STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, January 12 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Angélica Negrón: La Isla Mágica (Innova Recordings)
Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass

Brimming with whimsy and wistful nostalgia, Angélica Negrón’s La Isla Mágica combines punchy, video game-worthy electronics with double bass, percussion, and ambient vocals. Performed here by Eleonore Oppenheim on her debut solo album Home, her bass swings, sways, and dances amid a swirl of technicolor electronics. At times it sounds almost as though she’s in the middle of a theme park, playing among the neon signs, the colorful carnival games, and the translucent stars above. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Gabriela Lena Frank: Danza de los Saqsampillos (Naxos Records)
Alias Chamber Ensemble

I seriously can’t get enough of these works by Gabriela Lena Frank, with all their vibrant colors and stunning rhythmic character. Gabriela was born in the US to parents of Peruvian/Chinese and Lithuanian/Jewish ancestry, and much of her music is influenced by her heritage. Danza de los Saqsampillos is inspired by the Peruvian “saqsampillo,” a rambunctious jungle-dweller with a characteristic jumping two-person dance. This performance from the Alias Chamber Ensemble album Hilos is the version for two marimbas.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Bowie: “Ashes to Ashes” (arr. Bischoff)
Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff

David Bowie once said that “Ashes to Ashes” represented his own feelings of inadequacy about his work not having much importance.  Until “Ashes to Ashes” was released in 1980, much of Bowie’s music was cloaked in concept and personas so the vulnerability and maturity of this song was, among other things, his way of closing that chapter and moving on. In this version, from an album recorded just two weeks following Bowie’s death in 2016, the harsh textures, edginess, and synthesized guitars of the original are replaced with softer melancholy strings and sultry nightclub vocals.  Bowie is celebrated here, not emulated, and that’s what makes this tribute shine.
 Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Crowell: “Waiting in the Rain for Snow” (New Amsterdam Records)
NOW Ensemble

This is exactly what waiting in the rain for snow sounds like.

NOW Ensemble’s flute, clarinet, double bass, oboe, piano, and electric guitar combine the excitement and anticipation of dramatic, beautiful flakes drifting from the sky, with the anxious desire to stay dry while the undesirable in-between phase of sleet insistently pounds the pavement in front of you. – Brendan Howe

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Strung Out in Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute

by Maggie Molloy

The Starman sent shock waves across the universe when he died last month after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer—and while we continue to mourn the loss of this talented artist and creative visionary, we find comfort in knowing that his sparkling light will never burn out.

David Bowie’s bold vision, fierce courage, and revolutionary music continue to live on in the lives and art of his family, friends, fans, and collaborators. A true artist, he continued creating all the way up until his death—and his musical influence will continue to live on long after.

Within days of Bowie’s death, punk-rock pianist and cabaret songstress Amanda Palmer teamed up with pop polymath Jherek Bischoff to create “Strung Out in Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute.”

Strung-Out-in-Heaven

Arranged, recorded, mixed, and released within just two weeks, the six-song EP also includes six Bowie-inspired works of visual art. The album also features musical contributions from singer-songwriter Anna Calvi and actor, writer, and director John Cameron Mitchell.

The EP was financed by Palmer’s Patreon supporters, and is being sold for $1 on Bandcamp. Part of the money will go to Bowie’s publisher, and the remaining proceeds from the first month of sales will be donated to the cancer research wing of the Tufts Medical Center in memory of Bowie.

 

“I was on the phone with Jherek [Bischoff], discussing another project, and I was feeling a bit trapped in the non-productive new-mother cave—so we joked that we should do a flash Bowie tribute,” Palmer wrote in a statement. “And suddenly, we weren’t joking. I had funding from my 7,000 fans on Patreon to ‘make stuff.’ What better ‘stuff’? We started that night, giving ourselves a deadline of two weeks to release it as a surprise.”

And so in the spirit of surprise Bowie tributes, Second Inversion decided to write a surprise album review. Here are all the things we love about this shimmering Starman string tribute:

PalmerBowie1

Cassandra Long: “Blackstar”

BLACKSTAR: The album begins with the end: a cover of the title track from Bowie’s final studio album. Palmer and Bischoff turn Bowie’s surreal musical dreamscape into a soulful string lament, with Palmer’s and Calvi’s vocals echoing from opposite ears above layered string melodies. It’s one part mystic hymnal, one part cult cabaret, one part pop poetry, and all parts transcendent.

 

PalmerBowie3

Sarah Beetson: “Space Oddity”

SPACE ODDITY: Palmer’s husband, author Neil Gaiman, provides the countdown to “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s 1969 interstellar single. Weightless string melodies and pizzicato backdrops sparkle like the stars beneath Palmer’s airy vocals in this nebulous outer-space adventure.

 

 

 

 

PalmerBowie2

David Mack: “Ashes to Ashes”

ASHES TO ASHES: Palmer and Bischoff strip out the synth from this New Romantic 1980s nursery rhyme and focus instead on its melancholic vocal melodies. Palmer’s theatrical voice floats softly through layers of angular string melodies and deadpan backup vocals—wistful, nostalgic, and “strung out in Heaven’s high.”

 

PalmerBowie6

Bill Sienkiewicz:”Heroes”

 

 

 

 

HEROES: Of course, the album just wouldn’t be Bowie if it didn’t have a rendition of his 1970s synth-laden serenade, “Heroes.” Effervescent strings propel Palmer’s fervent vocals forward in this heartfelt tribute, with John Cameron Mitchell providing the background vocals for its impassioned climax.

 

PalmerBowie5

HA-HA: “Helden”

HELDEN: Palmer and Mitchell also team up for an abridged cover of the German version of “Heroes.” Their fiery duet soars triumphantly over a textured string backdrop, paying tribute to a Bowie classic that truly transcends language.

 

PalmerBowie4

Félix Marqués: “Life on Mars?”

 

 

 

 

LIFE ON MARS?: Bischoff turns Bowie’s surrealist sci-fi anthem into a lively instrumental string serenade, taking the original heartrending melody and transforming it into a happy and hopeful reminder of Bowie’s boundless musical imagination.

 

Because that’s the beauty of Bowie: his creative vision extended beyond genre, geography, or language. Throughout his chameleonic career, he created music that could connect and inspire people from all over the globe, and perhaps even beyond it.

“Music is the binding agent of our mundane lives,” Palmer wrote. “It cements the moments in which we wash the dishes, type the resumes, go to the funerals, have the babies. The stronger the agent, the tougher the memory, and Bowie was NASA-grade epoxy to a sprawling span of freaked-out kids over three generations. He bonded us to our weird selves. We can be us, he said. Just for one day.”

In the end, Bowie’s contributions to the world of music extend far past the confines of rock, glam, pop, or classical genres, reminding us that when it comes to art, the sky is the limit—and a creative spirit like his belongs right up alongside the stars. Rest in peace, Starman.

“The man, the artist, exits,” Palmer wrote. “But the music, the glue; it stays. It never stops binding us together.”