James Falzone’s musical career began with Peter and the Wolf and has since expanded into the far-reaching realms of classical, jazz, Arabic music, and beyond. These days he is the Chair of Music at Cornish College of the Arts and clarinetist of the Allos Musica ensemble. The group features oud (an ancient Arabic lute), voice, accordion, and a wide array of wind and percussion instruments from around the world—and you can hear them in action on October 25 when they perform as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival.
In this interview, Falzone talks about how his eclectic taste in music came to be (it started with a 5th grade teacher), and what Allos does. He also talks about the importance of improvisation for musicians, and about what audiences can expect to hear at their upcoming performance.
Allos Musica performs as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7pm and 9:30pm at the Royal Room. Click here for more information.
Second Inversion and theLive 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 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 be sure to tag it with “new music.”
Racer Sessions A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation. Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE
Wayward Music Series Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more. Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15 waywardmusic.org (check website for complete listings)
2 Utterances James Falzone and Bonnie Whiting present a seamless evening of original, composed, and improvised music based on text, spoken word, and translation. Thurs, 3/2, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15 waywardmusic.org
4 The Sound Ensemble: From Page to Stage TSE melds the artistic mediums of art and literature in this concert in which each piece is inspired by texts from different authors. Sat, 3/4, 7pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
5 sound|counterpoint: The Red Earth Project Curated by Seattle composer Adam Haws, this program spans centuries and genres with a re-imagining of Bach, tunes from jazz and rock greats, & more. Sun, 3/5, 4pm, Waterfront Park Community Center, Bainbridge Island | $10-$20
8 Second Inversion Presents: Gabriel Kahane Kahane presents his song cycle Craigslistlieder, Schumann’s Dichterliebe, and songs from previous albums and brand new, unreleased material. Weds, 3/8, 7:30pm, The Triple Door | $15-$18
11 On Stage with KING FM: Seattle Marimba Quartet SMQ showcases classical favorites and modern marimba repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries plus drumming styles from around the world. Sat, 3/11, 7:30pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $20
11 Seattle Modern Orchestra: Double Portrait SMO celebrates the centennial of American composer Robert Erickson and the 80th birthday of legendary Seattle trombonist and composer Stuart Dempster. Sat, 3/11, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25
11 Sound of Late: 2000 Moving Parts Harpist Jennifer Ellis invites the audience to experience the customarily inaudible elements of this grand instrument. Music by Ellis, Andrew Stiefel & more. Sat, 3/11, 8pm, FLUTTER Studios | $15
17 Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra: Hearing Nature SMCO partners with Seattle Art Museum to trace the natural inspirations of composers of four different time periods, comparing their music to the visual art of their contemporaries. Fri, 3/17, 8pm, First Free Methodist Church | $15-$20
23 Cursive: Tall Wind Specializing in performing hidden gems of modern classical music, Cursive presents a unique program inspired by the passions and unease of changing seasons. Thurs, 3/23, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
24-26 Choral Arts Northwest: A Kipling Passion John Muehleisen uses the passion form to explore how we might find healing in the face of unspeakable tragedy, honoring and bringing voice to veterans and families. Fri, 3/24, 8pm, Plymouth Church, Seattle | $24-$28 Sat, 3/25, 8pm, Everett First Presbyterian | $24-$28 Sun, 3/26, 2pm, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Bremerton | $24-$28
31 Universal Language Project: Undertones Marimba sounds merge with intimate whispering, stream-of-consciousness thoughts, DIY life philosophy, and beautifully minimal music. Featuring Erin Jorgensen and curated by Jim Holt. Fri, 3/31, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $15-$20 Sat, 4/1, Cornish Playhouse’s Alhadeff Studio | $15-$25
“There is a ‘sound’ here, no doubt,” says James Falzone of Seattle’s distinctive new music scene. “It is one I would describe as patient and less influenced by the frenetic energy that you might find in a city with less vistas.”
Photo on left by Patrick Monaghan.
Those famous Northwest vistas are relatively new to clarinetist/composer James Falzone and percussionist Bonnie Whiting, each of whom recently moved here from the Midwest to serve as educators at two major academic institutions: Falzone as the new Chair of Music at Cornish College of the Arts and Bonnie Whiting as the Chair of Percussion Studies and Artist in Residence at the University of Washington.
Both powerful players in contemporary and experimental music circles, Falzone and Whiting first met at one of ourNew Music Happy Hours(co-presented with theLive Music Project)—and their conversation led to a musical collaboration which premieres this Thursday, March 2 at the Wayward Music Series.
Utterancesis the name of the performance, which combines original, composed, and improvised music based on text, spoken word, and translation. The program merges the distinct sounds and styles of each musician: Falzone known for his matchless musical fusion of jazz, classical, and world music traditions, and Whiting for her interdisciplinary performances which often venture into nontraditional notation and instrumentation.
The concert program opens and closes with duo improvisations that expand, challenge, and subvert the traditional roles of clarinet and percussion. In between are solo sets featuring original works by Falzone, Whiting, and other composers, along with a performance by Falzone’s jazz-infused clarinet and saxophone sextet the Renga Ensemble.
We sat down with both artists to talk about Seattle sound experiments, unusual instruments, and musical utterances:
Second Inversion: You are both relatively new to Seattle, each serving as educators at two major academic institutions in the Northwest. What do you find most inspiring about your respective new roles, and what do you hope to accomplish?
Photo by William Frederking.
James Falzone: Cornish has a legacy unlike any other institution, connected to the very heart of American experimentalism. Being the steward of that legacy is something I find very exciting but also humbling, and I intend to take good care of it. This means learning from that legacy and continuing the sense of openness, experimentation, and disruption that Cornish has always represented.
Bonnie Whiting:There are already so many fabulous opportunities that exist for percussionists at UW: the Harry Partch instrument collection on campus, a partnership with the Seattle Symphony, opportunities to perform with groups like the steel band and gamelan ensembles through the ethnomusicology department, and an ever-expanding jazz program.
I’m excited to teach, create, and perform new music by living composers alongside historical works from the 20th century. I also plan more touring and outreach for the percussion ensemble. In March, we’ll perform and lead a hands-on workshop for Tent City 3 (currently hosted on the UW campus.) I’ve been giving workshops in local high schools and middle schools, and we are going to be featured at the Northwest Percussion Festival in April.
In addition to my work with the students, it’s thrilling to have such great faculty colleagues. It’s an incredible scene for new music and improvised music, and I’ve met so many dream collaborators. Right now, I’m working on a project with another new faculty member in the DX Arts program: Afroditi Psarra. She has these incredible embroidered synthesizers and works with sensors, and so integrating these into a percussive soundscape has been fascinating.
SI: What do you find most unique or inspiring about the Northwest’s new music scene?
JF: There is a “sound” here, no doubt. It is one I would describe as patient and less influenced by the frenetic energy that you might find in a city with less vistas. I’m hearing this in composed music, in improvised music, in the soundscape around me; even in the way people speak.
Artists seem hard at work here, presenting their ensembles and music and building a sense of community, attributes of a healthy, vibrant scene. I’m delighted to be a part of it as an artist, and hope to use my role at Cornish to be of service. The wonderfulNUMUS Northwestevent—which, though not sponsored by Cornish, was held there as a means of service to the community—is an example of what I want to see Cornish doing more of in the future.
Solo improvisation by James Falzone, inspired by the writing of Christian Wiman:
SI: How did this collaboration come about, and how would you describe the music you’re creating together in this performance?
BW:James happened to sit across from me at aNew Music Happy Hourlast fall, and we had a great conversation. I had heard of him and was familiar with his music; we both moved from the Midwest and moved in similar experimental music circles but hadn’t yet had the pleasure of collaborating.
Earlier this month, we opened the Seattle Improvised Music Festival with a duo set and it was a real joy. One of the elements that has developed (that I love) is the way we subvert the traditional roles played by a percussionist and a wind player. Often, he’ll play rhythmic, groove figures while I make distorted long tones. He’s also happy to move while playing and explore the space. It’s been fun to find percussion instruments that can travel too.
Transcription of an electronic audio score by Richard Logan-Greene. Original realization and performance by Bonnie Whiting:
SI: The Renga Ensemble features six clarinets/saxophones—what is it about this instrument combination that grabs you and pulls you in?
JF: I love homogenous sounding ensembles, though I know many composers do not. The sound of six single reeds resonating together offers far more color than one might imagine. But Renga Ensemble, both in its original state and now with this Seattle mix of players, has always been about personality coming through the texture by way of improvisation.
All of the music I’ll be presenting incorporates improvisation, mixed with through-composed elements, and this back and forth—this teetering between the “already” and the “not yet”—is what my work focuses on. For me, improvisation brings forth a musician’s personality like nothing else can and the challenge I set for myself in the Renga music is to find the balance point so that you hear the voice of each player as much as you hear the voice of the composer.
SI: Many of your percussion performances feature unusual instruments, sounds, or spoken elements—has your career as a percussionist changed the way you listen to your surroundings in your everyday life? (Or vice versa—was it your interest in sounds that originally led you to percussion?)
BW: Even as a kid I had a long attention span, and I have always loved sounds. My mother says some of my first toys were pots and pans on the kitchen floor. Just the other night I was listening to the radio on a long drive across upstate New York, and I stumbled upon the last movement of Mahler 9. It’s quite long and I was on the Thruway, so gradually the piece became punctuated by static as I moved out of range. This intensified the listening experience for me: my memory filled in some of the music, my imagination more, and I actually enjoy the sound of static.
I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to replicate the sound of static and white noise on my snare drum and sandpaper blocks, and my collection of found tuned pot lids are more valuable to me than my five-octave marimba. I’m naturally drawn to pieces that use speech patterns to generate rhythmic material: Globokar’s Toucher and Parenti’s Exercise No. 4 on our program feature this technique. These days, I have a very young son and I enjoy “performing” our bedtime stories, adding sound effects and rhythm each night.
SI:What were some of the written sources that inspired the music of Utterances?
JF: In addition to improvised duets with Bonnie, I’ll be presenting two works that connect to text. The first is an ongoing solo project I call “Sighs Too Deep for Words,” which is an improvised, long-form work that is inspired by language from the New Testament that speaks of “utterances,” which is sometimes translated as “sighs,” that communicate the prayers we do not have words for.
The other pieces come from music I’ve created for my Renga Ensemble, which takes its name from a form of Japanese collective poetry. Most of the music for Renga was created around a haiku by American poet Anita Virgil:
not seeing the room is white until that red apple
“The Room Is,” composed by James Falzone and performed with the Renga Ensemble:
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audience members will gain from attending?
BW:John Cage often said that his goal as a composer was to “make an art that, while coming from ideas, is not about those ideas, but rather produces others.” I echo this desire when I honestly answer that I don’t wish for our audience members to gain any one insight or worse, “message.” I hope our program might inspire others to improvise, or to make work of their own, or to seek out the fantastic spirit that is within each mundane utterance or environmental sound in their daily lives.
Photo on right by Marc Perlish.
Utterances is Thursday, March 2 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. For more information, click here.
NUMUS Northwestis a day-long event dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle. This year’s theme is the past, present, and future of contemporary classical music in Seattle.
The call for submissions is now open for workshops, panels, and performances from the Seattle new music community. Pleasesubmit your proposal for a session here. You may submit multiple proposals.
The deadline is December 1, 2016 at 5 PM Pacific. The leadership team will review the submissions and announce a schedule in mid-December. Session participants will receive free admission to NUMUS Northwest.
More about NUMUS Northwest
Where: Cornish College of the Arts, Kerry Hall
When: Saturday, January 28, 2017 from 9am-10pm
Who:You! Students. Friends. Colleagues. Musicians. Artists. Creators. People who don’t know they like this kind of music (yet!)
Kerry O’Brien (Nief-Norf)
Jim Holt (Seattle Symphony)
Kevin Clark (New Music USA)
Shaya Lyon (Live Music Project)
James Falzone (Cornish College of the Arts)
Maggie Stapleton (Second Inversion/Classical KING FM)
Why: Inspired by theNew Music Gathering, the leadership team (many of whom have attended at least one NMG) has a strong desire to recreate the community-building, collaborative-natured, and artistically-stunning event with a focus on musicians and artists in the Northwest.