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Modern Music Ensemble  

  • Modern Music Ensemble (Photo: Steve Korn).
    Modern Music Ensemble (Photo: Steve Korn).

Cristina Valdés leads the UW Modern Music Ensemble, performing works by Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, George Lewis, Marcos Balter, and Sofia Gubaidulina.

Masks are required in all indoor spaces on the UW campus. Patrons must show proof of vaccination or recent negative provider-administered COVID-19 PCR test for entry to live events at Meany Hall. Individuals unable to be fully vaccinated, including children under age five and people with a medical or religious exemption, must have proof of a negative provider-administered COVID-19 PCR test (taken within 72 hours of the performance). UW staff will check for proof of vaccination and negative COVID PCR tests at the doors as a condition of entry. Proof of negative test result must come from a test provider, a laboratory or a health care provider. Home or self-administered tests will not be accepted. Details of these policies and procedures are at 


Zwei Lieder nach deutschen Volksdichtungen (1988)…………………….Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931)
Karen Dunstan, voice; Megan Hutchison, flute; Young Kim, cello; HyeYeon Kim, harpsichord

Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles (2010)……………………………………………Marcos Balter (b. 1974)

Karen Dunstan, voice; Selina Siow, violin; Young Kim, cello

Quintet Variations (2022)*…………………………………………Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez (b. 1964)
*World Premiere

Megan Hutchison, flute; Selina Siow, violin; Young Kim, cello; HyeYeon Kim, piano; Aaron Butler, percussion; Daren Weissfisch, conductor

Artificial Life (2007)……………………………………………………………George Lewis (b. 1952)

Karen Dunstan, voice; Megan Hutchison, flute; Selina Siow, violin; Young Kim, cello; Cooper Schlegel, bass; HyeYeon Kim, piano; Aaron Butler, percussion; Jonathan Rodriguez, percussion

Program Notes

Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles (2010), Marcos Balter (b. 1974)

            Marcos Balter  is a highly sought after contemporary composer praised for his “whimsical” and “surreal” works. His music is both emotional and intellectual, and focuses on experimental timbral manipulations and the drama of live performances. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Balter moved to the United States for his graduate studies at Texas Christian University and Northwestern University. He has recently held fellowships with the John Simon Guggenheim foundation and the Tanglewood Music Center, as well as held guest residencies at Standard University and Harvard University. Collaborating with groups from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to the rock band Deerhoof, Balter is also a 2022 recipient of the prestigious Arts and Letters Award in Music. Balter is currently a composition professor at the University of California San Diego. 

            Balter composed Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles in 2010, taking the title and text from a poem in the collection The Dirt Riddles written the same year.  The Dirt Riddles is the debut poetry collection from Michael Walsh, which details his upbringing as a gay man on a dairy farm in Minnesota. The poetry reflects the earth and world of animal husbandry, and the poem “Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles” fixates on the flat line of the horizon of dirt. This bleak horizon extends from the inaudible underground rumbles to the noises as loud as a hurricane, and Balter uses these lines as lyrics in his work. Balter frequently repeats the lyric “The horizon of dirt,” as well as using cyclical melodies and an echo-like effect after each phrase to evoke Walsh’s imagery. The wide intervals and sparse, textural figures in the strings further portray the expansiveness of this horizon of dirt. Balter creates these textures through the use of extended techniques in the string instruments, where the performers use harmonics and quickly “brush” the bow across the strings to create a light, irregular sonority. 


Zwei Lieder nach deutschen Volksdichtungen (1988), Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931)

            Soviet-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina is one of the leading Russian composers of the late twentieth century, and her works have been commissioned and performed by many international orchestras. She discovered her love of composition at a young age, and went on to study composition and piano at the Kazan Conservatory. During her studies in Soviet Russia, her music was considered irresponsible for her exploration of different tunings, but fellow composer Dmitri Shostakovich supported and encouraged her style of composition. She continued to write modernist music, which proved to be her escape from the political turmoil of Soviet Russia. Many of Gubaidulina’s works are influenced by religion and humanity, and this can be seen in the first movement of her work, Zwei Lieder nach deutschen Volksdichtungen, or Two Songs on German Folk Poetry. Gubaidulina also developed different musical symbols to fully express her ideas. In Zwei Lieder nach deutschen Volksdichtungen, many of her symbols denote variations in time or rhythm, granting the performers time for pauses, rubato, and accelerandos and ritardandos confined within one beat.

            Gubaidulina composed Zwei Lieder nach deutschen Volksdichtungen in 1988 for solo soprano, flute, cello, and harpsichord. Each movement is based on a remarkably different popular German folk tale. The first movement, titled “The Song of Contention Between Life and Death,” explores the idea of the trinity of life, death, and world in the instrumental parts. The vocal line alternates between singing from the point of view of both Life and Death, singing the same phrase in both voices: “The world is mine.” This struggle continues throughout the movement, but Life sings the final phrase, signaling their victory over Death: “Every grave is also a plot of soil, / My eternal seed falls inside. / Thus says Life: / The world is mine.”

            Movement two contrasts the serious nature of the first with a light, humorous theme. This movement, “There’s a Hole in My Bucket,” takes inspiration from the children’s song of the same name, which follows the characters Henry and Liza. Henry has a leaky bucket, which Liza directs him to fix, but he cannot fix it without the right tools. These tools require fetching water, thus he cannot fix the bucket without a bucket, and he is stuck in an endless deadlock. The movement draws to a close with Liza repeating “My dear Henry” until finally, the vocalist may choose from either of two different resolutions to the story. Gubaidulina wrote that the German text concludes with “Let it be…” and the Russian text with “To the devil with this hole….” To reconcile this difference, she opted to let the performer choose which resolution they prefer. The performer consequently repeats “My dear Henry” until they are ready to make a choice, speaks their text, and the movement concludes with a short instrumental refrain.


Quintet Variations (2022), Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez (b. 1964)

            Mexican-American composer Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez (b. 1964) describes himself as being particularly interested in what art can, rather than should be. His music focuses on capturing poetic visions that can only be expressed through the art of music. After moving from Guadalajara, Mexico to the United States, Sanchez-Gutierrez studied at Peabody University and later studied with Martin Bresnick at Yale and Steven Mackey at Princeton. Sanchez-Gutierrezhas received numerous awards from such institutions as the Guggenheim, Fulbright, and American Academy of Arts and Letters among others. He is currently Professor of Composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

            Quintet Variations is based on Sanchez-Gutierrez’s 2003 composition Twittering Machines for flute and piano. The U.S./Mexico Fund for Culture commissioned him to compose Twittering Machines for flutist Asako Arai, which was premiered in Mexico City in November of that year. Sanchez-Gutierrez reworked Twittering Machines into Quintet Variations for flute, violin, cello, piano, and percussion for the University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble in 2022. He has previously arranged Twittering Machines for flute, clarinet, and piano trio as well as for woodwind quintet. Sanchez-Gutierrez takes great inspiration and interest from the ideas of Paul Klee, a Swiss artist particularly interested in the structure of art. Klee is most famous for his painting “Twittering Machine,” which abstractly depicts his visualization of sound. Many composers have been inspired by this idea, including Sanchez-Gutierrez, who describes these machines as “the unpredictable mechanisms whose systematic - yet imperfect - behavior is not unlike the ‘processes’ we often find in musical structures.” He writes about his interest in things whose function isn’t to fill a purpose, but rather to just exist, such as clockworks with missing or unpredictable parts or a spider attempting to climb a wall. Sanchez-Gutierrez’s expression of “twittering machines” in this Quintet Variations is an uninterrupted set of short variations which he describes as “tangible, yet always imperfect.” This is perhaps most evident through his use of uncommon rhythmic patterns and figures, as well as through the expressive angularity of each variation.

-Megan Hutchison


Artificial Life (2007), George Lewis (b. 1952)

Born July 14, 1952 in Chicago, Illinois, George E. Lewis is a composer, trombonist, writer, and well-known for being a pioneer in computer music. Lewis has been a member of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971. He is active in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, and notated and improvisational forms as documented on more than 150 recordings. He has long created and performed using interactive computer systems, most notably a computer program that he created, called Voyager, which analyzes a human improviser’s performance in real time to generate responses alongside independent behaviors. In short, Voyager “listens”and reacts to live performers. Throughout his career he has recorded or performed with numerous musicians, from Anthony Braxton to Derek Baily to Muhal Richard Abrams. Since 2004, he has been the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, where he has served as Area Chair in Composition and Faculty in Historical Musicology.

Artificial Life 2007 is a situational-form musical composition designed to encourage collective improvisation. It consists of two “pages” that provide a set of quasi-algorithmic procedures for structuring musical communication. This facilitates, in real time, the articulation and circulation of relationships, forms, and recurrences among individual performers or groups of performers. Without a notated score, Page One of this piece comprises a set of sixteen instructions, represented graphically on a grid: End, Short, Soft, Sparse, Record, Soli, Silence, Long, Playback, Slow, Interrupt, Beginning, Far, Rough, Smooth, and Low. The sounds and silences are produced according to the improvisers’ intuition and considered judgment.

George Lewis’ approach explicitly gives musicians permission to play freely within an overarching structure of collective responsibility that retains respect for other people’s aesthetic and personal sensibilities. The piece requires, and perhaps engenders, a type of social virtuosity characterized by virtuosic listening, virtuosic decision making, and problem solving. As improvisations, including our daily human efforts, the many aspects of the performance are accomplished through negotiation and consensus. The success of the performance is based on the assumption of personal responsibility for the sonic environment.

 -HyeYeon Kim


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.