The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival in Seattle and Beyond

by Maggie Molloy

The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival is lighting up stages around Seattle this month with performances by the likes of Ashley Bathgate, Sandbox Percussion, The City of Tomorrow, and more.

Founded this year by composer Scott Anthony Shell, the festival begins in Seattle with a string of performances spanning from January 19 through February 1, with festival artists also touring through Portland and Eugene, Oregon, and cellist Ashley Bathgate continuing on down the California coast.

“I want this festival to be a performer-centric model rather than composer-centric, in that the performers can program their own repertoire and showcase music they are most comfortable performing,” Shell said. “I also wanted a wide range of genres to be represented within the field of contemporary classical music.”

The festival lineup features Delgani String Quartet, Orlando Cela, Hub New Music, Iktus Duo, Sandbox Percussion, the City of Tomorrow, and Ashley Bathgate. Many of the featured artists are prominent players from New York and the broader East Coast new music scene, and musically they span the gamut from contemporary classical to experimental and avant-garde.

“There are plenty of East Coast transplants and open-minded people on the West Coast so I think there is a receptive audience for new music, even by those unfamiliar with it,” Shell said.

This year’s event features composers ranging from 20th century greats like Lou Harrison, György Ligeti, and Alan Hovhaness to some of the 21st century’s top composers like Andy Akiho, Laura Kaminsky, Steve Reich, and Andrew Norman. And this year is only just the beginning.

“I want the festival to contribute towards the awareness and appreciation of this amazing art form through live performances of these incredible musicians,” Shell said. “I hope it can be an annual event where I would be able to also incorporate other educational tools with a focus on community outreach and community building.”

Let’s meet this year’s performers:

*Please note, dates listed below are for Seattle performances. Click here to explore dates for other cities on the festival tour.

Delgani String Quartet
Friday, Jan. 19, 8pm | Good Shepherd Chapel
This Northwest quartet performs a new work by Benjamin Krause inspired by the Oregon Cascade Range, from the ghostly lava fields to the glorious trees, craters, and crevices. Works by Alan Hovhaness and György Ligeti round out the program.


Orlando Cela
Sunday, Jan. 21, 3pm | Youngstown Cultural Arts Center
Orlando Cela is a Boston-based, Venezuelan-born flutist specializing in contemporary and experimental flute repertoire. For this performance, he explores every timbre and extended technique of the instrument through a virtuosic program featuring music by Roger Briggs, Bryan Ferneyhough, Jean-Patrick Besingrand, Mac Waters, and Robert Dickplus, one of his own original improvisations using Indian Classical music form.


Hub New Music
Monday, Jan. 22, 7:30pm | 18th & Union
With a unique instrumentation of flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, this Boston-based ensemble makes its Seattle debut at Spontaneous Combustion. Their program features a world premiere performance of Robert Honstein’s Soul Horse
, along with Laura Kaminsky’s The Full Range of Blue, a visceral work written in response to the aftermath of 9/11. The program finishes with David Drexler’s Forgotten At Dawn, a winner of the Spontaneous Combustion International Call for Scores.


Iktus Duo
Thursday, Jan. 25, 8pm | Good Shepherd Chapel
Flutist Hristina Blagoeva and percussionist Chris Graham team up for a dynamic program exploring an eclectic mix of styles within the contemporary classical genre, from the Eastern-inspired works of Lou Harrison to the wide-ranging musical musings of Joseph Pereira, Adam Vidiksis, James Romig, and Washington-based composer Bruce Hamilton.


Sandbox Percussion
Saturday, Jan. 27, 7pm | Music Center of the Northwest
A leading proponent of contemporary percussion music, Sandbox Percussion performs pivotal 20th century works and experimental 21st century works alike. For this performance, they lend their mallets to music by Steve Reich, Andy Akiho, Victor Caccese, Jonny Allen, Elliot Cooper Cole, and Thomas Kotcheff.


The City of Tomorrow
Tuesday, Jan. 30, 7:30pm | The Royal Room
The City of Tomorrow is an avant-garde wind quintet that performs contemporary classical and experimental music rooted in environmentalism and humanism. This particular performance explores spatial relationships through music, featuring custom lighting design by Alex Deahl and a graphic score by Seattle-based composer John Teske that is based on topographical maps, which the quintet will use as a basis for improvisation and movement.


Ashley Bathgate
Thursday, Feb. 1, 8pm | Rainier Arts Center
Perhaps best known as the cellist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Ashley Bathgate is also an extraordinary soloist in her own right, constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional cello repertoire with her performances of contemporary, avant-garde, and experimental works. For this performance she plays works with and without electronics by Steve Reich, Andrew Norman, and many more. For a sneak preview of her playing, check out our in-studio video below of Bathgate performing Michael Gordon’s Light is Calling for cello and audio playback.


The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival is in venues across Seattle January 19 through February 1. Click here for tickets and more information on other festival dates and locations down the West Coast.

The Late Works of György Ligeti (1923–2006)

by Michael Schell

The Pacific Northwest seems in the midst of a Ligeti boom. Last year the Seattle Symphony presented the regional premiere of his Requiem, along with a live-music presentation of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which features music from the Requiem and three other Ligeti scores from the 1960s. Second Inversion marked the occasion with a profile of the Hungarian composer (see György Ligeti’s Musical Odyssey) and the groundbreaking works from that era that made him one of the 20th century’s most influential musical figures. This Thursday and Saturday, the Seattle Symphony is back with Augustin Hadelich to offer the local premiere of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, a late and quite different piece that offers an opportunity to examine the composer’s post-Odyssey music.

Opera in Breughelland

Ligeti’s output, like Beethoven’s, divides rather neatly into three style periods. The early works, written while he was still in Hungary, are Bartókian and often folkloric. The middle period works, coming after his escape to the West in 1956, include sonorist compositions such as Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, and the first two movements of the Requiem—pieces that aren’t based on conventional melody and harmony but are pure explorations of timbre and texture. It’s this music that was made famous by the monolith and stargate sequences in Kubrick’s film. Others works from this time, like the little pseudo-operas Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, and the third movement of the Requiem, express Ligeti’s idiosyncratic take on the Darmstadt pointillist style. (Each of these works are surveyed in our previous article.)

Ligeti’s middle period is considered to culminate with the 1978 premiere of Le Grand Macabre, his only full-length opera, and by far his longest work. Much of it resembles Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, but at other times it points in several new directions, including that quintessential postmodern technique, pastiche. There are many musical references to the past: a Can Can quoting Offenbach, a bourée that’s modeled after the Baroque dance, a midnight clock scene that parodies the cemetery chimes in Verdi’s Falstaff, and a Don Giovanni-style moralizing finale where the singers address the audience directly.

The opera’s most famous passage is a passacaglia based on a crazy distortion of the theme from the finale of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. It accompanies the entrance of Nekrotzar, the opera’s villain and namesake, one of the most debauched processional scenes in opera history.

Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony through a distorting mirror in Le Grand Macabre.

Beethoven isn’t the only reference here. Look closely and you’ll see that Ligeti’s tune uses a Schoenbergian 12-tone row. But since the tune has 13 notes in it, each iteration begins on a different pitch (the first two passes are shown above). After 12 times through, the cycles line up again, a technique perfected centuries ago in the isorhythmic motets of Machaut and Dufay.

The libretto, adapted from a play by the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode, is a farcical sendup of operatic clichés, influenced by carnival and commedia dell’arte traditions, and by the allegorical imagery of Breughel, one of Ligeti’s favorite visual artists (indeed, the work’s setting is the imaginary country of Breugelland). Besides Nekrotzar and his Sancho Panza-like sidekick, the characters include a court astrologer (kind of a cross between Klingsor and Dr. Frankenstein) and his dominatrix wife, an incompetent secret police chief, and a couple whose male half is a trouser role sung by a mezzo-soprano in the manner of Cherubino or Octavian. The plot, such as it is, concerns Nekrotzar’s attempt to destroy the world, an effort eventually foiled by ineptitude and drunkenness.

Although Ligeti was attracted to Ghelderode’s drama for its unconventionality, the resulting libretto has not proven terribly popular, striking many people as more daft than profound. And younger composers like Louis Andriessen have had better success liberating new music theater from conventional narrative by jettisoning full-throated bel canto singing and other accoutrements of traditional opera-making. Nevertheless, Ligeti’s mastery at eliciting an almost unbroken succession of unexpected colors from voices and instruments has earned Le Grand Macabre a foothold in the repertory of international opera companies—one of the very few post-Britten operas to accomplish this.

An arrangement of the opera’s music for coloratura soprano, called Mysteries of the Macabre, has become a favorite showpiece for Barbara Hannigan, who has performed it in various concert stagings, including the above version where she both sings and conducts the ensemble.

At a Crossroads

Le Grand Macabre ends with a second passacaglia that manages to be triadic but practically atonal. Although each of the chords are themselves consonant, they clash sufficiently with each other that no clear key or chord progression can coalesce. Ligeti called this consonant atonality, and it was the first time since escaping from Hungary that he had used traditional harmonies. Having reached a point in his career where he felt he had little more to say in the vein of his most experimental works, he was interested in reclaiming music based on pitch and rhythm. But as a survivor of both Nazism and Communism, he deplored both the dogmatism of the avant-garde and the insouciance of the neoromantic and post-minimalist styles that were then coming into vogue. So how to use melody, consonant intervals and well-defined rhythms outside the permissive context of operatic pastiche and without reverting to hackneyed tonal chords and melodies?

The solution took a while to develop (like Beethoven, Ligeti endured a few years of artistic quiescence before his late works started to emerge), but eventually a compelling new line of musical thought synthesized in his imagination, spurred in large part through contact with several composers from America.

American Ingenuity

Ligeti had a formative experience in 1972 when he traveled to the US for a half-year residency at Stanford University. Among other things, he encountered the West Coast fascination with alternative tunings, a perspective associated with Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, but above all with Harry Partch, then largely unknown in Europe. Ligeti visited Partch in his Encinitas home, chatted about the latter’s unique tuning system and self-built instruments, and jammed a bit on the diamond marimba. But whereas Partch strove to create pure consonance, the complexity-craving Ligeti wondered how clashes between different tuning systems could create new dissonances—what he called a “dirty sound,” but one under the control of the composer. Ligeti had previously used quarter tones (intervals halfway between the adjacent keys of a conventionally-tuned piano), but Partch’s system suggested a different and more systematic approach.

One of the first manifestations of this approach is the Hungarian Passacaglia, a little harpsichord piece that Ligeti dashed off in 1978. Ligeti asks for the instrument to be tuned in meantone temperament, an adaptation that causes the thirds and sixths in the repeating ground to be pure, but makes them sound strangely out of tune with each other. The effect in this otherwise straightforwardly polytonal piece is akin to adding exotic spices to an otherwise bland dish.

Hungarian Passacaglia.

In his 1982 Horn Trio, Ligeti plays off natural harmonics in the horn with the conventional tuning of the piano and violin. The clashes are quite audible in the third and fourth movements.

It was also at Stanford that Ligeti first encountered American minimalism, specifically its rhythmically lively strain (which originated in the Bay Area) to which he paid explicit homage in his Self-Portrait with Reich and Riley. This 1976 piece for two pianos also looks back at the finale of Chopin’s Second Piano Sonata, one of the 19th century’s most important precursors to minimalism.

Once back in Europe, Ligeti conveyed his excitement over these discoveries in an article titled “Tendenzen der Neuen Musik in den USA: Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Harry Partch.”

American Rhythm

Ligeti’s North American explorations of 1972 also took him to Mexico City, where he met several local composers, but ironically not the one that would later become a crucial influence: Conlon Nancarrow. It wasn’t until 1980 that Ligeti finally heard the music of this most obstinate and isolated of American Mavericks, a reticent expatriate who labored patiently for four and a half decades with two player pianos and a machine for hand-punching pianola rolls to create music of unprecedented rhythmic density and complexity.

Nancarrow and Ligeti.

Nancarrow’s Study 40b is a straightforward example. Two player pianos play the same music, but the second one enters 28 seconds after the first, playing its roll at 9/8 the first piano’s tempo, so that it gradually catches up as the piece goes on. Both pianos finish together in a loud cadential flurry.

Nancarrow’s influence is heard in the third movement of Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, which is notated in three simultaneous time signatures and often gives the impression of different cascades of notes tumbling along at different tempos. Ligeti was so impressed by Nancarrow’s work (“the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives“) that he authorized player piano versions of some of his own compositions, such as the piano etude Vertige.

Another key American was Ligeti’s composition student, Roberto Sierra, who from 1979 onward made available his extensive LP library of non-Western music. Ligeti was especially interested in the polyphonic music of Central Africa, such as this example from the Banda people which became a model for his piano etude Fém. Ligeti’s infatuation with complex African music passed on to his son, Lukas, a drummer and composer who often collaborates with African musicians.

Violin Concerto

All of these new interests from the 1970s and 1980s—pastiche, intonation, polyrhythms, concepts from non-Western music—find a voice in the Violin Concerto, a kind of résumé of Ligeti’s late period music. Completed in 1993 and scored for soloist and a chamber orchestra of two dozen musicians, its seeds go back to the Stanford residency, which had been arranged by John Chowning, a pioneer of computer music and inventor of the technology later used in the popular Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. Through his friendship with Chowning, Ligeti obtained DX7ii with a custom enhancement that allowed him to experiment with complex alternative tunings.

The results are on display in the Concerto. One of the orchestral violins is tuned about a quartertone sharp, and one of the violas is tuned flat so that both are “out of tune” with the rest of the ensemble. Brass players are often directed to use natural harmonics (produced through overblowing without changing fingering), and woodwind instruments are given the occasional quarter tone inflection. Curiously, the solo violin plays in conventional equal temperament throughout.

The Concerto starts out sounding a bit like John Adams, with consonant bowed tremolos in the solo violin, soon joined by the (detuned) first viola. But the texture quickly dissolves into a dense chromatic web as the remaining string instruments enter, each going its own way with arpeggios and harmonic glissandos. The soloist, doubled by a marimba, shoots out a sequence of accented notes that go up and down a custom scale like a roller coaster. At 1:38 (all timings refer to the above video), the woodwinds enter in a Nancarrowish commotion with the soloist, accompanied by a vibraphone and a couple of orchestral strings, going at a different tempo from the rest of the ensemble (see score excerpt). A little brass fanfare at 2:45 provides some punctuation as the mood of the opening returns.

The second movement (3:58) is a pastiche of those Romantic violin concertos whose slow movement starts with a lyric melody that’s repeated with elaborate ornaments and filigrees added in the solo part. In Ligeti’s case, the melody is a nostalgic one, cribbed from a movement of his Musica Ricercata (an album of keyboard music written during his Hungary years that he arranged as the third of his Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet). Listen to the horns’ entrance at 6:16 as they play natural harmonics, intentionally clashing with the standard tuning of the other instruments.

At 6:35 Ligeti’s sense of humor comes out as the melody is reprised by a quartet of ocarinas, later joined by two slide whistles (all notorious for their wobbly intonation). Ligeti, like Berio, could be counted on to inject the occasional dose of playfulness into the otherwise stern proceedings of the European avant-garde. Here he was also inspired by music from the Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea who play on some of the world’s longest transverse flutes and, in lieu of finger holes, build their music exclusively from natural harmonics.

The brief third movement is like a mid-lesson review, combining the string webs and polyrhythms of the first movement with the melodic lyricism and natural brass harmonics of the second.

First two cycles of the Movement IV passacaglia.

The fourth movement is yet another passacaglia, this time over a two-voice chromatic ground played by wind instruments. It’s a bit tricky to follow because the starting notes change with each cycle (the first two cycles are shown above), and other variations creep in as the movement proceeds. But any fixed form in Ligeti’s hand is a license to do crazy things on top of it—like bringing in a Romanian village dance at 16:56, or directing the xylophone (with its limited dynamic range) to crescendo from p to ffffffff over the course of three bars at the movement’s end.

The finale returns to the sound world of the first movement, starting with the Adams-like tremolos. Woodwinds enter with a descending figure in whole tones (a kind of inversion of the passacaglia theme), then the soloist enters with accented notes, quickly leading us into another Nancarrowish brouhaha, which sounds chaotic but is strictly notated by Ligeti. At 22:30 the soloist and woodwinds seem to be playing two different dance tunes in two different tempos, with hints of a waltz rhythm in the bass. After a couple more minutes in the stylistic blender we arrive at the violin cadenza, which the soloist can either devise herself (in the tradition of Classical concertos) or reproduce from music supplied by Ligeti and Saschko Gawriloff (the work’s dedicatee). Eventually the cadenza is rudely interrupted by the orchestra in a bravura flourish—inspiring a few performers to ham up the ending a bit.

Despite being challenging to perform, the Violin Concerto has become one of Ligeti’s most frequently played and recorded large ensemble pieces. Its influence on younger composers is evinced in the eclecticism, layering and unpredictable rhythms of a piece such as Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto. And the emphasis on tuning clashes and derivation of musical ideas from overtone patterns creates results not far from the world of spectralist composers such as Grisey, Murail, and Avram.

Ligeti went on composing for another decade, bringing forth a viola sonata, songs, more piano etudes and the Hamburg Concerto (which puts the idea of clashing natural horn harmonics on steroids). But it’s the Violin Concerto that seems the best summation of the musical ideas that intrigued him in his later years—a quarter century of work capping off a lifetime of innovation.


Augustin Hadelich performs the Ligeti Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony on Thursday, Jan. 4 at 7:30pm and Saturday, Jan. 6 at 8pm. Click here for tickets and more information.

Click here for a list of recommended recordings of Ligeti’s music.

New Year, New Music: January Concerts in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - January 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: vintage sampling keyboards, avant-garde noise, graphic scores, and etudes from the likes of György Ligeti and John Cage.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: Ligeti Violin Concerto
Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich joins the orchestra for a performance of György Ligeti’s stunningly virtuosic Violin Concerto. Also on the program: Stravinsky’s long-lost Funeral Song and Mozart’s sublime Symphony No. 39.
Thurs, 1/4, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74
Sat, 1/6, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74

Paper Puppet Opera: Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’
One of the darkest works in the classical canon is reimagined through bleak shadow puppet abstraction in this Schubertiade-meets-puppet-show spectacular. Baritone David Hoffman and pianist Peter Nelson-King join the Paper Puppet Opera for a shadow puppet performance of all 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise.
Fri, 1/12, 7:30pm, Trinity Parish Hall | $25
Sat, 1/13, Trinity Parish Hall | $25

Jesse Myers: To Sober and Quiet the Mind
Seattle pianist Jesse Myers presents an evening of introspective solo piano works from the masters of time and space—Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and more. Forgo the chairs and bring a pillow or mat for the ultimate musical meditation.
Fri, 1/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Bern Herbolsheimer Musical Memorial
In celebration of the late Bern Herbolsheimer’s life and music, the St. Helens String Quartet and local soloists come together to perform a selection of his chamber works.
Sat, 1/13, 5pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | FREE

Second City Chamber Series: Just Us Folks
The Carpe Diem String Quartet performs chamber works inspired by folk music from every corner of the world, featuring music by Erberk Eryilmaz, Vittorio Monti, Lev Zhurbin, Dave Brubeck, and more.
Fri, 1/19, 7:30pm, Annie Wright School, Tacoma | $10-$25

SCMS Winter Festival
Seattle Chamber Music Society’s annual Winter Festival features a variety of classical music performances from across the centuries, including 20th century works by Amy Beach, Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, and Edward Elgar.
1/19-1/28, Various times, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52

Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival
This brand new music festival touring through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene features contemporary music by the likes of Julia Wolfe, Andy Akiho, Andrew Norman, Steve Reich, and Lou Harrison, among others. Featured performers include Ashley Bathgate, the Sandbox Percussion Quartet, the Iktus Duo, and more.

Delgani String QuartetFri, 1/19, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Orlando CelaSun, 1/21, 3pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center | $20
Hub New MusicMon, 1/22, 7:30pm, 18th & Union | $20
Iktus DuoThurs, 1/25, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Sandbox PercussionSat, 1/27, 7pm, Music Center of the Northwest | $20
The City of TomorrowTues, 1/30, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $20
Ashley BathgateThurs, 2/01, 8pm, Rainier Arts Center | $20

NUMUS Northwest 2018
This day-long event is dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond. Musicians, composers, and curious bystanders alike come together for a day of live performances and interactive presentations on topics ranging from fundraising to networking, media pitching, grant writing, and more.
Sat, 1/20, 8:30am-9:30pm, Cornish Kerry Hall | $20

SMCO: Journeys of Discovery and Hope
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra performs Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje: where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Also on the program is Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times.
Sat, 1/20, 8pm, Plymouth Congregational Church | $15-$25

Third Coast Percussion: ‘Paddle to the Sea’
Third Coast Percussion performs their own live score in this special screening of Paddle to the Sea, a Canadian film which illustrates the epic journey of a young boy’s small wooden boat from Northern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Third Coast’s film score weaves in music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Thurs, 1/25, 8pm, Meany Theater | $28-$44

Erin Jorgensen: Bach and Pancakes
It’s Bach like you’ve never heard it before—on marimba! Erin Jorgensen performs a marimba arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, followed by a pancake breakfast.
Sun, 1/28, 10am, Studio Current | $5

Pacifica Chamber Orchestra: Sunshine Concert
From scherzos to serenades, the Pacifica Chamber Orchestra performs 20th century works by Dag Wirén, Julius Fučík, Eugène Bozza, and more.
Sun, 1/28, 3pm, First Presbyterian Church, Everett | $15-$20

Music of Remembrance: Art from Ashes
Music of Remembrance presents a free community-wide concert to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day, featuring chamber music written in Terezín and in the Vilna ghetto, plus works by composers whose lives were cut short by Nazi persecution.
Mon, 1/29, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | FREE

An Unsilent Seattle Night

by Maggie Molloy

I love Christmas carols as much as the next girl—but I have to admit, after years of attending and performing in Christmas concerts every December, the holiday hymns do tend to run together. But whether you’re the world’s biggest Santa-fan, a grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, or even just an avant-garde enthusiast looking to expand your holiday music horizons, composer Phil Kline’s got just the carol for you—and it’s coming to Seattle this Saturday night.

Kline’s “Unsilent Night” is a contemporary twist on holiday caroling that is celebrated annually around the globe. But don’t worry, there’s no singing involved. In true 21st century fashion, all you have to do is download an app.

This nontraditional holiday carol is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December. Audience members each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal “Unsilent Night.”

Countless participants meet up with boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers and each hit “play” at the same time. Then they walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture that is unlike any Christmas carol you have ever heard.


Seattle’s rendition of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” is this Saturday, Dec. 1. The procession begins at 6pm at On the Boards’ Merrill Wright Mainstage Theater Lobby in Lower Queen Anne. For more information, click here.

December New Music: Cello Conspiracies, Mandolin Messiahs, and an Unsilent Night

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - December 2017

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: American gamelan, ambient drones, homemade instruments, and experimental chamber ensembles.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

UW Percussion Ensemble: John Cage’s ‘The City Wears a Slouch Hat’
Under the direction of Bonnie Whiting, the University of Washington Percussion Ensemble presents a theatrical rendition of John Cage’s recently-discovered radio play The City Wears a Slouch Hat, pairing Cage’s vintage music with brand new works by UW composition students.
Fri, 12/1, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10

‘The Saci’ & ‘The Greater Trumps’
New music and modern dance collide in this brand new partnership between Karin Stevens Dance and the Universal Language Project. Their debut collaboration features performances of Jovino Santos-Neto’s Saci – A Brazilian Folktale alongside a new rendition of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, reimagined here for the 21st century with a libretto by Doug Thorpe.
Fri, 12/1, 8pm, Cornish Playhouse | $15-$50
Sat, 12/2, 2:30pm, Cornish Playhouse | $15-$50

The Esoterics: EXCELSIS – Contemplating Extremity
The Esoterics cast their choral gaze upward in this program featuring works inspired by spirits, galaxies, comets, and the cosmos. The centerpiece of the program is Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts’ To touch the sky: a nine-movement compendium of celestial feminine poetry.
Fri, 12/1, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (Seattle) | $15-$22
Sat, 12/2, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church (West Seattle) | $15-$22
Sun, 12/3, 7pm, Christ Episcopal Church (Tacoma) | $15-$22

On the Boards: Phil Kline’s ‘Unsilent Night’
In this contemporary twist on holiday caroling, audience members each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise Phil Kline’s ethereal Unsilent Night. Participants meet up with boomboxes and speakers and each hit “play” at the same timethen walk through the streets of Lower Queen Anne creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture.
Sat, 12/2, 6pm, On the Boards | FREE

On Stage with Classical KING FM: Holiday Concert with KING FM Personalities
KING FM personalities step out of the radio booth and onto center stage to perform old and new Christmas carols and festive classical arrangements—including music for dueling cellos, tubas, and even a theremin.
Sat, 12/2, 7:30pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers | $20-$25

Ladies Musical Club: Expressions of Winter
Seattle’s longest-running musical organization celebrates the season with a concert of original winter-inspired works composed by Ladies Musical Club members.
Sun, 12/3, 2pm, Music Center of the Northwest | FREE

Town Music: A Cello Conspiracy
Joshua Roman performs in an all-cello show alongside four of the Seattle Symphony’s superstar cellists: Efe Baltacıgil, Nathan Chan, Meeka Quan DiLorenzo, and Eric Han. Featuring works ranging from Rossini and Paganini to Reena Esmail and Christopher Cerrone, this is one cello showdown you do not want to miss.
Mon, 12/4, 7:30pm, Fremont Abbey Arts Center | $15-$20

UW Modern Ensemble: Messiaen, Stockhausen, Glass
Under the direction of Cristina Valdes, the University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble tackles three iconic masterworks of the 20th century: Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis, and Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion.
Tues, 12/5, 7:30pm, University of Washington, Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Emerald City Music: The Miró Quartet
The world-renowned Miró Quartet performs Kevin Puts’ stunning Credo for string quartet in a vogue, open bar setting alongside classic quartets by Haydn and Schumann.
Fri, 12/8, 8pm, 415 Westlake Ave (Seattle) | $45
Sat, 12/9, 7:30pm, Evergreen State College (Olympia) | $10-$43

Seattle Art Song Society: Together
Seattle Art Song Society celebrates the centennial of Finland’s independence with an evening of art songs and Christmas music penned by Finnish composers ranging from Sibelius to Kilpinen, Merikanto, Nummi, and Kuula.
Sat, 12/9, 7:30pm, Queen Anne Christian Church | $20-$40

Cornish Presents: Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble
The four-voice, all-woman Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble performs a program of genre-bending new repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Sat, 12/9, 8pm, Cornish College of the Arts, PONCHO Hall | $5-$20

Seattle Mandolin Orchestra: Mandolin Messiah
Handel’s immortal oratorio comes to life on the plucked strings of the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra in this abridged Messiah performance featuring a cast of four vocal soloists and a whole lot of pizzicato.
Sun, 12/10, 7pm, Green Lake United Methodist Church (Seattle) | $15-$20

Portland Cello Project: Celebrating 20 Years of OK Computer
Portland Cello Project’s massive 800-piece repertoire ranges from Bach to Kanye and beyond. The group celebrates 20 years of Radiohead’s OK Computer with a performance at Benaroya Hall featuring special guests Kyleen King and Adam Shearer.
Sun, 12/10, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $35-$40

NOCCO: Mystics, Servants, & Devils
A week before Winter Solstice, the North Corner Chamber Orchestra presents a program contrasting the old and the new, the magical and the devotional. A world premiere of Jim Knapp’s Noverture is paired with works by Bach, Pärt, and Stravinsky.
Sat, 12/16, 2pm, Magnolia United Church of Christ (Seattle) | $15-$20
Sun, 12/17, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $15-$20

Stravinsky and the Saci: New Music and Modern Dance

by Brendan Howe

The music from Stravinsky’s theatrical work The Soldier’s Tale is reimagined with a 21st century libretto by dramatist Doug Thorpe in The Greater Trumps, a contemporary tale of good and evil. The piece shares the same septet orchestration as a new jazz commission by Latin Grammy-nominated Jovino Santos Neto titled The Saci after a mischievous, one-legged prankster in Brazilian folklore.

The two works flow together seamlessly in this weekend’s debut production from The Universal Language Project (ULP) and Karin Stevens Dance (KSD): The Saci & The Greater Trumps. It’s the first of what the they are confident will be many more multimedia productions together.

“We talked with several other dance companies before Karin [Stevens] and I met at a Community Advisory Board meeting for Second Inversion,” says Brian Chin, Director of ULP. Stevens had likewise been looking for a new music partner for KSD. It was a match made in a conference room.

The production is unified around the general narrative arc of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, in which a soldier trades his violin to the devil in exchange for massive wealth and then learns a classic thing or two about the relationship between money and happiness. That said, Brian and Karin both felt that an update to the story was in order.

“While [Stravinsky’s] music is timeless, the story is antiquated—there’s a princess who gets traded like a goat, and the tale is viewed through a faux-Faustian lens,” Brian says. To remedy this and other outdated concepts, his colleague at Seattle Pacific University, Doug Thorpe, wrote a libretto with more relevant themes.

“It follows the same narrative line of the original, but updates it, shifts genders [to a female protagonist], and adds some new elements inspired in part by the novel of Charles Williams, The Greater Trumps,” Doug explains.

Brian was particularly keen to produce The Saci & The Greater Trumps now, as he sees many parallels between the problems facing art and artists during WWI—when Stravinsky completed The Soldier’s Tale—and now, a century later. Stravinsky was somewhat ironically inspired by the difficulties of making dramatic art in a time of financial crisis, as are many artists today.

“Once again, we’re living through a time in which artists everywhere are saying, ‘now what?’” Brian says.

He has rather artfully pulled the production together with a minimal budget and sheer resourcefulness. Good relationships with musicians and Cornish, where the performance will take place, came through and revealed considerable generosity and solidarity within the Seattle arts community.

“We put 90 percent of our funding towards creating art,” a proportion, Brian says, that larger organizations with more fundraising power are not able to achieve. “Cornish has generously opened its mainstage to us. We’re also able to pay the dancers and musicians much closer to a pro wage than we were before, thanks to sponsorship from 4Culture and the St. Paul’s Arts Commission.”

Karin and Brian plan on engaging further with the community with a “Moving Conversation” (a sort of next-level meet-and-greet) and refreshments at St. Paul’s Cathedral following the December 2 matinee performance. Karin calls it an opportunity “to commune, collaborate, and converse with our audience through movement!”


The Saci & The Greater Trumps will be performed at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center on Friday, December 1 at 8pm and Saturday, December 2 at 2:30pm. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

Women in (New) Music: The Pure Cold Light in the Sky

Kin of the Moon is an improvisation-centric chamber series featuring three cutting-edge and iconoclastic women performers. Violist and composer Heather Bentley reflects on the music and meaning behind their debut concert, The Pure Cold Light in the Sky this Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel.


by Heather Bentley

Kin of the Moon violist, improviser, and composer Heather Bentley.

It’s Armistice Day today, also known as Veteran’s Day, also acknowledged in astrology to be a particularly high vibrational day for the planetary deity Venus, who supports us to think with our hearts, and not just with our heads. It’s a good moment for reflection on this past year of seismic cultural upheaval that is continuing without abatement as I write.

The existential importance of music in my life has been magnified through the lens of all the enormous societal challenges we face. Creating Kin of the Moon is the outgrowth of a powerful desire to combine my private discipline of improvisation with my lifelong experience of presenting and performing concert music. Becoming an improviser in my late 20s was an attempt to liberate my own voice through my instrument. While I have always held composers like Brahms, Bach, and Shostakovich deeply in my heart as my best friends, there are aspects of professional classical music life that challenge my sense of creative agency.

I met Kaley Eaton on stage at the Royal Room, doing an improvised show with Steve Treseler’s Game Symphony. We’ve been close collaborators ever since, working together on her electroacoustic opera Lily, and co-creating our piece Atmokinesis for improvisers and SuperCollider processing. Leanna Keith is simply a spectacular flutist/improviser—we have been playing shows together since this summer and I couldn’t be happier with our Kin of the Moon team!

Here is our statement:

Kin of the Moon is an improvisation-centric chamber music series incubated in Seattle’s rich musical scene. Headed by violist/improviser/composer Heather Bentley, vocalist/composer Kaley Eaton, and flutist/improviser Leanna Keith, the group explores sonic rituals, promotes cross-pollination of genres, emphasizes the communicative power of specific performance locales and celebrates the creativity that multiplies itself through the collaboration of performers and composers. The artists of Kin of the Moon devote their lives to reaching higher vibrational levels through sound creation.

Kin of the Moon flutist and improviser Leanna Keith.

I was asked about the fact that our first concert features all women performers and composers. Actually, we were aiming to create the most compelling program to go with our new piece Atmokinesis and Kaley’s new sound installation wilderness, and it happens that we were very excited by Jessi Harvey’s quantum physics-inspired work The Multiverse and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kate Soper’s Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say for voice and various flutes.

Kin of the Moon vocalist and composer Kaley Lane Eaton.

I am inspired to work with artists who exhibit a spirit of creative inquiry and practice a discipline of collaborative generosity. That many people who hold these qualities dear are women is not surprising. There are also countless men I have worked with who are equally inspiring in this way. And there are non-binary people I have worked with who are inspiring, generous, and boundlessly creative. Our choices about who we present and who we work with have everything to do with these considerations.

Back to Armistice Day. Last Nov. 11, 2016 was very difficult for so many of us. I am fortunate to co-own and operate ELF House, a music space/artist retreat on Whidbey Island, with the magnificent composer, saxophonist, and flutist Jessica Lurie. I went up by myself after the horrific election and had the opportunity to regroup. This is what I wrote, and it feels very much like a statement of purpose about my music:

“I’ve had a moment to recoup from the dreadful election result up at my sanctuary by the water on Whidbey. Here there’s no internet yet and the sunrise pinks up the sky and water birds carry on like nothing has changed—and in this world that is true. I needed space and time to reflect on how to carry on. First of all, I want to acknowledge
my sons Miles, 19, and Aaron, 29, for their response to the debacle of this election.
Representing the two halves of the millennial generation, Aaron reminded me to stay
levelheaded and through his lead, I greatly increased my contribution (now monthly) to
the ACLU, an organization that has stood at the frontline of defending the marginalized
in the US for decades. And Miles took to the streets to protest on Nov 9. Feet on the
ground. I know my sons are aware of their privilege as white, cis, straight men of
comfortable economic status. I am beyond proud that they immediately took steps to
exert what influence they can on behalf of those who stand to lose the most under the
new administration.

For myself, I needed time for darkness. I felt like it wasn’t time for kumbaya or sentiments that we can just unify now that the election is over. Or pretend that a nice concert can heal our divisions. This is what I think today, on Veterans Day: as artists, we are aware of our ability to conjure heaven on earth. The moments come seldom, and they are hard won through the assiduous honing of our craft, but the allure of creating deep, unassailable beauty and terrible and ferocious gorgeousness from a deep vein, is what compels us in the face of economic absurdity to continue. Relentlessly. This is the truth and depth and gift that artists hold and offer. Let our vein flow for the world. Let the truth of our witness and offering stand as a real testament to the fragile and tenacious beauty of existence in this sphere. Let us always, always encourage the outpouring of our colleagues and treasure our audiences and followers.

Let us actively conspire to collaborate. Let our vision extend to radical inclusiveness of those in our midst as well as those out of sight.”

Kin of the Moon takes its name from a W.B. Yeats poem, “The Cat and the Moon.”

THE CAT AND THE MOON
by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.


Kin of the Moon’s debut concert is this Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel. For more information, click here.