Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, October 20 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Trimpin: Above, Below, and In Between (Seattle Symphony Media)
Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

With the use of found objects and immersive technology, Trimpin’s sculpture-composition eloquently weaves pieces of an old pump organ, secondhand chimes, and a Microsoft Kinect in the expansive work of Above, Below, and In Between.

The title of this piece is not only indicative of the wall of sound that is layered between soprano, orchestra, and robotics, but also the immersive quality of the installation.  Having taken place in the lobby of the Seattle Symphony, audience members were intermingling with reedhorns and prepared piano. Its one-time debut is immortalized in the recording you can hear today on Second Inversion. – Micaela Pearson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Igor Stravinsky: Ebony Concerto (RCA Victor)
Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; The Thundering Herd

Stravinsky’s dabbles and experiments with African-American music began at the close of WWI and reached peak success with his 1945 Ebony Concerto, paying admirable homage to the music of Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, and guitarist Charles Christian.

Composed for jazz clarinetist Woody Herman and his original big band, the First Herd, the concerto is by turns rambunctious, bluesy, and rhythmically ahead of its time (it would be another ten years before Dave Brubeck began exploring time signatures in jazz other than the ubiquitous 4/4). This particular 1987 recording features clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and a later iteration of Woody Herman’s band, the Thundering Herd.

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Sanford: “Una Notte all’Opera” (Oxingale Records)
The Pittsburgh Collective

The Pittsburgh Collective is just an insanely good band, and this is an insane track. Some of our favorite Italian operatic melodies are thrust into the world of the big band with “Una Notte all’Opera,” with some really fun results. We get a solo trumpet screaming out arias, a reed section carving through fast unison runs, and a massive drum break in the middle. I’m not sure how the drum solo is opera-inspired, but it ends with a nice quote of the chorus from the Consecration Scene in Act I of Verdi’s Aida, simultaneously beautiful and hilariously out of place. The ending is just the icing on the cake, highlighting Sanford’s creativity and comedy in this chart.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


Quentin Sirjacq: “Aquarius” (Karaoke Kalk)
Quentin Sirjacq, piano/percussion/synth

From French composer Quentin Sirjacq, we last year received the album Far Islands and Near Places, a musical response to the islands of Japan. In the track “Aquarius,” the simple melodic structures combined with mixed meter encourage reflection. But don’t get me wrong—there is levity here, too; the tiny slides in the piano are completely charming. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9:30pm hour today to hear this piece.

Emerald City Music Broadcast on KING FM: Oct. 20 at 9pm PST

by Maggie Molloy

If you missed Emerald City Music’s sold-out world premiere of John Luther Adams’ “there is no one, not even the wind…” last month, you’re in luck. This Friday, October 20 at 9pm PST, you can hear the full concert broadcast on our parent station Classical KING FM. Tune in at 98.1 or click here to stream online from anywhere in the world!

Inspired by the stillness and light of the American Southwest, Adams’ piece is an immersive desert soundscape scored for two flutes, strings, piano, and a whole lot of percussion (expect to hear glockenspiels, marimbas, vibraphones, and a bass drum or two). The piece takes its title from a poem by the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz titled Piedra Nativa (Native Stone). He writes, “No hay nadie ni siquiera tú mismo.” (“There is no one, not even yourself.”) Adams takes this line one step further, removing even the wind itself.

“John Luther Adams’ work often resembles minimalism in the sense that it says as much as possible with as little as possible,” said violinist and Artistic Director Kristin Lee, who co-founded Emerald City Music with Andrew Goldstein in 2015. “It’s very ethereal, very atmospheric—often inaudible since it is so soft.”

John Luther Adams became a household name in the classical music community after the Seattle Symphony’s world premiere of Become Ocean in 2013. The 45-minute masterwork went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, putting Seattle on the new music map.

“The Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful part of the country, in my opinion,” said Lee, who performed in the piece’s premiere. “We have the beautiful water and mountains, and the city, the sound of the people. It’s really the meeting point and the melting pot where nature and the city meets. It’s the perfect place for John Luther Adams’ music.”

Adams’ music also in many ways epitomizes Emerald City Music’s eclectic programming, which highlights new and experimental works alongside jewels of the traditional classical canon. Adams’ music famously transcends all manner of categorization, blurring the boundaries between classical, ambient, jazz, experimental, and other genres.

“John Luther Adams is one of the first, biggest examples of the post-genre world that we’re navigating,” said co-founder and Executive Director Andrew Goldstein. “The connection that his music has defies classical music, defies jazz, defies all these genres and just goes straight to touching the listener.”

The world premiere is framed by performances of Andrew Norman’s vibrantly colored “Light Screens” and Steve Reich’s canonic, notoriously virtuosic “Nagoya Marimbas.” Also included is a violin and piano rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s iconic “America” from West Side Story, tying in with a larger overarching season theme celebrating Bernstein’s centennial. And for the traditionalists: Dvorák’s sparkling Piano Quartet in E-flat Major.

“The way that Kristin [Lee] does her programming is so much about connecting to people and letting music touch you beyond just the barriers of what classical music is,” Goldstein said. “She really allows the genre to live outside of itself a little bit.”


Emerald City Music’s “Not even the wind…” concert will be broadcast on Classical KING FM 98.1 on Friday, Oct. 20 at 9pm PST. Tune in at 98.1 or click here to stream online from anywhere in the world.

This article was previously published on Sept.13, 2017. Please click here to read the original article.

Women in (New) Music: Breaking Down Systems with Sound of Late

by Maggie Molloy

With death and destruction come opportunities for growth and change. This fall, that’s the theme behind Sound of Late’s season opener on Oct. 21 and 28 in Portland and Seattle. The program features music inspired by decay, deterioration, and new growth—both literally and metaphorically.

Sound of Late flutist Sarah Pyle is the curator behind the concert program, which musically depicts how breaking down old systems can create positive change. Combine that with the ensemble’s ongoing focus on music by women composers and it serves as a striking metaphor for historical issues of representation in classical music.  

The centerpiece of the program is Anna Clyne’s Steelworks, scored for flute, bass clarinet, percussion, and prerecorded tape. Inspired by the last steelworks factory in Brooklyn, the piece weaves together metallic, pulsing live performances with recordings of industrial machinery and interviews with employees from the factory. The composer’s equally restless and ruminative tape piece Beauty is also on the program.

Clyne’s two industrialized works are contrasted against the softness of Somei Satoh’s whimsical Birds in Warped Time II for violin and piano and Sarah Kirkland Snider’s lyrical Thread and Fray for clarinet, viola, and marimba. Rounding out the program are Giacinto Scelsi’s dizzying flute and clarinet duo Ko Lho and the world premiere of Noel Kennon’s lilac, my fire field.

We sat down with Sarah Pyle to learn more about the program and inspiration behind Sound of Late’s season opener:

Second Inversion: What makes Sound of Late’s concerts different from your average classical music performances?

Sarah Pyle: In all of our concerts, we aim for a more approachable, casual experience, and we love featuring Northwest composers and artists! Several members of the group have contributed to our past programming, so each concert really is a unique experience, as they tend to reflect the identities of the musicians in the group. In a typical concert experience, our audience is seated fairly close to us, and we hope that coming out to a show feels like having a really good conversation with a friend.  

SI: Can you tell us a bit about your ensemble’s ongoing focus on music by women composers?

SP: We keep data on all of our past programming. Looking over the numbers today, I’ve found that in our regular concert series 58% of the music we have performed since our first concert in 2015 has been written by women composers. We don’t choose our programming based on gender metrics; it has just worked out that way. We program works the way I imagine many other artistic directors do—by asking, “Whose works impart meaning to me? Whose voice is resonating with me now?”

SI: What are some of the overarching themes of this particular program?

SP: This concert is really perfect for October. It’s all about decay and systems that change by breaking down. For instance, Anna Clyne’s Steelworks for flute, clarinet, two percussionists, and electronics features a tape part that incorporates interviews with workers in the last steel factory operating in Brooklyn. The recurring text is, “If something is working fine and you can keep up with demand, then there’s really no reason for you to change unless the machine breaks down by itself.” I’m sure this quote could inspire a hundred spin-off articles on “The State of Classical Music.” To me, though, the decomposition of cyclical mechanisms that this bit of text implies creates exciting spaces for opportunity. With this programming, we wanted to really showcase the aesthetics of systems in breakdown.

SI: In what ways (if any) do you feel that being a woman has shaped your experiences as a performer and concert curator? What advice do you have for other female-identifying artists who are aspiring to creative leadership roles?

SP: Representation really does matter. The first time I played a work by a woman composer in the classical sphere, I was 12 or 13 years old, working on the Concertino for Flute and Piano by Cécile Chaminade. My flute teacher at the time said, “You know she was a woman, right?” And of course I didn’t know. I remember feeling stunned that I had never even noticed I had only played works by male composers up to that point.  

As a concert curator, I go to shows and notice an extreme lack of representation. Personally, I find the music being written by women composers today resonates with me in a powerful way. In all the programming work I have done for Sound of Late, I strive for representation without tokenism, and I know others in the group do the same.

As far as advice goes, the biggest piece of advice I’m living right now is to make sure you’ve got a proper support network. As a newcomer to Seattle (going on two years!), this is something I’m still building in my new city. What I love about Sound of Late is that the support network grows with each concert series, including new friends, guest musicians, and curious audience members.

The work, though, whether it’s writing, curating, or performing, is still hard to do, and it is easy to get discouraged. Some inspiring words that I think about almost daily are from an article published last summer by the composer Ashley Fure about her experience organizing a panel on gender in new music at Darmstadt: “Some of us now have access to the resources we need to make the work we believe in. What a gift that is. And with that gift, to my mind, comes an obligation to build our boldest aesthetic visions. I can say without pretense and in purely demographic terms: the canon needs us. Our most radical action is in making work.”

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this concert, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

SP: This is probably my favorite set of pieces we’ve ever performed as a group. Most of the works are by living composers, including pieces by Somei Satoh, Anna Clyne, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Seattle composer Noel Kennon.

I’m looking forward to sharing the program with our friends in Seattle and Portland, and I hope our audiences leave with a desire to examine and unravel, to ask “What if?” and to find meaning and beauty in change.


Sound of Late’s Steelworks performances are Saturday, Oct. 21 in Portland at N.E.W. Expressive Works and Saturday, Oct. 28 in Seattle at Flutter Studios. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Orpheus Unsung by Steven Mackey with Jason Treuting

by Rachele Hales

It’s a tale as old as time…  boy meets girl, girl dies of snakebite, boy rescues girl from underworld, boy makes dumb mistake and girl is returned to underworld, boy is ripped to shreds by women after refusing to join their orgy and his decapitated head becomes an oracle.  It’s amazing Disney never adapted this heartwarming tale!

Jayme Halbritter Photography.

Of course the tale is that of Orpheus and Eurydice, an ancient Greek myth told musically and with expertise as a guitar opera by Steven Mackey and Jason Treuting in Orpheus Unsung. The piece originally premiered in 2016 as a multimedia music and dance spectacle directed by Mark DeChiazza—this October, the music was released as an album on New Amsterdam Records.

Mackey brings Orpheus back to life with his electric guitar, which is the musical representation of Orpheus in this “opera without words.”  Of course, in the original story Orpheus is known far and wide for his expertise with the lyre, a harp-like instrument he played so well that flora and fauna alike would follow the faint music and travel closer to hear him play.  It’s refreshing to hear Orpheus played by instruments with a bit more edge.  Mackey uses two guitars, one tuned normally and the second tuned microtonally, to create what he calls an “underworldly” harmonic sound.  The drums and gongs provided by Sō Percussion’s Treuting round out the sound of the opera with interesting texture and crisp, innovative drumming techniques.

Jayme Halbritter Photography.

Mackey and Treuting give us the whole story in about an hour, which is structured as three acts representing the phases of Orpheus’ quest: above ground, the underworld, and his return to the land of the living.  While above ground, Orpheus falls hard for Eurydice and the two marry with haste.  At the wedding the god of marriage offers no smiles or words of encouragement (bad omen alert!) and just after the wedding Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies.  Orpheus laments her death and embarks on his journey to the underworld to bring her back.  Mackey and Treuting play “The Wedding” with gentle sustained notes that graduate to the all-out anarchy of “Snakebite,” which is followed by a somber, slower “First Lament” that builds as Orpheus lands on the decision to take his lyre with him to the underworld and get Eurydice back with a musical plea to Hades, God of the Underworld.

So down he goes.  In a musical swirl of percussion and guitar loops, Orpheus uses his artful playing to charm the beasts, Furies, and dead souls that block his entrance.  Mackey plays with lovely restraint and calm as Orpheus finds Hades and makes an impassioned speech, reminding the god of his own great love for Persephone.  Convinced that Orpheus and Eurydice are true lovers, Hades agrees to free Eurydice from the underworld but orders that she must walk behind Orpheus on the journey back and that Orpheus is not allowed to turn back to look at her.  Up, up, up they go with Mackey lighting the way with his cautious guitar, until Orpheus blows it all at the last second by turning back to gaze at his wife—his shattered dreams scored by shards of icy guitar riffs as she falls back into the darkness.

Oof.  After mourning and weeping at the edge of the River Styx, Orpheus emerges from the underworld and plays a sorrowful lament punctuated by long, resting pauses.  In “Orpheus Redux,” our protagonist wanders back home literally singing the blues (and here Mackey and Treuting transition to a bluesy sound as well).  Eventually he is met by a mob of drunk, horny women.  When Orpheus spurns their advances they begin to throw sticks at him.  But remember how flora and fauna alike are enchanted by Orpheus?  Of course you do.  So when the thrown sticks refuse to hit him the women rip him apart themselves, tossing his parts into the nearby stream.  The guitar and drums become chaotic to depict this messy and violent scene, but soften greatly as his head (still singing out for Eurydice) and lyre (still playing mournfully) float down the stream, bobbing gently as they continue to drift, perform, and enchant.  Eventually The Muses discover his head and rest it peacefully at the bank of the stream, where it becomes an oracle.

Stories about loss and trying to cheat death will always be relevant—but with help from percussion and a couple guitars, Treuting and Mackey give new life to these themes and allow Orpheus to be reborn.

Mutable Depths: Remembering Matt Shoemaker

by Michael Schell

Second Inversion bids a reluctant farewell to Matt Shoemaker (1974–2017), an admired member of Seattle’s vibrant electronic music scene. A native of the Pacific Northwest whose sensibilities were also formed by extended stays in the Bay Area and Indonesia, Shoemaker plied his craft here for many years, performing with Gamelan Pacifica, presenting “electroacoustic soundscapes” using a laptop and amplified objects, and releasing several solo albums in various formats. His most characteristic music falls under the dark ambient genre: extended pieces built from natural and synthetic sounds woven into a complex and slowly-changing timbral environment.

 

Mutable Depths, available from Bandcamp or as an EP from Ferns Recordings, is my favorite Shoemaker concoction. It begins with the sounds of water and wind, joined by a diverse poltergeist of thumps and creaks. There’s an odd premonition to this combination, as though we’re watching the opening scene of a horror movie. At 3:45 the texture (plot?) thickens to include a continuous crackle that’s soon joined by a squeaky “melody” that seems to be narrating a saga in some sort of extraterrestrial pseudo-avian language. (Shoemaker, like Messiaen, liked to use musical lines that imitate bird calls, and he once spent several weeks in the Amazon recording the songs of tropical birds.)

At 6:00 we start to hear an irregular pounding sound, but it and the squeaky obbligato soon give way to a rich composite texture that’s so typical of dark ambient: static overall, but constantly changing and evolving at the micro level. Whatever strange world has been dialed up is now fully upon us. Feedback sounds begin to come in from various directions, and the crackling sound returns more animated than before. But what might have seemed ominous at first passes over us peacefully. After a while, the feedback drifts away, and by 19:00 most of the bottom has dropped out of the soundscape, leaving the crackle to dissipate alone into the distance.

I enjoy listening to this music at bedtime—beautiful, relaxing, with no distracting drumbeat or isolated loud sounds, it’s a thinking person’s modern lullaby. What sets it apart from most ambient and drone music is the skill and complexity of the sonic layering, and the sense that a narrative is unfolding that’s open-ended enough to accommodate the projections of our own imagination.

You can read more about Shoemaker in memoirs published by The Stranger and Tiny Mix Tapes. And in the deal of the century, one of his record labels, Helen Scarsdale Agency, is offering two of his CDs (Spots in the Sun and Erosion of the Analogous Eye) for only the cost of shipping. Take advantage of this while their stock lasts, and listen to his music with both regret for a career prematurely silenced and gratitude for its highlights that remain available for us to enjoy.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Daniel Rhode’s “Return” ft. GVSU New Music Ensemble

by Seth Tompkins

The beautiful and complicated images that accompany the music of Daniel Rhode’s Return allow for just enough ambiguity to yield a fascinating experience. As the title track of the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble’s forthcoming album, this video premiere uses Rhode’s pensive electroacoustic soundscape to pull the listener into a small but profound exchange.

The subject removes her makeup, presumably at home, presumably with a person for whom she cares.  They share intimate but relaxed physical contact.  She returns to her natural state, in her home, with her closest person, unadorned by a coating of foreign substances.  She literally and figuratively lets her hair down.

These images, paired with Rhode’s music, might suggest a complex and nuanced emotional journey—one that encompasses the opposed relaxation and deflation that are often associated with returning home after an intense or exciting group experience.  Perhaps there is even trauma in the recent past.

However, consider the possibility that, like Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Return might actually be joyful, despite the audio’s solemnity.  Perhaps the quiet, peaceful, yet revelatory bliss of discarding the physical and emotional elements of a public persona is what the video is intended to show.  Or perhaps we’re not meant to know.


Grand Valley State University New Music ensemble’s new album Return comes out on Oct. 27. To pre-order the album, please click here.

Communities of Color in Classical Music: SMCO’s Season Opener

by Maggie Molloy

The United States is a melting pot of cultures and musical identities made richer by communities of color—yet even in the 21st century, classical music programs predominantly feature white male composers.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra has dedicated their 2017-2018 season to celebrating diversity and honoring voices that have been too often marginalized—or worse, silenced—throughout the classical music tradition.

The season, titled “Voices of Courage,” kicks off this Wednesday and Sunday with a collaborative concert that weaves together contemporary music and poetry in a powerful statement of unity. The program examines the search for an American musical identity, exploring the lasting influence of communities of color in classical music and addressing issues of representation on concert programs. Seattle’s first Civic Poet, Claudia Castro Luna, joins the orchestra to read her own original poetry as well as the prose of Federico García Lorca.

The evening begins with a bang: Jessie Montgomery’s urgent and innovative Banner, which combines classical strings with elements from African-American spirituals and anthems of the U.S., Mexico, and Puerto Rico. It’s followed by the impossibly gorgeous, elegiac Lyric for Strings by George Walker, the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas follows with the mariachi textures and driving rhythms of with his heroic Homenaje a Federico García Lorca. He composed the piece in 1936 in honor of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, who was murdered by fascist militia forces. Aaron Copland’s Music for the Theatre evokes the playful jazz solos, brassy fanfares, and lively cabaret culture of the Roaring Twenties, and Scott Joplin’s infectious Maple Leaf Rag rounds out the program.

We talked with SMCO Music Director Geoffrey Larson to learn more about the music and the people behind this week’s program:

Second Inversion: What inspired the theme of this season, “Voices of Courage”?

Geoffrey Larson: Classical music has never existed in a vacuum, and I believe that in times like these our art form becomes more relevant than ever. The political and social climate in our country today contributed significantly to the programming direction of SMCO’s current season, which features musical voices typically marginalized throughout the history of classical music, including composers of color, women, and immigrants. Copland, Barber, Bernstein, and Tchaikovsky were also part of a minority with respect to their sexual orientation, and experienced forms of persecution because of it.

Additionally, as SMCO strives to fulfill our mission of serving the entire Seattle community, we as an organization believe that it is important that our programming reflects the diversity of cultures that make this city whole. We will continue to feature music of women and people of color, and strive to ensure they are represented onstage as well.

SI: How did you choose the repertoire for this season opener?

GL: SMCO’s October 11 and 15 program showcases just some of the powerful cross-cultural influences at work in the classical music world. When I set about programming a season, I make a large list of pieces that I love and would like to perform, and I have been looking forward to programming all of these works for some time. The Montgomery is an intensely powerful statement, and is very cleverly put together; George Walker poured his heart into the Lyric for Strings, it’s just so beautiful and personal; the Revueltas uses a sort of Mexican village band orchestration, achieves some really jaw-dropping sounds, and uses Latin-American rhythms in such cool ways; the Copland is a total blast to perform with all its swinging jazz elements and brassy fanfares. Pianist Amanda Harris will also perform a solo work by Scott Joplin.

It is important that music of women and composers of color appear on programs such as this, as they are chronically under-represented on classical music programs, but it’s important to remember that these are stunning, incredible pieces of music first and foremost. The Copland falls at the end of the program, synthesizing the influences of musical forms earlier on the program that come from communities of color.  

SI: What makes this concert different from your average classical music performance?

GL: SMCO is always striving to present music in context, and I believe that pairing poetry with the music of this program will not only add beauty but will add a powerful real-world relevance as well. Claudia Castro Luna will read her own work as a response to Jessie Montgomery’s Banner, which is possibly the most timely work on the program: it has a section that mimics the Pledge of Allegiance and quotes African American spirituals, the Mexican and Puerto Rican Anthems, and other melodies all mixed together with a transformation of the U.S. National Anthem.

Claudia will also read the prose of Federico Garcia Lorca between each movement of the work that was inspired by his writing, the Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca by Silvestre Revueltas. We also strive to present music in a more relaxed and welcoming setting, removing the stereotypical stuffiness of classical music shows that I think is seen as a barrier to a lot of first-time listeners.

SI: How did the collaboration with Claudia Castro Luna come about, and how do the poems relate to the music?

GL: I have admired Claudia’s work as our first Civic Poet, especially her Seattle Poetic Grid, which tells the personal story of the different neighborhoods of the city through the voices of the people who live there.

Every person who lives in this city and in this country has a connection to it and all the people who call it home; everyone deserves respect and a voice. This huge variety of heritage and experience is part of our identity as a nation, and our musical identity reflects it. Claudia was enthusiastic about being a part of this program because she is passionate about its themes: the respect and empowerment of marginalized voices, and celebration of the influence of racial and cultural minorities.


SMCO’s Music, Poetry, and the Influence of Communities of Color is this Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 7:30pm at Fremont Abbey and Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2pm at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. For tickets and additional information, please click here.