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Season 24

2017  |  SEASON 24  |  Forces of nature


KAY: Ulysses Kay centennial

For the first concert of its 24th season, The Esoterics will celebrate the centennial of African-American composer, conductor, and professor, Ulysses Kay. Born in Tucson, Kay began to play the piano at age six, upon the encouragement of his uncle, Joe “King” Oliver (a jazz cornet player who was also the mentor of Louis Armstrong). Building on the rich musical heritage of his youth, Kay studied at the University of Arizona, Eastman, Yale, and Columbia, served in the Navy Band during World War II, and was awarded prizes from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a Fulbright Fellowship, and two Rome Prizes. In 1958, Kay participated in the first cultural exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and between 1965 and his retirement, Kay served on the faculties of Boston University, the University of California, the City University of New York, and Macalester College. Among his nearly 150 compositions for film, television, and the concert hall (for orchestra, chamber ensemble, band, piano, and voice), Kay composed five operas, including one about the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Kay’s music is as fascinating as his inspirations are varied, yet avoids all obvious references to his ethnicity. His choral oeuvre includes settings of Psalms, revolutionary texts, Christmas carols, wartime poems, verses by William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Sara Teasdale, Paul Laurence Dunbar, as well as folksongs, fiddle-tunes, and sea shanties. Ulysses Kay is one of the most under-sung choral composers of the American Neoclassic era, and this concert will be the first time that many of these works will have ever been performed.

Friday | 6 Jan 2017 | 800pm | St Stephen’s Episcopal Church | 4805 NE 45th Street | Seattle
Saturday | 7 Jan 2017 | 800pm | Holy Rosary Catholic Church | 4142 42nd Avenue SW | West Seattle
Sunday | 8 Jan 2017 | 700pm | Christ Episcopal Church | 310 North K Street | Tacoma


INTIMAS: Cultivating community

In its spring program, The Esoterics will present three works that reflect upon intimacy, whether inspired by our innermost dreams, our delight of nature, or the great beyond. The group is excited to present the West Coast premiere of Messages to myself, a four-movement meditation by composer Christopher Theofanidis, who has chosen to set verses by Rumi, Walt Whitman (from Leaves of grass), Amy Kirsten, and William Butler Yeats (When you are old). The ensemble will also reprise The wheel of time, the dance by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Aaron Jay Kernis, who set four poems by the American novelist and environmental activist, Wendell Berry. This program will conclude with Eric Banks’ a cappella choral symphony, This delicate universe. Banks’ 32-minute “universe” sets five poems by the Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy that explore the themes of artistic solitude, the familiarity of home, the inner distraction of memory, the most intimate of interaction of lovers, and “the sacred silence of creation.”

Sunday | 2 Apr 2017 | 300pm | St John’s Episcopal Church | 114 20th Ave SE | Olympia*
*There are no tickets for this concert. There will be a free-willing offering at the door.

Friday | 7 Apr 2017 | 800pm | Holy Rosary Catholic Church | 4142 42nd Avenue SW | West Seattle
Saturday | 8 Apr 2017 | 800pm | St Stephen’s Episcopal Church | 4805 NE 45th Street | Seattle
Sunday | 9 Apr 2017 | 700pm | Christ Episcopal Church | 310 North K Street | Tacoma


ECSTASIS: Approaching ecstasy (with Whim W’Him)

In this highly-anticipated reprisal with Whim W’Him, The Esoterics is excited to present Approaching ecstasy, a concert-length dance collaboration based on the life and poetry of the Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy.  This “tryst ballet,” which was composed and will be conducted by Founding Director Eric Banks, will be sung by The Esoterics, accompanied by the Skyros String Quartet and harpist Melissa Achten Klausner.  Approaching ecstasy will be choreographed by Whim W’Him’s founding director Olivier Wevers, and will feature 7 dancers from his company, as well as Casey Curran’s set design on the stage of the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center. The seeds for this collaboration were planted in the summer of 2008, when Banks traveled to Egypt, and while in Alexandria, visited the home of his favorite poet, Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933).  Upon his return to Seattle, Eric met Olivier (who was then still dancing at Pacific Northwest Ballet, before he founded Whim W’Him), and shared a number of Cavafy’s poems with him.  Cavafy’s work immediately appealed to both, and inspired them to create this collaborative piece around the life and work of the poet. In Approaching ecstasy, Banks has set eighteen of Cavafy’s poems –  in both the original Greek, and in his own English translation.  These poems describe Cavafy’s secret life as a gay man living in Egypt a century ago.  The poems that Banks chose are vivid portraits of Cavafy’s lovers as well as his friends, “expressions of fear, hope, remembered love, and excruciating beauty.”  Cavafy’s verses are clandestine, courageous, intensely intimate, and inspire hope for the openness of a future society. Wevers’ choreography will interpret the sensuality and sincerity of the poet’s desire, as well as express the frustration, danger, and oppression that Cavafy must have experienced in his daily life.  The Esoterics will be singing in alternating Greek and English, with both instruments and a cappella, in ensembles that range from a quartet of singers to the entire choral complement.  Banks’ score incorporates North African musical influences (including Egyptian maqamat and muwashahat –  scales and rhythmic patterns) in juxtaposition with Western musical elements –  to represent the cultural confluences of Alexandria at the turn of the last century.

This event, which is produced by Whim W’Him, is not to be missed!

Friday | 2 Jun 2017 | 800pm | Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center | 201 Mercer Street | Seattle
Saturday | 3 Jun 2017 | 800pm | Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center | 201 Mercer Street | Seattle
Friday | 9 Jun 2017 | 800pm | Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center | 201 Mercer Street | Seattle
Saturday | 10 Jun 2017 | 800pm | Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center | 201 Mercer Street | Seattle

GRAVITAS: Investigating gravity

With its origins in the ancient Latin word for “weight” or “heaviness,” our modern definition of gravity has come to describe the force that draws us downward, keeps us grounded, and embraces an outlook that is sober, serious, severe, and of imminent consequence. This October, The Esoterics will offer a concert of new choral music on this theme, GRAVITAS: to remind us and inspire us toward greater sincerity, solemnity, depth, and community thoughtfulness. This autumn concert program will feature two choral cycles by the New York composer Robert Paterson. Rob’s The essence of gravity is a four-movement onomatopoeic exploration of love and war, orbits and tides, from the violence of “gravity bombs” to the serenity of outer space. Paterson’s Eternal reflections is a cycle of heartfelt poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Mary Elizabeth Frye. The ensemble will also reprise Steven Stucky’s madrigal Gravity’s dream, a whimsical setting of a poem by the composer’s longtime friend, Kate Light. The centerpiece of GRAVITAS will be the world premieres by the three winners of this year’s POLYPHONOS competition: Conrad Asman (from Cape Town, South Africa), Daniel Sabzghabaei (from Ithaca via Baltimore), and Vahram Sarkissian (from Montreal via Yerevan, Armenia). In My eyes are always hungry, Asman has set verses by Audre Lorde written in memory of Emmett Till, a black youth whose 1955 murder is often considered “the hate crime that changed America.” In The blue booby, Sabzghabaei has set a poem by James Tate that describes a day in the life of the Galapagos birds, and his vivid score extends Tate’s own poetic gravitas. In Mheri dur [The door of Mher], Sarkissian recounts a portion of the Armenian Epic of Sassoon, in which a warrior’s own guilt impedes him from crossing the threshold of his self-imposed imprisonment. All three composers will be joining us for the entire concert weekend, and we are excited to meet our guest composers and share their music with you! The Esoterics will be offering three performances of GRAVITAS. We hope that you will join us for this extraordinary concert series.

Friday | 6 Oct 2017 | 800pm | St Stephen’s Episcopal Church | 4805 NE 45th Street | Seattle
Saturday | 7 Oct 2017 | 800pm | Holy Rosary Catholic Church | 4142 42nd Avenue SW | West Seattle
Sunday | 8 Oct 2017 | 700pm | Christ Episcopal Church | 310 North K Street | Tacoma


EXCELSIS: Contemplating extremity

In the final concert of our 24th season, The Esoterics will cast our choral gaze upward, to consider the forces that propel us to greater heights of consciousness. This December, we will welcome the transforming embrace of the celestial feminine in the songs of EXCELSIS. The centerpiece of this program will be To touch the sky by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts. This ten-movement compendium of the celestial feminine include texts by Marie Howe, Mirabai, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Amy Lowell, Emily Bronte, Edna St Vincent Millay, Christina Rossetti, Sappho, and Hildegard of Bingen. The group will perform Puts’ If I were a swan, a setting of a poem by Fleda Brown, as well as Paul John Rudoi’s Spheres of influence, setting poems about comets and galaxies by Tim Togeas and Sara Dailey. For this program, the ensemble is very excited to welcome two composers from Philadelphia, who have both written works that will receive their world premieres in EXCELSIS. Kala Pierson’s Flung open, setting a poem of her own creation, has been composed earlier this year while she was on a residency at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island; Andrea Clearfield’s Khandroma sets a poem by the Dartmouth anthropologist and translator Sienna Craig, that recounts the legend of the Tibetan ‘dakini,’ the ancient Buddhist spirits that dance across the sky. The Esoterics will be offering three performances of EXCELSIS. We hope that you will join us for this celestial concert series.

Friday | 1 Dec 2017 | 800pm | St Stephen’s Episcopal Church | 4805 NE 45th Street | Seattle
Saturday | 2 Dec 2017 | 800pm | Holy Rosary Catholic Church | 4142 42nd Avenue SW | West Seattle
Sunday | 3 Dec 2017 | 700pm | Christ Episcopal Church | 310 North K Street | Tacoma