Women in (New) Music: NOCCO Concert Preview and Q&A with Angelique Poteat

by Maggie Molloy

With the Winter Solstice rapidly approaching, the days are shorter and the nights are colder. Daily temperatures hover just around freezing and the sun sets before most people even leave the office.

It’s been a trying year in more ways than one, and as winter winds blow us straight toward the end of 2016, it’s easy to feel that the world is dark and cold—both literally and figuratively.

noccoBut the North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) is combatting that coldness with music that is warm, radiant, and bursting with light. Their annual Winter Solstice Celebration this weekend offers a sonic respite from the cold and dreary December temperatures with performances Sunday at Magnolia United Church of Christ and Monday at the University Christian Church.

The celebration pairs classics by Stravinsky, Respighi, and Bach with a West Coast premiere of a new work by Seattle composer and clarinetist Angelique Poteat. Titled Floral Interactions, the piece is a garden of swirling melodies composed for eight wind players and two percussionists.

And since this is its very first Seattle performance, we asked Poteat to give us a sneak peek at what’s in store:

Second Inversion: How would you describe your compositional style? What are some of your major influences?

angelique-poteatAngelique Poteat: As a performer of a melodic, or linear instrument (clarinet), my music tends to be fairly melodic and very thematically oriented.  There is a great deal of layering of lines, which in turn influences my use of harmony.

I grew up listening to a plethora of musical styles, from country music and rock ‘n roll to church hymns and jazz.  A lot of this has found its way into my music, aside from classical influences like Bartók and Messiaen.  I feel that my music and style is constantly evolving.

 

SI:  What was the inspiration behind Floral Interactions? What does it sound like, and how did you choose this instrumentation?

AP: I wrote Floral Interactions in 2006 for the 21/21 New Music Ensemble at Rice University.  The instrumentation was requested by the ensemble.  My inspiration for the work came from several friends of mine, who at the time were reassessing their relationships with one another.  I wanted to capture some of the emotions involved with feeling like a friend is drifting away because of the introduction of a significant other.  With the exception of the climax, much of the piece is dynamically understated, with swirling, dense textures that are juxtaposed with moments of awkwardness and solitude. The title is a play on Florid, which describes the writing for each instrumental part.

SI: Women are extremely underrepresented in musical leadership roles, and especially in composing.  How has being a woman shaped your experiences in this role?

AP: In a society that promotes ideas like Affirmative Action, extra effort is being made to assure that female composers are given opportunities to have their music recognized.  As a composer in the “minority,” I have felt extra pressure to create music that is significant not only within my gender, but compared to all contemporary classical music that is being written today.

I don’t want to be categorized as a good “female composer,” or programmed as the “token female composer,” but instead thought of as an “outstanding composer,” period.   It is not so easy to cross that gender line, and maybe that means that my music has to be better than better.  I think all women, to some extent, feel that they have to put forth more effort than they should in order to be taken seriously.

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SI: What advice do you have for other women who are fighting to have their music heard?

AP: Writing music is not easy!  Music has a great potential to affect people differently in very strong ways; someone out there will love what you write, and someone out there will hate it.  With that in mind, write what YOU love.  

If you’re writing music for live musicians, remember that you’re writing for people, and put care into writing each part.  Share your music with as many people as possible, and your excitement about it!  In today’s world, you have to be the greatest advocate for your music, especially in the face of adversity.  Your enthusiasm about your music will be contagious, and others who hear and like your music will also fight to have it heard again.

SI: What are you most looking forward to with the NOCCO Solstice Celebration, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

AP: This weekend’s NOCCO performances will be the first time Floral Interactions will be performed without a conductor!  I’m excited to hear the difference that a more “chamber music” approach to performing the piece will have on how the music is interpreted and coordinated.  I made a few small revisions to the work earlier this year, so we could call this the world premiere of the updated version and, at the very least, the West Coast premiere of the piece.

I love NOCCO’s idea of creating light during the darkest time of the year by sharing warmth and beautiful music, and this program will certainly feature plenty of that!  I’m grateful to be included in the Celebration, and I hope that audiences will feel inspired and moved by the experience.


Performances of NOCCO’s Winter Solstice Celebration are this Sunday, Dec. 18 at 7:30pm at Magnolia United Church of Christ and Monday, Dec.19 at 7:30 at the University Christian Church in Seattle. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

From John Cage to Afro-Cuban Jazz: Concerts You Do NOT Want to Miss This Season

by Maggie Molloy

Ahh, fall. The leaves are changing, the rain is sprinkling, the sky is cloudy, and the pumpkin spice marketing is in full swing. Those hot summer days are finally behind us and we’re back to our familiar, cozy, flannel-covered fall in Seattle. After all, October is a time for new beginnings, new adventures, and—most importantly—new music.

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Seattle’s 2016-2017 concert season is jam-packed with fresh new music of every shape, style, and structure (or lack thereof). From John Cage to Afro-Cuban jazz,  Astor Piazzolla to Andy Warhol, Benjamin Britten to Brazilian poetry—there is something for everyone. Here are some of our top picks for the season:

On Stage with KING FM: Second Inversion is thrilled to host two concerts this year as part of the second season of On Stage with Classical KING FM! In March, we’ll present the Seattle Marimba Quartet with an eclectic program of classical favorites, modern marimba repertoire, and interactive drumming rhythms drawing from Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and African musical traditions.

Then in May, back by popular demand, we present the Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with the mesmerizing Tamara Power-Drutis for a program that transforms pop songs into art songs, reimagining both classic and modern tunes as intimate chamber works for the recital hall. Check out our videos from last season for a sneak-peek of what you can expect.

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Seattle Symphony: Ditch the conventional concert-going experience of strict seating, fancy attire, and three-hour long performances with Seattle Symphony’s [Untitled] concert series. This season you can catch landmark works by Witold Lutosławski (arguably Poland’s most innovative composer since Chopin), drench yourself in the dramatic soundscapes of Polish composer and singer Agata Zubel, explore the wide-ranging musical styles of Soviet era composers, and even enter into the twisted worlds of two of America’s most confounding cultural icons: pop artist Andy Warhol and jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.

And speaking of jazz: Seattle Symphony will also co-present their annual Sonic Evolution concert with Earshot Jazz this November. Grace Love and the Garfield High School Jazz Band join the symphony for an evening celebrating two extraordinary Seattle musicians: the incomparable composer and record producer Quincy Jones and the legendary blues singer Ernestine Anderson, both of whom attended Garfield High School.

Untitled Concert

Meany Center for the Performing Arts: Formerly known as the UW World Series, Meany Center is still just as committed as ever to bringing music from around the world to their Seattle stage. In November, they’ll feature the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds quintet, known around the globe for their dynamic playing, culturally conscious programming, and adventurous collaborations. Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, Cuban-born jazz saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, and Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen are just a few of the composers listed on this program.

In January, the New York-based Jack Quartet presents an evening of composed and improvised music along with visiting artists from the internationally acclaimed Six Tones Ensemble and UW School of Music faculty members Richard Karpen, Juan Pampin, Cuong Vu, and Ted Poor. And if you can’t make it to these concerts, don’t sweat—Second Inversion will be broadcasting them live on our online stream.

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John Cage Musicircus: Come one, come all to the John Cage Musicircus this November 19! This multimedia concert “happening” features over over 60 musicians, dancers, performance artists, and poets simultaneously performing pieces from Cage’s expansive body of work, including the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, In a Landscape for (unprepared) piano, Child of Tree for amplified cactus, Third Construction for unorthodox percussion instruments, Cartridge Music for amplified small sounds, 45’ For A Speaker for spoken voice, and much more!

Performers will be stationed all over Town Hall, with audience members encouraged to explore how the sonic and visual experience shifts as they wander freely throughout the building. Plus, Second Inversion’s own Maggie Molloy will present the pre-concert lecture, perform two piano works, and distribute free copies of her John Cage Diary series as a zine for audience members to take home!

john-cage-musicircusNorth Corner Chamber Orchestra: Celebrate those cozy winter nights with NOCCO’s annual Solstice Celebration, this year featuring the music of Stravinsky, Respighi, Bach, and Seattle composer Angelique Poteat. Then in February for Black History Month, NOCCO performs a program featuring a newly commissioned work by local composer Hanna Brenn and performance artist C. Davida Ingram alongside classics by two Pulitzer Prize-winning African American composers: Scott Joplin and George Walker. And in April, their season wraps up with a brand new world premiere by NOCCO’s principal clarinetist and composer, Sean Osborn, along with well-loved works by Rossini and Haydn.

noccoSeattle Modern Orchestra: These guys are starting their season off with a bang: three new premieres by living composers. First, a U.S. premiere by Lithuanian composer Vykintas Baltakas, then a West Coast premiere by German composer Wolfgang Rihm, followed by a world premiere by American composer Andrew Waggoner featuring Grammy-winning guest pianist Gloria Cheng.

The rest of the season features cutting-edge collaborations with University of Washington’s Solaris Vocal Ensemble and the Paris-based clarinetist Carol Robinson, a world premiere by SMO co-artistic director Jérémy Jolley, the 80th birthday of legendary Seattle trombonist Stuart Dempster, the 90th birthday of renowned Seattle clarinetist and composer William O. “Bill” Smith, and the centennial celebration of American composer Robert Erickson.

gloria-chengUniversal Language Project: ULP is back for another season of interdisciplinary and out-of-the-box collaborations between 21st century musicians and artists of all disciplines. In October: a multi-media work by Marcus Oldham about racial reconciliation (featuring Second Inversion regulars the Skyros Quartet). In January, composer Chris Stover showcases his works for chamber jazz ensemble featuring spoken word, found sounds, and dance inspired by Brazilian poets. Then in March, the season wraps up with a surreal, outer space-inspired performance featuring artist Erin Jorgensen with local musicians, the overtones of her 5-octave marimba merging with intimate whispering and beautifully minimal music in a small stab towards enlightenment.

erin-jorgensenEmerald City Music: Now in its inaugural season, Emerald City Music is on a mission to make classical chamber music accessible to broader audiences in Seattle and Olympia. And they’re not wasting any time: their inaugural season features 45 renowned guest artists from around the world. Each of the concerts offers a uniquely thematic glimpse into the chamber music repertory, featuring classical masterworks and newly composed music alike. Bookended by concerts featuring familiar works by Bach and Beethoven, this year you can also expand your classical music palette with cutting-edge performances of works by the likes of Henri Dutilleux, Thomas Adès, Benjamin Britten, Bohuslav Martinů, Percy Grainger, David Schiff, Per Nørgård, Ryan Francis, Thomas Koppel, and more.

dover-quartetTown Music Series: Curated by Second Inversion Artistic Advisor Joshua Roman, the Town Music Series programs cutting-edge and virtuosic chamber works which bring together the best of old and new classical traditions. Their 2016-2017 season kicks off with cellist Joshua Roman joined by violinist Caroline Goulding for an evening of dynamic duets by Halvorsen, Kodály, and Ravel. Stay tuned for details on the rest of the season!

joshua-romanWayward Music Series: If you’ve got wayward or otherwise unconventional music taste, the Wayward Music Series will keep you satiated all year long. Check their online calendar or subscribe to their newsletter for specifics on upcoming events, which span the new music gamut from contemporary classical to the outer limits of jazz, electroacoustic experiments to explorations of the avant-garde, eccentric instruments to unorthodox sound art, multimedia collaborations and much more.

wayward-music-seriesThese are just a handful of the new music happenings we’re most looking forward to this season—for more up-to-the-minute details on experimental, avant-garde, and otherwise unconventional music events around the Northwest, check out Second Inversion’s full event calendar!

CONCERT PREVIEW: It’s Neo-Classical! Q&A with Jessie Polin

by Maggie Molloy

We’ve all seen live performances of works by the classical music giants: Haydn, Mozart, (early) Beethoven—but how often do we get to see live performances of works by the neoclassical music giants?

That opportunity comes this Saturday at Seattle Modern Orchestra’s “It’s Neo-Classical!” concert at Resonance at SOMA Towers. The concert highlights neoclassicism in wind and brass music of the early 20th century, featuring chamber works by Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Dahl.

SMOCE-Poster-v_3-770x1190After the emotional excess and perceived formlessness of the Romantic era, the neoclassicists sought to return to the aesthetic principles of the Classical period, such as order, balance, clarity, and emotional restraint. But the composers did not just copy the Classical masters—they expanded and updated the music of the Classical period by incorporating 20th century trends like expanded tonal harmonies, folk melodies, jazz elements, humor, satire, and more.

Thus, the works performed in this neoclassical chamber concert showcase the wit and charm of modern composers while also highlighting the virtuosity of the musicians themselves.

Julia Tai Photo
“Seattle Modern Orchestra is a musician-driven organization,” said conductor and co-artistic director Julia Tai. “It was really because of the musicians’ passion for new music and joy of playing with each other that the group started almost six years ago. We’re very lucky to have a group of extremely talented and dedicated musicians who love music from the 20th and 21st centuries and want to bring it to the audience.”

The musicians took the initiative to pick out repertoire, organize rehearsals, and set the concert date—and they also assisted with grant writing, marketing, and organizing the musician roster.

So to find out more, we talked with flutist Jessie Polin, a performer in Seattle Modern Orchestra who played a key leadership role in putting this program together.

Second Inversion: What do you think is most unique or inspiring about this concert program and about 20th-21st century classical music in general?

Jessie PolinJessie Polin: This particular concert is unique in that it showcases some of the best chamber music repertoire for winds and brass. Especially with the Stravinsky and Poulenc, we’re exploring the neoclassical style in the context of a small chamber concert.

I feel really excited that I continue to have opportunities to explore 20th and 21st century classical music. I’ll admit that modern music can be pretty challenging, both as an audience member and as a performer, but I find a great deal of value in the challenge. I think it’s important to continue to expand our definition of “classical music” and to recognize that there is so much diversity within those parameters. In this concert, our audience can experience some of the earlier repertoire of what we now consider “contemporary” music. The Dahl was composed and premiered in the 1940s and is the most recent piece on the program; by our standards today, that’s not incredibly modern. However, I think all three pieces on this program make a wonderful introduction to the world of modern music.


SI: Seattle Modern Orchestra specializes in 20th and 21st century music, ranging from minimalism to spectralism, serialism to electronic, and everything in between. What do you find to be some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing works from the neoclassical period specifically?

JP: All contemporary music has a unique set of challenges. I like neoclassical music because it’s like a reimagining of music that is so familiar to us. I think when non-musicians think about classical music, they think of what Mozart and Haydn sound like. And then when they hear neoclassical music, it’s like it’s familiar but also not, which is fun and interesting. Because of that, I think it’s a great introduction to modern music in general, because while it does have new and different sounds, it’s a little more approachable for a modern music newcomer.

As a performer, I think a lot about things like articulation and extreme dynamics when I approach neoclassical music. I think it’s really important to exaggerate all the gestures so that the classical ideas come across, while also showing how much the palate of stylistic choices has expanded since the Classical period.


SI: A concert program of all wind and brass music is relatively rare—what inspired you to curate a concert program without strings or percussion (other than piano)?

JP: This didn’t start out as a program for all wind and brass music, necessarily, although I am pretty excited it turned out that way. Julia and I were in grad school together at the University of Washington, and she conducted a performance of the Stravinsky, which was the first time I had played it. We’ve talked off and on for a long time about doing it again because it’s such a great piece, and this season we decided to just make it happen. I also really love the Poulenc, and felt like it would be a great pairing with Stravinsky, so at that point, it seemed natural to keep the program strings free.

Of course, the string chamber music repertoire is expansive and wonderful, but I do feel like it overshadows what else is out there to a large extent. I’m really excited about showcasing what I think is hands down some of the best chamber music in the classical repertoire, both including music for strings and not.


SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance?

JP: I’m excited about the chance to collaborate with a truly excellent group of musicians on some of my most favorite repertoire ever. We really have an all-star cast for this concert, and working with these people is invigorating and inspiring. I also feel like in the day-to-day of being a working musicians, it’s easy to get bogged down with just keeping up. This concert is happening just because we were excited about it and decided to do it, and that feels refreshing.


SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from the concert?

JP: I hope that our audience will be excited (and maybe surprised!) by how great this repertoire is. I also hope that people will find the fun and outright joy in this “serious” classical music. I think if anything, it’s great to approach neoclassical music with a little bit of humor, and I really hope our audience finds that in this concert.

Seattle Modern Orchestra Chamber Ensemble’s “It’s Neo-Classical!” concert is this Saturday, March 26 at 2 p.m. at Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue. For tickets and information, please click here.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Knights: the ground beneath our feet

by Jill Kimball

groundbeneathourfeet

For centuries, the concerto grosso form has served to play up the strengths of a chamber group by highlighting its best virtuosi and calling for a conversation between soloists and orchestra. The Knights, a Brooklyn-based collaborative ensemble, believe that composition form still has room to grow.

They’ve dedicated their latest album, the ground beneath our feet, to the concerto grosso. The album features both classic and new examples of the form, from Bach to Stravinsky to some of the group’s very own composers. The result is a collection of music that’s grounded in a common cause but weightless in execution.

Steve Reich’s Duet for Two Violins and Strings is a lovely way to start off any album. Accessible and dreamy, it’s pleasing to the ear of everyone from classical aficionados to newcomers. Though it’s puzzling to me that an album called the ground beneath our feet would begin with something so gravity-defying, this interpretation soared effortlessly and beautifully enough to make me forget my confusion.

“Effortless” is also the primary word I’d use to describe the performance of Bach’s Concerto for Violin & Oboe. Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge the quality of musicianship in a new-music ensemble whose oeuvre consists mostly of world premieres. But when the Knights pull off a live recording whose quality rivals classic recordings with Hilary Hahn and Yehudi Menuhin, they really prove their mettle. The strings sound a bit less dark, rich and precise than in a classic recording, but that may have more to do with the concert’s setting than with the musicians themselves.

Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto is like a mashup of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and The Rite of Spring, a really fascinating listen. Stravinsky once said of the piece, “Whether or not the first theme of my first movement is a conscious borrowing from the…Brandenburg set, I do not know. What I can say is that Bach most certainly would have been delighted to loan it to me; to borrow in this way was exactly the sort of thing he liked to do.” It’s true: to borrow an idea from a predecessor and turn it into something that’s unmistakably yours is so like both Bach and Stravinsky. The Knights’ rendition is a little slower than usual–all the better to revel in the complex but very listenable themes interwoven throughout the piece.

If you love recordings from the Silk Road Ensemble, headed by the world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, you’ll probably love the next piece: a joint effort between two composers who met while they played in Silk Road together. One of them, Siamak Aghaei,  spent a lot of time in his native Iran gathering field recordings of folk musicians, and played them back to an excited Colin Jacobsen. Over the years, those field recordings have inspired three co-compositions; this latest effort features violin and santur, a kind of hammered dulcimer dating back to ancient Babylonia.

The title track is a very different sort of concerto, one whose composition was a group effort that drew on The Knights’ individual strengths and musical interests. The whole thing is tied together with a bass line taken from Tarquino Merula’s Ciaccona, and with that common thread is able to morph organically from Baroque symphonic music to creatively syncopated Irish folk music, from melodies influenced by Romani and Indian culture to improvisational drumming and jazzy, Spanish-inspired dance music, complete with claves. It all works for me until the very end, when there’s a silence before Christina Courtin sings “Fade Away,” her own original song. The bass line connection is seemingly lost, and the cartoonish fanfare backing Courtin was odd paired with her lyrics (“I’m not saying I’m afraid of dying, baby / I count my blessings with you every day / But you know I can’t go on this way”). Despite the fact that “Fade Away” would be more at home on a Sufjan Stevens album, I liked its sound.

I reached the end of the CD puzzling, once again, over the title of the disc. What, in this instance, is “the ground beneath our feet?” Common thought is that Bach laid the ground on which all musicians stand today. But the fact is, many contemporary composers choose to leave the ground and explore new frontiers in space.

Take a look at the album art and you’ll see a portrait of Stravinsky cut open and peeled back to reveal a dark, starry abyss. I’ll take this as a sign that The Knights acknowledge the great forces of the past but will sometimes refuse the pull of their gravity.

If the ground beneath our feet has indeed disappeared in parts of this album, that’s okay: outer space sure sounds pretty good to me.