Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle Symphony Makes Classical Casual

    Seattle Symphony’s late-night [untitled] music series ditches the conventional concert-going experience of strict seating, fancy attire and three-hour long performances. At [untitled] performances, concertgoers can sit on floor mats or stand up to get drinks from the bar counter all while watching the symphony perform against the visually stunning backdrop of Seattle.

    The annual contemporary classical music series kicks off this upcoming Friday with [untitled 1]. The performance, conducted by Stilian Kirov, marks the relaunch of the late-night [untitled] series for the 2014 to 2015 season.

    The program features works by the influential 20th century Hungarian composer György Ligeti as well as Serbian-Swedish composer and violinist Djuro Zivkovic and American composer Andrew Norman.

    The [untitled] series aims to present new and contemporary works, a unique goal given that large classical performance groups do not often perform works by contemporary composers. The concerts take place in the informal setting of the Samuel and Althea Stoum Grand Lobby of Benaroya Hall, while multimedia elements such as short films or pictures are projected in the background.

    Since its installation in October 2012, the series has been immensely popular.

    “We’ve had a great turnout,” said You You Xia, Seattle Symphony’s Public Relations Manager. “Oftentimes the entire lobby is completely full of people, so we’re really happy about it.”

    The unusual location of the concert is especially appealing to those who might be intimidated by the formal concert experience. Xia said that given the beautiful city backdrop from the concert hall windows, the openness of the space and the bar available before and during the concert, the Grand Lobby is a great place to be on a Friday night.

    Besides the innovative concert presentation, concertgoers can also look forward to the contemporary works being showcased.

    Seattle Symphony musicians will perform Norman’s “Try,” a score for large chamber ensemble originally co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2011. At the time, it was Norman’s biggest and most important commission.

    “I was struggling to write this piece because I have this strong desire to be perfect,” said Norman. “When you get a chance like this you want to make sure everything is strong.”

    As the deadline for the piece’s completion got closer, Norman realized the best he could do was try. Consequently, his piece embodies the spirit of trying, failing and trying again until there is only one successful outcome.

    “I wanted the music to seem really crazy,” he said. “It’s almost like watching a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon. There’s so much going on and so much energy—it’s almost like I wanted the sense of being overstimulated.”

    The ending of the piece contrasts with its chaotic beginning, and the score moves from frenzied and energetic to focused and calm.

    Seattle Symphony musicians will also perform Zivkovic’s “On the Guarding of the Heart.” The piece is a realization of his efforts to promote spirituality. He believes that in contemporary music and in music in general there is often a lack of spirituality.

    In his search for a consistent spirituality that is grounded in history, he said that he immediately fell in love with the teachings of Greek philosophers and was inspired by “The Philokalia,” a collection of spiritual teachings in the Eastern Orthodox hesychast tradition.

    “Everything in this collection is about how we can approach our life and keep the good and beauty alive,” Zivkovic said.

    While Zivkovic is worried about the future of classical contemporary music because of societal and business pressures, he applauds Seattle Symphony’s efforts and believes that more large orchestras and institutions should support contemporary music.

    Norman also noted that the Symphony is taking steps in the right direction to keep the classical music scene alive.

    “I know that the orchestra is working hard to combat the idea that classical music is something very old and buttoned up and proper,” Norman said. “I think it’s fantastic and it goes a long way to show that classical music is not dead.”

    Contemporary music not only remains important to Seattle’s music scene but also to Seattle University students’ interests.

    “A big portion of music I play on my bass is all contemporary works,” said Kelvin Mason, a Seattle U junior vocal performance major and bass player. He said the majority of solo pieces written for instruments like bass or viola are contemporary works, primarily because very little was written for those instruments until recent centuries.

    The success of Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] series shows that classical music is not dying; it is just changing and expanding. Even those who are not knowledgeable about contemporary classical music, but who are eager to experience new and unique sounds, may find something they enjoy at [untitled 1].

    “It’s definitely one for the curious and adventurous,” Xia said.

    [untitled 1] is this Friday, Oct. 17 at 10 p.m. in the Benaroya Hall Grand Lobby. Tickets are $20.

    Melissa may be reached at [email protected]

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