VIDEO PREMIERE: Robert Honstein’s ‘Middle Ground’

by Maggie Molloy

Violinist Kate Stenberg performs Robert Honstein’s Middle Ground.

Music is all about contrast: light vs. dark, fast vs. slow, loud vs. soft, bold vs. subdued. Often times the most beautiful, most visceral moments are found at these two extremes—but sometimes, it’s the moments between them that leave the most lasting impression.

The composer Robert Honstein explores the full spectrum of sound in his new piece Middle Ground for solo violin and electronics. Cast in three movements—“Too Far,” “Too Close,” and “Bridging the Gap”—the piece searches for a middle ground amid opposites. Airy, ethereal melodies are contrasted against gritty, snarling rhythms, the music growing in tension and drama before finding the most human dimension between them.

We’re thrilled to premiere a brand new video for Robert Honstein’s Middle Ground, performed by violinist Kate Stenberg and captured by Four/Ten Media.


Robert Honstein’s Middle Ground is out now on Other Minds Records. For more details, click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘William Wilson’ by Melia Watras

by Maggie Molloy

Violist/composer Melia Watras and violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.
Duality is a common theme in both literature and music: good and evil, light and dark, tension and release. Sometimes these dualities are represented by opposite characters—and sometimes, they are one and the same.
 
Doubles, doppelgängers, and duplicity drew the Seattle-based composer and violist Melia Watras to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, a writer whose poetry is quite musical in its own right. Her new piece William Wilson draws on excerpts from Poe’s short story of the same name: the twisted tale of a man and his dark shadow—two sides of the same coin.
 
Watras wrote the piece for her own kindred spirit: her husband Michael Jinsoo Lim, who sings and performs the piece on violin. We’re thrilled to premiere the music video for William Wilson, which appears on Watras’s brand new album of compositions Firefly Songs.
Music by Melia Watras, performance by Michael Jinsoo Lim, video by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Watras’s new album Firefly Songs is a collection of original compositions exploring themes of community and personal folklore, with performances from some of her closest friends and collaborators. Firefly Songs is out now on Planet M records. For more details, click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Robert Honstein’s “Soul House” ft. Hub New Music

by Maggie Molloy

There’s no place like home: the sounds, the smells, the secret places that shape our childhood experiences.

Robert Honstein’s Soul House explores memories of his own childhood home in New Jersey, with each movement inspired by a unique space within or nearby the house. From the playful to the introspective, he captures the fleeting moments that make a childhood house into a home. The title comes from an ancient Egyptian tradition of burying clay model houses in tombs with the deceased, intended as a vessel for the soul to inhabit in the afterlife.

We’re thrilled to premiere a brand new video for the piece, performed by Hub New Music and Urbanity Dance and captured by Four/Ten Media.


Hub New Music’s debut album Soul House is out now on New Amsterdam Records. For more details, click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Reena Esmail’s Piano Trio

We are thrilled to present the premiere of Reena Esmail’s Piano Trio, performed by violinist Kristin Lee, cellist Joshua Roman, and pianist David Fung. This video was recorded at Town Hall Seattle.

Program notes by Aaron Grad:

“I wish I could live in India and America at the same time,” says Reena Esmail, the daughter of Indian immigrants who has become one of the most respected young composers in the United States; “I wish they shared a border, and I could build a little home right in between them. I know I can’t do that in the physical world, but this is where I live every day in my music.”

Esmail’s compositions straddle two of the world’s most sophisticated musical traditions. On one side is the art music of Europe and its system of tonal harmony that developed over the last 400-plus years, and on the other, Hindustani classical music from North India, organized around collections of tones known as raags that go back many centuries further. Studies at the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music grounded Esmail in the practices of the West’s classical music, including its precise system of notation that allows performers of any background to interpret unfamiliar nuances. As a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, she was able to spend a year in India studying the classical music of her ancestors, absorbing the oral tradition built on complex patterns and pitches that often can’t be categorized within Western norms.

Composer Reena Esmail.

Writing a Piano Trio has fulfilled one of Esmail’s oldest ambitions as a musician. Growing up as a talented pianist, trios with violin and cello were her favorite form of chamber music, and she won a life-changing competition that resulted in her performing Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Trio with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also counts Ravel’s Piano Trio as an all-time favorite work, noting, “So much of what I’ve learned about color and texture in my writing comes from Ravel.” After three years of work and a pile of sketches that is up to 300 pages and counting (with less that three weeks to go before the premiere), Esmail is still polishing off this substantial score that reckons with the rigorous tradition of the four-movement piano trio. 

Authentic raags appear in each movement of the trio, including the monsoon season raag known as Megh that informs a chorale from the strings and other gestures in the first movement. In a tempo marked “Ephemeral,” the smooth modal phrases and long slurs highlight Esmail’s affinity with Ravel, who also looked outside the Western canon to expand his shimmering soundscapes. Flutters, slides and harmonics continue in the slow movement, creating a sense of improvisatory freedom while the music slips in and out of time.

By casting the quivering third movement as a scherzo, Esmail acknowledges her debt to Mendelssohn (the king of those elfin, lighter-than-air diversions), but moments of manic hilarity and sheer muscle recall a more subversive master of the piano trio, Shostakovich. In the finale, a singing string melody supported by “luminous” piano filigree surges to a droning climax marked “powerful, broad, intense.” When the unhurried ending arrives with glimmering harmonics and crystalline chords, this work completes an arc that places it squarely within the storied lineage of the “classical” piano trio—while making it clear just how irrelevant such boundaries truly are. 

VIDEO PREMIERE: Emerald City Music Plays Steve Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’

by Peter Tracy

Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is not only a classic work of minimalism, but of contemporary music as a whole: its energetic and infectious grooves made it an instant success when it premiered, and it remains a favorite of both audiences and performers.

It’s not often, though, that so many musicians can find the time and space to put together this roughly hour-long work, which is scored for an expansive roster including four pianos, four female vocalists, and a myriad of percussion, strings, and clarinets.

Last year Emerald City Music was able to overcome these logistical hurdles and assemble a dream team of local and visiting artists to perform the piece right here in Seattle. The performance included ambient lighting displays coordinated to the music, and audience members at the two sold-out Seattle shows were free to roam around the space, making for a laid-back and immersive listening experience.

Check out our exclusive video premieres featuring excerpts from the performance in the playlist below.