From Chamber Pop to Modern Opera: New Music for February

by Maggie Molloy

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! 

Keep an eye out for our 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, please submit your event to the Live Music Project at least six weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”


Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: white noise, dark ambient, abstracted songs, and Kurdish rhythms.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Caroline Shaw.

Seattle Symphony: Caroline Shaw’s ‘Watermark’
Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto was the inspiration behind Caroline Shaw’s Watermark, which receives its world premiere at Benaroya Hall. Pianist Jonathan Biss performs both pieces with the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. Take a peek behind the scenes in our interview with the composer.
Fri, 2/1, 12pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122
Sat, 2/2, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122

SMCO: From Spain to India
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra explores connections between Indian classical music and flamenco in this program featuring music of Manuel de Falla, Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, and Jason Everett performed with guest soloists.
Sat, 2/2, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $15-$25
Sun, 2/3, 4pm, Vashon Center for the Arts | $10-$22

Erin Jorgensen (left) and Rose Bellini (right).

Cheating, Lying, Stealing
New music luminaries Erin Jorgensen and Rose Bellini assemble a cast of Seattle’s top new music movers and shakers for this wide-ranging program of chamber works by David Lang, Anna Clyne, Carla Kihlstedt, Marc Mellits, and Caroline Shaw. Did we mention it takes place amid a dreamy neon light show? The concert’s creators take us behind the scenes.
Sun, 2/3, 8pm, Washington Hall | $20

Amy Denio Ensemble: ‘Varieté’
Seattle avant-gardist Amy Denio and her band perform her original film score alongside this special viewing of the 1925 silent film Varieté: a tale of jealousy, obsession, and murder set against the backdrop of the circus.
Mon, 2/4, 7pm, The Paramount Theatre | $10

Seattle Symphony: Silkroad Ensemble
Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh performs the world premiere of his clarinet concerto with the Seattle Symphony in this concert celebrating cross-cultural collaboration. He’s joined by the musicians of the Silkroad Ensemble for music by Vijay Iyer,Edward Perez, and Chen Yi.
Wed, 2/6, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh.

Melia Watras: ‘Schumann Resonances’ Album Release
Fairy tales, folk songs, and the music of Schumann are a few of the major influences behind violist Melia Watras’s new album. She performs new works from Schumann Resonances alongside special guests. Hear our sneak preview of the album.
Wed, 2/6, 7:30pm, UW Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Seattle Improvised Music Festival
No scores, no plans, no safety net: just a whole bunch of artists from all different musical backgrounds collaborating in an atmosphere of spontaneity, intuition, and discovery.
2/6-2/10, Various times and locations | $5-$20

Harry Partch Ensemble
This concert has been cancelled due to inclement weather.
Experience the handmade microtonal instruments of Harry Partch in this concert featuring new works composed for his instruments paired with rarely-performed works from the composer’s archives. Take a tour of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium.
Sat, 2/9, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10

Harry Partch’s Chromelodeon. Photo by Maggie Molloy.

UW School of Music: ‘The Innocents’
Visiting percussionists John Lane and Allen Otte perform music from their performance art piece The Innocents, which uses found sounds, street percussion, thumb pianos, and electronics to explore issues of wrongful imprisonment and exoneration. The concert also features the UW Percussion ensemble performing works for speaking percussionist.
Tues, 2/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Kin of the Moon: A New Phase
The composer-performer troupe Kin of the Moon presents the world premiere of Ewa Trębacz’s Winter After Times of Fire, a surround-sound collage of improvisations from a wide range of sonic spaces, including the Fort Worden Cistern. Also on the program are new works exploring graphic scores, forgotten sounds, and film.
Fri, 2/22, 7:30pm, Kerry Hall | $5-$15

The Esoterics: Vulnerability
Openness of heart and mind is the overarching theme of this choral concert featuring wide-ranging works from Reena Esmail, Ted Hearne, David Lang, Jennifer Higdon, Evan Flory-Barnes, and more.
2/22-2/24, Various times and locations | $15-$22

Piano Drop @ Jack Straw
The fractured remains of a piano dropped from a helicopter 50 years ago become the canvas for a concert of brand new works by local composers. Discover the story behind the instrument.
Sat, 2/23, 7pm, Jack Straw Cultural Center | FREE

Emerald Ensemble: ‘the little match girl passion’
David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning the little match girl passion tells the haunting tale of a poor young girl who freezes from the bitter cold of the cruel world around her. The harrowing oratorio sets Hans Christian Andersen’s original story in the format of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Sat, 2/23, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church | $30

Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond.

My Brightest Diamond
Few artists inhabit both pop and classical worlds so freely and convincingly as Shara Nova, the operatically-trained singer and composer behind the art rock band My Brightest Diamond. She performs music from her new album A Million and One.
Sat, 2/23, 9pm, Tractor Tavern | $18

Seattle Opera: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
Mason Bates takes you inside the life and legacy of one of the greatest minds of the digital age in this opera exploring the intersections of technology, spirituality,  and ambition. Learn more about the music in our album review.
2/23-3/9, Various times, McCaw Hall | $25-$335

Caroline Shaw and Beethoven: Fanning the Fires of Musical Inspiration

by Dave Beck

On this week’s Seattle Symphony Spotlight, Dave Beck speaks with the youngest composer ever to win a Pulitzer Prize in music: Caroline Shaw.

Caroline is in Seattle this weekend for the world premiere of Watermark, her new orchestral work written in response to Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. The idea for the piece was suggested to her by pianist Jonathan Biss, who performs both pieces with the Seattle Symphony this weekend, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The program opens with Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1, a piece that brought the young composer international acclaim at the age of 19.

All of the works on the program represent strikingly original creations by composers in the early years of their careers. In this interview, Caroline talks with us about the inspiration, the writing process, and the meaning behind the title Watermark.

Caroline Shaw’s Watermark premieres at the Seattle Symphony Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Click here for tickets and more information.

Cheating, Lying, Stealing: Breaking the Rules with Erin Jorgensen & Rose Bellini

Photo by Kelly O.

by Maggie Molloy

When it comes to making music, Erin Jorgensen and Rose Bellini like to break the rules. Their upcoming concert collaboration Cheating, Lying, Stealing features a program of bold, boundary-bursting chamber works performed by a cast of Seattle’s top new music movers and shakers. Plus, it takes place amid a glowing neon light show.

The one-night-only event is titled after David Lang’s chamber work of the same name, a pulsing piece of post-minimalism that owes as much to rock music as it does the classical tradition. Its infectious off-kilter groove is heightened by its unusual instrumentation: bass clarinet, cello, piano, marimba, bass drum, and some car parts. The program’s title piece is framed by mixed chamber works from electroacoustic luminary Anna Clyne, sonic maverick Carla Kihlstedt, new music groove-maker Marc Mellits, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw.

The concert, which takes place this Sunday at Washington Hall, is produced by Jorgensen, the musician behind the delightful monthly marimba series Bach and Pancakes and the dreamy electroacoustic podcast undertones. Its program is curated by Bellini: cellist, new music polymath, and founding member of contemporary chamber ensembles REDSHIFT and Hotel Elefant. For this concert, she performs alongside a star-studded cast of local musicians including violinists Kimberly Harrenstein and Rachel Nesvig, violist Aleida Gehrels, clarinetist Rachel Yoder, pianist Brooks Tran, and percussionists Melanie Sehman, Kerry O’Brien, and Storm Benjamin.

We caught up with the concert’s creators to talk about cheating, lying, stealing, and making music in the 21st century.

Second Inversion: Your concerts often feature classical music in nontraditional settings. How does changing the venue or atmosphere enhance the audience experience in a way that traditional concert halls do not?

Erin Jorgensen (left) and Rose Bellini (right).

Erin Jorgensen: For me, using a nontraditional setting allows an audience member to have a different and possibly more direct experience with music. Classical music often comes with pre-attached barriers and conceptions. Ideally when you remove some expectations from what a concert is “supposed” to be, you allow yourself to have a more personal and authentic experience; without worrying if your reactions are “correct” or not. It becomes possible to be more in the moment and experience something in real time. Plus, it is very interesting to be in a different context where people allow their imaginations to individually and collectively create something unexpected. It’s fun!

SI: What is the overarching theme of the concert? Is there a common thread running through all the pieces?

Rose Bellini: Each piece is quite different, but we have created a drama to the program through contrast and an intentional sequence. Each composer’s work has a depth and beauty that comes across through an unapologetic, personal sound. There are moments of quiet intimacy, explosive high energy, and everything in between. Pretty much anyone will find themselves rocking out with us, dreaming with us, and hopefully finding some surprises along the way. 

SI: Can you describe some of the visual elements of the performance?

Erin Jorgensen: I spent a lot of time walking and listening to the music playlist, thinking about the venue, and daydreaming, and the visual that popped into my head was that of a low-key rave—a glow in the dark, neon vibe contrasted with darker and starker elements.

As far as amplifying or relating to the music, I don’t get too literal about that kind of thing. I think it’s best to go with your intuition and find a team that can build upon it, realize it and improve it. Luckily I’ve known the production team [Tania Kupczak, Julian Martlew, and Richard Bresnahan] for nearly a decade; we work together extremely well and they also have wonderful ideas on creating a magical space for the music and audience to exist together.

I also really enjoy a DIY aesthetic, which developed partly out of necessity and partly from personal taste. We’ll be utilizing that aspect in allowing the audience to create some of the visuals themselves, consciously or not. 

SI: What makes this program unique? How are these pieces different from your typical classical repertoire?

Rose Bellini: We selected this program with a broad audience in mind. Classical music, and contemporary music, is often aimed at listeners who are well-versed in the highly intellectual side of art. But there is a lot of contemporary music that doesn’t ask the audience to be an expert. Much of this music is heavily influenced by other genres like rock, improvised songwriting, and folk music, so it’s pure fun to play and fun to listen to.

Many of the performers are also active in non-classical music, so they bring out an energy that you don’t always see and hear in a traditional concert program. On a personal level, each of these composers is a friend and colleague whom I admire as an artist and a human being.

SI: Is there a reason behind calling the concert Cheating, Lying, Stealing?

Rose Bellini: Lang’s title has a mysteriousness to it that is hard to resist (the opening of the score is marked “Ominous Funk”), but one of the ideas behind it is to reject the practice of writing music meant to impress you through complexity and abstractness. I love that sentiment as a performer and as a listener. 

Erin Jorgensen: It’s a nice title because, as you say, it is hella catchy. But it’s also possible to look deeper into the title. I described the concert in the PR as a “witchy sonic experience.” That’s partly hyperbole of course (and a way to sell tickets!), but I also think it’s interesting to flip the script and look at “cheating, lying, stealing” in a playful way. For instance, I’m seeing a lot of witchy feminine energy popping up all over the place on the planet right now and I think it’s fun to look at the concert as an embodiment of that. How could “cheating, lying, stealing” be a positive force?

SI: What is the most exciting part about presenting new music by living composers?

Rose Bellini: The most exciting part is that you can know the composer personally, and find ways to reflect them in the performance for the audience. There’s a sense that while the work is finished, as a performer you have access to an ongoing collaboration or interpretation. Even the choice of venue, the lighting, or how you market the program changes how the music is heard, and I think these variations are exciting for the composer, the performers, and the audience.

Cheating, Lying, Stealing is Sunday, Feb. 3 at 8pm at Washington Hall. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Melia Watras’s ‘Berceuse’

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Fairy tales and folk songs are just a couple of the major influences behind violist Melia Watras’s new album, Schumann Resonances. More specifically, the album grew out of her love for Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland), one of the great pieces of the viola repertoire.

The album features Watras performing six world premieres of new works inspired by Märchenbilder, fairy tales, and other folklore. Among them are enchanting new pieces by Cuong Vu, Richard Karpen, and Watras herself.

We’re thrilled to premiere the video for one of Watras’s original compositions from the album, “Berceuse with a Singer in London.” Scored for voice and viola, Watras dedicated the piece to folk singer Galia Arad (the daughter of violist and composer Atar Arad, with whom Watras studied). The piece is equal parts art song and folk lullaby, its intertwining melodies made more potent by its sparse texture and poetic text, which was written by Watras’s frequent collaborator, violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim.

Schumann Resonances also marks the launch of Planet M Records, a brand new record label founded this year by Watras and Lim. The Seattle-based, artist-led label specializes in music at the intersection of classical and contemporary.

Melia Watras’s Schumann Resonances is out Friday, Feb. 8 on Planet M Records. Click here to learn more and pre-order the album.

All Strings Attached: Ólafur Arnalds in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

In a world so full of noise, the quiet music of Ólafur Arnalds speaks volumes.

His ephemeral melodies have a nostalgic quality—a way of immersing the listener in muted whispers of sound. Drifting amid his chorus of amplified keyboards and synthesizers, the passage of time becomes quietly punctuated by gentle drum beats and sighing strings. His music plays with perception—if you listen long enough, it blurs the lines of time.

The fluidity of time is one of the major themes behind Arnalds’ world tour All Strings Attached, which comes through Seattle this Saturday at the Moore Theatre. Featuring music from his past, present, and future records, the concert examines the unity and interconnectedness of humanity through an immersive musical performance.

The concert features Arnalds at the keyboard backed by a new generative piano device that he created in collaboration with audio developer Halldór Eldjárn. When Arnalds performs live, each note he plays triggers (in real time) unique musical sequences on two different Disklavier player pianos, creating a sort of duet between human and computer. Adding texture to Arnalds’ collection of keyboards is a uniquely wired ensemble of string quintet and drums—each sound delicately intertwined, all strings attached.

Ólafur Arnalds performs at the Moore Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 8pm. Click here for tickets and more information.

A Fallen Piano is Resurrected at Jack Straw

by Maggie Molloy

Fifty years ago, an upright piano flew from the sky and crashed loudly upon the ground near Duvall, Washington, smashing into pieces in front of an audience of avant-garde enthusiasts. It was dropped from a helicopter by the Jack Straw Foundation (then in the form of KRAB radio) as a fundraising event for the experimental radio station and their friends at Helix, the hippie newspaper.

1968 press clipping from the Seattle Times.

This month, that historic piano is being resurrected in the hands of local composers—and it’s not too late to get in on the action.

The Jack Straw Cultural Center is currently accepting submissions for new works scored for the illustrious instrument’s remains (the soundboard and harp—minus the bass strings, if we’re getting specific). The tuning of the strings is as-is, allowing for a wide array of delightful and unexpected surprises—and fingers, mallets, and bows are all fair game. The maximum length for submissions is 4’33” (a tribute to John Cage’s iconoclastic “silent piece”), and submissions are accepted as written scores or demo recordings.

Submissions are due Jan. 7, and the selected compositions will be performed and recorded at Jack Straw in February and incorporated into a Piano Drop installation in the New Media Gallery.

Interested composers can email or call them at (206) 634-0919 with any questions, or to schedule a time to visit the instrument in the gallery.

The Opening Reception for Jack Straw’s Piano Drop Installation will take place Friday, Feb. 8 at 7pm. A live performance of the new works will take place Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7pm. Both events are free and open to the public. Click here to learn more.

Musical Chairs: Kerry O’Brien on Classical KING FM

by Maggie Molloy

Kerry O’Brien is a new music expert. Not only is she a percussionist specializing in experimental works—she’s also a musicologist, journalist, and educator.

She’s written about everything from the sonic meditations of Pauline Oliveros to the swinging pendulum of Philip Glass, and her writings have appeared in publications ranging from The New Yorker to The New York Times, NewMusicBox, and The Chicago Reader. She also serves as the Research Director of the Nief-Norf Summer Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, and has presented her work at music conferences around the country.

Kerry has played a big role in shaping the local Seattle new music scene as well. She currently serves on the music faculty at Cornish College of the Arts, and you may know her as one of the masterminds behind NUMUS Northwest (named after the 1970s new music periodical Numus West).

This Friday, Nov. 16 at 7pm PT, she’s the special guest on Classical KING FM’s Musical Chairs with Mike Brooks. Tune in to hear her share a handful of her favorite recordings and musical memories from across her career.

Tune in at 98.1 FM, listen through our free mobile app, or click here to stream the interview online from anywhere in the world!