Violist/Composer Melia Watras presents the world premiere of her Folk Style Project, a collection of 13 songs for various combinations of voice and instruments, each one inspired by some personal, artistic connection in her life. The concert will also include Charles Corey’s In Paradisum for viola and Harmonic Canon and Watras’s String Masks. Artists joining Watras onstage include Harry Partch Instrumentarium director Charles Corey, actor/director Sheila Daniels, actor Jose Gonzales, violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, actor Rhonda J. Soikowski, cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir and percussionist Bonnie Whiting.
Hailed by Gramophone as “an artist of commanding and poetic personality” and by The Strad as “staggeringly virtuosic,” violist/composer Melia Watras has distinguished herself as one of her instrument’s leading voices. Watras has helped expand the viola repertoire, through composing, commissioning and debuting new works. Compositions written for Watras include Pulitzer Prize- winner Shulamit Ran’s solo viola piece Perfect Storm, duos by Garth Knox and Cuong Vu, and a viola concerto by Richard Karpen, which Watras premiered with conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. Upcoming highlights include the release of her seventh album, Firefly Songs, a collection of her own compositions, and world premieres of Watras works commissioned by the Avalon String Quartet and violinist Rachel Lee Priday.
Watras’s discography has received considerable attention from the press and the public. Schumann Resonances was described by the American Record Guide as “a rare balance of emotional strength and technical delicacy.” The Strad called 26 “a beautiful celebration of 21st century viola music.” Ispirare made numerous Best of 2015 lists, including the Chicago Reader’s (“Watras knocked the wind out of me with the dramatically dark beauty of this recording”). Short Stories was a Seattle Times Critics’ Pick, with the newspaper marveling at her “velocity that seems beyond the reach of human fingers.” Of her debut solo CD (Viola Solo), Strings praised her “stunning virtuosic talent” and called her second release (Prestidigitation) “astounding and both challenging and addictive to listen to.”
Watras’s compositions have been performed in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Bloomington (IN), Denmark and Spain, by artists such as violist Atar Arad, singer Galia Arad, pianists Winston Choi and Cristina Valdés, violinists Manuel Guillén, Yura Lee and Michael Jinsoo Lim, cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir and percussionist Bonnie Whiting. Her music has been heard on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and can be found on the albums Firefly Songs, Schumann Resonances and 26. Watras’s adaptation of John Corigliano’s Fancy on a Bach Air for viola is published by G. Schirmer, Inc. and can be heard on her Viola Solo album.
Watras is violist of the Seattle-based ensemble, Frequency, for whom she has composed. For twenty years, Watras concertized worldwide and recorded extensively as violist of the renowned Corigliano Quartet, which she co-founded. The ensemble appears on 13 albums, including their recording on the Naxos label, which was honored as one of the Ten Best Classical Recordings of the Year by The New Yorker.
Melia Watras was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and began her musical studies on the piano at age 5. Soon after, she turned to the viola and made her debut at 16, soloing with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Her formal studies took her to Indiana University, where she studied with Atar Arad, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and the prestigious Performer’s Certificate. While at Indiana, Watras began her teaching career as Professor Arad’s Associate Instructor, and was a member of the faculty as a Visiting Lecturer. She went on to study chamber music at the Juilliard School while serving as a teaching assistant to the Juilliard String Quartet.
Watras serves as Professor of Viola at the University of Washington, where she holds the Adelaide D. Currie Cole Endowed Professorship and was previously awarded the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Fellowship and the Royalty Research Fund. Watras has given viola and chamber music classes at schools such as Indiana University, Cleveland Institute of Music, Strasbourg Conservatoire (France), and Chosun University (South Korea). She frequently returns to her alma mater, Indiana, to teach as a guest professor. She plays a viola made by Samuel Zygmuntowicz.
Icelandic-American cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir enjoys a varied career as a performer, collaborator and educator. She has appeared as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Iceland Symphony, among others, and her recital and chamber music performances have taken her across the US, Europe and Asia. Sæunn has performed in many of the world’s prestigious halls including Carnegie Hall, Suntory Hall, Elbphilharmonie, Barbican Center and Disney Hall and the press have described her as “charismatic” and “riveting” (NYTimes) and praised her performances for their “emotional intensity” (LATimes).
An avid chamber musician, she has collaborated in performance with Itzhak Perlman, Mitsuko Uchida, Richard Goode and members of the Emerson, Guarneri, St. Lawrence and Cavani Quartets and has performed in numerous chamber music festivals, including Santa Fe, Seattle, Stellenbosch, Orcas Island, Bay Chamber, Prussia Cove and Marlboro, with whom she has toured. She is cellist of the Seattle-based group, Frequency, and cellist and founding member of Decoda, The Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall.
In the 2018-2019 season, Sæunn makes her debut with the BBC and Seattle Symphonies performing the award-winning cello concerto,Quake, written for her by Páll Ragnar Pálsson. Chamber music appearances take her to Carnegie Hall in New York City, Glasgow, and Los Angeles, as well as recitals in Reykjavík, Seattle and Chicago following the Spring 2019 release of “Vernacular”, her recording of Icelandic solo cello music on the Sono Luminus label.
Highlights of the 2017-2018 season included the US premiere of Betsy Jolas’ Wanderlied and the Hong Kong premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Canticle of the Sun, as well as recitals and chamber music appearances in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Glasgow, London and Reykjavík. In addition to collaborating with Daníel Bjarnason on his award-winning composition Bow to String, Sæunn enjoys close working relationships with composers of our time such as Páll Ragnar Pálsson, Halldór Smárason, Melia Watras, Jane Antonia Cornish and Þuríður Jónsdóttir.
Sæunn has garnered numerous prizes in international competitions, including the Naumburg Competition and the Antonio Janigro Competition in Zagreb. She received a Bachelor of Music from the Cleveland Institute of Music, a Master of Music from The Juilliard School and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from SUNY Stony Brook. Her teachers and mentors include Richard Aaron, Tanya Carey, Colin Carr and Joel Krosnick.
Born in Reykjavík, Iceland, Sæunn serves on the faculty of the University of Washington in Seattle, teaching cello and chamber music. For more information, please visit www.saeunn.com
Bonnie Whiting performs, commissions, and composes new experimental music for percussion. She seeks out projects involving non-traditional notation, interdisciplinary performance, improvisation, and the speaking percussionist. She lives and works in Seattle, WA, where she is Chair of Percussion Studies and an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington School of Music.
Her debut solo album, featuring an original solo-simultaneous realization of John Cage’s 45’ for a speaker and 27’10.554” for a percussionist, was released by Mode Records in April of 2017. Her sophomore album Perishable Structures, launched by New Focus Recordings in August of 2020, places the speaking percussionist in the context of storytelling and features her own music as well as works by Vinko Globokar, Frederic Rzewski, Richard Logan-Greene, and Susan Parenti.
Recent work includes performances as a percussionist and vocalist with the Harry Partch Ensemble on the composer’s original instrumentarium, and a commission from the Indiana State Museum’s Sonic Expeditions series for her piece Control/Resist (2017): a site-specific work for percussion, field recordings, and electronics. Whiting has an ongoing relationship as a soloist with the National Orchestra of Turkmenistan via the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Office, playing concerti in Ashgabat in 2017 and 2018. She collaborates frequently with percussionist Jennifer Torrence, giving concerts of new experimental work for speaking percussionists throughout Norway and the US. Her collaboration with multimedia artist Afroditi Psarra generated the album < null_abc >, released on the Zero Moon label in 2018. Their current project with designer Audrey Desjardins on transcoding data from IoT devices as performance received a 2019/20 Mellon Creative Fellowship. This project was explored in a workshop at the 2020 Transmediale Festival in Berlin, and currently lives as an interactive net art installation. 2021 brings the premiere of Through the Eyes(s): an extractable cycle of nine pieces for speaking/singing percussionist collaboratively developed with composer Eliza Brown and ten incarcerated women, and the world premiere of a new percussion concerto by Huck Hodge with the Seattle Modern Orchestra.
Whiting has presented solo and small ensemble shows at The Stone in New York, the Brackish Series in Brooklyn, The Lilypad in Boston, The New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, at Hallwalls in Buffalo, the Tiny Park Gallery in Austin, The Wulf in LA, the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati, The Grove Haus in Indianapolis, on the Wayward Music Series in Seattle, on tour throughout New Zealand, and at colleges and universities around the country. Whiting has collaborated with many of today's leading new music groups, including red fish blue fish percussion group, (George Crumb’s Winds of Destiny directed by Peter Sellars and featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw for the Ojai Festival), eighth blackbird (the “Tune-in” festival at the Park Avenue Armory), the International Contemporary Ensemble (on-stage featured percussionist/mover in Andriessen’s epic Die Materie at the Park Avenue Armory, and the American premiere of James Dillon’s Nine Rivers at Miller Theatre), Bang on a Can (Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians for the LA Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella Series) and Ensemble Dal Niente (the Fromm Concerts at Harvard.)
Charles Corey is an American composer holding degrees in Music Composition and Theory from the University of Pittsburgh (Ph.D.) and Montclair State University (M.A., B.Mus.). Among his teachers are Robert Aldridge, Trevor Björklund, Patrick Burns, Dean Drummond, Eric Moe, Mathew Rosenblum and Amy Williams. His approach to composition exploits and subverts the relationships that exist between different tuning systems; the results of this process range from pieces that use standard tuning systems in unique ways to works that involve multiple tuning systems working in concert. His compositions are known for their unexpected, evocative harmonies and their strong dramatic arcs. His music has been played by a variety of performers including Cikada Ensemble, IonSound Project, Iktus Percussion, entelechron, and Relâche, and his writings have been published in several languages.