Music for Troubled Times: SMCO Performs Gabriela Lena Frank

by Maggie Molloy

Music is one of the great unifiers of our humanity, particularly in times of political division and social unrest. This Saturday, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra reflects on today’s troubled times with a message of hope and a program of music that unites traditions old and new, near and far.

The concert, titled “Journeys of Discovery and Hope,” begins with a composer whose life and music embodies her own cross-cultural heritage. Born to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Gabriela Lena Frank’s music draws from her extensive travels in South America, her studies of Latin American folklore, and her background in the Western classical music tradition.

“In our day and age it’s important that classical music is not seen as an aged art form that is reserved for people who occupy a certain stereotype: white, affluent, elderly,” said SMCO Music Director Geoffrey Larson. “Gabriela Lena Frank’s music makes a compelling statement that this genre belongs to all people and cultures, and is alive with great variety and diversity.”

Under Larson’s baton this Saturday, SMCO performs Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout for string chamber orchestra. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje as envisioned by the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Across its six short movements, Leyendas uses Western classical instruments to emulate the rich timbres and harmonic textures of Andean instruments such as the panpipe and the tarka—and also to depict the vibrant characters of Andean history and folklore.

“With the influence of her own heritage, Frank creates music with fierce Peruvian-derived rhythms and fascinating allusions to traditional instruments,” Larson said. “She brings a vibrant palette of colors to her music that broadens audience conceptions of what an ensemble can sound like, and what classical music can be.”

For Saturday’s program, Frank’s vividly illustrated Andean walkabout is paired with something a bit more traditional but every bit as timely: Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times, for which the orchestra will be joined by Choral Arts Northwest and soloists Tess Altiveros, Julia Benzinger, Brendan Tuohy, and Charles Robert Stephens.

“Journeys of Discovery and Hope” is the second concert in SMCO’s 2017-2018 season, which is dedicated to celebrating diversity and honoring voices that have been too often marginalized—or worse, silenced—throughout the classical music tradition.


“Journeys of Discovery and Hope” is Saturday, Jan. 20 at 8pm at Plymouth Congregational Church. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival in Seattle and Beyond

by Maggie Molloy

The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival is lighting up stages around Seattle this month with performances by the likes of Ashley Bathgate, Sandbox Percussion, The City of Tomorrow, and more.

Founded this year by composer Scott Anthony Shell, the festival begins in Seattle with a string of performances spanning from January 19 through February 1, with festival artists also touring through Portland and Eugene, Oregon, and cellist Ashley Bathgate continuing on down the California coast.

“I want this festival to be a performer-centric model rather than composer-centric, in that the performers can program their own repertoire and showcase music they are most comfortable performing,” Shell said. “I also wanted a wide range of genres to be represented within the field of contemporary classical music.”

The festival lineup features Delgani String Quartet, Orlando Cela, Hub New Music, Iktus Duo, Sandbox Percussion, the City of Tomorrow, and Ashley Bathgate. Many of the featured artists are prominent players from New York and the broader East Coast new music scene, and musically they span the gamut from contemporary classical to experimental and avant-garde.

“There are plenty of East Coast transplants and open-minded people on the West Coast so I think there is a receptive audience for new music, even by those unfamiliar with it,” Shell said.

This year’s event features composers ranging from 20th century greats like Lou Harrison, György Ligeti, and Alan Hovhaness to some of the 21st century’s top composers like Andy Akiho, Laura Kaminsky, Steve Reich, and Andrew Norman. And this year is only just the beginning.

“I want the festival to contribute towards the awareness and appreciation of this amazing art form through live performances of these incredible musicians,” Shell said. “I hope it can be an annual event where I would be able to also incorporate other educational tools with a focus on community outreach and community building.”

Let’s meet this year’s performers:

*Please note, dates listed below are for Seattle performances. Click here to explore dates for other cities on the festival tour.

Delgani String Quartet
Friday, Jan. 19, 8pm | Good Shepherd Chapel
This Northwest quartet performs a new work by Benjamin Krause inspired by the Oregon Cascade Range, from the ghostly lava fields to the glorious trees, craters, and crevices. Works by Alan Hovhaness and György Ligeti round out the program.


Orlando Cela
Sunday, Jan. 21, 3pm | Youngstown Cultural Arts Center
Orlando Cela is a Boston-based, Venezuelan-born flutist specializing in contemporary and experimental flute repertoire. For this performance, he explores every timbre and extended technique of the instrument through a virtuosic program featuring music by Roger Briggs, Bryan Ferneyhough, Jean-Patrick Besingrand, Mac Waters, and Robert Dickplus, one of his own original improvisations using Indian Classical music form.


Hub New Music
Monday, Jan. 22, 7:30pm | 18th & Union
With a unique instrumentation of flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, this Boston-based ensemble makes its Seattle debut at Spontaneous Combustion. Their program features a world premiere performance of Robert Honstein’s Soul Horse
, along with Laura Kaminsky’s The Full Range of Blue, a visceral work written in response to the aftermath of 9/11. The program finishes with David Drexler’s Forgotten At Dawn, a winner of the Spontaneous Combustion International Call for Scores.


Iktus Duo
Thursday, Jan. 25, 8pm | Good Shepherd Chapel
Flutist Hristina Blagoeva and percussionist Chris Graham team up for a dynamic program exploring an eclectic mix of styles within the contemporary classical genre, from the Eastern-inspired works of Lou Harrison to the wide-ranging musical musings of Joseph Pereira, Adam Vidiksis, James Romig, and Washington-based composer Bruce Hamilton.


Sandbox Percussion
Saturday, Jan. 27, 7pm | Music Center of the Northwest
A leading proponent of contemporary percussion music, Sandbox Percussion performs pivotal 20th century works and experimental 21st century works alike. For this performance, they lend their mallets to music by Steve Reich, Andy Akiho, Victor Caccese, Jonny Allen, Elliot Cooper Cole, and Thomas Kotcheff.


The City of Tomorrow
Tuesday, Jan. 30, 7:30pm | The Royal Room
The City of Tomorrow is an avant-garde wind quintet that performs contemporary classical and experimental music rooted in environmentalism and humanism. This particular performance explores spatial relationships through music, featuring custom lighting design by Alex Deahl and a graphic score by Seattle-based composer John Teske that is based on topographical maps, which the quintet will use as a basis for improvisation and movement.


Ashley Bathgate
Thursday, Feb. 1, 8pm | Rainier Arts Center
Perhaps best known as the cellist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Ashley Bathgate is also an extraordinary soloist in her own right, constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional cello repertoire with her performances of contemporary, avant-garde, and experimental works. For this performance she plays works with and without electronics by Steve Reich, Andrew Norman, and many more. For a sneak preview of her playing, check out our in-studio video below of Bathgate performing Michael Gordon’s Light is Calling for cello and audio playback.


The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival is in venues across Seattle January 19 through February 1. Click here for tickets and more information on other festival dates and locations down the West Coast.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, January 12 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Angélica Negrón: La Isla Mágica (Innova Recordings)
Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass

Brimming with whimsy and wistful nostalgia, Angélica Negrón’s La Isla Mágica combines punchy, video game-worthy electronics with double bass, percussion, and ambient vocals. Performed here by Eleonore Oppenheim on her debut solo album Home, her bass swings, sways, and dances amid a swirl of technicolor electronics. At times it sounds almost as though she’s in the middle of a theme park, playing among the neon signs, the colorful carnival games, and the translucent stars above. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Gabriela Lena Frank: Danza de los Saqsampillos (Naxos Records)
Alias Chamber Ensemble

I seriously can’t get enough of these works by Gabriela Lena Frank, with all their vibrant colors and stunning rhythmic character. Gabriela was born in the US to parents of Peruvian/Chinese and Lithuanian/Jewish ancestry, and much of her music is influenced by her heritage. Danza de los Saqsampillos is inspired by the Peruvian “saqsampillo,” a rambunctious jungle-dweller with a characteristic jumping two-person dance. This performance from the Alias Chamber Ensemble album Hilos is the version for two marimbas.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Bowie: “Ashes to Ashes” (arr. Bischoff)
Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff

David Bowie once said that “Ashes to Ashes” represented his own feelings of inadequacy about his work not having much importance.  Until “Ashes to Ashes” was released in 1980, much of Bowie’s music was cloaked in concept and personas so the vulnerability and maturity of this song was, among other things, his way of closing that chapter and moving on. In this version, from an album recorded just two weeks following Bowie’s death in 2016, the harsh textures, edginess, and synthesized guitars of the original are replaced with softer melancholy strings and sultry nightclub vocals.  Bowie is celebrated here, not emulated, and that’s what makes this tribute shine.
 Rachele Hales

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


David Crowell: “Waiting in the Rain for Snow” (New Amsterdam Records)
NOW Ensemble

This is exactly what waiting in the rain for snow sounds like.

NOW Ensemble’s flute, clarinet, double bass, oboe, piano, and electric guitar combine the excitement and anticipation of dramatic, beautiful flakes drifting from the sky, with the anxious desire to stay dry while the undesirable in-between phase of sleet insistently pounds the pavement in front of you. – Brendan Howe

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

NUMUS Celebrates New Music in the Northwest

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Jim Holt.

You like new music? Then you’re going to love NUMUS Northwest.

Now in its second year, NUMUS Northwest is a day-long event dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond. Join us Saturday, January 20 from 8:30am-9:30pm at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall for a full day of new and experimental music. Click here to RSVP.

NUMUS is created and curated under the direction of six new music luminaries: Kevin Clark (New Music USA), James Falzone (Cornish College of the Arts), Jim Holt, Shaya Lyon (Live Music Project), Kerry O’Brien (Cornish), and Maggie Stapleton (Jensen Artists). This year’s event features everything from workshops on audience cultivation to live performances of music for electric kitchen appliances. Plus, Second Inversion’s own Maggie Molloy and Seth Tompkins will lead a panel on new music in the media.

Check out the full schedule below:

8:30-9:00am: Registration, coffee, & bagels

9:00-9:15am: Welcome

9:30-10:30am: New Music Speed Dating

It’s the fastest way to meet everyone in the room! All NUMUS attendees are paired up in groups of two, switching partners every 60 seconds until everyone is acquainted.


11:00-11:50am: The Other Side of the Inbox: Media Perspectives on New Music

Leah Baltus, City Arts Magazine Editor-in-Chief
Maggie Molloy, Second Inversion Editor
Sarah Zwinklis, Relevant Tones Producer (WFMT Radio)
Seth Tompkins, 98.1 Classical KING FM Program Director

Radio and print media professionals in Seattle and Chicago discuss the media’s perspective on new music and offer tips, tricks, and strategies for how to pitch new music to local and national media organizations.


12:00-12:50pm: Where the Wild Things Are: The New Age of Organizations and Audiences

Andrew Goldstein, Emerald City Music Executive Director

Emerald City Music Executive Director Andrew Goldstein explores methods for building an organization, attracting an audience, and elevating engagement in classical and new music, providing real-world examples from his experience co-founding Emerald City Music.


1:00-2:30: Lunch Break | Ask a Fundraiser | Piano in Perpetual Progress

A leisurely lunch break allows time to set up an appointment with professional fundraiser and musician Rose Bellini, or drop by Neal Kosaly-Meyer’s long-form piano improvisation which studies the very slow evolution from one note to two to three or more.


2:30-3:30pm: Afternoon Concert: Younge, Arias, Molk, Akiho

An afternoon of experimental percussion music featuring electric junk, spoken text, field recordings, digital playback, and more.

Program:
                                                               

Bethany Younge – Electric Speak! Junk for Me! (10′)
Melanie Sehman, voice and percussion

Spencer Arias – Other Cities (20’)
Chris Sies, percussion

David Molk – hope (6.5′)
Melanie Voytovich, glockenspiel

Andy Akiho – Stop Speaking (6’)
Storm Benjamin, percussion


4:00-4:50pm: Why Are Women Composers Stuck Talking About Being Women Composers?

Lily Shababi, Cornish music student

In this homage to Pauline Oliveros, third-year Cornish student Lily Shababi takes a look back on the historical lack of women composers on concert programs and a look forward toward how we can dismantle the patriarchal systems at play in classical music.


5:00-5:50pm: Funders on Funding

Irene Gómez, Office of Arts & Culture Project Manager
Charlie Rathbun, 4Culture Arts Program Manager
Kevin Clark, Moderator
Additional panelist(s) TBA

Leadership from 4Culture and the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture discuss the arts funding process in a session moderated by philanthropy consultant and composer Kevin Clark.


6:00-7:30pm: Dinner Break


8:00-9:30pm: Evening Concert: Eaton, Soper, Furrer, Lang, Mazzoli, Triptet

NUMUS Northwest ends with an evening concert of solo and chamber music that combines acoustic instruments and live electronics.

Program:

Kaley Lane Eaton – karma repair kit (6′)
Kate Soper – Only the words themselves mean what they say (12′)
Stack Effect Duo

Beat Furrer – Voicelessness, The Snow Has No Voice (11′)
David Lang – Cage (6′)
Missy Mazzoli – Orizzonte (5′)
Missy Mazzoli – Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos
Jesse Myers, piano

Triptet – Slowly, Away (20′)
Triptet


NUMUS Northwest is Saturday, Jan. 20 from 8:30am-9:30pm at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall. Click here for tickets and more information.

The Late Works of György Ligeti (1923–2006)

by Michael Schell

The Pacific Northwest seems in the midst of a Ligeti boom. Last year the Seattle Symphony presented the regional premiere of his Requiem, along with a live-music presentation of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which features music from the Requiem and three other Ligeti scores from the 1960s. Second Inversion marked the occasion with a profile of the Hungarian composer (see György Ligeti’s Musical Odyssey) and the groundbreaking works from that era that made him one of the 20th century’s most influential musical figures. This Thursday and Saturday, the Seattle Symphony is back with Augustin Hadelich to offer the local premiere of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, a late and quite different piece that offers an opportunity to examine the composer’s post-Odyssey music.

Opera in Breughelland

Ligeti’s output, like Beethoven’s, divides rather neatly into three style periods. The early works, written while he was still in Hungary, are Bartókian and often folkloric. The middle period works, coming after his escape to the West in 1956, include sonorist compositions such as Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, and the first two movements of the Requiem—pieces that aren’t based on conventional melody and harmony but are pure explorations of timbre and texture. It’s this music that was made famous by the monolith and stargate sequences in Kubrick’s film. Others works from this time, like the little pseudo-operas Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, and the third movement of the Requiem, express Ligeti’s idiosyncratic take on the Darmstadt pointillist style. (Each of these works are surveyed in our previous article.)

Ligeti’s middle period is considered to culminate with the 1978 premiere of Le Grand Macabre, his only full-length opera, and by far his longest work. Much of it resembles Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, but at other times it points in several new directions, including that quintessential postmodern technique, pastiche. There are many musical references to the past: a Can Can quoting Offenbach, a bourée that’s modeled after the Baroque dance, a midnight clock scene that parodies the cemetery chimes in Verdi’s Falstaff, and a Don Giovanni-style moralizing finale where the singers address the audience directly.

The opera’s most famous passage is a passacaglia based on a crazy distortion of the theme from the finale of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. It accompanies the entrance of Nekrotzar, the opera’s villain and namesake, one of the most debauched processional scenes in opera history.

Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony through a distorting mirror in Le Grand Macabre.

Beethoven isn’t the only reference here. Look closely and you’ll see that Ligeti’s tune uses a Schoenbergian 12-tone row. But since the tune has 13 notes in it, each iteration begins on a different pitch (the first two passes are shown above). After 12 times through, the cycles line up again, a technique perfected centuries ago in the isorhythmic motets of Machaut and Dufay.

The libretto, adapted from a play by the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode, is a farcical sendup of operatic clichés, influenced by carnival and commedia dell’arte traditions, and by the allegorical imagery of Breughel, one of Ligeti’s favorite visual artists (indeed, the work’s setting is the imaginary country of Breugelland). Besides Nekrotzar and his Sancho Panza-like sidekick, the characters include a court astrologer (kind of a cross between Klingsor and Dr. Frankenstein) and his dominatrix wife, an incompetent secret police chief, and a couple whose male half is a trouser role sung by a mezzo-soprano in the manner of Cherubino or Octavian. The plot, such as it is, concerns Nekrotzar’s attempt to destroy the world, an effort eventually foiled by ineptitude and drunkenness.

Although Ligeti was attracted to Ghelderode’s drama for its unconventionality, the resulting libretto has not proven terribly popular, striking many people as more daft than profound. And younger composers like Louis Andriessen have had better success liberating new music theater from conventional narrative by jettisoning full-throated bel canto singing and other accoutrements of traditional opera-making. Nevertheless, Ligeti’s mastery at eliciting an almost unbroken succession of unexpected colors from voices and instruments has earned Le Grand Macabre a foothold in the repertory of international opera companies—one of the very few post-Britten operas to accomplish this.

An arrangement of the opera’s music for coloratura soprano, called Mysteries of the Macabre, has become a favorite showpiece for Barbara Hannigan, who has performed it in various concert stagings, including the above version where she both sings and conducts the ensemble.

At a Crossroads

Le Grand Macabre ends with a second passacaglia that manages to be triadic but practically atonal. Although each of the chords are themselves consonant, they clash sufficiently with each other that no clear key or chord progression can coalesce. Ligeti called this consonant atonality, and it was the first time since escaping from Hungary that he had used traditional harmonies. Having reached a point in his career where he felt he had little more to say in the vein of his most experimental works, he was interested in reclaiming music based on pitch and rhythm. But as a survivor of both Nazism and Communism, he deplored both the dogmatism of the avant-garde and the insouciance of the neoromantic and post-minimalist styles that were then coming into vogue. So how to use melody, consonant intervals and well-defined rhythms outside the permissive context of operatic pastiche and without reverting to hackneyed tonal chords and melodies?

The solution took a while to develop (like Beethoven, Ligeti endured a few years of artistic quiescence before his late works started to emerge), but eventually a compelling new line of musical thought synthesized in his imagination, spurred in large part through contact with several composers from America.

American Ingenuity

Ligeti had a formative experience in 1972 when he traveled to the US for a half-year residency at Stanford University. Among other things, he encountered the West Coast fascination with alternative tunings, a perspective associated with Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, but above all with Harry Partch, then largely unknown in Europe. Ligeti visited Partch in his Encinitas home, chatted about the latter’s unique tuning system and self-built instruments, and jammed a bit on the diamond marimba. But whereas Partch strove to create pure consonance, the complexity-craving Ligeti wondered how clashes between different tuning systems could create new dissonances—what he called a “dirty sound,” but one under the control of the composer. Ligeti had previously used quarter tones (intervals halfway between the adjacent keys of a conventionally-tuned piano), but Partch’s system suggested a different and more systematic approach.

One of the first manifestations of this approach is the Hungarian Passacaglia, a little harpsichord piece that Ligeti dashed off in 1978. Ligeti asks for the instrument to be tuned in meantone temperament, an adaptation that causes the thirds and sixths in the repeating ground to be pure, but makes them sound strangely out of tune with each other. The effect in this otherwise straightforwardly polytonal piece is akin to adding exotic spices to an otherwise bland dish.

Hungarian Passacaglia.

In his 1982 Horn Trio, Ligeti plays off natural harmonics in the horn with the conventional tuning of the piano and violin. The clashes are quite audible in the third and fourth movements.

It was also at Stanford that Ligeti first encountered American minimalism, specifically its rhythmically lively strain (which originated in the Bay Area) to which he paid explicit homage in his Self-Portrait with Reich and Riley. This 1976 piece for two pianos also looks back at the finale of Chopin’s Second Piano Sonata, one of the 19th century’s most important precursors to minimalism.

Once back in Europe, Ligeti conveyed his excitement over these discoveries in an article titled “Tendenzen der Neuen Musik in den USA: Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Harry Partch.”

American Rhythm

Ligeti’s North American explorations of 1972 also took him to Mexico City, where he met several local composers, but ironically not the one that would later become a crucial influence: Conlon Nancarrow. It wasn’t until 1980 that Ligeti finally heard the music of this most obstinate and isolated of American Mavericks, a reticent expatriate who labored patiently for four and a half decades with two player pianos and a machine for hand-punching pianola rolls to create music of unprecedented rhythmic density and complexity.

Nancarrow and Ligeti.

Nancarrow’s Study 40b is a straightforward example. Two player pianos play the same music, but the second one enters 28 seconds after the first, playing its roll at 9/8 the first piano’s tempo, so that it gradually catches up as the piece goes on. Both pianos finish together in a loud cadential flurry.

Nancarrow’s influence is heard in the third movement of Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, which is notated in three simultaneous time signatures and often gives the impression of different cascades of notes tumbling along at different tempos. Ligeti was so impressed by Nancarrow’s work (“the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives“) that he authorized player piano versions of some of his own compositions, such as the piano etude Vertige.

Another key American was Ligeti’s composition student, Roberto Sierra, who from 1979 onward made available his extensive LP library of non-Western music. Ligeti was especially interested in the polyphonic music of Central Africa, such as this example from the Banda people which became a model for his piano etude Fém. Ligeti’s infatuation with complex African music passed on to his son, Lukas, a drummer and composer who often collaborates with African musicians.

Violin Concerto

All of these new interests from the 1970s and 1980s—pastiche, intonation, polyrhythms, concepts from non-Western music—find a voice in the Violin Concerto, a kind of résumé of Ligeti’s late period music. Completed in 1993 and scored for soloist and a chamber orchestra of two dozen musicians, its seeds go back to the Stanford residency, which had been arranged by John Chowning, a pioneer of computer music and inventor of the technology later used in the popular Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. Through his friendship with Chowning, Ligeti obtained DX7ii with a custom enhancement that allowed him to experiment with complex alternative tunings.

The results are on display in the Concerto. One of the orchestral violins is tuned about a quartertone sharp, and one of the violas is tuned flat so that both are “out of tune” with the rest of the ensemble. Brass players are often directed to use natural harmonics (produced through overblowing without changing fingering), and woodwind instruments are given the occasional quarter tone inflection. Curiously, the solo violin plays in conventional equal temperament throughout.

The Concerto starts out sounding a bit like John Adams, with consonant bowed tremolos in the solo violin, soon joined by the (detuned) first viola. But the texture quickly dissolves into a dense chromatic web as the remaining string instruments enter, each going its own way with arpeggios and harmonic glissandos. The soloist, doubled by a marimba, shoots out a sequence of accented notes that go up and down a custom scale like a roller coaster. At 1:38 (all timings refer to the above video), the woodwinds enter in a Nancarrowish commotion with the soloist, accompanied by a vibraphone and a couple of orchestral strings, going at a different tempo from the rest of the ensemble (see score excerpt). A little brass fanfare at 2:45 provides some punctuation as the mood of the opening returns.

The second movement (3:58) is a pastiche of those Romantic violin concertos whose slow movement starts with a lyric melody that’s repeated with elaborate ornaments and filigrees added in the solo part. In Ligeti’s case, the melody is a nostalgic one, cribbed from a movement of his Musica Ricercata (an album of keyboard music written during his Hungary years that he arranged as the third of his Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet). Listen to the horns’ entrance at 6:16 as they play natural harmonics, intentionally clashing with the standard tuning of the other instruments.

At 6:35 Ligeti’s sense of humor comes out as the melody is reprised by a quartet of ocarinas, later joined by two slide whistles (all notorious for their wobbly intonation). Ligeti, like Berio, could be counted on to inject the occasional dose of playfulness into the otherwise stern proceedings of the European avant-garde. Here he was also inspired by music from the Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea who play on some of the world’s longest transverse flutes and, in lieu of finger holes, build their music exclusively from natural harmonics.

The brief third movement is like a mid-lesson review, combining the string webs and polyrhythms of the first movement with the melodic lyricism and natural brass harmonics of the second.

First two cycles of the Movement IV passacaglia.

The fourth movement is yet another passacaglia, this time over a two-voice chromatic ground played by wind instruments. It’s a bit tricky to follow because the starting notes change with each cycle (the first two cycles are shown above), and other variations creep in as the movement proceeds. But any fixed form in Ligeti’s hand is a license to do crazy things on top of it—like bringing in a Romanian village dance at 16:56, or directing the xylophone (with its limited dynamic range) to crescendo from p to ffffffff over the course of three bars at the movement’s end.

The finale returns to the sound world of the first movement, starting with the Adams-like tremolos. Woodwinds enter with a descending figure in whole tones (a kind of inversion of the passacaglia theme), then the soloist enters with accented notes, quickly leading us into another Nancarrowish brouhaha, which sounds chaotic but is strictly notated by Ligeti. At 22:30 the soloist and woodwinds seem to be playing two different dance tunes in two different tempos, with hints of a waltz rhythm in the bass. After a couple more minutes in the stylistic blender we arrive at the violin cadenza, which the soloist can either devise herself (in the tradition of Classical concertos) or reproduce from music supplied by Ligeti and Saschko Gawriloff (the work’s dedicatee). Eventually the cadenza is rudely interrupted by the orchestra in a bravura flourish—inspiring a few performers to ham up the ending a bit.

Despite being challenging to perform, the Violin Concerto has become one of Ligeti’s most frequently played and recorded large ensemble pieces. Its influence on younger composers is evinced in the eclecticism, layering and unpredictable rhythms of a piece such as Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto. And the emphasis on tuning clashes and derivation of musical ideas from overtone patterns creates results not far from the world of spectralist composers such as Grisey, Murail, and Avram.

Ligeti went on composing for another decade, bringing forth a viola sonata, songs, more piano etudes and the Hamburg Concerto (which puts the idea of clashing natural horn harmonics on steroids). But it’s the Violin Concerto that seems the best summation of the musical ideas that intrigued him in his later years—a quarter century of work capping off a lifetime of innovation.


Augustin Hadelich performs the Ligeti Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony on Thursday, Jan. 4 at 7:30pm and Saturday, Jan. 6 at 8pm. Click here for tickets and more information.

Click here for a list of recommended recordings of Ligeti’s music.

New Year, New Music: January Concerts in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - January 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: vintage sampling keyboards, avant-garde noise, graphic scores, and etudes from the likes of György Ligeti and John Cage.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: Ligeti Violin Concerto
Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich joins the orchestra for a performance of György Ligeti’s stunningly virtuosic Violin Concerto. Also on the program: Stravinsky’s long-lost Funeral Song and Mozart’s sublime Symphony No. 39.
Thurs, 1/4, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74
Sat, 1/6, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74

Paper Puppet Opera: Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’
One of the darkest works in the classical canon is reimagined through bleak shadow puppet abstraction in this Schubertiade-meets-puppet-show spectacular. Baritone David Hoffman and pianist Peter Nelson-King join the Paper Puppet Opera for a shadow puppet performance of all 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise.
Fri, 1/12, 7:30pm, Trinity Parish Hall | $25
Sat, 1/13, Trinity Parish Hall | $25

Jesse Myers: To Sober and Quiet the Mind
Seattle pianist Jesse Myers presents an evening of introspective solo piano works from the masters of time and space—Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and more. Forgo the chairs and bring a pillow or mat for the ultimate musical meditation.
Fri, 1/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Bern Herbolsheimer Musical Memorial
In celebration of the late Bern Herbolsheimer’s life and music, the St. Helens String Quartet and local soloists come together to perform a selection of his chamber works.
Sat, 1/13, 5pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | FREE

Second City Chamber Series: Just Us Folks
The Carpe Diem String Quartet performs chamber works inspired by folk music from every corner of the world, featuring music by Erberk Eryilmaz, Vittorio Monti, Lev Zhurbin, Dave Brubeck, and more.
Fri, 1/19, 7:30pm, Annie Wright School, Tacoma | $10-$25

SCMS Winter Festival
Seattle Chamber Music Society’s annual Winter Festival features a variety of classical music performances from across the centuries, including 20th century works by Amy Beach, Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, and Edward Elgar.
1/19-1/28, Various times, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52

Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival
This brand new music festival touring through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene features contemporary music by the likes of Julia Wolfe, Andy Akiho, Andrew Norman, Steve Reich, and Lou Harrison, among others. Featured performers include Ashley Bathgate, the Sandbox Percussion Quartet, the Iktus Duo, and more.

Delgani String QuartetFri, 1/19, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Orlando CelaSun, 1/21, 3pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center | $20
Hub New MusicMon, 1/22, 7:30pm, 18th & Union | $20
Iktus DuoThurs, 1/25, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Sandbox PercussionSat, 1/27, 7pm, Music Center of the Northwest | $20
The City of TomorrowTues, 1/30, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $20
Ashley BathgateThurs, 2/01, 8pm, Rainier Arts Center | $20

NUMUS Northwest 2018
This day-long event is dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond. Musicians, composers, and curious bystanders alike come together for a day of live performances and interactive presentations on topics ranging from fundraising to networking, media pitching, grant writing, and more.
Sat, 1/20, 8:30am-9:30pm, Cornish Kerry Hall | $20

SMCO: Journeys of Discovery and Hope
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra performs Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje: where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Also on the program is Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times.
Sat, 1/20, 8pm, Plymouth Congregational Church | $15-$25

Third Coast Percussion: ‘Paddle to the Sea’
Third Coast Percussion performs their own live score in this special screening of Paddle to the Sea, a Canadian film which illustrates the epic journey of a young boy’s small wooden boat from Northern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Third Coast’s film score weaves in music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Thurs, 1/25, 8pm, Meany Theater | $28-$44

Erin Jorgensen: Bach and Pancakes
It’s Bach like you’ve never heard it before—on marimba! Erin Jorgensen performs a marimba arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, followed by a pancake breakfast.
Sun, 1/28, 10am, Studio Current | $5

Pacifica Chamber Orchestra: Sunshine Concert
From scherzos to serenades, the Pacifica Chamber Orchestra performs 20th century works by Dag Wirén, Julius Fučík, Eugène Bozza, and more.
Sun, 1/28, 3pm, First Presbyterian Church, Everett | $15-$20

Music of Remembrance: Art from Ashes
Music of Remembrance presents a free community-wide concert to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day, featuring chamber music written in Terezín and in the Vilna ghetto, plus works by composers whose lives were cut short by Nazi persecution.
Mon, 1/29, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | FREE

Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

From Icelandic sound sculptures to pan-global jazz, found sounds and field recordings to sprawling, city-wide operas, 2017 was filled with some pretty incredible new music. As this year draws to a close, our Second Inversion hosts take a look back at our Top 10 Albums of 2017:

The Industry and wild Up: Hopscotch (The Industry Records)
Release Date: January 13, 2017

Hopscotch is by far the most inventive, labor-intensive, and meticulously designed work of the year. Live performances of the opera take place in 24 cars on three distinct routes, stopping at various locations-turned-performance spaces throughout Los Angeles. It involves everything from animated sequences exploring themes of identity and community to hearing star musicians perform in the car with you as you ride to your next unknown destination. The album recording is just as expansive, inviting the listener to experience the musical narrative in a non-chronological order, with multiple singers forming a composite of each character’s identity.

Intentionally disorienting, surprising, and overwhelming, artistic director Yuval Sharon and his team at the Industry have created an absolutely immersive experience—and audiences have been blown away. – Brendan Howe


yMusic and Son Lux: First (Communal Table Records)
Release Date: February 17, 2017

Something I hear frequently said about new classical music, from detractors and fans alike, is that it’s hard to listen to. First is a decidedly “new classical” album that does not fit into that framework at all. It’s—and I say this without irony—a freaking delight to listen to. It’s full of stories; for example, in the titular track, the instruments seem to be vying for first place until this looming bass note kicks in, threatening to take them all down. The titles themselves kickstart the imagination: “Trust in Clocks,” “Memory Wound,” and “I Woke Up in the Forest” are some of my favorites. Composer Ryan “Son Lux” Lott and producer Thomas Bartlett took yMusic’s edict to make a chamber music record structured like a rock album to heart and, with the addition of amazing performances by the group, turned it into art. – Dacia Clay


American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Thrive on Routine (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: February 24, 2017

Thrive on Routine was an interesting choice of title for ACME’s 2017 release. Timo Andres’ programmatic string quartet that follows the potato-tending and Bach-playing morning routine of Charles Ives thus becomes the album’s centerpiece, and by relation the rest of the selections are colored by the idea of beauty arising from the mundane. Minimalist textures in Caleb Burhans’ “Jahrzeit” and John Luther Adams’ “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow” provide a sense of calm and even pacing, while a deliberate, almost “learned” style extends from Andres’ title track to Caroline Shaw’s “in manus tuas” and “Gustave Le Gray” for solo cello. – Geoffrey Larson


Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Recurrence (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: April 7, 2017

The massive, slow-moving sound sculptures of Iceland shimmer and sparkle in Recurrence, an album of ethereal orchestral works by five emerging and established Icelandic artists. Daníel Bjarnason leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra through a luminous program ranging from Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s kaleidoscopic “Flow & Fusion,” to María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s oceanic “Aequora,” Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s icy and iridescent “Dreaming,” and more. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music. – Maggie Molloy


PRISM Quartet with So Percussion and Partch: Color Theory (Naxos)
Release Date: April 14, 2017

Mixing colors takes on new meaning in Color Theory, an album blending the hues of four saxophones with an experimental percussion quartet and the microtonal musical instruments of Harry Partch. The PRISM Quartet teams up with So Percussion and the Partch ensemble to explore the full spectrum of color in music, from the deepest blues to the boldest reds, oranges, and yellows. Steven Mackey’s “Blue Notes & Other Clashes” mixes colors ranging from muted to magnificent through eight short movements culminating in a prismatic fantasy, while Ken Ueno’s “Future Lilacs” explores the shifting shades of the overtone series and Stratis Minakakis’s “Skiagrafies” paints a sonic canvas with color-changing harmonies. – Maggie Molloy


Amir ElSaffar: Not Two (New Amsterdam Records)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

In a year choked with disunity in nearly every part of our lives, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s jazzy pan-global album Not Two offers a welcome musical melting of borders. ElSaffar draws inspiration from different cultures and their instruments, primarily Western Asia and America, and declares that they “do not exist as separate entities ‘belonging’ to any people or place.” His humanism coupled with the skill of his collaborators results in an album that pulses with mystical jazz spells, thrills with august horns, and reminds us that music is egalitarian. Knowing that Not Two was recorded in one marathon 16-hour session is just the cherry on top of ElSaffar’s accomplishment.
Rachele Hales


Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

LAPQ’s Beyond pushes the boundaries of what a percussion ensemble can do, with a healthy dose of ambient-leaning music combined with a smaller measure of perhaps slightly more familiar groove-based music that might seem more typical of percussion repertoire. With works by heavy-hitting composers Daníel Bjarnason, Christopher Cerrone, Anna Thorvalsdottir, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh paired with thoughtful and delicate execution, Beyond is a tour-de-force that stands at the leading edge of music for percussion. – Seth Tompkins


Third Coast Percussion: Book of Keyboards (New Focus Recordings)
Release Date: August 4, 2017

If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.

Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation. – Dacia Clay


Qasim Naqvi: FILM (Published by Erased Tapes)
Release Date: September 29, 2017

Perhaps best known as the drummer from the group of acoustic virtuosos Dawn of Midi, Qasim Naqvi also plays other instruments and composes both art music and music for television and film. The album FILM, as you might guess, falls into the latter category. Released in September of 2017, FILM contains music written for the film Tripoli Cancelled and the video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral, both by Naeem Mohaiemen. This release, like other projects by Naqvi, celebrates the legacy of Moog synthesizers. The atmospheric sounds on this album were inspired by disused architecture, and sometimes recall the music of John Carpenter. – Seth Tompkins


Bang on a Can All-Stars: More Field Recordings (Cantaloupe Music)
Release Date: October 27, 2017

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ More Field Recordings. A star-studded cast of composers are each asked to find a recording of something that already exists (a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody) and then write a new piece around it.

A follow-up to their original 2015 release Field Recordings, this year’s rendition is a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from the likes of Caroline Shaw, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, and Glenn Kotche (to name just a few), with the All-Stars playing along to field recordings ranging from quilting interviews to Chilean birdsongs, lava fields, and snoring sleepers.
Maggie Molloy