2016 FOLKLIFE PREVIEW: Meet the Westerlies

by Maggie Molloy

The Westerlies are a Seattle-born, New York-based brass quartet named after the prevailing winds that blow from West to East—but this month they are reversing those winds and travelling from East to West. Their destination? The Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife.

We are thrilled to present the Westerlies, along with Sound of Late and the Skyros Quartet, at our Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife on Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m.

The Westerlies All photos credit Sasha Arutyunova, except the final

While the Westerlies may be charming, dapper, and impeccably dressed, let it be known that these guys are not your typical boy band. Comprised of Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone, the guys are known for their bold artistry, skilled technical finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility.

The guys grew up together playing music in Seattle under the mentorship of Wayne Horvitz, and after relocating to New York City to attend school, they formed a quartet in late 2011. Since then, they have cultivated a new brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of composers as diverse and wide-ranging as Ives, Ellington, Bartók, Ligeti, and many more.

But no matter what they play, the one element that remains constant across all of their music is the warmth, camaraderie, and good-humored personalities of four longtime friends. We sat down with the guys to see what we can expect at the Second Inversion Showcase:

Second Inversion: How would you describe or characterize your ensemble’s sound?

Andy ClausenAndy Clausen: When The Westerlies first came together as an ensemble in 2011, it felt much more like a rock band in spirit. We were four childhood friends from Seattle who had just moved to New York and found a little slice of home when we were hanging out. At the same time, we were all seeking some sort of escape from the musical confines of jazz and classical conservatories. 

As we started composing and arranging for the group, we realized rather quickly that it wasn’t going to be a traditional classical chamber ensemble, or a “brass band”—that what we were seeking was something entirely other. 

Whenever we approach a new piece with the ensemble, whether it’s an original composition, a folk song, a Ligeti piano piece, an Ellington piece, a Bulgarian choral piece, or a Wayne Horvitz composition, we are trying to find the most personally expressive means of interpretation. Sometimes that involves dramatically reimagining the structure and whittling a piece down to its simplest essence, sometimes it involves a more literal reading of the score.

Having the freedom to radically personalize every piece we play through a democratic arranging process, and allowing each piece to grow and evolve over years of touring is something we have not experienced in any other type of ensemble.

We each come to the ensemble with variety of musical interests: folk, jazz, contemporary classical, gospel, Hindustani, indie rock, metal, Romantic, minimalist, maximalist, country, and blues.

Whatever “sound” The Westerlies have stumbled upon is the result of four friends channeling these diverse interests through warm air, buzzing lips and conical brass tubes—with a lot of love and saliva in there too.

SI: The Pacific Northwest is really blossoming in the contemporary classical music sphere—what do you think makes our music scene here so unique?

Willem de KochWillem de Koch: I think the Pacific Northwest in general, and Seattle in particular, has always been viewed as a distant outpost by the rest of the country. The geographic isolation and dramatic natural beauty of the region allow for a spirit of experimentation and entrepreneurship in every field, but that spirit is definitely imbued in the music of the Pacific Northwest of every genre.

Seattle has an immense and robust arts infrastructure, thanks in big part to the unique culture of philanthropy that has been cultivated here over the years. The nonprofit sector in Seattle is thriving, and that includes the numerous arts organizations and music presenters in the city. The musicians here would not have the freedom and ability to create exceptional work if it were not for the platform provided by organizations like KING FM and Second Inversion, Earshot Jazz, Town Hall Seattle, and of course Northwest Folklife. The list goes on. 

It should also be acknowledged that Seattle has a long history of exceptional music education. All four of us are products of the music programs at our Seattle public schools, and our time spent in those programs was a formative experience for all of us. Organizations like Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and Seattle JazzEd continue to ensure that every student has access to excellent music education, and that Seattle’s music education legacy will be upheld for many years to come. I really believe that music education scene in Seattle is completely unparalleled. 

SI: Northwest Folklife strengthens local communities through art and music, celebrating diverse cultural heritages and working to ensure their continued growth and development. What types of communities or music traditions are represented in your music?

Riley MulherkarRiley Mulherkar: The four of us come from differing musical backgrounds so there’s definitely a wide variety of traditions and communities represented in our music. One of the most direct influences we share comes from our mentor Wayne Horvitz, whose music we recorded for our debut album. Wayne has worn a number of hats in his career, from being a leading figure in New York’s downtown scene in the late 80s to film scoring and writing chamber music, jazz, and electronic music. His ability to seamlessly weave it all together is something we’ve admired since before we even existed as an ensemble.

Growing up in Seattle, the jam sessions around the city played a huge role in our development—whether at Cafe Racer or the Faire Cafe, these long nights of music opened up our ears and our minds. When we moved to New York, we were all introduced to a thriving contemporary classical community as well as a creative landscape in Brooklyn that has played a huge role in our development both individually and as an ensemble. More than anything, these communities have instilled values in us which shape the way we think, compose, and play.

SI: As Seattle natives, what does the Northwest Folklife Festival mean to you?

Zubin HenslerZubin Hensler: Folklife was the first music festival I ever went to. My parents brought me along when I was 7 months old and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss a year from then until I was 18 and moved to NYC. So, it means a huge amount! What a privilege to grow up in a city where diverse music is celebrated and presented regularly. I owe so much of my musical (and life) education to the performances that I was exposed to at Folklife and the other festivals in the region. So, it’s a great honor to be able to come back and hopefully pass on some of that inspiration.

 

 

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

Willem de Koch: It’s always a treat to return home and perform for our hometown crowd. We grew up performing at Folklife in our high school jazz bands, so we’re excited to have the opportunity to perform at the festival with our own band. We’re also really looking forward to being a part of the Second Inversion Showcase. Maggie Stapleton and everybody else at KING FM and Second Inversion have been doing a tremendous service for Seattle in highlighting both local and national artists who are creating unique new sounds.

We’re honored to be a part of the Second Inversion community and are really looking forward to hearing the other artists at the Showcase. All we hope for the audience is that they’re each able to make their own personal connection with our music, in whatever form that may be. The Westerlies on Lopez Island

Photo credit: Andrew Swanson

The Westerlies will be featured along with Sound of Late and the Skyros Quartet at our 2nd Annual Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife on Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m. For more information, please click here or RSVP to our Facebook event.

Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife 2016!

by Maggie Stapleton

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We are excited to announce the lineup for Second Inversion’s 2nd annual showcase at Northwest Folklife on Friday, May 27 from 8-10pm! RSVP to our Facebook event and invite your friends to this exciting FREE event!

Sound of Late
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Sound of Late is a new music ensemble that creates distinctive performances and unexpected collaborations that build and inspire the communities around us. They believe music is best when shared with other people, which is why Sound of Late is working to support the artistic and creative community across the Pacific Northwest. By dissolving the boundary between artist and audience, they hope to inspire new collaborations and to raise the visibility of our region.

For more on Sound of Late, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

Skyros Quartet
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The Skyros Quartet, praised by the Topeka Capital-Journal as “stellar,” brings a bright and inventive style to the concert hall and can be seen performing, teaching, and leading community events in their new hometown of Seattle, as well as concertizing around the US and Canada.The Skyros Quartet is passionate about the future of music and performing works by living composers. They have worked extensively with composers Tonia Ko, Andy Davis, Devin Maxwell, and Liza Sobel.

For more on Skyros Quartet, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

The Westerlies 
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The Westerlies (“prevailing winds from the West to the East”) are a New York based brass quartet comprised of four friends from Seattle, Washington: Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet, and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. They re-imagine the chamber music experience through boldly personal performance, recording, collaboration, education, and outreach. Since their inception in 2011, they have cultivated a new brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of Ives, Ellington, Bartok, Ligeti, Stephen Foster and numerous traditionals. Their music exudes the warmth of their longstanding friendships, and reflects the broad interests of its members.

For more on The Westerlies, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

CONCERT PREVIEW: It’s Neo-Classical! Q&A with Jessie Polin

by Maggie Molloy

We’ve all seen live performances of works by the classical music giants: Haydn, Mozart, (early) Beethoven—but how often do we get to see live performances of works by the neoclassical music giants?

That opportunity comes this Saturday at Seattle Modern Orchestra’s “It’s Neo-Classical!” concert at Resonance at SOMA Towers. The concert highlights neoclassicism in wind and brass music of the early 20th century, featuring chamber works by Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Dahl.

SMOCE-Poster-v_3-770x1190After the emotional excess and perceived formlessness of the Romantic era, the neoclassicists sought to return to the aesthetic principles of the Classical period, such as order, balance, clarity, and emotional restraint. But the composers did not just copy the Classical masters—they expanded and updated the music of the Classical period by incorporating 20th century trends like expanded tonal harmonies, folk melodies, jazz elements, humor, satire, and more.

Thus, the works performed in this neoclassical chamber concert showcase the wit and charm of modern composers while also highlighting the virtuosity of the musicians themselves.

Julia Tai Photo
“Seattle Modern Orchestra is a musician-driven organization,” said conductor and co-artistic director Julia Tai. “It was really because of the musicians’ passion for new music and joy of playing with each other that the group started almost six years ago. We’re very lucky to have a group of extremely talented and dedicated musicians who love music from the 20th and 21st centuries and want to bring it to the audience.”

The musicians took the initiative to pick out repertoire, organize rehearsals, and set the concert date—and they also assisted with grant writing, marketing, and organizing the musician roster.

So to find out more, we talked with flutist Jessie Polin, a performer in Seattle Modern Orchestra who played a key leadership role in putting this program together.

Second Inversion: What do you think is most unique or inspiring about this concert program and about 20th-21st century classical music in general?

Jessie PolinJessie Polin: This particular concert is unique in that it showcases some of the best chamber music repertoire for winds and brass. Especially with the Stravinsky and Poulenc, we’re exploring the neoclassical style in the context of a small chamber concert.

I feel really excited that I continue to have opportunities to explore 20th and 21st century classical music. I’ll admit that modern music can be pretty challenging, both as an audience member and as a performer, but I find a great deal of value in the challenge. I think it’s important to continue to expand our definition of “classical music” and to recognize that there is so much diversity within those parameters. In this concert, our audience can experience some of the earlier repertoire of what we now consider “contemporary” music. The Dahl was composed and premiered in the 1940s and is the most recent piece on the program; by our standards today, that’s not incredibly modern. However, I think all three pieces on this program make a wonderful introduction to the world of modern music.


SI: Seattle Modern Orchestra specializes in 20th and 21st century music, ranging from minimalism to spectralism, serialism to electronic, and everything in between. What do you find to be some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing works from the neoclassical period specifically?

JP: All contemporary music has a unique set of challenges. I like neoclassical music because it’s like a reimagining of music that is so familiar to us. I think when non-musicians think about classical music, they think of what Mozart and Haydn sound like. And then when they hear neoclassical music, it’s like it’s familiar but also not, which is fun and interesting. Because of that, I think it’s a great introduction to modern music in general, because while it does have new and different sounds, it’s a little more approachable for a modern music newcomer.

As a performer, I think a lot about things like articulation and extreme dynamics when I approach neoclassical music. I think it’s really important to exaggerate all the gestures so that the classical ideas come across, while also showing how much the palate of stylistic choices has expanded since the Classical period.


SI: A concert program of all wind and brass music is relatively rare—what inspired you to curate a concert program without strings or percussion (other than piano)?

JP: This didn’t start out as a program for all wind and brass music, necessarily, although I am pretty excited it turned out that way. Julia and I were in grad school together at the University of Washington, and she conducted a performance of the Stravinsky, which was the first time I had played it. We’ve talked off and on for a long time about doing it again because it’s such a great piece, and this season we decided to just make it happen. I also really love the Poulenc, and felt like it would be a great pairing with Stravinsky, so at that point, it seemed natural to keep the program strings free.

Of course, the string chamber music repertoire is expansive and wonderful, but I do feel like it overshadows what else is out there to a large extent. I’m really excited about showcasing what I think is hands down some of the best chamber music in the classical repertoire, both including music for strings and not.


SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance?

JP: I’m excited about the chance to collaborate with a truly excellent group of musicians on some of my most favorite repertoire ever. We really have an all-star cast for this concert, and working with these people is invigorating and inspiring. I also feel like in the day-to-day of being a working musicians, it’s easy to get bogged down with just keeping up. This concert is happening just because we were excited about it and decided to do it, and that feels refreshing.


SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from the concert?

JP: I hope that our audience will be excited (and maybe surprised!) by how great this repertoire is. I also hope that people will find the fun and outright joy in this “serious” classical music. I think if anything, it’s great to approach neoclassical music with a little bit of humor, and I really hope our audience finds that in this concert.

Seattle Modern Orchestra Chamber Ensemble’s “It’s Neo-Classical!” concert is this Saturday, March 26 at 2 p.m. at Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue. For tickets and information, please click here.

NEW VIDEOS: The Westerlies

In their signature charming, dapper, and talented style, The Westerlies dropped by our studios during their holiday visit to Seattle for a video shoot here in our studios.  Please enjoy this assortment of videos featuring music by Andy Clausen (trombonist with the goldenrod shirt/navy jacket!), Charles Ives, and Wayne Horvitz.

 

VIDEO PREMIERE OF THE WESTERLIES’ “SWEETER THAN THE DAY”

by Maggie Stapleton

Hello, world.  Do you know The Westerlies?  Here’s a warm introduction, if not.  They’re a brass quartet based in New York, but all four musicians are Seattle natives and longtime friends, anddedicated to the cultivation of a new brass quartet repertoire that exists in the ever-narrowing gap between American folk music, jazz, classical, and indie rock.”

We are thrilled here at Second Inversion to present the video premiere of The Westerlies’ “Sweeter than the Day” from their album Wish The Children Would Come On Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz.  The album, which Horvitz produced, was recorded in August 2013 and was recently released by Songlines Recordings.  In between takes, they shot this video outside the studio on Lopez Island, one of the most peaceful and relaxing places in the Northwest, especially on these clear, summer evenings (yes, we have them and yes, I’m giving away one of our best Northwest secrets).

The Westerlies will be all over the west this summer in CA, OR, WA, and Vancouver BC.  Upcoming Seattle performances to note:

Friday, June 27, 8pm @ Seattle Art Museum (Opening for HUMAN FEEL)
Sunday, August 3, 8pm @ Café Racer (Curating the Racer Sessions)
Friday, August 8, 8pm @ Royal Room (Official CD release party!)
Monday, August 25, 8pm @ Good Shepherd Center (Album Release Tour)

Stay tuned for more Second Inversion coverage of this talented, innovative ensemble!

The Westerlies

Photo: Adam Guy