It’s easy to lose track of time amid the sparse tones of Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories. The 90-minute solo piano work lends itself well to meditation—which is exactly the idea behind pianist Jesse Myers’ October 25 performance at the Good Shepherd Chapel. He invites audience members to slow down, grab a pillow and get lost in its softly sprawling sounds.
In this in-studio interview, Myers talks with us about the music of Morton Feldman, the magic of sensory amplification, and what it feels like to float in sound.
Audio engineering by Nikhil Sarma. Music in this interview is from Feldman’s Triadic Memories, performed and recorded by Jesse Myers. For more information on his October 25 performance, click here.
Composer Orlando Jacinto Garcia takes it as a compliment when listeners tell him his music is strange. That’s what he’s going for.
“The reaction from someone that says, ‘Your music is very strange, but very beautiful,’ that doesn’t in any way, shape, or form offend me,” Garcia said. “On the contrary, I take that as kind of reaching the goal that I want.”
Garcia is less interested in traditional harmony and melody than he is in exploring the timbre and color of instruments with his music. Drawing influence from minimalist composers and the New York School of composers, including his former mentor Morton Feldman, he also works to change listeners’ perception of time.
“I usually do this by using materials that are somewhat restricted that slowly unfold over time with the hope that the listener will be caught up in the moment and once the work is over, they won’t know whether the work was two minutes long or two hours long,” Garcia said. “It creates kind of a subjective time as opposed to an objective or chronological time.”
This Friday, the Seattle Modern Orchestra presents the world premiere of Garcia’s new piece, the clouds receding into the mountains for viola and ensemble, featuring violist Melia Watras. the clouds receding manages to intermix musical fragments with long, angular melodic and harmonic lines, bringing the fragments together at the end of the piece in a more intuitive way to create the sense of subjective time. But because of this trademark quality, the form of the piece presented challenges for Garcia.
“Any time I write a piece for a soloist and an ensemble there are challenges because right off the bat, when you think of a solo work with an ensemble, you think of a traditional virtuosity,” he said. “My music is not really directed toward that virtuosity so I’m looking at some other aspects of technique and control from the soloists.”
Whenever Garcia writes works that feature a soloist, he has a specific performer in mind, one whose sound color and control of their instrument inspire him. Hearing Watras play during a Seattle Modern Orchestra performance in 2015 led him to begin working on this piece.
“Melia played The Viola in My Life by Morton Feldman, my mentor, and I was very taken by her playing,” Garcia said. “The sound that she has, the control that she has.”
Garcia stayed in touch with Watras after the performance and began discussing a work for a violist and chamber orchestra. Together, they approached the Seattle Modern Orchestra about premiering this piece.
As Garcia began to compose, he studied recordings of Watras playing in order to tailor the work to her specific strengths. Understanding her sound was pivotal for Garcia’s unique approach to the solo line. He wanted to create something beautiful and complex enough to keep the performer engaged, but also stay true to his aesthetic.
“The emphasis is on the beautiful sound and the beautiful tone that she has and her beautiful control over the instrument,” Garcia said.
Also on the program are Beat Furrer’s Aria for soprano and six instruments and György Ligeti’s Melodien for chamber orchestra. Furrer is known for his exploration of the human voice. In Aria, making use of extended techniques, he integrates the percussive soprano line with the instrumentals to create an eerie and suspenseful interlocking pattern of quick, jarring sounds.
Ligeti, pioneer of micropolyphony, utilizes a three-layered texture in Melodien, with a melody, secondary ostinato-like figures, and long, sustained notes in the background. Over time, he allows the layers to blur and interact, creating a beautifully dense, complex sound.
It’s the perfect ending to a program that brings texture and timbre to the forefront of music, exploring new ways to interpret time and layers of sound.
Seattle Modern Orchestra’s upcoming concert, The Clouds Receding, is this Saturday, April 14 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center. A pre-concert interview with composer Orlando Jacinto Garcia will take place at 7:30pm. For tickets and more information, pleaseclick here.
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 tag it with “new music.”
Wayward Music Series Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: vintage sampling keyboards, avant-garde noise, graphic scores, and etudes from the likes of György Ligeti and John Cage. Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
Seattle Symphony: Ligeti Violin Concerto Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich joins the orchestra for a performance of György Ligeti’s stunningly virtuosic Violin Concerto. Also on the program: Stravinsky’s long-lost Funeral Song and Mozart’s sublime Symphony No. 39. Thurs, 1/4, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74 Sat, 1/6, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74
Paper Puppet Opera: Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ One of the darkest works in the classical canon is reimagined through bleak shadow puppet abstraction in this Schubertiade-meets-puppet-show spectacular. Baritone David Hoffman and pianist Peter Nelson-King join the Paper Puppet Opera for a shadow puppet performance of all 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise. Fri, 1/12, 7:30pm, Trinity Parish Hall | $25 Sat, 1/13, Trinity Parish Hall | $25
Jesse Myers: To Sober and Quiet the Mind Seattle pianist Jesse Myers presents an evening of introspective solo piano works from the masters of time and space—Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and more. Forgo the chairs and bring a pillow or mat for the ultimate musical meditation. Fri, 1/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
Bern Herbolsheimer Musical Memorial In celebration of the late Bern Herbolsheimer’s life and music, the St. Helens String Quartet and local soloists come together to perform a selection of his chamber works. Sat, 1/13, 5pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | FREE
Second City Chamber Series: Just Us Folks The Carpe Diem String Quartet performs chamber works inspired by folk music from every corner of the world, featuring music by Erberk Eryilmaz, Vittorio Monti, Lev Zhurbin, Dave Brubeck, and more. Fri, 1/19, 7:30pm, Annie Wright School, Tacoma | $10-$25
SCMS Winter Festival Seattle Chamber Music Society’s annual Winter Festival features a variety of classical music performances from across the centuries, including 20th century works by Amy Beach, Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, and Edward Elgar. 1/19-1/28, Various times, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52
Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival This brand new music festival touring through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene features contemporary music by the likes of Julia Wolfe, Andy Akiho, Andrew Norman, Steve Reich, and Lou Harrison, among others. Featured performers include Ashley Bathgate, the Sandbox Percussion Quartet, the Iktus Duo, and more.
NUMUS Northwest 2018 This day-long event is dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond. Musicians, composers, and curious bystanders alike come together for a day of live performances and interactive presentations on topics ranging from fundraising to networking, media pitching, grant writing, and more. Sat, 1/20, 8:30am-9:30pm, Cornish Kerry Hall | $20
SMCO: Journeys of Discovery and Hope Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra performs Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje: where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Also on the program is Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times. Sat, 1/20, 8pm, Plymouth Congregational Church | $15-$25
Third Coast Percussion: ‘Paddle to the Sea’ Third Coast Percussion performs their own live score in this special screening of Paddle to the Sea, a Canadian film which illustrates the epic journey of a young boy’s small wooden boat from Northern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Third Coast’s film score weaves in music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Thurs, 1/25, 8pm, Meany Theater | $28-$44
Erin Jorgensen: Bach and Pancakes It’s Bach like you’ve never heard it before—on marimba! Erin Jorgensen performs a marimba arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, followed by a pancake breakfast. Sun, 1/28, 10am, Studio Current | $5
Pacifica Chamber Orchestra: Sunshine Concert From scherzos to serenades, the Pacifica Chamber Orchestra performs 20th century works by Dag Wirén, Julius Fučík, Eugène Bozza, and more. Sun, 1/28, 3pm, First Presbyterian Church, Everett | $15-$20
Music of Remembrance: Art from Ashes Music of Remembrance presents a free community-wide concert to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day, featuring chamber music written in Terezín and in the Vilna ghetto, plus works by composers whose lives were cut short by Nazi persecution. Mon, 1/29, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | FREE
In order to be a contemporary classical vocalist, you’ve got to be prepared to do a lot more than just sing. Sometimes, you have to be able to act, speak, compose, or play the piano. Sometimes, you have to be able to interpret graphic scores, or trigger live electronics—and sometimes, when the situation calls for it, you have to be able to bark.
Those are just a few of the extramusical activities that are featured in Seattle-based soprano Stacey Mastrian’s Binary Solo+ performance this Wednesday, July 12 at the Royal Room, joined by pianist Josh Archibald-Seiffer. The program features rarely-performed works for voice with electronics and piano by two generations of American composers: the venerable Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and Alvin Lucier, and the current generation—Mike Boyd, Stephen Lilly, Kristian Twombly, and Steve Wanna.
The pieces range from meditative and intimate to humorous and theatrical—but all are distinctly contemporary. Morton Feldman’s unpublished Lost Love for voice and piano is based on a poem by a Victorian realist, while Stephen Lilly’s Portrait in Song pokes fun at the clichés of the art song tradition, substituting lyrical melodies for a zoo of animal utterances.
The musical scores employed are similarly wide-ranging: the score for Steve Wanna’s Smriti forgoes traditional Western notation for a new musical language comprised entirely of dots and arrows. The score for Earle Brown’s “For Ann, 1 May ’94,” forgoes the concept of a “page” altogether—it is comprised of rectangular patterns scribbled on a bar coaster.
Mastrian’s performance is part of a double bill with pianist Jesse Myers, who will perform a program of works by iconic minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, as well as brand new 21st century works for acoustic piano and electronics by the likes of Missy Mazzoli and Christopher Cerrone. (Click here to learn more about that program.)
In anticipation of the concert, we sat down with Mastrian to talk about electronics, animal sounds, graphic scores, and the thinking outside the voice box:
Second Inversion: As a singer, you specialize in 20th and 21st century vocal works. What inspires you most about new music? What draws you to new and unusual sounds?
Stacey Mastrian:With new music, I am frequently challenged to step outside of my comfort zone. It demands or permits me to do things that I otherwise would never consider doing, forcing me to continue learning and driving creativity.
I love the chance to contribute to works that have never been done before, works that have not been done often, or works that have not been performed in a way that has done them justice. I enjoy collaborating with composers to create something new, as well as learning from those who worked with the composers (in the case of those who are no longer with us). From a musical standpoint, it is an opportunity to participate in shaping history and in linking with the recent past so that we do not lose those connections. It also has tinges of the revolutionary, in the political-social-musical disruptions that many of the pieces imply or overtly convey—sometimes seriously and at other times with humor. Sharing this repertoire with new audiences is particularly thrilling.
As far as “new and unusual” sounds, in some cases it is the exploration of the sounds themselves that fascinates me, or the different ways of conceiving of music, of hearing, or of space. In other cases, the plurality of options helps express the piece in a way that traditional singing might not: there are times when bel canto singing in the harmonic language of the Romantic period can express grief beautifully, but sometimes that is not enough—sometimes atonality or shouting or noise can be the only response—from the gut, in a raw, theatrical way. This is not to say that I do not care about solid vocal technique, but there is less concern about only the beauty of sound and more about what the sound conveys.
SI: How does your Royal Room program differ from more standard classical vocal repertoire?
SM: With standard classical vocal recital rep, one typically stands near the piano and sings beautifully for an hour. In this program I sing, speak, play the piano, trigger live electronics on the computer, compose with water sounds I recorded, make noises with objects ranging from vases to bowls to teapots to an airplane nose cone, vocalize with ridiculous animal and battle sounds, and mime.
SI: What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing music that uses graphic scores? What about music that uses electronics?
SM:With graphic scores, the challenge for me is “Where do I start? I am not a composer! Give me parameters!” There is usually a framework with very specific rules, but the actual content is quite open. The rewarding part of this work is that every time it teaches me to think outside of the box (haha). It also is exciting to engage with a score that is so visually compelling and with a result that could be different each time.
With electronics the challenge is “WILL THEY WORK??” There are so many variables between the hardware hookups and functionality and the software—sometimes the programs just crash, or due to randomness built into certain live electronics processes, they do not cooperate. This is way more stressful than just singing. The rewards of working with electronics, however, are many: I love the way that they sound and the endless possibilities for combinations of options that are not possible otherwise. The unexpectedness of live processing can be fun when it is not frustrating. Also working with electronics means that I do not need an accompanist, which is useful for situations that require portability.
SI: What goes through your head when you’re looking at a graphic score for the first time? How do you make sense of it? Are there certain things you look for to orient yourself?
SM: My process looks something like this:
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance? What do you hope audience members gain from it?
SM:With this performance, I look forward to giving several world premieres of works by longtime friends and colleagues and performing some works I have wanted to do for a while, as well as a few entertaining favorites. Performing with pianist Josh Archibald-Seiffer is always a pleasure, and I am honored that Jesse invited me to be a part of his program.
I hope that the audience will enjoy a new sonic and theatrical world—one filled with humor and humanity as well as links with art, everyday items, meditation, poetry and prose, theater, and technology. Mostly I just hope that people will come. It is difficult to take a chance on a composer or a performer you may not know; it might be terrible and you waste an evening—but it might be amazing! And you either have that opportunity to experience it, or you miss it.
Also—come hear me bark.
Stacey Mastrian and Jesse Myers perform this Wednesday, July 12 at 7:30pm at the Royal Room in Columbia City. For details and additional information,click here.
When it comes to the piano, Jesse Myers likes to think outside the standard keyboard.
Last year, he created an entire percussion orchestra inside his piano for his performances of John Cage’s prepared piano masterpiece, the Sonatas and Interludes. This year, he’s forgoing the screws and bolts in favor of something a little more electric.
On Wednesday, July 12 at the Royal Room, Myers presents Living in America: a concert of solo piano works by living American composers. Urban, adventurous, and uniquely American, the program highlights the groundbreaking work of iconic minimalist composers, as well as brand new 21st century works for acoustic piano and electronics.
The first half of the program features John Adams’ misty and modal China Gates alongside Philip Glass’ half-hypnotic, half-neurotic Mad Rush and a selection of his virtuosic Piano Etudes. The second half showcases music for piano and electronics, including Christopher Cerrone’s 21st century urban nocturne Hoyt-Schermerhorn, Missy Mazzoli’s ethereal Orizzonte, and her swirling fantasia Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos. Steve Reich’s pulsing, palindromic Piano Counterpoint finishes the program.
The evening also features a set of rarely-performed music for solo voice with electronics and piano, performed by soprano Stacey Mastrian. She lends her voice to two generations of American composers, ranging from Earle Brown and Morton Feldman to Kristian Twombly and Steve Wanna.
In anticipation of the concert, we sat down with Myers to talk about urban sounds, electronics, and expanding the sonic possibilities of the piano:
Second Inversion: What inspires you most about exploring the expanded possibilities of the piano?
Jesse Myers: Discovery. It’s not that I’m tired of the piano in the traditional sense—it’s really about the two words you just used: exploring and expanding. The Steinway grand is the benchmark of great American craftsmanship, and it has stopped evolving.
While new music is, of course, still being written for the piano, new music that involves electronics is a way for composers to personally contribute to a new sort of evolution of the piano. I am not sure composers are thinking of their work in that way, but as a pianist and a curator of the repertoire, I can’t help but see their work in that light.
The great thing about electronics, prepared piano, and extended piano techniques, is that at the end of the day, the good old acoustic grand piano is still there. Akin to the way Cage first prepared the piano with bolts and weather-stripping, the electronics drastically change the sound and our impression of the piano—but in the end it is easily returned to its original form.
SI: What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing music that uses electronics?
JM:It used to be that I could show up and play a concert without any paraphernalia, and that’s nice and all, but I love my ever-expanding bag of tricks. The tinkering that is necessary in the practice of this repertoire, and the ability to perform a wider range of timbres in a solo performance while making use of the venue’s sound system are big payoffs to me. But, yeah, part of the reason I became a musician was so I didn’t have to get a haircut and wake up early—so if I can plug into a sound system and feel like a rock musician for a brief moment, I can feel closer to achieving my lifestyle.
There are certainly a great deal of challenges, and I’m sure that turns some musicians off to exploring music like this for themselves. Technical setups are unique to each piece, with varying arrays of requirements. This means that creating a program takes even more planning and practice to get it right. On top of that, these technical requirements can also make two pieces completely incompatible with each other in a single program. Electroacoustic music often requires a couple different software applications, an ear piece for click tracks on some fixed electronics, foot pedals for cueing live electronics on more flexible ones, different settings on both hardware and software depending on the piece or venue, etc.
SI: This program features all American composers—what are some of the overarching themes that connect the music of these composers?
JM: Urban sound. All of these composers, with the exception of Adams, are living and working in New York right now. To me, this imprints an unmistakable urban character into their music. There is a relentless activeness in this urban sound which is illustrated most clearly by the minimalist music of Glass and Reich. The electroacoustic soundscapes of Mazzoli’s music have this wonderful sort of raw grittiness about them, and Cerrone’s work, Hoyt-Schermerhorn, is named after a New York subway station. Cerrone says “…the piece explores the myriad and contradictory feelings that often come to me late at night in my city of choice—nostalgia, anxiety, joy, panic.” There is a beautiful peacefulness among the urban activity in these works.
The electronics are also a theme that connects most of the works. The first half of the program (the Adams and Glass pieces) will have no amplification or use of electronics, while the last half will use an increasing amount of electronics. But there is an electronic connection between the two halves. The program starts with an acoustic piece that references electronic music. The gates in the title, China Gates, refer to the gating of electronic music. Adams uses sudden changing modes to mimic gating effects in electronic music.
Conversely, the end of the program, Reich’s Piano Counterpoint, is an electronic work that references an acoustic one. Reich originally wrote the music for this as a work called Six Pianos in 1973. In 2011, pianist Vincent Corver adapted the work for one piano and a pre-recorded soundtrack. Four of the six piano parts are pre-recorded and the last two are combined into a more virtuosic single part, which I’ll play live and amplified. In 2014, the Bang On a Can All Stars pianist Vicky Chow worked with the composer to further edit the piece and create a new flexible pre-recorded soundtrack that allows the performer to use a foot pedal to trigger the phasing of the other parts. Reich’s original version of Six Pianos asked for each measure to be repeated within a range of times—not a fixed amount of time. Since Corver’s version was backed by a fixed-length soundtrack, the most recent version is a truer realization of the original work’s flexibility. My performance will be the most recent, flexible version of the work.
SI: How do the minimalist composers’ works differ from the 21st century works on the program?
JM:These 20th century minimalist works lack an extramusical association. They are really about rhythmic structures and form. China Gates (which isn’t really about China or gates), for instance, is a famous, short minimalist work that uses recurring patterns that slowly change and shift apart over time, while making up a nearly perfect palindrome in its structure.
The music of Cerrone and Mazzoli in this program, which are 21st century works, tell a story or capture a vivid scene. So, the audience should be listening for entirely different things in the two styles. In the first half of the program, listen for minimalist patterns and structures (like palindromes), that ultimately lead the way for the second half to transport you into another scene altogether.
What is interesting, though, is despite the lack of an extramusical association, the works of Glass and Reich often capture the busy energy of a dense urban environment, which somehow creates a beautiful, weightless sense of calm. In this sense then, the minimalist works do have the ability to move beyond the academic, form, and rhythmic structure that are the hallmarks of its style.
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance and what do you hope audience members gain from it?
JM:Playing in a relaxed bar setting should really gel with this music. I’ve always wanted to take music like this out of the standard classical concert venue. As someone who can’t take their instrument with them when they gig, bars and many other non-classical venues are off-limits. But The Royal Room has a Steinway B, a great sound system, and a reputation for taking good care of local musicians—so I’m really excited to play in that environment.
I hope the audience gains an appreciation for the things I’ve come to realize as a musician. There is amazing music being created by composers who are alive and working in this country right now—it’s innovative, part of us, and who we are. Embrace technology. Accept that electronics and a reverence to the classical music tradition can coexist.
Living in America is Wednesday, July 12 at 7:30pm at the Royal Room in Columbia City. For details and additional information,click here.