Line Out Music & the City at Night


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dredged Locally: John Teske’s New Work Is Based on Numbers from the Tides

Posted by on Wed, Oct 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Of all the ocean-inspired compositions in music history—and there have been many: Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony, and Ravel's Une Barque Sur L'Océan, to name a few—none until now (that I know of) have been based on actual measurements of the sea. Mer, a new, 40-minute work by John Teske that premiered last week, uses data spanning the course of one tidal day between January 3 and 4, 2013 in Port Townsend.

“There may be things that are unexpected or even uncomfortable,” Teske warned the audience before conducting Mer Thursday at Chapel Performance Space.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOSH John Teske and the Broken Bow Ensemble, awash.
  • Courtesy John Teske
  • WOOOOOOOOOOOOSH John Teske and the Broken Bow Ensemble, awash.

True to the disclaimer, his were not the romanticized waters of postcard shores, but something untamed, often discordant or unwelcoming. At times the music was turbulent and disorienting and at times it was placid, but it was never still.

Mer rebels against its more traditional predecessors. Unlike Britten or Ravel, Teske uses no distinguishable melody or meter; the structure is ever-shifting, unsteady, organic. Even the sounds the instruments produce are surprising. The tonal quality of each of the 26 string and wind players (dubbed the Broken Bow Ensemble) is quiet and unadorned, almost translucent. The resulting mixture is something complex and textural, a gradually changing entanglement of repeating variations on patterns. To call it layered would be an oversimplification. Layering connotes distinction. Mer is a coalescence.

The process of incorporating the numbers into his composition was involved. He studied combinations of pitches and rhythms, making computer models and even assembling a bicycle-powered synthesizer that helped him internalize the acceleration and deceleration. He then mapped pitches and rhythms to the tide shapes, ranging from most calm and open to most chaotic and dissonant.

“The layering is insanely complex," he explained over email. "I have many color-coded diagrams to help keep my head straight about how each line progresses. Each line take minutes to fully ebb and flow, and the idea is that the layering of six or eight of these lines, all rising and falling at different rates, creates a group effect to be felt as a tide. To state it simply: the whole piece is moving as a tide or one large wave, each instrument is playing one long wave or swell, and each measure is a series of smaller waves or ripples."

On Thursday, each player read from an orchestrated part but had control of the ultimate execution. Teske would often step back, lowering his baton and allowing the music to take form on its own. The composition was divided into six sections, the first presenting the full tide shape, and the subsequent sections playing with fragments of it that transformed over time.

Teske is quickly revealing himself as one of the city’s most innovative experimental young artists, and his interest in playing with themes of nature has been recurrent in recent work. Last June, he performed in Nat Evans' Hungry Ghosts, a folkloric piece performed in Ravenna Park, intended to blend the sounds of instruments with those of the forest. For Space Weather Listening Booth, he and Evans used geomagnetic data and information about solar wind to create a time-stopping acoustic and electronic performance based on the aurora borealis.

Growing up in Seattle and often visiting Port Townsend, Teske’s connection to the water is ingrained and unbroken. On his way home from work each day, he has a personal ritual. There is a particular bench in Myrtle Edwards/Centennial Park that overlooks the water, where he sits for a few minutes and watches the waves.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

RIP, Those Who Did Not Die in Peace: A Remarkable Concert by The Esoterics Last Weekend

Posted by on Tue, Sep 24, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Church of music.
  • Kaia Chessen
  • Church of music.
This summer, The Frontiers of Neuroscience announced a discovery: When choir members sing together, their heart rates synchronize. It has a lot to do with controlled breathing. Exhaling activates the vagus nerve, a long nerve originating in the brain, which slows the heart’s pulse. In short, a choir that breathes together, beats together.

Beyond physiological alignment, members of The Esoterics, a choral group now in its twentieth season, share a feeling of social responsibility. Marking September as Suicide Prevention Month, the songs they showcased Sunday in a concert called ÆONIA were interpretations of poems by writers who ended their own lives.

A portion of the proceeds was donated to Beyond the Bridge, a foundation that works to reduce the risk of suicides among LGBTQ youth. I spoke briefly with Stacey Prince, the psychologist who cofounded the organization with her partner, Teri Mayo. She told me about her own experiences with suicide, how the foundation raises money, connects youths with help, and creates affirming spaces to reduce risk factors. According to statistics from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a harrowing thirty to forty percent of LGBT youth have attempted suicide.

This is an issue that resonates with me personally, seeing as my own brother, Alex, shot himself in January of this year. He'd just had his heart broken and, at a vulnerable moment, he lost sight of all he still had going for him, which was a lot. I often wish I could go back in time and take him by the shoulders, make him understand the extent to which whatever he was going through, which I can only imagine was tremendously painful, was not in any way worth making this ultimate sacrifice. He was twenty-two.

Although he was not gay, and wasn’t anything of a poet (he was, in fact, a man of few words), for me, ÆONIA was about him.

For many of the singers, ÆONIA—a Greek word meaning everlasting—was about Dan-Eric Slocum, who took his own life in February 2012. Slocum was a friend of the choir, a local journalist at KOMO News, and a poet; he published in a blog called The Eternity Door (where his final entry is lightly shattering). For ÆONIA, Esoterics founder Eric Banks posthumously formed Slocum's writings into a 20-minute stream-of-consciousness meditation for double chorus a cappella.

Appropriately, Sunday's performance was in the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. There is nothing like sitting under the high arched ceilings of a church, the light coming down through stained glass biblical scenes, sitting in pews next to rows of flickering prayer candles, to feel in touch with the eternal.

I have a few memories of being brought to church as a child, and, at least aesthetically, the experience that The Esoterics offered with ÆONIA felt much the same. Instead of a sermon, they offered music, a gentle means of transporting an audience, allowing us a moment in which to be moved by beauty, as though to remind us that by interpreting that sea of vibrations into thoughts and emotion, we are the lucky ones. We are living.

As the choir, dressed all in black, emitted its ethereal, all-encompassing sound, the words of the deceased poets were projected onto the wall above them. From “Stars forever, while we sleep” composed by Donald Skirvin, based on the poem, “Let it be you” by Sara Teasdale (who overdosed on sleeping pills in 1933):

Say a “Goodnight” as you have said it
All of these years,
With the old look, with the old whisper
And without tears.

You will know then all that in silence
You always knew,
Though I have loved, I loved no other
As I love you.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Composer Katie Kate Told Last Night's Audience She Loves

Posted by on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 11:11 AM

At last night's sparkling Night of Genius, Music Edition, at the Frye Art Museum, finalist Katie Kate was asked about her classical influences, and she mentioned two poles: Scriabin, a wild late Romantic, and Bach, the great builder of structures.

Everybody knows Bach, but Scriabin is a more esoteric case. When I was taking piano lessons, his music usually only came up in finger exercises—some people make whole studies just of his writing for the left hand.

Scriabin was truly fascinating, one of those artists who doesn't really fit into the historical categories applied after the fact (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, et cetera). He influenced Messiaen—somebody so strange and fantastical as to seem to have just emerged from the ether.

Early Scriabin is more formal, and then there's late Scriabin, including the opus he left unfinished at his death in 1915, which he wanted to see performed in the Himalayas, and he wanted it to involve music, dance, light, and scent.

He planned for the ecstatic performance of Mysterium to create a new world of new beings: humans but better. Yes.

He died of septicemia at age 43. A later composer arranged his sketches for Mysterium, and released this recording:

Here's Horowitz playing Scriabin—apparently Horowitz met Scriabin when he was a kid, and Scriabin told him his playing was just okay, needed work:

This post is not at all whatsoever even slightly intended to snub the other Genius finalists in music, the truly incredible, entirely lovable, and make-you-want-to-stay-on-the-planet-brilliant Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney, and Jherek Bischoff.

Here's more info on the rest of the Five Nights of Genius at the Frye—consecutive Wednesdays through August! If last night is any indication, you'll be glad you came.*

*Nice freaking work, music editor/your host Emily Nokes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mosquitoes, Dogs, Birds, Forest: Music From Ghosts on Saturday

Posted by on Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 1:51 PM

IN COWEN PARK, THE BUGS BUZZ IN THE KEY OF D From left to right: Christian Pincock, Neil Welch, Natalie Mai Hall, John Teske.
  • IN COWEN PARK, THE BUGS BUZZ IN THE KEY OF D From left to right: Christian Pincock, Neil Welch, Natalie Mai Hall, John Teske.

Deep in the forest of Cowen Park on Saturday, an ensemble of musicians played for a small audience. There were only maybe twenty people, performers included, but in the cozy clearing surrounded by trees and fallen logs, with a stream trickling nearby and a footbridge suspended overhead, it was standing-room-only. In order to find this space, where bassist John Teske and saxophonist Neil Welch have performed for the past three years, audience members were directed via Teske’s website on a treasure hunt through the trees. “Take a left into the ravine,” we were instructed. “Enter the clearing; walk toward the wooden footbridge,” and so on.

After hiking for some time, passing staircases and hopping across creeks, we found musicians amid the foliage: two on saxophone, one with a trombone, another with a bass and a cello. As the crowd formed, Welch began a startling solo. It was an onslaught of rapid-fire notes, messy, manic, bubbling over and subsiding on repeat. Welch was absorbed, trance-like, in his sound, which first resembled the cry of an excited animal and soon dissolved into a loop of unapologetic shrieking. Finally, it petered into a slow succession of guttural blows. Though a repeating single note, the sound was not stagnant. It was set to the counterpoint of the audience slapping mosquitos against their skin, of dogs barking in response from far away, and of birds caw-cawing.

A second piece, called Swell, began with an ambient drone of cello (played by Natalie Mai Hall) and bass with a crisp alto sax (played by Evan Smith) and trombone (played by Christian Pincock) entering in waves. The piece was comprised of sustained tones held for 20 second intervals. Changes were timed by Nat Evans, who opened and closed a shruti box, a harmonium-like instrument that works on a system of bellows, to signify each transition.

What perhaps attested most to the skill level of the musicians was that they knew when to get out of the way. They incisively made room for one another, disencumbering space within what sometimes bordered on chaos. In the moments in between the plucking and blowing, there were interludes in which only the creek babbled and the forest made its noises.

Smith noticed out loud that a mosquito had hummed by his ear while he was playing. “It was buzzing in the key of D,” he observed.

The finale, titled Hungry Ghosts, was composed by Evans on commission from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It refers to an Asian lantern festival in which the ancestor spirits come from the hungry ghost realm into the world of the living. Though there are seven movements, the musicians played only three, and though traditionally, participants in the festival would set lanterns afloat on a lake, audience members were given small white candles as darkness descended on Cowen Park. The piece began minimally with the resounding of a conch shell. The other instruments soon blended in mesmerizing, airy, eerie harmonies. The sound was open and expansive, letting the forest in, vibrating into the dusk by candlelight.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Night in Andre Mehmari's Living Room

Posted by on Fri, Jun 7, 2013 at 2:55 PM

Feeling it at the Triple Door.
  • Photo by Maristela Martins
  • Feeling it at the Triple Door.

When André Mehmari, the now 36-year-old Brazilian pianist who taught himself jazz improvisation by the age of 10, sauntered on to the main stage at the Triple Door Wednesday night, everything about him was unassuming.

You would never know, given his casual demeanor, that this was his first time on the West Coast, and when he sat down at the piano, before a backdrop of flickering lights resembling a starry sky, his playing was equally as relaxed, with a warm, velvety tone. Everything was comfortable, even the choice of venue, which is among the best in Seattle for its lively clarity of sound and its simple elegance. As Mehmari spoke to the audience, it felt as though we’d been invited into the artist’s living room, that we were guests at a dinner party.

A mostly improvised set, the style was a fusion of jazz, classical, and Brazilian, with hints of ragtime or choro. Mehmari transitioned seamlessly from one to the next. “I like to blend music,” he explained between pieces. The wandering melodies were sentimental or playful, furious or contemplative. One thing was consistent: Mehmari was in complete control. You could see his focus as well as his breadth of expression right there in his face and body. He'd smile or scrunch his features in concurrence with pertinent chords. Sometimes he kicked or tapped his feet as his fingers pirouetted. Roughly half the pieces were original compositions. He attributed the rest to other composers, like Ernesto Nazareth, Luiz Gonzaga, and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

“And now I’ll play you several things,” he joked before his final piece. It had seemed, over the whole course of the evening, that Mehmari’s musical brain was too busy ever to play only one thing at a time. He launched into a medley of seven themes, emulating the likes of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Ivan Lens. The entire amalgamation was improvised from Mehmari’s mental catalogue of style.

One of the most well-received pieces all night was a heavily dressed-up version of the Beatles’ "Penny Lane." The tune was reinterpreted in the styling of maxixe (mah-SHEESH), an Afro-Brazilian polka Mehmari called “the father of Samba.” The melody was veiled between smart turns and phrases and I might not have recognized it at all if he hadn’t announced it beforehand. His smile afterward was glib. He knew he had just killed it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Friday Night at the Symphony: Facing Gunfire, Laughing in the Tyrant's Face

Posted by on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Along the timeline of humans getting together to push wind through slick metal and make strings vibrate, Dmitri Shostakovich sits between 1906 and 1975. He worked in Russia, which he loved, under Stalin, whom he didn’t. This state of affairs meant that many of Shostakovich’s compositions function as giant double entendres: anti-Czarist on the face and anti-Soviet just under the surface. As many of his artist and intellectual friends fled the country or were disappeared, he chose to stay and write some seriously agonizing and frightening sounds. It’s exhilarating to be moved by them because to do so is to participate in Shostakovich’s subversion, to get away with laughing in the tyrant’s face without him knowing.

Friday’s Seattle Symphony program included three of Shostakovich’s works. The first was Festive Overture (1954), which features the symphony orchestra as an industrious music-making machine. On Friday, the machine was operated by Gerard Schwarz, SSO's former music director, who stepped back onto the Benaroya podium for the night. With a wave of his arms, horns! A gesture, and the strings responded at once. Each cog in the machine announced its presence, separately, quickly, before they all got back to work together. The piece is a Stalinist’s wet dream, officially composed for the anniversary of the 1917 revolution and maybe, unofficially, to celebrate Stalin’s death the year before.

Next, the Cello Concerto No. 1 (1959) featured Gerard's son, Julian—and made the younger Schwarz sweat. He'd take his red handkerchief out of his pocket, wipe his forehead and the neck of his instrument, and get back in position just in the nick of time. This 21-year-old is what swagger looks like on a cellist, and the incredibly complicated, restless, nightmarish piece justified it.

Finally, Symphony No. 11 (1957) dropped the audience in St. Petersburg’s Palace Square leading up to the 1905 Bloody Sunday massacre, in which thousands of unarmed protesters approached the palace gates and were met with gunfire.

The first movement started with long, eerie string sounds that proceeded reluctantly as the timpani and distant horn signaled something wicked approaching. There were no people in the square yet, but eventually they would gather in the snow to demand not-so-outlandish things like living wages. Rumor (from the London Philharmonic Orchestra podcast) has it that Shostakovich’s father was there that day. The drumming grew louder and closer, until a confrontation between state boots and everyone else became inevitable. Two minutes of pure hell start at 32:00:

Since then, governments have learned to silence demands with less fanfare. Ours warehouses people in rural counties, intimidates them one or two at a time while they’re jogging in the park, or shuffles them away to solitary after secretive grand jury hearings. While I was listening, I couldn’t help but wonder what combination of instruments could convey the special combination of preemptive surveillance and long-distance discipline our government specializes in now? Or is an orchestra the wrong medium—maybe a ballet would be better?

The violent drums, big brass, and angry bells that close out Shostakovich’s Eleventh don’t offer comfort or closure or victory to anyone who was in the Palace Square in 1905. Or to anyone who was listening in the audience in 1957. The struggle continues.

Monday, May 13, 2013

This Weekend in Classical: Spontaneous Conduction

Posted by on Mon, May 13, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Dino leading in a Butch Morris tribute concert at the Royal Room Saturday.
  • "Dino" "leading" in a Butch Morris tribute concert at the Royal Room Saturday.

Steve Peters, director of the nonprofit music organization Nonsequitur, doesn’t like to use the term “experimental” for the music he facilitates. “I prefer to call it adventurous music.” On Saturday, as a part of Nonsequitur’s Wayward Music Series, The Royal Room Collective Ensemble, a group of 13 players—mostly brass with the exception of a clarinet, drums, bass, piano, and keys—played two sets, the first under the baton of J.A. Deane of New Mexico, dubbed “Dino” by fellow musicians, and the second conducted by Seattle’s Wayne Horvitz, co-founder of The Royal Room in Columbia City. Both sets involved improvisation from the musicians and conductors. “The musicians supply the content,” we were told before the show began, “and the conductors supply the form.” The whole show was a tribute to the late Butch Morris, who helped develop the repertoire of hand symbols used by Deane and Horvitz to lead the group.

According to Morris’ obituary in The New Yorker in January, he had the term “conduction” trademarked. By 2010, he was using 48 different gestures in 13 categories. Morris was not the first to attempt using signals to cue improvisers, but according to Peters, “he is probably the first (and best-known) to really codify and develop it as a prime working method.” In the show, it wasn’t exactly clear which elements were Morris’s influence and which came from Dean and Horvitz, but that may have been part of the point. Morris formulated a language that allows others to step in and create unique moments in time.

Anyone who’s ever been at a dinner-table conversation with 13 voices knows that no one gets to talk for long before someone else interrupts, and that was the case in Dino’s set. At times, the music resembled a cacophony of alleycats whining, or pigeons chattering. At other times the sound was eerie and elusive, like wind bellowing through a grove of trees. Not all musicians take to this style of playing. Some are fixed to the page, and often seasoned improvisers don’t like being told what to do. Saturday’s ensemble was comprised of astute and responsive players, each able to contribute as well as follow instruction.

Dino was expression embodied as he enacted the invented vocabulary of hand and body signals. He paced the small stage, his movements an often jerky, discombobulated dance. He flicked and spun his wand, spread his hands, and thrust his elbows. He beckoned, pointed, and punched the air. His body rocked back and forth so that he nearly stumbled over himself in fits of musical passion. The ensemble transformed into an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, with quickly shifting mechanisms colliding, cascading. With a sweep of the conductor’s hand, the machine began sputtering on one side of the room and spread across, pulsing with rumbling cymbals and a bleating alto and gurgling bass saxophone. The musicians and the conductor seemed lost together in their creation, all cast under the same spell, engrossed in each other’s movements like geese flying in formation. With another rapid gesture, the brassy chorus dissipated to make room for piano, which cut cleanly through the uproar, as crisp as starched white bed linens. (The dynamic nature of this music lends itself to simile, obviously.) When the keys joined in a duet, the sound was as discordant as it was beautiful.

In the second set, the musicians had sheet music to guide their improvisations—and this changed everything. Notation added structure to the madness, rendering the music more palatable, but less exciting. In the second set, led by Horvitz, musicians took turns instead of competing for air space, harmonies were agreed upon, chords sounded at the same time—but the music lost its entrancing energy. What was lacking when everyone was literally and figuratively on the same page was the heightened sensitivity of creating in the moment, the thrill of pure spontaneity.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Familiar Instrument in New Territory: Renaud Garcia-Fons and the Double Bass on Saturday Night

Posted by on Mon, May 6, 2013 at 2:10 PM

  • Elif Buzlupinar

Town Hall’s website made quite a lofty claim when it came to Renaud Garcia-Fons. It contended that the visiting upright bassist has “reinvented” the way the instrument is played, and during his introduction to the stage Saturday evening, the announcer reaffirmed this assertion. “Renaud is not a double bass player. He just uses the double bass for something else. He is the music.”

Garcia-Fons certainly approaches the instrument in a technically unconventional way: his bow-hold is of the French style instead of the German, he plays on a five-stringed bass instead of the standard four, he holds his instrument higher than usual and at a more pronounced angle. But whether he is a revolutionary is disputable. In an interview, he gave a humble denial. “Many people have done these things in the past,” he supposed in his soft-spoken French accent.

It is unusual to see a bassist take the stage solo. Bass parts are often limited to a walking line, a rhythmic support. Garcia-Fons did more than just play melodies—his pieces were orchestrations—and he actually did transform the instrument. Often, his playing sounded little like a bass at all, and more like a cross-pollination of lute, guitar, cello, violin, and oud. For one piece, venturing to imitate the reverberation of the African instrument the inanga, he taped pieces of white paper to his fingerboard so that the strings made a percussive buzzing as they snapped back.

His fingers never stopped moving. He flitted and undulated around the upper regions, overlaying harmonic textures, rarely dipping into the booming depths characteristic to the instrument. When he did descend, it was a reminder of the powerful richness of sound he had at the flick of his fingers. Notes rolled off the strings as he bounced the bow in a weightless ricochet. When he segued to sustained notes, the warmth of tone took over the room, pouring out from the bass and reverberating around the pillars and stained glass windows of Town Hall.

The stage was outfitted with a modest collection of effect and loop pedals Garcia-Fons used sporadically. He would turn a knob, and a backing track with shakers or an instrumental chorus would emerge. The pre-recordings sounded stiff and flat in comparison to the richness and rhythmic freedom of the live playing; this was the only element of the performance that was disappointing.

By and large, Garcia-Fons was nothing short of impressive, and worldly to boot. Each piece—all original music with intermittent improvisation—was inspired by musical culture in a different part of the world. He introduced each by its place of origin: Southern France, Spain, Persia, Italy, Iran, Burundi. “It’s not a patchwork, but an itinerary,” he said.

In the final piece, he escalated from slapping the face of the instrument with an open palm to knocking it with a closed fist. It was a mighty pulsing, and when it ran headlong into an abrupt finish, the audience gave out a collective gasp.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Who Knows What Will Happen When Storm Large Performs with the Oregon Symphony

Posted by on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 10:12 AM

(Benaroya Hall) Portland singer Storm Large's song "8 Miles Wide" goes like this: "My vagina is eight miles wide/Absolutely everyone can come inside/If you're ever frightened, just run and hide/My vagina is eight miles wide." With the visiting Oregon Symphony, she'll sing Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins, but who knows what her banter will be. Also on the program is Phenomenon, a work by Thailand's leading young composer, Narong Prangcharoen, Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, and Ravel's La Valse. Uruguayan-born Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar conducts.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Genius of Brad Mehldau

Posted by on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 11:02 AM

(Jazz Alley) Brad Mehldau, a New York–based jazz pianist who received his education at the New School, is a real-deal genius. Whenever he plays something, you start saying to yourself: This is the music of a gifted mind. He is up there with the genius of Art Tatum—this is no exaggeration. What the two have in common is the ability to translate incredibly complex thoughts into understandable music—Cecil Taylor, on the other hand, translates complex ideas into even more complex music. For those who need an introduction to Mehldau's work, check out Songs: The Art of the Trio, Volume Three, which contains, among other things, his dazzling cover of Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)." Giants still walk the earth.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Late-Night, Near-Death, Careless-Mice World Premieres at the Symphony on Friday

Posted by on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 12:46 PM

During Seth Krimskys world premiere, Love Song, Friday night at Benaroya Hall.
  • During Seth Krimsky's world premiere, Love Song, Friday night at Benaroya Hall.
At 8:45 on Friday night, all the chairs and beanbags in the Grand Lobby of Benaroya Hall are full of butts and backs. The main concert is not until 10, but there’s a free performance at 9, of selections from contemporary American composer John Luther Adams’s songbirdsongs. Cornish professor Paul Taub and two students play piccolos from the second floor; Rob Tucker and Paul Hansen man percussion stations on the first floor across the room from each other.

I have not been to the symphony since I was dragged by grandparents when I still lived in Texas, and this is not what I remembered or expected. There are baseball hats on heads here, and an outreach person with the Symphony invites me to draw or write a poem while I listen, as part of an alternative interpretation thing they’re doing. I opt instead to look for a place to stand and find one as the lights dim.

The highlight is a sort of call and response on an icy tundra, with long silences between rustlings and whistlings of thrushes, bushes, and wind. Partly because of how the musicians are positioned, it is not so much a thing you watch or listen to, but a thing you are in. Alaskan poet John Haines’s words break up the musical vignettes. From his If the Owl Calls Again:

“We will not speak,
but hooded against the frost,
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

And then we’ll sit
In the shadowy spruce
and pick the bones
of careless mice…”

Just as we’re settling into the rhythm of these crisp, quiet places, the whole thing is over. It’s been a half hour or so. Those who are not staying for the main concert take off and the rest of us mill around, grab drinks.

At late-night Symphony concerts, the audience is all spread out on every level of Benaroyas glassy Grand Lobby.
  • At late-night Symphony concerts, the audience is all spread out on every level of Benaroya's glassy Grand Lobby.
At 10, the lights dim again to cue an introduction in which there is much ado about three world premieres by Symphony principal players—Ben Hausmann, Jordan Anderson, and Seth Krimsky—but since I don’t know these people or what the significance of their premieres is, my brain wanders to visual artists and wonders why we don’t normally talk about their shows as world premieres. Maybe it has something to do with how time and space work differently in art versus music. How an object is differently present, how it’s still there after the exhibition comes down even if it’s not in the gallery anymore. Or maybe this is the wine talking. Smaller sips.

Principal oboe Hausmann’s world premiere is first. It’s hard to know where the breaks are here, and it feels like hearing a foreign language for the first time, the way it sounds like one unending, incomprehensible word.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Goodbye to the Tokyo

Posted by on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 11:03 AM

END OF DAYS This is the final lineup of the Tokyo String Quartet, which began in 1969. They performed their last concert in Seattle one week ago today.
  • Photo by Pete Checchia
  • END OF DAYS This is the final lineup of the Tokyo String Quartet, which began in 1969. They performed their last concert in Seattle one week ago today.

Most students who have studied philosophy come across Theseus’s paradox. It involves a ship that is slowly replaced piece by piece as its parts weather away. The question then is whether or not the ship, ultimately composed entirely of new materials, is the same ship at all. The members of the Tokyo Quartet, which played its last ever Seattle performance a week ago today, were recently faced with a similar conundrum. Violist Kazuhide Isomura, the sole residual member of the group’s first incarnation (founded in 1969, not in Tokyo but at Juilliard), will be retiring after the quartet’s current world tour, along with second violinist Kikuei Ikeda, who joined in 1974. Instead of holding auditions to replace Isomura and Ikeda and continuing to perform as a new group under an old name, the remaining members, violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith, decided that the illustrious Tokyo Quartet will disband once and for all.

Continue reading »

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade

Posted by on Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 12:16 PM

(Benaroya) Even if you can't hum it off the top of your head, you will probably recognize Scheherazade, the late-19th-century orchestral suite by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov based on The Arabian Nights. The other two pieces on the program are tantalizingly unfamiliar: the impressionistic The Enchanted Lake by another Russian composer, Anatoly Liadov (who had a reputation as a slacker; Rimsky-Korsakov expelled him from composition class because he cut too often), and Styx, a vividly theatrical piece for viola, mixed choir, and orchestra written in 1999 by the living Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. Featuring the Symphony Chorale, Maxim Rysanov on viola, with Andrey Boreyko conducting. Also March 30.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Van Cliburn Has Died

Posted by on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 1:13 PM

He was 78, and here's his obituary in the New York Times.

Here's him playing Rachmaninoff in 1958.

And this from Mary Langholz, spokeswoman for the Seattle Symphony:

He was the featured guest pianist with the Seattle Symphony for the Gala Opening Concert of the World’s Fair in Seattle on April 21, 1962. He performed Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra. On the same program, Igor Stravinsky, in his 80th year, conducted his own composition — Suite from The Firebird.

Good show. Wow. What would the equivalent now even be?

Meanwhile, in news of great classical players still alive to tell the tale, here's NBC's profile from yesterday on SSO flutist Demarre McGill and his brother. Here's a profile of McGill in The Stranger last year.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stockhausen to Sir Mix A Lot: It's Seattle Symphony's 2013-'14 Season

Posted by on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 9:00 AM

From this guy:

To this guy:

The highlights:

Season to Open with all-Ravel Program and Close with Stravinsky’s Three Great Ballets,
and will Feature Mozart’s Last Seven Symphonies

Local Artistic Partnerships include Verdi’s Requiem Performed in Honor of Longtime Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins; J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Pacific MusicWorks; BartÓk’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with Seattle Chamber Music Society Artistic Director James Ehnes; an [untitled] Series Concert with the Earshot Jazz Festival; and Celebrate Asia, featuring a New Work for Vietnamese and Western Instruments by Richard Karpen, Director of University of Washington’s School of Music

Seattle Symphony and Global Co-Commissioners Present U.S. Premieres of Pascal Dusapin’s Violin Concerto, Alexander Raskatov’s Piano Concerto and James MacMillan’s The Death of Oscar

Sonic Evolution Features MC Sir Mix-A-Lot, Plus World Premieres Inspired by
Seattle Music Icons Ray Charles, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Bill Frisell

Informal Audience Experiences Continues with Symphony Untuxed and Exciting Contemporary Repertoire Presented in the [untitled] Series, including Stockhausen’s Spiritual Masterpiece Inori

Piano Virtuoso Lang Lang to Join Morlot for Opening Night Concert & Gala,
Performing Prokofiev’s Dazzling Third Piano Concerto

New TchaikFest! to Showcase Tchaikovsky’s Four Instrumental Concertos Performed in Back-to-Back Nights

Morlot to Lead the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on May 6 as Part of Spring for Music 2014

Conductor Laureate Gerard Schwarz to Lead all-Mozart and all-Strauss programs

Morlot and New Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik Team up for a Pops/Classical
New Year’s Eve Extravaganza, including Jon Kimura Parker Performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue

Hitchcock’s Psycho with the Seattle Symphony Returns for Halloween by Popular Demand

The full release is here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

HJ Lim, Night Panthere, Benaroya Hall

Posted by on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 3:21 PM

HJ Lim
  • Simon Fowler, EMI Classics
  • HJ Lim

Last night in the grand, wood-paneled Faberge of the Mark Taper Auditorium at Benaroya Hall, the Seattle Symphony performed Stravinsky’s Suite from Pulcinella, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major. (They do it again tomorrow night; click here for more.) Jun MÄrkl conducted, with smiling ginger stabs and metered gesticulations. The Stravinsky had well designed longing. It was lonely, yet hectic, stately and proclaiming, with periodic macabre. Quick sorties flew out of the horn section into royal happiness, then lifted back into the bowed string unison flanked on either side. A full string section moving completely together swayed like a kelp forest sways together in undersea current and tides.

Next was the Felix Mendelssohn. Enter pianist HJ Lim, or as I call her, the French-Korean Night Panther. She strode in confidently with long black hair, wearing a long black silk genius-robe. She sat down, flung the silk tails behind the seat, tossed her hand rag into the open well of the grand piano, and unleashed a two-handed hyper-dexterous volley on the keys. Her playing was a high-speed embroidery that deciphered the Mendelssohn into the furtherness of now and beyond. She’s a combination of accuracy, ferocity, and touch. Flurries of runs ran into moments of melodic stasis, where notes floated. She used no sheet music. There were sections combined with the symphony, sections where they rallied back and forth, and sections where she soloed, wafting long, slow, single notes that encased feathers into the ice of a frozen lake. Then the lake in an instant was a monsoon of sprinting scales, and the Night Panther was exploding waves into equations.

Continue reading »

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gust Burns, with Paul Kikuchi, Carmen Rothwell, and Jacob Zimmerman

Posted by on Sat, Dec 15, 2012 at 10:57 AM

(Chapel Performance Space) Pianist Gust Burns performs from his recent collection of scores, REAL BOOK, made by erasing material from popular jazz songs published in Chuck Sher's The New Real Book. Burns will play solo and in a quartet with Paul Kikuchi, Carmen Rothwell, and Jacob Zimmerman.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Handel's Messiah

Posted by on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 10:29 AM

(Benaroya) King of Kings! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Forever! And ever! Conducted by Stephen Stubbs, featuring the Seattle Symphony Chorale and vocal soloists Shannon Mercer, Laura Pudwell, Ross Hauck, and Kevin Deas. And Lord of Lords! Hallelujah! Forever! Through Sunday, December 16. JEN GRAVES

The Music of John Cage

Posted by on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 8:48 AM

(Chapel Performance Space) John Cage's unpublished score STEPS: A Composition for a Painting to Be Performed by Individuals or Groups (1989) will be realized tonight, and vocalist Jessika Kenney performs Fontana Radif, a version of Cage's Fontana Mix that Kenney has adapted for Persian vocals (!), with dancer Beth Graczyk and others.

Thursday, December 6, 2012



Thursday, November 8, 2012



Thursday, October 25, 2012



Tuesday, October 23, 2012



Friday, October 19, 2012



Monday, October 15, 2012



Monday, September 24, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012



Wednesday, September 5, 2012



Wednesday, August 22, 2012



Thursday, August 16, 2012



The State of Opera Today

Posted by at 11:34 AM in

Monday, June 25, 2012



Friday, June 1, 2012



Saturday, April 21, 2012



Midnight Haiku

Posted by at 2:14 AM in

Tuesday, February 28, 2012



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