Musical brilliance

The composers who wrote music for Luminosity Orchestra’s “Rain” concert, which took place on Feb. 24, posed for a group portrait after the show. (Left to right) Bradley Hawkins, Erik Ibsen-Nowak, Andrew T. Miller, Hummie Mann, Jarryd Elias, Christopher Reed, Jeff Bowen, Dalton Rouse, Thomas Kresge and Marc Harper. Photo courtesy of luminosity Orchestra

Tacoma is rich with music. In the classical/orchestral realm alone we have Symphony Tacoma, Tacoma Youth Symphony, Tacoma Concert Band, Classical Tuesdays in Old Town and a flood of great music coming out of the music departments of University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University and Tacoma Community College. Many of the local churches also serve as venues for fine musical performances. Tacoma became richer still when, starting late last year, Luminosity Orchestra launched its inaugural season – performing concerts in the hallowed halls of the Pythian Temple. Luminosity Orchestra is the blossoming of the musical branch of the North Tacoma Music and Arts Academy. The orchestra’s mission is to pair up NTMAA students with professional orchestral musicians.

Luminosity held the third concert of its inaugural season on Saturday, Feb. 24. Entitled “Rain,” the concert was billed as the Puget Sound Young Composers Showcase. New composers were asked to submit original orchestral compositions on the theme of rain. The composers, most of them local, work in all areas of the musical universe: film and television scores, video games music, band arrangements and traditional composition. Of the compositions submitted, seven finalists were chosen to have their work performed by the Luminosity Orchestra. Adjudicators were on hand to assess the compositions and to designate awards to first, second and third- place winners. Each of the seven pieces by the new composers was accompanied by a series of projected images that accentuate the music by adding a visual element. The audience also got to vote for its favorite composition. After the seven adjudicated compositions were played, there was an intermission followed by performances of music that was composed by two of the adjudicators as well as a composition written by Luminosity Orchestra’s conductor, the one and only Erik Ibsen-Nowak.

Works by the new composers:

“Beyond the Rain” by Tomas Kresge, a composer who is originally from Boise, Idaho but is now based in Los Angeles: The work begins with the sonorous voice of the cello accompanied by the harp. Other orchestral voices are added from there. The music builds into windy bursts of flute trills and shot with flashes of brass. The projected images range from gentle rainbows and clouds over Mount Rainier to outer space. “Beyond the Rain” was the night’s third-place prize winner.

“Wisp & Willow” by Dalton Rouse, a Tacoma-born, PLU-educated composer: In its early stages, the piece has shades of Richard Wagner with heavy brass, cymbals and low strings. The music and imagery depicts a rising storm. Flutes, the harp and a drumroll build to a point of suspense before the full orchestra unfolds into a full blossom of music.

“Midnight in the City” by Christopher Reed, a Seattle-based composer, percussionist and vocalist: This charmer is a lush and varied piece of music that was accompanied by poetic images of wet city streets bathed in a variety of urban lighting. Sonically and visually, it casts a spell. Cellos kick things off and are joined by bassoon and harp before the flutes take up the theme. Before long, the full range of instrumentation is incorporated. Impressionistic spaces reminiscent of French composer Claude Debussy are traversed before things gather speed and momentum, led by trumpets, which build toward something ominous. Reed’s composition is effective in the use of music as a medium to depict the experience of a storm.

“Midnight in the City” won both the second-place prize and the audience favorite award.

“Stalasso” by Jeff Bowen, another Seattle-based composer: This very abstract piece of music suggests subterranean, watery caverns. It brings to mind compositions of German electronic composer Michael Obst. It starts off with some wild pizzicato, which made me think of a line from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” “I should have been a pair of ragged claws. Scuttling across the floors of sunless seas.” The percussionist uses a bow on the cymbal. The flutes mimic the sound of squeaky gate hinges. This is one piece of music that will get your post nasal drip going. Nontraditional sounds are wrung from the fine bodies of the instruments.

“Drops of Sound” by Marc Harper, a classical pianist out of Spokane who now resides in Tacoma and is a graduate of PLU’s music department: This piece begins with a jaunty conversation among bassoon and low brass while there is some pizzicato going on with the cello. The musical line is soon joined by violins and flutes, which ripen and sweeten it. The work employs a variety of combinations of voices: stings and low woodwinds, flutes and chimes, cello and harp. One passages is a layering of the strings from low to high: cellos joined by violas joined by violins. In the percussion department, a key role is played by the vibraphone.

“Storm Over Sunset” by Elliott Turner: Turner is Tacoma born and bred and PLU music department graduate. The piece begins with percussion, finger clicking and players striking their bodies to create a rather accurate reproduction of the sound of falling rain. The work achieves some subtle shading done with muted trumpets and a cymbal played with brushes. Lovely blending of cellos and horns also enrich the piece.

“Rainmaker” by Jarryd Elias, a graduate of The Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program at the Seattle Film Institute: This was the most cinematic work on the docket. The performance was accompanied by images of an animated, steampunk story set in a post-apocalyptic world called “The Ocean Maker Short Film” by Lucas Martell. “Rainmaker” won first prize in the competition.

After the intermission came compositions by adjudicators and Luminosity’s conductor.

“Twilight Rendezvous” by Andrew T. Miller, one of the adjudicators who is North Tacoma Music and Arts Academy chairman of the Board of Directors in addition to being an accomplished composer: The piece was performed by Miller on piano and University of Puget Sound cello guru Alistair MacRae on cello. It was as sweet as a spoonful of honey. The deep, rich voice of the cello gets to be experienced in full.

“O Tell Na Me O’ Wind and Rain” by Erik Ibsen-Nowak: Ibsen-Nowak is artistic director and conductor of Luminosity Orchestra. For this piece, the orchestra was joined by vocal soloists Roy Wilson and Emily Davies. It starts off evocative of foggy atmospherics with blapping bass, quivering cellos and buzzing flutes. There are passages featuring eerie violins, spooky trombones and kettle drums. Davies’ lyrics are especially magical. The musical buildup and the projected images take the audience up into a whirlpool of stars. The piece ends with a startling strike of the drum, which snapped many in the audience back to attention.

“After the Rain Suite” by Hummie Mann, one of the adjudicators who is a Canadian composer and two-time Emmy-Award winner, who works in major motion pictures: This composition makes much use of stings, low brass and low woodwinds to construct a sweet, juicy music that is the sonic equivalent of a slice of cheesecake with cherry topping oozing down the sides. In has a spell-binding power in some of its more delicate, gauzy passages.

The Luminosity Orchestra’s next show is right around the corner. It is a concert on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, called “Celtic Dreams” The concert will include special guests Forté,  a professional mentoring chorus that sings with Luminosity and also does its own shows as well. “Celtic Dreams” promises to take the audience on a musical journey of Irish song, visiting melodies from old world to Irish-American tunes.

For more information on Luminosity Orchestra or to purchase tickets to the next concert, visit

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