Expanding the Piano: Saturday, June 27 | 10pm

by Maggie Molloy

John Cage’s prepared piano is among the featured music in this week’s episode.

It’s an instrument that’s been around for over 300 years—and composers are still discovering new ways to play it.

Throughout history, the piano has captured the imaginations of composers ranging from Beethoven to Chopin, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff. On this week’s episode of Second Inversion, we’ll take a look at how composers today are expanding the piano keyboard.

Tune in to hear modern and creative approaches to this familiar instrument, including music from composers who play inside the piano, a performer who can play three pianos at once, and a man who threw a wrench in the classical piano tradition.

To listen, tune in to KING FM on Saturday, June 27 at 10pm PT.

This is an encore episode which first aired in April.

ALBUM REVIEW: yMusic’s ‘Ecstatic Science’

by Peter Tracy

yMusic’s Ecstatic Science is out now. Photo by Graham Tolbert.

Think about the last time you were in an airplane: the stale, recirculated air, the mediocre food, the seemingly endless wait until you finally arrive at your destination. For those whose day jobs find them crisscrossing the country and the world, it can be easy to take for granted the incredible processes that make a high speed trip through the clouds possible.

For yMusic, though, the thrill of flight hasn’t lost its sheen. In fact, the close-quarters excitement of being on tour and flying together provided the inspiration for the ensemble’s latest record Ecstatic Science. With commissions and collaborations from young and in-demand composers like Caroline Shaw, Missy Mazzoli, Paul Wiancko, and Gabriella Smith, Ecstatic Science sees yMusic and their collaborators getting energized about the fast-paced, almost magical side of modern science.

The theme of flying, which is one of yMusic’s favorite activities, influenced the whole album, including the airplane-themed cover art designed by yMusic’s own flutist, Alex Sopp. For Sopp, “being a person and seeing the tops of clouds is ecstatic science,” and it’s easy to see this sense of wonder and movement at work in the music.

The album begins with a piece titled Tessellations by the San Francisco-based composer Gabriella Smith, kicking things off right away with a grooving drum pattern tapped out on the body of the cello. The rest of the ensemble, including flute, clarinet, trumpet, viola, and violin, join in gradually with exclamations and driving rhythms, and the track even features some lyricless singing by one of the instrumentalists before swirling back around to the percussive rhythms where it began.

Next up is the title track by Missy Mazzoli, a fluttering dance of string chords and woodwind shimmers. Arpeggiated figures and pizzicato gestures in the strings stop and start, the trumpet finds its place here and there, soaring above the texture or providing punctuation marks, and instruments weave in and out with little solo statements of the piece’s twirling main motif. 

Following up this flowing exploration of yMusic’s instrumental palette is Caroline Shaw’s Draft of a High-Rise. The first movement, “Inked Frame,” sketches out a scene full of strings that pluck, stop, and start again, woodwinds that cycle and build upwards, and the occasional percussive strike of the bow, like a building being nailed into place. A driving, steadily building finish segues into the second movement, “A Scribbled Veneer,” with a more tense feeling featuring snapped plucks from the strings, chaotic arpeggios, and swirling runs that continually rise and fall. The movement finally builds into a faster groove, growing more agitated as instruments come in to comment in little scribbles of their own before losing steam for a more tranquil fade out into the final movement, “Their Stenciled Breath.”

True to its name, the final movement begins with a calm, plaintive, and breathy clarinet melody, which is joined and imitated by the rest of the ensemble for a texture like the fog over an early morning skyline. Plucky string figures enter, bringing with them enough momentum for a fast-paced, rollicking finish as the city seems to wake up to meet the day. 

Thousandths, by cellist and composer Paul Wiancko continues the album with an almost folky cello motif, string tremolos, and an off-kilter, jazzy feel. Warped slides, tremolos, and fast, flighty gestures litter the piece, and the trumpet shines in miniature fanfares above shifting, wobbly harmonies.

On the last track titled Maré, we return to the world of Gabriella Smith, where a static field of fluttering, scratchy harmonics and soft harmonies builds up into a warped groove. Aggressive, relentless string rhythms fade in and out amid syncopated gestures, like ambulance sirens sliding in pitch as they speed into the distance. Gradually the music becomes more frantic and off-balance, emerging into a fast-paced drive to the finish featuring steady string arpeggios and whistling winds and brass for a sound like a train speeding to a halt.

Whether flying through at a break-neck pace or soaring serenely over a bed of chords, the musicians of yMusic seem to be in sync with the energy of their collaborator’s musical styles, so much so that Ecstatic Science makes for an incredibly fun and cohesive listen. The many upbeat and driving pieces on the album show that all that time spent flying and touring together has cultivated not only a tight and precise ensemble, but an inspired one. For these six musicians, nothing inspires the magic of music quite like speeding through the air, high above the clouds. 

From Max Richter to Roomful of Teeth: Early Access to New Music at STG

by Maggie Molloy

From the pulsing minimalism of Max Richter to the visceral bite of Roomful of Teeth, the theatricality of modern music comes alive onstage during Seattle Theatre Group’s 2019-2020 season. We’re thrilled to partner with STG to offer Second Inversion listeners early access and a 15% discount on tickets to three of our favorite STG shows this season.

Click here to grab your tickets before they go on sale to the general public, and use the code SECONDINVERSION at checkout for 15% off and reduced service fees.

Bryce Dessner’s Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)
ft. Roomful of Teeth and photography of Robert Mapplethorpe

Wednesday, Oct. 9, 8pm | The Moore Theatre

Thirty years after Robert Mapplethorpe’s death, his controversial photographs remain radical and subversive. Working in New York City in the 70s and 80s, his portraiture was provocative in its classical, even statuesque portrayals of nudity, eroticism, queer identity, and BDSM. In this multimedia tribute featuring music by Bryce Dessner, poetry by Essex Hemphill and Patti Smith, and performances by the inimitable Roomful of Teeth, Mapplethorpe’s visceral images are displayed in unprecedented drama and scale.

Max Richter ft. ACME and Grace Davidson
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 7:30pm | The Moore Theatre

Max Richter is one of those very few classical composers whose fan base is comprised largely of non-classical concertgoers. Equal parts composer, performer, and producer, his music combines the sensitivity and nuance of classical music with the shimmering serenity of ambient and electronic. Hovering above a collection of keyboards and synthesizers, he builds electroacoustic sound worlds that are as introspective as they are immersive. For this concert, he performs them with soprano Grace Davidson and musicians of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Kronos Quartet: A Thousand Thoughts
Live Documentary by Sam Green and Joe Bini

Thursday, April 23, 7:30pm | The Moore Theatre

Over the past five decades the Kronos Quartet has explored just about every corner of contemporary music—from minimalism to microtonality, film scores to folk songs, and musical traditions from around the globe. They’ve also played a major role in championing new music, commissioning over 1,000 new works and arrangements to date. Their new live documentary A Thousand Thoughts, created by filmmaker Sam Green and writer Joe Bini, tells the story of the quartet’s groundbreaking career, featuring archival footage and interviews with collaborators like Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Laurie Anderson—all while the Kronos Quartet performs the live score.

NW Focus LIVE: Inside Second Inversion’s Music Library

Sean MacLean, Host of NW Focus LIVE.

Step inside our Second Inversion music library with this special episode of Classical KING FM’s NW Focus LIVE—now available for on-demand listening!

Maggie Molloy, Second Inversion Editor.

Second Inversion Editor Maggie Molloy joins KING FM’s Sean MacLean on his weekly show to share a handful of live and local musical performances recorded right here in Seattle.

So, what’s on the playlist? We don’t want to give too much away, but suffice to say it features music from Seattle’s favorite brass quartet, a vocal ensemble with some serious bite, an ocean of percussion, and a whole lot more—including a brand new, unreleased recording captured in our studios just last month.

Plus: Maggie talks with Sean about the thrill of discovering new sounds, the surprising intersections of old and new music, and what makes Seattle’s new music scene so vibrant. Listen to the episode on-demand below!

This special Second Inversion episode of NW Focus LIVE originally aired on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 at 8pm PT on Classical KING FM 98.1.

For a detailed playlist, please click here.

Phil Kline’s ‘Unsilent Night’ Rings Twice this Season in Puget Sound

by Maggie Molloy

Whether you’re the world’s biggest Santa-fan, a grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, or even just an avant-garde enthusiast looking to expand your holiday music horizons, Phil Kline’s got just the carol for you—and you’ve got two chances to experience it this year in the Puget Sound region.

Kline’s Unsilent Night is a contemporary twist on holiday caroling that is celebrated annually around the globe. But don’t worry, there’s no singing involved. In true 21st century fashion, all you have to do is download an app.

This nontraditional holiday carol is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December. Audience members each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal Unsilent Night.

Countless participants meet up with boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers and each hit “play” at the same time. Then they walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture that is unlike any Christmas carol you have ever heard.

Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night takes place in Seattle this Friday, Dec. 14 starting at 6pm at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall. Click here for more information.

The Tacoma rendition is Friday, Dec. 21 starting at 6:30pm at Mason United Methodist Church. Click here for more information.