Communities of Color in Classical Music: SMCO’s Season Opener

by Maggie Molloy

The United States is a melting pot of cultures and musical identities made richer by communities of color—yet even in the 21st century, classical music programs predominantly feature white male composers.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra has dedicated their 2017-2018 season to celebrating diversity and honoring voices that have been too often marginalized—or worse, silenced—throughout the classical music tradition.

The season, titled “Voices of Courage,” kicks off this Wednesday and Sunday with a collaborative concert that weaves together contemporary music and poetry in a powerful statement of unity. The program examines the search for an American musical identity, exploring the lasting influence of communities of color in classical music and addressing issues of representation on concert programs. Seattle’s first Civic Poet, Claudia Castro Luna, joins the orchestra to read her own original poetry as well as the prose of Federico García Lorca.

The evening begins with a bang: Jessie Montgomery’s urgent and innovative Banner, which combines classical strings with elements from African-American spirituals and anthems of the U.S., Mexico, and Puerto Rico. It’s followed by the impossibly gorgeous, elegiac Lyric for Strings by George Walker, the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas follows with the mariachi textures and driving rhythms of with his heroic Homenaje a Federico García Lorca. He composed the piece in 1936 in honor of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, who was murdered by fascist militia forces. Aaron Copland’s Music for the Theatre evokes the playful jazz solos, brassy fanfares, and lively cabaret culture of the Roaring Twenties, and Scott Joplin’s infectious Maple Leaf Rag rounds out the program.

We talked with SMCO Music Director Geoffrey Larson to learn more about the music and the people behind this week’s program:

Second Inversion: What inspired the theme of this season, “Voices of Courage”?

Geoffrey Larson: Classical music has never existed in a vacuum, and I believe that in times like these our art form becomes more relevant than ever. The political and social climate in our country today contributed significantly to the programming direction of SMCO’s current season, which features musical voices typically marginalized throughout the history of classical music, including composers of color, women, and immigrants. Copland, Barber, Bernstein, and Tchaikovsky were also part of a minority with respect to their sexual orientation, and experienced forms of persecution because of it.

Additionally, as SMCO strives to fulfill our mission of serving the entire Seattle community, we as an organization believe that it is important that our programming reflects the diversity of cultures that make this city whole. We will continue to feature music of women and people of color, and strive to ensure they are represented onstage as well.

SI: How did you choose the repertoire for this season opener?

GL: SMCO’s October 11 and 15 program showcases just some of the powerful cross-cultural influences at work in the classical music world. When I set about programming a season, I make a large list of pieces that I love and would like to perform, and I have been looking forward to programming all of these works for some time. The Montgomery is an intensely powerful statement, and is very cleverly put together; George Walker poured his heart into the Lyric for Strings, it’s just so beautiful and personal; the Revueltas uses a sort of Mexican village band orchestration, achieves some really jaw-dropping sounds, and uses Latin-American rhythms in such cool ways; the Copland is a total blast to perform with all its swinging jazz elements and brassy fanfares. Pianist Amanda Harris will also perform a solo work by Scott Joplin.

It is important that music of women and composers of color appear on programs such as this, as they are chronically under-represented on classical music programs, but it’s important to remember that these are stunning, incredible pieces of music first and foremost. The Copland falls at the end of the program, synthesizing the influences of musical forms earlier on the program that come from communities of color.  

SI: What makes this concert different from your average classical music performance?

GL: SMCO is always striving to present music in context, and I believe that pairing poetry with the music of this program will not only add beauty but will add a powerful real-world relevance as well. Claudia Castro Luna will read her own work as a response to Jessie Montgomery’s Banner, which is possibly the most timely work on the program: it has a section that mimics the Pledge of Allegiance and quotes African American spirituals, the Mexican and Puerto Rican Anthems, and other melodies all mixed together with a transformation of the U.S. National Anthem.

Claudia will also read the prose of Federico Garcia Lorca between each movement of the work that was inspired by his writing, the Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca by Silvestre Revueltas. We also strive to present music in a more relaxed and welcoming setting, removing the stereotypical stuffiness of classical music shows that I think is seen as a barrier to a lot of first-time listeners.

SI: How did the collaboration with Claudia Castro Luna come about, and how do the poems relate to the music?

GL: I have admired Claudia’s work as our first Civic Poet, especially her Seattle Poetic Grid, which tells the personal story of the different neighborhoods of the city through the voices of the people who live there.

Every person who lives in this city and in this country has a connection to it and all the people who call it home; everyone deserves respect and a voice. This huge variety of heritage and experience is part of our identity as a nation, and our musical identity reflects it. Claudia was enthusiastic about being a part of this program because she is passionate about its themes: the respect and empowerment of marginalized voices, and celebration of the influence of racial and cultural minorities.


SMCO’s Music, Poetry, and the Influence of Communities of Color is this Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 7:30pm at Fremont Abbey and Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2pm at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

From Concert Hall to Capitol Hill Nightclub: Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra’s SPARK

by Maggie Molloy

When it comes to classical music, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra likes to think outside the concert hall. This Saturday, Second Inversion is thrilled to sponsor the launch of SMCO’s new SPARK performance series: an immersive concert experience that presents classical music old and new in nightclubs and other unexpected venues.

“It’s every musician’s dream for their friends who have no experience with classical music to enjoy this incredible art form as much as we do,” said Geoffrey Larson, Music Director of SMCO. “I wanted to provide a space to enjoy classical music without any rules, real or perceived: where audience members could have a drink, get up and dance, applaud and scream and shout whenever they want. I wanted to show how music of the classical genre can be relevant to our lives today—whether it was composed 300 years ago or three days ago.”

The series launch, which takes place amid the neon lights of the Fred Wildlife Refuge on Capitol Hill, features music from both eras. The concert unfolds as a fully-produced, continuous musical experience that oscillates between guest artist DJ Suttikeeree’s electronic dance music sets and SMCO’s electrifying classical music performances.

Under Geoffrey Larson’s baton, SMCO pairs a Vivaldi chamber concerto with Max Richter’s modern recomposition of the Baroque master’s famous Four Seasons. The centerpiece of the evening is Mason Bates’ infectious and aptly-titled Rise of Exotic Computing for sinfonietta and laptop, and a world premiere of a new work for horns and orchestra by William Rowe—co-commissioned and performed by SMCO and the Skylark Quartet—rounds out the program. Electronic interludes from DJ Suttikeeree provide both dynamic contrasts and fluid connections between the evening’s wide-ranging works.

“Suttikeeree will be spinning his own brand of electro-hop, mixing in fragments of the orchestral music our audience will hear onstage and providing a heartbeat that ties together the different genres throughout the night,” Larson said.

The first of its kind in Seattle, the SPARK series was created with the guidance of composer and producer Gabriel Prokofiev, whose orchestral arrangement of Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back” premiered to viral success with the Seattle Symphony in 2014. The grandson of legendary Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, Gabriel is also the founder of the Nonclassical record label and Club Night series based in London.

“Gabriel was extremely helpful in helping me strategize three things: what role the DJ should play in the event, how to structure the general ‘flow’ of the evening, and (to a lesser extent) what sort of music we should consider performing,” Larson said. “Through trial and error, Gabriel has come up with a pretty strong and unique concept for the flow of the larger Nonclassical Club Night events, and this sort of timing has been adapted into our plans for the SPARK series.”

Like Nonclassical Club Nights, the SPARK series aims to create immersive, cross-disciplinary performances that redefine the rules of classical chamber music, breaking away from the constraints of the traditional concert hall and sparking new and inspiring collaborations.


The SPARK series launch is this Saturday, May 20 at 8pm at the Fred Wildlife Refuge on Capitol Hill. Click here for tickets and more information.

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