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Originally published Friday, March 22, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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‘Celebrate World Music’ stretches composers’ boundaries

For “Celebrate World Music,” scientist-musician Glenna Burmer asked composers to write pieces for instruments entirely new to them, from around the globe. The concert is March 24, 2013, at Benaroya Hall.

Special to The Seattle Times


‘Celebrate World Music’

2 p.m. Sunday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $30 (206-215-4747 or


It would not be a surprise to attend a world music concert and hear a virtuoso play a didgeridoo, a Persian tar or uilleann pipes — instruments closely linked to a specific nation or cultural tradition.

The surprise would be a concert full of new music written for such instruments by composers with no prior experience of them.

That’s the objective of “Celebrate World Music,” a novel event of varied exotica created by an unexpected new presence in Seattle culture. The concert, conceived and produced by Dr. Glenna Burmer, co-founder of LifeSpan BioSciences — a health-care services company — takes place Sunday afternoon at Benaroya Hall.

Burmer, also a musician, is one of eight composers with a premiere at Celebrate World Music. Her offering, “Spanish Dances,” pays tribute to Spanish guitar and will be played by James Howard and Danny Godinez, with Ana Montes performing flamenco dance.

“Spanish Dances,” and the rest of the program, will be accompanied by an orchestra, with Seattle Symphony Orchestra cellist David Sabee conducting.

“The composers in this project are very talented people, and many are multi-instrumentalists,” says Burmer. “But I wanted them to stretch their boundaries. We told them they could choose a country and a culture, but were not allowed to compose on something they could already play. That forced all of us to learn composition on an instrument foreign to us, which made it interesting and challenging.”

While not a benefit, “Celebrate World Music” comes on the heels of Burmer’s debut project (through her company, Burmer Music) a year ago, which raised $24,000 for a Japanese charity following that country’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“I was in Japan during the earthquake,” says Burmer, “and it significantly affected me. It occurred to me I could organize a concert in Seattle and raise money to help.”

The result was “Symphonic Stories,” which featured new music by local composers.

Burmer contributed “Love Song of the Japanese Cranes,” written for koto and orchestra. Her fundraising continued when “Symphonic Stories” was released on CD.

Along with “Spanish Dances,” Sunday’s bill includes Nan Avant’s “Tributum” for pipes (performed by pipers Kevin Auld and Eliot Grasso); Catherine Grealish’s “For Those Who Have Walked Ahead” (Greg Powers on didgeridoo, an Australian wind instrument); and Tim Huling’s “Americana” for fiddle (Metropolitan String Quartet’s Tom Dziekonski).

Also featured is Todd Kovell’s Suite for Tar and Chamber Orchestra (Shouri Pourahmadi on the tar, a string instrument); Lonnie Mardis’ Cuban-inflected “El Espirito de la Cancion” (Chuck Deardorf with string bass); Eric Nielsen’s “Africa Dances, Africa Dreams”; and Jason Staczek’s “Lila Sziv” (Paul Beck and a Hungarian cimbalom, a concert hammered dulcimer).

Burmer, 57, began playing music only a decade ago. After studying violin, she took composition lessons from Huling and Tom Baker. (Huling’s The Composition Lab is a co-producer of Burmer’s projects to date.)

Burmer’s next innovations include a ballet, music for a fashion show and a jazz concert with new music for some old legends. Her aim is to bring Northwest artists of all kinds into fresh collaborations.

“The left-brain side of me does science by day,” she says. “The moment I leave, I go to my other job — music — which is the right-brain side.”

Tom Keogh: