Sounds like thunder . . .

And local composers steal it.

It’s a question every new-music ensemble must face: whether to concentrate on the music of local composers (to bring performers and composers together as a service to the “scene”), or to include non-local music as well (to bring audiences works they might not otherwise hear, with quality, not geography, in mind).

Seattle Creative Orchestra

On the Boards, February 6

The Seattle Creative Orchestra has done well by the home team in its three-year history, no question, but the issue resurfaced after its recent concert, especially upon hearing two works by New York composers. Robert Gross’ I Heal, Create Sect, Start Over included solos for koto and shakuhachi, two delicate Japanese spices in an otherwise thoroughly native dish. The work’s midcentury-American harmonic flavor seemed to be a legacy from Gross’ teacher’s teacher, current Seattle Symphony composer- in-residence Samuel Jones via Howard Hanson. Equilibrium, by Jacqueline Jee-young Kim, opened with the most teeth-grittingly pervasive new-music clich頯f the last 40 years: a splash of percussion followed by a soft, sustained, dissonant string haze. (I barely resisted the temptation to fling my program in the air and storm out.) Later on, glissandos enlivened some angular string melodies, adding a welcome touch of luridness to an otherwise academically well-behaved work. Both worthy pieces, but were they strong enough to justify importing them from 3,000 miles away? I’m not so sure.

But things looked up after that. Opening with distant percussion thunder, Seattleite Tom Baker’s attractively vaporous Negative Space offered lots of long tones floating in and out of nothingness, a well-judged frame for solo guitar (played by Michael Partington), which sounded effectively clean and crisp by contrast. We also heard excerpts from Sub Pontio Pilato, an opera by Bay Area composer Erling Wold. The dry, animated orchestral writing recalled Stravinsky, but later came a pulsating romanticism that Igor would never have permitted himself. The vocal writing was excellent—you could actually understand the words—as was the singing of tenor John Duykers, soprano Laurie Amat, and the Ancora girls’ choir. Roger Nelson conducted, and the orchestra, for a group that’s still a bit ad hoc and plays together irregularly, sounded great.