Series of informal, late-night concerts of contemporary-classic music kicks off a new season Oct. 13.
Is there a short work of chamber music about air travel? If so, and if the musicians performing in Seattle Symphony’s first “[untitled]” program of the season had elected to play it, they could have called the Oct. 13 concert “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
As it is, the informal, inexpensive and late-night “[untitled]” showcase for contemporary-classical music, set in the lobby of Benaroya Hall, will be bookended by compositions inspired by locomotives and cars. Up first is John Adams’ 1995 “Road Movies,” a minimalist, three-part piece for violin and piano. The concert closes with Steve Reich’s 1988 “Different Trains” for string quartet and recorded sounds and voices.
Between the two is something different: Thomas Adès’ 1993 song “Life Story” for soprano and trio, with text derived from Tennessee Williams’ dark 1937 poem of the same title.
Seattle Symphony: ‘[untitled],’ 10 p.m. Friday Oct. 13 at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $16 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
“[untitled]” is the innovative series created five years ago by the symphony’s music director, Ludovic Morlot, and vice president of artistic planning, Elena Dubinets. It’s a radical departure from the more typical early-evening standard classical experience played by the full Seattle Symphony Orchestra inside Benaroya’s S. Mark Taper auditorium.
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Instead, “[untitled]” performances begin at 10 p.m. and last about an hour in the closer surroundings of the lobby. Musicians play very near audience members, the latter offered a variety of seating options. The series tends to draw young adults used to being out late on a Friday night, perhaps curious about an unusual music happening.
“There’s a laid-back atmosphere,” says Mae Lin, Seattle Symphony violinist who will be joined by pianist Jessica Choe on “Road Movies.” “It’s club-like and appeals to people open to new, different and sometimes strange music. It brings in a crowd that has heard about it somewhere, maybe on social media. I think it’s one of the most exciting and interesting things we’ve done.”
Lin first heard “Road Movies,” appropriately, while on a long ride in 2002 from Austin, Texas, to Aspen, Colo.
“I probably listened to it 10 times with a friend,” she says.
“Road Movies” begins and ends as a frenetic whoosh of harmonic complexity and shifting textures, sounding a bit like tiny samples of bluegrass fiddling, each set on repeat for a short duration. The slower, second movement has an airier, slightly bluesy melancholy. Altogether, “Road Movies” elicits a sense of riding down a long highway, with ever-changing scenery flashing by while one’s inner thoughts and emotions constantly turn over.
“It’s a very difficult piece to put together,” says Lin. “There are a lot of phased rhythms and minimalistic playing. It’s repetitive in a very organized way. One little skip in beat can throw things off.”
Williams’ poem “Life Story” conjures up a more stationary scene. Set in a hotel room, two strangers, having had sex, lie “like a pair of rag dolls a bored child dropped on a bed.”
“It’s very funny and sultry, and has a killer punchline,” says soprano Maria Mannisto, who will sing Adès’ adaptation.“ The melodies fall into a conversational style of singing. It’s theatrical, with outbursts in line with the humor and smokiness of the text.”
Finally, Reich’s “Different Trains” has a propulsive energy driven by the instrumentalists and layered recordings of voices, train sounds, sirens and bells. Reich wrote the piece thinking about the significance of trains in American life before and after World War II and in Europe during the Holocaust, when Jews were transported to concentration camps.
There are three “[untitled]” concerts this season, with an all-Russian program on April 27 and music by Mason Bates and Chris Rogerson on June 15.
“I love the intimacy of these concerts,” says Mannisto. “It’s always fun to perform for these audiences and talk with them afterward. It’s almost an interactive affair.”