Double Portrait – Erickson/Dempster


“I do it in real time – so I can’t really tell you what’s going to happen.”

— Stuart Dempster

SEATTLE MODERN ORCHESTRA Featuring Solaris Vocal Ensemble: Double Portrait – Erickson / Dempster (TICKETS)

Saturday, March 11, 2017, 8 PM (7:30 PM Pre-concert conversation)

On Saturday, March 11, Seattle Modern Orchestra celebrates the centennial of American composer Robert Erickson and the 80th birthday of legendary Seattle trombonist and composer Stuart Dempster with a concert of their works, including the premiere of Dempster’s S.M.O.R.E.S., a new work for ensemble and voices commissioned by the Seattle Modern Orchestra.

Stuart Dempster is a pioneering trombonist, composer and improviser whose career includes commissioning Berio’s Sequenza V for solo trombone, and collaborating with Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band. He is well-known to Seattle audiences due to his active performance schedule and work on the faculty of the University of Washington.

S.M.O.R.E.S, like many of Dempster’s works, is a structured improvisation. Dempster creates the work by using the performers almost as a living sound palette.

“I move around in a circle, giving information to different people,” said Dempster in a recent interview. “I give them information by what I play, and then I give instructions for them to stop, or to do something else.”

Dempster’s Milanda Embracing (1993-94) similarly uses an open form, but provides a written score for the audience and performers to interpret with guidance from Dempster.

Robert Erickson (1917-1997), a former colleague and collaborator of Dempster, crystallizes the American pioneering spirit in music. He was one of the first American composers to explore Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system, experimented with custom-made percussion instruments and instrumental extended techniques, and worked extensively with sounds recorded on tape with or without live performers. His General Speech for solo trombone (1969) features Dempster imitating the speech patterns of General Douglas MacArthur (listen to a recording here). The three works by Erickson on this program give a glimpse into this underrated American artist.


  • Robert EricksonThe Idea of Order at Key West for soprano, flute, clarinet, trumpet, viola and cello (1979)
  • Robert Erickson General Speech for solo trombone (1969)
  • Robert EricksonPacific Sirens for percussion and variable instruments / voices (1969)
  • Stuart DempsterMilanda Embracing for various instrumentation (1993-94)
  • Stuart DempsterS.M.O.R.E.S. for ensemble and voices (2017) – World Premiere

WHEN: March 11, 2017 – 8 PM (7:30 PM Pre-concert conversation with co-artistic director Jérémy Jolley and guest trombonist and composer Stuart Dempster)

VENUE: Chapel Performance Space at The Good Shepherd Center

TICKETS: Single tickets: General $25 | Seniors $15 | Students $10

Stuart_Dempster2010About Stuart Dempster

Stuart Dempster, born in Berkeley, California in 1936, studied performance and composition at San Francisco State College. From 1962-66 he was principal trombone in the Oakland Symphony under Gerhard Samuel and, since 1968, he has been on the faculty of University of Washington. Grants include: Creative Associate at SUNYAB (1967-68); Fellow in the Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois (1971-72); Fulbright Scholar in Australia (1973) where he studied aboriginal didjeridu; a NEA Composer Grant (1978); US/UK Fellowship (1979); Guggenheim Fellowship (1981). His book The Modern Trombone: A Definition of Its Idioms was first published in 1979 and he has recorded on several labels including Columbia, Deep Listening, Nonesuch, and New Albion, the latter having produced his “Abbey” recording (NA 013) which has become, in the words of one reviewer: “…a cult classic.”

Dempster tours regularly as a solo recitalist performing his own works as well as his commissioned works by Berio, Erb, Erickson, and others, and also with the Deep Listening Band. His work exemplified by Sound Massage Parlor, and environmental/site specific works such as SWAMI (State of Washington As a Musical Instrument) have earned him a reputation as a composer/performer whose work is at once deep, meditative, and amusing. Deep Listening Band recordings include: award winning Deep Listening, with Pauline Oliveros and Panaiotis, recorded in the old Fort Worden (Port Townsend, WA) cistern with a 45″ reverberation, released in May 1989 on New Albion Records (NA 022); Troglodyte’s Delight, recorded in an old limestone quarry in upstate New York, released in September 1990 on ¿What Next? Records (WN 0003); and The Ready Made Boomerang, recorded in the above mentioned “Cistern Chapel” and released in January 1992 by New Albion Records (NA 044).

Dempster was the producer for all three of these CDs. In 1993-94 he was composer-in-residence in Minneapolis with Seattle’s New Performance Group as part of the Music in Motion project. Also in 1993 Dempster was commissioned by Meet The Composer’s Composer/Choreographer Project for a collaboration with Merce Cunningham for what has turned out to be highly acclaimed performances in the US and Europe. The music for that project was recently released entitled Underground Overlays from the Cistern Chapel on New Albion Records (NA 076).

solaris_horizAbout Solaris Vocal Ensemble

Solaris Vocal Ensemble aims to encourage a renaissance of innovation in the field of choral music. The group consists of twelve of Seattle finest vocal artists. Its debut project, sponsored by the Royalty Research Fund of University of Washington, was the commissioning of four new choral works, some utilizing electronics, by established American composers. These works were performed and recorded in 2012 and released on the Albany Records label under the title Floodsongs. Learn more about Floodsongs here.

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