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Originally published Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Concert review

Inspirational mutations at SSO's 'Sonic Evolution'

Tuesday at Benaroya Hall, Seattle Symphony Orchestra presented an inspirational concert of new music dedicated to the spirit of Seattle musicians Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Quincy Jones. A fourth piece, "Savana," was a collaboration between the orchestra and the irresistible pop band Hey Marseilles.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Concert Review |

In his opening remarks to Seattle Symphony Orchestra's "Sonic Evolution" program Tuesday at Benaroya Hall, music director Ludovic Morlot cited the title of Nirvana's 20-year-old hit song "Come As You Are" as the perfect theme for the evening.

It was Morlot's way of welcoming everyone in the near-capacity auditorium, both regular patrons and (perhaps especially) newcomers to a symphony performance.

Designed to draw an audience of music lovers who don't frequent shows of classical repertoire, "Sonic Evolution" presented three world premieres of short compositions (commissioned by SSO) for symphony orchestra. Each was tied in spirit and inspiration to a legendary Seattle musician, including Nirvana's frontman Kurt Cobain, guitar master Jimi Hendrix and jazz artist-producer Quincy Jones.

A fourth commissioned premiere, Seattle composer Phillip A. Peterson's lush, passionate and worldly "Savana," was written as a collaboration between Seattle Symphony and one of this city's most exciting ensembles, Hey Marseilles.

The second half of the show was essentially a truncated but satisfying concert by that irresistible, cosmopolitan pop band, whose members were loudly welcomed by a large number of their fans. Morlot was wise to include the group and give it a wide berth in addition to breaking in "Savana."

"Sonic Evolution" opened with Vladimir Nikolaev's dazzling "The Sinewaveland: Homage to Jimi Hendrix," which included a flood of bent notes on bowed strings, thunderous percussion, and haunting echoes of Hendrix's majestic textures, bluesy groans and ethereal splendor.

Seattle trumpeter-composer Cuong Vu and his band joined the orchestra to play Vu's "ONE," a powerful homage to Jones. Initially anchored by piano, the piece soon evolved into a broad dialogue between the core jazz instruments and then between entire sections. Vu's own ferocious solo almost seemed to choke his horn before "ONE" settled into an Aaron Copland-like augustness.

William Brittelle's "Obituary Birthday: A Requiem for Kurt Cobain" was a kaleidoscopic drama of protean themes, some epic, some small, floating or urgent. Fragmented melodies and a restless brilliance captured something of Cobain's artistry and, perhaps, Brittelle's take on the man himself.

All the composers took a bow, adding a nice touch to the overall sense of artist and audience inclusiveness "Sonic Evolution" inspired.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com.

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