ALBUM REVIEW: Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s ‘AEQUA’

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Saga Sigurdardottir.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir treats each of her works as an ecosystem. Musical materials—motifs, harmonies, textures—are passed from performer to performer through her pieces, constantly developing and transforming. Like different species in an ecosystem, these elements sometimes coexist peacefully and sometimes compete or clash.

In her new album AEQUA, Thorvaldsdottir works with performers from the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) to create a variety of musical ecosystems of different sizes, featuring both large and small chamber ensembles. The album captures the beautiful chaos of the natural world, the individual voices evolving and intertwining across each piece.

AEQUA’s small ensemble works—“Spectra,” “Sequences,” “Reflections,” and “Fields”—are characterized by the integration of slow, lyrical string melodies into dense, unwieldy sound worlds. As the materials are passed around the ecosystem of instruments, the melodies—calm and plaintive—rise to prominence in some moments and at others descend into the eerie whirl of sound created by sustained, clashing harmonies, percussive bursts, and darker permutations of the melody itself.

There is a constant ebb and flow throughout the chamber works as the performers crescendo, then decrescendo, join in energetically all at once to form an intricate texture, then fade away to leave only a gentle melody or quiet sustained tone. This consistent pattern of rising and falling intensity gives a cyclic quality to the pieces, as though the musical ecosystem is transforming across life cycles and seasons.

The circle effect is also used in Thorvaldsdottir’s large ensemble works, “Aequilibria” and “Illumine.” Running chromatic motifs create wild spirals of sound, the cyclic rise and fall unfolding rapidly and with greater intensity. There are moments of calm when the chaotic texture gives way to lyrical melodies and gentle sustained tones, but forceful percussion and chromatic outbursts quickly interrupt the peace.

The album’s only solo piece, “Scrape,” performed by ICE pianist Cory Smythe, manages to capture this complex interplay of different species in an ecosystem with just one instrument. While the piece is largely situated in the lower register of the piano with heavy, thudding rhythms and a rich, dark timbre, there are clear, piercing runs in the higher register that interrupt and play off of the low sounds. Moments of silence are incorporated, building anticipation for the looming rise in intensity and playing into the cyclical nature of AEQUA.

In its own way, each piece on the album feels as though you’re walking through the forest or staring into the depths of the ocean, observing the peaceful and violent ways creatures and plants coexist. The complex interplay of melodies, harmonies, and rhythms as they develop—both working together and clashing—creates a kind of beauty that, like the natural world, is at times unsettling and overwhelming, but endlessly captivating.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Spirals’ by Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir

Nordic Affect (Left to right: Hanna Loftsdóttir, Guðrún Hrund Harðardóttir, Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, and Guðrún Óskarsdóttir.)  Photo by David Oldfield.

by Maggie Molloy

“Hér” is the Icelandic word for here. That idea of being present—of listening, of connecting here and now through music is at the heart of Nordic Affect’s new album He(a)r. Out now on Sono Luminus, the album is a collection of seven world premiere recordings penned by women composers and performed by women musicians.

He(a)r is an ode to hear, here, hér, and her,” writes Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, the ensemble’s artistic director and violinist. Wide-ranging sound worlds from Stefánsdóttir, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Mirjam Tally, and Hildur Guðnadóttir comprise the album, each offering a distinct perspective on the ways in which we hear and create sound—our individual voices and the ways in which they interact.

“Spirals,” one of two works contributed by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, circles around these themes and expands outward: dense chords, hazy melodies, and fragmented sounds from an old music box echo and grow into an immersive meditation on time itself.

We are thrilled to premiere a brand new video for Sigfúsdóttir’s composition “Spirals,” performed by Nordic Affect.


Nordic Affect’s He(a)r is out now on Sono Luminus. Click here to listen to the full album.

Women in (New) Music: Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Clara Schumann, one of the greatest pianists of the 19th century, wrote a piano concerto at the age of fourteen. But by the time she was in her thirties, she had largely given up the idea of composing.

I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea,” she said. “A woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it.”

Why did Schumann believe this when many talented and prolific women composers—like Hildegard von Bingen, Barbara Strozzi, Fanny Mendelssohn—had come before her? Because music by women was too often ignored and trivialized.

While women composers have made significant gains in the music world in recent years, there is still a disparity between how often and the way in which we talk about male and female musicians. Many writers and audiences still use deeply gendered language to discuss music by women, often subconsciously. Ideas that women’s talents are limited to shorter, simpler forms and emotional, but technically unimpressive works still lingers. The percentage of music by women taught in music classrooms is still staggeringly low. To many young musicians, it still can look as though women don’t really compose.

That’s why changing how we talk about women in music is so important, and why the website Music Theory Examples by Women is organizing an Edit-a-Thon to change the way women in music are representedstarting with Wikipedia.

The national Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29. The goal is to edit existing entries and create new entries to radically update the way women in music are represented across Wikipedia—and eventually, the broader musical discourse.

Anyone anywhere can participate, but if you’d like to edit with a group, in-person workshops are being offered throughout the country. The first half of the event will focus on discussing biased writing on women in music and learning how to edit Wikipedia. Attendees will have the time to work on editing and adding to Wikipedia entries during the second half. No prior musical knowledge or experience with Wikipedia is needed.

Seattle’s event is hosted by Live Music Project Executive Director Shaya Lyon, and will begin this Saturday, Sept. 29 at 10am. Click here for additional details.

Additional workshops are being held in Boston, MA, East Lansing, MI, Houston, TX, Fredonia, NY, and Rochester, NY. Click here to learn more or register for a workshop.

New Music for June: Red River, Wonderful Town, and LOTS of Women in Music

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

New Music Flyer June 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: sound collages, electronic textiles, radiophonic works, and more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

PNB: Love & Ballet
Love takes many formsfrom literal to abstractduring Pacific Northwest Ballet’s four-pack of contemporary hits featuring music by Arvo Pärt, Sufjan Stevens, Joby Talbot, and Beethoven.
6/1-6/10, Various times, McCaw Hall | $37-$187

Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra: Zimmermann
An ardent pacifist and humanist, German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann‘s abhorrence for his country’s actions during World War II resulted in compositions that cried for justice and brotherhood. Seattle Philharmonic performs his final work: “And turning around me, I saw all the injustice under the sun.”
Sat, 6/2, 2pm, Benaroya Hall | $20-$30

Ancora: Postcards
Ancora performs song suites from four corners of the world: Russia, Japan, Spain, and Iran. The program features songs by and Sergei Rachmaninoff, Bob Chilcott, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and Abbie Betinis.
Sat, 6/2, 4:30pm, Green Lake Church of Seventh-Day Adventists | $11-$14

Inverted Space Ensemble: UW Composition Studio
New music collective Inverted Space performs works by UW faculty composers Huck Hodge, Joël-François Durand, and Chuck Corey, as well as world premieres by student composers Aidan Gold, Irene Putnam, and Nikki Chang.
6/2, 7:30pm, UW Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Tess Altiveros performs the role of E in Seattle Opera’s new production.

Seattle Opera: O+E
Journey to hell and back with a new twist on Gluck’s classic telling of Orpheus and Eurydice. A groundbreaking adaptation of the legendary tale reimagines the main characters as a modern same-sex couple and features an all-female cast and creative team.
6/2-6/10, 2pm/8pm, Seattle Opera Studios | $45

Seattle Mandolin Orchestra: The Wheel
The musical worlds of the U.S. and Iran come together in this concert featuring the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra and the Seattle Guitar Ensemble. An exciting new generation of Iranian and American composers will debut works for mandolin ensemble, guitars, strings, and voice.
Sun, 6/3, 7pm, Trinity Parish Church (Seattle) | $15-$25

Orca Concert Series: English Quintets
Seattle clarinetist and composer Sean Osborn reimagines 19 Beatles songs in his Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. Quintets penned by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Arthur Bliss round out this evening of English music.
Mon, 6/4, 7:30pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $15-$25

Seattle Modern Orchestra: In Quest of Spirit
In their season finale, the Seattle Modern Orchestra performs British composer Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti (Devotion): an epic 50-minute work centered around Sanskrit hymns from the Rig Veda and scored for chamber ensemble and quadraphonic tape.
Sat, 6/9, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25

Seattle Symphony Composer-in-Residence Alexandra Gardner.

Seattle Symphony: Wonderful Town
A world premiere by composer-in-residence Alexandra Gardner is performed alongside selections from Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway classic Wonderful Town and his cheeky Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs.
Thurs, 6/14, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74
Sat, 6/16, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74

Seattle Symphony: [untitled] 3
The sonic landscapes of the Southwest come alive through Alexandra Gardner’s playful Coyote Turns and Mason Bates’ richly-colored Red River. Ahmet Adnan Saygun’s lyrical Partita for Solo Cello completes this late-night program in the Benaroya Hall Grand Lobby.
Fri, 6/15, 10pm, Benaroya Hall Grand Lobby | $16

Brass Band Northwest: On the Town
Brass, jazz, and classical music combine in this sparkling program featuring three dances from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town performed alongside George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and other works.
Sat, 6/16, 7:30pm, Bellevue Presbyterian Church | $10

Kin of the Moon presents a world premiere by Renée Baker.

Kin of the Moon: Tyaga
Experimental chamber troupe Kin of the Moon performs the inimitable Renée Baker’s newest piece, Tyaga: Divine Life Suite. Scored for voice, viola, cello, percussion, electronics, and a whole lot of flutes, the piece will also feature guest improvising artists Gretchen Yanover and Greg Campbell.
Sat, 6/16, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: Copland Symphony No. 3
Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, with its rousing Fanfare for the Common Man, comes to life alongside music of Leonard Bernstein and John Williams.
Thurs, 6/21, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74
Fri, 6/22 (Untuxed), 7pm, Benaroya Hall | $13-55
Sat, 6/23, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74

Women in (New) Music: Women’s Day Marathon Reprise

by Maggie Molloy

Back by popular demand! To those who missed our 24-hour marathon of women composers on International Women’s Day: you’re in luck. Today we’re bringing back another 24-hours of music by women composers from around the globe. Tune in all day to hear works by 220 women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music.

Maggie Molloy, photo by Nicole Schlaeppi.

Plus, in Seattle tonight our Women in (New) Music Founder and Director Maggie Molloy presents a lecture on the history of women composers at the Seattle Opera SOWING Circle’s signature Wine Music Chocolate event.

The SOWING Circle (Seattle Opera Women’s Initiative Group) is a group of women dedicated to embracing and expanding the opera and classical music community in Seattle. As curator and host of this year’s Wine Music Chocolate event, Maggie will share five musical selections by women composers from across history, each paired with a wine by a woman vintner.

To learn more about the SOWING Circle and Wine Music Chocolate, click here.