The Artist and the Antihero: David Lang’s New Symphony Premieres in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

The notion of the artist as the hero is one of the central tenets of the Romantic era, with composers from Beethoven to Berlioz crafting symphonies of enormous scope and heroic splendor. Composer David Lang turns that notion on its head in his symphony without a hero, which receives its world premiere this week at the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The program juxtaposes Lang’s new work against the epitome of the heroic symphony archetype: Richard Strauss’s epic tone poem, A Hero’s Life.

The titles are nearly exact opposites. As it turns out, so is the music. Second Inversion’s Maggie Molloy talks with Lang about his new symphony and the relationship between artist and hero in the 21st century.

Audio edited by Dacia Clay.

Music in this interview:

David Lang: child: “short fall” (Cantaloupe Music)
Sentieri Selvaggi; Carlo Boccadoro, conductor

David Lang:
the little matchgirl passion: “from the sixth hour” (Cantaloupe Music)
Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor

Richard Strauss: A Hero’s Life: The Hero’s Battlefield (CSO Resound)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, conductor


Seattle Symphony performs David Lang’s symphony without a hero Feb. 8 and 10 at Benaroya Hall. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival in Seattle and Beyond

by Maggie Molloy

The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival is lighting up stages around Seattle this month with performances by the likes of Ashley Bathgate, Sandbox Percussion, The City of Tomorrow, and more.

Founded this year by composer Scott Anthony Shell, the festival begins in Seattle with a string of performances spanning from January 19 through February 1, with festival artists also touring through Portland and Eugene, Oregon, and cellist Ashley Bathgate continuing on down the California coast.

“I want this festival to be a performer-centric model rather than composer-centric, in that the performers can program their own repertoire and showcase music they are most comfortable performing,” Shell said. “I also wanted a wide range of genres to be represented within the field of contemporary classical music.”

The festival lineup features Delgani String Quartet, Orlando Cela, Hub New Music, Iktus Duo, Sandbox Percussion, the City of Tomorrow, and Ashley Bathgate. Many of the featured artists are prominent players from New York and the broader East Coast new music scene, and musically they span the gamut from contemporary classical to experimental and avant-garde.

“There are plenty of East Coast transplants and open-minded people on the West Coast so I think there is a receptive audience for new music, even by those unfamiliar with it,” Shell said.

This year’s event features composers ranging from 20th century greats like Lou Harrison, György Ligeti, and Alan Hovhaness to some of the 21st century’s top composers like Andy Akiho, Laura Kaminsky, Steve Reich, and Andrew Norman. And this year is only just the beginning.

“I want the festival to contribute towards the awareness and appreciation of this amazing art form through live performances of these incredible musicians,” Shell said. “I hope it can be an annual event where I would be able to also incorporate other educational tools with a focus on community outreach and community building.”

Let’s meet this year’s performers:

*Please note, dates listed below are for Seattle performances. Click here to explore dates for other cities on the festival tour.

Delgani String Quartet
Friday, Jan. 19, 8pm | Good Shepherd Chapel
This Northwest quartet performs a new work by Benjamin Krause inspired by the Oregon Cascade Range, from the ghostly lava fields to the glorious trees, craters, and crevices. Works by Alan Hovhaness and György Ligeti round out the program.


Orlando Cela
Sunday, Jan. 21, 3pm | Youngstown Cultural Arts Center
Orlando Cela is a Boston-based, Venezuelan-born flutist specializing in contemporary and experimental flute repertoire. For this performance, he explores every timbre and extended technique of the instrument through a virtuosic program featuring music by Roger Briggs, Bryan Ferneyhough, Jean-Patrick Besingrand, Mac Waters, and Robert Dickplus, one of his own original improvisations using Indian Classical music form.


Hub New Music
Monday, Jan. 22, 7:30pm | 18th & Union
With a unique instrumentation of flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, this Boston-based ensemble makes its Seattle debut at Spontaneous Combustion. Their program features a world premiere performance of Robert Honstein’s Soul Horse
, along with Laura Kaminsky’s The Full Range of Blue, a visceral work written in response to the aftermath of 9/11. The program finishes with David Drexler’s Forgotten At Dawn, a winner of the Spontaneous Combustion International Call for Scores.


Iktus Duo
Thursday, Jan. 25, 8pm | Good Shepherd Chapel
Flutist Hristina Blagoeva and percussionist Chris Graham team up for a dynamic program exploring an eclectic mix of styles within the contemporary classical genre, from the Eastern-inspired works of Lou Harrison to the wide-ranging musical musings of Joseph Pereira, Adam Vidiksis, James Romig, and Washington-based composer Bruce Hamilton.


Sandbox Percussion
Saturday, Jan. 27, 7pm | Music Center of the Northwest
A leading proponent of contemporary percussion music, Sandbox Percussion performs pivotal 20th century works and experimental 21st century works alike. For this performance, they lend their mallets to music by Steve Reich, Andy Akiho, Victor Caccese, Jonny Allen, Elliot Cooper Cole, and Thomas Kotcheff.


The City of Tomorrow
Tuesday, Jan. 30, 7:30pm | The Royal Room
The City of Tomorrow is an avant-garde wind quintet that performs contemporary classical and experimental music rooted in environmentalism and humanism. This particular performance explores spatial relationships through music, featuring custom lighting design by Alex Deahl and a graphic score by Seattle-based composer John Teske that is based on topographical maps, which the quintet will use as a basis for improvisation and movement.


Ashley Bathgate
Thursday, Feb. 1, 8pm | Rainier Arts Center
Perhaps best known as the cellist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Ashley Bathgate is also an extraordinary soloist in her own right, constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional cello repertoire with her performances of contemporary, avant-garde, and experimental works. For this performance she plays works with and without electronics by Steve Reich, Andrew Norman, and many more. For a sneak preview of her playing, check out our in-studio video below of Bathgate performing Michael Gordon’s Light is Calling for cello and audio playback.


The Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival is in venues across Seattle January 19 through February 1. Click here for tickets and more information on other festival dates and locations down the West Coast.

Westerlies Go West: Tonight at the Royal Room!

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Sasha Arutyunova.

The Westerlies are back in the Northwest this week, coming home with new sounds and brand new music to premiere tonight at the Royal Room in Columbia City.

Far from your typical brass band, the Seattle-bred, New York-based quartet is known on both coasts for their bold artistry, impeccable finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility. Together, they’ve cultivated an expansive brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of composers as diverse and wide-ranging as Ives, Ellington, Bartók, Ligeti, and many more.

Comprised of Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone, the Westerlies grew up together playing music in Seattle under the mentorship of Wayne Horvitz—making their homecoming performance all the more special, as Horvitz is the co-founder and music programmer of the Royal Room.

The Westerlies performing with Wayne Horvitz at the Royal Room. Photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Tonight, you can expect to hear a little jazz, a little classical, some folk, roots, blues, and chamber influences—but no matter what the Westerlies play, the one element that remains constant across all of their music is the warmth, camaraderie, charisma, and humor of four longtime friends.

“Whatever ‘sound’ the Westerlies have stumbled upon is the result of four friends channeling these diverse interests through warm air, buzzing lips and conical brass tubes—with a lot of love and saliva in there too,” said Andy Clausen.

For a sneak preview, check out our in-studio videos of the guys performing works by Charles Ives, Andy Clausen, and Wayne Horvitz:


The Westerlies perform at the Royal Room Thursday, June 15 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

Community and Empathy at the 2017 Ojai Music Festival

by Alexander K. Rothe

This year’s Ojai Music Festival (June 8-11) in Ojai, California was the chance of a lifetime to experience how music can serve to imagine and also activate a world of greater tolerance and social justice. The theme of this year’s festival was community and empathy, and the innovative programming of Vijay Iyer provided a space in which to reflect on this theme in a variety of different contexts. Iyer didn’t tell the audience how to interpret the theme, but rather framed the question in such a way that it invited further discussion. Each concert approached the theme from a slightly different angle, but there was a common thread connecting each one: the featured artists and composers had either participated in or been influenced by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a collective of African-American musicians founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1965.

Vijay Iyer and Jennifer Koh following the spectacular world premiere of Iyer’s violin concerto.

A highlight of the festival’s first evening was the spectacular world premiere of Iyer’s violin concerto for Jennifer Koh. Koh, who was interviewed later during the festival, is a warm, intelligent person, and this was reflected in her performance of Iyer’s violin concerto. The concerto—a genre that traditionally involves a hierarchical relationship between the hero-soloist and the orchestra—was instead reconceived here as a dialogue between equals. The soloist was depicted as a vulnerable figure responding to the musical material of the orchestra. For example, at one point during the concerto, the violinist sustains a single pitch while the orchestra plays the melody. When Koh performed this section, she drew her bow close to the bridge, resulting in a brittle, fragile sound—like a voice on the verge of breaking.

The festival’s second day was especially rich in its musical offerings. The afternoon concert featured two artists who were both inspired by the AACM. Claire Chase gave a magnificent demonstration of her Density 2036 project, performing a series of compositions based on Edgard Varèse’s revolutionary 1936 musical work Density 21.5. Later during the panel discussion on the AACM, Chase mentioned that she couldn’t have conceived of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), which she founded in 2001, without the history of the AACM.

The audience cheers for Claire Chase, who performed selections from her Density 2036 project. Also pictured are composers Tyshawn Sorey, Pauchi Sasaki, and Vijay Iyer.

The Friday afternoon concert also featured a performance of Tyshawn Sorey’s brilliant composition The Inner Spectrum of Variables, which presents a fresh take on aleatoric procedures. The conductor performs a series of gestures instructing the ensemble which path to take in the score, a technique reminiscent of Boulez’s Eclat. Sorey refers to this technique as “conduction,” which is an elaborate system of conducted improvisation that he adopted from Butch Morris. Sorey, who also participated in the AACM panel, emphasized the organization’s influence on his personal and professional development. Having grown up in a poor neighborhood in which funding for the arts was not readily available, Sorey turned to the history of the AACM as a source of inspiration to guide him in his quest for self-determination. 

The Friday evening concert was the West Coast premiere of George Lewis’s Afterword, an opera about the history of the AACM. Compared to the 2015 world premiere in Chicago, the Ojai staging was more minimalist—there were no dancers and only a few props—and the gestures and movements of the three singers were much more transparent in meaning. This staging worked well because it highlighted the powerful message of the libretto—the transformative nature of creative music and the ultimate success of the AACM. The most impressive aspect of the performance was the superb singing and dramatic intensity of Gwendolyn Brown, Joelle Lamarre, and Julian Terrell Otis. The International Contemporary Ensemble did a wonderful job supporting the singers, and one had the sense that both were in dialogue with each other. In sum, the opera was a great success, and the audience was clearly moved.

The powerful West Coast premiere of George Lewis’s opera Afterword: pictured here, from left to right, are Gwendolyn Brown, Sean Griffin, George Lewis, Joelle Lamarre, Julian Terrell Otis, and Steven Schick.)

Another highlight of this year’s festival was the world premiere of the chamber version of Courtney Bryan’s Yet Unheard, to a text by Sharan Strange. The rich, nuanced voice of Helga Davis was juxtaposed with a chorus mourning the tragedy of Sandra Bland. Sharan Strange’s deeply moving text serves as a site of empathy, creating a community of listeners honoring the memory of Sandra Bland.  

In conclusion, this year’s festival accomplished its aim of creating a new kind of community through diverse and innovative programming. Pre-concert talks encouraged open dialogue between composers, performers, and audience members. After each concert, many of the performers and composers would come out and interact with the audience on the festival grounds. Moreover, the focus on the impact of the AACM—as a collective of musicians transcending genre boundaries—was especially effective for making connections between communities normally assumed to be separate. The juxtaposition of improvised and notated traditions—as well as examples that draw on both—broke down the hierarchy that often exists between the two. The programming of artists and composers fluent in multiple traditions further contributed to this tendency.   

On a personal note: this year’s festival was a profound experience that will always remain with me. I will strive to adhere to the tolerance and open-mindedness demonstrated by the festival programming. Finally, I eagerly await next year’s festival, which will be directed by the amazing violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya.

Courtney Bryan, Helga Davis, and Sharan Strange mourn the tragedy of Sandra Bland with Yet Unheard.


Alexander K. Rothe is a Core Lecturer at Columbia University, where he completed his Ph.D. in Historical Musicology in 2015. His research interests are opera staging, Regieoper, Wagner Studies, and new music. He is currently working on a book project on stagings of Wagner’s Ring cycle and afterlives of 1968 in divided Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. Dr. Rothe regularly blogs on musical topics on his website.

Women in (New) Music: NOCCO Concert Preview and Q&A with Angelique Poteat

by Maggie Molloy

With the Winter Solstice rapidly approaching, the days are shorter and the nights are colder. Daily temperatures hover just around freezing and the sun sets before most people even leave the office.

It’s been a trying year in more ways than one, and as winter winds blow us straight toward the end of 2016, it’s easy to feel that the world is dark and cold—both literally and figuratively.

noccoBut the North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) is combatting that coldness with music that is warm, radiant, and bursting with light. Their annual Winter Solstice Celebration this weekend offers a sonic respite from the cold and dreary December temperatures with performances Sunday at Magnolia United Church of Christ and Monday at the University Christian Church.

The celebration pairs classics by Stravinsky, Respighi, and Bach with a West Coast premiere of a new work by Seattle composer and clarinetist Angelique Poteat. Titled Floral Interactions, the piece is a garden of swirling melodies composed for eight wind players and two percussionists.

And since this is its very first Seattle performance, we asked Poteat to give us a sneak peek at what’s in store:

Second Inversion: How would you describe your compositional style? What are some of your major influences?

angelique-poteatAngelique Poteat: As a performer of a melodic, or linear instrument (clarinet), my music tends to be fairly melodic and very thematically oriented.  There is a great deal of layering of lines, which in turn influences my use of harmony.

I grew up listening to a plethora of musical styles, from country music and rock ‘n roll to church hymns and jazz.  A lot of this has found its way into my music, aside from classical influences like Bartók and Messiaen.  I feel that my music and style is constantly evolving.

 

SI:  What was the inspiration behind Floral Interactions? What does it sound like, and how did you choose this instrumentation?

AP: I wrote Floral Interactions in 2006 for the 21/21 New Music Ensemble at Rice University.  The instrumentation was requested by the ensemble.  My inspiration for the work came from several friends of mine, who at the time were reassessing their relationships with one another.  I wanted to capture some of the emotions involved with feeling like a friend is drifting away because of the introduction of a significant other.  With the exception of the climax, much of the piece is dynamically understated, with swirling, dense textures that are juxtaposed with moments of awkwardness and solitude. The title is a play on Florid, which describes the writing for each instrumental part.

SI: Women are extremely underrepresented in musical leadership roles, and especially in composing.  How has being a woman shaped your experiences in this role?

AP: In a society that promotes ideas like Affirmative Action, extra effort is being made to assure that female composers are given opportunities to have their music recognized.  As a composer in the “minority,” I have felt extra pressure to create music that is significant not only within my gender, but compared to all contemporary classical music that is being written today.

I don’t want to be categorized as a good “female composer,” or programmed as the “token female composer,” but instead thought of as an “outstanding composer,” period.   It is not so easy to cross that gender line, and maybe that means that my music has to be better than better.  I think all women, to some extent, feel that they have to put forth more effort than they should in order to be taken seriously.

poteat

SI: What advice do you have for other women who are fighting to have their music heard?

AP: Writing music is not easy!  Music has a great potential to affect people differently in very strong ways; someone out there will love what you write, and someone out there will hate it.  With that in mind, write what YOU love.  

If you’re writing music for live musicians, remember that you’re writing for people, and put care into writing each part.  Share your music with as many people as possible, and your excitement about it!  In today’s world, you have to be the greatest advocate for your music, especially in the face of adversity.  Your enthusiasm about your music will be contagious, and others who hear and like your music will also fight to have it heard again.

SI: What are you most looking forward to with the NOCCO Solstice Celebration, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

AP: This weekend’s NOCCO performances will be the first time Floral Interactions will be performed without a conductor!  I’m excited to hear the difference that a more “chamber music” approach to performing the piece will have on how the music is interpreted and coordinated.  I made a few small revisions to the work earlier this year, so we could call this the world premiere of the updated version and, at the very least, the West Coast premiere of the piece.

I love NOCCO’s idea of creating light during the darkest time of the year by sharing warmth and beautiful music, and this program will certainly feature plenty of that!  I’m grateful to be included in the Celebration, and I hope that audiences will feel inspired and moved by the experience.


Performances of NOCCO’s Winter Solstice Celebration are this Sunday, Dec. 18 at 7:30pm at Magnolia United Church of Christ and Monday, Dec.19 at 7:30 at the University Christian Church in Seattle. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

WEST COAST SPOTLIGHT: Carlsbad Music Festival

by Maggie Stapleton

Beer garden, food trucks, adventurous music by the beach? Yes, please, all of it.

beach

That’s what you’ll get at the Carlsbad Music Festival, the brainchild of Matt McBane: a 3-day summer music festival in his hometown of Carlsbad, California. McBane is no stranger to Second Inversion listeners and blog readers, who have undoubtedly heard his compositions recorded by Build and the Jake Schepps Quintet on our 24/7 stream. He’s twice been featured on our regular “Staff Picks,” blog posts for pieces “imaginary winter” and “On and On and”. This year’s festival is happening this weekend, August 26-28 with over 60 shows!

With an eye toward embracing the entire west coast a bit more, we have a snapshot of our wish-we-could-be-there picks for CMF, whose programming is very well aligned with Second Inversion’s: an eclectic mix of creative and adventurous music ranging from contemporary classical, to indie rock, to world music, to electronic, to jazz, to musicians who work across genres and fall between the cracks.If you’re in the vicinity of Carlsbad, get yourself there over the weekend to catch one of these fantastic performances!

MATT MCBANE AND FRIENDS: Friday, August 26, 7:00-7:30pm

McBane+church

Festival Founder and composer/violinist Matt McBane and friends perform his critically-acclaimed suite of compositions for bluegrass string band, “Drawn.” concert program and more info

“a natural composer, a fresh voice and, from the evidence of his festival, a first-rate organizer with a broad range of musical interests” -Los Angeles Times


WILD UP perform FUTURE FOLK: Friday, August 26, 8:00-9:15pm

CMF16+marketing+photos

Modern music collective slash chamber orchestra wild Up creates a communal concert of sound/noise/experience that celebrates old-world ways of living in the modern era. Featuring works by Meredith Monk, Julius Eastman, members of the ensemble and more. concert program and more info

“All the performances, led by Rountree, were exceptional, the ensemble turning on an astonishing stylistic dime.” -Los Angeles Times


LA PERCUSSION QUARTET: Saturday, August 27, 5:00-6:00pmdownload

Grammy-nominated LA Percussion Quartet performs newly commissioned music by Ellen Reid, Daniel Bjarnason, Kevin Volans, and a west-coast premiere by Matt McBane for triangle quartet. concert program and more info

“mesmerizing.., colorful, atmospheric and…supremely melodic music.” -New York Times


HOCKET: Sunday, August 28, 1:00-2:00pm

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LA-based contemporary piano duo HOCKET comprised of composer-pianists Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff, performs recent works written for the group including world premieres by Alexander Elliott Miller and Michael Laurello, plus their arrangements of Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th and Nanou 2, concert program and more info

“Their teamwork was exemplary, their playing was a delight… They not only showed a commitment to the music, but to communicating with each other.” -San Diego Union-Tribune


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Matt McBane

“a natural composer, a fresh voice and, from the evidence of his festival, a first-rate organizer with a broad range of musical interests” -Los Angeles Times

Matt McBane founded the Carlsbad Music Festival in his hometown of Carlsbad in 2004. In addition, he is a composer whose music ranges from visceral rhythms and complex grooves to delicate melodies and rich textures, freely and intuitively incorporating a wide array of influences including: minimalism, avant pop, experimentalism, European classical music, art rock, jazz, film music, fiddle music and electronic music. He is the composer and violinist for his band Build which received widespread critical acclaim for its two albums (Place 2011 and Build 2008) on New Amsterdam Records. In 2015 his 5 movement suite for bluegrass string band “Drawn” was released on the Jake Schepps Quintet’s album “Entwined” which was selected as a top album of the year by Colorado Public Radio. He is currently a Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University.