Classical & More

Seattle Chamber Music Gets an Update

The new Seattle Modern Orchestra is out to demystify modern chamber music.

By Laura Dannen January 28, 2011

Photo: Kyle Johnson.

Published January 2011. Like the kid sneaking cigarettes behind school, modern chamber music has the unfortunate reputation of being a little stinker. It’s atonal. It’s noise. There’s no melody, no harmony, no way to connect. But listen to composer Jeremy Jolley, co–artistic director of the new Seattle Modern Orchestra, half an hour and you’ll walk away thinking modern chamber music is simply…misunderstood.

“People are kind of afraid of contemporary music,” says the 33-year-old Frenchman, heavy on the accent. “They don’t want to have a bad time. They want to be comfortable.” But Iannis Xenakis’s Syrmos (1959)— one of three pieces SMO will play in tonight’s “Strictly Strings” show —isn’t comfortable, opening with 18 stringed instruments in glissandi. This chaotic bow sliding was part of Xenakis’s master plan, a request that his players “do violence” to their instruments. It even alienated avant-garde musicians.

“We have to tune our ears so it makes more sense,” Jolley explains. “If you’re expecting melodies and harmonies, you won’t find that. It doesn’t mean it’s not valid, not an important form of expression. You just have to understand where this is coming from.”

Continue reading about the Seattle Modern Orchestra in our January feature Atonement. Strictly Strings is tonight, January 28, at 8pm at Cornish College’s Poncho Hall. Tickets are $10-$20.

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