Now in its third year, “Uncharted,” the brainchild of nonprofit arts organization Terrain and the Spokane Symphony, brings some of Spokane’s brightest artistic talent together for two nights of collaboration, creating something new while paying tribute to a classic.
This year’s “Uncharted” features work from Windoe, the solo project of Karli Ann Ingersoll, bluegrass/Americana fiddle player Jenny Anne Mannan, writers Elissa Ball and Shawn Vestal, visual artist Darrien Mack, dancer Mackenzie Fagras, aerialist John Hernandez, multi-dimensional artist Lou Lou Pink (Jamie Nicole Nadherny), theatrical creators Charlie Pepiton and Brooke Kiener, alt-rock band Lavoy, poet Mark Anderson and Spokane Symphony Concertmaster Mateusz Wolski and the Spokane Symphony, all putting their twist on Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”
Wolski and Mannan recently stopped by The Spokesman-Review to talk with features editor Carolyn Lamberson about the difference between the violin and fiddle, similarities between classical and pop music and what it was like to reinterpret the Vivaldi classic.
The Spokesman-Review: Mateusz, what’s the plan for “Uncharted”?
Wolski: The plan is we’re going to be performing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” However, it’s not going to be just the straight through performance of the piece. The whole concept is we’re going to collaborate with 10 different artists representing many different genres, anything from prose, poetry to a hip-hop dance, bluegrass players and rock bands. We actually have quite a fantastic, interesting collaboration. Everything is evolving around Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Every artist gets a movement assigned and then they put their personal touch on what they think that represents for them or how that inspires them to have their take on the subject.
S-R, to Mannan: Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is a really famous piece of music. Did you have any concerns trying to put your stamp on a piece of music that’s as famous as that one?
Mannan: Yes. Absolutely. It’s a little bit overwhelming because, as you said, it’s so famous and so familiar so the trick is to find a way to do it justice and obviously give respect and the credit that’s due it, but at the same time put our own voices and personality into it. It was definitely a really big challenge, but it was really, in the end, fun.
S-R, to Wolski: Obviously “The Four Seasons” is a piece from the repertoire that you probably know inside and out. Is it a challenge for you to look at it through a new lens?
Wolski: It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s a very refreshing challenge because you have performances of wonderful musicians that have recorded the work before. That’s one of those pieces that it seems like every year, somebody famous releases a CD and eventually they all end up sounding quite similar, even to a professional. When you get the chance to do it with such a different take on it, it definitely opens and refreshes you about the quality of what the piece is really about and how different people that are not classical musicians, how do they experience the music and how it inspires them and what they find in it and how they make it contemporary to them. I think this is something that we always seek because, speaking as a classical musician, we are mostly playing music of the dead composers but yet there’s a lot of universal truths and emotions that are encapsulated in that music that somehow still speaks to us. I always refer to popular songs. The truth is that if you look at the pop songs, they all use a harmonic language of something that Mozart would use. Later composers past that start to get more and more adventurous, and that doesn’t enter so much in the popular genre so somehow music of Vivaldi, the chord progressions, the structure, is something that we somehow still find attractive and beautiful and we find ways how to reframe it or recycle it and make it contemporary. And I think what we are doing here, it’s doing the same thing while still playing the original music.
S-R: Have you guys rehearsed this much at all?
Wolski: We’re still in the process of developing ideas here and there. What is really, really cool for the classical side of the project is that we are inviting people that are generally cool. We are usually associated with being very serious and always dressed in penguin suits, and so for us to let loose and have some fun and be not too serious about it and enjoy the process and look how other people treat the art. For us, there’s so much focus on flawless execution of something that is usually very, very challenging so that leaves not too much room for just having fun. Having all those guys brings the fun back into playing music, so I think it’s very entertaining for us to do.
S-R: This is the third year the symphony has done “Uncharted” and you’ve been a part of it all three years. What kinds of things have you been able to take from the previous years and bring to not only this year’s “Uncharted” but perhaps the symphony season as a whole?
Wolski: As far as “Uncharted” is concerned, it’s been evolving because, at least from conversations that we’ve been having, it seems like this show is coming to be much more organically connected with the artists. There was a lot more collaboration this time around and creative input from all the sides, so the concept and the execution has all grown a little bit more organically. Also what is different a little bit this year is that we’re using the chamber orchestra and we’re actually doing a show where we’re not going to have a conductor. I’m playing the role of a soloist as well as a person that helps navigate everybody the whole show, which is quite a different and exciting challenge for me. But I get to hang out with really fun people as we’re trying to figure out how is this all going to work. It’s been different because of that for me, and I think we’ve tried different things. Our original show, first Terrain, was in the Terrain building, then we tried to bring this to the Fox, and this year we are back in the Terrain building, which I actually very much enjoy because it’s a super cool space.
S-R, to Mannan: When you got the call to participate, and this is your first year, what was your reaction?
Mannan: Oh my goodness, I was so excited. I love Terrain, and I love what they have done for the arts community in Spokane. It’s been so amazing to watch how things have changed and developed over the last five to six years. I cannot say enough things about (Terrain co-founders Luke Baumgarten and Ginger Ewing) and all the things they have done for Spokane arts. And also, the Terrain people are the cool kids in town, so to get to be included in that is very fun and it’s such an eclectic group of artists. Also everybody’s point of view is so unique and everyone’s insight into the original piece and what the art means to them, I was just really, really excited to work on something that’s so eclectic but at the same time, so welcoming to everyone’s voice.
S-R: If you were to run into someone you knew from a bluegrass jam and they were like “What is this all about?” What would you tell them to try to rope them into going to see “Uncharted”?
Mannan: That’s a great question. What I would say is along the lines of what Mateusz was just saying about the universal themes that inform all of our musical vocabulary. Even unconsciously, there are so many things, particularly within this piece, that have influenced even bluegrass melodies. There are riffs and little quotations and themes throughout that you will find, especially in folk melodies. Also, there’s just some really, really great music and great art, so anyone who appreciates music of any style will enjoy this show.