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Faculty Concert: Melia Watras, viola: NewDub

Thursday, May 4, 2023 - 7:30pm
$20 general; $15 UW Affiliate (employee, retiree, UWAA member); $10 students and seniors.
Melia Watras 2015
Faculty violist Melia Watras (Photo: Michelle Smith-Lewis).

Violist/Composer Melia Watras presents a celebration of the viola with an evening of world premieres composed by UW faculty, students, and alumni. The program includes UW faculty composer Joël- François Durand’s Geister weider… pour alto solo (written for Watras), a collaborative composition by Watras and her former student Madeline Warner, and four pieces commissioned by Watras especially for this event, by UW students and alums Sandesh Nagaraj, Jonathan Rodriguez, Breana Tavaglione, and Wei Yang. Watras in joined onstage by vocalist Carrie Henneman Shaw and violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim.


String Theory I for one or more performers (2020): Melia Watras (b. 1969) & Madeline Warner (b. 1996) 
photographs by Michelle Smith-Lewis

Arid, Landscape Study for viola and electronics (2023): Breana Tavaglione (b. 1993)
photograph by Breana Tavaglione

Prohibited Space for viola and live processing (2023): Jonathan Rodriguez Grijalva (b.1989)

Revolting Forms for viola, electronics and interactive video (2023): Sandesh Nagaraj (b. 1988)

String Theory II for one or more performers (2020): Madeline Warner & Melia Watras
photographs by Michelle Smith-Lewis




Geister, wieder…for viola solo (2020): Joël-François Durand (b.1954)
photograph by Joël-François Durand

ní nán for fixed media (2023): Wei Yang (1986)

Program Notes

The University of Washington is known for innovation. Tonight’s concert of world premieres, NewDub, is a reflection of our school’s passion for discovering the new. It is a celebration of our university’s music community: students and faculty, composers and performers. I am astonished and proud of the creative thinking and artistry that surrounds us on our campus. To showcase this, I asked four UW students if they would like to write music for this performance. Their pieces are presented alongside a new work by School of Music Director Joël-François Durand and collaborative compositions by me and my former student Madeline Warner. 

Many thanks to all of the composers, vocalist Carrie Henneman Shaw, violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, the School of Music staff and Meany stage crew. It is a joy to work with all of you!
—Melia Watras

Durand: Geister, wieder… for solo viola (2020)  
Geister,wieder… is a slightly modified version of the solo part of my work for viola and ensemble, Geister, schwebende Geister which belongs to a group of works initiated 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.

The form of Geister, wieder… is essentially sectional, where each section explores 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. 

Geister, wieder… is dedicated to Melia Watras.
—Joël-François Durand 

Nagaraj: Revolting Forms for viola and interactive video (2023)
In the depths of your perception, I exist as shape-shifting truths, inscrutable to your eyes, for I am both you and not you, piercing from within and without, in an eternal hum of paradoxicality.
—Sandesh Nagaraj 

Rodriguez: Prohibited Space for viola and live processing (2023)
Prohibited Space is an attempt to understand the sonic possibilities of the viola and my collaborator, Melia.
—Jonathan Rodriguez Grijalva 

Tavaglione: Arid, Landscape Study for viola and electronics (2023)
Arid, Landscape Study is a reflection on panoramic desert scenery, simultaneously remote and near. It was created in conjunction with my dissertation piece, an electroacoustic reimagining of the Western film genre exploring scale, proximity, and perception. All material is sourced from Melia’s viola, integrating some delicate granular synthesis. 
—Breana Tavaglione

Watras/Warner: String Theory I & II for one or more performers (2020)
In November 2019, I began a piece titled String Theory with the idea of making musical notation from materials that originally produced sound — specifically used violin, viola and cello strings. One can almost feel the reverberation of a string, even when it is not on an instrument.

At the end of March 2020, I had the joyful opportunity to bring violist Madeline Warner on board with me to continue this research. As we worked, we both marveled at the technology used to create these important parts of a string players life. Our efforts together resulted in the creation of String Theory I and String Theory II. 

Photographer Michelle Smith-Lewis’s impeccable eye completed our collaboration. 

Many thanks to our friends that donated their old violin/viola/cello strings: (in alphabetical order) Betty Agent, Jennifer Caine Provine, Eugene Chin, Emilie Choi, Edmund Hsu, Sol Im, Michael Jinsoo Lim and Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir.
—Melia Watras

Yang: ní nán for fixed media (2023)
The title spells the Chinese word 呢喃, which means speaking in a low voice, and can be roughly translated to murmur, whisper, mutter. Hidden behind the simple description of the sonic property, the word itself is often associated with a constellation of sentiments - nostalgia, intimacy, tenderness, to name a few. The piece itself is based on a studio recording of Melia - her bowing the viola near the bridge with the strings damped. The composition draws from its rich expression, resulting from the physical effort implied in producing the sound, as well as the sonic oscillation between noise, tone, and silence, which in the piece are sometimes kept distinct, but other times transform from one to another, generating ambiguity echoing the title. 
—Wei Yang


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. Watras has released 8 albums, while performing on 13 others as violist of the Corigliano Quartet. Her compositions have been performed throughout the US and in Europe, broadcast on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and can be found on the albums 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. Watras is the violist of Frequency, and for twenty years, she concertized worldwide and recorded extensively as violist of the renowned Corigliano Quartet, which she co-founded. She is currently Professor of Viola and Chair of Strings at the University of Washington School of Music, where she was awarded the Adelaide D. Currie Cole Endowed Professorship, the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Fellowship and the Royalty Research Fund.

Joël-François Durand (b. 1954, Orléans, France) is Professor of Composition at the University of Washington (Seattle, US) and Acting Director of the School of Music. His music has been performed and commissioned by leading ensembles including BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio France, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta, ASKO, Ensemble Recherche, musikFabrik, Talea Ensemble, Dal Niente Ensemble, Arditti Quartet, Jack Quartet, Mivos Quartet, Quatuor Diotima. His recent work for orchestra, Tropes de : Bussy was commissioned by Ludovic Morlot for the Seattle Symphony, who premiered it in 2019.

Durand’s works are singular and powerful, combining rigorous and innovative structures with a prominent lyric impulse.

Recordings are available under the Auvidis-Naïve, Mode Records, Wergo and Albany Records and Soundset Recordings labels. His music is published by Durand Editions, Babel Scores, Paris and Alexander Street Press. A book on his music, Joël-François Durand in the Mirror Land, was released in 2005 by the University of Washington Press and Perspectives of New Music.

Selected works: String trio (1982), Lichtung for ten instruments (1987), Concerto for piano and orchestra (1993), La terre et le feu for oboe and ensemble (1999), Athanor for orchestra (2001), Ombre/Miroir, for flute and ensemble (2004), Tropes de : Bussy, for orchestra (2019), Geister, schwebende Geister, for viola and ensemble (2020), String quartets no.1 (2005) and no.2 (2020).

Praised in the New York Times “as graceful vocally as she was in her movements”, “consistently stylish” (Boston Globe), and as a “cool, precise soprano” (Chicago Tribune), Carrie Henneman Shaw is a two-time McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians winner (2010, 2017). She has premiered major works by such Minnesota composers as Jocelyn Hagen and Abbie Betinis, whose annual Christmas carols she records for Minnesota Public Radio, and sung American premieres by such composers as Georg Friedrich Haas, Hans Thomalla, and Augusta Read Thomas. In addition to her work as an interpreter of contemporary works, Carrie specializes in music of the 17th century and has performed operatic roles with one of America's leading Baroque opera companies, Boston Early Music Festival. Carrie is a member of Chicago's Ensemble Dal Niente, Quince Ensemble, and uluuul. She holds degrees in English and voice performance from Lawrence University and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota. She teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim has been praised by Gramophone for playing with “delicious abandon,” and hailed by the Los Angeles Times as a “conspicuously accomplished champion of contemporary music.” Concertmaster and solo violinist for the internationally acclaimed Pacific Northwest Ballet, Lim is featured as soloist with the company in concertos by Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bach and others, and has toured with PNB to Paris and New York City. Lim is a member of Frequency and was co-founder of the award-winning Corigliano Quartet, with whom he appeared on over a dozen albums. The quartet’s Naxos label CD was honored as one of The New Yorker’s Ten Best Classical Recordings of the Year. His discography can be found on Naxos, Planet M, Sono Luminus, DreamWorks, Albany, Bridge, CRI, Bayer Records, RIAX and New Focus. Lim has served on the faculty of the Banff Centre, taught at Indiana University as a guest professor, and currently serves on the faculty of Cornish College of the Arts.

Sandesh Nagaraj is a composer and performer who was born and raised in India. His works have been featured in Rolling Stone (India), Metal Injection, Score Follower and many blogs around the United States and Europe. Since 2006, he has toured with various groups performing at venues and festivals across India and the United States. Sandesh is currently pursuing his doctoral studies in music composition at University of Washington.

Jonathan Rodriguez is an interdisciplinary artist who works with composition/sound design and percussion in a diverse range of spaces. While his art engages dance, film, ethnography, and improvisation, he can also be found playing drums in a metal band or jazz combo at your favorite local pub. Rodriguez holds a degree in History/Spanish and Performance from Millikin University, a master's in Performance from the University of New Mexico, and a doctorate in Performance from the University of Washington.

Breana Tavaglione is a composer and sound artist whose primary musical interest is experimenting with sound. She is a PhD candidate in Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) at the University of Washington, working under the guidance of Richard Karpen. Breana graduated from California Institute of the Arts ‘18 MFA Experimental Sound Practices. At CalArts she taught a course titled The Audible Fairy Tale and studied composition with Laura Steenberge and Sara Roberts. Breana graduated from Mills College ‘16 BA Music Composition with an Emphasis in Media Technology and Electronic Music. At Mills College she studied voice with Molly Holm and composition with Maggi Payne. Originally trained on piano, Breana also enjoys songwriting and accompanying herself on guitar and autoharp. She utilizes composition as a means to paint with sound, creating an immersive sensory experience in which she deconstructs conceptual themes in order to convey a specific mood or aesthetic, transporting listeners to an alternative sonic landscape.

Madeline Warner is a violist and private teacher based in Ypsilanti, Michigan. She is currently a member of the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, Sarasota Opera, and the Mulholland String Quartet. She also plays regularly with the Ann Arbor Symphony, the Jackson Symphony, Midtown Strings, and the Kalkaska String Quartet. In addition to her busy performance schedule, Madeline is a passionate educator with an active violin and viola studio in Ypsilanti. With a background in music education, she has a wide breadth of teaching experience in nonprofit organizations, public schools, and higher education. Madeline holds Bachelor of Music degrees from the University of Michigan in Music Education and Viola Performance and a Master of Music degree from the University of Washington in Viola Performance. She is grateful to her wonderful teachers Melia Watras, Tawnya Popoff, Yizhak Schotten, Richard Marshall, Elizabeth Cregan, and Jonas Benson.

Wei Yang is a composer/sound artist from China. He works with different mediums, through which he often contemplates the body’s role in sound production, sound in space, as well as the integration of various data from the performance environment (reverberation, light, etc.). Wei composes both instrumental and electronic music, and often uses various sensors/physical computing to build performative systems that allow dynamic interaction among different components. His works have been presented in various places, including China, United States, Poland, Japan, Finland, Canada, Austria, Germany, France, Mexico, Brazil, and Switzerland. Wei received his Doctor of Musical Arts from University of Washington under the supervision of Joël François-Durand. He is currently a PhD student at the university’s Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media, working closely with Richard Karpen and Joseph Anderson.