You are here

Modern Music Ensemble

Monday, December 6, 2021 - 7:30pm
UW Modern Ensemble

The University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble (Cristina Valdés, director) performs music by Louis Andriessen, Sylvano Bussotti, Pauline Oliveros, Frederic Rzewski, and Julius Eastman.

Masks are required in all indoor spaces on the UW campus. Capacity in Brechemin Auditorium is limited to 100. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test (within 72 hours of the performance) required for all ages at all events. Details of these protocols available here.


Dubbelspoor (1994) ……………………….………...…… Louis Andriessen (1939-2021)

 Katherine Lee, piano; Mia HyeYeon Kim, harpsichord; Cristina Valdés, celesta; Aaron M Butler, vibraphone/glockenspiel 

Sette Fogli: una collezione occulta (1959) ………………… Sylvano Bussotti (1931-2021)

  1. couple, for flute and piano
  2. coeur, for percussionist

 Cassie Lear, flute; Mia HyeYeon Kim, piano; Scott Farkas, percussion


Elemental Gallop (2000) ……………………………………Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)

Cassie Lear, flute; Karen Dunstan, voice; Young Kim, cello; Mia HyeYeon Kim, piano


Spots for 4 instruments (1986) …………………………… Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021)

 Megan Hutchison, flute; Mia HyeYeon Kim, piano; Selina Siow, violin; Scott Farkas, percussion


Joy Boy (1974) ………………………………………………… Julius Eastman (1940-90)

Cassie Lear, flute; Karen Dunstan, voice;  Selina Siow, violin; Aaron M Butler, percussion; Young Kim, cello;             Mia HyeYeon Kim, piano

Program Notes

by Mia HyeYeon Kim

Louis Andriessen (1939-2021) was widely regarded as a leading composer in the Netherlands and a central figure in the international new music scene. From a background of jazz and avant-garde composition, Andriessen evolved a style of distinctive instrumentation employing elemental harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic materials.

In 1986, Andriessen composed Dubbelspoor (meaning “double track”) that explored the effect of doubling of performance. Although he said "the music is about mirroring,” the original composition was memorable for a visual doubling effect. In a forty-five minutes-long dance piece, the audience sees two dancers who appear to be dancing together, but are actually on separate platforms on opposite sides of a reflective window. The audience sees a juxtaposition of an image of one dancer, seen though the window, alongside the image of the second dancer, reflected off the mirror surface of the window.

Dubbelspoor was revised as a concert piece in 1994 (scored for celeste, piano, glockenspiel, and harpsichord) to highlight the doubling effect in music performance. The piece begins with a stark chord by harpsichord, which is doubled (mirrored) by the piano, then further doubled by glockenspiel and celesta. Then, as individual notes of the chord are released by each instrument, they mix and evolve into the poco piu mosso section, a mad whirl of energy with a hypnotic spin. After a swirl of consecutive sixteenth notes, there is sudden return to tempo primo and the piece ends with a long, holding chord.

The oeuvre of Italian composer Sylvano Bussotti (1931-2021) encompasses music, visual art, film, opera, theater, design, and the written word. Emerging from the post-war European avant-garde of the 1950’s, Bussotti quickly ingratiated himself within the circles of Pierre Boulez and John Cage. Among his various art works, his highly skilled, intricate, and poetic graphic scores are particularly noticeable.

The sette fogli, composed in 1959, is a self-contained, experimental piece of chamber music. It consists of seven movements presented in various combinations. The whole set may be played as one piece; or each movement may be played separately; or freely-selected groups of movements may be performed. The graphic scores are depicted using a collection of non-traditional experimental markings and symbols. Some of the markings have links to traditional musical notation, but others are newly invented and their musical meanings are yet unknown. He also calls these seven drawings an “occult collection”; they are intended to evoke immediate and spontaneous interpretation by the players. There is no precise explanation of markings. A given marking is either self-explanatory, or is explained by virtue of its “magic” origin. The degree of parallelism that can be attained between signs and their acoustical realization will create the occult attraction of every imaginative realization process. Bussotti originally provided performance notes for each sheet, but purposefully omitted these explanations from the publication in order to keep its “mechanism encourage re-creative ideas.”

The first of the compositions is “couple” for flute and piano. This lovely duet is played as a free ‘impromptu’ based on the proportions of the graphical distribution. Starting with a long holding note by flute, Bussotti explores new sounds by employing extended techniques such as breath tremolo, frullato, key clicks, glissandi along the piano strings, and pizzicato with the fingernail. In the middle of the piece, between two very long fermata, each taking about 15-20 seconds, there is a short climax section marked fortissississimo with many clusters. Unlike “couple”, the second movement, “coeur,” for percussionist, is a completely graphic score resulting in a unique interpretation by the performer.

Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) was an influential American composer, musician, thinker and teacher. She was born in Houston, Texas and taught at Mills College, the University of California, San Diego, Oberlin College, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Since the 1960’s, she influenced American music profoundly through her work with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth and ritual. She was an inspiration to some of the most renowned figures in experimental composition, including John Cage and Terry Riley.

In 1988, Oliveros and her associates made a recording of themselves playing music inside a reverberant cistern, buried underground. They quickly realized that the environment in which they were playing, which could echo for as long as 45 seconds, had a sensibility of its own and was, in effect, another collaborator in the music. Oliveros took this lesson to heart and began formulating her philosophy of "deep listening," which eventually progressed well beyond simply listening to what's happening nearby. It led her to found the “Deep Listening Institute.” Oliveros describes “Deep Listening” as a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing.

Elemental Gallop, written in 2000 for piano, flute, and cello, represents Oliveros’ principles of Deep Listening. The piece starts with a big bang sound followed by the Gallop Rhythm which needs to be always played by at least one performer. There are twelve options: Lead, Free, Follow, Stop, Harmonize, Dis-Harmonize, Fuse, Oppose, Disjunct, Increment, Change, and Listen. Each player has to choose one of the options and move freely through other options during the piece. The length of each option is left to the discretion of each player.

A highly respected composer and pianist, Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021) is recognized both for his innovative works and for his strong political convictions. A founding member of the groundbreaking improvisational collective MEV, Rzewski's pieces often bridge the gap between classical music and avant-garde jazz. In The People United Will Never Be Defeated, arguably his most well-known piece, and in many other compositions, Rzewski has drawn on folk songs, narratives and politically charged texts to issue musical calls for social change. While Rzewski's unorthodox approach to performance and composition, as well as his political consciousness, was clearly influenced by the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1960s, his work remains equally relevant in the new millennium. In 2005 the Boston Globe's David Weininger called him "one of the most prominent living American composers and a prodigiously talented pianist”.

Thirteen one-minute pieces for any four instruments entitled "Spots" (1986) is likened to television commercials; miniature pieces designed to break into the program at odd, arbitrary spots, even in the middle of other pieces. In fact, Rzewski's explanation of the pieces was interrupted by the first jazzily attractive spot, whose perky counterpoint set a prevailingly bright tone for the rest. If these spots are comments on the strange rhythms of the electronic media, they are uncritical of the media itself and seem to celebrate TV's jerky, native surrealism.

Spot 1 begins all parts together playing fanfare-like melody. It is a short ABA’ form. The A section is rhythmical and lively, and the B section is somewhat calmer and has more sustained notes. A’ section leads to the forte tutti section and then ends with clap, stomp, or hitting sounds. Spot 3 is primarily constructed on a two note figure. In the middle of the piece, each player takes a turn with the melody, and then all parts play in rhythmic unison. In spot 4, two parts are entirely unison like an accompaniment. Rzewski describes this as an imaginary animated cartoon. Spot 5 is a trio. Two parts can be played by any instrument but the third part is for metallic percussion, hi-hat, and jingles, with the percussion becoming more prominent towards the end. In spot 7, the top line always has the melody throughout the piece. The other voices accompany in canon at the unison. Spot 11 has a very light and quirky sound as an accompaniment in the bottom three part, while the first part has an espressivo, legato melody. The last piece, Spot 13, is sonically unlike the other movements. It is the slowest of all the movements with three players in unison, while the percussion interjects occasionally with only two sounds.

Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was a figure in the avant-garde New-York musical scene whose compositions were under-recognized during his lifetime but eventually gained prominence. Born in 1940 in Ithaca, NY, he graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and taught at the University of Buffalo. As a gay, black artist who aspired to live the fullest, he rose to prominence in New York's downtown scene as a composer, conductor, singer, pianist, and choreographer. The dynamic, often provocative, musician was the enfant terrible of contemporary classical in the 1970s, shuttling between uptown concert halls and downtown lofts and working alongside Morton Feldman, John Cage, Meredith Monk, Arthur Russell, and the S.E.M Ensemble. However, by the mid ’80s, he developed a serious cocaine addiction and drifted into obscurity, living briefly in Tompkins Square Park, where he reportedly contracted HIV when the disease was still a death sentence. Despite his earlier prominence in the artistic and musical community in New York, Eastman died, just 49 years old in 1990, homeless and alone in a Buffalo, NY hospital. His death went unreported for eight months until an obituary by Kyle Gann in the Village Voice. At the time of his passing, many of his musical scores and notes were confiscated or lost. His music lay dormant for decades until a three-CD set of his compositions was produced in 2005 by New World Records. Since then, there has been newfound interest from choreographers, scholars, educators, and journalists. A steady increase in appreciation of his music and life, punctuated by newly found recordings and manuscripts, led to publication of Gay Guerrilla, a comprehensive volume of biographical essays and analysis, worldwide performances and new arrangements of his surviving works.

Joy Boy, a single-page composition by Eastman in 1974 described by composer and musicologist Luciano Chessa as one of Eastman’s five “queer-themed” pieces, is a powerful tribute to the modern fight for gay rights. The score, written for four soprano voices, may either be sung or performed on instruments. Few descriptions are left by Eastman; performers must create ticker tape machine sounds and the dynamics are mostly pianissimo. Joy Boy, a piece filled with delicate pitter-patter sounds, might as easily be interpreted as cries of pain or joy. 

Director Bio

Cristina Valdés, piano

Pianist Cristina Valdés presents innovative concerts of standard and experimental repertoire, and is known to “play a mean piano.” A fierce advocate for new music, she has premiered countless works, including many written for her. She has performed across four continents and in venues such as Lincoln Center, Le Poisson Rouge, Miller Theatre, Jordan Hall, and the Kennedy Center. Ms. Valdés has appeared both as a soloist and chamber musician at festivals worldwide including New Music in Miami, the Foro Internacional de Música Nueva in Mexico City, Brisbane Arts Festival, the Festival of Contemporary Music in El Salvador, Havana Contemporary Music Festival, and the Singapore Arts Festival. 

An avid chamber musician and collaborator, Ms. Valdés has toured extensively with the Bang On a Can “All Stars”, and has performed with the Seattle Chamber Players, the Mabou Mines Theater Company, the Parsons Dance Company, and Antares. Her performances on both the Seattle Symphony’s Chamber Series and [UNTITLED] concerts have garnered critical acclaim, including her “knockout” (Seattle Times) performance of Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and her “arrestingly eloquent performance” of Dutilleux’s Trois Preludes (Bernard Jacobson/MusicWeb International).

Ms. Valdés has appeared as concerto soloist with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Philharmonic, the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, Johns Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, the Binghamton Philharmonic, NOCCO, Philharmonia Northwest, the Eastman BroadBand, and the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra, amongst others. In 2015 she performed the piano solo part of the Ives 4th Symphony with the Seattle Symphony under the direction of Ludovic Morlot, which was later released on CD to critical acclaim and made Gramophone’s list of Top 10 Ives Recordings. Other recent recordings include Orlando Garcia’s “From Darkness to Luminosity” with the Málaga Philharmonic on the Toccata Classics label, and the world premiere recording of Kotoka Suzuki’s “Shimmer, Tree | In Memoriam Jonathan Harvey”. She can also be heard on the Albany, Newport Classics, Urtext, and Ideologic Organ labels.

In recent seasons she gave performances of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the world-premiere performance of Carlos Sanchez-Guttierez’s “Short Stories” for piano and string orchestra with the Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and the U.S. Premiere of “Under Construction” for solo piano and tape playback by Heiner Goebbels at Benaroya Hall. Last season she was the featured soloist with the Seattle Symphony on two of their “[untitled]” new music series concerts.

Ms. Valdés received a Bachelor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music, and a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts from SUNY Stony Brook. She currently lives in Seattle where she founded the SLAM Festival, a new music festival dedicated to the music of Latin-American composers, and performs regularly as a member of the Seattle Modern Orchestra. She is an Artist-in-Residence at the University of Washington, and is the Director of the UW Modern Music Ensemble. 

People Involved: