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.

Renee Baker: When Two Close Kindred Meet

Article by Gabriela Tedeschi
Audio interview by Dacia Clay

The celebrated, multi-talented composer Renee Baker is joining Kin of the Moon this Saturday for When Two Close Kindred Meet, a concert featuring the world premiere of Baker’s Tyaga: Divine Life Suite.

Structured around the four stages of life in the Hindu faith, Tyaga guides performers in improvisation by allowing them to respond to a variety of media: graphic notation, original paintings, and other printed media. This kind of outside-the-box approach to music is standard for Baker, who is known for her unique notation techniques and innovating by combining multiple art forms. Serving as conductor, too, Baker uses her own system of highly expressive gestures to lead the musicians and give shape to Tyaga.

Renee is after a charged, soloistic, intuitive, committed, take-no-prisoners, uncompromising approach to sound-making,” Kin of the Moon violist and co-director Heather Bentley said. “Renee’s ideas and insights about what new music is and can be are monumental.”

Baker is also co-hosting a film screening this Thursday with the Northwest Film Forum at the Seattle Public Library in Downtown Seattle. She’s presenting two films, one of her own and one by Oscar Mischeaux, both of which she has scored with the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, a chamber ensemble she directs.

Second Inversion’s Dacia Clay speaks with Baker about her Seattle film screenings, the world premiere of Tyaga, and her wide-ranging musical career. Listen to the full interview below.


Renee Baker presents two film screenings this Thursday, June 14 at 6:30pm at the Seattle Public Library in Downtown Seattle. For more information, click here.

Kin of the Moon premieres Renee Baker’s Tyaga this Saturday, June 16 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space in Wallingford. For more information, click here.

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

Women in (New) Music: Seattle Opera’s All-Female O + E

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Cast and creative team of O + E (Lucy Tucker Yates top row left) – photo copyright Philip Newton

Perhaps for the first time in the history of Christoph Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, a woman will perform as a woman in the role of Orpheus.

Gluck’s beloved opera brings to life the classic myth of Orpheus, the artistic demi-god who traveled to the underworld to reclaim his bride Eurydice, who was killed shortly after their wedding. O + E, Seattle Opera’s newest chamber production presented by the Programs and Partnerships Department, is a re-imagination of the tale that combines Gluck’s timeless score with a translated, updated English libretto. O + E features both an all-female cast of principal singers and an all-female creative team.

In many ways, musical director and librettist Lucy Tucker Yates wanted to preserve the essence of Ranieri de’ Calzabigi’s libretto because of its universal themes of love and loss—but with the role of O the creative team saw an opportunity to explore these themes through an intersectional feminist lens. Because the role of Orpheus was originally scored for a castrato, it is typically sung by a mezzo-soprano in modern productions, but she is always dressed as a man.

“Mezzos want to sing that [role], but always as a dude,” Yates said. “To my knowledge, no one has presented Gluck’s Orfeo with a woman as a woman.”

That’s exactly what the Seattle Opera is doing now, which gives the team the chance to tell the story of a marriage between two women. This was especially of interest for the team because the fear and pain of not being able to be with the person you love is at the core of Orfeo ed Euridice.

“It’s fascinating to us that on their wedding day, Euridice is taken away,” Yates said. “They haven’t gotten the chance to have a future. Women getting married at all, they have a great future to look forward to, but they don’t have a whole lot of past.”

In addition to changing pronouns and the extremely difficult task of aligning syllables of her translations with the music, Yates has adjusted the way that O and E talk about beauty. In the original libretto, Euridice can feel superficial to modern viewers because she is so focused on her external beauty. She can only be brought back to life if Orpheus avoids looking at her, which leads her to worry over whether Orpheus still finds her beautiful. The creative team wanted to find a way to still speak to physical connection while giving more depth to E’s pain and honoring the complexity of the situation.

Hai-Ting Chinn (O) and Tess Altiveros (E) in rehearsal. – photo copyright Philip Newton

“We had a really great discussion on, ‘What is beauty and what would you say to your loved one in this extraordinary circumstance?’” stage director Kelly Kitchens said.

With the all-female creative team, representation was an important topic of discussion behind the scenes as well as onstage. While women often make up the majority of opera audiences, creative leadership roles are still largely held by men. Kitchens and Yates hope that after seeing O + E, young women who may never have thought to aspire to these roles will realize that they have the potential to design and direct, too.

Kitchens also emphasizes that every member of the team was hired because she is an incredible artist and that there’s no reason an all-female team can’t be the most qualified team.

“These women are at the top of their field,” Kitchens said. “They are the artists I love to work with and that’s why I’m working with them.”


O + E runs June 2-10 at Seattle Opera Studios. For tickets and additional information,click here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Steve Reich’s ‘Pulse/Quartet’

by Dacia Clay

I just realized that this album was released on my birthday this year. So, first, thank you, Steve Reich for the thoughtful gift. The pieces on the album were written a few years earlier—Pulse, in 2015, and Quartet in 2013, and recorded by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and the Colin Currie Group respectively. (Reich wrote both pieces for the ensembles by whom they are performed here.) But they work together beautifully in an unbroken narrative.

The Story

Pulse opens with an almost folk Americana sound a la Aaron Copland. Big wide open prairie, amber waves of grain-variety archetypical hopefulness and promise. Our hero is setting out from home. The instruments—violin, viola, flute, clarinet, piano, and bass—begin to lob notes back and forth between them. But very quickly, a darker bass note joins the mix. Minors and majors mix together. The bass chugs along with nods to a steady rock music beat. There’s a stillness in the background and movement in the fore, and they swap places constantly. The instruments join together, playing in sync, and then fly apart again, creating dissonance. This piece is like a train, passing by in perpetual motion, and the listener is hearing different cars as the train goes by. The players involved are all wrapped up together in call and response—they need each other to create a whole melody. And then the journey slows down and our hero finally comes to a rest.

Quartet has 3 movements: I. Fast, II. Slow, and III. Fast. And if Pulse is the wide open objective spaces of America, Quartet is its crowded solipsistic cityscapes. There’s something about Quartet that makes me think of a late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s gritty cop drama. You know, when TV was more subtle, dialogue-based, and recorded on film; when it relied less on fake blood. In the first movement, there’s one moment of urgency, but the rest seems to be about our main character’s workaday life. The piano and vibes come together. Neither is ever really in charge. I imagine that one is the city and one is the character, but I can’t figure out which is which. “Slow,” is like a rainy night, staring out a window. The hero is a little gloomy and drinks with quiet resolve. And in the third movement, there’s a shift. It’s the same story as the first movement, but a few decades in the future. We’re back in the daylight after a dark, solitary night that ended in passing out on the couch. This new version of the first story is lighter, emphatic and upbeat with the sound of a news dateline in the background creating an urgency, and the story ends, finally, on a high note.

The Facts

According to Reich, Pulse was a sort of reaction to Quartet because it’s “[a]ll in all, a calmer more contemplative piece,” though that is not what this listener hears. (I can’t help wondering what you’ll think.) In Quartet, he employs the Steve Reich version of a quartet, using his trademark grouping of two pianos and two percussion instruments (in this case, two vibes) instead of a traditional string quartet. As Reich notes, the piece is one of his most complex, and it, “frequently changes key and often breaks off continuity to pause or take up new material.”

The Last Paragraph

Steve Reich once said, “All music does come from a time and place. I was born and raised in New York. I moved out of New York, but it’s inside of me and it will be inside of me until they put me in a box in the ground.” This album feels like it’s of several times (which makes sense from an almost 82-year old) and places, but most distinctly of New York. I like the idea that even in music that’s dependent on pattern rather over emotion, you can hear who the composer is, and it endears me to this work.

What do you hear?