Guest conductor, composer join ASO for tribute concerts

Both have Northwest connections and worldwide reach. Both are humble, passionate professionals who enjoy sharing remarkable music.

Grammy-nominated guest conductor Alastair Willis

Both have Northwest connections and worldwide reach. Both are humble, passionate professionals who enjoy sharing remarkable music.

Grammy-nominated guest conductor Alastair Willis and award-winning composer Daniel Ott come home this weekend to join the Auburn Symphony Orchestra in a special, season-opening program that honors the city for its support of the symphony since its inception 20 years ago.

The orchestra – featuring Ott’s original score and Christina Siemens’ soloistic talent – performs symphonic concerts at the remodeled Auburn Performing Arts Center, 702 Fourth St. NE.

The concert, A World Premiere Tribute to Auburn, begins at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

“The opportunity to work with musicians, not in the pit but in a concert situation, is something new to me,” said Willis, music director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and a frequent guest of Stewart Kershaw, ASO’s founding conductor and music director who retired last year after 19 years with the symphony. “I’m really excited. The music is terrific. … It will be a new old experience, I guess, when you consider the history and the musicians who I know and love so much.”

Willis, who has been an associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony, often conducts the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) orchestra. He has guest conducted orchestras throughout the country, many in major cities, and throughout the world, including Europe and China.

His recording of Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortileges” with the Nashville Symphony and Opera for Naxos was Grammy nominated for Best Classical Album in 2009.

Born in Acton, Mass., Willis lived with his family in Moscow for five years before settling in Surrey, England. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors from England’s Bristol University, an education degree from Kingston University, and a masters of music degree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Willis and his wife and 1-year-old daughter live in Seattle, Willis’ adopted home for 16 years.

Asked to lead a reputable orchestra close to home, Willis jumped at the chance.

“I love working with musicians who are curious, open and eager and love what they do, which is the epitome of the PNB orchestra and the Auburn Symphony Orchestra,” Willis said. “What makes it extra special is when you connect with a community who’s also curious and open and eager to hear (the music). And that’s what Stewart has created in Auburn.”

Willis and the orchestra welcome the opportunity to present the world premiere of Ott’s original score, “In Pieces”, which commemorates the city for its support of the arts. It is a pure, symphonic, 18-minute work performed in three movements. The work, which the Seattle Commissioning Club entrusted especially to the Auburn Symphony, is a reflective arrangement of optimistic and dark times in society.

A Puyallup native, Ott studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School. He serves today on the faculty of Juilliard and Fordham University, where he is an assistant professor of music theory and composition.

An award-winning contemporary composer, Ott has been recognized numerous times for his work. He is a 2013 recipient of the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received its Charles Ives Scholarship.

Ott lives in New York City with his wife, who is also from Puyallup, and their two children.

Ott, whose mother was a member of the Auburn Symphony, is excited about the chance to come home and celebrate his new music.

“I’m really looking forward it,” he said. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to write orchestral work, to have an orchestral work commissioned. It is an increasingly rare thing. … I’m grateful to work with these musicians. They are really world-class.

“I’m just excited about the opportunity to write orchestra music and hear it,” he added, “I’m really looking forward to these performances and a chance to come back home to see everybody, too. The honor’s mine, really.”

Ott’s work has impressed Willis.

“He’s a very clever, interesting composer, and that he’s going to be there is fantastic,” Willis said. “The opportunity to do a new world premiere commission is rare and a real honor.”

Works by Brahms and Shostakovich, including the Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring Siemens, complete the program.

“She’s one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever met,” Willis said of Siemens. “Not only is she an incredible ballet studio pianist … but she also plays concertos. She also has an amazing voice. She’s one of these all-around talents that Seattle needs to be more proud of.”

The City of Auburn, Boeing, and the Seattle Commissioning Club support the concert.

A free pre-concert lecture begins 45 minutes before each concert.

Following each concert, Ott and Willis will be at a special reception honoring the City at the Gathering Space at Messiah Lutheran Church, across the street from the PAC. Tickets are $10 per person, with limited availability.

Reserved seats for the concert are $35 for adults, $28 for seniors and $10 for students.

Call 253-887-7777 or purchase online at

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