Program Notes for [untitled]: “Professor Bad Trip”

(c) 2013 Brandon Patoc Photography

Attending the Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] concert tonight? Grab a chair, booth or cushion, and open your ears. Have something to say about the music? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

Follow the links below to read program notes about each piece. Enjoy the show!

GÉRARD GRISEY: Périodes from Les espaces acoustiques

TRISTAN MURAIL: L’esprit des dunes

FAUSTO ROMITELLI: Professor Bad Trip, Lesson 2




Gérard Grisey: “Périodes” from “Les espaces acoustiques”

After studying with Oliver Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, Gérard Grisey (1946–98) won the prestigious Prix de Rome and embarked on a two-year Italian residency. During that period in the early 1970s, he banded together with other young French composers (including Tristan Murail, also heard on this program), developed new compositional theories, and wrote some of the first works in a style that would come to be known as “spectral music.” Périodes, from 1974, represented a breakthrough in spectral composition. Grisey continued working through the same material until 1985, and he ultimately grouped the six related scores into a cycle called Les espaces acoustiques.

The essence of spectralism is to base the musical material on the natural phenomena of sounds, particularly the sequences of overtones that vibrate within every pitch. While the math involved in constructing some of these spectral works is not for the fainthearted, the ultimate result is music that has an aural resonance in tune with the natural world — an antidote to the heady serialism that dominated French music in Grisey’s time. Périodes, with its evolving textures and haunting microtones, is a perfect example of the credo that underpinned Grisey’s craft: the notion that “music is made with sounds, not with notes.”

© 2014 Aaron Grad

Tristan Murail: “L’esprit des dunes”

Tristan Murail (b. 1947) was part of the same orbit as Grisey, also studying with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, decamping to Rome and co-founding the Ensemble l’Itineraire, the group that helped establish spectral music in France. Murail composed L’esprit des dunes (“The Spirit of the Dunes”) on a commission from Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), a French institute for cutting-edge research in music founded by Pierre Boulez.

For L’esprit des dunes, Murail started with recordings of traditional music from Mongolia and Tibet, including local versions of the trumpet and Jew’s harp used in Tibetan religious rituals, as well as a distinctive style of overtone singing from Mongolia (akin to the Tuvan throat singing from Siberia). Through mathematical analyses of the recorded samples, Murail generated electronic sounds and notated material for the ensemble of 11 instruments. Eastern-inflected motives (as in the oboe’s opening phrases) and windy gusts evoke the Asian deserts that inspired Murail, but the effect is not literal sound-painting; it is the inner spirit of these ravaged landscapes that comes through in Murail’s deconstruction and reassembly of the source material.

© 2014 Aaron Grad

Fausto Romitelli: “Professor Bad Trip,” Lesson 2

Fausto Romitelli (1963–2004) was one of the most radical voices among European composers until his early death from cancer at the age of 41. He trained in his native Italy with Franco Donatoni, and he drew inspiration from an earlier Italian maverick, Giacinto Scelsi, but Romitelli ultimately found his personal sound in France, working with Grisey and Murail, and doing spectral research at IRCAM in Paris.

Romitelli composed the uproarious cycle Professor Bad Trip between 1998 and 2000, dividing the work into three “lessons.” The sprawling scores drew inspiration from LSD advocate Timothy Leary as well as the writings of Henri Michaux, who experimented with psychedelic drugs to fuel his poetry and artwork. Romitelli cited the prevalence in this rock-and-roll-infused score of a “hypnotic ritual aspect, the taste for deformation and for the artificial: obsessive repetitions, constant and insistent accelerations of materials and tempos subjected to drops and distortions to the point of saturation, white noise, catastrophe; a constant drift towards chaos, objects pronounced and immediately liquefied; unsustainable speed and density.” Emerging out of the initial mayhem, an explosive cello cadenza ushers in a darker, more restrained tone for the closing minutes of the work.

© 2014 Aaron Grad

Karlheinz Stockhausen: “Gesang der Jünglinge”

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007) fascinated and agitated the art-music world for more than five decades. His work ranged from electroacoustic experiments to a 29-hour cycle of seven interrelated operas, and even a string quartet performed by four musicians in separate airborne helicopters. Gesang der Jünglinge, developed in 1955–56 at a radio studio in Cologne, Germany, was a landmark work of electronic music, and it helped establish Stockhausen as a ringleader among Europe’s most adventurous composers. This “Song of the Youths” seamlessly integrates electronically generated sine waves and pulses with the recorded voice of a 12-year-old boy. The sung text comes from a biblical account in the Book of Daniel, in which the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar burns three boys, who are miraculously unharmed. By today’s standards, the electronic techniques behind Gesang der Jünglinge are primitive and antiquated, yet the compositional integrity and emotional impact remain robust after nearly 60 years.

© 2014 Aaron Grad

The Seattle Symphony Goes to Carnegie Hall

In just two days the Seattle Symphony travels to New York City for a much-anticipated performance at Carnegie Hall as part of the Spring For Music festival, as well as a late-night concert at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

For those of you who won’t be able to make it to New York City, here’s how you can keep up with the orchestra over the next few days. Enjoy the music!

FOLLOW our tour blog,, for behind-the-scenes coverage from Benaroya Hall to the Big Apple.

WATCH our musicians perform at (Le) Poisson Rouge at 7pm PST on Monday, May 5.

STREAM our performance at Carnegie Hall live — complete with interviews with Ludovic Morlot and John Luther Adams — at Program begins at 4:30pm PST on Tuesday, May 6.

ENJOY the Carnegie Hall concert broadcast on Classical KING FM 98.1 at 8pm PST on Tuesday, May 6.

Mixing It Up at the Symphony

Mark your calendars — on June 6, Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony will be joined by Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Sir Mix-A-Lot

You heard right. The Seattle-native rapper is collaborating with composer Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of THE Sergey Prokofiev) for the Symphony’s Sonic Evolution project. Sir Mix-A-Lot will be performing selected hits, orchestrated by Prokofiev, with the Symphony. Prokofiev is also composing an orchestral piece inspired by the music of Mix-A-Lot. Read Rolling Stone‘s piece on the collaboration here.

Sonic Evolution, an annual concert (now in its third season) that celebrates musical cross-pollination, will also feature world premieres inspired by Seattle icons Bill Frisell and Ray Charles, composed by Luís Tinoco and Du Yun. The concert closes with a performance by Seattle band Pickwick, orchestrated for the Symphony by composer David Campbell.


The whole process is creative, collaborative, boundary-defying and thought-provoking.

And — perhaps equally importantly — it’s just plain fun.

Learn more about this program and get tickets here.

Introducing Seattle Symphony Media

The Seattle Symphony is excited to announce the launch of its new record label, Seattle Symphony Media. Engineered here at the Symphony and featuring the stunning acoustics of Benaroya Hall, these releases — and those to come — reflect the Symphony’s commitment to artistic excellence and bold music.

Watch the video below to hear what Music Director Ludovic Morlot and Executive Director Simon Woods have to say about this exciting new venture, and scroll further down to see artwork for the releases.

Now available for pre-sale, these recordings will be available for digital download on April 1 and in-store purchase on April 29.

Click here to pre-order your copy, and for more information.

Symphony No. 1
Tout un monde lointain
The Shadows of Time

Alborada del gracioso
Pavane pour une infant défunte
Rapsodie espagnole
“Organ” Symphony


Symphony No. 2
An American in Paris

Celebrate Asia with the Seattle Symphony

What started six years ago as a community project has grown into a vibrant artistic forum for top musicians from around the world. Celebrate Asia is not just a Seattle Symphony concert — it is a recognition of the unique impact of Asia on Seattle’s colorful culture, touching everything from film and video game production to culinary delights and spiritual practice. Immigrants from across the Pacific Ocean have been a part of this city’s life from the very beginning, and today they and their descendants comprise 15% of the region’s population. Seattle’s strong Asian presence is borne out by its geography: It is as close to Tokyo as it is to London.

In the bond between Tokyo and Seattle, one enduring connection has been the art of filmmaking. Toru Takemitsu, the dean of all Japanese composers, was the musical voice behind many of Japan’s greatest films, including collaborations with the legendary director Akira Kurosawa. To begin the Celebrate Asia concert on March 21, the Seattle Symphony presents three selections from Takemitsu’s film scores. In these vivid excerpts, the music creates a dialogue between cultures; one selection depicts the gritty street life of New York, and another mimics lofty Viennese society with a waltz.

The spirit of discovery that fuels Celebrate Asia led the Seattle Symphony to invite a trio of Vietnamese and Swedish musicians, The Six Tones, to perform on traditional plucked instruments alongside the orchestra’s string players in an intimate ensemble setting. Seattle’s own Richard Karpen, a composer and pioneer of digital arts at the University of Washington, created a new work for this occasion that weaves together traditional Vietnamese folk music and dance, along with a film that will be screened live.

Mahesh Krishnamurthy and Ambi Subramaniam perform on traditional instruments at last year's Celebrate Asia concert; photo by Don Pham

Another way the Seattle Symphony tracks new developments in Asian-influenced music is through its Celebrate Asia Composition Competition. Shuying Li, a young woman from China now studying at the University of Michigan, impressed the judges with her “skillful orchestral writing, very colorful language and huge waves of sound,” says Elena Dubinets, Vice President of Artistic Planning. Li’s evocative Overture to The Siege comes from a new opera based on a Chinese tale.

This celebration of Asian creativity does not ignore the European roots of classical music either. Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor is a warhorse of the repertoire, but here its fiery passions are stoked by a new voice, the Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang, Gold Medalist at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. And leading the entire program is Seattle-based conductor Julia Tai, whose childhood in Taiwan and studies in southern California shaped her wide-ranging musical tastes.

Patrons enjoy the pre-concert activities before last year's Celebrate Asia concert; photo by Don Pham

The Symphony’s performance is just one component of the Celebrate Asia festivities. Guests who gather before the concert in the Grand Lobby will be treated to a heritage dress parade, dance styles from Thailand and the Philippines, and much more.

Celebrate Asia certainly strengthens the Seattle Symphony’s ties to Asian communities around the Pacific Northwest, but it also demonstrates a broader goal of the organization: to champion classical music as a living, evolving, participatory craft. Music lovers of any background are sure to be engaged and stimulated by the bold mix of Asian and Western traditions that is Celebrate Asia.

Learn more about the concert program, and get your tickets, here.

(c) 2014 Aaron Grad

Creative Diaspora: Émigré Composers from the Former USSR: March 22 & 23, 2014

To complement the U.S. premiere performances of Alexander Raskatov’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, “Night Butterflies” (March 20, 22 & 23), the Seattle Symphony (the co-commissioner of the piece) will hold a conference on music of Russian diaspora, co-hosted by the University of Washington’s School of Music and Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures (March 22 & 23).

A “Russian invasion” has left palpable traces on the world’s musical landscape throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The latest wave of music emigration from the former USSR is comparable in numbers to the early 20th century’s wave and includes such important names as Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina. The conference, “Creative Diaspora: Émigré Composers from the Former USSR,” aims to further the discussion of the music created within the diaspora by promoting music by important but unfairly forgotten or not yet well-established Russian émigré composers, and by advocating for the inclusion of issues related to Russian émigré music into the general studies of border crossing, emigration and diaspora.

Tickets are required for the March 20, 22 & 23 Masterworks Season concerts. All other conference panels and discussions are free and open to everyone. For more information on this conference, please contact Elena Dubinets, Seattle Vice President of Artistic Planning, at

Saturday, March 22

12:30–1:30pm (Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby)
Tales and Counterpoints

Claudia R. Jensen (Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington)
“‘The Incurable Russian Soul’: Seattle Discovers Russian Music, 1903–1954”

Laurel Fay (Consultant, Russian and CIS Music, G. Schirmer, Inc.)
“Cultural Collisions: Tales from the Late Soviet Period”

1:30–2pm – Coffee Break

2–3pm (Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby)
Diasporic Communities

Natalie Zelensky (Assistant Professor of Music at Colby College)
“Russian Émigré Church Music: Conundrums of Style and the Politics of Preservation”

Marina Ritzarev (Professor of Music at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and President of the Israeli Musicological Society)
“Whose Home and Where? Russian-School Composers in Israel”

3–4pm (Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby)

Elena Dubinets (Vice President of Artistic Planning at the Seattle Symphony)
“Creative Diaspora Introduction: Contextualizing Music by Russian Émigré Composers Within History and Culture”

4–6pm – Dinner Break

6pm – Pre-concert Event (Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium)

Panel discussion with world-renowned Russian music scholars Laurel Fay, Marina Ritzarev and Natalie Zelensky, moderated by Elena Dubinets. As part of the event, the Seattle Chamber Players will perform Alexander Raskatov’s Time of Falling Flowers.

8pm – Concert (S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium)

Performers: Ludovic Morlot, conductor; Tomoko Mukaiyama, piano; Seattle Symphony


Rimsky-Korsakov: Suite from The Snow Maiden
Alexander Raskatov: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, “Night Butterflies” (U.S. Premiere)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, “Pathétique

Click here to learn more about this program.

10:15pm – Post-concert Discussion (Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby)

Participants: conductor Ludovic Morlot and pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama

Sunday, March 23

11–12:30pm (Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center)
First and Last Waves

Joshua Bedford (Doctoral Student in Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the University of Georgia)
“Alexander Tcherepnin’s Musical Language: A Look at a Composer’s Compositional Method out of the Russian Revolution Diaspora”

Ondrej Gima (Doctoral Student at Goldsmiths College, University of London)
“The Fiery Angel (Original Version): The Triangle of Love, Despair and Obsession”

Christoph Flamm (Professor of Applied Musicology at the University of Klagenfurt, Austria)
“The Very Last of Soviet Émigré Composers: Lera Auerbach”

12:30–2pm – Lunch Break

2–3:30pm (Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center)

Michael Berry (Lecturer at the University of Washington)
“Sofia Gubaidulina’s Musical Borrowing from Western Sources”

Peter Schmelz (Associate Professor of Musicology and Chair of the Music Department at Washington University in St. Louis)
“Ghosts and Shadow Sounds: Schnittke, Homeless”

Anna Levy (pianist) and Gregory Myers (independent scholar from Vancouver, Canada)
“Inside a Masterpiece: Musical and Ritual in Nikolai Korndorf’s Yarilo

3:30–4pm – Coffee Break

4–5:30pm (Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center)
Classical Music and Beyond

Inna Naroditskaya (Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Northwestern University)
“‘All at Once’ – About Yakov Jakoulov”

Alexandra Grabarchuk (Doctoral Student in Musicology at University of California, Los Angeles)
“Catching the Last Train Home: David Tukhmanov’s Role in Post-Soviet Diasporic Estrada”

Dmitry Ukhov (jazz critic, Russia)
“Historical Features of Jazz Migration in the USSR and Russia to the USA”