A little more about our upcoming world premiere...

The cello concerto which NOCCO will premiere this upcoming weekend was written by Avi Lasser and Garrett Overcash, a music production duo based here in Seattle, WA. 

We sat down with Avi to talk a little bit more about the cello concerto. 

 

Can you describe your composition and production process?

In this case, Garrett and I first started by improvising and recording ideas to establish most of the thematic material. We came up with piano/violin versions at first and then we used this as a template for orchestration. Our composition and production process does change based on the genre and the platform. 

 

Was there anything specific about the compositional process writing for the cello and writing for NOCCO?

The process of writing this piece was a bit different from others. As a concerto, we focused on the cello line first to see how the thematic material would translate to both the cello as a solo instrument and Eli’s playing style. We were able to meet with Eli to develop the themes at the studio and rework them before beginning to orchestrate. It was then interesting to take this cello line and orchestrate around it to both feature the soloist line while still highlighting the entire orchestra to act as a chamber ensemble. We tried to treat the cello line as the conductor, while still embracing the idea of the an orchestra without a conductor.

 

What is your connection to Eli (the soloist) and how was the idea of the concerto conceived?

Eli and I met originally during our undergrad while we were both studying at McGill University in Montreal. Garrett has worked with Eli in various professional settings here in Seattle. We came up with writing a concerto for Eli around when we began to work with Eli as a recording artist for our various projects. 

 

You've composed many works for ballets and dancers. Could you describe how the constraints of synchronizing live players with dancers, or with digital instruments/existing tracks, affects your compositional strategy?

I would say that constraints placed on music composition by other mediums can be seen more as opportunities to find a more creative solution. Creating music across a variety of different mediums and industries is liberating. The specific challenge of each project allows new innovative solutions to be found that in the end informs the writing of the music or the product development behind any project. As far as working to combine music and other mediums such a dance, it is always a challenge to find a common ground where both mediums can speak together. No matter who the client is, music that shows the perspective of the platform it is trying to support is where the most successful composition can be found. Garrett and I try to tell the story and support the vision of the particular artists we work with in order to embrace theirperspective. In regards to digital instruments, it is always motivating to embrace technology as both a part of the compositional strategy and a necessity in order to accommodate the new challenges and technological demands of the clients we work with.

 

HEVANTI PRODUCTIONS LLC

 Avi Lasser

Avi Lasser

 Garrett Overcash

Garrett Overcash

Hevanti Productions LLCis an audio post-productionhouse that creates original music and sound design for multimedia and produces its own original content. The studio is located in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, WA, and has been recently renovated and acoustically treated for instrumental tracking and mixing across a variety of industries. To find out more please check www.hevantiproductions.com

Meet Jim Knapp, featured composer at our upcoming concerts!

We were thrilled to be able to learn from the composer himself about his new work, NOVERTURE, written for NOCCO. The world premier of his work will be Dec 16 & 17

What initially sparked your interest in composition? Was there a particular moment or life event that you connect to it?

I was playing trumpet in my high school jazz band and I was supposed to play an improvised solo. I had no idea how to go about it. My band director (a wise Italian) told me to write one out and learn to play it. I did and my friends liked it.

 

 Composer Jim Knapp

Composer Jim Knapp

 

What drives you as an artist? What inspires you? (Or, what keeps you writing music?)

The way music makes me feel.

Do you have recurring themes throughout your works?

There are recurring preferences – harmonic, melodic and rhythmic. I think these are autobiographical; referring to an original musical impression. It is important to recognize these things so you don’t write the same piece over and over.

Can you tell us a little bit about Noverture?

Noverture is a multi-thematic piece composed for NOCCO. The first theme is based on a tune that I wrote in the early '70’s, before I had started my inquiry into the principals of harmonic resolution. The tune never sounded right to me. I came to realize that some of the chords were in the wrong order. It sounds right to me now. Thanks to NOCCO for giving me this opportunity. I hope it sounds right to you too.

 

Enjoy our interview with composer Roupen Shakarian

We were thrilled to be able to learn from the composer himself about his violin concerto. NOCCO will perform this concerto, featuring Victoria Parker at our concerts Oct 21 & 22

What sets this piece (Violin Concerto) apart from your other works?

This is the only piece that I’ve borrowed or recomposed from a previous work of mine, and that being an Elegy for solo violin. I had felt that it lent naturally to a larger format. Structurally, it became the second movement of the concerto and served as the impetus for the outer movements. It also formed the overall character of the piece with the Prelude setting the stage for the Elegy with the following Allegro releasing the moods of the Elegy.

 Composer  Roupen Shakarian

This piece is also one that resulted from an historical observation. I had been thinking about the trends in concertos written afterBeethoven’s masterful violin concerto. Since then, concertos through the Romantic period, and to the present, developed in length, virtuosity and content, displaying all sorts of technical brilliance and bravura. But I wonderedabout the Mozartian model, if it became a forgotten aesthetic; seemingly simpler melodic solo parts, smaller orchestras, thinner textures, and less emphasis on virtuosic displays. Combining both Classical and Romantic features appealed to me and served the basis of the concerto.

Did you have a particular violin soloist in mind when you were composing this concerto? If so, what aspects of his/her playing did you consider and how did you work those into the composition?

In 2006 I went to Tori Parker and let her know I wanted to write a concerto for her. She was then the concertmaster of Philharmonia Northwest and I the music director of the chamber orchestra. Her musical, technical qualities and her ability to express a variety of moods provided me the right framework in working out the details of composing the piece. Hearing her play some of the sketches also assured me of her ability to immediately absorb the character of the piece. 

Do you think you piece is well suited for a conductor-less ensemble? What, in your opinion, makes this upcoming performance special?

The concerto is written for double winds, timpani and strings. The writing is deliberately like a chamber ensemble. Though in most performances a conductor will be the norm, this performance with the North Corner Chamber Orchestra will bring out the inherent chamber music quality of the work and the concerto’s poignant moods.  

Welcome to our new blog - the life of NOCCO!

We are thrilled to share our new video to launch NOCCO’s fourth season! Our president and principal violin, Victoria Parker, shares the meaning of the North Corner and what makes playing with this group special to her. Footage and audio were recorded live from our April 2017 dress rehearsal and concert at the Royal Room, one of North Corner Chamber Orchestra’s favorite performance spaces.

Cameron Johnson shot all footage and crafted this video. Cameron is an extraordinary artist and NOCCO is excited to partner with him on this and future projects! Stay tuned for more of Cameron’s beautiful work with the North Corner Chamber Orchestra and some of our other artistic partners…

 

 

From the archives: Resonance

During Black History month 2017,  NOCCO will present RESONANCE - A Celebration of Black American Composers. The concerts will take place at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Central District and the New Holly Gathering Hall in the Rainier Valley.

In the works for over eighteen months, NOCCO is partnering with composer Hanna Benn and performance artist/writer Davida Ingram to highlight the important contributions Black composers have made to American orchestral music.

Focusing on Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha (NOCCO will perform the overture), Davida's work centers on modern day Treemonishas: women of color who are leaders of their communities. Davida is creating a film meditating on Treemonisha's work; we will also premiere composer Alex Guy's new art song incorporating Davida's text on the opera's young heroine.

Joplin's opera, taking place during the Reconstruction, was composed in 1912 but not premiered until 1972. The opera had previously existed only as a piano/vocal score: NOCCO will perform Rick Benjamin's orchestration for "11 + piano", an ensemble common in Joplin's time. Scott Joplin received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to American Music.

Hanna's new orchestral piece "Sankofa" ("Go back and get it" in the Twi language of Ghana) is both a musical anthropological search and a personal reflection. Moroccan percussion group Argan will join NOCCO in the final movement of the work. Best of all, Hanna will sing.

Alvin Singleton's (b. 1940) evocative string orchestra piece "Eine Idee ist ein Stück Stoff" (an idea is a piece of fabric) will open the second half of the program.

Completing the program is a work by another Pulitzer Prize winner, George Walker (b. 1922) - his "Orpheus" for Chamber Orchestra and narrator (1994). Walker says this about his piece:

"This work was commissioned by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony with partial funding from the George Gund Foundation.  Several spoken lines are interpolated into the musical narrative.  The work is a retelling of the famous myth of Orpheus, the consummate musician, whose love for Eurydice was so great that he ventured into the Underworld, disdaining Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian, to bring her back to life.  The condition imposed by Hades on Orpheus was that he would not be permitted to look back at Eurydice on the return journey...

    The work is divided into six sections.  Part I begins with a brief spoken preface that summarizes the Greek myth.  A fanfare and dance, initially elegant and then becoming increasingly frenetic, follow.  Part II begins with an instrumental song to Eurydice, terminating with her death and disappearance.  Part III, the Underworld, emerges without a clear separation and leads to the encounter of Orpheus with Hades.  Part IV recalls briefly the ascent of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Underworld and her final disappearance.  Part V suggests the agitation of Orpheus upon his realization of his loss.  In Part VI he dies, after being dismembered by the Ciconian Women."

 

On Feb. 16, 2017, Maggie Molloy of Second Inversion published these words in the Women in (New) Music blog:

Women in (New) Music: Celebrating the Treemonishas in Classical Music

Posted on February 16, 2017

by Maggie Molloy


Education as salvation is the major theme of Scott Joplin’s 1912 opera Treemonisha, the powerful tale of a young African-American woman who protects her community against those who seek to take advantage of their systemic lack of education.

It’s a theme that continues to influence art and music of today, as over a century later we find ourselves still grappling with the far-reaching effects of slavery and the oppression of the African-American race.

This Saturday and Sunday, the North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) presents RESONANCE: a concert celebrating the voices of African-American composers who have, across history, given a musical voice to the strength, power, and perseverance of their communities.

 

The concert program features the overture from Joplin’s Treemonisha alongside brand new works by two local artists: composer Hanna Benn and conceptual artist C. Davida Ingram.

Benn’s new work for chamber orchestra, titled Sankofa, is a spiritual reflection on the music and influence of African-American women composers across history. Ingram’s piece is an illuminating lyrical/visual essay about modern day Treemonishas: women of color who are powerful leaders of their communities. Also featured on the program are evocative works by Alvin Singleton and George Walker.


To find out more about what’s in store, we spoke with Hanna Benn and C. Davida Ingram about music, race, today’s Treemonishas, and the importance of education:

Second Inversion: What was the inspiration behind Sankofa, and what does it sound like?

Hanna Benn: “Sankofa” is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to “Go back and get it,” as in we must go back and understand our heritage in order to go forward.

This piece is very meditative and reflective. I imagine it sounds like the meditation I’ve been in for the past several months of musing, reflecting, and doing research on black American composers—really finding inspiration from them. It was like subconsciously asking for guidance from my ancestors.

SI: What story does your piece tell? What are the major themes and ideas at work behind the music?

HB: Sometimes for me, it feels like speaking is not my first language, and so when composing music or writing a piece, once I’m finished, I have a hard time articulating what it’s about. It’s almost like being in a trance—I have no memory of it anymore; it’s gone. But this piece came from somewhere—it came from the inspiration, history, and music of these women.

The reason why I actually titled the piece “Sankofa” was that sentiment of asking my ancestors for help so that I might understand more about myself, looking inward. The piece sounds somewhat reflective and introverted in nature. I have six different movements, and there isn’t a narrative to the piece but they are these six poems, almost—six states of being:

Mvt. I: Inward Gazes the Spirit
Mvt. II: May I Come Back to Me
Mvt. III: Divide
Mvt. IV: Walks with an Offering
Mvt. V: Joy Submits and It Repeats
Mvt. VI: My Beloved Speaks

“My beloved” we usually say when we’re speaking of God or a higher being, but with this piece I’m speaking to my higher being. When I say “my beloved,” it’s like a love poem to myself. So Sankofa, you must go back and get it—it’s this love, this loving of the self and truly understanding oneself.

In one of his poems, Rumi says, “You must be as wide as the air to learn a secret,” and it’s this gesture of knowledge and understanding in order to move forward.

SI: How did writing this piece stretch you as an artist and musician?

HB: I have written for orchestra before, however this ensemble is completely different because they do not have a conductor, and so they have this beautiful process of hyper-listening. If there’s no conductor, they have to have more faith in each other, and it asks for more communication all around.

On a larger scale, it is such a crucial time for us to listen and to be present and open. I believe this concert is very special because of that—not only the material we will be performing, but the balance and the lack of hierarchy in this ensemble and the example it sets for others.

SI: In what ways (if any) do you feel that being a woman of color has shaped your experiences as an artist? What advice do you have for other female-identifying artists who face similar prejudices?

HB: One hundred percent, it shapes me. It is important, as a woman, to never forget that beautiful part of you. I am very proud and in love with the vessel that I carry and I think one hundred percent it shapes my experience and my outlook and what I write.

Me being a woman and me being a woman of color is my music, because that is who I am. I would encourage other women to not let go of that, because it is very precious.

SI: What do you find most inspiring about this NOCCO program?

C. Davida Ingram: The artists who I found most inspirational in RESONANCE were Hanna Benn and Scott Joplin. Their music speaks to me in different ways: Hanna because of her virtuosity and polyrhythmic cadence—she sort of feels like if you could listen to all of the those ways Our Lady of Theresa was having jouissance because of her ecstatic love affair with the divine—and Joplin because he gave me the gift of an intersectional feminist story that is set in the first Redemption as we go through the second Redemption that is delight to the ear. 

I wrote that his overture in Treemonisha “explains why black joy matters. This opening melody sounds like rushing in of something that has the feel of dancing in sunshine with a blazingly open heart.”

SI: Can you tell us a bit about the lyrical/visual essay you are sharing? What was the inspiration behind it?

CDI: I fell in love with Treemonisha after I learned about Joplin’s piece for the NOCCO show. Heather Bentley sent me a book with discs of the music and I sort of went into the Matrix—complete with a very vivid dream of an ancestor who looks a lot like Scott Joplin walking me down a pink stair.

Because of the spiritual way that Joplin’s piece moved me, the central figure of Treemonisha became in a way a muse for me, and also a way of giving a meditation on the black song book. James Baldwin’s fictional gospel singer Arthur Montana cries: Look what you done to my song. I follow that directive.

Personally I took this project as an opportunity to reflect on how indebted I feel to black educators on one hand—that particular subject is close to my heart. My mother is an incredible teacher and finished her PhD on how black students and their families think about the opportunity gap they face.

And on the other I am considering what white people do not know about whiteness. I feel very historical, at this moment, when I think about race in America—not as something that must always define the present but as something that is simply good to know about human behavior, and as an aftereffect.

For example, did you know in Antebellum Virginia there was a law that white human traffickers could give 20 lashes of the whip to kidnapped Africans that they enslaved if the latter were found reading or writing? Think about that. It’s the sort of thing that gives Treemonisha a resplendent repose and riposte. Black master teachers make maps to freedom—always have, always will.

So my mind’s eye went looking for the “Treemonishas” in my life—the community-building educators, those who believe in restorative justice, the feminists who believe women of color can lead (these are all part of the story of Joplin’s Treemonisha).

I was lucky to have a gifted educator as a mom. Sometimes I cringe when people call me ‘articulate’ after I speak. However, I also know a portion of what they are seeing is a partial blueprint of survival in white America—mastery of words and ideas that white people can recognize as their own. My mother loved me and the rest of my four siblings, so she taught as though our lives (and hers) depended on it; because in many respects it did. Both of my parents gave me that.

In terms of music, I think of blackness as an essential primer for understanding the American song book because all of our original American music comes directly from black culture—e.g. blues, jazz, hip hop, house music. America is very African, in that way. At the same time, I engage whiteness when I do my work here because it gets a bit tiresome if the expectation is that I am supposed to always be explaining blackness to assuage white curiosity. Our world has gotten mighty peculiar of late, and I think it is in large part due to not talking about whiteness.

SI: In what ways (if any) do you feel that being a woman of color has shaped your experiences as an artist? What advice do you have for other female-identifying artists who face similar prejudices?

CDI: In my lyrical essay for the piece (which still needs a title), I write:

Because of the constant context of white supremacy in all American art forms, I see this program as a meditation on black brilliance—underscore brilliance.

When I soften the emphasis on blackness it is not because I want to avoid footnoting the brutishness of white supremacy and institutional racism. If we did, it would still remain the elephant in the room. However, when we see that a group of predominantly white musicians can acknowledge how racism seeks to impoverish them, how it cuts off the air in the room in terms of what versions of excellence take space in the canon, then the light that shines brightest here is black brilliance and what also extrudes are the ways that whiteness is benighted, at times, because of the construction of racism and white supremacy.

And if I take things a step beyond that—it is not blackness that we are looking at but rather brilliance, which is to say that kaleidoscopic light that humans cast out and its incredible, inexorable beauty.