CONCERT PREVIEW: Q&A with Laura Schwendinger

by Maggie Molloy

It’s been raining to beat the band this week—but not even the wildest thunderstorms could drown out the beautiful music of Seattle’s North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO). This Sunday, NOCCO invites you to get out of the cold and into the warmth of the concert hall for a very special “Heart of Winter” performance.


Known for their dynamic performances and adventurous programming, NOCCO’s 2015-2016 season features works by three different American women composers. The star of this weekend’s performance is composer Laura Schwendinger’s gorgeously luminescent Chiaro di Luna, a piece filled with icy strings and glimmering melodies inspired by the mysterious beauty of Lake Como in Italy.

Second Inversion sat down with Laura to ask her five questions about Chiaro di Luna, female composers, and NOCCO’s upcoming season.

Second Inversion: What is the story or emotion behind Chiaro di Luna, and how would you describe this piece?

Laura Schwendinger: It was written after my residency at the beautiful Rockefeller Bellagio Center on Lake Como in Italy. We would walk out on the veranda at night, and look out at the beautiful lake, and when there was a moon we could see the outline of the lake and the Dolomite Mountains beyond. Chiaro Di Luna celebrates the dark beauty of that experience.

SI: How is this piece similar to and/or different from your other compositions?

LS: Chiaro di Luna was written for the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra of Hungary, so I wanted to tap into the Romantic side of my expression a little more. It was one of the first works where I ventured into those waters (no pun intended), after having moved away from Romanticism for a time. I think of my work as being lyrical but passionate, and intense at times. I’m a “maximalist” and at times a romantic.

SI: What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence your work?

LS: French composers have had a huge influence on me. Debussy, Ravel, and very substantially Dutilleux, and at the same time many American composers such as my teacher Andrew Imbrie, with his lyrical voice, and even composers like Elliot Carter and Aaron Copland have influenced me and my way of thinking and hearing.

SI: Three out of the four NOCCO programs this season feature American women composers’ works. Why do you think this is a significant programming decision?

LS: It’s funny, I get asked about that a lot, and being a female I understand it. I think though, there are so many fine female composers  now that it’s almost hard for me to think of my favorite living composers without including at least 50-60% women.

I think it’s wonderful NOCCO is programming women and I think that other ensembles should get to know the music of women and if they do, they’ll realize how many great women are out there writing amazing music. That might not have been true 30 years ago, but it is certainly true now.

I run a contemporary music ensemble at UW Madison, where I am a professor, and last year I programmed an entire concert of music by women without even thinking about it. In other words, I programmed music that was great and after I had, I realized all of the works were by women!

SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from listening to Chiaro di Luna?

LS: I hope they will see the dark and beautiful, brooding Lake Como—under the moonlight with the Italian night sky and a full moon above.


NOCCO’s “Heart of Winter” concert is this Sunday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Magnolia Church of Christ in Seattle. In addition to Laura Schwendinger’s Chiaro di Luna, NOCCO musicians will also perform Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, Darius Milhaud’s Chamber Symphony No. 5 for 10 Winds, and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite. For additional information and tickets, visit