“An event with music, words, and smoke inspired by the optimism and grandeur of the West.”
Photo Credit: Kimberly Chin
Brian Chin has added something unique and fresh to the already forward-thinking music community in Seattle. The Universal Language Project is an innovative concert series rooted in the commissioning and performance of 21st century music and interdisciplinary collaboration.It turns the traditional classical music concert on its head by presenting the music in informal settings, premiering commissioned music by local composers, and collaborating with other art forms. AND! The experience doesn’t stop when the music ends; the audience is encouraged to mingle with the musicians and composers over a glass of wine afterwards to get a personal, inside scoop into the music.
With Seattle’s ever-growing and ever-diversifying population, it’s easy to see why our city has become a top destination for up-and-coming composers, young musical talent, and adventurous concert formats. The 2015-16 season is so packed with new music concerts that, on most weekends, you’d need both hands (and maybe a few toes) to count them. From revitalized Britten to badass multimedia concerts to the classiest Bowie you’ve ever heard, there’s a little something for everyone. Read on for our top picks of the season.
The Town Music series at Town Hall Seattle, curated by our own Artistic Advisor Joshua Roman, is a bastion for cutting-edge music. The season kicks off with a young Russian violinist’s interpretations of Bach’s beautiful, complicated Sonatas and Partitas. And the rest of the season is anything but staid: it includes the premiere of a work composed over two continents, a dynamic performance of Britten’s second string quartet, and a new piece by Roman himself, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry by Tracy K. Smith and the up-and-coming soprano Jessica Rivera.
Another go-to destination for edgy music with global influences is the UW World Series, an arts season at Meany Hall featuring big names and even bigger ideas. This season is packed with exciting concerts that feature mainstays on the Second Inversion stream. In October, the ETHEL quartet teams up with Native American flutist Robert Mirabal for a concert focused on water’s essential role in all our lives. If drums and mallets are your thing, you must check out So Percussion’s set of modern classics by Reich, Cage, and more. For those who prefer concerts that combine edgy work with timeless pieces, go see the young, bearded Danish String Quartet (they take on music by Beethoven, Schnittke, and a composer from their homeland, Per Nørgaard), pianist Jeremy Denk (he’ll work in some Hindemith and Nancarrow between the Bach and Byrd), or the Daedalus String Quartet (a Huck Hodge world premiere is sandwiched between Beethoven chamber works). If you can’t make it to some of these much-anticipated concerts, don’t worry: we’ll have your back with a live broadcasts or a video from each one.
The UW World Series isn’t the only destination for new music on the University of Washington campus. The School of Music itself has an impressive lineup of concerts. On Halloween weekend, we’re excited to hear the Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente perform the works of Seattlites Huck Hodge, Joël-François Durand, and Marcin Pączkowski, among others. In late April, the Carnegie Hall resident ensemble Decoda caps off its weeklong UW residency with a Meany Hall concert of new and old music. And finally, some UW students pay homage to Harry Partch, who created new instruments along with new music, with performances of some of his work.
The UW isn’t the only higher education arts game in town, of course. Cornish College of the Arts is a wealth of compositional talent and its concert season, Cornish Presents, attracts world-class acts every year. Cornish teacher Wayne Horvitz starts off the new-music feast with his piece “Some Places are Forever Afternoon/11 Places for Richard Hugo,” performed with chamber groups Sweeter Than The Day and the Gravitas Quartet. A few days later, flutist Camilla Hoitenga teams up with composer and sound designer Jean-Baptiste Barrière for an electronic concert with video. In December, Paul D. Miller, better known as DJ Spooky, uses interviews from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs to create a moving original composition. And for an ultimate exploration of music from both sides of the Pacific, stop by PONCHO Hall in November, when a famous gamelan ensemble joins four Seattle string players for a performance of new, local music.
Full-time locavores may not be satisfied until everything about the concert, from composer to performer to creator, is Northwest-based. If you want all local, all the time, your concert season destination should be the Universal Language Project. Founded by trumpeter and composer Brian Chin, the project draws on local talent to present a commissioned premiere in every concert. This season, we’ll hear music inspired by local landscapes written by Karen P. Thomas, Brian Cobb, and Tim Carey; music for strings performed by Seattle-based Scrape Ensemble; and an interactive concert with stunning visuals by Scott Kolbo.
And if that’s not enough to whet your new music appetite, the Seattle Modern Orchestra‘s upcoming season has even more new music. Each of its three main concerts features a premiere of some sort, from Orlando Jacinto Garcia’s From Darkness to Luminosity to an as-yet-unnamed work by Ewa Trębacz to the U.S. premiere of Anthony Cheung’s 2011 work Discrete Infinity.
In the last few years, Benaroya Hall has become an internationally recognized center for cutting-edge new music, from the avant garde to the crossover. If you’re into the former, you probably already know about the Seattle Symphony’s famed [untitled] series, which takes place in the Benaroya lobby fashionably late at night. This [untitled] season proves it means business with a season kickoff made up entirely of world premieres, then goes on to focus on New York City’s avant garde scene and an Arctic-themed piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. If the latter is more your taste, check out the undefinable Sonic Evolution series, which this season focuses on the way different artists influence each other across genres and the phenomenon of indie music and film.
Finally, if you’re looking to get some culture but indulge in musical guilty pleasures at the same time, your go-to season should be the Seattle Rock Orchestra‘s. The ensemble that famously covers popular music on orchestral instruments has put together a killer 2015-16 series, which includes a David Bowie showcase, a collection of Mowtown music, and an evening devoted to Neil Diamond. A quintet from SRO also closes out Classical KING FM’s inaugural concert series with a very exciting Eastside concert featuring covers of Beck, Bjork, Radiohead, and more.
These are only a few highlights from an expansive, diverse, and exciting upcoming concert season. For a full listing of shows around the Northwest that’ll make you rethink classical, check our full event calendar.
A little bit of background on the piece, by David Lang:
“My piece is called The Little Match Girl Passion and it sets Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Match Girl in the format of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion, interspersing Andersen’s narrative with my versions of the crowd and character responses from Bach’s Passion. The text is by me, after texts by Han Christian Andersen, H. P. Paulli (the first translator of the story into English, in 1872), Picander (the nom de plume of Christian Friedrich Henrici, the librettist of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion), and the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. The word ”passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering. There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus—rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus’s, elevating (I hope) her sorrow to a higher plane.”
A few of Seattle Pro Musica’s concert-goers offered up their reactions to this moving piece:
“What has stayed with me most from LMGP is the last line, “Rest soft, rest soft”. Boom. “Rest soft, rest soft”. The weight of that single drum beat. The weight in the silent lift of Karen’s hands following that drum beat. The weight and beauty of such a ‘simple’ phrase. “Rest soft, rest soft”.
Silence.” –Miriam Gnagy
“the little match girl passion is one of those pieces that’s very difficult for performers. Besides being technically demanding, the story is so moving that you could easily get carried away by your emotions and become lost. It’s a delicate balancing act – being in the moment enough to make it powerful for the audience without losing control of the performance. It was an unforgettable experience.” –Wes Kim
“Evocative. Poignant. Difficult. Heartbreaking. David Lang’s the little match girl passion causes the singer—and the listener—to experience viscerally the shivering of a little girl on the last evening of the year, and mourn her passing in a forgotten corner of the village. The Hans Christian Anderson fairytale brought to musical life—a 21st century artistic masterpiece.” –Marilyn Colyar
“The music was mesmerizing. It made me FEEL cold. The blend and balance of the voices was perfection, the halting rhythms dropped me into a focused suspended listening state, so that the sudden shift to the intense soprano solo swept me up and broke me open. What a piece! The stamina of the performers and their complete engagement was extraordinary. The use of instruments (that low drumbeat, the tubular bells, the chain on the hub) was powerful and haunting.” –Elly Hale
“The LMGP performances were haunting. The austere walls of St. James’ made the repetitions in the music even more relentless, providing a suitably cold and eerie atmosphere for the piece to grab the listener by the throat. And so it ended: the candle died with our last breath.” –Isabelle Phan
Many thanks to Karen P. Thomas and David Lang for the allowance of this streaming on-demand!