Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, September 15 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

William Brittelle: Hieroglyphics Baby (New Amsterdam)

If you’re looking for some Friday night grooves, William Brittelle’s got the tune for you. “Hieroglyphics Baby” is a colorful art-pop-meets-classical mashup from his full-length, lip-synched (when live) concept album Mohair Time Warp. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics spiral through Technicolor melodies in this art music adventure that splashes through at least six musical genres in the span of three minutes. See if you can keep up. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.

Harry Partch: “The Wind” (Second Inversion Live Recording)
Charles Corey, Harmonic Canon II and Melia Watras, bass marimba 

Having the Harry Partch instrument collection in Seattle is a benefit that cannot be overstated.  I’ve attended many of their concerts at this point, and after every single one, I walk away feeling that my ears have been stretched in a pleasant and healthful manner.  I could call the experience “musical yoga” or “aural vegetables,” but no matter how I describe it, it seems clear to me that listening to Partch, in any form, is one of the best things one can do for their listening skills. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece, and watch our live video below!

Terry Riley: Fandango on the Heaven Ladder
Gloria Cheng, piano 
(Telarc Records) 

Terry Riley says of his Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, “It is no secret that I am wild about the music of Spain and Latin America, and since I heard my first fandango I’ve been wanting to write one. In Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, I am attempting to alternate and somewhat fuse the controlled sensuality of the romantic fandango with a somewhat melancholic chorale.”

The piece weaves in and out of fandango and melancholy, giving the impression of moving from solitude into a dreamlike soirée, only to slip back inward while stepping outside into a glassy night and hearing the sounds of the party flow out through the windows and doors. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

Bruce Adolphe: Night Journey (Albany)
Musical Arts Woodwind Quintet

Any composer who sets out to write a really good wind quintet contends with inherent challenges of the instrumentation, chief among them the balance of sound between the high, light sound of the flute and the potentially low and overwhelming sound of the French horn. But they also have a beautiful, diverse palette of colors and textures open to them, and it seems to me that this 1986 work for winds makes use of these with aplomb. It’s a very enjoyable piece that moves in three main sections through bubbly counterpoint and quiet shades of repose.

Though the played-out “train chugging along through the night” concept seems to pop up incessantly in contemporary music for wind ensembles, I’m happy to give Adolphe a pass here since the piece was initially conceived with no specific inspiration in mind. The flickering colors and shifting mosaic of rhythm that characterize the music that opens and closes the piece seem to evoke a darkened nighttime landscape passing outside the window of a train, and thus the composer chose Night Journey for the title.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.


by Seth Tompkins

Robert Sirota and Victoria Sirota_by Michael Falco for New York Times

Robert Sirota’s music seems ultimately conscious.  The variety of sounds he manages to draw from the organ is staggering.  On Celestial Wind, a new album from Albany Records, this crazily expansive palette is combined with clear musical polyglottism; the overall effect leaves the listener with a sense of limitless possibility.  The music on this release stretches from the playful, mischievous, and profane to the somber, introspective, and sacred.

One instance of the composer’s understanding of the organ is his clear awareness of the qualities of traditional organ music.  He resurrects and references harmonies of the past at several points on this disc.  However, these moments of time travel occur without any derision toward their traditional sounds in the service of a rigid modernism.  On the contrary, these moments are deftly woven into the arcs of their pieces, stitched together with the rest Sirota’s omniscient musical lexicon.  A standout example of this is the final two movements of Letters Abroad, which begins with a glorious homage to Fanny Mendelssohn.  This track alone includes a satisfyingly multifaceted set of sounds that wryly flows from the congenial, charming, and victorious to the anxious and haunting before finally moving to a delicate, peaceful intimacy.

Robert Sirota’s mastery of the possibilities allowed by the organ would not be possible without his 45-year “collaboration” with his wife, who is the performer on this release.  Organist Victoria Sirota, who is also an author and an Episcopal priest, among other things, deftly executes Robert’s music.  She plays with an evident mastery and flexibility that obviously both inspired this music’s composition and made its realization possible.  This is especially evident in the opening piece, Toccata, which Robert Sirota himself notes is his “most difficult organ piece.”

Easter Canticles, Two Lenten Chorale Preludes, and Celestial Wind are the three sacred pieces on this release.  Musically, however, these three pieces differ dramatically.  Two of the pieces have concrete sacred sources; the chorale preludes are based on pre-1800 sacred music, and Celestial Wind is inspired by a passage from the Book of Acts.  Despite this similarity in source material, these two pieces differ dramatically; Celestial Wind is the more progressive of the two.  The other sacred piece, Easter Canticles, which also includes a solo cello part (touchingly performed by Norman Fischer), is not based on a specific musical or textual source, but rather, inspired by the story of the Passion of Christ.  Interestingly, Victoria Sirota cites this as “the most religious piece” on the album.

Lest this release seem to be all gravity and reverence, do not overlook the Four Pieces for Organ.  They are just plain fun!  Written as a show piece, these short romps explore Klangfarbenmelodie in the tradition of Schoenberg and Webern, splitting lines across the vast array of voices available on the organ.  Although that idea may seem esoteric, any concerns will quickly dissipate in the face of the Sirotas’ playfulness.  These pieces show that Robert Sirota’s global understanding of the organ is certainly not limited to the serious.