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Guest Artist Concert: Ensemble Dal Niente: Music of UW Faculty Composers

Friday, April 14, 2023 - 7:30pm
$20 general; $15 UW Affiliate (employee, retiree, UWAA member); $10 students and seniors.
  • Dal Niente

Chicago-based contemporary music collective Ensemble Dal Niente performs world premieres by School of Music faculty composers Joël-François Durand and Huck Hodge as well as pieces by Miya Masaoka and Andile Kumalo. With faculty violist Melia Watras, performing with the ensemble the world premiere of a new work by Durand, and faculty soprano Carrie Shaw, narrator on Andile Khumalo’s Shades of Words.


Miya Masaoka (b. 1958) 
The Dust and The Noise (2013, rev. 2021)
for violin, cello, percussion, piano 

Joël-François Durand (b. 1954) 
In the Mirror Land (2003)
for flute and clarinet in Bb

Joël-François Durand (b. 1954) 
Geister, schwebende Geister (2020)*
for viola solo, flute (and alto flute), clarinet (and bass clarinet), oboe (and English horn), 
percussion, harp, piano/celesta, violin, viola, cello 
viola solo: Melia Watras
*world premiere


Andile Khumalo (b. 1978)
Shades of Words (2011)
for narrator, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, viola, cello 
narrator: Carrie Shaw

Huck Hodge (b. 1977)
Time and its Arbitrary Measurements (2020)* 
for flute, clarinet, percussion, harp, piano, violin, viola, cello 
*world premiere


Melia Watras, viola soloist
Carrie Shaw, narrator
Michael Lewanski, conductor

Constance Volk, flute
Andrew Nogal, oboe
Katie Jimoh, clarinet
Kyle Flens, percussion
Ben Melsky, harp
Mabel Kwan, piano
Theo Ramsey, violin
Ammie Brod, viola
Juan Horie, cello

Program Notes

Masaoka – The Dust and the Noise  

The Dust and the Noise was originally commissioned by Either/Or Ensemble, and a later version was performed by the ensemble Dal Niente. The detritus of something can have its own value, and often can be intriguing such as the dust in a ray of light has a shimmer and sparkle as one would imagine fairy-tale moon dust.  But dust and noise are typically considered the unwanted part of a thing, the undesired, and that which is considered bad. These remnants or what remains of a thing can even reveal the opposite that one intended, such as an idea, or project, almost as the negative of a photograph or of a plaster mold.   This is all to say that I am very grateful that the piece will be performed again, and I am in Europe in Rome, Italy on Prix de Rome, otherwise I would have loved to attend. 
–Miya Masaoka 

Durand – In the Mirror Land (2003), for two wind instruments—version for Flute and Bb clarinet

The work is laid out as a set of variations. During the first section, the initial gesture provides the impetus for constantly changing presentations of phrases built around ascending intervals. The first instrument (the one on top in the score) has here a leading role, while the second acts as its shadow, either by simply altering timbrally the pitches of the other one, or by distorting its lines more actively.

As the two instruments become more equal in the slower middle section, what is then varied is not so much what appeared at the beginning like a motivic statement: the relationships between the two instruments now become the main focus of variation, as the lines of the polyphony are constantly spread between them which results in a timbral variation of similar pitches, or parts of lines. The melodic aspect, instead of being the sole focus of variation, now acts as support for the timbral aspect, which comes to the foreground. In the last section, the fastest one, elements of the first section return, with now the second instrument in the leading role. The two instruments end as completely equal partners, in a texture similar to the slow middle section, only much faster.

In the Mirror Land was written for Helen Bledsoe and Peter Veale who premiered it on February 22nd, 2003, in Brechemin Auditorium, at the University of Washington School of Music, in a concert given by the German group musikFabrik in celebration of Ferneyhough’s 60th birthday. It is available in three versions, for the following instruments:

  • Flute and Bb Clarinet
  • Bb Clarinet and Oboe
  • Flute and Oboe

Durand – Geister, schwebende Geister, for solo viola and ensemble (2020)

Geister, schwebende Geister belongs to a group of works that I started to write in 2019, in which I explore the formal and structural potentials of an acoustic phenomenon known to all musicians when they tune their instruments: the beats that occur when two tones of very close frequencies are played at the same time. Geister, schwebende Geister is the first of the series; the second is a work for solo violin In a weightless quiet (2020), the third is my second string quartet Canto de amigo (2020) and the last to date, La descente de l’ange (2022) is for Bb clarinet and violin. In each of these works, the beats are generated by playing a note on one of the open strings of the instruments at the same time as a similar pitch with a microtonal deviation on another string, or with another instrument.

One thing I find fascinating in this use of controlled beat patterns is that they actually permit to directly experience what is usually considered a physical/mathematical concept. In sensory experience (auditory perception), we cannot be aware of the mathematical ratio between the frequencies of two notes played at the same time; it's an abstract concept (we don't hear a 3:2 ratio when we hear a fifth; we hear a fifth). But when the pitches are very close, the phenomenon of "first-order beat" becomes an actual experience. How this works is fairly simple to explain: if for example, the two frequencies are 3 Hz apart—say, 443 Hz and 440 Hz—we hear two things: first, the two original frequencies become one single tone (mathematically, it’s the median value of the two); additionally, we hear a pulsation of three beats animating this single tone. The “median value” in this case is 441.5 Hz; and the pulsation that accompanies it—the difference between the two original frequencies—is three beats per second which, when we hear them, is the audible manifestation of an arithmetic equation, in this case, the subtraction 443 - 440 = 3.

But above all this, I find fascinating how these beats have a sort of other-worldly character, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, since the rhythmic patterns they create are clearly audible, yet not directly produced by the performer, who is just playing the two pitches.

In Geister, schwebende Geister, sections explore in turns the tonal regions of the three open strings of the viola G, D and A, and their extensions through microtones that generate 3, 5, 7 and 11 beats per second. After a long first section centered on A, the region of the G comes in dialog with that of the A. Further on, the region of the open string D is brought in contact with that of the G and in the more complex central section, all three regions enter in a polyphonic type of dialog. Later on, the return of the A brings the piece to a concluding section. But besides the exploration of these three pitch regions, a more important particularity of this work is the way in which the notions of instrumentation and pitch/rhythmic structure are completely fused. The gestures of the solo viola that create first-order beats are first announced, or echoed, as actual rhythmic figures in the ensemble, and further expanded by the colors of the other instruments. But in contrast to the typical exploration of instrumental colors (extended or not), in Geister, schwebende Geister, timbre, rhythm (as rhythmic subdivisions) and pitches are completely integrated as one: pitches created by timbral effect generate rhythms through the beatings and are then treated with timbral transformations. This leads to an organic unity of all parameters, structurally as well as auditively.

Geister, schwebende Geister is dedicated to Melia Watras.

Khumalo Shades of Words

Shades of words is a result of a wonderful collaboration that started back in 2010, which I am sure is going to last for many years, between the American poet Alexander Zelman-Doring and myself. The poems used in this work, are themselves part of collaboration between Alexander and her close friend, another poet. Ms. Zelman – Doring, defines that collaboration as follows:

For one year, we did not see each other, we communicated only through poems. We did not propose a theme for this communication, nor did we set ourselves any restrictions, save one: Let’s write to each other. Tell me everything, we said, in verse. To our surprise (and sometimes dismay) the result reveals a shared major preoccupation, one that the letters allowed us to discuss: poetry. Love, heartbreak, departure, all orbits this one major concern. These letters found us the freedom to embrace the central hold of our lives - - our work and our words - - through confession, doubt, struggle, and finally support and encouragement: the bulwark of the other. We said, “Write to me.” Perhaps what we meant was “be my reader.” 

It was not my intention to set the words into music but to let the music reflect on the ideas presented by the poems and to reflect on certain words which seem to be pillars of these poems. The ensemble and the narrator start the work as two separate voices, which mix as the piece goes on, resulting in one voice or musical gesture.

–Andile Khumalo 

Hodge –Time and its arbitrary measurements

What is music but the shadow of time, or to be more precise, the shadow of a thought splayed out against the canvas of time? If time is the horizon of possibility, then each piece of music is an attempt, however incomplete, to give order and shape to it — to live a life in miniature. 

By my lights, to compose music is to weave a continuous thread through a splintered assemblage of memories and half-forgotten qualia, through a winding topography of false starts and fragmentary sounds, of thoughts entertained and discarded — and taken up again — in the hope of rendering them in mythic form. Now, every myth has its monsters, and in this labyrinth of hazy ideas the roaming specter of arbitrariness looms large. 

They say it was Ariadne’s thread that enabled Theseus to escape his labyrinth, to abscond with her and in the end, of course, to leave her to die on some desolate island. So, we might want to think twice about the costs of short-sighted coherence. Escaping the grip of arbitrariness, we should be careful not to fall into the hands of the peculiarly arbitrary consistency of musical structure and its hollow claim to rational authority. 

I don’t pretend to know the way out of the maze, but this piece is an attempt to fend off all those monsters — or at least to keep them busy for a while.

-Huck Hodge


Miya Masaoka

Miya Masaoka is an American composer and sound artist. Her work explores bodily perception of vibration, movement and time while foregrounding complex timbre relationships. In 2018 she joined the Columbia University Visual Arts Department as an Associate Professor, where she is the director of the Sound Art Program, a joint program with the Computer Music Center. A 2019 Studio Artist for the Park Avenue Armory, Masaoka has also received the Doris Duke Artist Award in 2013, a Fulbright Fellowship to Japan in 2016, and an Alpert Award in 2003. Her work has been presented at the Venice Biennale, MoMA PS1, Kunstmuseum Bonn, and the Park Avenue Armory. She has been commissioned by and collaborated with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Glasgow Choir, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Bang on a Can, Jack Quartet, Del Sol, Momenta and the S.E.M. Ensemble. She has a 2019 commission for an outdoor installation at the Caramoor, Katonah, New York.

Andile Khumalo

Durban-born composer Andile Khumalo studied composition at Columbia University under the guidance of Tristan Murail,  Fabien Lévy, and George Lewis. His former teachers include Jürgen Bräuninger, Urlich Süße, Fabio Nieder and Marco Stroppa with whom he studied in Stuttgart (Germany) where he got his Masters in Composition

Khumalo has attended masterclasses in Darmstadt (Germany), Fondation Royaumont (France), and Stuttgart with leading composers of our time such as Salvatore Sciarrino, Stefano Gervasoni, Brian Ferneyhough, and Isabel Mundry.

His music has been performed and presented in different festivals such as New Music Indaba (South Africa), Germany, Royaumont “Voix Nouvelles” (France), International Society of Contemporary Music (Hong Kong), Switzerland, Sweden, Takefu International Music Festival (Japan) and in the United states by ensembles such as Ensemble Dal Niente, Sontonga String quartet, Ensemble Mosaik, Ensemble Baikonur, International Contemporary Ensemble (New York), members of Ensemble Vortex, and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.

Ensemble Dal Niente

Ensemble Dal Niente performs new and experimental chamber music with dedication, virtuosity, and an exploratory spirit. Flexible and adaptable, Dal Niente’s roster of 26 musicians presents an uncommonly broad range of contemporary music, guiding listeners towards music that transforms existing ideas and subverts convention. Audiences coming to Dal Niente shows can expect distinctive productions—from fully staged operas to multimedia spectacles to intimate solo performances—that are curated to pique curiosity and connect art, culture, and people.

Now in its second decade, Ensemble Dal Niente has performed concerts across Europe and the Americas, including  appearances at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC; The Foro Internacional de Música Nueva in Mexico City; Radialsystem Berlin, MusicArte Festival in Panama City; The Library of Congress and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.; the Art Institute of Chicago and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival; Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; The Americas Society; and the Darmstadt Summer Courses in Germany. Dal Niente is the recipient of the 2019 Fromm Music Foundation prize, and was the first-ever ensemble to win the Kranichstein prize for interpretation in 2012. The group has recordings available on the New World, New Amsterdam, New Focus, Navona, Parlour Tapes+, and Carrier labels; has held residencies at The University of Chicago, Harvard University, Stanford University, Brown University, Brandeis University, and Northwestern University, among others; and collaborated with a wide range of composers, from Enno Poppe to George Lewis to Hilda Paredes to Roscoe Mitchell.

The ensemble's name, Dal Niente ("from nothing" in Italian), is a tribute to Helmut Lachenmann's Dal niente (Interieur III), a work that upended traditional conceptions of instrumental technique; and also a reference to the group’s humble beginnings.

Joël-François Durand

Composing, writing, teaching, inventing new ways of hearing – all are linked in the work of Joël-François Durand. As a composer, his career was launched in Europe with important prizes: a Third Prize at in the 1983 Stockhausen Competition for the piano piece “…d’asiles déchirés…,” the Kranichsteiner Preis from the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music in 1990. Commissions and performances from many of today’s most significant ensembles followed – Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta, Arditti Quartet, Jack Quartet, Quatuor Diotima, ASKO, Ensemble Recherche, musikFabrik, Talea Ensemble, Dal Niente Ensemble, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio France, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Durand is Professor of Composition at the School of Music, University of Washington, as well as Acting Director. He has been awarded the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Professorship for 2019-22. Durand’s works are singular and powerful, combining rigorous and innovative structures with a prominent lyrical impulse. Durand’s music and personality received critical attention in the 2005 book Joël-François Durand in the Mirror Land (University of Washington Press and Perspectives of New Music) edited by his University of Washington School of Music colleague Jonathan Bernard, which features in addition to analyses by Bernard and several of the School’s students, an innovative self-interview authored by Durand himself. Recent projects for Durand include a work for large orchestra, Tropes de : Bussy, based on some of Debussy’s piano Préludes, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, which was premiered April 18-20, 2019 and a work for viola and ensemble, to be premiered by Melia Watras, viola and the Dal Niente ensemble in May 2020.

Commercial recordings of his music are available on the Auvidis-Naïve, Mode Records, Wergo, Albany Records and Soundset Recordings labels. In 2010, Durand embarked on a new path: he designed and started commercial production of a new tonearm for record players. The Talea, as it was called, took the audio world by storm and was followed by three further models, the Telos, the Kairos and most recently (2019), the Tosca also aimed at the most refined audio reproduction systems. For his work at his company Durand Tonearms LLC, he was made a University of Washington Entrepreneurial Fellow in 2010.  As a guest composer and lecturer, Durand has contributed to the “Centre de la Voix” in Royaumont, France where he was co-director of the composition course in September 1993, the “Civica Scuola di Musica” in Milan, Italy (1995), the Royal Academy for Music in London, UK (1997), the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt (1984, 1990, 1992, 1994), the “VIII. Internationaler Meisterkurs für Komposition des Brandenburgischen Colloquiums für Neue Musik”, Rheinsberg (1998), Washington State University, Pullman, WA (2004), and Stanford University (2006), among others. In the Fall 1994 he was Visiting Assistant Professor in Composition at the University of California at San Diego.

Durand is listed in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Faculty Composer Huck Hodge

Huck Hodge is professor and chair of the composition program in the school of music. A composer of “harmonically fresh work", "full of both sparkle and thunder” (New York Times), his music has been praised for its “immediate impact” (Chicago Tribune), its "clever, attractive, streamlined" qualities (NRC Handelsblad, Amsterdam), and its ability to "conjure up worlds of musical magic” with “power and charisma" (Gramophone Magazine, London). There is a dramatic interplay of color, light, and darkness in his music, which emerges from an uncanny blending of pure and dissonant harmonies, widely spaced orchestrations and vast, diffuse timbres. 

Hodge is the recipient of many prestigious awards and distinctions. Among these is the Charles Ives Living, the largest music award conferred by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His other major awards include the Rome Prize (Luciano Berio Fellowship), the Gaudeamus Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, the American Composers Forum (JFund), the Barlow Endowment, Music at the Anthology (MATA), the American Academy in Rome, Muziek Centrum NederlandMusik der Jahrhunderte, and the National Theater and Concert Hall of Taiwan, in addition to multiple grants and awards from ASCAP, the Bogliasco Foundation, Copland House, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), MacDowell, New Music USA, the Siemens Musikstiftung, and Yaddo.

His music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and at numerous major festivals — the New York Philharmonic Biennial, Berliner Festspiele, Gaudeamus Muziekweek, Shanghai New Music Week (上海当代音乐周), ISCM World Music Days, and many others in over twenty countries on six continents. Other performances include those by members of the Berlin Philharmonic and Ensemble Modern, the ASKO / Schönberg Ensemble, the Seattle Symphony, and the Orchestra of the League of Composers. His chamber music has been premiered, performed and recorded by a long list of soloists and ensembles such as the Daedalus, JACK, Mivos, and Pacifica string quartets, the Adapter, Aleph, Argento, Dal Niente, Divertimento, Insomnio, SurPlus, and Talea ensembles, and his colleagues David Gordon, Donna Shin, Cristina Valdés, Cuong Vu, and Bonnie Whiting. His published music is distributed by Alexander Street Press (US) and Babel Scores (France). Recordings of his music appear on the New World and Albany record labels and have been featured in numerous national and international broadcasts.

Before joining the University of Washington, Hodge taught composition at Columbia University, where he earned his M.A. and D.M.A. studying with Fred Lerdahl, George Lewis, and Tristan Murail. Prior to this, he studied composition, theory, and new media at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart, Germany, with Marco Stroppa and Georg Wötzer as well as music, German literature and philosophy at the University of Oregon and the Universität Stuttgart. He has been a visiting professor/invited lecturer on music and aesthetics at a variety of institutions including the University of Chicago, CNMAT/UC Berkeley, UCSD, Columbia University, Eastman School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, NYU, and the Universität der Künste in Berlin, and he served for three years as the director of the Merriman Family Young Composers Workshop at the Seattle Symphony.

Newly appointed voice faculty Carrie Shaw (Ben Marcum Photo)

Carrie Henneman Shaw joined the Voice Program as an artist in residence in Autumn 2020. As a singer, Carrie engages in a wide variety of musical projects, but she focuses on early and contemporary music.

A sample of her work includes an upcoming solo recording on Naxos Records of early 18th-century French song; creating music for a live-music-for-dance project with James Sewell Ballet; and collaborating on a recording with the band Deerhoof. Carrie is a two-time winner of a McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians, and she is a member of two groups that focus on music by living composers, Ensemble Dal Niente, a mixed chamber collective, and Quince Ensemble, a treble voice quartet.

She appears in numerous recordings ranging from medieval sacred music to a video-game soundtrack, and before coming to the UW, she has been maintaining a full university studio for the six years and participating in educational residencies for composers and performers around the country, including UC-Berkeley, Stanford, New York University, the University of Chicago, and beyond.

Melia Watras (Photo: Michelle Smith Lewis)

Melia Watras has been hailed by Gramophone as “an artist of commanding and poetic personality” and by The Strad as “staggeringly virtuosic.” As a violist, composer and collaborative artist, she has sustained a distinguished career as a creator and facilitator of new music and art. The 2023-24 season includes the release of her new album Play/Write, which features her own compositions and works by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and Frances White; the world premiere of Watras’s Fantasies in alto clef for viola ensemble, commissioned by the American Viola Society for their 2024 festival in Los Angeles; and the debut of Watras’s Sarabanda for solo viola, which will be premiered and recorded as part of Atar Arad’s project, Partita Party.

Watras’s discography has received considerable attention from the press and the public. Her album String Masks, a collection of her own compositions including the titular work which utilizes Harry Partch instruments, was praised for “not only the virtuoso’s sensitive playing, but also her innovative and daring spirit,” by the Journal of the American Viola Society. Her compositional debut album, Firefly Songs, was hailed for “distilling rich life experiences into strikingly original musical form” by Textura. 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), Columbus (GA), Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and Wales. She has been commissioned by the Avalon String Quartet, violinists Mark Fewer, Rachel Lee Priday and Michael Jinsoo Lim, cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, pianist Cristina Valdés, accordionist Jeanne Velonis, violist Rose Wollman, and has had works performed by artists such as violist Atar Arad, singer Galia Arad, pianist Winston Choi, Harry Partch Instrumentarium Director Charles Corey, violinists Tekla Cunningham, Manuel Guillén and Yura Lee, vocalist Carrie Henneman Shaw, percussionist Bonnie Whiting and the ensemble Frequency. Her music has been heard on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and can be found on the albums Play/Write; String Masks; 3 Songs for Bellows, Buttons and Keys; 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.

For twenty years, Watras concertized worldwide and recorded extensively as violist of the renowned Corigliano Quartet, which she co-founded. The quartet 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 studied with Atar Arad at Indiana University, 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 is currently Professor of Viola and Chair of Strings at the University of Washington, where she holds the Ruth Sutton Waters Endowed Professorship and was awarded the Adelaide D. Currie Cole Endowed Professorship, the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Fellowship, the Kreielsheimer and Jones Grant for Research Excellence in the Arts, 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.