Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seattle Composers Salon, 5/8/2015

"The Seattle Composers’ Salon fosters the development, performance and appreciation of new music by regional composers and performers. At bi-monthly, informal presentations, the Salon features finished works, previews, and works in progress."

First up: Centaurus X-3 by Matthew James Briggs. Violin (played by Candace Chin) and percussion (played by the composer) created this mysterious soundscape, over prerecorded ambient electronics (made of signals from the Centaurus pulsar and other NASA recordings, slightly scrambled). The violin was also electric; not particularly amplified but enhanced by an extremely long delay. As in much of Matthes’s music, there was an Indonesian influence in the middle, faster section. The interest, however, was mostly in the interactions between the instruments in the slower movements, particularly the slow build-up in the first movement. During the Q and A session after the performance, an audience member asked what the piece would have been like without the electronics. The composer’s comments agreed with my idea: it would be a different piece. Some of the same notes, yes, but definitely a different piece.

Second: Toad Song by Jessi Harvey. The text was by the composer’s sister, about a toad that had lived in the yard of the house they’d lived in as children. The song was from the point of view of the toad. “You have written a great children’s book, and the music is the illustrations,” commented an audience member. Musically, the piece was created from fragments of ascending chromatic scales (sung by the soprano) and amphibian sounds made by the ‘cello; these interacted with more conventional melodic fragments to create longer and more complex ideas.

Third: Two trios by Ian McKnight, both for two flutes and ‘cello. The first, with alto flute, described the life cycle of the mythical phoenix – dying in agony of flames, memorialized by a Gregorian-chant melody, and then returning to life and flying into the sky. I heard none of this in the actual music. The sounds of the alto flute was too pretty and the music was not dissonant enough to suggest something burning up while dying (or perhaps I just associate the alto flute too much with Paul Horn’s Taj Mahal music); the “Gregorian” melody didn’t sound particularly chantlike, and the end wasn’t particularly “happier” than the rest of it. None of these are negative comments, however – I like that the piece suggested the story in a more impressionistic manner, rather than in-your-face Hollywood-style obviousness. A second listening would probably reveal the understated emotions that I half-missed the first time. The second (much shorter) trio was an Irish jig with variations, playing on the 3 against 4 ambiguity suggested by the 6/8 meter.

Finally, two untitled piano pieces (with dancer) by Michael Owcharuk and Karin Stevens. Here, two art-forms fused. The composer and dancer (Karin) stated beforehand that they’d worked on the material together, and intended it to be a collaborative project. Either would have worked by itself, though together they created an audio/visual world based on two types of movement (of sounds, and gestures). The piano music was basically jazz but with a neoclassical feel, the dance was “modern” but again with hints of a classical tradition. There was no particular storyline other than the interest in movement.

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