When the Spokane Symphony crosses Monroe Street, lots of things change besides the “walk” light.
Members of the symphony will leave their posh art deco venue at the Fox Friday to take the stage at the Knitting Factory, which is usually occupied by rock groups. The occasion is one of the orchestra’s Symphony on the Edge concerts. Morihiko Nakahara, the orchestra’s associate conductor, will lead a program of works by six living American composers.
The works on Friday’s program were all written in the last 30 years. “The second half of the program is probably the most conventional,” Nakahara says. “The second half is for strings only and the first half is for large chamber ensembles.”
The first part of the concert has works by Huang Ruo, Ingram Marshall and Derek Bermel, names likely to be new to most members of symphony audiences. The composers for the second half of the concert will be more familiar – Steve Reich, Aaron Jay Kernis and Michael Daugherty.
Nakahara is opening Friday’s performance with the most recently composed work, Huang Ruo’s Chamber Concerto No. 4 (Confluence) written in 2002.
“This piece was written for the International Contemporary Ensemble. This group has 15 players who play cutting edge music for a living. They can do amazing things with their instruments, and that’s what this piece requires of us, too!
“We’re ending with Daugherty’s ‘Strut,’ and practically everybody in Spokane knows Daugherty because he wrote the ‘Letters from Lincoln’ the orchestra premiered last month,” Nakahara says. “And ‘Strut’ is a piece about another famous icon, the singer and actor Paul Robeson, and depicts Robeson strutting down a sidewalk in Harlem back in the ’20s.”
Ingram Marshall, who now lives in Connecticut and is a lecturer in composition at Yale, wrote “Fog Tropes” when he lived in San Francisco in the 1970s. “This version of ‘Fog Tropes’ is for brass instruments and a tape recording Marshall made using the sounds of foghorns, some of his own falsetto singing and the sound of his playing a flute-like instrument,” Nakahara says.
Reich’s Triple Quartet, written for the Kronos Quartet, used a taped performance in its original version, too. “He later reworked it for live players only,” Nakahara says, “so you don’t have the advantage of the three layers drifting in and out of phase mechanically with tape. You have to achieve that with live players. The middle movement came as a real surprise to me because it is so very lyrical and expressive – something I didn’t really expect from Reich.”
Other works in Friday’s Symphony on the Edge concert are Aaron Jay Kernis’s “Musica Celestis” and Derek Bermel’s “Three Rivers.” Kernis is one of the most frequently performed symphonic composers in the U.S. and Bermel, like Huang Ruo, is a member of an ensemble that specializes in avant-garde music.
“The more new music you conduct,” Nakahara says, “the more you want to push a little bit closer to the edge of where new music is. And the more comfortable you get with it and, hopefully, the better you get at it.”
Symphony on the Edge performances are presented in easygoing informal dress, with rock concert lighting and video close-ups of the conductor and performers. Audience members can treat themselves to refreshments, including alcoholic drinks for those who can show ID proving that they are over 21.