With death and destruction come opportunities for growth and change. This fall, that’s the theme behind Sound of Late’s season opener on Oct. 21 and 28 in Portland and Seattle. The program features music inspired by decay, deterioration, and new growth—both literally and metaphorically.
Sound of Late flutist Sarah Pyle is the curator behind the concert program, which musically depicts how breaking down old systems can create positive change. Combine that with the ensemble’s ongoing focus on music by women composers and it serves as a striking metaphor for historical issues of representation in classical music.
The centerpiece of the program is Anna Clyne’s Steelworks, scored for flute, bass clarinet, percussion, and prerecorded tape. Inspired by the last steelworks factory in Brooklyn, the piece weaves together metallic, pulsing live performances with recordings of industrial machinery and interviews with employees from the factory. The composer’s equally restless and ruminative tape piece Beauty is also on the program.
Clyne’s two industrialized works are contrasted against the softness of Somei Satoh’s whimsical Birds in Warped Time II for violin and piano and Sarah Kirkland Snider’s lyrical Thread and Fray for clarinet, viola, and marimba. Rounding out the program are Giacinto Scelsi’s dizzying flute and clarinet duo Ko Lho and the world premiere of Noel Kennon’s lilac, my fire field.
We sat down with Sarah Pyle to learn more about the program and inspiration behind Sound of Late’s season opener:
Second Inversion: What makes Sound of Late’s concerts different from your average classical music performances?
Sarah Pyle: In all of our concerts, we aim for a more approachable, casual experience, and we love featuring Northwest composers and artists! Several members of the group have contributed to our past programming, so each concert really is a unique experience, as they tend to reflect the identities of the musicians in the group. In a typical concert experience, our audience is seated fairly close to us, and we hope that coming out to a show feels like having a really good conversation with a friend.
SI: Can you tell us a bit about your ensemble’s ongoing focus on music by women composers?
SP: We keep data on all of our past programming. Looking over the numbers today, I’ve found that in our regular concert series 58% of the music we have performed since our first concert in 2015 has been written by women composers. We don’t choose our programming based on gender metrics; it has just worked out that way. We program works the way I imagine many other artistic directors do—by asking, “Whose works impart meaning to me? Whose voice is resonating with me now?”
SI: What are some of the overarching themes of this particular program?
SP: This concert is really perfect for October. It’s all about decay and systems that change by breaking down. For instance, Anna Clyne’s Steelworks for flute, clarinet, two percussionists, and electronics features a tape part that incorporates interviews with workers in the last steel factory operating in Brooklyn. The recurring text is, “If something is working fine and you can keep up with demand, then there’s really no reason for you to change unless the machine breaks down by itself.” I’m sure this quote could inspire a hundred spin-off articles on “The State of Classical Music.” To me, though, the decomposition of cyclical mechanisms that this bit of text implies creates exciting spaces for opportunity. With this programming, we wanted to really showcase the aesthetics of systems in breakdown.
SI: In what ways (if any) do you feel that being a woman has shaped your experiences as a performer and concert curator? What advice do you have for other female-identifying artists who are aspiring to creative leadership roles?
SP: Representation really does matter. The first time I played a work by a woman composer in the classical sphere, I was 12 or 13 years old, working on the Concertino for Flute and Piano by Cécile Chaminade. My flute teacher at the time said, “You know she was a woman, right?” And of course I didn’t know. I remember feeling stunned that I had never even noticed I had only played works by male composers up to that point.
As a concert curator, I go to shows and notice an extreme lack of representation. Personally, I find the music being written by women composers today resonates with me in a powerful way. In all the programming work I have done for Sound of Late, I strive for representation without tokenism, and I know others in the group do the same.
As far as advice goes, the biggest piece of advice I’m living right now is to make sure you’ve got a proper support network. As a newcomer to Seattle (going on two years!), this is something I’m still building in my new city. What I love about Sound of Late is that the support network grows with each concert series, including new friends, guest musicians, and curious audience members.
The work, though, whether it’s writing, curating, or performing, is still hard to do, and it is easy to get discouraged. Some inspiring words that I think about almost daily are from an article published last summer by the composer Ashley Fure about her experience organizing a panel on gender in new music at Darmstadt: “Some of us now have access to the resources we need to make the work we believe in. What a gift that is. And with that gift, to my mind, comes an obligation to build our boldest aesthetic visions. I can say without pretense and in purely demographic terms: the canon needs us. Our most radical action is in making work.”
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this concert, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?
SP: This is probably my favorite set of pieces we’ve ever performed as a group. Most of the works are by living composers, including pieces by Somei Satoh, Anna Clyne, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Seattle composer Noel Kennon.
I’m looking forward to sharing the program with our friends in Seattle and Portland, and I hope our audiences leave with a desire to examine and unravel, to ask “What if?” and to find meaning and beauty in change.
Sound of Late’s Steelworks performances are Saturday, Oct. 21 in Portland at N.E.W. Expressive Works and Saturday, Oct. 28 in Seattle at Flutter Studios. For tickets and additional information, please click here.