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Dim Sum Diversity 

by GREG PRESLEY & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & inding music for a non-traditional symphonic concert can be challenging. For instance, the Spokane Symphony's associate conductor, Morihiko Nakahara, first encountered composer John Mackey through Mackey's blog -- which deals more with food, drink and travel than with music.

Mackey's "Strange Humors" -- one of the works on this Friday's "Symphony on the Edge" program at the Big Easy -- was written for Robert Battle's Dance Company, and the exciting dance results can be viewed on YouTube. The hypnotic and rhythmic music -- full of jagged syncopation in the strings and pulsating percussion -- is likely to make audience members themselves want to get up and dance. (The Big Easy asks, however, that you kindly leave your wine and beer glasses on your tables.)

Whether by accident or design, Nakahara's musical search for an Edge program went global this time. As a consequence, the Symphony will be treating its audience to a feast for the musical senses, in what Nakahara calls "musical dim sum."

The phrase translates literally as "touch the heart," but of course, dim sum's affecting qualities consist of delicious snacks. So the question is: What sorts of delicious and exotic musical snacks are in store for an audience impatient with the status quo of classical music?

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & riday's Edge-y concert will feature the works of seven composers not usually heard in formal concert halls -- some because they are too young to have developed a wide-reaching reputation, others because their music doesn't combine well with a Beethoven symphony or a Strauss waltz. For example, Randall Woolf's musical career started in high school when he performed in a garage band. His first exposure to classical music and composition didn't arrive until he was in college. Woolf's music has accompanied art installations and independent films as well as dance. His musical contribution is "Shakedown," a hyperactive and rhythmic piece, which Nakahara admits is "hard as heck" to perform.

Another one of Friday's selections, "Crazed for the Flame," is a South Asian-inspired musical work by Evan Chambers. As Nakahara says, "the repeated musical cells create ecstasy and intensity." Chambers, who teaches at the University of Michigan, was influenced by the great Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in this composition, which draws its title from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.

The oldest piece of music on the program, "Octandre," by Edgard Varese, written in 1923, is not likely to sound quite as shocking to us as it must have when it premiered. Still, with its unusual timbres and instrumentation, and explorations of extremes of dynamics and colors, "Octandre" can sound somewhat avant-garde even today. Nakahara reminds us that "Frank Zappa loved [Varese's] music."

The program will also feature current East Asian and Asian-influenced musical culture through the work of three composers: Toru Takemitsu, Xi Wang and Vivian Fung. Takemitsu, according to Nakahara, "creates an atmosphere where silence is as important as sound. Time seems to stop." In its very sensuousness, Nakahara feels it is also very Japanese. "Tree Line" and "Requiem" are the two Takemitsu pieces on the program. Nakahara describes the musical gestures in the compositions as "foggy and ambiguous" and believes they will invite listeners to experience sound and space in a different way.

Xi Wang, a rising young Chinese composer who has already won many prestigious awards for her music, will attend the performance at the Big Easy. Her "Shattered Dream" uses bold dynamic string and percussion effects to evoke traditional Chinese themes.

Finally, "Pizzicato," by young Canadian-born composer Vivian Fung (who currently teaches at the Juilliard School), will showcase the violin, viola, cello, and bass sections of the orchestra plucking rhythmically at their strings. "You will not mistake this music for the Pizzicato Polka by Strauss," says Nakahara.

With the flavors of so many cultures coursing through the program at the Big Easy, Nakahara has given it the subtitle, "Crossroads - where the worlds collide." Indeed, Spokane listeners will be tasting their ways through a number of musical worlds as far removed from familiar fare as Thai curry is from macaroni and cheese.

"Symphony on the Edge" offers contemporary music at the Big Easy on Friday, April 18, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $19. Visit or call 624-1200 or 325-SEAT.

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