Second Inversion’s 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers

by Maggie Molloy

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re featuring a 24-hour marathon of women composers on Second Inversion. Tune in all day long to hear works by over 200 women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music.

Why women composers?

For much of classical music history, socially-prescribed gender roles excluded women from participating in composition. Women were denied access to musical resources, financial patronage, art and music networks, and performance and publication opportunities.

It had far reaching effects: what we now consider the Western classical music canon solidified around the music of white men, and even in the 21st century concert programs are still overwhelmingly dominated by the music of male composers. According to a survey of 89 American symphony orchestras, women composers accounted for only 1.7 percent of the total pieces performed in the 2015-2016 concert season. 

Research conducted by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Infographic by Rachel Upton and Ricky O’Bannon.

Second Inversion is working to help balance the scales. We’re proud to feature music by women composers today and every day on our 24/7 online stream and web publication.

Click here to stream our 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers from anywhere in the world, and check out our hosts’ top music picks below. For more resources (including 50+ pieces of advice from women composers), visit our Women in (New) Music series.

Franghiz Ali-Zadeh: Music for Piano (Nonesuch Records)

Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh performs this solo piano piece, but with some prepared piano sorcery she manages to create the illusion of a duet.  Just before sitting down to record, she draped her necklace over the middle range of the piano strings, making it sound like a string instrument called a tar (similar to a lute) that her father played. Music for Piano is a bold fusion of the traditional music of her homeland and adventurous experimental music of the present.  The way she draws from her culture adds a philosophical and mysterious tinge to this lovely piano composition.
– Rachele Hales


Pauline Oliveros: Suiren (New Albion Records)

“Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening,” Pauline Oliveros said in her 1998 keynote address at the ArtSci98 symposium. Over 20 years later, those words have come to encapsulate the astonishing legacy left behind by this pioneer of experimental and electronic art music.

During today’s marathon I’m excited to share Suiren, a piece of hers that was created and recorded in a massive cistern on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula here in Washington. Using nothing but their voices, a garden hose, and the cistern’s famous 45-second reverb, Oliveros and her Deep Listening Band craft a quiet, meditative soundscape that lulls you straight into sonic hypnosis. – Maggie Molloy


Madeleine Cocolas: Rothko, No. 16 (Bigo & Twigetti Music)

I lived in Houston for most of my life, and one of my favorite places there was the Rothko Chapel. The peace of the Chapel is thick and indifferent—an atmosphere created in large part by the giant Rothko paintings on all of the walls. For lots of reasons, it’s a place a I love and return to.

When Madeleine Cocolas moved to New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was that kind of place for her—a place she loved and found herself returning to. Her album Metropolitan is a tribute to the museum. She took her nine favorite pieces from the Met and used software to analyze those visual works and turn them into sound. She then incorporated the sounds generated by the software into her compositions. For Rothko, No. 16, she represents the four major colors in Rothko’s piece with four chords, and the pitch of each note in her piece is determined by the intensity of the color.

Cocolas’s Rothko, No. 16 is happy and bright and weird and full of life. I love it and plan to return to it often. – Dacia Clay


Second Inversion’s 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers is streaming worldwide all day on Friday, March 8. Click here to listen.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cecilia Lopez’s ‘Red / Machinic Fantasies’

by Michael Schell

My late night listening this week has come courtesy of Cecilia Lopez, whose work draws on the drone and noise music traditions while incorporating techniques from the field of sound installation.

Originally from Argentina, Lopez studied at Bard College and Wesleyan University in the U.S. before joining the cadre of New York artists associated with Phill Niblock’s Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Her new double CD is from the latter’s house label, XI Records, and features two inventive electroacoustic projects.

The first piece, Red, isn’t about colors, but is the Spanish word for web or network—in this case an array of miniature loudspeakers and contact microphones that are suspended by wires, allowing the components to swing toward and away from each other, producing variable feedback. Synthesizer drones reinforce some of the feedback frequencies, while other tones slide up and down or fade in and out. The ambiguity between chance and intention in the sound production is a key part of the listening experience.

The other piece, Machinic Fantasies, features complex synthesized drones played through loudspeakers wrapped in homemade baffles that are then inserted into 55-gallon steel drums. These contraptions are rotated by two performers, creating an effect like a guitarist’s phaser pedal, but less predictable (you can see them in action here). Long tones from a trumpet and a trombone add emphasis to individual pitches, producing a soundscape notable for its simultaneous sense of movement and stasis. It reminds me of Deep Listening Band, including the way that the physical resonance of the performance venue is allowed to shape the overall sound.

Machinic Fantasies, which lasts 73 minutes, has a written score, but like the multiple tracks that comprise Red, it feels less like a determinate composition than a sonic environment whose streams flow languidly along their natural currents. Lopez calls these works “performed installations”, as if to emphasize that her input happens mainly during their design phase. They demonstrate that despite all the portable and inexpensive digital tools available today, one can still make relevant music with such crudities as oscillators, cables, and speakers.

Caroline Shaw and Beethoven: Fanning the Fires of Musical Inspiration

by Dave Beck

On this week’s Seattle Symphony Spotlight, Dave Beck speaks with the youngest composer ever to win a Pulitzer Prize in music: Caroline Shaw.

Caroline is in Seattle this weekend for the world premiere of Watermark, her new orchestral work written in response to Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. The idea for the piece was suggested to her by pianist Jonathan Biss, who performs both pieces with the Seattle Symphony this weekend, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The program opens with Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1, a piece that brought the young composer international acclaim at the age of 19.

All of the works on the program represent strikingly original creations by composers in the early years of their careers. In this interview, Caroline talks with us about the inspiration, the writing process, and the meaning behind the title Watermark.


Caroline Shaw’s Watermark premieres at the Seattle Symphony Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Click here for tickets and more information.

Cheating, Lying, Stealing: Breaking the Rules with Erin Jorgensen & Rose Bellini

Photo by Kelly O.

by Maggie Molloy

When it comes to making music, Erin Jorgensen and Rose Bellini like to break the rules. Their upcoming concert collaboration Cheating, Lying, Stealing features a program of bold, boundary-bursting chamber works performed by a cast of Seattle’s top new music movers and shakers. Plus, it takes place amid a glowing neon light show.

The one-night-only event is titled after David Lang’s chamber work of the same name, a pulsing piece of post-minimalism that owes as much to rock music as it does the classical tradition. Its infectious off-kilter groove is heightened by its unusual instrumentation: bass clarinet, cello, piano, marimba, bass drum, and some car parts. The program’s title piece is framed by mixed chamber works from electroacoustic luminary Anna Clyne, sonic maverick Carla Kihlstedt, new music groove-maker Marc Mellits, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw.

The concert, which takes place this Sunday at Washington Hall, is produced by Jorgensen, the musician behind the delightful monthly marimba series Bach and Pancakes and the dreamy electroacoustic podcast undertones. Its program is curated by Bellini: cellist, new music polymath, and founding member of contemporary chamber ensembles REDSHIFT and Hotel Elefant. For this concert, she performs alongside a star-studded cast of local musicians including violinists Kimberly Harrenstein and Rachel Nesvig, violist Aleida Gehrels, clarinetist Rachel Yoder, pianist Brooks Tran, and percussionists Melanie Sehman, Kerry O’Brien, and Storm Benjamin.

We caught up with the concert’s creators to talk about cheating, lying, stealing, and making music in the 21st century.

Second Inversion: Your concerts often feature classical music in nontraditional settings. How does changing the venue or atmosphere enhance the audience experience in a way that traditional concert halls do not?

Erin Jorgensen (left) and Rose Bellini (right).

Erin Jorgensen: For me, using a nontraditional setting allows an audience member to have a different and possibly more direct experience with music. Classical music often comes with pre-attached barriers and conceptions. Ideally when you remove some expectations from what a concert is “supposed” to be, you allow yourself to have a more personal and authentic experience; without worrying if your reactions are “correct” or not. It becomes possible to be more in the moment and experience something in real time. Plus, it is very interesting to be in a different context where people allow their imaginations to individually and collectively create something unexpected. It’s fun!

SI: What is the overarching theme of the concert? Is there a common thread running through all the pieces?

Rose Bellini: Each piece is quite different, but we have created a drama to the program through contrast and an intentional sequence. Each composer’s work has a depth and beauty that comes across through an unapologetic, personal sound. There are moments of quiet intimacy, explosive high energy, and everything in between. Pretty much anyone will find themselves rocking out with us, dreaming with us, and hopefully finding some surprises along the way. 

SI: Can you describe some of the visual elements of the performance?

Erin Jorgensen: I spent a lot of time walking and listening to the music playlist, thinking about the venue, and daydreaming, and the visual that popped into my head was that of a low-key rave—a glow in the dark, neon vibe contrasted with darker and starker elements.

As far as amplifying or relating to the music, I don’t get too literal about that kind of thing. I think it’s best to go with your intuition and find a team that can build upon it, realize it and improve it. Luckily I’ve known the production team [Tania Kupczak, Julian Martlew, and Richard Bresnahan] for nearly a decade; we work together extremely well and they also have wonderful ideas on creating a magical space for the music and audience to exist together.

I also really enjoy a DIY aesthetic, which developed partly out of necessity and partly from personal taste. We’ll be utilizing that aspect in allowing the audience to create some of the visuals themselves, consciously or not. 

SI: What makes this program unique? How are these pieces different from your typical classical repertoire?

Rose Bellini: We selected this program with a broad audience in mind. Classical music, and contemporary music, is often aimed at listeners who are well-versed in the highly intellectual side of art. But there is a lot of contemporary music that doesn’t ask the audience to be an expert. Much of this music is heavily influenced by other genres like rock, improvised songwriting, and folk music, so it’s pure fun to play and fun to listen to.

Many of the performers are also active in non-classical music, so they bring out an energy that you don’t always see and hear in a traditional concert program. On a personal level, each of these composers is a friend and colleague whom I admire as an artist and a human being.

SI: Is there a reason behind calling the concert Cheating, Lying, Stealing?

Rose Bellini: Lang’s title has a mysteriousness to it that is hard to resist (the opening of the score is marked “Ominous Funk”), but one of the ideas behind it is to reject the practice of writing music meant to impress you through complexity and abstractness. I love that sentiment as a performer and as a listener. 

Erin Jorgensen: It’s a nice title because, as you say, it is hella catchy. But it’s also possible to look deeper into the title. I described the concert in the PR as a “witchy sonic experience.” That’s partly hyperbole of course (and a way to sell tickets!), but I also think it’s interesting to flip the script and look at “cheating, lying, stealing” in a playful way. For instance, I’m seeing a lot of witchy feminine energy popping up all over the place on the planet right now and I think it’s fun to look at the concert as an embodiment of that. How could “cheating, lying, stealing” be a positive force?

SI: What is the most exciting part about presenting new music by living composers?

Rose Bellini: The most exciting part is that you can know the composer personally, and find ways to reflect them in the performance for the audience. There’s a sense that while the work is finished, as a performer you have access to an ongoing collaboration or interpretation. Even the choice of venue, the lighting, or how you market the program changes how the music is heard, and I think these variations are exciting for the composer, the performers, and the audience.


Cheating, Lying, Stealing is Sunday, Feb. 3 at 8pm at Washington Hall. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Melia Watras’s ‘Berceuse’

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Fairy tales and folk songs are just a couple of the major influences behind violist Melia Watras’s new album, Schumann Resonances. More specifically, the album grew out of her love for Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland), one of the great pieces of the viola repertoire.

The album features Watras performing six world premieres of new works inspired by Märchenbilder, fairy tales, and other folklore. Among them are enchanting new pieces by Cuong Vu, Richard Karpen, and Watras herself.

We’re thrilled to premiere the video for one of Watras’s original compositions from the album, “Berceuse with a Singer in London.” Scored for voice and viola, Watras dedicated the piece to folk singer Galia Arad (the daughter of violist and composer Atar Arad, with whom Watras studied). The piece is equal parts art song and folk lullaby, its intertwining melodies made more potent by its sparse texture and poetic text, which was written by Watras’s frequent collaborator, violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim.

Schumann Resonances also marks the launch of Planet M Records, a brand new record label founded this year by Watras and Lim. The Seattle-based, artist-led label specializes in music at the intersection of classical and contemporary.


Melia Watras’s Schumann Resonances is out Friday, Feb. 8 on Planet M Records. Click here to learn more and pre-order the album.