STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, January 6 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Sarah Kirkland Snider: Unremembered: VIII. The Witch (New Amsterdam)

unremembered_cover-300x300“The Witch” is the 8th vignette in a 13-piece song cycle titled Unremembered from fabulous composer Sarah Kirkland Snider. Aggressive strings and a militant orchestration set the scene for a spooky narrative that takes us into shadowy woods full of subtle horrors. Shara Nova’s growling vocals capture both the beauty and foreboding of this imagistic and vivid score. Snider’s “The Witch” is layered, grisly and intense from start to finish. Highly recommended for listeners of all ages, just maybe not before bedtime. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Aphex Twin: Mt. Saint Michel performed by Alarm Will Sound (Cantaloupe Music)

acoustica_300dpi_cmykStarting the new year swamped with work and already behind from the previous year is not ideal, but it is the situation many of us find ourselves in this January. Alarm Will Sound’s version of Aphex Twin’s Mt. Saint Michael is the perfect music for this situation. Perhaps embracing the chaos along with pursuit of self-care

is the way forward. – Seth Tompkins

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


Conlon Nancarrow (arr. Evan Ziporyn): Four Player Piano Studies performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (Cantaloupe Music)

55805527bd9c35da77388ee16ee84cb456d8fd53You could say the 20th century experimental composer and expatriate Conlon Nancarrow was a bit of an introvert. He lived most of his life in isolation, and for decades composed only for player pianos—working alone, by hand, to produce and perfect a massive library of swingin’ blues and boogie-woogie piano rolls, his famous 49 Studies for Player Piano among them.

Well, composer Evan Ziporyn decided to take a few of those piano roll etudes and put them into human hands—the hands of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Ziporyn created a mixed ensemble arrangement that retains the visceral intensity and mechanical energy of Nancarrow’s original rolls, but reimagines them through the Technicolor timbral palette of Bang on a Can. It’s snazzy, jazzy, and full of color—proof that although player pianos have become largely obsolete, Nancarrow’s music is still very much alive. – Maggie Molloy

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


Lisa Bielawa: Synopsis No. 12 “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” Michael Norsworthy, clarinet (BMOP/Sound)

bmop1017sI have to confess that I was super biased to love this piece even before I heard it; as a clarinetist, I am a huge fan of the unaccompanied clarinet repertoire, and as a musician, I am huge fan of Lisa Bielawa. Incredible, bizarre, enigmatic works have been written for clarinet alone by composers like Igor Stravinsky, William Bolcom, and Shulamit Ran. As they require one single voice to command the listener’s attention, they are tremendously difficult to compose and perform. Luckily, the clarinet’s huge range provides ample opportunity to create a wide variety of colors and characters, and a bit of extended techniques can help as well. Bielawa’s work presents the performer with a number of different fragments and gives them free reign to decide the order in which they are played, and how many times they are used. The idea behind “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” and the other 14 Synopses (all with six-word titles) is tied to Hemingway’s six-word short story “For sale, baby shoes: never used.” Apparently, Bielawa’s musical fragments each represent a different vacation activity. BMOP’s clarinetist Michael Norsworthy does a lot of trilling and running around the register of the instrument – sounds like he had a busy summer vacation.

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

Second Inversion’s Top 5 Album Reviews of 2016

You can count on Second Inversion for Album Reviews of the latest and greatest new releases. These are the top 5 most popular reviews of 2016!

#5: Jessie Montgomery: Strum (Azica)

download-26The album combines classical chamber music with elements of folk music, spirituals, improvisation, poetry, and politics, crafting a unique and insightful newmusic perspective on the cross-cultural intersections of American history. And while this album may just be the beginning for Montgomery, “Strum” certainly echoes with possibility. – Maggie Molloy


#4: Northwestern University Cello Ensemble: Shadow, Echo, Memory (Sono Luminus)

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As the album continues onward from the Rachmaninov through the Mahler, it becomes clear that the Ensemble has achieved their purported goal of using the cello to express textures of dark and light, bring to life sounds and images from another time, and finally to aid listeners in revisiting their own histories. It does indeed provide a fascinating, haunting individual experience to those who are up for a little soul-searching. – Brendan Howe


#3: Contact: Discreet Music by Brian Eno (Cantaloupe Music)

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As performers, Contact makes the music their own—and as listeners, so do we. With precision, patience, and the utmost reverence, Contact recreates Eno’s ambient masterwork as an echo chamber of circling motives and mismatched musical textures. Each ripple of the repetitious melody is a perfectly crafted piece of the larger pattern, a discreet but unique little gem in and of itself. – Maggie Molloy


#2: Boston Modern Orchestra Project: Mason Bates’ Mothership (BMOP/Sound)

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Part of what makes this music great is its versatility: it’s at home in so many different settings, from the venerated orchestral concert hall, to the sweaty dance club, to your living room on a Tuesday night. – Geoffrey Larson


#1: Pink Floyd: “Wish You Were Here” Symphonic featuring Alice Cooper with the London Orion Orchestra (Decca)

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Fans of Pink Floyd will definitely enjoy the musical fantasia of Wish You Were Here Symphonic.  Those who are less familiar with Pink Floyd will also find a lot to love in this recording.  You listen to this album for the symphonic arrangements and in every way they deliver.

This was Smith’s first go at producing an album by himself and I’d call it a great success.  I hope to hear symphonic versions of Pink Floyd’s other classics in the future.  Hint hint, Pete Smith.  Tell us, where will you go from Here? – Rachele Hales

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, October 14 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

1045-bates-cover-1600Mason Bates: Mothership (BMOP/sound)

Some combinations are wonderful despite the unintuitive relationship of their component parts.  Mason Bates’s Mothership contains such a combination.  You wouldn’t think that live electronics, a full orchestra, and NASA spaceship sound samples would go well together with the sound of the guzheng, but they do.  So sit back, grab some cream cheese for that hot-dog, and enjoy Mothership. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 10am hour today to hear this piece.


Philip Glass: Etude No.12; Bruce Levingston, piano (Sono Luminus)

dsl-92205-dreaming-awake-coverI‘m a total nut for minimalism and usually turn to it when working, running, cooking, commuting, exploring, just about anything. So, I was thrilled to discover Dreaming Awake, a recently released 2-disc journey of Philip Glass’ piano music guided by Bruce Levingston. Ten of his etudes are tucked in between and around The Illusionist Suite, Wichita Vortex Suite (with guest vocals from Ethan Hawke), Dreaming Awake, and Metamorphosis No.2, for an asymmetric but balanced collection.

I hope you catch Etude No.12 on Second Inversion today. Whereas his first 10 etudes were written primarily as exercises for improving technique, his later etudes are more expressive and emotional. No.12 to me is characteristically “Glass” in many ways – repetitive, steady, with rhythmic, driving arpeggios, and also a somber depth. The musical colors are incredibly poignant in this tribute to American painter Chuck Close, who temporary lost (but later regained) the ability to paint due to a spinal aneurysm. Glass depicts this emotional battle in the music, Levingston communicates it with is playing, and the producers at Sono Luminus record it with such mastery, yielding a stand-out new release in the contemporary classical realm. – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Stephen Suber: Soleil; Ars Brunensis Chorus (Centaur)

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The best music is music that convinces you there is no other music in the world.  This week Stephen Suber’s “Soleil” did that for me.  He describes the composition as “an orchestral piece without the orchestra,” using only the dynamic human voice to create rhythms and harmonies that grow more complex as the piece continues.  Baritones sub as the double bass, tenors become cellos, and percussion is provided by plosives, sibilants, and fricatives.  This composition is from his album Starlit and, when asked about it in an interview, Suber refers specifically to “Soleil” when he states that the singers “came so close to reading my mind.  They nailed it.”  With a review like that it’s no wonder he cites this as his favorite work from the album! – Rachele Hales

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


Richard Reed Parry: Heart and Breath Sextet;  yMusic and Nico Muhly
(Deutsche Grammophon)

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Richard Reed Parry is one of those musicians who really writes from the heart—in this case, literally. His “Heart and Breath Sextet” throws all time signatures out the window and instead instructs the performers to play, well, to the beat of their hearts.

The piece comes from his introspective opus, Music for Heart and Breath: a series of compositions which uses the performers’ hearts and lungs as the performance parameters. Each musician is instructed to play with a stethoscope (and very quietly) in order to stay in sync with their own heartbeat, thus resulting in a beautifully irregular ebb and flow—a soft and serene watercolor come to life.

And as you can imagine, no two hearts beat exactly in time. For this sextet, performed by yMusic with Nico Muhly on piano, the result is a pointillistic effect: starts and stops are staggered, melodies fall out of sync with one another, harmonies bend delicately up and down.

And every once in a while, one of those softly sighing melodies falls in sync with your own heart and breath—a gentle reminder of just how musical it is to be alive. – Maggie Molloy

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

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, July 15 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Mathew Rosenblum: Sharpshooter from Mobius Loop Gil Rose/Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP/sound)

1001564At first listen, Mathew Rosenblum’s tonal language and style in Sharpshooter seemed pleasant, if unremarkable.  However, as I dug into this piece, I realized that Rosenblum has woven microtonality throughout this piece so deftly that it seems an organic outgrowth of the musical expression, rather than a conscious “technique.”  Integrating microtonality so successfully is a remarkable achievement.  Additionally, Rosenblum’s use of repeating structures firmly plants this piece tantalizingly close to the leading edge of post-minimalism.  If there were any more variety here, the post-minimalist label would be useless.  In Sharpshooter, Rosenblum is clearly on the verge of what is next, whatever that is. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 10am hour today to hear this recording.


Tess Said So: “11-15” from Scramble + Fate (Preserved Sound Records)

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If you’re looking for a gateway to classical music, or really, if you’re just looking for great music, I’d recommend Tess Said So’s recent release, Scramble + Fate. Tess Said So is an Australian duo featuring One Piano Player (Rasa Daukus) and One Percussionist (Will Larsen) who “adapt a pop sensibility to a classical format.” The track “11-15” has their signature composed, classical foundation peppered with refreshing pop-ballad flavors. It’s not too simple and it’s not too complex. The opening calm, slowly moving piano melody breaks way into piano onstinatos splashed with percussion, progressively building with a concluding recap to the opening. I feel a sense of nostalgia, and a slower reflection on what was once the present. – Maggie Stapleton

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


Corey Dargel: “Removable Parts” from Someone Will Take Care of Me (New Amsterdam Records)
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When you’re in a relationship, you have to make sacrifices—and sometimes you lose pieces of yourself in the process. If you’re Corey Dargel, those pieces are quite literal.

“Removable Parts” is the title of Corey Dargel’s 10-part art song cycle about amputation fetishism. Yes, you read that correctly. Each song reimagines the sacrifices made in relationships as actual physical bodily amputations, with Dargel’s vocals drifting sarcastically above sappy piano and toy piano melodies. It’s like a collection of satirical love songs—radical, fanatical, and unapologetically self-indulgent.

And honestly, that’s pretty in tune with the rest of Dargel’s compositional discography. He writes electronic art songs which draw from contemporary classical and pop music idioms, combining deadpan vocal delivery with pulpy lyrics and deceptively cheery chamber music accompaniment.

Maybe it’s just my weird sense of humor, but I think it’s hilarious and original. Corey Dargel may have lost all his limbs and extremities, but at least he’s still got personality. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts Seth and Maggie S. (and community member Brendan Howe) each share a favorite selection from the Friday 4/8/16 playlist! Tune in at the indicated times below to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Mason Bates: Desert Transport (BMOP/sound)

1045-Bates-cover-1600This week, I chose a piece that reminds me that I’m just a sucker for certain things. Two of those things are the majestic landscapes of the American West and good brass writing, both of which are present in ample measure in Mason Bates’s Desert Transport. Inspired by a helicopter ride over the Arizona desert, this is a well-balanced exploration of the beauty and complexity of the American Southwest that operates on multiple levels. It has the charmingly indulgent and innocently sincere moments of musical Americana that you might expected of a large-scale orchestra work about the Western landscape, but those are balanced with inward-looking moments that suggest a less nationalistic, more humbling consideration of the landscape at hand. Listen especially for a field recording of Pima tribal musicians, which is expertly interwoven with the live performance via offstage speakers. – Seth Tompkins

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


Finnegan Shanahan: The Great Sunstroke (New Amsterdam)

The_Two_Halves_Album_CoverIt’s no secret that I love pretty much everything that the New Amsterdam record label produces. I’m prone to gushing about them in my commentary on the Second Inversion stream and to my friends – particularly those who don’t have a clear understanding what “contemporary classical and cross-genre music” really means – because New Amsterdam constantly hits the nail on the head with releasing music that truly rethinks classical. One of the most recent releases is The Two Halves, a geographically-inspired song cycle from 22-year-old Finnegan Shanahan and the ensemble Contemporaneous. The 6 songs are based on a map of the Hudson River Railroad ~1852 and moves along the Hudson River to the Catskills and across the country to the Jemez Mountains and beyond. The Great Sunstroke captures this intersection of deft composition with popular song and folk music. It’s not quite classical, it’s not quite pop, and it falls in that beautiful in-between place with constant energy that keeps me excited about the evolution of music in the 21st century. – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this recording.


Daníel Bjarnason: Emergence (Bedroom Community)

Daniel Bjarnason Over Light EarthDaníel Bjarnason’s 2013 album Over Light Earth opens with two pieces commissioned by the LA Philharmonic, which respond to paintings by abstract expressionists Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. The Icelandic composer delivered in magnificently ominous terms, capturing the early Cold War anxieties expressed by both painters in their starkly divergent styles.

Using unconventionally close micing and multi-tracking, Bjarnason accentuates each instrument’s individual character to great effect. The triptych Emergence and the five movements of Solitudes take the listener through a labyrinth of grainy strings, prepared piano à la John Cage, and buoyant woodwinds, all of which conspire to create the album’s pervasive sense of intimacy and unpredictability. – Brendan Howe

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

ALBUM REVIEW: “David Stock: Concertos” with Gil Rose and BMOP, Featuring Andrés Cárdenes, Alex Klein, and Lisa Pegher

By Geoffrey Larson

David StockDavid Stock did not hold back. That one thing about the late composer is for sure; his music was unfettered by any sort of self-consciousness or reticence. His works are an unabashed good time, and the bluntness of his titles reflect a musical personality full of good humor: Plenty of Horn, Blast!, Sax Appeal, Knockout. David was an up-front kind of guy, and was profoundly focused on creating, promoting, and nurturing the finest musical art. He left an indelible mark on the American musical landscape in long associations with some of the country’s finest orchestras. Through his creation of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and his work with other Pittsburgh institutions, he brought amazing culture and musical vitality to the Rust Belt.

Who better than Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project to do justice to his work? Rose shares Stock’s ties to Pittsburgh (both were educated at Carnegie Mellon), and his no-nonsense, quality-above-all-else attitude. In response to the often modest size of BMOP’s concert audience, Rose told the New York Times, “I don’t like to put a lot of money into marketing because I’d rather put it on the stage.” He has focused on building an orchestra of the Boston area’s finest freelancers and focusing their collective musical might into the most consummate performances of contemporary music, with a special emphasis on preserving the music of living composers in high-quality recordings with his own BMOP/Sound label.

David Stock: ConcertosRose and BMOP explore Stock’s concertos in this latest release, teaming up with soloists who were close with the composer. The Cuban-born violinist Andrés Cárdenes premiered Stock’s earlier 1995 Violin Concerto with Pittsburgh Symphony during his time as that orchestra’s concertmaster, and aside from his usual spectacular virtuosity brings a special affinity to this music. He seemingly devours every note and rhythm in the Concierto Cubano (2000), particularly in the tango-like third movement “Dancing, with fire.” That third movement is not far from the textures and harmonies of the final movement of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto (both works are scored for soloist and string orchestra), revealing some of the underpinnings of the Americana in Stock’s orchestral sound. Though BMOP’s intonation begins to fray slightly in the course of some rapid and challenging passagework, the orchestra executes this music with resolute confidence and poise under Rose.

Stock’s music is not all pyrotechnics: the lyricism that rounds out the works on this release actually makes the collection quite accessible for newcomers to his music. The second piece on the disc is especially demanding of a special seriousness in addition to the trademark Stock joviality, and oboist Alex Klein is fully committed, giving an almost operatic performance. In Oborama, Stock presents a series of five character pieces that each feature a different instrument, touring us through the oboe family from English horn to musette (piccolo oboe), oboe d’amore, and bass oboe before giving the final word to the standard oboe itself. Klein is an especially adept practitioner of the instrument to excel on all five, giving life to each instrument’s character as portrayed in the five-movement drama. If you know of another work that features five instruments of the oboe family, please tell us. It must have been a rare treat to see this work in live performance – we are super jealous.

There’s more live performance FOMO in Lisa Pegher’s recording of Stock’s Percussion Concerto, which is whoa!-inducing from the start. Stock strikes up an unbalanced dialogue between soloist and orchestra at the outset, with the soloist interjecting thunderously among soft string chords à la Ives’ The Unanswered Question (or the second movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, with roles reversed). Pegher masterfully captures the underlying tension of the inward-looking second movement (marked “Introspective”), and the soft tones of the marimba never seem to wander aimlessly. She’s right at home as the fully battery is unleashed in the jubilantly syncopated finale, and BMOP is up for the mad scramble of notes as well. Stock has written another fearsome part for the orchestral timpanist in this concerto, and BMOP’s Craig McNutt trades blows with the soloist with aplomb.

I first met David Stock at a Seattle Symphony rehearsal in 2007, when the orchestra was preparing for a performance of his work Blast! under Gerard Schwarz. One of my favorite memories of David comes from one of the many conversations we had at performances of the Pittsburgh Symphony (did he miss a single one?), when I reminded him of that occasion in Seattle. He exclaimed at me from behind his suspenders and massive glasses, “It’s not just Blast, you know, it’s Blast! With an EXCLAMATION POINT!” Speaking of Stock with Jerry Schwarz in Pittsburgh in 2014, Schwarz said to me: “We chose to feature David’s music in a program of the All-Star Orchestra. He always said, ‘It’s not just Blast, you know, it’s Blast! With an EXCLAMATION POINT!’”

David was an unforgettable person, and the infectious character of his music is felt both by those familiar with his work and experiencing it for the first time. Though this latest BMOP release was recorded before his passing in November 2015 and was never meant as a eulogy for the composer, it serves as a fitting tribute, wrapped in the blinding virtuosity, good humor, and friendship that these musicians do best.

Geoffrey Larson is a host on Second Inversion, and is the Music Director of Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mason Bates’ Mothership featuring Gil Rose/Boston Modern Orchestra Project

by Geoffrey Larson

BMOP throws down orchestral music of Composer-DJ Mason Bates

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Ever since the extravaganza of the YouTube Symphony’s premiere of Mason Bates’ Mothership at the Sydney Opera House in 2011, the piece has taken off (sorry), popping up in the programs of major orchestras across the US and abroad. Mothership is perhaps the most direct and largest-scale representation of Bates’ style as an ensemble composer, which blends contemporary American classical composition with jazz and electronic sounds. Its driving, grooving feel is positively addictive, like Short Ride in a Fast Machine seen through a smoky jazz/electronic kaleidoscope. A slightly more introspective middle section relies on the talents of improvisers, making no two performances the same – and some borderline EDM-style beats and electronics provided by a laptop-driven synth setup or the keypad-operating composer himself drive the pace of the music. It’s totally fun, and totally infectious.

I was already hooked after seeing the YouTube performance of Mothership, but after witnessing excellent performances by the Pittsburgh Symphony of this work and others such as Desert Transport during Mason’s time as PSO Composer in Residence, I was a full-blown addict. Where’s the recording??, I muttered to myself through sleepless nights. So, a very heartfelt thank-you goes out to Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project for satisfying (and abetting) my addiction with a full album of Mason’s orchestral music.

(available now from BMOP/sound)

For the listener, this release pulls no punches. We are first launched into space with Mothership, then glide along the gossamer textures of Sea-Blue Circuitry, are blasted by the orchestral fanfares of Attack Decay Sustain Release, and are then enchanted by the humid, electronic-cicada-filled ambience of Rusty Air in Carolina before being flung across the desert in a helicopter in Desert Transport. Modern classical albums that feature only one composer are rarely listenable all the way through; not so with this one. It’s unmistakably Bates throughout, but the deep variety of orchestral sounds, augmented with electronic wizardry from the composer’s club DJ side, never succeed in exhausting the ear.

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As for the performance, BMOP is in their usual excellent form, with ensemble playing that is tightly coordinated in the midst of rapid-fire passages and a brass section that is strikingly powerful in its attacks and beautifully in tune. In the midst of synthesized textures, the orchestral layers come through crystal-clear. In Mothership, we even get an improvisation from Su Chang, the virtuoso guzheng player from the work’s premiere performance, together with Jason Moran on FM Rhodes synth. Rose’s highly accurate treatment of dynamics takes the ensemble to a beautifully evocative place in Rusty Air in Carolina, and adds appropriate shaping and punch in the other works. We should be very relieved that Rose and BMOP aren’t afraid to really let it rip in this music’s most powerful moments.

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Part of what makes this music great is its versatility: it’s at home in so many different settings, from the venerated orchestral concert hall, to the sweaty dance club, to your living room on a Tuesday night. This album is a keeper, then, but not without a major drawback: The B-Sides, Bates’ moody set of orchestral vignettes, is disappointingly absent. Did they run out of room? Is there a follow-up? It’s ok, I’ll wait.