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.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, July 14 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

To say sound-sculptor Trimpin likes to think big would be an understatement—installations like a six-story-high xylophone, a tower of approximately 500 guitars (housed at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture), and an 80-foot installation that responds musically to the motions of passersby are just a few of his musical inventions.

In 2015 he was the composer in residence at the Seattle Symphony, during which time he created a site-specific installation and original composition for the Benaroya Hall lobby that was given its world premiere by the Symphony with Ludovic Morlot. Above, Below, and In Between was the name of his creation—and its centerpiece was a piano that can be conducted and played without being touched.

The resulting piece is a surround-sound fantasia of motion-controlled robotic piano, electronically activated chimes and horns, live orchestra musicians, and wandering soprano—a colorful kaleidoscope of sound and invention. – Maggie Molloy

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


Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants: The Fifteenth Collection (Pinna Records)
Sarah Cahill, piano

Mamoru Fujieda’s Patterns of Plants series is born of a fascinating, elegant creation process: an exquisite combination of nature and technology. The composer worked with the “Plantron,” a device created by botanist and artist Yuuji Dogane that measures electrical fluctuations on the surfaces of leaves of plants, and converted the resulting data into sound using computer programming. Through a process he has likened to searching “in a deep forest” for “beautiful flowers and rare butterflies,” Fujieda listened for musical patterns, and used them as the basis for composing short pieces, which he then grouped into collections reminiscent of Baroque dance suites.

The result is music that has a beautiful symmetry to it, is uniquely expressive in its own way, and is ultimately peaceful to the utmost. Other collections feature a variety of different instrumental combinations, but this Fifteenth Collection is performed on solo piano. It’s given highly sensitive consideration by pianist Sarah Cahill.
 Geoffrey Larson

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


Quentin Sirjacq: “Far Islands” (Schole Records)

“Far Islands” is the perfect song for stress relief.  Quentin Sirjacq’s enchanting minimalism gives one room to breathe and contemplate the spaces in between the sparse piano plucks and fuzzy synthesizer.  Sirjacq once stated that his music “is neither nostalgic nor romantic, but ‘reminiscent’”—this is a perfect description.  His delicate composition here is reminiscent, to use his word, of peacefully floating in a warm lake; it loosens the tension in your muscles and readies your mind for leisure.  Listening with a glass of wine in hand would be perfection. – Rachele Hales

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


Philip Glass: “Floe” from Glassworks (Sony Classical)
Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble

As the second movement in Glass’ famed six-part chamber work, Glassworks, “Floe” holds a place of esteem in its own right, featured in the 1989 Italian horror film, The ChurchThroughout the movement, Glass layers contrasting timbres in the signature fashion that boosted the entire Glassworks album into popularity with a large audience, giving him widespread name recognition.

This recording by Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble creates a beautiful, mystical trance from the outset and maintains a sense of timelessness throughout. Scored for two flutes, two soprano saxophones, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, two horns, viola, cello, and synthesizer, Glass taps into this particular group of instruments’ blending abilities in such a way that the combined parts create an entirely new and greater texture for the whole. – Brendan Howe

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, June 30 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Florent Ghys: “An Open Cage” (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

If you don’t have five hours to listen to John Cage’s sprawling, narrated sound art piece Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), Florent Ghys’s “An Open Cage” offers a compelling (and surprisingly catchy) four-minute summary. In Ghys’s version, a solo pizzicato bass line dances within the rhythms of Cage’s calm and serene narration, painting his deadpan delivery with a funky groove and a distinctly contemporary color. The unconventional duet expands as the piece grows in musical force, gradually adding more and more instruments until finally a small chorus of voices appears, echoing Cage’s words:

“The avant-garde is flexibility of mind and it follows like day the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without avant-garde, nothing would get invented.”

 – Maggie Molloy

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


Anthony Barfield: Soliloquy (Albany Records)
Joseph Alessi, trombone; Stentorian Consort Quartet

Here at Second Inversion, I hear new music every single day. But sometimes, no matter how far you’ve traveled, you need to go home. So…I picked trombone music this week.  Anthony Barfield’s Soliloquy is a delightful and thoughtful piece. There is a lightness here that belies the seriousness of this piece’s genesis. Beyond the composition, the quality of the performance on this recording is exceptional. In case you’re wondering what good trombone playing sound like, this is it. – Seth Tompkins

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


Augusta Read Thomas: “Incantation” (MSR Classics)
Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, viola

In 1995, Augusta Read Thomas wrote three iterations of “Incantation” for solo strings—violin, viola, and cello—as a tribute to her friend Cathryn Tait. Tait, battling cancer at the time, premiered the piece a few weeks before her death—a piece which celebrates her generosity of spirit with grace, richness, and elegance.

Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio’s solo viola performance of “Incantation” speaks with a distinctly eloquent, present, and meditative atmosphere. She moves through the short, five-minute work’s loose ABA form and concludes on a major seventh, unresolved, as though ending with a question. – Brendan Howe

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


Bright Sheng: Silent Temple II (Telarc Records)
Ying Quartet

I’ve always been a big fan of the pizzicato obbligato movement, which, in limiting all performing instruments to one motion (the plucking of strings), immediately achieves a unique character. Bright Sheng creates mystery with his pizzicato in Silent Temple II, evoking droplets of water, the creaking and cracking of old wood planks, or the rustling and knocking of bamboo. Or is it the plucked Chinese zither instrument, the guzheng, that we hear? In any case, he succeeds at evoking the stunning environment of his inspiration for the work, an abandoned Buddhist temple he visited in the 1970s in northwest China. Left empty and unattended at the height of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and falling into disrepair, it retained its quiet grandeur. In the case of the pizzicato here, only the smallest gestures of the quartet are necessary to paint a vivid picture. 
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm 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, June 16 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Daníel Bjarnason: “all sounds to silence come” (Bedroom Community)

There is so much good music coming out of Iceland that sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep up with all of it. Icelandic composer and conductor Daníel Bjarnason is a staple on my personal playlist—his gorgeously textured, celestial soundscapes blur the line between classical and electronic musical idioms, drawing freely from the intellectual rigor of the classical tradition while living in the spontaneity and experimentalism of new music.

Scored for chamber orchestra and conducted by Bjarnason, “all sounds to silence come” is a two-movement bonus track released on his debut album Processions. The piece makes use of the orchestra’s entire timbral palette, drifting from a dramatic and densely textured first movement to a soft and ethereal second that hovers just above silence. The result is an immersive sound world that shimmers with color and sparkles with orchestral detail. – Maggie Molloy

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


Alyssa Morris: Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano (MSR Classics)
Michele Fiala, oboe; William Averill, piano

Have you ever wondered what the four personalities of Hartman’s Personality Profile would sound like as duets for oboe and piano?

Before reading this most people probably hadn’t wondered, but now it’s an intriguing proposition! American composer Alyssa Morris brings us Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano. She based the four-movement work on the four general categories associated with the Hartman test, which aims to assess the underlying elements that motivate individuals, then assigns them a color: Yellow is motivated by fun, White by peace, Blue by intimacy, and Red by power.

Each movement is entertaining, energetic, and expertly executed by oboist Michele Fiala and pianist William Averill. They capture not just the basic comic book hue of each color, but rather the full kaleidoscopic palette within each personality and clearly have a great time doing it. – Brendan Howe

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


Ben Lukas Boysen: Golden Times 2 (Erased Tapes Records)

It occurs to me that this track could be heard as mournful or melancholy, but I have an alternative interpretation.  Despite the Donnie Darko aesthetic, Golden Times 2 seems to be a relaxed and optimistic meditation.  I especially love the extra-low bass that creeps around for most of the track and the swingy cymbal groove that completely transforms the vibe upon entry.  Grab a cold beverage and a seat in the sunshine and enjoy!
– 
Seth Tompkins

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


Robert Beaser: Pag-Rag (Albany Records)
Christopher Janwong McKiggan, piano

Pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan was the 2009 collegiate gold medalist from the Seattle International Piano Competition. As he moves forward in his career, he is charting a path of new music, commissioning seven composers in 2012 to compose works for piano inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Beaser’s Pag-Rag is both undeniably fun and a deliciously mean technical challenge for the pianist. A far cry from most listeners’ straightforward idea of a rag, this piece is full of lightning-fast changes of character and texture, giving it unexpected depth and variety. It’s a wonderful showcase of McKiggan’s playing. – 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, May 26 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

David Lang: the national anthems III. fame and glory (Cantaloupe Music)
Calder Quartet and Los Angeles Master Chorale

A survey of national anthems from nations all over the world confronted composer David Lang with a startling reality: the texts of these songs are generally quite violent. It seems that in the course of expressing national pride through song, we tend to reflect on the bloody struggle of war that gave us the freedoms we now enjoy.

Lang put together a sort of “meta-anthem” text from the anthems of a few nations, and observed that “hiding in every national anthem is the recognition that we are insecure about our freedoms, that freedom is fragile, and delicate, and easy to lose.” His music for string quartet and chorus, titled the national anthems in purposeful lower-case, exudes this unsettled feeling of insecurity.

“Fame and glory” has a lot of counterpoint and imitation, seemingly creating a dialogue within the chorus that is mindful of the past and its relationship with the present. It’s not overtly political music, but it is incredibly sensitive, contemplative, and hopeful. Lang has successfully achieved a sort of extra-mindfulness in his setting of this pieced-together text, a fascinating reflection on and transformation of the one-sided militarism of national anthems. – Geoffrey Larson

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


Toru Takemitsu: Toward the Sea
Michael Partington, guitar and Paul Taub, alto flute

Celebrated Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu breathes a meditative second life into the tale of Moby Dick with his three-section work, Toward the Sea. In the final section, entitled “Cape Cod,” Michael Partington’s guitar gently chops and forms the New England seascape while Paul Taub’s airy alto flute responds as Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod.

It is a beautifully haunting meditation paired with images of Cape Cod inspired by Melville’s novel. With these pieces, Takemitsu emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the book, quoting the passage, “meditation and water are wedded together.” He also said that “the music is an homage to the sea which creates all things, and a sketch for the sea of tonality.”

The composer wrote no bar lines and took a Cagian, aleatory approach to the work, in which performers are given more interpretive license. The flute’s primary melodic line derives from the spelling of “sea” in German musical notation – E♭-E-A – a motif which later became a favorite of Takemitsu’s. – Brendan Howe

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


Carolina Eyck: “Metsa Happa (Jumping River)” (Butterscotch Records)
Carolina Eyck and ACME

If you thought the theremin was only for corny sci-fi film soundtracks and intergalactic sound effects, think again. Carolina Eyck, one of the world’s foremost theremin virtuosi, has spent the past decade exploring and expanding the musical possibilities of this eerie electronic instrument.

Her album Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet, recorded with members of ACME, takes the instrument out of the galaxies and into the woods of Northern Germany, with each piece inspired by her childhood memories of growing up there.

In keeping with the whimsical, free-spirited explorations of childhood, Eyck composed her Fantasias in full takes with zero editing. In “Metsa Happa (Jumping River),” theremin melodies playfully hop in and out of a rolling river of strings, soaring high above the waves and diving deep beneath their iridescent surface. – Maggie Molloy

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


Stevie Wonder: “Superstition” (arr. Kathy Halvorson)
Threeds Oboe Trio

Turns out you can replace a synthesizer and a clavinet with a few reed instruments and you still have a song that’s funky as hell. Threeds Oboe Trio’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition” shows off impressive technical ability and a rebellious sense of humor. “Superstition” has a driving bassline provided by clarinet and, since it swings just as hard as the original, it will have you smiling and grooving and bebopping before the oboes even kick in. – Rachele Hales

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