“If there is a silver lining to the pandemic,” says Seattle Symphony associate conductor Lee Mills, “it’s that Seattle artists whom the orchestra wants to work with are all in town. Typically they’d be busy with touring. Now their schedules are clear.”
The artists Mills is specifically referring to are local stars from various popular music genres who have already collaborated, or who will collaborate with, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra as part of the latter’s new Essential Series program. A new iteration of the symphony’s past Sonic Evolution concerts, the Essential Series invites different voices from Seattle’s music community to partner with the orchestra in novel kinships.
Blues vocalist-guitarist Whitney Mongé kicked off the Essential Series in October, performing with the orchestra on the new online streaming platform Seattle Symphony Live. This month brings indie folk-pop band Ivan & Alyosha, whose original December date was postponed due to statewide restrictions to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Mills, the conductor for the concerts in the series, is looking forward to working with the five-member Ivan & Alyosha in a March 26 concert thoughtfully arranged to bring nuance to the sonic partnership of two formidable ensembles. The arranger for the Essential Series performances is Andrew Joslyn, who grew up on Bainbridge Island and is now a busy orchestrator and composer for films and recording artists, and a violinist with the Passenger String Quartet. The quartet has played with singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, folk legend Judy Collins and Ivan & Alyosha.
“Andrew’s arrangements really showcase the technical ability of the orchestra,” says Mills. “He has a great sense of when he can add some things in the music and when he can’t. There are moments when the orchestra will be a little more in the background, and then moments when the orchestra can really show off yet not compete with the band. That’s a delicate balance.”
Ivan & Alyosha frontman Tim Wilson also has confidence his band’s appearance at Benaroya Hall will be much more graceful than the sound of a rock band bashing away while the orchestra tries to keep up. (The concert will be livestreamed at live.seattlesymphony.org and available for a week to stream afterward.)
“There are a couple of reimaginings of certain songs we’ll do,” says Wilson by phone from the band’s garage studio in Edmonds. “There are moments where the symphony will come in really hot, and other moments when it will just be the band. There’s a song called ‘Tears In Your Eyes,’ where things won’t really pick up until well into the song, with the symphony and drums. But overall this will be us jamming with the Seattle Symphony, which is insane.”
Wilson promises a slate of fan favorites, both old and new songs including the uplifting “Everybody Breaks,” the wintry lament “Everything is Burning” and the delicate ballad “Don’t Lose Your Love.” The latter “will sound beautiful, epic with the symphony behind it,” says Wilson.
This concert arrives at a moment of mixed blessings for Ivan & Alyosha, whose name comes from characters in Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov.” Wilson, along with his brother Pete Wilson (bass, vocals), I&A co-founder Ryan Carbary (guitar, vocals), Tim Kim (guitar, vocals) and Cole Mauro (drums), have released two digital downloads: “Labor On” (also on vinyl) and “A Very Merry Christmas with Ivan & Alyosha,” as well as a full album, “Ivan & Alyosha,” all since May of last year.
The band is hopeful it may be able to tour in 2021. Asked how much the members are frustrated that they can’t tour in support of new material because of the pandemic, Wilson says, with obvious understatement, “It’s growing.” Indeed, the timing couldn’t be worse. The self-titled “Ivan & Alyosha” is a mature, masterful work with sonic and thematic heft, and intuitive production. The band’s Beatles-inspired origin in 2007 has flowered into its own unique, folk-pop grandeur.
Besides the new releases, there are other ways Ivan & Alyosha have kept busy while stuck at home. They have performed some concerts from their studio that were livestreamed (including one for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), and plan to record their appearance with the Seattle Symphony. That record will be released this year on the band’s own label.
“It will be interesting to see what we can get,” says Mills, “bringing together a band’s big full sound and adding an orchestra to that. It will be fun to see the range of colors we’re allowed to add to what we thought was a pretty full palate.”