perceive yourself continuing at this pace for the next… however long?

I don’t see it so much as a fast pace, as much as… I just skipped a few years. And I feel like things are happening at the speed that they would be happening at if I was doing this in five years instead of now. I just started the whole process when I was – you know, being in college when I was 12, as opposed to 18. I fell in love with music when I was little, and I fell in love with opera when I was ten, so, you know – everything just happened earlier, not so much faster. Now that I think about it, a lot of things have been happening lately, but I think that just comes with being in college and being in this part of my life where I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing and start building something for myself.

You seem like a person who some things come quickly to, but you also probably work really hard at them. Are there some things that you really love that were hard to do?

I think it’s mostly the amount of work that is involved, as opposed to the type of work, because I’m doing all of these music things but I’m also in college at the same time. So there’s all the normal good old homework that happens, and then on top of that I’m constantly in an opera, rehearsing for a recital, volunteering around the community, and then I’m also trying to juggle all the basic day-to-day assignments for all the classes I’m in. Thankfully, I’ve managed to pick a major where the musical things I do and the homework are often the same. When I have a paper, I will try to make it relate to opera – especially if it’s 10 pages long and it’s supposed to be about Bach. I will write about why he did not write opera. I’ve also done role studies through academic papers.

But still – with the opera that I just finished (Semele), we would have rehearsals generally 3 or 4 hours a day for 6 days a week, and on Sundays we’d have 6 hours… so it’s a really crazy schedule. And remember, this is my evenings, where you’d generally do homework if you didn’t do it during the day. Mostly, it’s just managing all of the stuff that I do. I mean, the work itself I love – maybe not so much the ten-page paper, but, you know. All the singing, anything that’s related to singing, languages – I’m studying Italian – that’s fun. I think the hardest part has been juggling all these things.

How do you balance all these things? Do you have any advice for others?

Be reminded by your mother! [Laughs] And try not to procrastinate too much on things.

I’m not an expert on time management. Sometimes I’ll get to a place where I just think, “I’m SO overwhelmed – nothing is happening when it should be, there’s way too much to do.” But then at some point, I will get out of that and just refuse to be beaten by whatever it is. It’s not something I really think about on a very conscious level, it’s just that I refuse to be knocked down by something that I could do.

And what counts as relaxation?

Playing piano. Listening to music – not necessarily classical. For recreational purposes, I usually listen to anything BUT classical. I don’t generally walk even from one part of a building to another without listening to music. That’s kind of my thing. I love – LOVE! – reading, although I don’t get as much opportunity to really get into reading now, because if I’m reading, I’m reading a textbook. I love being outside and doing active things: soccer, hiking, swimming, biking. I’ll do pretty much anything except beekeeping, or maybe skydiving. When I was little, I was terrified of bees, so it was the one thing that got crossed off the list of things that I could do. Or that I would do.

As a person who seems to be really passionate about trying new things, is there anything you got into that you decided: no, this isn’t interesting to me, this isn’t what I want to be doing right now, there are other things I’d rather be doing?

I dabble in things when I can and I move on and I come back to them. It’s never that I just don’t like something and decide I’m never doing it again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way about anything.

What are your favorite aspects of performing?

I get a rush of joy when I’m on stage and acting something, singing something. I just feel really happy when I move people to feel what I’m trying to get across. I’ve discovered that my most real smiles are the ones I give at curtain calls. Everyone is bowing, and everyone’s together, and we all just did this wonderful thing and we’re so happy – and that is when you’ll get my best grin.

Also, I love singing to a particular person. I don’t do this very often, and I should do it more: just pick someone, if it’s a friend all the better, and just pour my heart out to them. I think that would be really, really fun.

And the most challenging?

The most challenging is trying to express well something I can’t connect to as much. I don’t dwell in the hardship. I’m not a good example of the true romantic musician. I’m not tortured. It would be very hard for me to be tortured.

Are there particular songs that you love to perform?

My all-time favorite is La Fioraia (by Rossini). A new one is the one I’m going to end my recital with. I can’t tell you what it is, though. It’s a surprise.

Do you want to talk about what you’ll be doing for your recital?

I’ll be doing the entire Hermit Songs, by Samuel Barber, Suleika I and Suleika II by Schubert, and 3 Italian art songs that sound like arias.

What should we listen for?

I’ll do a lot of nuances when I get really into a song and I can express it, and the expression that I feel and I’m acting gets into the actual sound that I’m producing. So there will be vocal color and dynamic things that you will find in phrases and sentences and parts of the meaning that I feel I can really express well. It’s mostly these kinds of emotion-put-into-sound nuances that I will do. Look out for it whenever I go high, because that’s my favorite part.

Speaking of high notes, have you had any breakthroughs or particularly memorable sessions with your voice teacher?

Yes – a breakthrough with my own voice, really. A couple of times. It involves my sound: I just discover, “Oh, that’s how you do that!” and it takes my sound to the next level. One time, I was singing one of my favorite songs of all time – Fleur des blés (by Debussy) – and I had to sing a “u” vowel on a high G, and I could never get it to ring as much as I wanted to, and then I figured out how to do it. I just figured it out that one day, and it stuck. You can’t really go back after you learn that, because going back is going to a less developed stage – which you don’t have to do. You can just be the better singer, and continue on with your life, and keep doing that.

Often when you develop, you can’t pinpoint when a particular development happened, but with this kind of stuff there is a first time that I remember doing it. [You can hear some of those developments here.]

At the moment, I am kind of a soubrette/lyric coloratura soprano kind of person. All of the characters with my voice type – I mean, it’s going to change, I’m only 17 – we get the maid role, or the sister character, or the female sidekick, but even so the role can be a major one.

Is it weird knowing that your voice will change?

No, I’ll just change with it! I just get to sing more things!

If you could work with any musical artist from any genre, who would you like to collaborate with?

For pop… you see, I’ve never thought about… mmm, that’s not true. I could go with a classic like Beyonce. I love Beyonce. Do you know MKTO? I feel like it would be cool to do some kind of collaboration with these young emerging cover artists, like Max Schneider and Sam Tsui. I would love to do something with those people. Oh – one more thing, just because we’re being honest here. Working with One Direction wouldn’t be terrible.

Opera collaboration? Anyone from Semele. They were all amazing. Big stars? I kind of really, really like Jonas Kaufmann, who is a tenor that can pretty much sing any fach. You don’t find people like him very often, as far as I know, that can sing Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and Mozart all well – and he’s amazing. In terms of women, being in an opera with Anna Netrebko would be awesome. And Renee Fleming.

What excites you about working with these artists?

Whenever people are around people who do better than them, they want to do better themselves, and it’s this endless spiral of awesomeness that keeps increasing. Whenever I’m surrounded by people who are as passionate about what they do, I improve and become that much more passionate about what I do.

With Semele, we really interacted on an individual personal level with the principals. There was all this collaboration and interpersonal, individual relationships that formed in the few weeks that we had with these people. We’re all together, and the rehearsals are great, and we’re doing all these wonderful things, and the audience is there, and we’re just on.

It really does give you a boost to do your best, and be your best, and really interact with people as people and also with other characters as characters. It’s a two-layered thing. There are these moments when you’ll turn around and look at someone as you, and then you’re going to look at them later as a character, and sometimes you do it at the same time. And the audience being there, and you knowing that they’re being moved by what you’re doing – it’s all just so fantastic. That’s what I love about being in opera: the interpersonal interaction on so many different levels, while you’re singing, doing what you love.

Hear Denná perform her senior recital this Saturday, May 31, at 7:30pm at the University of Washington’s Brechemin Auditorium. The concert is free and open to the public. More details here.