Jen Graves for LineOut in The Stranger
Oct 25 2012
Last Friday night, Seattle Symphony sold out its first late-night new-music concert in the lobby of Benaroya Hall—kicking off a new series called [untitled]. The crowd of 400 people wandered between floors at will to sample different acoustics, stretching out on pillows on the floors or lining the stairs, and perched in cushioned seats with drinks in the balconies. At one point, somebody dropped a program, printed on shiny thick stock, from an upper balcony down to the floor. It hit with a thwack. Nobody was touched or harmed, but in the DIY spirit of the whole concert—the program was based on music written in 1962, by chance-loving composers like John Cage—another patron responded to the thwack by also throwing his program to the floor at his feet.
For a minute I thought we were going to have a spontaneous explosion-symphony of program thwacks. That’s the kind of atmosphere it was.
It was great.
The crowd was suitably psyched by performances of works by Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Gabriel Prokofiev. Prokofiev, grandson of Sergei, was in attendance—his Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra featured DJ Madhatter, whose scratching skills were projected on large video screens.
Scelsi’s seven-movement piece, built around a single note—hovering over it, bending it, flirting with it; Scelsi became incapable of focusing on more than one note for a period after the death of his wife—was a major highlight, featuring the truly fantastic soprano Maria Mannisto.
This is your new symphony, folks, courtesy of new music director Ludovic Morlot and new executive director Simon Woods. It breathes! The next [untitled] concert is at 10 pm on February 15. It features Schoenberg’s 100-year-old Pierrot Lunaire, a tower of dissonance that one critic called “the most ear-splitting combination of tones that ever desecrated the walls of a Berlin concert hall.”
A note: In this case, “new music” basically just means music that’s probably new to your ears even if you’re a follower of Seattle Symphony. Conductor Ludovic Morlot ended this first episode with György Ligeti’s symphonic poem for 100 metronomes. That means, 100 metronomes set up on tables on the lobby staircase landing were all set ticking at once. The piece ended when their mechanical hearts gave out. I didn’t wait for the last little heart to stop. When my friend and I left, there were three still going. Then I jumped a bus, and rode home. The city was all alive downtown, and it was the first day of the year when you could see your breath.