News of the Collegespring2007

A New Take on Stravinsky c/o Starbucks

  David Schiff image

David Schiff
Photo Credit: Orin Bassoff 04


The biggest coffee chain in the world has recently ventured into classical music, putting out its first collection of orchestral works, including a new composition by Reed’s R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music, David Schiff.

The CD, Echoes, includes seven original compositions written for the Seattle Symphony, and is being sold in Starbucks stores in the Pacific Northwest and online. All of the pieces in Echoes are inspired by works of earlier composers, including Brahms, Handel, and Thelonius Monk; Schiff’s contribution, “Infernal,” is based on a movement from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird.

Echoes represents Starbucks Entertainment’s first collaboration with a major orchestra, and it is perhaps fitting that it emanates from Starbucks’ hometown. Schiff, meanwhile, has frequently collaborated with music director Gerard Schwarz, who has conducted four of Schiff’s compositions for the Seattle Symphony, including “Canzona,” which was commissioned and premiered in January 2005.

“Gerry [Schwarz] invited me to write something for the Starbucks project—the stipulation was that it had to be based on an older piece of music,” Schiff explains. “I thought for about 30 seconds and then said I would base my piece on the ‘Infernal Dance’ from Stravinsky’s Firebird. My piece, ‘Infernal,’ is a double homage to Stravinsky and Henry Mancini.”

Schiff says one reason he picked Stravinsky’s Firebird was pragmatic: the Russian-born composer’s work is largely in the public domain, so copyright issues weren’t a concern. But Schiff was also intrigued by Stravinsky’s own reworking of themes and styles of other composers. “I did to Stravinsky what he did to countless others,” he says.

Schiff’s specific aim was to “rag the classics,” as he puts it, “to give Firebird a much more American feeling.” The result has “a different rhythmic feeling altogether” from the original, he says—jazzier, hotter. Schiff requested that the orchestra bring in a rock drummer to augment the percussion section, and during the studio recording he asked the trombonist to play “faster and dirtier—more in the style of Tommy Dorsey.”

Composing “Infernal” left Schiff to speculate on the unrealized potential in Stravinsky’s work. “We think of Stravinsky as a great innovator in rhythm,” says Schiff, “and he is. But he’s a small player compared to Jelly Roll Morton. If Stravinsky had been born in the U.S., think what he could have done.”

“Infernal” by David Schiff premiered in the Seattle Symphony’s “Made in America” series in May 2006, and was released in February 2007 on the Echoes CD, available online at