VIDEO PREMIERE: Melia Watras’s ‘Berceuse’

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Fairy tales and folk songs are just a couple of the major influences behind violist Melia Watras’s new album, Schumann Resonances. More specifically, the album grew out of her love for Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland), one of the great pieces of the viola repertoire.

The album features Watras performing six world premieres of new works inspired by Märchenbilder, fairy tales, and other folklore. Among them are enchanting new pieces by Cuong Vu, Richard Karpen, and Watras herself.

We’re thrilled to premiere the video for one of Watras’s original compositions from the album, “Berceuse with a Singer in London.” Scored for voice and viola, Watras dedicated the piece to folk singer Galia Arad (the daughter of violist and composer Atar Arad, with whom Watras studied). The piece is equal parts art song and folk lullaby, its intertwining melodies made more potent by its sparse texture and poetic text, which was written by Watras’s frequent collaborator, violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim.

Schumann Resonances also marks the launch of Planet M Records, a brand new record label founded this year by Watras and Lim. The Seattle-based, artist-led label specializes in music at the intersection of classical and contemporary.


Melia Watras’s Schumann Resonances is out Friday, Feb. 8 on Planet M Records. Click here to learn more and pre-order the album.

Timbre, Sound, and Subjective Time: Seattle Modern Orchestra Plays Orlando Jacinto Garcia

by Gabriela Tedeschi

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, please click here.

ALBUM REVIEW: 26 by Melia Watras

by Geoffrey Larson

Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

If you’ve ever witnessed a live solo or chamber music performance by Melia Watras, you are familiar with the sense of immediacy that her playing involves. It’s this immediacy of beautiful tone and hard-charging energy that seizes the listener in her live performances. I was hoping that her new album on Sono Luminus, titled 26 after the total number of strings on instruments played in the recording, would yield the same ear-grabbing experience. On the whole, it does not disappoint.

The album’s selections are all world-premiere recordings of new works of music, the majority of which are Watras’ compositions. The program of music here is smart for a couple reasons. First, let’s be honest: an album of contemporary viola solos and duets may not be everyone’s cup of tea, even fellow musicians. But for those in search of interesting discoveries of great new music and those eager to discover the far reaches of a viola’s solistic capabilities, this album presents a vibrant range of music that refreshingly eschews mainstream-appeal fluffiness. Watras’ personal connection to the composers and performers also strengthens the performances immeasurably: her former teacher Atar Arad performs his and Watras’ compositions, and she is also joined by her husband, violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim and longtime collaborator Garth Knox on viola d’amore. For these reasons, it definitely deserves a listen.

Watras’ compositions on 26 present a style with foundations in improvisation, rounded out with high amounts of technical difficulty. Liquid Voices, with its shimmering harmonics, crunching dissonances and angular, Stravinsky-like melodies, was inspired by a Virginia Woolf short story. Prelude and Luminous Points are both intensely personal portrait-like works, the first inspired by Bach and Watras’ relationship with her former teacher and the second by Lim’s evocative high playing. Photo by Mikel is possibly the album’s most energetic work and sounds especially improv-driven, evoking all sorts of different characters from the instrument. The Sonata for Viola Solo seems like a real repertoire piece, just jam-packed with musical content that utilizes a huge range on the instrument and some interesting techniques. Though the speed at which ideas move by is occasionally jarring, this is great musical storytelling, and I am left feeling like I’ve been along with Watras on a real journey of some sort. Its message is slightly uplifting, with the theme of a “timeless positive force” from the second movement returning at the very end in offstage playing.

Bicinium, a composition by Watras’ UW colleague Richard Karpen, presents two long, winding lines that succeed in creating a lush, enjoyable texture from only two instruments. Lim’s violin and Watras’ viola are tightly wound together, never resting in this marathon 20-minute composition until the viola gets the last word at the end. The piece’s general idea is varied in expressive ways, evoking shifting pastel colors, but this work is straightforward overall, producing no sounds that seem particularly new or different.

The two works by Arad and the one by Garth Knox are more instantly accessible than the other pieces on this release, for better or for worse. In the album-opening Toccatina a la Turk, I could feel a bit of Brubeck even before I heard the direct Blue Rondo reference. The short, fiery variation at the end left me wishing that this brief composition was longer, and took that theme further into Turkish territory. Esther contains some of the most lyrical writing on the whole album, and is a wonderful showcase for the richness of Watras’ and Arad’s viola sounds. Knox’s Stranger is possibly the album’s most tonal work, but not one of simplicity, cycling through some arresting sonic elements that are easy to love and stay with the listener.

The crystal-clear Sono Luminus sound only serves to strengthen the impact of 26. This is an album that does more than just show off virtuosity: it showcases Melia Watras’ bravery as a performer and composer, and clearly translates the power of close personal relationships in great chamber music performances. The only thing better would be seeing these musicians perform this program live in person.

[editor’s note: you CAN see selections from this performed live! Melia’s 26 album release show will be on Friday, February 24 in Brechemin Auditorium (University of Washington School of Music) at 7:30pm. The program includes selections from 26, a video presentation, and commentary from the artist.]

NEW VIDEO: Berceuse by Melia Watras

by Maggie Stapleton

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of husband and wife duo Michael Jinsoo Lim and Melia Watras. They’re one half of the Corigliano Quartet, whose recordings are often heard on our 24/7 stream, we’ve featured them on our weekly program The Takeoverreviewed Melia’s latest Sono Luminus album Ispirareand most recently we hosted them in our studios to record a video of Melia’s composition, Berceuse. This piece showcases Melia’s composer-performer role and the beauty of a relationship between two people share a life in and outside of music.

“Berceuse for violin and viola is an adaptation of the original voice and viola version of the piece, which I wrote for the fantastic folk singer Galia Arad. The piece first took shape while I was practicing the exquisite fourth movement lullaby of Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder. Galia’s folk style was very much in my mind as I composed.

Violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim and I have been performing together since we met in our freshman year at Indiana University, so it was a natural fit to adapt Berceuse for violin and viola. Mike also exchanged bow for pen, as the author of the text for the vocal version of the piece.” – Melia Watras

Michael and Melia are integral to the (new) music community in Seattle – Michael as Concertmaster of the Pacific Northwest Ballet and Melia as Associate Professor of Viola and chair of Strings at the University of Washington. Both actively perform in other venues around the Northwest and are always pushing the boundaries of what music and art can be.

Melia&Mike2015 Michelle Smith-Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see more videos produced by Second Inversion, check out our video page!

CONCERT PREVIEW: Viola and Vixens: Women in Classical Composition

by Maggie Molloy

Women ComposersIf you attended a major symphony performance anywhere in the U.S. last year, chances are you did not see any works by women composers.

Women Composers Statistic

Infographic by Rachel Upton and Ricky O’Bannon.

In fact, if you’re like most Americans, it’s quite conceivable that you have never seen a live performance of a symphonic work by a woman composer.

According to a survey of the 22 largest American orchestras, women composers accounted for only 1.8 percent of the total pieces performed in the 2014-2015 concert season. And of the performances of works by living composers, women accounted for just 14.3 percent.

To say that women are underrepresented in the classical music canon would be an understatement. Women are clearly not being heard—the question is, why is nobody listening?

Amber Archibald-SesekLearn about this and many more issues of feminism in classical music at Dr. Amber Archibald-Sešek’s FREE Viola and Vixens recital tonight, which features the WORLD PREMIERE of Seattle-based composer and clarinetist Angelique Poteat’s new piece, “Water Pastels.” Also included on the program are three other leading contemporary female composers: Rebecca Clarke, Libby Larsen, and Amanda Harberg.

I am also very proud to announce that yours truly will be presenting the pre-concert lecture on the past, present, and future of feminism in classical music.

My lecture will traverse the following topics:

     1. Who are some of the key women composers in music history?
     2. Why are these women are not included in the Western classical music canon?
     3. How does this relate to larger issues in feminism?
     4. How can we begin fixing the issue of women being underrepresented?
     5. What might the future of classical music might look like?

I won’t give too much away, but I will say it’s an event you definitely do not want to miss!

Viola and Vixens is on Thursday, March 31 at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium on Capitol Hill. This concert is FREE, though donations will be accepted to help fund the Seattle U viola studio’s upcoming trip the American Viola Society conference in Oberlin, Ohio. The pre-concert lecture starts at 6:30 p.m., and the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information, please visit this link.