STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

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

Astor Piazzolla: “Fuga y Misterio” from María de Buenos Aires (Steinway & Sons)
Pablo Ziegler & Christopher O’Riley, pianos

Piazzolla is a little old-school for Second Inversion, but the tango is timeless—and after a trip to Buenos Aires last year I have a newfound understanding of its intoxicating spell. Piazzolla’s sensuous and surreal tango operetta María de Buenos Aires embodies the late nights and sultry stars of Buenos Aires—but this is no bedtime story.

María de Buenos Aires tells the tale of a young woman seduced by the music of the tango, lured into sex work, plunged into the depths of the underworld and left as only a shadow haunting the streets of Buenos Aires. The “Fuga y Misterio” is an instrumental interlude depicting her ghostlike trance as she wanders the sleepless city streets toward death—her hair loose and her dreams undone.
– Maggie Molloy

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


Jenni Brandon: Pleistocene Epoch: The Great Ice Age (Jenni Brandon)
Jennifer Stevenson, bass clarinet 

I’m not usually a fan of music for solo single-line instruments, but something about this solo bass clarinet piece hits me just right this week.  The more I listened to this, the more I wanted to turn the speakers up to enjoy the rich bass and nuanced performance of Jennifer Stevenson.  My enjoyment of this work might also have something to do with the fact that I’m an admitted biology nerd; three of the movements of this piece bear the names of ice age fauna.  These titles alone are sufficient to spur imaginative listening (for me, at least). – Seth Tompkins

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


David Lang: Child: I. “Stick Figure” (Cantaloupe Music)
Sentieri Selvaggi 

A year seems shorter the older you get because the proportion of a year to the whole of your life gets smaller and smaller over time.  Birthdays seem closer together with age, but as a child, the expanse between annual milestones is vast. The newness of the world to someone who has had little experience of it makes it a steep learning curve in which every moment is an opportunity to gather data about the surrounding environment.

David Lang’s Child captures some of those first explorations, and this movement, “Stick Figure,” is a sparkling retelling of the stumbles and successes of practicing the foundations for visual character representation.  The long held tones seem to mimic the endeavor of drawing long straight lines with other details popping off the main artery.
– Micaela Pearson

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


Conlon Nancarrow: Four Player Piano Studies  (Cantaloupe Music)
(arr. Evan Ziporyn) Bang on a Can All-Stars 

Conlon Nancarrow, an American composer who spent most of his life in Mexico City through a riveting string of events involving the American Communist Party and the Spanish Civil War, manually modified the rolls for his automatic player piano because his compositions were too technically precise and complex for available musicians to perform at the time.

In 2010, Bang on a Can All-Stars recorded an orchestrated version of four of Nancarrow’s 49 Player Piano Studies, all of which were written between 1948 and his death in 1992. The reveal quite a fascinating rhythmic Rubik’s Cube – keep up if you can! – Brendan Howe

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

Second Inversion Spooktacular: 48-hour Spooky Music Marathon

by Maggie Molloy

Nothing sets the scene for your Halloween quite like a marathon of spooky music! Let us provide the soundtrack for your Halloween haunts. On October 30 and 31, tune in to Second Inversion for a 48-hour marathon of new and experimental music inspired by monsters, witches, ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.

Click here to tune into the scream—er, stream of Halloween music from anywhere in the world, or tune in on the go using our free mobile app. To give you a sneak peek of the spooky music that’s in store, our Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their Halloween playlists:

Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury (Innova Recordings)

Likely written as an attempt to reconcile his own anger, Harry Partch’s stage play Delusion of the Fury is (superficially, at least) well-suited to Halloween. Containing killing, a ghost, body horror, futility, and absurdism, this piece not only touches on the more classic campy elements of spookiness, but is oriented around some of the darker elements of horror—existentialism, futility, and powerlessness to name a few. Plus, for my money, few musical things conjure the uneasy feelings associated with horror and dread like microtonal scales. – Seth Tompkins


Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire (Hungaroton Records)
Erika Sziklay, soprano; 
András Mihály, conductor; Budapest Chamber Ensemble

It just wouldn’t be a Halloween marathon without a spooky clown—and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is nothing if not haunting. A masterpiece of melodrama, the 35-minute work tells the chilling tale of a moonstruck clown and his descent into madness (a powerful metaphor for the modern alienated artist). The spooky story comes alive through three groups of seven poems (a result of Schoenberg’s peculiar obsession with numerology), each one recited using Sprechstimme: an expressionist vocal technique that hovers eerily between song and speech. Combine this with Schoenberg’s free atonality and macabre storytelling, and it’s enough to transport you to into an intoxicating moonlight. – Maggie Molloy


Adrian Lane: “Playing with Ghosts” (Preserved Sound)

The “ghosts” in the title refer to the 100-year-old cylinder recordings that Adrian Lane hacked to bits, reordered, sutured together, and reanimated as “Playing With Ghosts.”  The result is a grainy musical creature accompanied by Lane’s own ethereal piano, which was built around the same time the cylinders were originally produced. The deterioration of the recordings leave a haunting, nostalgic impression. – Rachele Hales

 


Michael Daugherty: Dead Elvis (CCn’C Records)
Martin Kuuskmann, bassoon; Absolute Ensemble

Have you ever wondered why people are obsessed with celebrities?  How some folks can see faces in toast?  Then you must be mystified by the phenomenon of Elvis Presley’s inimitable immortality.

Program notes from the premiere of Michael Daugherty’s Dead Elvis say that “It is more than a coincidence that it is scored for the same instrumentation as Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat (1918), in which a soldier sells his violin and his soul to the devil for a magic book. In Dead Elvis, the bassoon is Elvis (or perhaps an Elvis impersonator). Does this rock star sell out his Southern folk authenticity to the sophisticated professionalism of Hollywood movies, Colonel Parker, and Las Vegas in order to attain great wealth and fame?”

Daugherty’s over-the-top tribute to Elvis juxtaposed with Dies Irae (a religious chant which symbolizes Judgment Day) incites questions about the obsessiveness over celebrity and the immortality of image. – Micaela Pearson


Julia Wolfe: Cruel Sister (Cantaloupe Music)
Ensemble Resonanz

Cruel Sister by Julia Wolfe is a musical rendering of an eponymous Old English ballad. The ballad tells the tale of two sisters—one magnificently bright as the sun, the other cold and dark. One day a man comes courting and the dark sister becomes infatuated with him. Jealous and covetous, she pushes her bright sister into the sea. Two minstrels find the dead sister washed up on the shore and shape her breastbone into a macabre harp, strung with her yellow hair. They come to play at the cold dark sister’s wedding.

As the sound of the harp reaches the bride’s ears, the ballad concludes, “and surely now her tears will flow.” Wolfe’s piece follows the dramatic arc of the ballad—the music reflecting an argument that builds, a body floating on the sea, and of course, the mad harp. – Brendan Howe


Robert Honstein: Night Scenes from the Ospedale (Soundspells Productions)
The Sebastians

This work by Robert Honstein may not have been intended to be creepy, but whatever the goal, the result is unmistakable. From the slow scraping and scratching of strings at the very beginning to the long, stretched out melodies and despondent harpsichord, this piece has major spook factor. It’s also just a great piece of music; I love the way tension is slowly increased throughout each interlude, guiding the ear to always expect ever-higher sounds and some new string effect.

Night Scenes from the Ospedale depicts the nighttime stillness of the famous girls’ orphanage in Venice with the orchestra that performed many of Vivaldi’s works. It seems to capture the dusky darkness of that place long after the last note of rehearsal has fallen silent. It’s also great in its original presentation on the album, with works by Vivaldi interspersed between the interludes. – Geoffrey Larson

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, October 6 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Michael Gordon: Timber (Cantaloupe Music)
Remixed by Ikue Mori

Michael Gordon could make music out of just about anything. His piece Timber, composed for six percussionists playing 2×4 planks of wood, is not just good—it’s so good  it spurred an entire album of remixes by 12 different electronic artists.

This particular remix by Ikue Mori slows down the texture and explores the space between the notes, with the music slowly oscillating up and down, side to side, from one headphone to the other and back again. With an echoing, almost ritualistic pulse, Mori’s version feels ghostlier than the original. It’s almost as though the wooden planks were cut from haunted trees—evoking a spookier interpretation of the title Timber. – Maggie Molloy

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


Julia Wolfe: Lick (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

This is an intense piece in many ways. It’s rhythmically difficult, aggressively pounding, and relentless throughout; it features no sound softer than a determined forte until possibly the very end. Generally I would abhor something like this, but the Bang on a Can All-Stars are able to give it a truly fascinating showcase: raucous and full of indomitable character.

It’s the first piece that Julia Wolfe wrote for the ensemble, hoping they would “go over the top” with the work’s “intense energy” born of the body-slamming rhythms of Motown, funk, and rock music of Julia’s childhood. I think it worked. – Geoffrey Larson

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


Florence Price: Dances in the Canebrakes (MSR Classics)
William Chapman Nyaho, piano

William Chapman Nyaho: Asa is the second of five volumes curated by Ghanaian-American composer and pianist William Chapman Nyaho. All five volumes feature a fascinating and impressive collection of music of Africa and the African diaspora.  This second volume is focused on dance music, and Nyaho certainly shines as he dances his hands across the keys of his piano with striking expertise.

In Florence Price’s Dances in the Canebrakes, Nyaho treats the listener to three movements that feel like a courtly cakewalk.  Price, I should note, was the first black woman in the US to be recognized as a symphonic composer and to have her work performed by a major American orchestra. Price was a pioneer and is perfectly at home in this anthology of musical unity. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.


Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal: “N’kapalema” (No Format Records)

I’m currently going through a months-long phase of discovering West African music, which started with Peter Gabriel’s collaborations with Youssou N’Dour and then led me through to Toumani Diabaté and Rokia Traoré. (Give them a listen!)

It looks like Ballaké Sissoko will carry the torch next. In “N’kapalema,” a collaboration with cellist Vincent Ségal for Sissoko’s album Musique de nuit, the composer plucks precise, intricate melodies on the kora while Ségal overlays the cello’s husky voice. For me, it evoked an image of a lot of families in their homes at dusk, all saying prayers before a candlelit dinner. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece. Plus, catch the duo in Seattle when they perform as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival on Oct. 22.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

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

William Brittelle: Hieroglyphics Baby (New Amsterdam)

If you’re looking for some Friday night grooves, William Brittelle’s got the tune for you. “Hieroglyphics Baby” is a colorful art-pop-meets-classical mashup from his full-length, lip-synched (when live) concept album Mohair Time Warp. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics spiral through Technicolor melodies in this art music adventure that splashes through at least six musical genres in the span of three minutes. See if you can keep up. – Maggie Molloy

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


Harry Partch: “The Wind” (Second Inversion Live Recording)
Charles Corey, Harmonic Canon II and Melia Watras, bass marimba 

Having the Harry Partch instrument collection in Seattle is a benefit that cannot be overstated.  I’ve attended many of their concerts at this point, and after every single one, I walk away feeling that my ears have been stretched in a pleasant and healthful manner.  I could call the experience “musical yoga” or “aural vegetables,” but no matter how I describe it, it seems clear to me that listening to Partch, in any form, is one of the best things one can do for their listening skills. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece, and watch our live video below!


Terry Riley: Fandango on the Heaven Ladder
Gloria Cheng, piano 
(Telarc Records) 

Terry Riley says of his Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, “It is no secret that I am wild about the music of Spain and Latin America, and since I heard my first fandango I’ve been wanting to write one. In Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, I am attempting to alternate and somewhat fuse the controlled sensuality of the romantic fandango with a somewhat melancholic chorale.”

The piece weaves in and out of fandango and melancholy, giving the impression of moving from solitude into a dreamlike soirée, only to slip back inward while stepping outside into a glassy night and hearing the sounds of the party flow out through the windows and doors. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.


Bruce Adolphe: Night Journey (Albany)
Musical Arts Woodwind Quintet

Any composer who sets out to write a really good wind quintet contends with inherent challenges of the instrumentation, chief among them the balance of sound between the high, light sound of the flute and the potentially low and overwhelming sound of the French horn. But they also have a beautiful, diverse palette of colors and textures open to them, and it seems to me that this 1986 work for winds makes use of these with aplomb. It’s a very enjoyable piece that moves in three main sections through bubbly counterpoint and quiet shades of repose.

Though the played-out “train chugging along through the night” concept seems to pop up incessantly in contemporary music for wind ensembles, I’m happy to give Adolphe a pass here since the piece was initially conceived with no specific inspiration in mind. The flickering colors and shifting mosaic of rhythm that characterize the music that opens and closes the piece seem to evoke a darkened nighttime landscape passing outside the window of a train, and thus the composer chose Night Journey for the title.
– Geoffrey Larson

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

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, September 1 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Philip Glass: Mad Rush (Sony Classical)
Philip Glass, piano

Half hypnotic, half neurotic, Philip Glass’s Mad Rush for solo piano is a minimalist masterpiece. He first premiered the piece in 1979 for the Dalai Lama’s first public address in North America—because his actual arrival time was so vague, they needed music that could be stretched for an indefinite period of time. Thus was born one of the most iconic piano pieces of the late 20th century.

Performed here by the composer himself, the densely layered arpeggios circle and surround you, lifting you into a trance that almost seems to suspend time itself.  Maggie Molloy

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


David Lang: cage (in memory of john cage) (Warner Classics)
Conrad Tao, piano

It’s been becoming increasingly clear to me lately that John Cage’s music can be an extremely powerful gateway into a different universe of listening.  So, pieces like this one make more sense to me now than they used to.  This piece, like Cage’s music, is an inducement to listen with open ears – a reminder to hear music for what it is. – Seth Tompkins

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

 


George Shearing: “Sigh No More Ladies, Sigh No More” (Grouse Records)
Vancouver Chamber Choir; Jon Washburn, conductor

Don Pedro: By my troth, a good song.
Balthasar: And an ill singer, my lord.

No ill singers here!  This fun, jazzy version of “Sigh No More Ladies, Sigh No More” from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is sung gloriously by the Vancouver Chamber Choir.  The lyrics are…  less glorious.  In the play, Balthasar croons that women should accept men for their cheating and bad behavior rather than hassling them about it.  He sings:

“Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never
Then sigh not so, but let them go
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny nonny.”

Is it wrong that lyrics so backwards are so much fun to sing?
– Rachele Hales

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

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, August 4 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

John Cage: Piano Sonata XI from the Sonatas and Interludes (Centaur Records)
Susan Svrcek, piano

John Cage threw a wrench in the Western music tradition when he invented the prepared piano in 1940. Presented with the challenge of writing dance music for a small stage, he created his own percussion orchestra inside a piano by placing screws, bolts, and pieces of rubber between the strings.

The Sonatas and Interludes was his magnum opus for the iconoclastic instrument. Pianist Susan Svrcek lends her fingers to the Cage classic in this stunning recording, pulling the percussive melodies out of a mess of strings and hardware supplies with sincerity, warmth, and an ever so delicate touch. – Maggie Molloy

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


John Adams: Phrygian Gates (RCA Records)
Hermann Kretzschmar, piano

Sometimes, instead of a complicated meal full of newly-invented ingredients and prepared with exotic techniques, it is preferable to have a simple salad composed of greens, oil, and salt. John Adams’s Phrygian Gates is the musical equivalent of this, in my opinion. This piece confirms that a construction built from the simplest ingredients can unfold into a supremely delicious and satisfying experience. – Seth Tompkins

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


So Percussion and Matmos: “Flame” from Treasure State (Cantaloupe Music)

Electronic music and modern composition collide in Treasure State, the collaborative album from Matmos and So Percussion.  In “Flame,” a melancholy guitar and phonoharp are joined and propelled by ripples of vibraphone, glockenspiel, and stomping as the song transitions from alluring to pure cacophony.

Matmos is notorious for bizarre sampling, having previously used sounds of “the amplified neural activity of crayfish,” lasers, and even surgical procedure noises to produce gorgeous experimental techno. Treasure State is a showcase for both Matmos and So Percussion, as well as an interesting study in unusual musical resources—and “Flame” will thank your ears for “sampling” the album with its stylized cascading groove. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Leisner: Dances in the Madhouse (Centaur Records)
Clayton Haslop, violin; Jack Sanders, guitar

An early 20th century lithograph, entitled “Dance in a Madhouse,” depicts a scene in an insane asylum that inspired composer David Leisner to write four dances for the highlighted patients. The first movement, “Tango Solitaire,” is for the stylish woman dancing solo in the center of the frame. “Waltz for the Old Folks” corresponds with the happy couple in front of her, who seem completely comfortable with their insanity. Third, “Ballad for the Lonely” represents the despairing women on the sidelines, and “Samba!” is for the couple on the left, dancing with wild, dizzying energy.

The recognizable dance rhythms move through lenses of distortion as they may be perceived by individual patients in the scene. The melodies and cadences are largely harmonious and accessible, conveying a sense of joy in spite of circumstance, with “Ballad for the Lonely” evoking a swell of sympathy for those unable to take part in the celebratory moment. Jack Sanders’ guitar and Clayton Haslop’s violin respond seamlessly to one another, delivering a remarkably rich and unique listening experience. – Brendan Howe

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