Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Tuesday, September 19 at 5:30pm

by Maggie Molloy

There’s nothing like a cold beer and a crowd of new music enthusiasts to keep you company while you wait out the rush hour traffic.

Join us Tuesday, September 19 at 5:30pm at Queen Anne Beerhall for our favorite after-work pick-me-up: New Music Happy Hour, co-hosted by Second Inversion and the Live Music Project. Bring a friend, make a friend, have a drink, and discover connections with fellow new music lovers from all over Seattle!

Click here to RSVP and invite your friends. Plus, sign up for alerts for future happy hour dates and day-before reminders so you’ll never miss a beer—er, beat.

A Singer’s Account of György Ligeti’s Requiem

by David Gary

Last week the Seattle Symphony and Chorale presented the Pacific Northwest’s first ever performance of György Ligeti’s ethereal and rarely performed Requiem (1965), conducted by Music Director Ludovic Morlot. This weekend, they’ll present a portion of it again as part of their live performance of Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Perhaps best remembered for his dense harmonies, tone clusters, and micropolyphonic textures, Ligeti was famous for crafting nearly impossible repertoire—and the fact it has taken half a century to mount a Seattle performance of his Requiem is a testament to its difficulty. This musical undertaking was certainly out of the typical chorale wheelhouse and was an audacious selection for the Symphony to perform. As a member of the chorale, I had the opportunity to learn this requiem and will share my experience in doing so.

Looking at the Score for the First Time

The physical score is bulkier than a standard choral scores, elongated both vertically and horizontally by the 20-part chorus notation. As singers, we are typically accustomed to four-part staffs—so it was immediately evident that this was not our standard choral repertoire.

Much of the Introit movement is written with sustained tones with shifts in tonality over quintuplet figures. The intended effect mimics a large crowd murmuring the Latin text of the Requiem Mass. However, the text throughout this movement remains entirely discernable because it is melismatic over so many different parts. (Ligeti’s own instructions call for a distant sound.) For many of us this piece was well outside our comfort zone, so this movement was a pragmatic place to begin breaking into Ligeti’s musical paradigm.

We quickly realized that pitches would not be our main focus throughout our work on the Requiem. Given the short time we had to learn the piece—only about three or four months with multiple other concerts sprinkled in—and the sheer difficulty of the written pitches, our pitch focus was aimed more at staying within certain range clusters and not wandering too far from the tonal core we were looking to find. Because finding pitches was going to prove so difficult, we put much of our initial energy on learning the rhythmic regime of this piece

Unique Musical Challenges

Like many musical undertakings, this piece presented three large challenges: notes, rhythm, and musicality.

Notes: One of the first things we realized was that we would not be able to learn our pitches as they were written. (This is not to say it is an entirely impossible task, but given our time constraints it would have proven impossible.) During the time of composition, Ligeti himself had to retract and edit some of his harmonies because choirs were unable to learn and perform their parts. There are times in the score where a thick black line appears over a vocal part indicating sections where exact pitches can be jettisoned. This is a challenge for any choir who is accustomed to learning and performing exactly what is on page.

Rhythm: This piece was easy to get lost in, so fighting to stay on track in this score was important. For instance, Ligeti subdivides some of his beats over 7 or 9. These unconventional rhythmic figures create an aural effect of dense clouds of quickly moving harmonies—but they are also incredibly difficult to learn and even harder to execute in context. Another challenge of this piece was remaining on your part’s staff within the score. In rehearsals, there were frequent times where upon flipping a page I would shift to a different line without noticing I was singing the wrong part for several measures.

Musicality: Some of the more important musical gestures in the piece have less to do with notes or rhythms than they do with the shaping of a particular phrase to achieve a human (rather than musical) effect. This sometimes proved a bit of a challenge, since many of us as singers are used to having our phrasing guided by melody and word stresses rather than purely visceral emotion.

Presenting the Performance

We had no idea how this piece would be received. For many of us, a piece like this wasn’t exactly the reason we had joined the chorus. Because it was so easy to get lost in the score, performing was a frantic combination of counting, score following, watching our conductor for the count, and finding first pitches. As any performer knows, one does not get on stage to necessarily listen and enjoy the performance but rather to focus in on one’s task as a musician: to present an audience with entertainment and an unforgettable experience. I believe we achieved this goal and helped evoke emotions in the audience that Ligeti strove to encapsulate in this piece.

Though this was an atypical finale for our regular season, I think many of us ultimately found great satisfaction in how this piece was received and the level of admiration bestowed upon presentation. As we move on to our next challenges, we can all agree that as a group our musicianship has been augmented—and I look forward to bringing what I learned from Ligeti to my next musical projects.


David Gary is the Development Coordinator at Classical KING FM 98.1 and a bass in the Seattle Symphony Chorale. The Seattle Symphony and Chorale perform Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on June 30 and July 1 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, click here.

Second Inversion at the Northwest Folklife Festival

by Maggie Molloy

For over 40 years the annual Northwest Folklife Festival has served as a community celebration of local music and art at Seattle Center. Second Inversion is proud to be a part of that community, and is committed to showcasing vibrant and adventurous new music landscapes from all over the Pacific Northwest and far beyond.

So this Friday, we’re teaming up with Classical KING FM to show off some of our favorite local new music talents in our third annual KING FM and Second Inversion Showcase at the Northwest Folklife Festival.

Join us at the Center Theatre on Friday, May 26 at 8pm for a triple billing featuring the Ecco Chamber Ensemble, TangleTown Trio, and the Skyros Quartet. Here’s a sneak peek of what’s in store:

The Ecco Chamber Ensemble builds concerts around the intersection of art and social change. Comprised of soprano Stacey Mastrian, flutist Sarah Bassingthwaighte, and guitarist Mark Hilliard Wilson, the group programs classical music from around the world and across history which sheds light on issues of our time and provokes us to consider our common humanity.


TangleTown Trio specializes in classical Americana; music inspired by the many unique genres of American music, including jazz, folk, and classic musical theatre. Comprised of mezzo-soprano Sarah Mattox, violinist Jo Nardolillo, and pianist Judith Cohen, TangleTown is the happy outgrowth of three friends, all enjoying successful solo careers, coming together to create something truly extraordinary.


The Skyros Quartet is known for their innovative and interactive approach to classical music both old and new. Comprised of violinists Sarah Pizzichemi and James Moat, violist Justin Kurys, and cellist Willie Braun, the quartet performs, teaches, and leads community events all over the U.S. and Canada. Passionate about the future of music, Skyros regularly performs new works by living composers, and is back by popular demand after having performed in our Second Inversion Showcase at the 2016 Folklife Festival.


KING FM and Second Inversion’s Folklife Showcase is Friday, May 26 at 8pm at the Center Theatre at Seattle Center. For more information on the festival, click here.

NUMUS Northwest: Call for Submissions

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NUMUS Northwest is a day-long event dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle. This year’s theme is the past, present, and future of contemporary classical music in Seattle.

The call for submissions is now open for workshops, panels, and performances from the Seattle new music community. Please submit your proposal for a session here. You may submit multiple proposals.

The deadline is December 1, 2016 at 5 PM Pacific. The leadership team will review the submissions and announce a schedule in mid-December. Session participants will receive free admission to NUMUS Northwest.

More about NUMUS Northwest

Where: Cornish College of the Arts, Kerry Hall

When: Saturday, January 28, 2017 from 9am-10pm

Who: You! Students. Friends. Colleagues. Musicians. Artists. Creators. People who don’t know they like this kind of music (yet!)

Leadership:

      • Kerry O’Brien (Nief-Norf)
      • Jim Holt (Seattle Symphony)
      • Kevin Clark (New Music USA)
      • Shaya Lyon (Live Music Project)
      • James Falzone (Cornish College of the Arts)
      • Maggie Stapleton (Second Inversion/Classical KING FM)

Why: Inspired by the New Music Gathering, the leadership team (many of whom have attended at least one NMG) has a strong desire to recreate the community-building, collaborative-natured, and artistically-stunning event with a focus on musicians and artists in the Northwest.

Tentative Schedule:
9:00-10:00 Coffee/bagels
10:00-10:15 Opening welcome/video
10:15-11:30 Speed dating
12:00-1:00 Panels/talks/other things (2 tracks)
1:00-2:30 Lunch
2:30-3:00 Mini-concert(s) (PONCHO)
3:15-4:30 Workshops (2 tracks)
4:45-5:15 2 guest speakers
5:15-7:30 Happy hour/dinner
8:00-10:00 Concert (PONCHO)

Have questions? E-mail numusnw@gmail.com! Want updates on NUMUS Northwest? Subscribe here

Touched by Creativity in Nature

by Joshua Roman

With Maggie Stapleton and Rachel Nesvig at Camp Muir on Mount Rainier (Washington State).

It’s no secret that some of the greatest composers in history have sought inspiration, solace, and rejuvenation in nature. Beethoven loved to escape Vienna to walk through the countryside, and Bartok was an avid collector of insects in addition to folk melodies from the countryside. And they certainly weren’t the only ones.

So good for them, right? Now we’ve got the (insert superlative) music they wrote, and we also get a glimpse into the natural world as they experienced it. At least, that’s what I would guess is the attitude of many of us based on our general (if not total) lack of engagement with the great outdoors. Myself, I’ve always loved being outside, and felt frustrated by the fact that my cello does not acclimate very well to wind, rain, heat, cold, or humidity. So being outdoors, which is a natural part of much of my life, has been largely separated from my artistic endeavors. A few multimedia projects – like some of the videos I shot outside for the Popper Project or my Everyday Bach videos – have hinted at a connection, but it’s only really this summer that I’ve begun to feel a tangible and powerful, even primal, creative force arise when out in nature.

View from Mount Si (little Si) near Seattle, Washington.

It started with a hike near Seattle. I was so ready to do something non-digital, something peaceful, that took me away from the demands of this life that start out joyful, but can easily pile up and become overwhelming due to their sheer volume. Here’s a picture from the summit – I was already feeling a calm but directional energy throughout the ascent, but upon reaching this view it exploded into a force of deep, resonant sound that was surprising and exciting. It was a sound that I couldn’t identify, except that it had a rolling momentum and begged to be orchestrated. Someday, it will. In the meantime, I cannot forget how it came from the peak next to ours, and though the grandeur was bigger than I knew how to express, the desire to share it was so very strong.

Lake Morraine near Banff, Canada.

At that point, I immediately knew I needed to do more of this. Luckily, my summer has taken me to such strikingly beautiful places as Banff to perform for TED in a collaborative concert I curated with other TED Fellows, Boulder for a series I curated (as well as for the Colorado Music Festival), and Maine for the Bay Chamber Concerts summer festival.

View from Bear Peak in Boulder, Colorado.

Looking at photos of stunning views is always nice, but for me they are most powerful when they serve as a reminder tied to a real experience. I’ve had more music come to mind in these places–a result of the inspiration and the sense of release we feel when we connect with our physical bodies and engage with the natural world around us. I think it’s about centering – a rich tapestry of experiences can certainly help us to learn about human expressiveness and the essential parts of our existence, but it’s important to find a way to stay grounded. Connecting with nature is a great way to achieve this balance.

View of the bay near Rockport, Maine.

Sometimes, if you can pull it off, a day or three away from everything goes a long way towards clearing the mind and allowing natural creative energy to flow. But even if that’s out of the question, finding a quiet park for a stroll, or a trail just outside of the city, can make a difference in the flow of artistry. If you can manage it, get outside–whether near or far–and allow yourself to be open to that special source which has inspired so many of our heroes – nothing is better than tapping into that directly.

Cocolas in Cascadia: Q&A with Madeleine Cocolas

by Maggie Molloy

It was 2012 when the Australian composer and sound artist Madeleine Cocolas first moved away from the warm, sunshiny beaches of Australia and onto the cold, rainy waterfronts of Seattle. After settling into her new home in South Lake Union, Cocolas challenged herself to write a new piece of music every week for 52 weeks—and thus was born the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project.
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Over the course of one year, Cocolas composed a series of 52 pieces wrapped up into a year-long blog chronicling her artwork, her travels, her successes, her struggles, and above all, her music. In the process, not only did she discover a lot about herself and her artwork, but she also discovered a lot about the beauty and mystical splendor of the Pacific Northwest.

download (24)Cocolas recently revisited her “Fifty-Two Weeks” project with a new debut album aptly titled “Cascadia,” which was released through the experimental music label Futuresequence this past December. A clear vinyl of the album comes out this Monday, January 11—and trust me, you’ll want to hear it on vinyl.

The album is a beautifully amorphous blend of ambient, experimental, electronic, and contemporary classical sound worlds with plenty of Pacific Northwest whimsy. In the span of just under 45 minutes, Cocolas explores new sonic lands, shimmering seascapes, twinkling piano melodies, textured lullabies, toy accordions, tape cassettes, and so much more.

We recently featured it as our Album of the Week on Second Inversion—but since we just can’t get enough of Cocolas’s ethereal and ambient dreamscapes, we invited her back to the station to talk about art, music, creativity, and all things “Cascadia.”

Second Inversion: What is the inspiration for the album’s title?

Madeleine Cocolas: The album’s title was directly influenced by Seattle and our beautiful surroundings, including the Cascades.  Living in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for the past 3.5 years has influenced my music immeasurably, and I feel like the music on “Cascadia” and my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project is a direct response and reaction to my surroundings here.  It is impossible for me to listen to “Cascadia” and for it not to evoke feelings of my time here in Seattle.

SI: How would you describe the sound of “Cascadia”? What composers, artists, or styles of music most influenced your compositions?

MC: In terms of a genre, I would describe “Cascadia” as a bit of a mixture between ambient, experimental, electronic and modern classical. Whilst there are a range of styles and instrumentation on the album, I think the overall aesthetic falls under the ‘ambient’ umbrella.  Artists that I have been influenced by would include Jóhann Jóhannsson, Julianna Barwick, Nils Frahm, The Dirty Three, Tim Hecker and Ben Frost amongst others.

SI: How is “Cascadia” similar to and/or different from your “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: “Cascadia” is essentially a refinement of my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project, with the exception of “The Sea Beneath Me” and “Moments of Distraction,” which were written after “Fifty-Two Weeks” had been completed.  A big part of “Fifty-Two Weeks” was to explore and better define my compositional style, and to me, “Cascadia” best represents my “Fifty-Two Weeks” project and current compositional style.

On the other hand, “Cascadia” differs from “Fifty-Two Weeks” in that I was able to obsess over the details of this album in a way that I wasn’t able to when I was writing a piece of music a week.  Even though much of “Cascadia” is based on “Fifty-Two Weeks,” I spent a lot of time reworking and rearranging the tracks, and I had it mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri, so in that respect “Cascadia” is much more polished and refined than “Fifty-Two Weeks.”

SI: After writing music for 52 weeks and looking back at this large body of work, did you learn anything unexpected or interesting about your compositional style, musical taste, or creative process?

MC: When I started “Fifty-Two Weeks” I had no real expectations from the project apart from setting myself the challenge of writing 52 pieces.  Looking back, the project achieved so much more than I anticipated and I did learn some incredible lessons.

In terms of creative process, I had previously been very stifled when it came to actually ‘completing’ compositions, and I didn’t really have many completed pieces that represented what I wanted to convey.  Having weekly deadlines was an incredibly liberating way of being forced to finish a piece and move on to the next without overthinking things and obsessing over small, unimportant details, and I was really able to hone in on my creative process and unblock a lot of restrictions that I had unconsciously placed on myself.

In terms of my compositional style and musical taste, prior to “Fifty-Two Weeks” I had written a lot of piano and small chamber-based music without too much experimentation.  During the project, I really challenged myself to listen to a much wider range of music, and found that I absolutely loved experimenting with found sounds, noise and electronic elements, and these have since become an integral part of my compositional style.

SI: How did you keep each week’s composition fresh, new, and exciting?

MC: Because” Fifty-Two Weeks” was such a long-running project, I knew the only way I was going to get through would be to try different things each week, otherwise I would get bored. I set myself certain challenges each week (e.g. using vocals, incorporating found sounds or collaborating with other artists) so that I wouldn’t fall into a rut.  There were definitely some phases in the project where I did feel that I was lacking in inspiration (and I was honest about it in my accompanying blog), but I was generally able to think of new and interesting ways in which to challenge myself.

SI: Outside of composition you are also interested in printmaking, collage, photography, fashion, and street art—do these wide-ranging creative interests come out at all in your music?

MC: I often think that my visual and musical styles and tastes are quite different.  My music is quite introspective and reflective, and when I imagine it in a visual sense, I think that it would be best represented by subtle, muted colors and fine textural details.  On the other hand, I’m often drawn to visual art and fashion that is very bold, bright and loud, and I do wonder how the two relate and how one affects the other.  In both musical and visual contexts though, I appreciate layered textures and unexpected combinations, so perhaps that’s the common underlying theme!

SI: I particularly enjoyed your experiments into found sound, samples, and more ‘collage’ style music (i.e. kitchen sounds in Week 28 and radio clips in Week 50). Have you explored any more of these musical ideas outside of the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: I really enjoyed using found sounds during my project, and it is something I have continued with subsequently.  I recently collaborated with Australian textile artist Monique Van Nieuwland on her exhibition “Ocean Forest,” whereby Monique recorded sounds of her weaving and I reworked and processed those sounds to create an oceanscape sound design to accompany her work.  I actually ended up using the oceanscape I created for Monique as the basis of the first track of “Cascadia,” “The Sea Beneath Me.”

SI: What do you hope audiences will gain from listening to “Cascadia” and the “Fifty-Two Weeks” project?

MC: The music I have written for “Cascadia” and “Fifty-Two Weeks” is very personal to me, and evokes very specific feelings and emotions about my time in Seattle.  I’m always interested to hear what feelings my music evokes in other people, which I imagine are different to mine, but I would love if “Cascadia” was able to convey a feeling of connection between my music and the beautiful and ethereal Pacific Northwest as well as feelings of tranquility, isolation and melancholy.

SI: What is next on the horizon for you?

MC: I spent the last half of 2015 re-scoring Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” as part of the Northwest Film Forum’s ongoing series “Puget Soundtrack,” and I performed the score live in December, which was fantastically fun!  I’m hoping to polish that up a bit and release it as either an album, or a continuous score that can be played alongside the film (interestingly, the original film didn’t have a conventional musical score, so I was able to include all the original dialogue and sound effects when I re-scored it).

Currently I’m collaborating with choreographer Angelica DeLashmette on her evening-length dance performance “Being” which will be performed at Velocity in 2016.  I’m also collaborating with musician Mathias Van Eecloo (Monolyth & Cobalt) on an ongoing 12-part series based on my “Fifty-Two Weeks” which I hope will be released sometime in 2016.  And lastly, I’m looking forward to working on some more solo work and starting to think about my next album!

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