by Gabriela Tedeschi
The Westerlies are a Seattle-bred brass quartet that has gained national acclaim for their genre-defying chamber music. Now, they’re giving back to the community that raised and inspired them with Westerlies Fest: a four-day music festival in Seattle featuring student workshops and concert collaborations with local artists.
The New York-based quartet is made up of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. Mulherkar, Clausen, and de Koch are childhood friends from Seattle, and Rowlands (their newest member) was also born in Western Washington.
“The festival, for us, is an opportunity to feature all of the elements of what we do in their purest form as we envision them,” de Koch said. “Of course Seattle, being our hometown, seemed like the perfect place to bring together everything that we’ve gleaned from living in New York and traveling around the country performing.”
The festival runs Thursday, Sept. 20 through Sunday, Sept. 23. During the day on Thursday and Friday, the Westerlies are speaking and performing in schools around Seattle, with an emphasis on teaching in underserved areas. On Saturday and Sunday, they are leading a workshop for high school and college age musicians at Seattle Pacific University.
All four evenings, the Westerlies are performing at different venues around Seattle with a diverse group of collaborators ranging from spoken word poets to jazz singers and music students of all levels and instruments. Learn more about the concerts below:
Poets Troy Osaki (left) and Azura Tyabji (right).
Troy Osaki and Azura Tyabji with The Westerlies
Thursday, Sept. 20, 7:30pm, Wing Luke Museum
In partnership with Youth Speaks Seattle, the Westerlies are inviting local spoken-word poets to perform alongside them. Music will be interspersed between poetry performances, and the quartet will also accompany two poems with original compositions.
“[This performance includes] a lot of exciting young voices from Seattle that we wanted to hear and we wanted to give a platform to,” Mulherkar said.
One poet is Troy Osaki, a friend of the Westerlies from Garfield High School who now serves as a Youth Speaks mentor. Seattle Youth Poet Laureate Azura Tyabji will also perform original works, as will Zora “Rainchild” Seboulisa and Esther Eidenberg-Noppe. Emphasizing identity and examining areas of inequality, these young artists use poetry as a tool for inspiring change in the world.
TORCH with The Westerlies
Friday, Sept. 21, 7:30pm, Nickerson Studios at Seattle Pacific University
Friday’s performance is really two concerts in one: a set from the Westerlies and a set from the Seattle-based chamber ensemble TORCH.
The group is comprised of trumpeter Brian Chin, clarinetist Eric Likkel, double bassist Steve Schermer, and percussionist Ben Thomas (who also plays vibraphone and bandoneon). Like the Westerlies, TORCH is known for combining the intellectual rigor of classical music with a genre-meshing sound. Chin is also the founder and artist director of the nonprofit arts organization Common Tone Arts, a partner for the festival.
“That night really features some of the best of Seattle’s contemporary classical scene,” Mulherkar said. “This is really an opportunity for us to bring what we got from New York and present it right alongside all the amazing music that’s going on in Seattle.”
Kate Davis (left) and Theo Bleckmann (right; photo by Lynne Harty).
Theo Bleckmann and Kate Davis with The Westerlies
Saturday, Sept. 22, 7:30pm, First Free Methodist Church
The Westerlies are joined by two acclaimed guest artists from New York: contemporary classical and jazz singer Theo Bleckmann and singer-songwriter Kate Davis.
The core of Bleckmann’s set will be “Songs of Refuge and Resistance,” a project that the Westerlies and Bleckmann developed this June while in residency at Yellow Barn, an international center for chamber music in Vermont. The project combines songs of refuge and protest pieces to highlight both music’s integral role in resistance movements and its ability to provide solace in the midst of turmoil.
Davis will perform a set of original works showcasing her warm, velvety vocals and inventive lyrics—including a Westerlies collaboration on her song “St. Joseph,” arranged by de Koch.
The Westerlies with Workshop Students
Sunday, Sept. 23, 4pm, Nickerson Studios at Seattle Pacific University
Sunday’s performance will serve as the culmination of the two-day student workshop the Westerlies are hosting for young musicians of all levels, styles, and instruments. The workshop will give students insight into the Westerlies’ unique approach to composition, improvisation, and ensemble practice.
“One thing that we’ve grown to be passionate about as an ensemble is improvising in a way that isn’t idiosyncratic to any genre,” de Koch said. “The goal is to be able to introduce improvisation in a way that isn’t inhibited by any of the trappings of particular styles of music.”
The Westerlies also want to push young musicians to explore unusual instrument combinations, and to allow creative compatibility to overtake conventional ideas about ensemble work. Given their own history, the Westerlies know that good chemistry can lead to great music with any instrumentation.
“When we formed as a band, we didn’t form with the intention of being a brass quartet,” de Koch said. “We formed because we got along well as friends and admired one another’s personalities and musical tastes.”
At the concert on Sunday, students will perform in ensembles with the Westerlies, playing the music they create themselves through improvisation exercises.
Westerlies Fest runs Sept. 20 through Sept. 23. Thursday and Sunday’s performances are free, but reservations are recommended to guarantee admission. Student discounts and festival passes are available for Friday and Saturday’s concerts. For tickets and more information, click here.