A Singer’s Account of György Ligeti’s Requiem

by David Gary

Last week the Seattle Symphony and Chorale presented the Pacific Northwest’s first ever performance of György Ligeti’s ethereal and rarely performed Requiem (1965), conducted by Music Director Ludovic Morlot. This weekend, they’ll present a portion of it again as part of their live performance of Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Perhaps best remembered for his dense harmonies, tone clusters, and micropolyphonic textures, Ligeti was famous for crafting nearly impossible repertoire—and the fact it has taken half a century to mount a Seattle performance of his Requiem is a testament to its difficulty. This musical undertaking was certainly out of the typical chorale wheelhouse and was an audacious selection for the Symphony to perform. As a member of the chorale, I had the opportunity to learn this requiem and will share my experience in doing so.

Looking at the Score for the First Time

The physical score is bulkier than a standard choral scores, elongated both vertically and horizontally by the 20-part chorus notation. As singers, we are typically accustomed to four-part staffs—so it was immediately evident that this was not our standard choral repertoire.

Much of the Introit movement is written with sustained tones with shifts in tonality over quintuplet figures. The intended effect mimics a large crowd murmuring the Latin text of the Requiem Mass. However, the text throughout this movement remains entirely discernable because it is melismatic over so many different parts. (Ligeti’s own instructions call for a distant sound.) For many of us this piece was well outside our comfort zone, so this movement was a pragmatic place to begin breaking into Ligeti’s musical paradigm.

We quickly realized that pitches would not be our main focus throughout our work on the Requiem. Given the short time we had to learn the piece—only about three or four months with multiple other concerts sprinkled in—and the sheer difficulty of the written pitches, our pitch focus was aimed more at staying within certain range clusters and not wandering too far from the tonal core we were looking to find. Because finding pitches was going to prove so difficult, we put much of our initial energy on learning the rhythmic regime of this piece

Unique Musical Challenges

Like many musical undertakings, this piece presented three large challenges: notes, rhythm, and musicality.

Notes: One of the first things we realized was that we would not be able to learn our pitches as they were written. (This is not to say it is an entirely impossible task, but given our time constraints it would have proven impossible.) During the time of composition, Ligeti himself had to retract and edit some of his harmonies because choirs were unable to learn and perform their parts. There are times in the score where a thick black line appears over a vocal part indicating sections where exact pitches can be jettisoned. This is a challenge for any choir who is accustomed to learning and performing exactly what is on page.

Rhythm: This piece was easy to get lost in, so fighting to stay on track in this score was important. For instance, Ligeti subdivides some of his beats over 7 or 9. These unconventional rhythmic figures create an aural effect of dense clouds of quickly moving harmonies—but they are also incredibly difficult to learn and even harder to execute in context. Another challenge of this piece was remaining on your part’s staff within the score. In rehearsals, there were frequent times where upon flipping a page I would shift to a different line without noticing I was singing the wrong part for several measures.

Musicality: Some of the more important musical gestures in the piece have less to do with notes or rhythms than they do with the shaping of a particular phrase to achieve a human (rather than musical) effect. This sometimes proved a bit of a challenge, since many of us as singers are used to having our phrasing guided by melody and word stresses rather than purely visceral emotion.

Presenting the Performance

We had no idea how this piece would be received. For many of us, a piece like this wasn’t exactly the reason we had joined the chorus. Because it was so easy to get lost in the score, performing was a frantic combination of counting, score following, watching our conductor for the count, and finding first pitches. As any performer knows, one does not get on stage to necessarily listen and enjoy the performance but rather to focus in on one’s task as a musician: to present an audience with entertainment and an unforgettable experience. I believe we achieved this goal and helped evoke emotions in the audience that Ligeti strove to encapsulate in this piece.

Though this was an atypical finale for our regular season, I think many of us ultimately found great satisfaction in how this piece was received and the level of admiration bestowed upon presentation. As we move on to our next challenges, we can all agree that as a group our musicianship has been augmented—and I look forward to bringing what I learned from Ligeti to my next musical projects.


David Gary is the Development Coordinator at Classical KING FM 98.1 and a bass in the Seattle Symphony Chorale. The Seattle Symphony and Chorale perform Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on June 30 and July 1 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, click here.

Electroacoustic Operas, Space Odysseys, and More: Summer Music in Seattle

SI_button2Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and be sure to tag it with “new music.”


June-July 2017 New Music Flyer

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Harry Partch Celebration: Works Arranged for Partch’s Instruments
The UW School of Music and the Harry Partch Ensemble, under the direction of Charles Corey, perform three different concerts on the Partch instruments collection, including music by Partch, Lou Harrison, James Tenney, and more.
Wed, 5/31, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10
Thurs, 6/1, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10
Fri, 6/2, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10

Seattle Pacific University: Symphony of Psalms (World Premiere)
In commemoration of SPU’s 125th anniversary, university ensembles perform a new work for choirs and orchestra by SPU Professor Emeritus Dr. Eric Hanson.
Fri, 6/2, 7:30pm, First Free Methodist Church | Free

Kaley Lane Eaton: Lily (World Premiere)
Lily is a brand-new electroacoustic opera by Seattle Composer Kaley Lane Eaton based on the experiences of Eaton’s great-grandmother, an immigrant to the US who fled Europe at the start of the second world war.  Performance includes projected images by Rian Souleles.
Fri, 6/2, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

Seattle Modern Orchestra: Mystic Clarinet featuring Carol Robinson
Paris-based clarinetist Carol Robinson joins SMO for works centered around Italian Composer Giacinto Scelsi, including a world premiere composed by SMO Co-Artistic Director Jérémy Jolley.
Sat, 6/3, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25

Seattle Symphony: The Merriman Family Young Composers Workshop Concert
Players from Seattle Symphony perform 10 world premieres by composers under the age of 18. Presented in partnership with the Harry Partch Instrumentarium currently in residence at UW, under the direction of Charles Corey.
Mon, 6/5, 7pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | Free (RSVP encouraged)

Town Music: Every New Beginning (with SYSO)
Curated and conducted by Seattle favorite Joshua Roman, current Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra members, alumni, and professional mentor artists perform works by a diverse group of living composers, including Pulitzer-winner Caroline Shaw and Gregg Kallor, who contributes a world premiere.  Also broadcast LIVE on Second Inversion.
Wed, 6/21, 7:30pm, Town Hall | $5-$20

Seattle Symphony: Ligeti’s Requiem
Paired with the fifth symphony of Gustav Mahler, the Seattle Symphony and Chorale perform György Ligeti’s Requiem under the baton of Music Director Ludovic Morlot.
Thurs, 6/22, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $37-$122
Fri, 6/23, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $37-$122
Sat, 6/24, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $37-$122

Seattle Symphony: 2001: A Space Odyssey LIVE
Join Seattle Symphony for a screening of Kubrick’s masterpiece with the score played live.  The mind-bending classic prominently features György Ligeti’s Atmospheres.
Fri, 6/30, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $38-$128
Sat, 7/1, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $38-$128

Seattle Symphony: Helen Grime U.S. Premiere
Alongside works by Felix Mendelssohn and Carl Nielsen, Thomas Dausgaard leads the symphony in the U.S. premiere of Helen Grime’s “Snow” from Two Eardley Pictures, which had its world premiere at BBC Proms last summer.
Thurs, 7/1, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122
Fri, 7/1, 12pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122
Sat, 7/1, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122

Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival: Recitals and Concerts
SCMS offers a variety of new music in this summer’s series, including multiple pieces by Aaron Jay Kernis and Lisa Bielawa (one is a world premiere), and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.
Mon, 7/3, 7pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | Free
Mon, 7/10, 7pm and 8pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | Free-$52
Mon, 7/24, 8pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52
Wed, 7/26, 8pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52

Jesse Myers & Stacey Mastrian: Living in America & Binary Solo+
In a double-header concert, pianist Jesse Myers and soprano Stacey Mastrian share the bill.  Myers performs solo piano music of John Adams, Glass, Reich, Christopher Cerrone, and Mizzy Mazzoli, while Mastrian performs wide-ranging music for solo voice with electronics and piano.
Wed, 7/12, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | Free

ALBUM REVIEW: The Edge of Forever featuring The Industry & wildUp

by Seth Tompkins
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The release of the recording of the chamber opera The Edge of Forever by Los Angeles-based experimental opera company The Industry and modern music collective wild Up is a triumph. However, it is difficult to succinctly encapsulate exactly why this complex release is so tremendously special; some (ok, maybe a lot of) background information is needed first.

The Edge of Forever is a piece that is intentionally bound to a specific time and a specific place. This recording documents a performance that occurred on December 21, 2012. You may remember that date as a moment when various sources predicted an apocalypse of one sort or another because of that date’s association with the ending of the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar. The Edge of Forever is associated with that moment as well; this piece was inspired by the end of the Mayan calendar. Its association with this specific moment in time led its creators to perform it in public only once. This piece will never be performed again; luckily, we have a recording! To be fair, however, the released recording of the piece does contain some post-performance studio addition, but they serve only to recreate the experience of the live performance.

In addition to being tightly bound to a specific moment in time, this piece was designed to be performed specifically in its chosen venue. That venue was Los Angeles’s Philosophical Research Society. This institution is dedicated to the study and preservation of wisdom traditions from around the globe and throughout time, operating without evangelical doctrine. The Edge of Forever was designed to be staged specifically in this space, using various spaces at the Society as the narrative unfolded.

It is also important to note the mission of the Philosophical Research Society, as its devotion to cross-cultural learning and the wisdom of disparate cultures hints at the themes of transcendence and unity that emerge from every element of this piece as it unfolds. All of the major elements of this piece, both obvious and obfuscated, serve these themes. The composer (Lewis Pesacov) and the librettist (Elizabeth Cline) deserve high praise for their success in fusing the elements of The Edge of Forever into a deep and unified whole.

Elizabeth Cline Headshot

Elizabeth Cline. Photo Credit: Suzy Poling.

Lewis Pesacov Headshot

Lewis Pesacov. Photo Credit: Michael Leviton

Before exploring this recording, it might be helpful for listeners to brush up on their ancient Mesoamerican theology. However, if that idea is not appealing, the liner notes explain things adequately. Basically, according to the mythological explanation given in the liner notes, a chosen sacrificial individual was prophesized to transcend the previous era of time (pre-December 21, 2012) and act as a bridge into the next era of time through the fulfillment of a great love. That individual is the main character of this opera, La’akan.

Interestingly, and very much in line with the temporal focus of this work, the performance begins in what the creators call the “third act” of the opera. The first two acts are written to have already happened, so the audience joins the action in progress as the third act begins. The liner notes provide a somewhat-detailed account of the story up to the start of the third act. The music of this piece in divided into the five scenes (five tracks) of Act III.

As the recording begins (joining the story in scene 1 of Act III), La’akan is in seclusion, waiting for his beloved, Etznab, to appear. When the lovers are united, the prophecy states that this era of time will end and the new one will begin. Scene 1 is a “procession of the scribes.” The scribes here are four sopranos singing wordless tones that have a distinct “early-music” flavor. Overall, though, it would be difficult to confuse this music with its antique counterpart, given the striking quavering of the voices. This ancient-sounding music gradually transforms into quite modern sounds that remind me of a hypothetical chamber version of Ligeti’s Requiem (1965). The scribes are on a pilgrimage to the caves where La’akan is in seclusion so that they may witness the transformation of one era of time into another. The music of scene 1 is completely a cappella.

Scene 2 is an entr’acte. Temple bowls, I believe, augmented by electronic drones begin this movement. Later, strings and winds enter as this instrumental movement builds to a stirring climax that is at once uplifting and foreboding. The music then fades to a light electronic drone and strings enter. A mournful cello solo continues this movement, supported chiefly by percussion and light backup strings. The movement finishes with meditative drumming that should put even the most resistant or confused listener in the right frame of mind to accept the cosmic and transcendent musical scenes to come.

Scene 3 is quite brief. In this recitative, La’akan sings for the first time, singing the first English words in the piece. As scene 3 blends into scene 4 (an aria), La’akan describes his seclusion. He has focused solely on love, and abandoned all other desires. The instrumental music that accompanies La’akan during scene 4 features the soprano sax and English horn prominently, along with percussion. The sounds made by these two woodwind instruments here strongly resemble the sounds of the Tibetan gyaling. As Scene 4 ends, string imitate these sounds and carry us into Scene 5.

Scene 5 closes the piece with a second aria. As the piece enters this new sonic space that will eventually leave the audience in a warm bath of cosmic joy, a lovely English horn and soprano sax duet sets the tone. The woodwind playing could scarcely be more different that the bristly sounds of Scene 4; this dichotomy highlights both the versatility of the players and the skill of Pesacov, who has managed to compose with admirable economy, using the full expressive range of the instruments.

As Scene 5 progresses, La’akan reveals that the time has come for him to unite with the beloved and usher in a new age. His beloved is neither seen nor heard, but through the music, her presence is clear. The vocals here are accompanied by the full ensemble, but the drum and bells feature prominently. As the piece ends, the music coalesces around a single pitch, fading out in a gesture that suggests an ultimate unity. This might not seem an obvious way to end a piece about a topic that was popularly associated with an apocalypse, but after taking in the narrative of this version of the story, it makes perfect sense.

Much of the music in Scene 5 is reminiscent of John Adams’s The Dharma at Big Sur. Both pieces are deeply spiritual, but approach spirituality from apparently opposite directions (mythology vs spiritual commune with nature). One particularly tantalizing possibility about the source of this similarity might be fact that Adams’s Dharma is also about an “edge,” although a much more concrete edge; the John Adams piece is about standing on the western edge of the American continent. Whatever the true source of their similarity, it is fascinating and pleasing that they end up in similar sonic spaces, but ultimately not surprising, given the orientation of The Edge of Forever toward multifaceted transcendence of apparently unrelated realms.

This overarching themes of unity and transcendence are everywhere in The Edge of Forever. First, it is inside the narrative: it is present in the element of the bridging of two eras of time, the more simple union of a lover with their beloved (who may or may not be supernatural), and the union of humanity with the cosmic through the timeless power of love. This last element of the narrative focuses on the power of love and unity to transcend the human time scale. In the words of the librettist, “one can find forever in each moment.”

These themes are also written into this piece through the composer’s use of the ratio at the heart of the Mayan calendar. The Mayan calendar in question here is built upon the ratio 13:20, and the complex interactions of those two numbers. The Maya were able to use this simple method of counting to understand time scales of cosmic proportions which otherwise would be outside the realm of human comprehension.

Pesacov uses these numbers and this ratio to generate most of the musical structures (both large and small) in the piece. Excitingly, however, the overall effect is not that of a piece created by the cold application of numerals, but rather a lovingly conceived narrative supported by tasteful and interesting instrumental writing. The successful coexistence of these two seemingly opposing motivations is evidence of the composer’s skill.

Here, too, then, is transcendence woven into this piece in two ways: the Mayan calendar itself suggesting the extension of the human mind into otherwise unreachable territory while the construction of musical structures using its elements unifies numbers and musical expression into a beautifully multifaceted whole.

Pesacov also manages to work a third iteration of unity and transcendence into this score with his ingenious orchestration. The ensemble here is relatively small, but it is packed with instruments that have association with religions from around the world, thus deepening this piece’s commitment to transcendence. From Tibet, there are singing bowls (I think), the replication of the sound of the gyaling by the soprano saxophone and the English horn, and the conch shell. The conch is also found in the religious traditions of Pacific island nations, India, East Asia, the Caribbean, and (poignantly, in the case of this piece) Mesoamerica. Other instruments in this piece are common to religious traditions too numerous to name; drumming, bells, and a cappella singing are firmly in this category. So, even the instrumentation itself contributes to the themes of unity and transcendence in The Edge of Forever.

When I encountered this piece initially, the interesting story and beautiful performances of the players and cast drew me in. Then, the more deeply I explored this piece and its backstory, the more layers of connection (transcendence) I found. This tells me that Pesacov and Cline really knew what they were doing. The result of their multifaceted success is that any listener can enjoy this release; you can listen for the intricate construction and efficient writing or you can just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the thing, or both! Whatever your motivation, I think it would be difficult for any listener to experience The Edge of Forever without feeling the love.

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New Music Concerts: May 2016 Seattle * Eastside * Tacoma

SI_button2Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list drop us a line at least 6 weeks prior to the event.

Program Insert - May 2016(updated) - onesided

 

 

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-15

1
Noise Yoga with John Teske
Noise Yoga is a series of yoga classes that combine the meditative intentionality of yoga with the sonic depth of live performance by local musicians
Sun, 5/1, 11:30am, Frye Art Museum | $10

5
Josh Archibald-Seiffer + Ania Stachurska
UW composers Josh Archibald-Seiffer & Ania Stachurska present works with themes spanning political civil war, children’s lit, language, & the uncanny.
Thurs, 5/5, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

6
Seattle Composers’ Salon
Composers, performers, & audience gather in a casual setting that allows for experimentation & discussion of finished works & works in progress.
Fri, 5/6, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

6-8
The Esoterics: Milton Babbitt
A celebration of Babbitt’s centenary featuring his entire catalog of a cappella choruses, several of which have never been performed in live concert.
Fri, 5/6, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Seattle | $15-$20
Sat, 5/7, 8pm, Holy Rosary Church, West Seattle | $15-$20
Sun, 5/8, 7pm, Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma | $15-$20

7
Seattle Wind Symphony: American Places
Donald K. Miller leads the SWS in a program of Donald Grantham, William Schuman, Eric Whitacre, Ron Nelson, and more.
Sat, 5/7, 7:30pm, Shorewood Performing Arts Center | $5-$20

7/8
Seattle Rock Orchestra performs Neil Diamond
SRO celebrates the man, the myth, the legend: Neil Diamond. SRO will explore his entire catalogue, performing hidden gems and revered hits alike.
Sat, 5/7, 8pm, The Moore Theatre | $20-$37.50 (+ fees)
Sun, 5/8, 2pm, The Moore Theatre | $20-$37.50 (+ fees)

10
Inverted Space: Long Piece Fest
A double-header concert featuring two commissions from Seattle composers Kevin Baldwin and Takemitsu prize-winner Yigit Kolat.
Tues, 5/10, 7:30pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

13
Seattle Symphony: Sonic Evolution: This is Indie!
This concert features Michael Gordon, William Brittle, Tomoko Mukaiyama, Fly Moon Royalty & Filmmaker Bill Morrison. Co-Presented With SIFF.
Fri, 5/13, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $25-$52

20/21
Universal Language Project: The Elements
An interactive event featuring visual artist Scott Kolbo and iconoclast band TORCH.
Fri, 5/20, 8pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $10-$25
Sat, 5/21, 8pm, Velocity Dance Center | $15-$25

21
Kirkland Choral Society: Luminous
KCS premieres a commission from Ola Gjeilo plus many Gjeilo favorites from previous concerts and will be joined by the Skyros Quartet.
Sat, 5/21, 7:30pm, Bastyr University Chapel | $15-$20

21
SMCO Season Finale: Mozart, Carter, Ligeti, and Haydn
Seattle Met. Chamber Orchestra welcomes Cristina Valdes, Matthew Kocmieroski & Maria Mannisto – 3 soloists in high demand for contemporary music!
Sat, 5/21, 8pm, First Free Methodist Church | $15-$20

22
Music of Remembrance: Jake Heggie’s Out of Darkness
This two-act opera and portrait of survival conveys the vastness of the Holocaust’s scope through emotionally rich depictions of those caught in its grasp.
Sun, 5/22, 4pm, Benaroya Hall | $30-$45 ($5 TeenTix)

24
Town Music at Town Hall: Season Finale
Joshua Roman, Arnaud Sussman, Karen Gomyo, & Kyle Armbrust will perform Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 and a commissioned piece by Andrius Zlabys.
Tues, 5/24, 7:30pm, Town Hall | $5-$25

27
Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife
Join us for Second Inversion’s 2nd annual showcase at Northwest Folklife! We’ll feature bi-coastal musicians and local favorites alike.
Fri, 5/27, 8pm, Center House Stage | FREE

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Preamble by Qasim Naqvi

by Maggie Molloy

Standard Western music notation is made up of five lines, four spaces, and a whole lot of dots and symbols. But contemporary composer and drummer Qasim Naqvi was looking to make classical music that was a little less traditional.

Qasim Naqvi PicPerhaps best known as the drummer for the Brooklyn-based modern acoustic trio Dawn of Midi, Naqvi is also an accomplished composer in his own right. In his new album, titled “Preamble,” he combines graphic notation and traditional notational forms to inject a little aleatory into his compositions. Expanding upon the musical innovations of composers like Ligeti and Xenakis, these aleatoric components allow for the musicians to make spontaneous choices within a structured framework.

“Some of the graphic components deal with dynamics and expression, while others deal with duration and rhythm or ranges that are unique to the particular instruments in the ensemble,” Naqvi said. “This symbolic language is fused into a more conventional style of notation.”

“Preamble” is comprised of a series of short works for mixed acoustic instruments. Released this fall on NNA Tapes, the album features the Contemporary Music Ensemble of NYU and Naqvi himself as the conductor. The work was originally commissioned by the media artist Mariam Ghani, the choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly, and the St. Louis Art Museum as a score to a film installation loosely based on China Miéville’s sci-fi noir novel “The City & the City.”

“One aspect of the book involves two cities that essentially inhabit the same space, but because of the mindset of the citizenry and the threat of a Big Brother-type power known as the Breach, they are perceived as two separate geographic spaces,” Naqvi said. “Even though both cities are intertwined, in a sense, the citizens must unsee the people, buildings, and events of the other city. This, among many other plot elements from Miéville’s book, was used as a conceptual framework that was then mapped onto the real places and histories of St. Louis.”

The result is a suite of seven short pieces weaving in and out of time to explore the principles of chance and intention—in both music and history. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the scope of Naqvi’s album is nothing if not ambitious. But without a minute wasted, Naqvi manages to explore the power of music in all of its complexity, with special concern taken to St. Louis’s cultural, geographical, and political histories.

“It’s very much about the city’s history and as well the tragic and fracturing events of Ferguson, sort of raising the question of what a city chooses to see and unsee in times of tragedy,” he said.

The first piece on the album is the title track, which immediately introduces Naqvi’s unusual timbral palette: flute, clarinet, strings, vibraphone and piano. Metallic dissonances and abstracted harmonies ebb and flow in a fascinating textural landscape that seems to exist outside of time and space altogether.

It’s followed by the resonant plucking, sparse harmonies, and hollow textures of “Meg Erase Meta,” a piece inspired by St. Louis’s complex network of underground caves—a city beneath a city, so to speak. With modest forces of strings and piano, Naqvi explores these hidden places and the musical magic to be found within them.

But Naqvi also explores the city’s more somber mysteries. The duality and disjointed melodic fragments of “Children of the Drawer” give way to the sharp and, at times, jarring woodwinds of “Imagined Garages,” wherein long pauses punctuate metallic clamor and fragmented melodic flutters.

“Beyond Stars” takes on a more meditative atmosphere, with sliding strings in the lower registers swaying fluidly back and forth across a softly shimmering harmonic backdrop. A more frantic and unsettling “Aero” builds into the drama of the closing piece: “Esc.” Flute, clarinet, and strings swell into different colors and shapes, transforming and shifting across the soundscape until we are left with an unexpected silence.

Throughout “Preamble,” Naqvi colors outside the lines—he takes his bold textural and timbral palette and smears the rules of time, space, and traditional composition. He explores the notion of chance and intention throughout music and throughout history—and ultimately, by leaving some of the musical elements up to the performers, he ensures that this tale of two cities is never told the same way twice.

“What happens as a result is that you have these moments of the music being in control, and then you have moments where the music starts to fall over onto itself,” Naqvi said. “Those types of moments really interest me because they’re inexplicable. You can’t transcribe or write those moments down or recreate them. And there’s something kind of amazing about that.”

PS – for a special bonus, here’s a recent installment of The Takeover, hosted by Qasim Naqvi, introducing all of the tracks on Preamble:

ALBUM REVIEW: ORBIT: Music for Solo Cello (1945-2014)

by Maggie Molloy

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What do Jimi Hendrix guitar solos, György Ligeti sonatas, Shakespeare sonnets, and Spanish sarabandes all have in common? Each of them appears in one form or another on cellist Matt Haimovitz’s latest release, “Orbit: Music for Solo Cello (1945-2014).”

Sprawling in scope, “Orbit” is a three-disc compilation of music for solo cello featuring works by over 20 contemporary composers, 15 of whom are still living. The ambitious solo album is also one of the first releases on the new Pentatone Oxingale Series. This innovative new project is a collaboration between the Dutch classical music label PENTATONE and Haimovitz’s own  trailblazing artists’ label Oxingale Records, which he created in 2000 with his partner in life and music, composer Luna Pearl Woolf.

Clocking in at a hefty 3 hours and 45 minutes, the album features solo works that Haimovitz initially released on Oxingale as five thematic albums: “Anthem” (2003), “Goulash!” (2005), “After Reading Shakespeare” (2007), “Figment” (2009), and “Matteo” (2011). The album also includes two newly-recorded works: Philip Glass’s “Orbit” and a new arrangement by Woolf of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.”

Over the course of three discs, Haimovitz takes the listener on a musical odyssey through time and space, from minimalism to maximalism, tonal to atonal, folk to avant-garde, abstract to narrative, and everything in between.

The album begins with the title track, Philip Glass’s “Orbit.” Warm and achingly tender melodies evolve softly over the course of this seven-minute solo work, and Haimovitz crafts each note gorgeously.

He tackles a very different style of contemporary classical in his performance of Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza XIV,” a virtuosic piece with mesmerizing rhythms inspired by Sri Lankan drumming. Haimovitz bows, plucks, taps, twangs, slides, scrapes, and soars through a number of extended techniques before settling into silence.

Another memorable moment on the album is György Ligeti’s Sonata for Violoncello Solo, a piece Haimovitz worked directly with Ligeti himself to learn. The piece’s modal melodies and Hungarian profile make clear the influence of Bartók and Kodály, and Haimovitz brings out the complex polyphonic counterpoint beautifully. It is followed by a performance of Du Yun’s “San,” a piece which weaves musical fragments of Eastern mysticism and meditation into a mesmerizing yet haunting sound world.

Haimovitz also takes a crack at some contemporary popular music: the album includes his own cello arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s famous “Star-Spangled Banner” performance at Woodstock. He snarls, growls, and wails through the Hendrix classic so convincingly that you’d almost expect him to have a whammy bar hidden somewhere on his cello. Haimovitz also takes on the Beatles’ loud, wild, and raunchy proto-metal anthem, “Helter Skelter.”

Over the course of disc two Haimovitz glides through the dramatic and dense melodies of Elliott Carter’s “Figment” (Nos. 1 and 2), the ethereal whispers of Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Ai Limiti Della Notte,” and the gorgeous cantabile lyricism of Luigi Dallapiccola’s “Ciaccona, Intermezzo e Adagio.”

But the most sentimental piece on the album is Woolf’s “Sarabande.” Derived from the Baroque Spanish dance form, the piece is also named after Haimovitz and Woolf’s child, who was lost mid-term in utero. The poignant and pensive work is both delicate and passionate, and Haimovitz brings it to life with remarkable timbral detail.

The third disc features three suites inspired by literature. The first is Ned Rorem’s “After Reading Shakespeare,” a suite in which each movement is based on a quotation from a Shakespearean play or sonnet—and the nine movements explores the romance, beauty, and balance of Shakespeare’s poetry without using a single word.

Inspired by Rorem’s work, Haimovitz commissioned two new suites based in literature by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Paul Moravec and Lewis Spratlan. Moravec’s “Mark Twain Sez” takes the witty words of Mark Twain as the basis for an eight-movement exploration into the human condition, exploring themes of dreams, love, humor, insanity, mystery, and more.

The album comes to a close with Spratlan’s four-movement “Shadow,” a surreal musical reflection which takes the symbolist poetry of Rimbaud to a whole new world.

Because in the end, the musical possibilities for solo cello are about as numerous as the stars in the sky—and Haimovitz puts them all into “Orbit.”

Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley, from our field trip to the Tractor Tavern in Seattle on February 2, 2015

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: February 5-10

by Maggie Molloy

“Baroque-N-Hearts,” eighth blackbird, and a brassy quartet are just a few of this week’s music events to help you start your February off right!

30th Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival

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Seattle’s favorite musical improvisers may be used to flying by the seat of their pants, but this weekend they’ve got some pretty big plans: the 30th Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival. The three-day festival highlights the growth and expansion of new and experimental music in Seattle by featuring local and guest artists.

This Thursday, catch the electro-clarinet concoctions of Matthew Ostrowski and Paul Hoskin followed by a quartet of trumpets and trombones. Friday’s lineup features electronics, found objects, and plenty of jazzy, snazzy brass. And finally, Saturday will feature saxophonist Neil Welch joined by two harpists, as well as two different trios featuring electric guitar: one alongside cello and drums and the other alongside trumpet and electronics.

The festival is this Thursday, Feb. 5, through Saturday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. each night at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

eighth blackbird on the UW World Series

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“I know noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms; but I know, too, that the blackbird is involved in what I know,” wrote the American Modernist poet Wallace Stevens in his 1917 poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

It is from this verse that the Chicago-based new music ensemble eighth blackbird takes its name. The group combines the virtuosity and finesse of their classical music training with the energy and fearlessness of contemporary music.

This weekend, the sextet is coming through Seattle to perform an all-acoustic recital featuring works by György Ligeti, the National’s Bryce Dessner, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and several other contemporary composers.

The performance is this Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse Theater at University of Washington.

Seattle Pro Musica’s New Sounds Northwest

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The Northwest is known for its beautiful mountain ranges, its gorgeous coastlines, and its lush forestry—with all of these breathtaking landscapes, it’s no wonder our region’s composers are so inspired. This weekend, Seattle Pro Musica is celebrating one of the most magnificent things about the Pacific Northwest: its music.

“New Sounds Northwest” is a series of outreach performances featuring new music by Northwest composers, performed by the celebrated Seattle Pro Musica choir. This weekend’s program features works by Morten Lauridsen, Vijay Singh, Brian Galante, Eric William Barnum, and more!

The performance is this Sunday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tacoma. An additional performance is next Sunday, Feb. 15 at 3 p.m. at Church of the Redeemer in Kenmore.

Early Music Underground Presents “Baroque-N-Hearts”

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Whether you’re single or seeing someone, the new Early Music Underground has the perfect performance to put you in the Valentine’s Day mood. They’re teaming up with Naked City Brewery to present “Baroque-N-Hearts,” an evening of beautiful music, delightful company, and delicious food and drinks. Bach, brews, and burgers—sounds like a match made in heaven!

The event features Baroque music for (and against) Valentine’s Day performed by singer Madeline Bersamina, flutist Josh Romatowski, cellist Juliana Soltis, and harpsichordist Henry Lebedinsky.

“This is not museum music,” Lebedinsky said. “This is living, dynamic, passionate people playing music that can really connect and move people today, if given the chance.”

The performance is next Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood.