The Artist and the Antihero: David Lang’s New Symphony Premieres in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

The notion of the artist as the hero is one of the central tenets of the Romantic era, with composers from Beethoven to Berlioz crafting symphonies of enormous scope and heroic splendor. Composer David Lang turns that notion on its head in his symphony without a hero, which receives its world premiere this week at the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The program juxtaposes Lang’s new work against the epitome of the heroic symphony archetype: Richard Strauss’s epic tone poem, A Hero’s Life.

The titles are nearly exact opposites. As it turns out, so is the music. Second Inversion’s Maggie Molloy talks with Lang about his new symphony and the relationship between artist and hero in the 21st century.

Audio edited by Dacia Clay.

Music in this interview:

David Lang: child: “short fall” (Cantaloupe Music)
Sentieri Selvaggi; Carlo Boccadoro, conductor

David Lang:
the little matchgirl passion: “from the sixth hour” (Cantaloupe Music)
Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor

Richard Strauss: A Hero’s Life: The Hero’s Battlefield (CSO Resound)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, conductor


Seattle Symphony performs David Lang’s symphony without a hero Feb. 8 and 10 at Benaroya Hall. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: November 7, 8, 9

by Maggie Molloy

Club Shostakovich Celebrates 50th Anniversary of String Quartets No. 9 and 10

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Come lift a glass to Dmitri Shostakovich this weekend as Trio Pardalote celebrates the 50th anniversary his 9th and 10th String Quartets. Though the pieces originally premiered in Moscow in 1964, Trio Pardalote is recreating this historic event a little closer to home.

The trio—composed of violinist Victoria Parker, violist Heather Bentley, and cellist Rowena Hammill—will be joined by violinists Blayne Barnes, Natasha Bazhanov, Artur Girsky, and Mikhail Shmidt to present Shostakovich’s 8th, 9th, and 10th String Quartets. Guests are invited to enjoy the drama and passion of some of Shostakovich’s most exciting string compositions, which were written during a time of great political unrest in the Soviet Union.

The performance will be followed by a late night jazz set with Quartet Royale featuring pianist Wayne Horvitz, vocalist Jimmie Herrod, bassist Geoff Harper, and drummer Eric Eagle.

The performance will take place at the Royal Room this Friday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m.

 

Seattle Rock Orchestra Presents a Police Tribute

2012.02.18: Zach Davidson (w/ Seattle Rock Orchestra) @ The Moor

It’s been nearly 30 years since the critically acclaimed British rock band the Police broke up, but none of us could ever forget classics like “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take.” Instead of early awaiting another sold-out reunion tour, you can catch some of your favorite Police tunes this weekend when Seattle Rock Orchestra presents a Police tribute night at the Moore Theatre.

It’s everything you love about the punky 80s power quartet, except for expanded into a 50+ piece orchestra featuring vocalists David Terry, Erin Austin, Andrew Vait, and Annie Janzter. Come witness as some of Seattle’s top classically-trained musicians pay tribute to one of the greatest punk, reggae, jazz-infused rock bands the 80s had to offer.

Renowned Seattle folk artist Naomi Wachira is the opening act. A Kenyan-born musician who grew up singing gospel in a traveling family band, her music is deeply influenced by both her African roots as well as her experience living in the Pacific Northwest.

The performance will take place this Saturday, Nov. 8 at the Moore Theatre. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the performance begins at 8 p.m.

 

Music of Remembrance Presents Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”

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This weekend marks the 76th anniversary of the tragic Kristallnacht, a massacre against Jews throughout Germany and Austria carried out by Nazi military forces. In honor of the those innocent civilians who lost their lives in these devastating attacks, Music of Remembrance is presenting a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”), a tender and romantic string sextet.The performance will also be the world premiere of Spectrum Dance Theater choreographer Donald Byrd’s new dances for the enchanting piece.

“Verklärte Nacht” was inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name, which tells the story of a woman and her lover walking through a shadowy forest on a moonlit night. The woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant with another man’s baby, and her lover accepts and forgives her. Schoenberg’s composition captures the grave sorrow of the woman’s confession, the calm and thoughtful reflection of her lover, and the bright, hopeful acceptance of her secret.

The concert will also feature works by Dutch composers under Nazi occupation as well as a medley of songs from cabaret shows staged by prisoners at Terezin, a ghetto and concentration camp in the Czech Republic during World War II.

The performance will take place at Benaroya Hall this Sunday, Nov. 9 at 4 p.m.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: October 17-18

by Maggie Molloy

Looking to expand your musical horizons? Here are some exciting and experimental Seattle music events taking place this weekend.

Inverted Space Featuring UW Student Compositions

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Young 20-somethings are often at the forefront of new music ventures, constantly pushing the boundaries of familiar music genres and creating new ways of experimenting with sound. Seattle’s vibrant young musician scene is no exception. This Friday, music students from the University of Washington are presenting a colorful concert full of contemporary musical compositions written by their peers.

Inverted Space, UW’s contemporary music ensemble, will be performing small ensemble works written by fellow UW music students. The compositions include a solo work for violin and electronics, a duo for saxophone and cello, and many other unique musical compositions with imaginative instrumentation.

The concert is part of Nonsequitur’s Wayward Music Series, and will take place in the gorgeous Chapel Performance Space at the historic Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.​ The concert is this Friday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

 

Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] Season Opener

SSO Musicians at LPR (c) Brandon Patoc

(photo credit: Brandon Patoc)

This Friday, the Seattle Symphony is taking their music outside of Benaroya Hall and into…the lobby.

That’s right; Seattle Symphony is opening their 2014-2015 [untitled] series with a late-night concert presented in Benaroya Hall’s beautiful Samuel and Althea Stroum Grand Lobby. The performance will feature compositions by the influential 20th century Hungarian composer György Ligeti as well as contemporary composers Djuro Zivkovic and Andrew Norman.

Symphony musicians will perform Gyorgy Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Métamorphoses nocturnes.” One of his more daring early works, the quartet is written in one continuous movement which can be divided into 17 contrasting sections. The concert program also features Serbian-Swedish composer and violinist Djuro Zivkovic’s “On the Guarding of the Heart” as well as American composer Andrew Norman’s “Try.”

If you’d like to hear some insightful interviews with Andrew Norman, Djuro Zivkovic, and Mikhail Schmidt, one of the violinists, check out this great feature from Seattle Symphony!

The performance will take place in Benaroya Hall’s grand lobby this Friday, Oct. 17 at 10 p.m.  Be sure to stop by the KING FM table and say hi to Second Inversion’s Maggie Stapleton!

 

William O. Smith’s Jazz Clarinet

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This Saturday night, William O. Smith is jazzing up classical clarinet music with a performance of his own imaginative compositions and creative improvisations. The classically-trained jazz clarinetist has devoted much of his career to studying and cataloguing an impressive range of extended clarinet techniques, all of which have informed his own original compositions.

Smith will be joined by trombonist Stuart Dempster and clarinetist Jesse Canterbury. The captivating program includes a piece written for clarinet and improvising computer, a piece written for clarinet and computer-transformed sounds, as well as artful improvisations in duo and trio combinations.

The event, which is co-presented by the Earshot Jazz Festival and Nonsequitur, will take place at the Good Shepherd Center’s Chapel Performance Space in Wallingford this Saturday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: John Luther Adams: Become Ocean (Seattle Symphony & Ludovic Morlot)

by Maggie Stapleton

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The timing of John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean Pulitzer Prize announcement in conjunction with the Seattle Symphony’s trip to Carnegie Hall during Spring for Music 2014 to perform that very piece was unbelievably perfect.  Ever since, it’s been a ride of pride and celebration for John Luther Adams, Ludovic Morlot, and the Seattle Symphony.

Cantaloupe records releases a beautifully mastered recording on September 30, 2014 of Become Ocean, recorded at Benaroya Hall and mastered in NYC.  It’s a musical commemorative token of the journey and relationship fostered between all involved.

Seattle Symphony gave the world premiere of this piece in June 2013 at Benaroya Hall with a supporting art installation at Seattle Art Museum featuring Adams’ Veils and Vesper.  Adams was unable to attend the premiere due to a medical emergency, but when he heard one of the concert recordings he was “thrilled because it sounded exactly like I imagined it would.  I’m a perfectionist and chronic reviser, always tinkering with pieces and always critical of performances, but the orchestra played it flawlessly.  That just doesn’t happen with a world premiere of a piece.  I think that just speaks to what a perfect musical partnership that was, what a great orchestra you have there in Seattle, and what an extraordinary Music Director.”

The admiration continued when he heard Become Ocean live for the first time in Carnegie Hall, nearly a year after its premiere.  “People are looking to Seattle as a model for the new orchestra, for what the symphony orchestra might be in the 21st century and how it might not just survive but thrive and expand the arts world.  I was balled over by the sense of commitment and joy coming from that orchestra.  These are professional musicians, veteran orchestral musicians who love music and are in no way jaded.”

As for the recording?  The ideal scenario for the listener in a performance of this piece is to be surrounded by the orchestra and furthermore have the opportunity to move around within the physical space, if desired.  Listening to this recording in surround sound is the next best thing!  Adams told me, “In making this recording we took special care to mix in stereo much of the time, so that the experience of hearing this music in stereo is as vivid as possible and gives you a sense of being immersed.”

The title “Become Ocean” comes from the end of a poem written by John Cage in memory of Lou Harrison (below).  While this piece is not specifically a direct homage to either composer, John says, “It would be disingenuous of me to say they were not huge influences on my life and my life’s works.  I have no idea as to where I would be without John Cage, Lou Harrison, as incredible role models and their incredible music.  So in a way, everything that I do is some kind of tribute to Lou and John.”

first the quaLity
Of
yoUr music
tHen
its quAntity
and vaRiety
make it Resemble
a rIver in delta
liStening to it
we becOme
oceaN

As if there wasn’t already enough good will shared in this post – there’s more.  This recording project was successfully funded with a Pledge Music campaign and 5% of those proceeds go directly to the Ocean Conservancy.  How’d that come about? “I’m a hardcore environmentalist!” John says.  He is an activist going back to the mid-1970s for the Alaska Coalition and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.  These types of issues are at the core of his life.  It only seemed appropriate that they might give a little bit back to one of the many organizations trying to clean up and preserve the oceans.

Cheers to the Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot, & Cantaloupe Records!

WORLD PREMIERE: DEREK BERMEL’S “DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS”

by Jill Kimball

Derek Bermel

Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel.

About 22 years ago, the composer Derek Bermel was in Ghana, practicing the xylophone.

(It’s a long story. Just go with it.)

“I see this woman walking along, carrying a jug of water on her head, and she’s moving her hips, dancing to the music,” he said. “But then I notice that she’s dancing in a different rhythm than I was playing.”

Bermel kept playing, confused but smiling. “I thought…why is she doing this dance to another rhythm? And then I realized: My whole way of feeling the rhythm was wrong in that song.”

To Derek Bermel, an award-winning composer and clarinetist who has traveled the world to perform and write music, context is everything. If he hadn’t been in Ghana that day to see a local woman dancing along to his music, he’d never have been able to see beyond his Western view of rhythm.

Similarly, if we hadn’t caught up with Bermel in the studios for some context before the world premiere of his latest piece, “Death with Interruptions,” we might not be quite as choked up listening to it now.

On Monday night, at the Seattle Chamber Music Society‘s Summer Festival, “Death with Interruptions” had its premiere.  You can be the first to hear it on demand below.

“Death with Interruptions” was commissioned by the Seattle Chamber Music Society and is a piano trio, an established classical form that in Bermel’s hands sounds anything but established. It begins with a simple, plaintive melody and moves through a series of transformations in movement, speed, and texture. Every variation continually returns to the piece’s core, which sounds like a kind of musical heartbeat.

“Death with Interruptions” is inspired by Jose Saramago’s novel of the same title, in which death is a living character. “It was an intriguing thought,” he said. “Yes, death is often very dispassionate, but also quite ridiculous and impulsive,” like a human might be.

He began writing the piece just a month after the passing of his father, playwright and theatre critic Albert Bermel. Much like Johannes Brahms in his German Requiem, he was interested in exploring the ways we, the living, cope with death as it strikes us again and again over the years.

“We experience death in many, many ways–the deaths of parents, friends, pets, lovers–but life keeps going as death hits,” he said. “So the way we experience death, I realized, is not so much as this one calamity but as a series of pangs we experience. The experience is continually interrupted, and we return to it when we’re in a quieter moment. There’s something about that that’s present in the form of the piece.”

Bermel was never shy about exploring feelings of loss. One of his first compositions was “A Pig,” which he dedicated to the family’s pet guinea pig when it passed away.

Between early childhood and adulthood, Bermel pursued music–he played in his high school jazz band and in a rock group simply called The Generic Band–but he also loved science, and his focus shifted between the two for a number of years.

“I was interested in a bunch of different things, and I’m grateful for that time I had to figure out who I was as a human being,” he said. “That hopefully comes through in my music.”

 

MORLOT, MIX-A-LOT AND MUSIC’S FUTURE

by Jill Kimball

A Seattle-born musician and composer caused quite a stir last week when he visited Benaroya Hall for a performance with the Seattle Symphony.

Sir Mix-A-Lot with the Seattle Symphohny

Photo: Ben VanHouten for The New York Times

The musician in question has a keen ear for rhythmic detail and often finds inspiration in electronic music. He in turn inspired a series of pieces by Gabriel Prokofiev, the talented and musically adventurous grandson of Sergei. The Seattle Symphony’s Artistic Director, Ludovic Morlot, took to the podium over the weekend to premiere Prokofiev’s latest work with the orchestra as part of its Sonic Evolution series.

The Seattle Symphony premieres new works by avant-garde composers at least a handful of times every year, so why the commotion? It’s because that as-yet-unnamed musician is actually hip-hop artist Sir Mix-A-Lot, whose 1992 breakout hit “Baby Got Back” is included in Prokofiev’s latest suite dedicated to Mix-A-Lot’s complex beats. In the weekend performance, the rapper invited several dozen female audience members onstage to dance along as he and the Symphony performed Prokofiev’s remix of the famous ode to derrières.

After watching the video, all of us at Second Inversion launched into a discussion about the Sonic Evolution series, about genres, about the future of music. We weren’t the only ones. I noticed conversations popping up all over my Facebook feed, on Twitter, even on the Metro bus during my commute. I heard a lot of the same questions posed: Does the Symphony need a video of women getting down to a popular song in Benaroya Hall to stay relevant? Does the association with Gabriel Prokofiev really turn this dyed in the wool hip-hop song into something classical? Is a group of world-class, classically-trained musicians “selling out” when it performs Top 40 music? The most scathing comment I saw: “This … is not music and does not belong in Benaroya.”

Take a look at the last three seasons under Ludovic Morlot’s baton and you’ll see that the Seattle Symphony has offered an increasingly wide variety of concert experiences to attract new audiences while still embracing traditional classical music. The day before Sir Mix-A-Lot’s performance, the Symphony played Ravel and Dutilleux before a silent, reverent, seated audience. A few weeks ago, the Symphony performed new and old music featuring a handful of SSO instrumentalists, a pair of turntables and a few other instrument oddities in the Benaroya lobby, where audience members took in the concert sitting on carpet squares, piling into small booths or milling around the walkways above. (That full concert, by the way, is available on demand below.)

When concerts of Mozart, Debussy and Rachmaninoff are still abundant–just flip through the Symphony’s 2014-15 brochure to find out how abundant–I have to wonder why those who enjoy the traditional Symphony experience are intent on keeping the music that doesn’t appeal to them out of the concert hall.

From where I sit, music does not, cannot exist in one dimension at a time. Many of the decades-trained musicians we see performing the classical canon onstage enjoy listening to non-classical music and often enjoy playing it, too. John Williams is a composer, but his well-rounded musical résumé includes more than just classical credits. Most of the composers we’ve met in our studios draw from a handful of musical genres to write their music. Sir Mix-A-Lot, then, is more than a rapper: he, like Wiliams and Prokofiev and so many others, is simply a musician who appreciates the work of other musicians.

I won’t attempt to answer the question we’ve all asked at some point–what is a musician?–except to say that musicians can still be musicians even if we don’t like them. A few here at Second Inversion admitted Sir Mix-A-Lot’s performance didn’t really “work” for them. But judging from the feedback on that YouTube video, it worked for more than a million others.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this concert was purposefully scheduled to cap off the annual American League of Orchestras conference, hosted this year by the Seattle Symphony. That means Ludovic Morlot made a conscious decision to conduct his orchestra alongside a rapper and dozens of booty-shaking women for a room full of America’s most influential leaders in classical music. In doing so, he wasn’t just attracting young people in order to sell tickets: he was telling the guardians of classical music to rethink tradition. He demanded that they listen to something completely radical and asked them to do nothing more than consider it.