This season and next, the Seattle Symphony is making a push to include works by women and composers who are not white males, and it is being a delight to hear these fresh – to our ears – works. Not all are of the same caliber, but Thursday night’s premiere performance at Benaroya Hall of an orchestra commission by Puerto-Rican composer Angélica Negrón, made it clear that this is a composer of considerable originality, with something to say which is worth hearing. Ludovic Morlot conducted.

Angélica Negrón takes a bow after the premiere of Color Shape Transmission
© Nick Klein

Negrón is known for her excursions into employing a wide variety of unusual instruments, as well as the familiar orchestral ones and her ten-minute Color Shape Transmission brings a fresh approach in how the latter are used. She frequently uses an echoing sound in this work, often single notes repeated with a reverberation which made the whole piece reminiscent of church bells ringing across a city with their often slightly different harmonics and pitches. Strong upbows in the upper strings could be quite loud, and with dissonances which didn’t clash, and at other times the sound could be almost that of a soprano voice with a tremolo in the strings, while winds and brass could sound almost, but not quite, like foghorns. The whole had a mesmerizing, meditative feel to it until the sound rose to a sudden and very loud end, in a consistently interesting work.

Isabelle Faust took on Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D major. There’s a feel of Pulcinella in the first movement with its jaunty quirkiness, and the violin never stops.  Here the violin part is not so much stand-alone, but an integral part of the orchestral tapestry, and without ever sounding pushy, Faust was always audible just above the orchestra in her very busy role. Morlot was an admirable partner in keeping the balance. Her sound sang in the lyrical moments of both second and third movements over a brassy orchestral role at first and then over the quiet accompaniment.

Isabelle Faust, Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony
© Nick Klein

Fireworks in the last movement and a duet with the low brass, had Faust musically almost dancing throughout. It would be easy for the violinist to barrel through much of this concerto, but Faust is not a saw-your-fiddle-in half player, always allowing the music to sound without forcing.

Sibelius’ familiar Second Symphony ended this well-designed program. The composer described it as a “confession of his soul” and during its writing, Finland was growing increasingly restless over its subservience to Tsarist Russia. In this Seattle Symphony performance, there was very much a feel of large ocean swells, breaking waves and lapping wavelets. Perhaps this was an allegory of the country’s nationalist emotions at the time, though it may have been more Morlot’s interpretation. Either way, it was well worth hearing, the orchestra responding to Morlot’s every nuance. 

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