Think “chamber music,” and you don’t necessarily think “multimedia.”
But when the Seattle Chamber Players bring “Icebreaker VII: Open Source” to On the Boards on Sunday and Monday (Feb. 16-17), video and electronics will be integral to all five pieces performed.
Guest artists include soprano Agata Zubel, cellist Julie Albers and former Seattle Symphony associate conductor Alastair Willis. Three of SCP’s members — Laura DeLuca, David Sabee and Mikhail Shmidt — are symphony players, too. But this all-European program won’t resemble anything you’d hear at Benaroya Hall, as some of the titles — Fausto Romitelli’s “An Index of Metals,” Yannis Kyriakides’ “Karaoke Etudes,” Luís Tinoco’s “Spam!” — indicate.
Sabee describes “An Index of Metals” as a “black-box opera” scored for strings, woodwinds, keyboards, electronics and electric guitar and bass, unfolding beneath three large videos.
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“It has no plot, but it has great drama,” he said in a recent interview. “It sneaks up on you.”
If “Metals” offers the ultimate in audiovisual intensity, its companion on Sunday’s program — Tinoco’s “Spam!” — provides the light relief. Inspired by Internet spam (everything from penis-enlargement ads to political messages), it pairs a sardonic baritone narrator (5th Avenue Theatre regular Jared Michael Brown) with the herky-jerky syncopations of an expanded chamber ensemble.
Monday’s program also includes some zany fare. For “Open Source,” Michael Beil assembled his score from hundreds of YouTube versions of the Barcarolle from Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann.”
“He incorporates live instruments, which have to work with this prerecorded and very funny, very tongue-in-cheek video,” Sabee explains. SCP’s Paul Taub plays a particularly droll role as a flute player stranded with very little to do.
Rounding out Monday’s program are Kyriakides’ “Karaoke Etudes,” in which the players face a cryptic screen-projected “score” along with the audience, and Michel van der Aa’s “Up-Close,” which, says Sabee, is “basically a new take at a cello concerto” as musicians interact with an eerie film to create “a living hologram.”
One challenge in working with video is how quickly software and hardware become obsolete. “Every platform that you can imagine is being used here,” Sabee notes.
How does he deal with that?
“I look in my garage,” he laughs. “We needed three specific little pieces of video converters for Romitelli. I happened to have two in a storeroom — and I know where else to ask. But, yeah, these are not things you can get from rental houses.”
Still, there was never a question of taking a music-only approach to these works.
“It wouldn’t happen,” Sabee says firmly. “It would be like cutting the painting in half.”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org