New symphony series is [untitled], but not unwelcome
An innovative contemporary music series called [untitled] wins new listeners at Seattle Symphony.
Special to The Seattle Times
Under the impact of initiatives like the [untitled] series introduced by Ludovic Morlot, which on Friday came up with three world premieres and two other substantial contemporary works, it would be wrong to forget the achievement of his predecessor, Gerard Schwarz, as a champion of new music in general, and new American music in particular.
That said, the freshness and creativity of Maestro Morlot’s innovations deserve to be enthusiastically welcomed. In the [untitled] series, modern music is performed late at night, and not in one of Benaroya Hall’s two formal auditoriums but in the totally informal surroundings of the Grand Lobby. It has clearly attracted a substantial number of new listeners.
Friday’s audience, disposed variously on chairs, in booths, on an array of colorful cushions, and on the stairs, was obviously having a good time, enjoying a set-up nothing like the almost hierarchical separation between players and public in an actual concert hall.
The evening’s three premieres were all of works by orchestra members. The sonorities of principal oboe Ben Hausmann’s Oboe Quartet No. 2 occupied an attractive mid-ground between harmonic and polyphonic writing. His instrument, rather than dictating the course of the work, was deployed rather to inject a subtle additional color to the ensemble.
Principal bass Jordan Anderson offered “Traction,” a subtle and allusive piece, mysterious in manner and highly effective in its quiet and understated virtuosity. It amounts to a sort of “Succeeding,” in contrast to “Failing,” Tom Johnson’s hilarious piece that has the bass-player lamenting the fact that he is doing just that.
The most straightforwardly romantic of the three new works was principal bassoon Seth Krimsky’s “Love Song,” scored, along with his instrument, for violin and cello, and incorporating a few tubular-bell effects to be produced by the players themselves. Its easeful euphony clearly made a strong impact on the audience.
The three debutant pieces were bravely juxtaposed with works by two distinguished composers who are not part of the Seattle Symphony family, and good as those works were, the home team was by no means disgraced in the comparison.
Cambodian-born Chinary Ung’s contribution to the program, “Grand Alap,” is a wonderfully evocative setting of the cello against the background – one might say in the embrace – of warmly resonant sonorities on the tuned percussion.
Anna Clyne’s String Quartet “Roulette” revealed her (to reverse the familiar phrase) as a sort of sheep in wolf’s clothing. Rather like the great Iannis Xenakis, whose use of mathematical and scientific formulas never concealed the beating of a richly romantic heart, she succeeds in drawing from devices of what I like to call the “avant-derrière-garde” a romanticism of her own that reached, in this piece, true grandeur.
Performances by the participating composers and their colleagues were totally committed and often remarkably beautiful. As also in a pre-concert program of music and poetry that was rather too New-Age-y for my taste, presentation steered a skillful course between free flow and informative management, and it was good to see so numerous, and so diverse, a crowd having serious fun with the music of our time.
Bernard Jacobson: firstname.lastname@example.org