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Two Seattle ensembles join forces to perform Julia Wolfe's Thirst, and set a precedent for a more collaborative new music community.

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A message from Giselle Wyers, Director of Solaris Vocal Ensemble

Posted on November 11, 2017 by Seattle Modern Orchestra

Solaris Vocal Ensemble was inspired by the challenge of collaborating with one of Seattle’s premiere contemporary chamber ensembles, and pleased to have the opportunity to bring Thirst to Seattle audiences for the first time. Solaris makes it their mission to create unique performance experiences, and in the past has collaborated with living composers, choreographers, and electronic music engineers. However, they had not yet had the chance to do an extended work with chamber instruments. The result was a definite success, and the audience response after the concert was universally enthusiastic and positive. Graduate students from the choral conducting program of the University of Washington were particularly inspired to search out their own innovative modern choral works in the future after seeing this concert.



Seattle’s contemporary music scene remains young and full of potential for more collaborative projects within music. Two of the Pacific Northwest’s talented contemporary music ensembles–Seattle Modern Orchestra (SMO) and Solaris Vocal Ensemble–seek to set a new bar for artistic possibility and audience development, deciding to work together, rather than exist in parallel.

On February 12, 2017, SMO and Solaris will perform in a first-ever collaboration, featuring the Seattle premiere of Julia Wolfe‘s powerful work, Thirst, at Meany Studio Theater and presented by the University of Washington, in Seattle, WA.

Thirst (taken from the larger eight-movement work Water which includes additional music contributed by composers David Lang and Michael Gordon), is an intense 27-minute exploration on the theme of water. With texts drawn from the Old Testament, Wolfe uses a choir that at times is split into 12 parts, and a mixed ensemble spanning winds, brass, electric guitar, two percussion, and strings. The effect is a pulsing, intense journey that defines Wolfe’s music, and tests the physical and emotional endurance of the performers as well as the listeners.

This concert is significant on its own in the context of the Pacific Northwest: performances of large scale contemporary works by composers of Wolfe’s caliber are few and far between. SMO is the only ensemble dedicated to new music for large ensemble in the area, and this event will expand its repertory to include its first work for ensemble plus chamber choir. In addition, the performance is presented by one of the city’s largest presenting organizations, the University of Washington, a step up in visibility for SMO and a validation of the ensemble’s dedication to contemporary music in Seattle. Solaris Vocal Ensemble, a professional ensemble based out of the University of Washington, has never worked with another local ensemble; combining forces with the greater contemporary music community is a first.

Solaris’ participation in the concert is being funded by the University. SMO, however, needs to fund its part independently outside of its operating budget that normally only covers the ensemble’s three-concert season.

This project was devised by the two ensembles and is a deliberate effort to create a greater sense of community among the normally disparate contemporary music performers and organizations in and around Seattle. The concert leverages SMO’s loyal independent audience following with the strong University of Washington-based audience, seeking cross-pollination and a mutually beneficial experience for both those performing and attending. In addition to the performance of Thirst, SMO and Solaris have planned additional opportunities to collaborate this season, ensuring that the effort goes beyond a one-off event.

Project Media

Julia Wolfe: Singing in the Dead of Night [excerpt]
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Live performance from October 2015 at The Chapel in Seattle, WA. This was SMO’s first presentation of music by Julia Wolfe since its founding , and the project for funding will be second. Many of the players who played this work will be performing on Thirst.

Meredith Monk: Wedding March [excerpt]
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Excerpt from Solaris’ debut album, Floodsongs, released February 2014 on Albany Records. The Monk, as well as all works on the CD, were world premiere recordings of contemporary American music. Solaris is looking forward to expanding their repertoire with a first-ever collaboration with another ensemble in Seattle.

Kate Soper: Now is Forever [excerpt]
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Live performance from June 2015 at The Chapel in Seattle, WA. SMO’s world premiere collaboration with Kate Soper is an example of the ensemble’s work with a vocalist. This project will extend SMO’s repertoire to include a work with chamber choir.

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Seattle, Washington

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Last update on November 11, 2017

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Seattle, Washington
Founded in 2010, Seattle Modern Orchestra (SMO) is the only large ensemble dedicated solely to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries in the Pacific Northwest. Led by co-artistic directors Julia Tai and Jeremy Jolley, SMO commissions and premieres new works from an international lineup of composers, in addition to presenting important pieces from…

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