Strings. Electronics. Soup. Leanne King Macdonald @The Block 10/4

The first Saturday in October brings WMS Principal Violist, Leanne King Macdonald to The Block in downtown Muskegon. Macdonald and New York based pianist, Shiau-uen Ding, will collaborate on a performance of viola and piano + electronics the evening of October 4 at Muskegon’s hottest new performance venue for professional, alternative music stylings.

We sent a few questions to Leanne to get a better feeling of what her concert has in store for listeners. Here’s what she had to say:

WMS: Your music is listed as being viola and piano + electronics playing composers Kaija Saaraho, Stephen Taylor, and Michael Ippolito. For someone who is unfamiliar with those composers, how would you characterize the type of music they’ll hear at your concert?

LKM: All of this music is totally accessible to those new to the concept. Electronics means both amplification and processing. It allows my little acoustic viola to be more versatile in a rock genre, for example. Stephen Taylor’s “Pulse Aria” and “Achoo Lullaby” were inspired by the music of Bjork, known for her clever synth beats and stylings. Kaija Saariaho’s “Vent Nocturne” invokes breath and wind, both still and turbulent. Her compositional style is often referred to as “spectral.” She plays with the timbre, the myriad of sounds, the viola can produce: tremolos, harmonics, sounding points, and white noise. The accompaniment requires quadraphonic stereo output, so the sounds will come from each direction in the room.

Shiau-uen and I commissioned the brand new piece, “Lights Out!” by Michael Ippolito last March. This will be the world premiere. Based on the dark theme of the concert, we were inspired by film noir, and later the radio dramas of the 40’s and 50’s. So the audience will get to hear little clips from those programs that inspired the music.

WMS: I know you play professionally for WMS and for GRSO and that must keep you pretty busy. Do you do many smaller concerts like the one we’ll hear at The Block, or this is a fairly rare occurrence?

LKM: Performing in orchestras and teaching afford me this luxury to play concerts like these. I would like to do more in the future. I performed my solo viola+electronix show last April at GVSU Art Gallery as part of the Free Play concert series. But I have hopes for an American-European tour this summer.

WMS: How did the collaboration between you and Shiau-uen Ding come about? Is there anything especially interesting that you can tell us about her?

LKM: Shiau-uen and I met in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati back in 2004. We have worked together many times including a recital in 2011 at the GRAM Sunday chamber music series. I just want to work with her as much as possible. She is such a powerhouse of a musician and we get along so well. Also this music is her forte, she loves challenging music, and presents it with such passion. She will provide the audience with an unforgettable performance.

WMS: What excites you most about playing at The Block?

LKM: I am so excited about being a part of this series. The Block has such interesting “unstuffy” performances you won’t find at a large concert hall. I look forward to meeting the audience, because they are probably like me, a little more adventurous than average.

WMS: Is there anything else you think audience members would like to know about your upcoming concert?

LKM: Shiau-uen is performing a piece called, “Composition for S#|^^y Piano, Processing, Drum Samples, and Concrete Sounds” by Christopher Bailey. The piece requires an upright, out of tune piano. We are excited that Chris is coming for the performance and will get to talk about his piece.

Served up with soup and a cash bar that opens at 6:30, Leanne King Macdonald and Shiau-uen Ding will take the stage at 7:30 @The Block, 360 W. Western Ave., 2nd floor.

Tickets for the event are $20 and available at the West Michigan Symphony ticket office: 231.726.3231 ext. 223; online at; or in person at 360 W. Western Ave. in Muskegon.

For more information, visit

Michigan Arts & Culture Council
National Endowment for the Arts