New Second Inversion Show Launches Feb. 8 on KING FM

Some say classical music is dead—or at least dominated by the music of dead composers. We beg to differ.

Second Inversion is proud to launch a new weekly radio show highlighting all the ways classical music has expanded and evolved in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The new show, hosted by Maggie Molloy, will air Saturday nights from 10-11pm PT beginning February 8 on Classical KING FM 98.1. Listeners can tune in at 98.1 or stream it online from anywhere in the world.

The new show highlights the diversity and innovation of classical music today, with sounds ranging from the quiet iconoclasm of John Cage to the electroacoustic sound collages of Pamela Z, the wordless revelations of Meredith Monk, and the vibrant musical mosaics of Gabriela Lena Frank.

Second Inversion host Maggie Molloy. Photo by Alyssa Brandt.

Each week’s episode features a different theme or trend in new music, allowing listeners a chance to hear contemporary and experimental music from a new perspective. Each piece is hand-picked by the host to draw connections between classical music of the past, wide-ranging musical genres of the present, and cutting-edge sounds of the future.

Our first episode (airing February 8) examines unusual instruments ranging from toy pianos to turntables and even 2×4 planks of wood. Episode two explores the trend of 21st century troubadours, highlighting the unique intersections of classical music and modern-day singer-songwriters. In episode three, listeners hear the dissolution of borders, boundaries, and genres through a selection of works that merge traditional Western classical idioms with the music and instruments of other cultures.

In a landscape where many classical music programs are still dominated by the narrow histories of a select few, Second Inversion showcases the incredible breadth, depth, and diversity of classical music today.


Want an exclusive first listen? Join us Thursday, Feb. 6 from 6-9pm at the Rendezvous for a Second Inversion Listening Party!

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘a tangle of stars’ by Mary Halvorson and John Dieterich

by Peter Tracy

John Dieterich and Mary Halvorson.

Whether it be pop, rock, punk, or bossa nova, the guitar is a staple of many of the musical styles we know and love—and it has even carved out a unique niche in contemporary classical music as well. For guitarists, bridging and fitting into the many genres and styles of guitar-playing can be a daunting task, but Mary Halvorson and John Dieterich are well-equipped for the challenge.

On their new collaborative album a tangle of stars, the guitarists draw on the genre-crossing versatility of their instrument, coming forward with a wide-ranging album that is somehow grooving, mellow, sharp, and aggressive all at the same time.

That Dieterich and Halvorson are collaborating at all can seem like something of a miracle. As a member of the popular noise-rock band Deerhoof, Dieterich has become a renowned and influential guitarist, but it wasn’t until 2017 that he met Halvorson, whose work as a composer and bandleader in avant-garde jazz has earned her widespread praise. A completely improvised live set on acoustic guitars led to further collaboration in Dieterich’s home studio, where they co-composed, arranged, and recorded a tangle of stars over the course of three days, resulting in a collaborative album that mines their mutual interest in experimental jazz, pop, rock, noise, and improvisation.

With various types of guitars including acoustic, electric, 12-string, and baritone, as well as countless effects and occasional drumming by Dieterich, the album provides a wide range of emotions and styles. “Drum the Rubber Hate,” for instance, kicks off with a spinning, plucky, and bright theme supported by a grooving baseline. Quickly, though, a steadily ascending, almost classically minimalist baseline is introduced, making room for virtuosic solos that strike a balance between the rhythmic complexity of jazz and the distorted, edgy sounds of rock music. “Balloon Chord” provides a totally different mood: warm acoustic arpeggios support a flinty, picked melody that seems to wash into the droning background of reverb and watery effects. The wall of reverb sometimes takes on an uneasy edge, making for a song that is somewhere between atmospheric and unsettling.

The duo take a totally different approach  on “Short Knives,” a tense song featuring sharp, stabbing strums that bend in pitch and explode into winding, dissonant passages of warped electric guitar. Despite the occasional rough edges, though, the album also provides plenty of warmth: “Lace Cap,” for instance, is a reassuringly melodic and lilting track with relaxed arpeggios and bended notes, making for a watery, off-kilter sense of calm. “Vega’s Array” is another moment that feels more relaxed and playful: here, an intricate background of contrasting guitar timbres swings underneath wandering melodic lines and plenty of odd little slides reminiscent of shooting stars. 

On the noisier, more experimental side of things, “The Handsome” is full of wailing, distorted electric guitars that imitate each other almost like a canon, phasing in and out of sync before being swallowed up by distortion. The last third of the track becomes increasingly frantic, as the guitars get more rapid and static-filled before giving way to stuttering electronic effects that sound like a record scratching and skipping.

“Better Than the Most Amazing Game” is the album’s longest track by far, and is another moment on the album that feels close to the worlds of avant-garde and free jazz. Here, mechanical, almost industrial effects and drums collide to form an off-kilter and unsettling beat ridden by freely wandering guitar chords and melodies. These elements never quite seem to settle into a stable groove, and the whole track stops and starts jerkily, making for what sounds like an amazingly unhinged piece of music created by a computer program. “Continuous Whatever” brings us into another world yet again, ending the album with a short and sweet bit of relaxed guitar counterpoint.

Despite these rapid-fire stylistic shifts, though, Halvorson and Dieterich manage to craft a cohesive album out of their many musical influences. With its thrilling sonic detours and stylistic excursions, a tangle of stars reflects the huge and tangled variety of music being made for guitar, and speaks to the versatility of not only the instrument, but the composers and performers themselves.

Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

Cheers to another year of new and adventurous music on Second Inversion! As we enter a new decade of musical innovation, we’re taking a look back at some of our favorite albums from 2019. From desert soundscapes to homemade synthesizers, microtonal instruments to music of Haiti, our list celebrates new sounds within and far beyond the classical genre.

Qasim Naqvi: Teenages (Erased Tapes)

After spending two years building his own modular synthesizer, watching its growth, and getting to know its quirks, Qasim Naqvi came forward with Teenages, an album that can’t help but sound like nothing else that came out this year. Played entirely on Naqvi’s synthesizer, the album feels both retro and incredibly forward-thinking—digital and analog. Throughout the album, Naqvi’s compositions build on each other and progressively chart the growth of his machine, making for a one-of-a-kind experience that deserves repeated listens. – Peter Tracy

Learn more in Peter’s album review.


John Luther Adams: Become Desert (Cantaloupe Music)
Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

“Sparkle” and “shimmer” are two words that come to mind when I think of this piece. While the GRAMMY- and Pultizer-winning Become Ocean is Adams’ musical expression of a deep, creepy world with which he’s largely unfamiliar, Become Desert is a love song to a landscape that he’s lived in for ages. Like Ocean, Desert progresses imperceptibly. It’s similarly immersive—you are the environment for the duration of the music. But instead of being ominous and heavy, you’re ancient and light and vast.
Dacia Clay

Learn more in Dacia’s interview with the composer.


Meara O’Reilly: Hockets for Two Voices (Cantaloupe Music)

In a world where the composer toolkit is constantly expanding, Meara O’Reilly’s new 10-minute album for two voices is refreshingly simple—at least in theory. Drawing on the rich history of hocketing across musical cultures, O’Reilly crafts a focused and entrancing addition to the canon, exploring not only the spatial relationships of sound but the very perception of music itself. Two voices (both sung by the composer) volley back and forth with incredible precision to craft melodies that circle and spin you straight into a sonic hypnosis. – Maggie Molloy


Nathalie Joachim: Fanm d’Ayiti (New Amsterdam)
Nathalie Joachim, flute and electronics; Spektral Quartet

The music of singer, flutist, and composer Nathalie Joachim’s newest album draws on a long history, and not just from the classical tradition: Joachim was inspired by the music of her Haitian heritage on Fanm d’Ayiti, creating a beautiful blend of tuneful melodies sung in Haitian Creole with forward-thinking, colorful accompaniment. With help from the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet, Joachim weaves together flute, string quartet, voice, electronics, spoken passages from her grandmother, and advice from some legendary women of Haitian music to make for an album that celebrates the women of Haiti. – Peter Tracy

Learn more in Peter’s album review.


Julia Wolfe: Fire in My Mouth (Decca Gold)
New York Philharmonic; The Crossing; Young People’s Chorus of New York City

146 people—most of them young immigrant women—perished in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The same number of vocalists are called for in Julia Wolfe’s harrowing oratorio on the tragedy. Weaving together texts from protest chants, courtroom testimonials, Yiddish and Italian folk songs, and the oral histories of garment workers on the Lower East Side, Wolfe tells a larger story of immigration, labor, and activism in New York City. A heaving, machinelike orchestra rumbles and churns under the voices of young girls and women, painting a scorching image of the workers whose sacrifice changed U.S. history. – Maggie Molloy


William Brittelle: Spiritual America (New Amsterdam and Nonesuch)
Wye Oak; Metropolis Ensemble; Brooklyn Youth Chorus

There’s a visceral nostalgia seeping through William Brittelle’s Spiritual America, a collection of art songs that reconcile the composer’s conservative Christian upbringing with his adult life as an agnostic Buddhist. But the album is as much about questioning musical traditions as it is about questioning religion. Brittelle’s inimitable blend of chamber pop forms a shape-shifting sonic collage: ripped edges, buzzing synthesizers, melodies that echo, morph, and transform in an instant—like a rush of memories overwhelming the senses. Indie rock duo Wye Oak performs alongside Metropolis Ensemble and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in this kaleidoscopic exploration of spirituality and sound. – Maggie Molloy


Harry Partch: Sonata Dementia (Bridge Records)
PARTCH Ensemble

This was my introduction to the world of composer/inventor Harry Partch, and I’m so glad that it was. Sonata Dementia is the ensemble PARTCH’s third volume of Partch’s music (the first volumes won Grammy nominations and awards respectively), and it’s got everything: music Partch wrote for Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan to play, music from the road and from isolation, movie music, plus one demented, kind of hilarious sonata. I was completely fascinated the minute I hit “play” and feel like I now know a secret handshake. – Dacia Clay

Learn more in Dacia’s interview with the PARTCH Ensemble’s John Schneider.


Daniel Wohl: État (New Amsterdam and Nonesuch)

The line between human and computer begins to blur in Daniel Wohl’s État, a collection of cinematic works blending the nuance of classical composition with immersive electronic production. Texture is paramount: coarse strings, layered synths, delicate creaks and clicks balanced against colors that melt into one another, engulfing the listener in warm washes of sound. Melodies soften and evaporate, harmonies evolve and change shape, and the music ebbs and flows through moments of restless momentum and profound near-silence. – Maggie Molloy


Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Concurrence (Sono Luminus)
Iceland Symphony Orchestra; Daníel Bjarnason, conductor

Though small in size, Iceland is home to some of the most celebrated and innovative new music coming out today. In their newest album, conductor Daníel Bjarnason and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra showcase some of what makes contemporary Icelandic classical music so interesting, with pieces by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Haukur Tómasson, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, and Páll Ragnar Pálsson. Pianist Víkingur Ólafsson and cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir get their moment in the spotlight with Tómasson’s intricate Second Piano Concerto and Pálsson’s award-winning, hauntingly atmospheric Quake, which ends the album by reflecting on the natural processes of these composers’ native country. – Peter Tracy


Caleb Burhans: Past Lives (Cantaloupe Music)

All of these pieces paying tribute to dead friends and colleagues and dealing with grief and addiction could add up to something depressive. But instead, composer Caleb Burhans is deeply and beautifully (and thankfully for us) alive on this album with pieces dedicated to artists like Jóhann Jóhannsson, Matt Marks, and Jason Molina. Burhans has said that composing has been incredibly hard since he’s become sober, but here he’s taken a broken heart and turned it into art. – Dacia Clay

Learn more in Dacia’s interview with the composer.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘In the Mornin’ by The Westerlies

by Maggie Molloy

From jazzy tunes to folk and blues, the Westerlies can reimagine just about any style of music for brass quartet. In our latest Second Inversion in-studio session, they performed their own rendition Charles Ives’ “In the Mornin’,” a setting of the traditional spiritual “Give Me Jesus.”

Ives first heard the bittersweet melody in 1929, sung unaccompanied by Mary Evelyn Stiles, and was inspired to arrange the song for voice and piano. The Westerlies took Ives’ tune one step further, rearranging the music for the warm, brassy tones of two trumpets and two trombones.

“As Ives lent his own harmonic sensibility to the original melody, we took some harmonic liberties of our own in this arrangement,” they said. In keeping with the spirit of the music, they also added moments of improvisation, including a radiant trumpet solo by Chloe Rowlands.

We’re thrilled to premiere our video of the Westerlies performing their rendition of “In the Mornin’.”


Want more music from the Westerlies? Click here for another video from this session.

Cellist Seth Parker Woods: New Sounds, New Formats, New Faces

by Dave Beck

Performing on an instrument made of ice, introducing a high-tech concert hall, and taking musical inspiration from the worlds of dance and martial arts are all in a day’s work for cellist Seth Parker Woods.

He’s the first ever Seattle Symphony Artist in Residence at the new Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center in Benaroya Hall. A dedicated advocate of new music, Seth is also passionate about creating new opportunities for fellow African-American and Latinx musicians, woefully underrepresented in the world of “classical” music. Learn more in his interview with Classical KING FM’s Dave Beck on the Seattle Symphony Spotlight.


Seth Parker Woods performs a program titled That Which is Fundamental at Octave 9 on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 7:30pm. He will be collaborating with percussionist Bonnie Whiting.