STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 15 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Andy Akiho: Vick(i/y) (New Amsterdam)
Vicky Chow, piano

Andy Akiho is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting movers and shakers in the contemporary music world, and his piece for prepared piano Vick(i/y) is one of my favorites. The piece doesn’t limit itself to the usual prepared sounds of clanging and crashing and twanging, but uses normal piano sound as a sort of through-line to tell its story. Andy says that this alternation of prepared sounds and conventional sounds represents a “consistent, yet fading image of a forgotten dream.” Andy is a percussionist, and it’s the percussive sounds of Vick(i/y) that define the piece. There is also a really cool music video that transports the piano into natural locations, and features an Andy Akiho cameo. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11am hour today to hear this piece.


John Cage and Sun Ra: Empty Words and Keyboard (Modern Harmonic)
John Cage, voice; Sun Ra, synthesizer

A near-mythic musical encounter happened on Coney Island in the summer of 1986. Two of the 20th century’s most iconoclastic musical philosophers, John Cage and Sun Ra, came together for a concert. For one night only, two artists from opposite ends of the avant-garde shared the same stage.

That fateful day has been immortalized on a record that is best listened to from front to back, as the two artists tend to trade off soloing. Empty Words and Keyboard offers a rare exception: Cage’s sparse, wordless vocal improvisations are echoed by Sun Ra’s even sparser synth accompaniment, the two intertwining in a delicate meditation on sound, silence, and the music in between. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Nico Muhly: Comfortable Cruising Altitude (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

As many people look toward a summer filled with long-distance travel, it’s nice to know that even the experience of riding inside the cabin of a commercial airliner has been used as fuel for new music.  Nico Muhly’s Comfortable Cruising Altitude opens with a field recording taken from inside an airliner cabin.  The piece explores the many layers that make up a typical airline trip, including complex contemplative feelings, the anxiety of waiting, and even a crying child.  This work encapsulates the commercial air travel experience with striking poignancy, especially given its relatively short duration.
– 
Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Matt Marks: “I Don’t Have Any Fun” (New Amsterdam)
Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes

Matt Marks called the album that this song is from (The Little Death: Vol. 1) his “post-Christian nihilist opera.” This almost spastically poppy track is poking fun at a mutually destructive relationship dynamic. In this case, a guy is placing a woman on a ridiculously high pedestal, telling her that he doesn’t have any fun on his own, that he needs her, and in his final appeal, that she is like a god to him. The more he entreats her, the meaner she gets, and the meaner she gets, the more desperate his attempts become.

Marks captures the nuances of this variety of romantic behavior so well, so hilariously, and so succinctly, you might even think he was That Guy at one point in his life—that maybe he was making fun of his own emotional tendencies. Or maybe he was illuminating how in a post-Christian nihilist world, God is sometimes replaced with other gods in the human race’s ongoing quest to annihilate the Self. Matt Marks died this past month, and people close to him describe him as being both really serious and really funny. This song is that exactly. – Dacia Clay

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

Seattle Symphony Spotlight: Composer-in-Residence Alexandra Gardner

by Dave Beck

Photo by James Holt / Seattle Symphony.

Among the influences shaping the music of Alexandra Gardner, this season’s composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony, are her experience as a percussionist, her studies of electroacoustic music, and her fascination for the compositions of Steve Reich.

“My heart is with rhythm and pulse” Gardner says of her music. Her newly composed piece Significant Others will have its world premiere by the Seattle Symphony with Ludovic Morlot on June 14 and 16 at Benaroya Hall. The piece is inspired by the larger-than-life personality of Leonard Bernstein, whose music from the 1953 Tony Award-winning musical Wonderful Town will also be featured on the program.

On our most recent KING FM/Seattle Symphony Spotlight, Dave Beck spoke to Gardner about her work with student composers and homeless youth in Seattle, and her fascination with music’s power to “make something terrible into something that is beautiful.” Listen to the full interview below.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Mark Applebaum’s ‘Aphasia’

by Maggie Molloy

Mark Applebaum’s Aphasia is scored for a singer that doesn’t sing. Instead, the singer performs an elaborately choreographed set of hand gestures synchronized to a pre-recorded tape.

Yet there is still an element of voice: the tape itself is an explosion of warped sounds comprised exclusively of pre-recorded, digitally transformed vocal samples. On stage, the live performer of the piece is completely silent, singing through the inaudible yet piercing music of gesture alone.

This year percussionist Michael Compitello took Applebaum’s Aphasia into his own hands for a new video we are thrilled to premiere right here on Second Inversion. This video was created by Four/Ten Media.

So, how exactly does a percussionist go about playing a silent vocal piece? Learn more in our Q&A with Michael Compitello:

Second Inversion: What are some of the unique challenges of performing a piece without making any sound?

Photo by Matt Fried.

Michael Compitello: What I love about Aphasia is that the performer’s hands are able to represent the character of both attack and sustain in the tape part. Some gestures peter out, while others end sharply. Some sounds require a more resistance in the air, and others float buoyantly. For me, this is a challenge. Percussionists in general tend to think a lot about how our notes begin, and less so about how they end. “Let ring” is a fairly common notation in scores, and without a tremolo, it’s rather difficult to play with the sustain on a marimba or xylophone. 

With this piece there’s also nowhere to hide! Most of the time, I appear on stage with a lot of stuff. Marimbas alone are as large as sofas. One becomes accustomed to the security which a large instrument provides, and learning to sustain an audience’s focus with just a chair is frightening at first.

You’re also playing chamber music with a relatively stubborn partner. I came to Aphasia after playing Mark Applebaum’s Straitjacket, a four-movement work for solo percussionist and quartet. One movement of Straitjacket uses the same gestures as Aphasia, except they are accompanied by Foley sounds from the quartet. While percussion quintets are able to engage in very flexible chamber music, the sonic portion of Aphasia is fixed. Learning to follow the timing in the tape while appearing to create the sounds took a lot of practice, especially in the piece’s opening, where “centurion greeting” and “turn key” pierce long and varied silences.

SI: How does performing this piece relate to your experiences playing percussion music?

MC: As percussionists, much of what we do is theatrical as a matter of course, ranging from the impressive spectacle of drumlines to the graceful ballet of a single performer attending to a gigantic battery of instruments. Striking, scraping, and shaking objects seems to evoke inherent theatrical undertones, and what’s fun about percussion is the way in which great percussionists exist at the intersection of sonic poetry, visual drama, and athletic exertion.

There exists quite a significant strain of “concert” percussion music which concerns itself with the theatrical. These works range from the amplification and foregrounding of the physical gestures required to play percussion instruments to full-blown stage dramas with percussionists as the protagonists. 

The most immediate parallel to learning and performing Mark Applebaum’s works is the “instrumental music theatre” of Mauricio Kagel and his spiritual descendants: the body of work created by the pioneering Trio Le Cercle in France in the 1970s and 1980s, including wonderful pieces by Georges Aperghis and Vinko Globokar.

In particular, Kagel’s works for percussion are similar to the types of execution required in Aphasia. Kagel’s music expresses a what he calls “exaggerated protest against the mechanical reproduction of music” and a move towards “an enjoyment of music with all senses.” (They’re also devastatingly funny—a sly criticism of the overt and sometimes opaque complexity and ritualistic spectacle of his peers at Darmstadt in the 1960s). In Match, the two cellists compete in a musical tennis match, with the percussionist acting as a referee. And in Dressur, three percussionists present a staged drama for wooden instruments. 

As a performer, I love that Kagel’s works mobilize classical musicians’ most innate skills—closely and diligently following instructions, appearing serious, and creating a ritualistic spectacle of aesthetic abstraction. For me, Mark Applebaum’s works demand similar skills from their performers: a rigorous attention to detail without imbuing a personalization of gesture. 

Photo by Matt Fried.

Similarly, the indelible works of Belgian filmmaker, composer, and sound designer Thierry De Mey (b. 1956) are also wonderful preludes to Aphasia. De Mey’s long-term collaborations with choreographers Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Wim Vandekeybus have engendered works which foreground the physicality and gestures inherent in performance, what he calls “the music of music.” In Musique de Tables (1987), he invents a vocabulary of gestures that directly mirror dance figures. Three performers sit at amplified tables, tapping, scraping, sweeping, flicking, and plié-ing through a percussive Grand Divertissement where the constituent sections—overture, rondo, fugato, gallop, etc—emphasize a witty unity of visual and sonic gesture.

In Silence Must Be! (2002), the apparatus of sound-making is removed, creating an ethereal, magical plane. Rather than a ballet of the hands, this is a ballet of the air: a single figure creates various gestures, mostly moving in silence but eventually evoking the once-imagined sounds. Moving from gestures of a conductor to balletic figurations in the air, De Mey eventually fuses his visual vocabulary with speech, spelling out the piece’s name (an anagram for long-time collaborators Ictus Ensemble) on a flat plane for the audience to read.

Lastly, I’d say that life as a percussionist imbues one with a particular kind of attitude—a willingness to try new things, an enjoyment of being a beginner, and immunity to looking silly on stage. We really exist at corner of rigor and absurdity. Even though Aphasia does not require the performer to make sound, I feel that a lifetime of ripping paper, breaking glass, hoarding styrofoam, and other pursuits gets one in the mood.

New Music for June: Red River, Wonderful Town, and LOTS of Women in Music

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.”

New Music Flyer June 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: sound collages, electronic textiles, radiophonic works, and more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

PNB: Love & Ballet
Love takes many formsfrom literal to abstractduring Pacific Northwest Ballet’s four-pack of contemporary hits featuring music by Arvo Pärt, Sufjan Stevens, Joby Talbot, and Beethoven.
6/1-6/10, Various times, McCaw Hall | $37-$187

Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra: Zimmermann
An ardent pacifist and humanist, German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann‘s abhorrence for his country’s actions during World War II resulted in compositions that cried for justice and brotherhood. Seattle Philharmonic performs his final work: “And turning around me, I saw all the injustice under the sun.”
Sat, 6/2, 2pm, Benaroya Hall | $20-$30

Ancora: Postcards
Ancora performs song suites from four corners of the world: Russia, Japan, Spain, and Iran. The program features songs by and Sergei Rachmaninoff, Bob Chilcott, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and Abbie Betinis.
Sat, 6/2, 4:30pm, Green Lake Church of Seventh-Day Adventists | $11-$14

Inverted Space Ensemble: UW Composition Studio
New music collective Inverted Space performs works by UW faculty composers Huck Hodge, Joël-François Durand, and Chuck Corey, as well as world premieres by student composers Aidan Gold, Irene Putnam, and Nikki Chang.
6/2, 7:30pm, UW Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Tess Altiveros performs the role of E in Seattle Opera’s new production.

Seattle Opera: O+E
Journey to hell and back with a new twist on Gluck’s classic telling of Orpheus and Eurydice. A groundbreaking adaptation of the legendary tale reimagines the main characters as a modern same-sex couple and features an all-female cast and creative team.
6/2-6/10, 2pm/8pm, Seattle Opera Studios | $45

Seattle Mandolin Orchestra: The Wheel
The musical worlds of the U.S. and Iran come together in this concert featuring the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra and the Seattle Guitar Ensemble. An exciting new generation of Iranian and American composers will debut works for mandolin ensemble, guitars, strings, and voice.
Sun, 6/3, 7pm, Trinity Parish Church (Seattle) | $15-$25

Orca Concert Series: English Quintets
Seattle clarinetist and composer Sean Osborn reimagines 19 Beatles songs in his Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. Quintets penned by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Arthur Bliss round out this evening of English music.
Mon, 6/4, 7:30pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $15-$25

Seattle Modern Orchestra: In Quest of Spirit
In their season finale, the Seattle Modern Orchestra performs British composer Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti (Devotion): an epic 50-minute work centered around Sanskrit hymns from the Rig Veda and scored for chamber ensemble and quadraphonic tape.
Sat, 6/9, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25

Seattle Symphony Composer-in-Residence Alexandra Gardner.

Seattle Symphony: Wonderful Town
A world premiere by composer-in-residence Alexandra Gardner is performed alongside selections from Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway classic Wonderful Town and his cheeky Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs.
Thurs, 6/14, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74
Sat, 6/16, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74

Seattle Symphony: [untitled] 3
The sonic landscapes of the Southwest come alive through Alexandra Gardner’s playful Coyote Turns and Mason Bates’ richly-colored Red River. Ahmet Adnan Saygun’s lyrical Partita for Solo Cello completes this late-night program in the Benaroya Hall Grand Lobby.
Fri, 6/15, 10pm, Benaroya Hall Grand Lobby | $16

Brass Band Northwest: On the Town
Brass, jazz, and classical music combine in this sparkling program featuring three dances from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town performed alongside George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and other works.
Sat, 6/16, 7:30pm, Bellevue Presbyterian Church | $10

Kin of the Moon presents a world premiere by Renée Baker.

Kin of the Moon: Tyaga
Experimental chamber troupe Kin of the Moon performs the inimitable Renée Baker’s newest piece, Tyaga: Divine Life Suite. Scored for voice, viola, cello, percussion, electronics, and a whole lot of flutes, the piece will also feature guest improvising artists Gretchen Yanover and Greg Campbell.
Sat, 6/16, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: Copland Symphony No. 3
Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, with its rousing Fanfare for the Common Man, comes to life alongside music of Leonard Bernstein and John Williams.
Thurs, 6/21, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74
Fri, 6/22 (Untuxed), 7pm, Benaroya Hall | $13-55
Sat, 6/23, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-74

ALBUM REVIEW: The Hands Free

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Over the course of the past decade, the four composer-performers who make up the Hands Free have performed together in a variety of contexts. They found that what they loved doing the most was holding informal late-night jam sessions—which is what led to the quartet’s inception.

James Moore, who plays guitar and banjo for the group, became interested in a 1937 book that combines the poetry of  Paul Eluard with Man Ray’s line drawings. It’s called Les Mains Libres (Hands Free), a phrase Eluard and Ray used to describe allowing the imagination to play freely. Inspired to make music based on this concept, Moore thought of his late-night jams and invited Pulitzer Prize-winning Caroline Shaw (violin), Nathan Koci (accordion), and Eleonore Oppenheim (bass) to join him for imaginative musical play, creating The Hands Free and their debut self-titled album, out now on New Amsterdam Records.

The ensemble likes to perform unamplified, sit in a circle, and incorporate improvisation in almost every piece so performance feels like play and the sound is especially organic. For The Hands Free, they’ve also worked to integrate a mix of genres from folk music to jazz while drawing from the contemporary classical scene as well.

By making use of the cultural associations of genres and instrument colors, The Hands Free transports you to different parts of the world. Drawing themes from folk songs, the lively violin melody in “Kellam’s Reel/Rusty Gully” takes you to the Scottish countryside for a jovial dance. The gentle, romantic melody in “Lirr Bleu” conjures up images of Paris. With its bittersweet quality and the bass’s soft, melancholy countermelody, the piece seems to depict a broken heart in the City of Love.

In other pieces, The Hands Free challenges your perception of instruments and genres by combining them in new ways. “Lost Halo” begins with a banjo pattern that evokes the stereotypical twang of rural folk music—but when the violin enters with legato melodic lines, the banjo becomes more versatile than we often imagine it to be, intermixing tender consonant chords with dark, suspenseful dissonance for a surprisingly modern sound.

“Sade” almost sounds as though it could be from a horror movie soundtrack, with unpredictable percussion and blares of sound leading the piece into a creepy folk melody variation. Eerie tone clusters form as accordion slides clash against the rest of the ensemble. Alternately, in “It’s She” the violin transitions from another Scottish jig into a rich, lyrical melody. Beneath the violin quick, quiet bursts of tone and soft melodic humming add depth to the texture, creating something hopeful and grandiose.

With its complexity and variety, The Hands Free takes you on a journey around the world while maintaining the warmth and spontaneity of an impromptu jam session. With their beautifully eclectic mix of sounds that depict an immense variety of places and emotions, the quartet invites you to join in their play and let your imagination run free.

Westerlies Go West: Wednesday, May 23 at the Royal Room

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by John Abbott.

Far from your typical brass band, the Westerlies are a Seattle-bred, New York-based quartet known on both coasts for their bold artistry, impeccable finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility. Fresh off a tour with the indie folk band Fleet Foxes, the Westerlies are back in the Northwest this Wednesday for a show at the Royal Room in Columbia City.

Comprised of Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone, the Westerlies grew up together playing music in Seattle under the mentorship of pianist and composer Wayne Horvitz, who is the co-founder and music programmer of the Royal Room. The homecoming concert is made even more special by the fact that it will be Zubin Hensler’s last performance with the Westerlies, as he is leaving the group to focus on music composition, production, and his solo project twig twig.

The Westerlies performing with Wayne Horvitz at the Royal Room. Photo by Daniel Sheehan.

This Wednesday, you can expect to hear a little jazz, a little classical, some folk, roots, blues, and chamber influences—but no matter what the Westerlies play, the one element that remains constant across all of their music is the warmth, camaraderie, charisma, and humor of four longtime friends.

“Whatever ‘sound’ the Westerlies have stumbled upon is the result of four friends channeling these diverse interests through warm air, buzzing lips and conical brass tubes—with a lot of love and saliva in there too,” says Andy Clausen.

For a sneak preview, check out our in-studio videos of the guys performing works by Charles Ives, Andy Clausen, and Wayne Horvitz:


The Westerlies perform at the Royal Room Wednesday, May 23 at 7:30pm. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry on Friday, May 18 at 4:30pm PT / 7:30pm ET

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Yoon S. Byun.

Next Generation is the name of tonight’s A Far Cry concert, which centers on the experiences of young musicians. Not only does the program focus on early experiences with musicwith variations of Mozart’s beloved children’s song, “Ah! vous dirais-je, Maman” and works from Benjamin Britten and Galina Ustvolskaya that allude to their music mentorsit will also feature several young musicians. 

A Far Cry welcomes the Honors Quartet from Project STEP, a program that provides comprehensive musical training to students from underrepresented communities, for a pre-concert performance at 7:30 p.m. During the concert, the ensemble will be joined by Sean Diehl (violin), Keina Satoh (cello), and Julide San (double bass), winners from A Far Cry’s New England Conservatory Prep School Competition. Click here to learn more about the student performers.

Visit this page on Friday, May 18 at 4:30pm PT / 7:30pm ET for a LIVE video of A Far Cry’s Next Generation.

Check out the program below, and click here to read the full program notes.

W.A. Mozart / Ethan Wood
Variations on “Ah! Vous dirais-je, Maman”

Galina Ustvolskaya
Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra, and Timpani

Benjamin Britten
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10


A Far Cry’s Next Generation performance streams live on this page on Friday, May 18 at 4:30pm PT / 7:30pm ET. For more information about the orchestra, please click here.