CONCERT PREVIEW: Q&A with Joan Tower

by Maggie Molloy

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When you’re a chamber musician, you have to know how to dance.

You have to be able to communicate directly with the other players through music and movement. You have to move together and apart, support each other’s parts, and make each other shine; you have to work together to tell a cohesive story without stepping on each other’s feet.

This notion of musicians as dancers was the inspiration behind Grammy Award-winning composer Joan Tower’s Chamber Dance, a piece which is being performed in Seattle this weekend by the North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) in their 2015-2016 season finale.

The piece maximizes the chamber orchestra’s textural and timbral palette by weaving through a rich and colorful tapestry of solos, duets, small ensembles, and full ensemble—each instrument serving as just one small part of the larger dance.

NOCCO will also perform Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C Major, featuring violinist Elisa Barston as the soloist, and the NOCCO Winds will join forces with cellist Eli Weinberger and bassist Ross Gilliland to perform Dvořák’s Serenade for Winds, Cello, and Double Bass in D Minor.

Dance on over to Seattle this weekend to get in on the action! In the meantime, we sat down with the woman of the hour, Joan Tower, to find out more about what we can expect at this concert:

Second Inversion: What was the inspiration behind Chamber Dance?

Joan Tower: Having been a chamber music pianist for a long time with the Da Capo Chamber Players, a group I founded in 1972, I was immediately impressed with how Orpheus (the conductorless group for which I wrote Chamber Dance) was actually a large chamber group that interacted the way a smaller chamber group would: through an elaborate setup of sectional leaders who were responsible for the score. An amazing feat accomplished over years of trials and errors—and an amazing ensemble indeed.

SI: How is this piece similar to and/or different from your other compositions? 

JT: It’s similar in structure to many of my chamber pieces, but different in that the solos get surrounded by larger forces within a bigger “palette.”

SI: What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence your work? 

JT: Many different styles of music have influenced my work: I grew up in South America surrounded by all the Latin music of that culture; was trained as a pianist in the European Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, etc. model; married a jazz pianist who introduced me to all the greats at that time in NYC; and I formed my own group the Da Capo Players who performed the music of many living composers of that time (1972-1987). My biggest influences were Beethoven, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Pärt, Adams, Monk, Evans and lots of popular Latin music.

SI: Three out of the four NOCCO programs this season feature American women composers’ works. Why do you think this is a significant programming decision?

JT: Because it is rarely done, and women make up less than 5 percent of all classical programing—which still is a statistical problem. I am happy to see some visionary conductors find the right music and go for it.

SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from listening to your Chamber Dance?

JT: A memory of some kind, I hope. 

Performances are Saturday, June 4 at 2 p.m. at University Unitarian Church in Seattle and Sunday, June 5 at 8 p.m. at the Royal Room in Columbia City. For additional information and tickets, visit NOCCO.org.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Q&A with Jamie Jordan

by Maggie Molloy

We hear it all the time in the classical music world: the “Three B’s”—Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. But this season the North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) is putting a little twist on this old adage.

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Their concert this weekend features three bold “B’s” with a little more bite: Bartók, Barber, and Beethoven. And while the program is grounded in the traditional classical canon (ahem, Beethoven), the lineup bends the “B’s” into the 20th century.

NOCCO will be performing Beethoven’s classic First Symphony and Bartók’s neoclassic crowd-favorite, Divertimento for String Orchestra—but the centerpiece of the show is Barber’s 1947 masterwork Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a lush, richly textured work for soprano and orchestra.

The 15-minute lyric rhapsody takes its text from a 1938 short prose piece by author James Agee. Barber’s interpretation of the text paints an idyllic and poignant picture of Agee’s native Knoxville, Tennessee, blurring the lines between dreamy reminiscence and reality.

And to bring the nostalgic dreamland to life, NOCCO has enlisted the talents of New York-based soprano Jamie Jordan, a specialist in contemporary classical music with a strong background in jazz, classical, opera, improvisation, and more.

Second Inversion sat down with Jamie to ask her five questions about Knoxville, contemporary classical, and NOCCO’s upcoming concert.

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Second Inversion: What do you think is most unique or inspiring about Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915?

Jamie Jordan: Knoxville is so tremendously moving for me because Barber chose a wonderfully touching, poignant text (by James Agee), and set it to music with utmost sensitivity and great imagination. Barber paints the text through his orchestration, and creates very vivid imagery.

SI: You specialize in contemporary classical music but also have lots of experience with jazz, opera, improvisation, and more. What do you find to be some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing contemporary classical works?

JJ: For me, repertoire written since 1905 is usually most fulfilling. Every piece is an adventure. Understanding the structure, intent and also the great fun of learning pitches and rhythms brings me joy. Collaborating with a composer and bringing their work to life is also extremely meaningful; I have premiered dozens of works so far.

SI: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations? What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence you?

JJ: My late mentor, Judith Kellock, was a truly great inspiration, beautiful artist and consummate pedagogue. Judy was a student of Jan DeGaetani, who is also someone who I deeply admire, along with her contemporary Cathy Berberian.

There isn’t enough ink or space on the web for me to list all the artists I respect and love. The 1960s were to me one of the greatest decades in music. George Crumb, Berio, Boulez, Copland, Druckman, Feldman, Messiaen, Pousseur, Shostakovich, Stockhausen, Stravinsky, and Xennakis are just a few of the incredible composers that were creating their art. In jazz many of my favorite artists—Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Sarah Vaughan…plus Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and many other great bands…It was an unbelievable era. I’ll stop myself.

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this NOCCO performance?

JJ: The opportunity to work with exquisite musicians on this masterwork. Most of the music I perform is chamber music for only a handful of instruments. This piece is very ‘classical’ for me, and it has resonated with me for many years. It is thrilling to sing with a fine chamber orchestra- not something I do very often at this point.

SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from your performance of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915?

JJ: I hope the audience loves Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and that listeners are transported and touched by this stunning piece.

Performances of NOCCO’s “Three B’s with a Twist” are this Saturday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. at University Christian Church in the University District and Sunday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Royal Room in Columbia City. For additional information and tickets, visit NOCCO.org.

Seattle New Music Concerts: February 2016

SI_button2Second Inversion and The Live Music Project have partnered to create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, and Tacoma. 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs (and in coffee shops!) around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! And if you’re interested in being a part of this collaboration, drop us a line!  
Program Insert - February 2016 - onesided

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

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

Gabriel Kahane & Brooklyn Rider
This show samples their new collaborative album, The Fiction Issue, and is co-presented by Second Inversion.
February 1, 8pm, Tractor Tavern | $15

Counterpoint | Phase: All Steve Reich
Gloriously hypnotic sounds: clarinet, marimbas, cello, violin
February 2, 8pm, On the Boards | $10

Seattle Symphony [untitled] 2
This program includes works by New York Experimental composers Feldman, Wolff, Cage, and Brown.
February 5, 10pm, Benaroya Hall Lobby | $15

Sunday Sunset Concerts with Erin Jorgensen
An intimate concert as the sun sets and the week ends. Think more punk rock yoga nidra than classic concert.
February 7, 7:30pm, Velocity Kawasaki Studio | $10

Lake Union Civic Orchestra: Higdon’s blue cathedral
This deeply moving tribute by Higdon is paired with Beethoven’ Symphony No.2 & Lalo’s Cello Concerto.
February 12, 7:30pm, Town Hall Seattle | $13-18

NW Symphony Orchestra: Huling, Tonooka, Jones, & more
This show features local composers, including a premiere by Tonooka featuring trombonist Ko-Ichiro Yamamoto.
February 12, 7:30pm, Highline Performing Arts Center, Burien | $12-15

North Corner Chamber Orchestra: The 3 B’s (with a twist)
Bach and Brahms get nudged out by Barber and Bartok on this reimagining of the typical “3 B’s” of classical music!
February 20, 2pm, University Christian Church (2/20)
February 21, 7:30pm, Royal Room (2/21)
$15-25, FREE for Music Students & Youth (under 18)

STG Presents: Kronos Quartet: Vrebalov’s Beyond Zero
This new work commemorates the centennial of the outbreak of World War I & integrates film by Bill Morrison.
February 20, 8pm, Moore Theatre | $20-75

Music of Today: Garth Knox, viola
The UW School of Music presents new and improvised music by internationally renowned violist Garth Knox.
February 22, 7:30pm, Meany Theatre | $10-15

Town Music: we do it to one another
Joshua Roman presents his commissioned song cycle to Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Life on Mars.”
February 25, 7:30pm, Town Hall Seattle | $5-25

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra: World Sounds
SMCO presents the winning works of the 2nd International Composition Competition for Young Composers.
February 27, 8pm, First Free Methodist Church | $15-20

STG Presents: Trader Joe’s Silent Movie Mondays
A viewing of Ben Hur – A Tale of the Christ, featuring the original score performed live with Seattle Rock Orchestra.
February 29, 7pm, Paramount Theatre | $25.50

Archives:
January 2016

CONCERT PREVIEW: Q&A with Laura Schwendinger

by Maggie Molloy

It’s been raining to beat the band this week—but not even the wildest thunderstorms could drown out the beautiful music of Seattle’s North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO). This Sunday, NOCCO invites you to get out of the cold and into the warmth of the concert hall for a very special “Heart of Winter” performance.

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Known for their dynamic performances and adventurous programming, NOCCO’s 2015-2016 season features works by three different American women composers. The star of this weekend’s performance is composer Laura Schwendinger’s gorgeously luminescent Chiaro di Luna, a piece filled with icy strings and glimmering melodies inspired by the mysterious beauty of Lake Como in Italy.

Second Inversion sat down with Laura to ask her five questions about Chiaro di Luna, female composers, and NOCCO’s upcoming season.

Second Inversion: What is the story or emotion behind Chiaro di Luna, and how would you describe this piece?

Laura Schwendinger: It was written after my residency at the beautiful Rockefeller Bellagio Center on Lake Como in Italy. We would walk out on the veranda at night, and look out at the beautiful lake, and when there was a moon we could see the outline of the lake and the Dolomite Mountains beyond. Chiaro Di Luna celebrates the dark beauty of that experience.

SI: How is this piece similar to and/or different from your other compositions?

LS: Chiaro di Luna was written for the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra of Hungary, so I wanted to tap into the Romantic side of my expression a little more. It was one of the first works where I ventured into those waters (no pun intended), after having moved away from Romanticism for a time. I think of my work as being lyrical but passionate, and intense at times. I’m a “maximalist” and at times a romantic.

SI: What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence your work?

LS: French composers have had a huge influence on me. Debussy, Ravel, and very substantially Dutilleux, and at the same time many American composers such as my teacher Andrew Imbrie, with his lyrical voice, and even composers like Elliot Carter and Aaron Copland have influenced me and my way of thinking and hearing.

SI: Three out of the four NOCCO programs this season feature American women composers’ works. Why do you think this is a significant programming decision?

LS: It’s funny, I get asked about that a lot, and being a female I understand it. I think though, there are so many fine female composers  now that it’s almost hard for me to think of my favorite living composers without including at least 50-60% women.

I think it’s wonderful NOCCO is programming women and I think that other ensembles should get to know the music of women and if they do, they’ll realize how many great women are out there writing amazing music. That might not have been true 30 years ago, but it is certainly true now.

I run a contemporary music ensemble at UW Madison, where I am a professor, and last year I programmed an entire concert of music by women without even thinking about it. In other words, I programmed music that was great and after I had, I realized all of the works were by women!

SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from listening to Chiaro di Luna?

LS: I hope they will see the dark and beautiful, brooding Lake Como—under the moonlight with the Italian night sky and a full moon above.

 

NOCCO’s “Heart of Winter” concert is this Sunday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Magnolia Church of Christ in Seattle. In addition to Laura Schwendinger’s Chiaro di Luna, NOCCO musicians will also perform Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, Darius Milhaud’s Chamber Symphony No. 5 for 10 Winds, and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite. For additional information and tickets, visit NOCCO.org.

concert preview: Q&A with Dorothy Chang

by Maggie Molloy

In the world of classical composition, women who write music are far outnumbered by their male peers—and this imbalance is a sensitive issue for composers, musicians, and concert programmers alike.

Fortunately many music organizations are taking steps forward to break down assumptions and stereotypes within the music industry by highlighting the works of contemporary female composers. One such organization is Seattle’s own North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO).

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Known for their dynamic performances and adventurous programming, NOCCO’s 2015-2016 season features works by three different American women composers. The first concert, taking place this weekend, features a performance of Dorothy Chang’s eclectic and expressive Virtuosities.

Second Inversion sat down with Dorothy to ask her five questions about Virtuosities, female composers, and NOCCO’s upcoming season.

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Second Inversion: What is the story or emotion behind Virtuosities, and how would you describe this piece?

Dorothy Chang: Virtuosities for string orchestra was commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in 2012 in honour of its 40th anniversary season.  Given the occasion, I was inspired to write a work that celebrates music history and tradition while also embracing the new and innovative.  Virtuosities seeks to draw connections between the music of the past and present, either through points of intersection or through sharply contrasting juxtaposition.

In the first movement, “To dream, perchance to fly,” a lightning-fast tempo and continuous, overlapping rising figures are meant to create a breathless, whirlwind energy, referencing elements of Baroque virtuosity within a contemporary context.   Beginning in B minor, the movement quickly becomes tinged with chromaticism, with juxtaposed layers of contrasting material, as if creating one big swirl of musical activity combining the old and the new.

The second movement, “Souvenir,” is intimate and lyrical, inspired by the slow movement of Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A minor.  In Vivaldi’s movement, I’m struck by how a simple texture achieves such poignancy and expressivity.  Similarly, in my own second movement, I tried to feature the beauty of a simple melody-and-chordal texture, enriched with an expanded sound palette of distinct colours and timbres.

In the final movement, “Mechanica,” an energetic walking bass serves a constant driving pulse over which a hodgepodge of various short musical quotes and other musical references are spliced, layered and woven together.

 

SI: How is this piece similar to and/or different from your other compositions?

DC: This piece is different from my other compositions in that it uses quotation, and it references Baroque and Classical music in a way that I haven’t done before in my other works.   The mixing of tonality and atonality is something I do explore often in my music, though in this work the two languages are presented more as a dichotomy rather than the blended mixture that I might use more typically.

Also, this piece is in three movements; the multi-movement form is typical of most of my compositions.  When starting a piece, I usually find I have a number of ideas I’d like to explore, and I’ve found the multi-movement form a good way to incorporate contrasting characters and materials within a single work.   I’m also drawn to exploring larger structures that can be built through the succession of multiple movements, and to shape the dramatic arc they form, as if creating a musical or emotional journey.

 

SI: What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence your work?

DC: I am inspired by and influenced by different types of music that I’ve heard, performed or studied from my childhood to the present.  My first exposure to classical music was from learning piano, so the influence of Romantic music, particularly piano repertoire, is strong.  Although my music might not sound very much like Brahms, Rachmaninoff or Schumann, there is a strong emphasis on melodic lyricism, sweeping Romantic gestures and rich harmonies.

The influence of popular music and, in certain works, Chinese music is also present.  Once I became aware of contemporary music, the composers whose music influenced me most included Debussy, Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Takemitsu and Ligeti.  More recently, the music that inspires me is wide-ranging, and could include anything that happens to catch my ear, be it contemporary, popular, world music, etc.  The influences may not be immediately apparent in my music, but I am always consciously aware of their presence in my work.

 

SI: Three out of the four NOCCO programs this season feature American women composers’ works. Why do you think this is a significant programming decision?

DC: It looks like a great season, and I’m delighted to be in such good company!  The issue of women composers and programming continues to be a rather sensitive one (I remember becoming acutely aware of the issue as the only female in my graduate composition program years ago), and I have to say that I look forward to the day when the programming of music by female composers is something that happens spontaneously through the programming of good music, period.

I do think this is happening more and more, though one still comes across contemporary music concerts that include no music at all by women composers.  In this day and age, with so many talented women composers writing exciting, engaging, and unique music, it does perplex me how this is even possible.

As for NOCCO’s season: I’m thrilled to see such diverse and innovative programming.   I honestly don’t know if the programming was done specifically with the intention of featuring women composers, though I’m certainly excited that important and influential voices such as Laura Schwendinger and Joan Tower are included.  If the listener hasn’t had the opportunity to hear the music of these composers, it’s wonderful for NOCCO to bring it to a new audience.

 

SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from listening to Virtuosities?

DC: Virtuosities was written as a work that would bring together various old and new elements, and each movement reflects on this theme in its own way.  My hope is that the audience will connect with the music and the emotion and intention behind it:  the breathless energy and excitement of the opening movement, intimate lyricism broadening into lush gestures in the second movement, and the rhythmic drive and quirky turns of phrase in the closing movement.   This is a celebratory piece that I hope will engage the audience, and perhaps inspire them to hear both traditional and contemporary elements in a new context.

 

Performances are Saturday, Oct. 31 at 2 p.m. at University Christian Church in the University District and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Royal Room in Columbia City. In addition to Dorothy Chang’s Virtuosities, NOCCO musicians will also be performing Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings (featuring pianist Cristina Valdés), Jacques Ibert’s Three Short Pieces for Wind Quintet, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. For additional information and tickets, visit NOCCO.org.