VIDEO PREMIERE: Reena Esmail’s Piano Trio

We are thrilled to present the premiere of Reena Esmail’s Piano Trio, performed by violinist Kristin Lee, cellist Joshua Roman, and pianist David Fung. This video was recorded at Town Hall Seattle.

Program notes by Aaron Grad:

“I wish I could live in India and America at the same time,” says Reena Esmail, the daughter of Indian immigrants who has become one of the most respected young composers in the United States; “I wish they shared a border, and I could build a little home right in between them. I know I can’t do that in the physical world, but this is where I live every day in my music.”

Esmail’s compositions straddle two of the world’s most sophisticated musical traditions. On one side is the art music of Europe and its system of tonal harmony that developed over the last 400-plus years, and on the other, Hindustani classical music from North India, organized around collections of tones known as raags that go back many centuries further. Studies at the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music grounded Esmail in the practices of the West’s classical music, including its precise system of notation that allows performers of any background to interpret unfamiliar nuances. As a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, she was able to spend a year in India studying the classical music of her ancestors, absorbing the oral tradition built on complex patterns and pitches that often can’t be categorized within Western norms.

Composer Reena Esmail.

Writing a Piano Trio has fulfilled one of Esmail’s oldest ambitions as a musician. Growing up as a talented pianist, trios with violin and cello were her favorite form of chamber music, and she won a life-changing competition that resulted in her performing Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Trio with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also counts Ravel’s Piano Trio as an all-time favorite work, noting, “So much of what I’ve learned about color and texture in my writing comes from Ravel.” After three years of work and a pile of sketches that is up to 300 pages and counting (with less that three weeks to go before the premiere), Esmail is still polishing off this substantial score that reckons with the rigorous tradition of the four-movement piano trio. 

Authentic raags appear in each movement of the trio, including the monsoon season raag known as Megh that informs a chorale from the strings and other gestures in the first movement. In a tempo marked “Ephemeral,” the smooth modal phrases and long slurs highlight Esmail’s affinity with Ravel, who also looked outside the Western canon to expand his shimmering soundscapes. Flutters, slides and harmonics continue in the slow movement, creating a sense of improvisatory freedom while the music slips in and out of time.

By casting the quivering third movement as a scherzo, Esmail acknowledges her debt to Mendelssohn (the king of those elfin, lighter-than-air diversions), but moments of manic hilarity and sheer muscle recall a more subversive master of the piano trio, Shostakovich. In the finale, a singing string melody supported by “luminous” piano filigree surges to a droning climax marked “powerful, broad, intense.” When the unhurried ending arrives with glimmering harmonics and crystalline chords, this work completes an arc that places it squarely within the storied lineage of the “classical” piano trio—while making it clear just how irrelevant such boundaries truly are. 

Women in Music: Saturday, March 7 | 10pm

by Maggie Molloy

If you attended a major symphony performance anywhere in the world this year, chances are you didn’t see any works by women composers on the program.

In the 2019-2020 concert season women composers have accounted for only 3.6 percent of the total works performed by major orchestras worldwide, according to research conducted by Drama Musica’s Donne project.

We’re proud to feature women composers every week on Second Inversion, but in honor of International Women’s Day this weekend we’re dedicating this week’s entire episode to women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music. Plus, we’ll talk about why women have been historically underrepresented in the classical tradition and where you can find more resources on women in music.

To listen, tune in to KING FM on Saturday, March 7 at 10pm PT.

NW Focus Stories: Tales from Seattle’s Classical Music Luminaries

In addition to being a performer and commissioner of new music, Bonnie Whiting is the Chair of Percussion at the University of Washington School of Music.

Not all classical music unfolds onstage. Behind the scenes, there is an entire ecosystem of artists, audiences, administrators, educators, and innovators who bring classical music to life in the Pacific Northwest.

Second Inversion is thrilled to be a part of KING FM’s Northwest Focus Stories, a new show airing select Friday evenings at 8pm on KING FM. Join host Dacia Clay and your favorite KING FM announcers as we highlight the vibrant classical music community of the Pacific Northwest through in-depth interviews and audio stories built around people who create, curate, or contribute to classical music in a meaningful way.

Our first episode, which aired on October 18, highlights women leaders in Seattle’s music community, with special guests ranging from experimental percussionist Bonnie Whiting to Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann, arts advocate Leslie Chihuly, music historian Melinda Bargreen, KING FM CEO Brenda Barnes, and Seattle Rock Orchestra Music Director Kim Roy.

Listen to the episode on-demand below:


Host and Executive Producer: Dacia Clay; segment producers and interviewers: Dacia Clay, Maggie Molloy, Nikhil Sarma, Marta Zekan, Mike Brooks, Dave Beck; audio engineering: Mike Brooks and Nikhil Sarma; theme music: “a storm of our own making,” by Daniel Webbon.


Music in Bonnie Whiting Segment:

Annea Lockwood: Amazonia Dreaming
Bonnie Whiting, percussion (recorded in studio)

James MacMillan: Veni, Veni Emmanuel (RCA Red Seal Records)
Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Scottish Chamber Orchestra

John Cage: 51’15.657” for a Speaking Percussionist (Mode Records)
Bonnie Whiting, voice and percussion

Yiheng Yvonne Wu: Violent Tender
UW Percussion Studio (recorded by Gary Louie; mixed by Mason Lynass)

Additional music performed by Bonnie Whiting in her studio and recorded by Nikhil Sarma.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Annika Socolofsky’s ‘Turadh’

by Peter Tracy

With fall now fully underway, it can often feel like there’s nothing but gray clouds on the horizon. Every once in a while, though, the sky clears up for a moment or an afternoon, reminding us that the sun keeps shining just beyond the clouds.

The simple pleasure of these moments is part of the impulse behind composer and vocalist Annika Socolofsky’s piece Turadh, which is titled after a Scottish word for a “break in the clouds.” A collaboration with the New York-based Parhelion Trio, the piece features the ensemble of flute, clarinet, and piano accompanying recordings of Socolofsky playing her 10-stringed Norwegian hardanger d’amore fiddle, an instrument she used to play for her grandmother at her home in rural Kansas. These evenings spent in the warmth of her grandmother’s home inspired a piece that provides its own unique warmth and resonance.

For their new video, Socolofsky and the Parhelion Trio draw on the talents of media artist and filmmaker XUAN, whose ambient lighting and experimental video editing present the piece in an elegant new light.

We’re thrilled to premiere the new video for Socolofsky’s Turadh.

Seattle Symphony Spotlight: Flutist Claire Chase

by Dave Beck

Claire Chase is a flutist with a flair for the new, the adventurous, and the unexpected. She’s given the premieres of hundreds of new works for her instrument in performances throughout the world. In 2012, she was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant for her work not only fostering the creation of new music, but also building organizations, forming community alliances, and supporting educational programs.

That work is on display in Seattle this week when she performs as the soloist with the Seattle Symphony and Music Director Thomas Dausgaard in Aello: Ballet Mecanomorphe by Olga Neuwirth. It’s scored for flute, bass flute, and an ensemble that includes tuned water glasses and a typewriter. Chase gave the world premiere of the piece, an homage to the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, last year at the BBC Proms with Dausgaard leading the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

This week in Seattle, Chase also presents a solo recital of music by Marcos Balter as part of her innovative Density 2036 project. Chase explains more about this effort to generate new flute music, a project unfolding over a 23-year time span.


Claire Chase performs selections from Density 2036 on Friday, Oct. 11 at 7:30pm at Octave 9. She performs Olga Neuwirth’s Aello with the Seattle Symphony on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8pm at Benaroya Hall. For tickets and more information, click here.