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A Seattle Symphony Concerto Inspired By Richard Hugo

Musician Wayne Horvitz.
KUOW Photo/Amy Radil
Musician Wayne Horvitz.

When Wayne Horvitz moved to Seattle, he was looking for a quiet place to chill out between road trips.

He never imagined himself in a symphony hall.

But that’s where he’ll be when the Seattle Symphony Orchestra premieres his latest composition on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Horvitz’s journey to the concert hall goes back to 1988.

At the time, Horvitz and his wife Robin Holcomb were fixtures in New York’s downtown music scene. He performed and recorded with musicians like Butch Morris, John Zorn and Horvitz’ longtime friend, guitarist Bill Frisell.

But after the birth of their daughter, Horvitz and Holcomb wanted a change of scenery.

“I just wanted a quieter place,” Horvitz recalls. “Of course, within three years of moving here I was just as swamped and overwhelmed.”

Horvitz arrived in Seattle a couple of years before grunge put the city on the international music map. He didn’t play rock music, but he did perform in the same clubs including The Crocodile and the OK Hotel.

“I never played in jazz clubs,” he says.

That said, Wayne Horvitz has been closely associated with jazz artists like Frisell, and if you Google his name, most often you’ll find articles about Horvitz in jazz publications. That could be because improvisation is a key feature of many of his compositions and his live performances.

“I always laugh. Everyone thinks I’m a jazz musician. Except jazz musicians who say I can’t play jazz!”

Improvisation continues to play an important role in Horvitz’ music.

On Thursday, Seattle Symphony Orchestra in partnership with Earshot Jazz presents the world premiere of his newest work “Concerto for Orchestra and Improviser.” The performance will feature the entire symphony with guitarist Frisell.

This isn’t Horvitz’ first piece for classically trained players; he’s written a number of smaller chamber compositions. But he jokes the 80-member orchestra is the biggest band he’s worked with.

“And I don’t have to pay them!” he says.

The concerto is presented as part of the symphony’s “Sonic Evolutions” series. It partners the orchestra and local musicians for one-night only extravaganzas at Benaroya Hall.

Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot says he was drawn to Horvitz’ long and varied experience as a musician.

And to the improvisation.

“I don’t think Wayne is a composer who writes jazz symphonic music,” Morlot says. “He actually comes to the medium in a completely different perspective. He creates his own language and vocabulary by taking that very different approach through improvisation.”

Horvitz believes this new concerto, inspired in part by the poetry of Seattle native Richard Hugo, is part and parcel of all the music he’s created up to this point in time.

“The way I look at it is personal language. Mozart wrote all sorts of pieces, but they all have his language,” he says. “Thelonius Monk, you always see his language. I hope that’s true with my music.”

Wayne Horvitz won’t be onstage Thursday evening. He says he’ll be in the audience someplace, listening nervously – and waiting for the applause.