LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry’s “The Blue Hour” on Friday, Nov. 10 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET

by Maggie Molloy

One woman’s story comes to life through the voice of five composers tonight in A Far Cry’s performance of The Blue Hour. Based on Carolyn Forché’s abecedarian poem “On Earth,” the song cycle explores the last hour of one woman’s life, the fleeting memories from A to Z that flash before her eyes—and how her one single story is ultimately many stories: an intimate snapshot of our shared humanity.  

Grammy-winning jazz singer Luciana Souza joins the chamber orchestra in this song cycle written by a collaborative of five leading composers: Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Shara Nova, Angélica Negrón, and Caroline Shaw.

And although the concert itself is in Boston, you can still hear every minute of this musical tour de force right here on Second Inversion during our live video stream of the performance this Friday, November 10 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET. Visit the video link below to tune in to tonight’s live stream, or click here to stream directly from Facebook.

In anticipation of tonight’s performance, we asked each of the five composers one question about the poetry, music, and meaning behind The Blue Hour:

Second Inversion: What is this poem about, and how did it inspire the music?

Rachel Grimes: Carolyn Forché’s remarkable poem “On Earth” is a profoundly beautiful and devastating exploration of the last moments before death from the perspective of a woman recollecting her life in shards of crystalline memories. Through the lens of these visceral personal moments are glimpses into different points in time in human history, recalling childhood, the fallout of war, a sense of home, intimacy, loss, nostalgia, the mundane, and the epic. 

In a phone conversation with all of the composers, the poet welcomed us to excerpt the poem in order to better serve the music and the new work as a whole. We were overwhelmed at this generous invitation, and vowed to honor the poem and to be true to the feeling of the whole work. We set about to excerpt it, choosing passages that felt ripe for music-making, while maintaining her original abecedary form. We consulted with Joseph Cermatori to sculpt a unified libretto, and to follow that original intent of the form. The poem was endlessly inspiring: so many images, particular and visual, and so many emotions and opportunities to investigate the human experience on a very intimate scale. Especially inspiring was the chance to explore, through this perspective of this one life coming to an end, the experience of facing death and the treasury of life’s myriad experiences that are in so many ways universal to all.

SI: What makes Luciana Souza the perfect singer for this song cycle’s premiere?

Shara Nova: When we composers first got together, we knew we wanted to find a singer who was able to read what we anticipated to be a challenging score, who had a wide vocal range and also had a sound closer to folk or jazz. Luciana Souza (pronounced like Loo-See-Ah-Nah Soh-za) has a dynamism and a warm, natural voice that really excited us.

Once I knew that she was going to be the singer, I started writing some of the movements on guitar, influenced by the great Brazilian songwriters like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and then once I had that foundation, I expanded the arrangements for A Far Cry and removed the guitar parts. I wanted the music to be very tuneful and song oriented, as well as take the opportunity to really show off and explore the color and vibrancy of this extraordinary ensemble.  

SI: What was the composition process like?

Sarah Kirkland Snider: We got together one weekend and spent a lot of time reading through the text together, talking about it, brainstorming ideas. We each highlighted the bits of text that we felt the strongest connection to and then divided it up along those lines, with the idea that we’d interweave our voices in movements of varying length, texture, style, and emotion.

We decided there would be moments of spoken text, moments in which the ensemble sang and spoke, and a canonic refrain that happened three times, written by Caroline. Shara was the first one to start writing, and she sent us some computer mock-ups of her drafts. Some of my assigned bits of text followed hers, so in those movements I used a motive of hers as an ostinato or jumping-off point, or made harmonic and rhythmic decisions based upon hers, depending on whether I wanted contrast or continuity.

We all worked in this fashion, brick by brick, sharing our drafts with each other and responding to them musically, striving to maximize cohesion between the movements and forward momentum in the overall form. It was great fun getting inside the compositional mind of some of my favorite fellow composers. What I love about this piece is that, to my ear, it hangs together as a single journey, but you can hear our different voices emerge at different moments. This lends the music the same sense of collective consciousness that is innate to the poem itself. 

SI: How does the process of collaborative composition serve to illustrate or enhance the meaning behind this poem?

Angélica Negrón: There’s moments of deep sorrow, empathy, mystery, despair, warmth, confusion, intimacy and so many other layers and nuances in between. By bringing together five different composers each with a unique perspective and a distinctive sound, we’re able to explore more profoundly these layers of meaning and capture the complexity of this person’s life. Each composer opens up a new world of possibilities of the text and by allowing ourselves to being vulnerable and receptive of other’s interpretations, we find new connections and make new discoveries.

I feel this piece weaves together not only each composers’ individual interpretation of the text but also the common ground among us that we found along the way.  I’ve never been a part of such a deeply meaningful and truly collaborative project in which everyone’s voices are highly complementary to each other yet add a unique and essential ingredient to the whole. There’s a shared sensibility and an unusual connection between the composers that’s hard to describe, and this poem is at the center of it all. 

SI: What does this piece sound like?

Caroline Shaw: I’d say it sounds like micro and macro visions of the earth—precious sonic details emerging from and receding into a mysterious whole.


Visit our website on Friday, November 10 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET to watch a LIVE video stream of A Far Cry’s The Blue Hour with Luciana Souza. To learn more about our live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, click here.

Early Music Seattle and the Electric Theorbo: Aaron Grad’s Strange Seasons

by Micaela Pearson

Music and atmospheric phenomena intertwine in Aaron Grad’s new concerto for electric theorbo, Strange Seasons, which receives its world premiere this Saturday in a performance by theorbist John Lenti with Early Music Seattle.

Inspired in part by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the concerto is a four-movement celebration of weird Seattle weather featuring melodic musings about meteorology and accompanying sonnets for each season (narrated this weekend by former KING 5 meteorologist Jeff Renner).

Grad not only composed the music and the poetry, but also conceptualized and built the electric theorbo that will take center stage at Saturday’s concert. Much like the double-necked nature of the electric theorbo, new music and early music harmonize on the program with Grad’s composition celebrating the similarities shared between new and old, jazz and baroque.

I’m lucky to begin my research for Strange Seasons during a snowy spell in late autumn, living something like the damp, cold Pineapple Express as heralded by movement one of his composition. Already, we have had tastes of the Gray, Gray, Gray Emerald Blues looming on the horizon in the endless blanket of clouds.  And on this particularly clear and cold morning, I fondly recall the once warm, summery Paradise with Rainier illuminated in gold, and the scattered, hopeful Sun Breaks of springtime feel an eternity away.

Grad is a friend of Second Inversion and a champion of new music in the community.  Second Inversion co-founder Maggie Stapleton interviewed Grad in 2014 about his electric theorbo and the composition he wrote to debut it, Old-Fashioned Love Songs, which is an epic, evening-long love letter to the composer’s wife, showcasing the electric theorbo’s ancestral role as the ultimate accompaniment.  Grad’s electrified innovation gives a common thread of bass and strumming capabilities, mellow tone, and nuanced attitude to an evening of dreamy, pining lyrics that span the centuries.  

In this new composition, which is again dedicated to his wifebut now with the addition of their newborn childGrad gives the electric theorbo its day in the sun. Brought forward from the ranks of background music, Strange Seasons puts the range of the electric theorbo front and center, expressing the melancholic and vibrant variety of Pacific Northwest weather patterns.

In contrast to how Old-Fashioned Love Songs pays tribute to the historic use of the instrument, Grad uses Strange Seasons “to defy the theorbo’s traditional role, taking full advantage of the electromagnetic pickups routed through tone-altering effects pedals and punchy amplification.”

The diversity of color and texture available on the electric theorbo lends itself well to the constant shifting of Seattle weather, allowing the instrument to explore a wide breadth of sound. The winter movement, for instance, gives a taste of jazzy blues swirling with baroque ornamentation.

To bring the Seattle seasons to life, Grad enlisted the help of a friend. He explains in his program notes: “It struck me that I should write a concerto—the ultimate showcase for star power—and I realized that I could make the spotlight even brighter by handing off my instrument to a world-class virtuoso: Seattle’s own John Lenti, my friend and theorbo idol.”

In fact, Grad first met Lenti when he was working to on designing his new instrument—up until then, he had never actually played a real theorbo. Lenti, a theorbist specializing in Renaissance and Baroque music, was able to give him some guidance.

“Consulting with him really helped me clarify my design,” Grad said. “Even though we come from different musical backgrounds, I feel a lot of kinship in how much we both value heartfelt expression and total commitment to the music at hand.”

Lenti is also the first musician other than Grad to perform with the electric theorbo, and given Lenti’s virtuosity on the instrument, the sky is the limit for this concerto.

“John makes certain techniques look and sound easy that I could never manage in my wildest dreams, and I wasn’t shy about showcasing his virtuosity,” Grad said.  “Any hesitancy I had about handing over my ‘baby’ vanished once I heard what he could do with the piece and the instrument. Besides, I have a real baby now who is only three weeks old, so it worked out very well that the electric theorbo is in John’s hands now and little Felix is in mine!”


Seattle Baroque Orchestra and Early Music Seattle perform Forces of Nature on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 7:30pm at Benaroya’s Nordstrom Recital Hall. The concert includes the premiere of Strange Seasons by Aaron Grad in addition to other weather-inspired works by baroque favorites Jean-Féry Rebel and Jean-Baptiste Lully.  For tickets and information, click here.

A Single String, An Infinite History: The Art of the Berimbau

by Maggie Molloy

At first glance, the berimbau looks like a pretty simple instrument. A wooden bow strung with a single steel string and a hollow gourd resonator—how complicated could it be?

But despite its simple appearance, the berimbau is actually quite rich with history and musical nuance. The instrument originated in Sub-Saharan Africa before making its way to Brazil via the transatlantic slave trade. It became integral musical accompaniment for the Afro-Brazilian capoeira, which was in itself an art of liberation. Capoeira was a martial art disguised as dance and practiced among the African slaves in Brazil as an inconspicuous means of survival, self-defense, and cultural identity.

Arcomusical is a nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve and expand the history of the berimbau through composition, performance, community, research, and education. This weekend, Projeto Arcomusical is travelling to Washington to share the music and history of the berimbau through performances in Bellingham (Nov. 5) and Seattle (Nov. 6).

The program features a blend of original works from Projeto Arcomusical’s album MeiaMeia, traditional bow music from Brazil and Angola, a new composition by ensemble member Kyle Flens, and a Chamber Music America commission by composer Elliot Cole.

We were thrilled for the opportunity learn more through our conversation with Arcomusical founder and director Gregory Beyer, a composer, percussionist, and educator who embodies the nonprofit’s commitment to both the history and the future of the berimbau:

Second Inversion: Can you tell us about the historical significance of the berimbau? Why is the advancement of this instrument (and musical bows in general) important in the 21st century?

Gregory Beyer: The berimbau is an icon of African musical culture in Brazil and, thanks to its association with the worldwide practice of capoeira, throughout the world. It is precisely this connection to the popular body game which, scholars argue, saved it from an otherwise certain extinction. Other African bows that once existed in Brazil are either near extinction or are totally forgotten. And it should be said that the relationship of the berimbau and capoeira is mutually beneficial. Capoeira, too, faced harsh oppression in Brazil’s history. It is capoeira’s connection to the berimbau that allowed it to disguise itself as a musical pastime, as a dance, and kept it from further persecution and elimination. And through the poetry of the music, capoeira and the berimbau have become powerfully laden with a collective African cultural consciousness in Brazil.

SI: What inspires you most about the instrument?

GB: Its elegant simplicity and the intimacy of its voice. Unlike most other musical instruments that have a “mouth” that points outward to an intended audience, the “mouth” of the cabaça of the berimbau faces the belly of the performer. In fact, the stomach becomes an integral surface to create the instrument’s signature timbral shift, the “open/close” or “wah-wah” of its voice. I met a wonderful Brazilian capoeirista in Belo Horizonte who told me that when she was twice pregnant, in each pregnancy she would hold the instrument particularly close to her belly and play softly so that her yet-to-be born daughters could hear. I like to think that the instrument is capable of some of the most intimate lullabies on the planet.

SI: You first discovered the berimbau through the music of Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos. How did he inspire you in your training, and how is Arcomusical expanding upon (or contrasting with) his work?

GB: My introduction to the instrument was not through capoeira but through the work of Naná Vasconcelos. Naná was my hero and first big inspiration to play the berimbau at a high level. His virtuosity coupled with the immediacy of the voice of the instrument, and his own signature ability to blend his own voice with the instrument to create a meta-instrument, were powerfully moving to me. I had two opportunities to spend time with him, and each time was sheer joy. I was so thankful to him for his connection to the instrument and to his musical voice. And I know that I am not alone in this. Naná has inspired so many of my friends and colleagues who play or appreciate the musical bow.

Arcomusical sees Naná as a guiding spirit to our mission to spread awareness of the musical bow here in the United States (where it is little known) and to bring majesty to its voice. In doing this work, we aim to create a culture and a community in the United States that will enjoy playing musical bows for years to come. We know that Naná’s spirit will live on in the work that we do. I love the fact that Arcomusical has become a 501(c)(3) organization because it legally belongs to no one. This is a legal underpinning of an idea that has taken hold for us rather intensely this past year. This work we do is not about us. Rather, Arcomusical is a vehicle through which the berimbau and its African cousins will live long and prosper.

SI: In what ways is the music of Projeto Arcomusical similar to and different from the Western classical tradition?

GB: We definitely approach our music making like a classical chamber music group. We discuss form, phrasing, dynamics, intonation, cueing, and so on. Yet we take very distinct cues from the tradition of capoeira that make our shows and our music-making in general very special to us.

Because the berimbau is played in an oral tradition, we memorize everything that we perform to remove the music stand from the stage. Furthermore, capoeira is such an expressive physical activity that we feel compelled to move, to dance, to breathe, to step in time, together, as a single unit, to enhance our connection with our shared music-making. And because the berimbau is, unlike a violin or any member of the Western classical string family for that matter, a very limited instrument in terms of its available pitches at any given moment, our compositions are not unlike those written for a handbell choir. Each member of the group is responsible for only certain notes in a given melodic line, in a given harmonic field, etc. So our melodies and counterpoint lines are literally shared and dispersed throughout the ensemble constantly. And the audience can literally SEE the music being passed around the ensemble. In this sense, we bring a synergy of the Western and non-western traditions to our unique form of chamber music-making.

Beyond this, the music itself takes many cues from the tradition. My most recent sextet for the ensemble, Berimbau Sextet no. 2, “Traíra” takes huge inspiration from the first commercial recording of capoeira released in Brazil. When in 1963 Mestre Traíra and his companions released “Capoeira da Bahia,” that recording became the gold standard for a generation of capoeiristas that now hold the highest positions of mastery and leadership in the capoeira community. On my Fulbright and sabbatical in Belo Horizonte, I generated over 70 pages of transcriptions from this recording and I utilized elements of those transcriptions as inspiration for the work. This kind of music composition, alongside singing traditional songs and engaging the audience in the capoeira roda experience, make for a unique and unforgettable concert experience. [Editor’s note: The roda is a circle (or half-circle) formed by the musicians, inside of which the capoeiristas perform movements.]

SI: Can you tell us about the new grant-funded work on the program, “Roda” by Elliot Cole?

GB: Working together with Elliot Cole over the past year has been richly rewarding. Cole, a deeply sensitive and intelligent artist, sensed the seriousness of purpose that Arcomusical brings to its work. While preparing to write “Roda,” he purchased and learned how to play a berimbau, studied our scores from MeiaMeia, and found a capoeira community in his hometown of Jersey City with whom he trained (and continues to train!) capoeira. In “Roda,” Cole utilizes elements from the capoeira tradition in his own unique way. The result is incredible. “Roda” is the most powerful commission that Arcomusical has received from a composer outside of the organization.

I am thrilled about our current concert program, “Rodar na roda,” and Elliot’s new work is the grand finale. It is an incredible journey for us—a four-movement, 21-minute composition that is easily the most thrilling work we have yet to bring to life.

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what can audience members expect?

GB: My research in Brazil in 2015-2016 has completely transformed the content and presentation of Arcomusical’s live performances. In concerts, Projeto Arcomusical now presents capoeira music in between our original chamber music selections and we actually invite the audience to come up on stage and create a “roda” as we play capoeira in the penultimate break immediately prior to our performance of Elliot Cole’s “Roda.” After our shows, we always invite audiences onto the stage to talk and to try playing our instruments. The tactile immediacy of holding a unique musical instrument for the first time always brings joy and smiles. We especially love it when we have children and families in the audience because it makes this audience interaction afterward all the more vibrant and engaging.


Projeto Arcomusical performs at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center on Sunday, Nov. 5 at 7:30pm, and at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall on Monday, Nov. 6 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

November New Music: Prepared Piano, Electric Theorbo, & More

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

New Music Flyer – November 2017

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, and sonic experiments. This month: wind improvisations, sleepy music podcasts, jazz-infused songs on war and poetry, and electroacoustic ruminations on West Coast minimalism.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

World New Music Days: Vancouver, BC
Not technically in Seattlebut definitely worth the drive. Nearly 50 countries come together for this festival of new music, which features over 30 experimental concerts and outreach events.
Thurs-Wed, 11/2-11/8, Vancouver, BC | $10-$39

Live @ Benaroya Hall: Hauschka
German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann (better known as Hauschka) takes prepared piano to a whole new level, employing everything from ping pong balls to Tic Tacs and tin foil to create stunning new sonic landscapes.
Fri, 11/3, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $25-$30

Peter Nelson-King: Modern American Piano
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Peter Nelson-King presents a concert of daring modern American works for the piano, featuring music by Dane Rudhyar, Stephen Jaffe, David Diamond, Hugo Weisgall, and more.
Fri, 11/3, 8pm, Gallery 1412 | $5-$15

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Her Story
PNB presents the American premiere of Crystal Pite’s haunting Plot Point, set to music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The spellbinding program also features music by Benjamin Britten and Vladimir Martynov.
Weekends 11/3-11/12, McCaw Hall | $30-$187

Saratoga Orchestra: Un/Questionable Visionaries
Oak Harbor-based horn player Sean Brown performs his new Horn Concerto with the Saratoga Orchestra. Symphonies by Mozart and Louise Farrenc frame this world premiere performance.
Sat, 11/4, 7pm, Trinity Lutheran Church Freeland | By donation

Kronos Quartet
Known around the world for their adventurous programming, the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet comes to Federal Way to share a bold program of string music ranging from George Gershwin to Aleksandra Vrebalov.
Sat, 11/4, 8pm, Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center | $17-$73

Music of Remembrance: Snow Falls
Two world premieres by Japanese composers form the basis of this powerful program. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Snow Falls is based around Kiyoko Nagase’s haunting poem of the same name, while Keiko Fujiie’s song cycle Wilderness Mute features English translations of Japanese poetry from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Sun, 11/5, 7pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $30-$45

Cornish Presents: Projeto Arcomusical
World music sextet Projeto Arcomusical reimagines the Afro-Brazilian berimbau through a program of original chamber music which draws from folk, classical, and traditional capoeira music.
Sun, 11/5, 7:30pm, Performing Arts Center, Western Washington University | $10-16
Mon, 11/6, 8pm, Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall | $10-$20

Opera on Tap
Local singers let their hair down and sing their hearts out, performing famous operatic masterpieces and hidden musical gems alike in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Wed, 11/8, 7pm, Naked City | $5-$8

Early Music Seattle: Forces of Nature
Music and meteorology intertwine in this concerto for electric theorbo by Seattle-based composer Aaron Grad. Inspired by Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons (adapted here to portray the idiosyncratic weather patterns of Seattle), each movement features its own sonnet narrated by Former KING 5 meteorologist Jeff Renner.
Sat, 11/11, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $20-$40

Seattle Symphony: DeVotchKa
Denver-based indie rock band DeVotchKa joins forces with the Seattle symphony to transform their intimate melodies into a full-scale orchestral experience.
Wed, 11/15, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $35-$50

Seattle Symphony: Harry Potter
Wizards rejoice! Seattle Symphony breaks out the big screen for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, performing John Williams’ iconic score alongside the movie.
Thurs-Sat, 11/16-11/18, 7:30/8pm, Benaroya Hall | $50-$120

Cornish Presents: Frequency
Frequency is a new Seattle-based chamber ensemble combining the talents of violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, violist Melia Watras, and cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir. In this program, the group lends their bows to music by Daníel Bjarnason, Frances White, and Richard Einhorn.
Fri, 11/17, 8pm, Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall | $10-$20

Kin of the Moon Debut Concert
Three cutting-edge and iconoclastic women performers come together for a new chamber series that explores sonic rituals, improvisation, and a fearless cross-pollination of genres. Composer and vocalist Kaley Lane Eaton, flutist Leanna Keith, and violist Heather Bentley perform original works, improvisations, and a piece by Kate Soper.
Sat, 11/18, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

UW School of Music: Hindustani Classical Music
Ethnomusicology visiting artist Zakir Hussain is known in India and around the world as a virtuoso tabla player, percussionist, and composer. In this program he performs the tabla solo and also presents the culmination of his work with UW faculty and students.
Sun, 11/19, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$35

Second Inversion Spooktacular: 48-hour Spooky Music Marathon

by Maggie Molloy

Nothing sets the scene for your Halloween quite like a marathon of spooky music! Let us provide the soundtrack for your Halloween haunts. On October 30 and 31, tune in to Second Inversion for a 48-hour marathon of new and experimental music inspired by monsters, witches, ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.

Click here to tune into the scream—er, stream of Halloween music from anywhere in the world, or tune in on the go using our free mobile app. To give you a sneak peek of the spooky music that’s in store, our Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their Halloween playlists:

Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury (Innova Recordings)

Likely written as an attempt to reconcile his own anger, Harry Partch’s stage play Delusion of the Fury is (superficially, at least) well-suited to Halloween. Containing killing, a ghost, body horror, futility, and absurdism, this piece not only touches on the more classic campy elements of spookiness, but is oriented around some of the darker elements of horror—existentialism, futility, and powerlessness to name a few. Plus, for my money, few musical things conjure the uneasy feelings associated with horror and dread like microtonal scales. – Seth Tompkins


Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire (Hungaroton Records)
Erika Sziklay, soprano; 
András Mihály, conductor; Budapest Chamber Ensemble

It just wouldn’t be a Halloween marathon without a spooky clown—and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is nothing if not haunting. A masterpiece of melodrama, the 35-minute work tells the chilling tale of a moonstruck clown and his descent into madness (a powerful metaphor for the modern alienated artist). The spooky story comes alive through three groups of seven poems (a result of Schoenberg’s peculiar obsession with numerology), each one recited using Sprechstimme: an expressionist vocal technique that hovers eerily between song and speech. Combine this with Schoenberg’s free atonality and macabre storytelling, and it’s enough to transport you to into an intoxicating moonlight. – Maggie Molloy


Adrian Lane: “Playing with Ghosts” (Preserved Sound)

The “ghosts” in the title refer to the 100-year-old cylinder recordings that Adrian Lane hacked to bits, reordered, sutured together, and reanimated as “Playing With Ghosts.”  The result is a grainy musical creature accompanied by Lane’s own ethereal piano, which was built around the same time the cylinders were originally produced. The deterioration of the recordings leave a haunting, nostalgic impression. – Rachele Hales

 


Michael Daugherty: Dead Elvis (CCn’C Records)
Martin Kuuskmann, bassoon; Absolute Ensemble

Have you ever wondered why people are obsessed with celebrities?  How some folks can see faces in toast?  Then you must be mystified by the phenomenon of Elvis Presley’s inimitable immortality.

Program notes from the premiere of Michael Daugherty’s Dead Elvis say that “It is more than a coincidence that it is scored for the same instrumentation as Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat (1918), in which a soldier sells his violin and his soul to the devil for a magic book. In Dead Elvis, the bassoon is Elvis (or perhaps an Elvis impersonator). Does this rock star sell out his Southern folk authenticity to the sophisticated professionalism of Hollywood movies, Colonel Parker, and Las Vegas in order to attain great wealth and fame?”

Daugherty’s over-the-top tribute to Elvis juxtaposed with Dies Irae (a religious chant which symbolizes Judgment Day) incites questions about the obsessiveness over celebrity and the immortality of image. – Micaela Pearson


Julia Wolfe: Cruel Sister (Cantaloupe Music)
Ensemble Resonanz

Cruel Sister by Julia Wolfe is a musical rendering of an eponymous Old English ballad. The ballad tells the tale of two sisters—one magnificently bright as the sun, the other cold and dark. One day a man comes courting and the dark sister becomes infatuated with him. Jealous and covetous, she pushes her bright sister into the sea. Two minstrels find the dead sister washed up on the shore and shape her breastbone into a macabre harp, strung with her yellow hair. They come to play at the cold dark sister’s wedding.

As the sound of the harp reaches the bride’s ears, the ballad concludes, “and surely now her tears will flow.” Wolfe’s piece follows the dramatic arc of the ballad—the music reflecting an argument that builds, a body floating on the sea, and of course, the mad harp. – Brendan Howe


Robert Honstein: Night Scenes from the Ospedale (Soundspells Productions)
The Sebastians

This work by Robert Honstein may not have been intended to be creepy, but whatever the goal, the result is unmistakable. From the slow scraping and scratching of strings at the very beginning to the long, stretched out melodies and despondent harpsichord, this piece has major spook factor. It’s also just a great piece of music; I love the way tension is slowly increased throughout each interlude, guiding the ear to always expect ever-higher sounds and some new string effect.

Night Scenes from the Ospedale depicts the nighttime stillness of the famous girls’ orphanage in Venice with the orchestra that performed many of Vivaldi’s works. It seems to capture the dusky darkness of that place long after the last note of rehearsal has fallen silent. It’s also great in its original presentation on the album, with works by Vivaldi interspersed between the interludes. – Geoffrey Larson

The Best of Thelonious Monk: The Blue Note Years

by Michael Schell

This month seems like an opportune time for a salute in Thelonious Monk’s direction, honoring both his 100th birthday and the 70th anniversary of the first of the Blue Note recording sessions that Monk aficionados generally consider his most important work. Highlights from these 1947–52 sessions have been gathered into a handy single-CD reissue that showcases the things that make Monk’s music so compelling: his catchy and highly chromatic jazz compositions, and his unique and piquant improv style that combines bebop and stride piano techniques with harmonic innovations from modern composed music.

Included are the first recordings of such Monk standards as Epistrophy, Straight No Chaser, Well You Needn’t, and ‘Round Midnight (the bane of many a piano student overwhelmed by its complicated chord changes). And then there’s Misterioso, a mini-compendium of Monkish eccentricities. It’s ostensibly a 12-bar blues in B♭, but its melody consists of non-swinging broken sixths that sound more like Scarlatti than bebop.

After Monk and vibraphonist Milt Jackson play through the tune, Jackson offers a fairly conventional solo lasting one chorus. Then Monk begins his solo, and things start getting weird. He spends one chorus toying around with the dissonant clash between D♭ and D♮, and a second chorus combining blues licks with whole-tone scales and long rests. When Jackson starts reprising the theme, Monk spends several bars plunking out harsh isolated notes in counterpoint before finally joining Jackson on the melody. The track ends with one last whole-tone flurry from Monk. Throw in the crude 78 Era sound quality, and the whole thing has a kind of primitive mystique to it, teetering more and more on the edge of crazy as it goes on—kind of a metaphor for Monk’s own life and mental health struggles. Have a listen, and (re)acquaint yourself with this unorthodox American musical genius.

NUMUS Northwest 2018: Call for Submissions

by Maggie Molloy

You like new music? Then you’re going to love NUMUS Northwest.

Now in its second year, NUMUS Northwest is a day-long event dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond—and YOU can be a part of it. Save the date for Saturday, January 20 at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall, and click here to RSVP.

Photo by Jim Holt.

NUMUS Northwest is now accepting submissions for workshops, panels, and performances from the Seattle new music community. Submissions are due by Friday, November 3 at 5pm PST.

Last year’s NUMUS featured workshops ranging from finding your muse to funding your art, telling your story, composing, collaborating, and the art of improvising—plus performances featuring music for flower pots, piano musings with live electronics, interactive sonic meditations, and more.

This year’s workshops and performances depend on YOUR proposals. Help fill NUMUS 2018 with innovative programs to challenge, engage, and inspire Seattle’s new music community. Click here to submit a proposal (you may submit multiple proposals).

Photo by Jim Holt.

More about NUMUS Northwest:

Where: Cornish College of the Arts, Kerry Hall

When: Saturday, January 20, 2017 from 9am-10pm

Who: You! Students. Friends. Colleagues. Musicians. Artists. Creators. People who don’t know they like this kind of music (yet!).

Leadership:

  • Kevin Clark (New Music USA)
  • James Falzone (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Jim Holt
  • Shaya Lyon (Live Music Project)
  • Kerry O’Brien (Cornish College of the Arts)
  • Maggie Stapleton (Jensen Artists)

Why: Inspired by the New Music Gathering, the NUMUS leadership team strives to recreate the community-building, collaborative-natured, and artistically stunning event with a focus on musicians and artists in the Northwest.

Have questions? E-mail numusnw@gmail.com. Plus, click here to subscribe for updates on the event.