I'm not exactly sure how this happened... / by Liquid Music

by Michi Wiancko

...but during the month of October, Saint Paul will become the most Michi-friendly place on the planet.

Let me preface this by explaining that my musical universe and career is a patchwork of all the different ways of music-making that I love the most. I feel very lucky that way. Performing chamber music with some of my most favorite classical musicians? HELL YES. Writing music for groups that are looking to branch out and like the idea of a performer/composer? CHECK. Arranging both classical and non-classical works for both classical and non-classical musicians? BINGO.

"You Are the First" —the result of thousands of jumps over the course of 6,000 miles.

"You Are the First"—the result of thousands of jumps over the course of 6,000 miles.

I come from an intensely classical background: I got an early start on the violin, went straight to private lessons and competitions after school, graduated from conservatories, and had classical performance managers who pinned down as many recital and concerto performance opportunities for me as they could. But there was a discontent I started feeling in my early twenties that grew steadily each year. I wanted to be a part of other kinds of creative scenes, to MAKE music, not just play it. I was also becoming disillusioned with the soloist path - it was so lonely and stressful.

So, I started by joining other people’s bandsgypsy jazz, folk, country hick-hop, indie rock. I will never forget the time that I got a last-minute call to replace a violinist-in-labor for a solo performance with the New York Philharmonic. 90 minutes after stepping off the stage of Avery Fisher, I stepped onto another stage in the east village (in very different clothing, but with a heart still racing from my big NYP moment) to play alt-country versions of Cypress Hill songs for an audience of mostly SantaCon revelers. I could write a whole separate essay about this surreal moment in my career, but suffice it to say that this was a turning point for me when it came to accepting myself for who I was. I needed to make my own path.

Eventually I started writing music for my own band, Kono Michi, and collaborating with as many kindred spirits as I could find. Composing and arranging music for others feels like a natural outgrowth from that, and now that my discontent has disappeared, I have incorporated classical performance back into my life with gratitude and passion.

I love working with people who come from a completely different musical background from me. Oftentimes it’s the people who don’t read music or didn’t go to music school who have the most to teach us conservatory geeks, and who have the most profound and honed relationship with aural expression - the kind you can’t necessarily get from Juilliard.

I also love working with people like me who come from a classical upbringing but have itched for something MORE and NEW. It turns out that some of us grew up strictly classical, practicing our instruments for your standard 4 to 6 hours a day, while sneaking off to blast music that couldn’t be further from the kind we were making ourselves. Goth and new wave (my first loves), shoegaze and post rock, punjabi and rap and electro-pop and lo-fi indie folk… the list of what I identified with during my formative years goes on and on. I kept my passion for this “other” music locked up in a separate compartment for fear it would make me appear less than serious about my Brahms Concerto or Bach Chaconne to my peers and mentors.

Fast-forward to October 2015. Now everybody likes everything!* I think the opportunities that are in play for me here would blow the mind of my 20-year-old self.

Let’s start with Liquid Music. On October 14th, I get to collaborate with the incredible powerhouse duo that makes up the band Wye Oak. Theirs is a harmonically, rhythmically, lyrically, and artistically brilliant kind of pop music that I have taken and arranged for Wye Oak + myself + a musical crew comprised of people I love. Their pop songs trigger the obsessive fangirl in me, so orchestrating it for an electro-acoustic bunch with mega-chops is a project that I’ve found exceptionally fulfilling, and we haven’t even gotten to the live performance part of it yet.

On the same concert, we’ll present the premiere of a new piece I’ve written for violin, cello, bass, and synthesizer called I Have a Map. It’s the kind of piece that one might be inspired to write while going back and forth between Greenwich Village in New York and a serene hilltop farm in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. And then. As if that was NOT enough to rock my (and, hopefully, eventually, both of your) socks off, I get to perform a bunch of new music by one of my FLC’s** and most innovative souls out there, Bill Brittelle.

View from Michi's hilltop studio/shack

View from Michi's hilltop studio/shack

The same day that this all goes down, I’ll be starting rehearsals with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, with whom I’m performing for two weeks in mid-October (in addition to a November tour to Taipei, Singapore and Jakarta). As their “arranger-in-residence” this season, I’ve created an orchestral version of a piece that happened to already be close to my heart: Sergei Prokofiev’s lush, romantic violin and piano masterpiece, Five Melodies.

It’s really an honor to get to dig deep into this incredible music as both a violinist and as an arranger with one of the greatest chamber orchestras out there.

Finally, in other, SPCO-unrelated news, on October 11th, the acclaimed cross-genre string quintet, Sybarite5, will be premiering a piece I wrote for them called Blue Bourrée at the Schubert Club. I just found out about this. Life, right?

So, why this blog entry? 3 things:

  1. Kate Nordstrum, Liquid’s illustrious matriarch, asked me to, and one feels compelled to never say no to Kate.
  2. I want to get you to come to any or hopefully all of these concerts. (And if you do, please come say hello.)
  3. In my experience, it’s quite rare that an organization can engage so many different sides of my musical personality at once, so I wanted to acknowledge how this particular moment in Saint Paul’s musical offerings is a unique marker in the evolution of my own musical life. It’s also one that points to a larger musical renaissance that I feel deeply fortunate to be a part of.

See you in October!

      * This isn’t actually true.
      **Favorite Living Composers