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Modern Music Ensemble  

Tuesday, March 7, 2023 - 7:30pm
$10 all tickets. Tickets on sale soon.

Cristina Valdés leads the UW Modern Music Ensemble in performances of works from the mid-20th century and beyond. Program includes pieces by Patricia Alessandrini, Kaija Saariaho, Christian Wolff, Huck Hodge, Sarah Hennies, and Huang Ruo. 


University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble
Cristina L. Valdés, Director


Black is the colour...(omaggio à Berio (2012): Patricia Alessandrini (b. 1970)

Cassandra Lear, alto flute
Brian Schappals, clarinet
Randy Zhang, viola
Ryan Farris, cello
Melissa Wang, percussion
Alex Fang, piano

Cendres (1998): Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)

Cassandra Lear, alto flute
Ryan Farris, cello
Alex Fang, piano

Selections from Microexercises (2006): Christian Wolff (b. 1934)

Cassandra Lear, flute
Nicholas Hidy, French horn
Mackenzie Snow, violin
Beau Wood, bass
Melissa Wang, percussion
Alex Fang, piano 

 As soft, fast, long as possible (2012):  Huck Hodge (b. 1977)

Cassandra Lear and Rachel Reyes, flutes
Brian Schappals, bass clarinet
Nicholas Hidy, French horn
Mackenzie Snow, violin
Jai Lasker, guitar
Beau Wood, bass
Alex Fang, piano
Melissa Wang, percussion


Growing Block (2019): Sarah Hennies (b. 1979)

Cassandra Lear and Rachel Reyes, flutes
Brian Schappals, clarinet
Nicholas Hidy, French horn
Mackenzie Snow, violin
Jai Lasker, guitar
Beau Wood, bass
Alex Fang, piano
Melissa Wang, percussion  

Chamber Concerto No. 3: Divergence (2001): Huang Ruo (b. 1976)

Cassandra Lear, flutes
Brian Schappals, clarinet
Mikhail Schmidt, violin
Christine Lee, cello
Cristina L. Valdés, piano

Program Notes

Omaggio à Berio (2012) by Patricia Alessandrini (b. 1970)

Italian composer Patricia Alessandrini says that one of her earliest inspirations in contemporary music came from a comment Sofia Gubaidulina made in conversation - “I have certain parameters that I want to control, and then everything else is intuitive,” Gubaidlina told Alessandrini. This idea of intuitive exploration centered around one line or musical idea is prevalent in Alessandrini’s work. She often writes music that takes melodic or structural from an existing piece of music and explores or transforms the preexisting material, sometimes using electronic media and live sound processing. She describes composing Omaggio a Berio as a “reductive process,” where she stripped away elements of Berio’s work to reveal one simple descending line that provides the melodic structure for her entire piece.

“Since Berio’s death in 2003, I had wanted to write an homage to him. Omaggio à Berio (Black is the Colour) engages with the material of the Folk Songs: the entire work is based on a descending line Berio had devised as a plaintive accompaniment in the harp in the first movement of the series. The performers coax this melody from the piano in various indirect ways, as if it were a sort of harp which one did not quite know how to play.”

- Patricia Alessandrini

Cendres (1998) by Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s complex and detailed scores are an overwhelming delight to view. Although they contain an incredible amount of information, none of the instructions are intended to be impossible or induce a struggle in the performers. Cendres, meaning “cinders” in English, is an exploration of several small bits of musical material that dance and transform in an instant like the bright orange sparks that fly out of a fire and are quickly consumed by their own energy.

From the composer:

I found the basis of the musical material for this piece in my double concerto …à la fumée for alto flute, cello, and orchestra. The name of the piece also derives from this.

While writing Cendres, I was mainly concentrating on the interpretation of particular musical ideas by the three different instruments of the trio, each of which has its unique character and palette of colours. Musical tension is created and regulated by sometimes bringing the instruments as close together as possible in all ways (pitch, rhythm, dynamics, articulation, colour, etc), or, at the other extreme, letting each of them express the music in their most idiomatic fashion. Between these two extremes there is an unlimited number of possible ways to create more or less homogenous musical situations. The consciousness of the variety was the rope on which I was balancing whilst working on the piece. 

Cendres was commissioned by the Gesellschaft für Neue Musik Ruhr and Kulturbüro der Stadt Essen for the Wolpe Trio.
Kaija Saariaho

Selections from Microexercises  (2006) by Christian Wolff (b. 1934)

Exercises 1-8a, 9, 10, 13, 14, 22

From the composer:

Microexercises were started when the Miniaturist Ensemble asked for a piece with no more than 100 notes in it.  Having enjoyed making one such piece, I went on to make 21 more (and then a second collection, Grete, with an additional 14).  Instrumentation and number of players are mostly open, as are selection of pieces, playing order, clef and transposition readings, and dynamics.

I like the notion of quite long pieces, and, more recently, also quite short ones (these have a history too: Beethoven's Bagatelles, Schumann, Webern, Cage's piano Haiku from the 1950s, Kurtag). I don't worry too much about intensity of focus; it's more about transitoriness and catching what's going by, then letting it go.  And making each piece itself, not like the others, or, if repeated, there is also the possibility of its being different from itself.

—Christian Wolff

As soft, fast, long as possible (2012) by Huck Hodge (b. 1977)

As soft, fast, long as possible was written in a single day as one part of a “musical chain letter,” in the words of the composer. It was commissioned for the CAGE100 Festival by the Forum Zeitgenössicher Musik Leipzig, which commissioned 100 composers to each write a 60-second piece. Huck Hodge was provided with the last measure of the previous piece in this concert of 100 one-minute works. The material he received was not incredibly detailed, only the instruction “mute out” in several parts.  In turn provided the next composer with the last bar of his piece, which he says he wrote in order to be as distinct from the rest of the piece as possible. Hodge referenced Cage’s chance-oriented aesthetic by writing a piece that could not possibly be performed in one minute. By overloading the performers with more than they could do in the time allotted (he requests a chromatic flurry the entire range of an instrument in one second, for example), he guaranteed that the resulting music would be left somewhat to chance in the moment of the performance. It was first performed  in New York City in 2013 by an ensemble consisting of oboe, bassoon, percussion, piano, accordion, violin, viola and cello, and has been adapted by the composer for the current orchestration. Tonight the piece will last longer than the originally intended 60 seconds, in an iteration Hodge says he is looking forward to hearing because the piece “has more room to breathe.” 

Growing Block (2019) by  Sarah Hennies (b. 1979)

“Growing Block is based on the scientific theory of the same name that theorizes that past and present time exist but future time does not. The more time that passes, the more of the world comes into being. The musicians in Growing Block behave as though inside a snapshot of a moment in time, if one could move around inside a moment without going forwards or backwards. The score allows for some freedom in choice of sounds, but the order of events and instructions for performers are fixed.”

—Sarah Hennies

Chamber Concerto No. 3: Divergence (2003 by Huang Ruo (b. 1976)

Chinese composer Huang Ruo draws inspiration from many distinct musical genres including Chinese folk music, Western avant-garde, noise music and processed sound, as well as rock and jazz. He combines elements of Eastern and Western music in his work in a desire not to solely mix the two, but to integrate them into a seamless musical experience. Chamber Concerto No. 3: Divergence is the third work in his concerto cycle.

From the composer:

“Concerto,” in old Italian, means “to bring together” and was used to describe works in which individual lines, either instrumental or vocal, were assembled into a harmonious whole. The whole concerto cycle not only focuses on different individual instrument[s], but also the ensemble as a dramatic whole and various combinations among them. In other words, it is about dialogues of musical instruments. The whole concerto cycle is linked together both musically and theatrically. Musicians and conductor are asked not only to act with body motions and movements, but also to sing, change, and speak with their pure human voices. Therefore, these concertos are not just for instruments, but for performers…

“In English, “divergence” means departing away into many directions. Its equivalent in Chinese is “Fen liu.” However, the more important thought is where the streams are going after they have diverged. Therefore, music doesn’t just simply end on the last note, but travels in a journey which I will spend my whole life to compose.” —Huang Ruo

The performers together recite a poem during this work, translated below by the composer.

Sounds Ever Slow

Searching… and searching…

Seeking… and seeking…

So Chill and so clear,

Dreary, and dismal,

And forlorn.

That time of year,

A Warm spell - then it’s back to cold,

Hard to find rest.

Two or three cups of weak wine – 

How can they resist the biting wind 

That comes with evening?

The wild geese pass – 

That’s what hurts most –

And yet,

They’re old acquaintances.

Chrysanthemum petals fill the ground in piles,

Haggard and damaged –

As they are now, who could bring herself to pick them?

At the window, 

Alone –

How can I brace myself against the encroaching dark?

The plane tree, and on top of that

The drizzling rain,

On until dusk,

The dripping drop after drop.

These things, this moment,

How can one word – “sorrow – say it all?

Director Biography

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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