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 elena.dubinets@seattlesymphony.org.

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”


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Seattle Symphony Job Perk #294: Awesome cards and tooth-wrecking candy from one of our incredibly talented graphic designers:

Also acceptable:

You “minuet,” Valentine.

You “bagatelle,” Valentine.

You “gigue,” Valentine.


Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

Program Notes for [untitled]: Black Angels

(c) 2013 Brandon Patoc Photography

Attending the Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] concert tonight? Grab a chair, booth or cushion, and open your ears for music that is at turns eerie, diabolical, flamboyant, mythical, churning and enigmatic. 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!

MORTON FELDMAN: The Viola in My Life, Part 3

KALEVI AHO: Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano


GEORGE CRUMB: Black Angels for Electric String Quartet

Morton Feldman: “The Viola in My Life,” Part 3

Morton Feldman (1926–87) honed his unique musical voice in the 1950s among the abstract expressionist painters and poets who congregated on West Eighth Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. Like his friend John Cage, Feldman experimented with forms of musical notation that avoided specific pitches and rhythms, and his scores explored hazy, morphing clouds of sound, not unlike the glowing “color field” paintings of his colleague Mark Rothko. Feldman returned to traditional notation around 1970, fleshing out this approach in a series entitled TheViola in My Life, composed for the violist Karen Phillips. The first two installments placed the viola within chamber ensembles, while the third paired the viola with a piano. Feldman added a fourth score to the series in 1971, with the violist cast as the soloist in a concerto. (His famous tribute from the same year, RothkoChapel, formed something of a coda to the set, with a violist featured among an ensemble of wordless vocalists, percussion and celeste.)

In The Viola in My Life, Part 3, piano chords punctuate the slow-moving line traced by the muted viola. A rising figure for unaccompanied viola recurs as the central, unanswered question of this enigmatic miniature.

© 2014 Aaron Grad

Kalevi Aho: Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano

Finland has produced an astounding roster of world-class composers in recent generations, including Magnus Lindberg, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho. For more than 40 years, their slightly older but less well-known compatriot Kalevi Aho (b. 1949) has been composing exquisite music for large ensembles, including 15 symphonies and 19 concertos to date (as well as four operas, nine shorter works for orchestra and a significant body of chamber music). Aho has become more prominent recently through the ongoing support of another Finnish musician, the conductor Osmo Vanska, who has premiered and recorded many of Aho’s scores.

The Finnish Viola Society commissioned Aho’s Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano to be performed by entrants in the Tampere Viola Competition in 2006. Their request, as Aho summarized it, was that the trio “should be quite short and flamboyant, but nevertheless not unreasonably difficult, and capable of being rehearsed to performance standards relatively quickly.” The result is a single-movement trio that directs a bit of extra attention to the viola while still engaging its chamber music partners in a balanced dialogue. From a contemplative first section, the tempo ratchets up progressively until the ensemble reaches a churning climax at a presto tempo. The viola’s recollections of the opening strains give way in the end to a last burst of rapid motion.

© 2014 Aaron Grad

R. Murray Schafer: “Theseus”

R. Murray Schafer (b. 1933) is one of Canada’s most accomplished and imaginative composers. He spent more than 40 years creating the theatrical cycle Patria, which melds philosophy and metaphysics with a radical rethinking of the performance experience. (For a recent performance of the 10th section, spectators were urged to wear sturdy shoes and required to sign a waiver before they could wander through a labyrinth 10 years in the making, one at a time, for two hours each; for the epilogue, participants spend a week in the woods preparing for a culminating ritual.)

Theseus, from 1983, is an offshoot of the fifth installment of the Patria series, titled The Crown of Ariadne. In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, the king of Crete. She managed the vast Cretan labyrinth designed by Daedalus, where young Athenians were sacrificed at the hands of the Minotaur, part-man and part-bull. The Athenian prince Theseus volunteered to enter the labyrinth and slay the Minotaur, and Ariadne was so smitten by him that she sent him in with a thread that he could unwind as he progressed so as to find his way out of the labyrinth. The triumphant Theseus escaped the maze and eloped with Ariadne, but he left her while she slept on the island of Naxos. This story plays out loosely in Schafer’s music for harp and string quartet. The desolate opening proceeds to more adventurous passages with lines that unfurl like Ariadne’s thread. Brittle music suggests an encounter with the Minotaur, and violent strikes on the harp channel the fatal blows. The final sections mirror Theseus’ retreat and his abandonment of Ariadne, voiced in a brief appearance by a soprano.

© 2014 Aaron Grad

George Crumb: “Black Angels”

George Crumb (b. 1929), one of America’s most celebrated composers, is best known for a handful of personal and evocative works from the late 1960s and early 1970s. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for Echoes of Time and the River, and in 1970 he composed two scores that ensured his immortality in music: Ancient Voices of Children and Black Angels.

Black Angels combines Crumb’s expressive palette of sounds, in which the amplified string players also strike percussion instruments and make vocalizations, with his fascination with numerology and religious symbolism. He dated the finished score “Friday the Thirteenth, March 1970 (in tempore belli)” — “in time of war” — and constructed the music as a series of “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” that pit the devilish number 13 against the godly 7, all organized in three symmetrical sections labeled Departure, Absence and Return. Musical quotations from Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata complement Crumb’s own haunting gestures, and references to the Dies irae (“Day of Wrath”) plainchant reinforce the religious symbolism. The dark heart of the work is the central seventh section, with its disturbing shouts and unhinged trills.

© 2014 Aaron Grad