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Modern Music Ensemble

Sunday, December 4, 2022 - 7:30pm
UW Modern Ensemble

The University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble (Cristina Valdés, director) performs music by Ivan Fedele, José-LuisHurtado, Mario Lavista, inti figgis-vizueta, and Louis Andriessen. 


Modern Music Ensemble
Cristina Valdés, director

Ivan Fedele (b. 1953): Erinni (1998)                                                                                                    
Rose Martin, vibraphone; Melissa Wang, marimba; Alex Fang, piano

 José-Luis Hurtado (b. 1975): Retour (2013)                                                                                      
Cassie Lear and Rachel Reyes, flutes; Grace Pandra, violin; Ryan Farris, cello; Melissa Wang, percussion; 
Alex Fang, piano

Mario Lavista (1943-2021): Elegía a la memoria de Nacho (2003)                                                         
Cassie Lear, flute; Alex Fang, piano

inti figgis-vizueta (b. 1993): Form the Fabric (2020)                                                                                    
Cassie Lear and Rachel Reyes, flutes; Jai Lasker, guitar; Melissa Wang, percussion; Alex Fang, piano

Louis Andriessen (1939-2021): Workers Union (1975)                                                                          
Cassie Lear and Rachel Reyes, flutes; Mackenzie Snow, violin; Ryan Farris, cello; Jai Lasker, guitar; Rose Martin, marimba; Melissa Wang, percussion; Alex Fang, piano

Program Notes

Erinni (1998) by Ivan Fedele (b. 1953)

Italian composer Ivan Fedele’s compositional style is ordered and mathematical but always full of expression. He studied piano and composition at the Milan Conservatory as well as later taking composition lessons from Franco Donatoni, and has won several international composition prizes. He currently teaches at the Como Conservatory and Strasbourg Conservatory. Fedele has a deep love for mathematics, which he credits to his father. Fedele composes with dedication to structure and process but always with an ear to the understanding of the listener. He has written many works for traditional ensembles, but also has vast experience with composing electronic music.

Erinni was written to celebrate the 75th birthday of György Kurtág and premiered in 1998 in Milan by Musica20. Kurtág’s compositions often featured the cimbalom, an instrument first invented in Budapest and played by striking two sticks on strings. Fedele allows marimba to substitute for the cimbalom in cases where a cimbalom cannot be used. The vibraphone, marimba, and piano version is the one performed tonight. Erinni was inspired by a poem in Alda Merini’s Il volume del canto. In Greek mythology, Erinyes are goddesses of vengeance who prey on men for breaking social contracts - murderers, perjurers, or philanderers. Alda Merini was a twentieth-century Italian poet known for publicly self-identifying as a survivor (of involuntary hospitalization, of living with schizophrenia, of domestic violence) and for writing about the tension between the sacred and the profane. 

Erinni opens with a series of fragmented statements that end abruptly, echoing while suspended over silence. These fragments build to a fiery climax that descends into a mournful marimba solo. The marimba then interrupts itself, playing a motoric rhythm with syncopated accents which propels the performers into a fast paced middle section. After a reprise of the marimba solo, the piano and vibraphone perform a calm melody before the trio concludes the piece in unison.

Retour by José-Luis Hurtado

José-Luis Hurtado describes his mosaic-like work Retour as a rondo made up of “three little lyrical pieces” each separated by a fourth soloistic movement accompanied by a drier, more percussive background. The score itself is beautiful to look at: each individual voice meanders up and down across its domain on the page. More abstract representations of pitch, timbre, and duration are interspersed with moments of traditional notation. The overall effect is one of a flurry of small movements leading to surprising moments of repose. 

The first of the lyrical pieces opens with a loud attack, followed closely by a quiet build towards a nervous piano explosion. This frenzy dies away into the second movement, consisting of flute solos accompanied by a frenetic texture of short, unpitched attacks. The third movement begins intimately with only the sounds of breathing until a pianissimo cello line is interrupted by a violent response from a duo of flutes. Both groups of instruments quickly work out their differences; the entire group begins to chatter amongst themselves, gradually dying away into the second return of the solo material. This time the cello and voice command the audience’s attention, accompanied by that texture of dry percussive attacks from the remainder of the ensemble.. The fourth movement is a flurry of quiet and intense activity set against increasingly aggressive piano interjections.  The instruments almost reach calm for one last time before the entrance of the final set of solos, this time for piano and percussion.

Elegía a la memoria de Nacho(2003) by Mario Lavista (1943-2021)

“There is a Japanese legend saying that the only sound the dead can hear is the sound of the flute,” Mario Lavista wrote. “ I hold this belief to be true, and that is why I chose the flute to write a work in remembrance of my friend, the writer Luis Ignacio Helguera, who died at 40 years of age. For Nacho, music was the most important and significant of the arts, both in his life and his work… In writing this Elegy I wanted to pay homage to the full-time writer and music lover, but more than that, to “speak” by a means other than words, of the deep affection I always had for my dear and loyal friend whose absence I will never cease to mourn.”

Elegía, like many of Lavista’s other compositions for flute, uses contemporary timbres including the creeping instability of multiphonics, violent air sounds, and diffuse alternate fingerings. In the beginning of the work the flute is instructed to violently attack the notes with a lot of air before immediately switching to low, rhythmic patterns. This unusual combination evokes the plodding anguish of continuing to live after the death of a loved one, complete with hesitant comfort offered by the piano. As the piece unfolds the two instruments begin to create more melodic movement together and eventually rise to a high point marked by sextuplet runs in the flute before ending together in a sequence of uneven meters, which, while still hesitant and uneven, at least show the instruments now proceeding on similar emotional ground.

Composer, essayist, and intellectual Mario Lavista was famous for his cosmopolitan composition style. He studied in both Mexico and Europe, and worked with both György Ligeti and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Lavista was interested  in the unique sounds provided by European extended techniques and in improvisation. He incorporated both aspects of performance in his contemporary ensemble Quanta, the first experimental improvisatory chamber group in Mexico. About his non-nationalistic style, Lavista wrote “It is very sad to realize that people expect exotic music from me. It is actually outrageous, for those listeners are denying Latin America its capacity of abstraction. For them, we are not capable of having abstract thinking… They expect from us the exotic; that is (for them) what it means to be Mexican. No, I’m sorry but Mexicans have also the capacity of abstraction and the invention of a (artistic) language.”

Form the Fabric (2020) by inti figgis-vizueta (b. 1993)

The Great Inca Road is a network of ancient roads and bridges connecting areas in present day Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. Constructed in the 15th century without the use of the wheel, metal, or animals, it traverses 24,800 miles and climbs from sea level to some 13,800 feet near Machu Picchu. Some rope crossings and bridges are even today continually being reconstructed by residents using traditional methods. inti figgis-vizueta writes that the title of this work, Form the Fabric, was inspired by writings of archeologist Ramiro Mato about the Great Inca Road and Mato’s description of Incan and Andean thought about the universe. Threads of both the spiritual and physical world intertwine to form an awareness of the world in which we are continually present. 

Performers of this work pick up threads of harmony, rhythm, and timbre using boxed material provided in figgis-vizueta’s score, which she also labels as an index - a collection of information from which to create further understanding. Referencing these materials, the players perform a journey together through five pillars of sound. The piece meanders from a slow awakening through turbulence, pointillistic and staccato motion, a high and lonely tessitura, before returning to a bare and static ending of long held tones in extreme high and low registers. The musicians improvise together in constant communication, working together to sculpt the piece without any one player dominating any other player’s contribution.

Workers Union
(1975) by Louis Andriessen (1939-2021)

Louis Andriessen famously interrupted a Concertgebouw concert in 1969. He created a ruckus using instruments including a bicycle horn and nutcracker to drown out the orchestra in protest against the elitist nature of the institution of the symphony hall. This kind of direct action was a natural extension of his aesthetic views: he believed that it was important to intertwine music with politics instead of keeping them sidelined from each other. When listening to Workers Union (1976) it can be difficult to keep any political ideas in ones’ head because of the sheer aggression of the repeated rhythmic fragments. 

Andreissen appreciated and wrote in the style of American minimalism. He liked the music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. At first listen the minimalist but aurally confrontational Workers Union sounds so different from the tonally approachable music of Philip Glass that the similarity of the style can escape the listener. When asked about this, Andriessen told a journalist that he preferred a more aggressive style. “In America there is not enough angst,” he said. 

Andriessen’s works, even the smaller ones, often have very specific and unusual instrumentation: for an oboist who also plays the piano, for example, or a speaker who also plays the trombone. Workers Union is therefore outside of Andriessen’s normal in that it is written for “any combination of loud-sounding instruments” instead of a specific instrumentation. Andriessen loved writing for what he called “a terrifying twenty-first-century orchestra,” complete with electric guitar and saxophones. Workers Union was dedicated to the Volharding (Persistence), Louis Andriessen’s own new music ensemble consisting of saxophones, brass, bass, and piano. It consists of  twenty minutes of jazz-influenced syncopated rhythms played by the entire ensemble, mainly at forte and fortissimo dynamics. The musicians are expected to expend an incredible amount of effort throughout this 20-minute work. Andriessen writes that “only in the case of every player playing with such an intention that their part is an essential one, the work will succeed; just as in the political work.”

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. 

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