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Originally published Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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Blue Scholars, Alice in Chains inspire composers for 'Sonic Evolution'

The Seattle Symphony will perform works by composers inspired by local artists Blue Scholars and Alice in Chains as well as the band Yes in "Sonic Evolution" on Oct. 26, 2012. Ellensburg native Star Anna and her band, the Laughing Dogs, will be guest performers.

Special to The Seattle Times

CONCERT PREVIEW

'Sonic Evolution'

8 p.m. Friday, at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $19-$51 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
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Following last year's tribute to Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra's "Sonic Evolution" is feting more Seattle music legends in its second round.

The Friday night event will find SSO music director Ludovic Morlot again exploring the legacies of popular artists with deep roots in the Emerald City. This time, grunge pioneers Alice In Chains and hip-hop duo Blue Scholars served as inspirations for world-premiere compositions written for symphony orchestra.

A third world premiere is dedicated to the much older and very British progressive band Yes. The 44-year-old classic rock group still tours and records, and there is indeed a Seattle connection: Drummer Alan White not only lives here but is a supporter of regional arts and music education.

White will perform with the symphony on composer Alexandra Gardner's "Just Say Yes."

Morlot is careful to explain that "Sonic Evolution," which shows every sign of being an annual program, is not a series of orchestral arrangements of familiar songs. It is about the impact of selected artists' sound on some of the most interesting and respected young composers in the world.

"The guest composers are capturing the spirit of artists through themselves, writing new music that interests them," says Morlot. Unlike other "Sonic Evolution" premieres, "Just Say Yes" in part grew out of time Gardner spent with White gaining insights into his band's music.

White says Gardner "has seen Yes play many times, and she's taken what we do and embellished it. She's a left-field kind of person with a great outlook on music. She worked on ("Just Say Yes") quite a while, and it sounds fantastic."

American composer Arlene Sierra wrote "Moler" — Spanish for "to grind" — after selecting Alice In Chains' 1995 hit "Grind" as the basis for her contribution.

"The band has a hard, visceral sound, which is something I try to do with my orchestral music," says Sierra. "I expected 'Grind' to be sexy, but it's about anxiety. So I was imagining the orchestra's teeth grinding in a certain way."

Sierra's British husband, Kenneth Hesketh, wrote "Knotted Tongues" to represent the politically active Blue Scholars.

"The composers I like nearly always have some sort of social leanings, whether that's class struggle or a wrong to be righted," says Hesketh.

"Blue Scholars songs suggested many orchestral colors and machinelike textures."

In the show's second half, alt-country singer-songwriter Star Anna and her band the Laughing Dogs will perform with the orchestra.

"Sometimes I write with a grandeur in mind," says Star Anna, an Ellensburg native. "We get as close as we can with a four-piece band.

"Playing with the orchestra just makes everything bigger and more powerful."

Morlot says "Sonic Evolution" "attracts a lot of people going to the symphony for the first time. We will continue to do this always with the principle of inviting people to hear the orchestra, regardless of their musical taste. That's the message."

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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