VIDEO PREMIERE: Kevin Clark’s ‘Eleanor & Hildegard’

by Maggie Molloy

In the 12th century one of the Middle Ages’ greatest patrons and politicians, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wrote a letter to one of the the era’s greatest composers, Hildegard of Bingen, asking for advice. Eleanor’s original letter has since been lost, but Hildegard’s reply remains.

That legendary correspondence was precisely the inspiration behind composer Kevin Clark‘s newest chamber work, Eleanor & Hildegard. Commissioned and premiered by Seattle’s own Sound Ensemble with mezzo-soprano Elspeth Davis this past February, the piece celebrates a regular occurrence that is rarely documented in history books: two influential women, talking to each other as autonomous individuals, independent of men.

Watch our in-studio video of Clark’s Eleanor & Hildegard and read the composer’s program note below.

Eleanor & Hildegard

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most powerful woman in politics in 12th century Europe. Hildegard of Bingen was the most important woman in religion in the same time and place, as well as being a composer.

History doesn’t give us many stories of powerful women, much less of what they had to say to each other. But these two wrote. It was 1170, and Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II was collapsing. She was on the verge of a new life. The queen wrote to Hildegard of Bingen asking for advice. Hildegard’s reply survives.

This piece fills in the missing pieces. Tania Asnes wrote a poem to take the place of Eleanor’s missing letter, which begins the piece. As the composer, I brought in music Eleanor might have heard throughout her marriage by Bernart de Ventadorn. At the end, we hear Hildegard’s reply to Eleanor, telling her to flee, ‘Fuge’, from her troubles.

Within a few years she wasn’t just free from her marriage, but making war on Henry II with the aid of her son, Richard the Lionheart.

– Kevin Clark, composer


This Saturday, the Sound Ensemble turns from the Middle Ages to something a little more modern: an evening of chamber music penned by some of today’s top rock stars. You Didn’t Know They Composed features the Sound Ensemble performing music by the likes of Björk, Beck, Bryce Dessner, and more, plus a new commission by James McAlister.

You Didn’t Know They Composed is Saturday, April 7 at 7pm at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

New Music for April: Music of Earth, Moon, and 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 - April 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: drone cinema, phonetic etudes, murder ballades, and the muted colors of Morton Feldman.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Things That Break
New music merges with stop-motion animation, visual art, and theatre in this multidisciplinary concert centered around the theme of “breaking.” Four Seattle-based female artists come together for a unique presentation of world premieres.
Fri, 4/6, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

The Sound Ensemble: You Didn’t Know They Composed
Did you know some of today’s top rock stars and pop stars have tried their hands at classical composition too? The Sound Ensemble presents an evening of chamber music by the likes of Björk, Beck, Bryce Dessner, and more, plus a new commission by James McAlister.
Sat, 4/7, 7pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$15

The Esoterics: CŌNFIDŌ
The ancient rite of the Christian liturgy, the Mass, is reimagined for modern times in this program of works by Gregory Brown, Giles Swayne, and Kirke Mechem. The Esoterics sing four settings of Mass texts that express crises of faith, criticize organized religion, and prioritize the health of our planet over any individual belief.
Fri, 4/13, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Seattle | $15-$22
Sat, 4/14, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church, West Seattle | $15-$22
Sun, 4/15, 7pm, Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma | $15-$22

Seattle Modern Orchestra: The Clouds Receding
Immerse yourself in the dense sonic clouds of composers like György Ligeti and Beat Furrer, plus a new world premiere by Orlando Jacinto Garcia featuring violist Melia Watras as the soloist.
Sat, 4/14, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25

Sound of Late: 48-Hour Composition Competition
A group of composers each gets 48 hours to compose a new piece for their assigned instrumentation, and a group of performers gets six days to prepare before they perform the works live in concert.
Sat, 4/14, 8pm, Gallery 1412 | FREE

SMCO: Songs and Dances of Peace
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra performs a powerful program exploring Leonard Bernstein’s now-ubiquitous quote, “This shall be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Featured composers include Bernstein, Barber, Golijov, and Tchaikovsky.
Sat, 4/14, 8pm, First Free Methodist Church | $15-$25
Sun, 4/15, 2pm, Rainier Arts Center | $15-$25

What Better Than Call a Dance?
Experimental chamber troupe Kin of the Moon joins forces with dancer/choreographer Karin Stevens and clarinetist/improvisor Beth Fleenor for a program that wildly reimagines dance music from Renaissance to waltz to tango and even EDM.
Fri, 4/20, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

On Stage with KING FM: Earth Day Celebration
The Ecco Chamber Ensemble celebrates Earth Day with a program of music exploring the vital role of water in both our basic survival as well as our art.
Sat, 4/21, 7:30pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers | $20-$25

Symphony Tacoma: Earth Songs from the Harp
Grammy-nominated electric harpist Deborah Henson-Conant joins Symphony Tacoma for a boundary-bursting program ranging from blues and jazz to flamenco, folk, and beyond.
Sun, 4/22, 2:30pm, Pantages Theater | $19-$82

Seattle Art Song Society: Elemental
In honor of Earth Day, the Seattle Art Song Society performs songs inspired by the elements of fire, earth, water, and air. The program features music by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Aaron Copland, Juliana Hall, Ernst Bacon, Björk, and more, plus brand new works by Steven Luksan and Brian Armbrust.
Sun, 4/22, 3:30pm, Queen Anne Christian Church | $20-$40

Seattle Symphony: Stravinsky Persephone
A stunning cast of star soloists, dancers, and puppeteers (plus three choirs and four grand pianos!) join the symphony for an entire evening of Stravinsky rarities, including his Persephone, Les noces, “Song of the Volga Boatmen,” and Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments.
Thurs, 4/26, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $42-$79
Sat, 4/28, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $42-$79

Seattle Symphony: [untitled] 2
Symphony musicians dive into the mind of Stravinsky with a performance of his elegant Octet, a piece which first came to him in a dream. Plus, the Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble brings a scintillating blend of folk traditions and extended techniques to two wild works by Russian composers Vladimir Nikolaev and Alexander Raskatov.
Fri, 4/27, 10pm, Benaroya Hall | $16

NOCCO: Lost Sisterhood; Found Landscapes
The North Corner Chamber Orchestra presents a newly commissioned Cello Concerto by Philip Lasser alongside Louise Farrenc’s stunning Symphony No. 3 and Aaron Copland’s unforgettable Appalachian Spring.
Sat, 4/28, 2pm, University Christian Church | $15-$25
Sun, 4/29, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $15-$25

ALBUM REVIEW: The Glass Effect from Lavinia Meijer

by Maggie Molloy

When most people hear the harp, they think of Baroque suites or Celtic folk ballads, angels strumming heavenly melodies—or perhaps that sideline string instrument sandwiched between the violin and percussion sections of the orchestra.lavinia-meijer

But harpist Lavinia Meijer is interested in expanding those possibilities. In fact, she’s made an entire musical career out of it.

Meijer has cultivated a name for herself as one of the most diverse harpists of the 21st century, consistently seeking out little-known classical solo and orchestral repertoire, collaborating with contemporary cross-genre artists, and recording brand new music that bursts through classical music boundaries. And when the music’s not written for her instrument—she simply arranges it for harp herself.

Her latest project is The Glass Effect: a two-disc release featuring works composed and inspired by minimalist mastermind Philip Glass. The first disc is classic Glass: 10 of the composer’s famous 20 Piano Etudes, each delicately arranged and deftly performed on harp by Meijer. The second disc highlights Glass’s influence on the next generation of composers, featuring Glass-inspired compositions by Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds, and Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Recorded as a tribute album for Glass’s 80th birthday this coming January, the two-disc set begins with a retrospective glance backward through Glass’s extraordinary compositional discography. Meijer lends her fingers to 10 of Glass’s 20 Etudes which, composed over the course of 1991-2012, offer a glimpse into the development and ongoing transformation of his harmonic language and compositional style.

Etudes are, of course, exercises: short musical compositions designed to develop (and, once learned, demonstrate) the skill and technique of the player. And trust me, Glass’s Etudes are no easy feat.

Yet Meijer dances with grace and charm through the entire obstacle course of changing tempi, textures, and techniques, crafting each phrase and every delicate detail with the utmost care and attention. From the soft and sweet lullabies of Glass’s early Etudes to the motoric rhythms and virtuosic variations of the later ones, Meijer’s arrangements maintain the music’s trademark clarity and unshakable sense of forward motion while also offering compelling insight into her instrument.

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The second disc is bookended by Glass’s haunting theme from the 1982 apocalyptic film Koyaanisqatsi, beginning first with Meijer’s solo harp arrangement. She craftily transforms the original synth-laden ostinato into a poignant and introspective solo piece which speaks to the sheer power and timelessness of Glass’s melody. But she doesn’t forgo the electronics entirely: the theme comes back again at the end of the album in a remixed version with electronics titled “Lift Off,” which Meijer created with sound designer Arthur Antoine in 2014.

The effects of Glass echo clearly throughout the second disc, which showcases how ambient and minimalist music has evolved (and continues to evolve) in the hands of young composers.

Among the first composers featured is Bryce Dessner (who you may recognize from the band The National) with his three-movement Suite for Harp. Dessner’s piece utilizes the full pitch range and performance idiosyncrasies of the harp, painting a hazy soundscape of softly cascading melodies, harmonics, and arpeggios.

laviniaNico Muhly’s two contributions to the album, each originally composed for piano, are more introspective in nature. Meijer’s fingers drift patiently through the simple, chant-like melodies and soft bass drones of Muhly’s “Quiet Music,” and her playing brings a quiet warmth and aching resonance to “A Hudson Cycle.”

Muhly’s pieces dissolve into the soft ambience of two of Ólafur Arnalds’ most music box-worthy compositions. Meijer twirls through the twinkling melodies of “Erla’s Waltz” and drifts sweetly through the circular harmonies of “Tomorrow’s Song.”

Arnalds’ friend and frequent collaborator Nils Frahm follows with two compositions originally composed for piano but expertly arranged for harp by Meijer. Breathy melodies float above soft (but busy) bass arpeggios in “Ambre,” while block chords echo against a serenely silent backdrop in “In the Sky and on the Ground.”

However, it’s perhaps composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s contribution which stretches the harp the furthest from its traditional musical stereotype. His composition “Night Loops” for harp, looping pedal, and electronics sparkles with fluttering melodies and crackling electronics, creating an entire glistening garden of timbres and musical textures.

And thus, the album ends with a glance toward the future—a look at how Philip Glass’s musical influence continues onward in all its ever-expanding variations and transformations.

Because although Glass may be a minimalist, his influence is far from minimal.

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LIVE BROADCAST: So Percussion presented by UW World Series

by Maggie Stapleton

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On Sunday, January 31 at 7:30pm PT, Second Inversion will present a LIVE Broadcast of Sō Percussion, presented by the UW World Series! This performance kicks off a week-long residency with UW World Series and UW School of Music at Meany Hall. 

Tune in to our 24/7 live stream to hear:

Steve ReichMallet Quartet
Glenn Kotche: Drum Kit Quartet #51  
John CageThird Construction 
Bryce DessnerMusic For Wood and Strings

If you’re in Seattle, come hear and see this show in person! Tickets are available here.

Concluding their residency, Sō Percussion will offer a collaborative performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming with UW School of Music Students on Thursday, February 4 at 6pm. This performance is free and open to the public! Second Inversion will be there, too – RSVP via Facebook.

For information on other upcoming events where Second Inversion will be in the future, check our Community page!

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More about Sō Percussion:

For over a decade, Sō Percussion has redefined the modern percussion ensemble as a flexible, omnivorous entity, pushing its voice to the forefront of American musical culture. Praised by The New Yorker for their “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam,” Sō Percussion’s career now encompasses 16 albums, touring around the world, a dizzying array of collaborative projects and several ambitious educational programs.

ALBUM REVIEW: Eighth Blackbird’s “Filament”

by Jill Kimball

Forget J. S. Bach: Philip Glass is the new granddaddy of music…or so sayeth eighth blackbird in its latest album, Filament.

This new release from the Chicago-based contemporary music supergroup cleverly connects the groundbreaking repetitive structures in Glass’s music with American folk tunes, contemporary compositions, and poppy vocals. The album’s name is meant to conjure a mental image of musical threads linking all its performances, new and old.

In this case, “old” is a relative term. The nexus of Filament is “Two Pages,” written by Philip Glass in 1968. It’s a classic illustration of Glass’s signature repetition, a mind-bending 16 minutes of subtly changing patterns. The piece famously sounds meditative and nightmarish at the same time. It’s notoriously difficult for performers–the liner notes compare it to walking a tightrope “with no net below”–but the expert musicians here meet the challenge admirably, almost making it sound easy. Performing this piece alongside the sextet are organist Nico Muhly and guitarist Bryce Dessner (of The National), and it’s no coincidence that both of them are also featured composers on Filament.

In fact, the album opens with Dessner’s multi-movement piece Murder Ballades, inspired by folk songs about real and imagined killings that were passed down through many generations. The murder ballad tradition began in Europe, but Dessner’s piece focuses on the maudlin stories that originally come from early settlers in New England and Appalachia. Dessner chose to arrange three real ballads, “Omie Wise,” “Young Emily,” and “Pretty Polly,” all of which tell stories of love affairs turned violent. Imagine if someone took the music from a Ken Burns documentary and gave it a little edge, and you’ll have an idea of what these movements sound like. The other four ballads in the piece are Dessner’s original compositions, still clearly inspired by early Americana but more deconstructed and intense. In these four movements, Philip Glass’s repetitive, meditative influence is clearly felt.

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Composers featured on Filament. Clockwise from top left: Nico Muhly, Philip Glass, Bryce Dessner, and Son Lux.

Nico Muhly’s piece, Doublespeak, is so closely linked with Two Pages that it’s as if Muhly managed to burrow directly into Philip Glass’s midcentury brain. Muhly wrote this piece for the composer’s 75th birthday celebration, so it’s fitting that he chose to salute a decade when “classical music perfected obsessive repetition,” as he puts it. You’ll hear snippets of 1970s staples like In C and Violin Phase flit in and out as the piece alternates between a fast-tempo frenzy and a slow, dreamy state.

As if there weren’t already enough threads connecting these three pieces, eighth blackbird rounds out Filament with a pair of works by Son Lux. The legendary pop-classical electronic composer took sound bites from the album and mixed in Glass-inspired vocals by Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond. The result is a half-ambient, half-catchy five minutes that nicely break up the album’s studied repetition, which can be a little mentally taxing.

It goes without saying that the performance quality on this disc is top-notch, no less fine than any of eighth blackbird’s past albums. You’re luxuriously free to focus solely on the compositions themselves, all of which are worth contemplating at length. In an age when most albums’ connecting filaments are somewhere between ultrathin and nonexistent, it’s a pleasure to listen to a set of pieces with such close ties.

Staff & Community Picks: July 29

A weekly rundown of the music our staff and listeners are loving lately! Are you interested in contributing some thoughts on your favorite new music albums? Drop us a line!



the_little_death_album_cover_1-1Religion + hormones + hip hop beats = nihilist pop opera.  The Little Death Vol. 1 is boppy, fun & sentimental.  Strong vocals from Mellissa Hughes and Matt Marks’ twisted take on the traditional “boy meets girl” story make this one of my favorite CDs in our music library.  I dare you not to dance to “I Don’t Have Any Fun.” – by Rachele Hales

 

 

 


71GJwJ+HBtL._SY355_If you enjoy Spanish and Latin American music, you’ll find a lot to love in “Andalusian Fantasy,” a collection of pieces written and performed by pianist Lionel Sainsbury. The compositions embrace the darker, more romantic side of traditional Latin music, incorporating a pleasantly crunchy chord just seldom enough to keep things melodic overall. Imagine if tango, Debussy, and Gershwin all met in one album, and you’ll get a sense for Sainsbury’s music. – by Jill Kimball

 

homepage_large.e22fb394I’ve been a huge Arcade Fire fan for years, and I was completely awestruck when this album came out.  The whole idea behind the works on this album – letting the human body dictate the tempi, is one of the most revolutionary concepts I’ve encountered in new music.  I can’t really think of many albums that represent Second Inversion SO WELL – the composer/genre/artist crossover, the musicians on the album – yMusic, Kronos Quartet, Nadia Sirota, Nico Muhly, Aaron and Bryce Dessner – all are revolutionaries in the new music world and helping to create music that completely breaks the mold of classical, despite the instruments they’re playing. – by Maggie Stapleton

ALBUM REVIEW: “Music for Wood and Strings” by Bryce Dessner + So Percussion

by Maggie Molloy

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To say that guitarist and composer Bryce Dessner thinks outside the box would be a bit of an understatement. After all, why limit yourself to the dimensions of a typical hollow-bodied acoustic string instrument when you can create your very own amplified hammered dulcimer?

 

Though perhaps best known as the guitarist for the indie rock band the National, Dessner is also a distinguished composer and innovator in his own right. He recently released “Music for Wood and Strings,” a 36-minute piece scored for amplified, dulcimer-like “Chordsticks” and performed by the experimental percussion quartet Sō Percussion. Dessner designed the instruments with the help of instrument builder Aron Sanchez of Buke and Gase, a Brooklyn-based musical duo.

Each Chordstick resembles two electric guitar necks laid out next to each other in opposite directions, though the instrument is played more like a hammered dulcimer. Each instrument has eight double-course strings and is tuned to a pair of chords. Using sticks or violin bows, the percussionists can sound either of the two harmonies, play individual strings, melodies, drones, and tremolos, or create a wide range of percussive sounds. The Chordsticks vary in pitch range, and the group is anchored by a bass instrument that can play fretted chromatic lines, as well as by occasional, muted interjections from a bass drum and woodblocks.

Commissioned by Carnegie Hall, “Music for Wood and Strings” seamlessly combines elements of post-minimalism, avant-garde, and folk musical influences. The effect is mesmerizing. Dessner creates a remarkably rich range of musical timbres within a circling, post-minimalist framework, crafting a beautiful and kaleidoscopic sound world through his dense contrapuntal rhythms and constantly shifting musical textures.

“I thought the instruments are so beautiful, I’m going to make [the piece] a really rich sound world—very consonant, also inspired by American folk songs, which are based on these open chords and open tunings,” Dessner said. “So the piece itself has that sound about it, where it’s played by these percussionists and the rhythm is incredibly difficult and layered and precise, but then it’s done with harmonies that are really sweet, actually.”

The work is charming and sincere, employing the perfect balance of silence and sound to create a fully captivating sonic meditation. Dessner’s colorful musical palette features hocketed rhythms, mirrored inversions, drones, tremolos, rhythmic repetition, contrapuntal textures, and a primarily tonal musical language, creating a vivid and distinctive sound that pulls the listener in from start to finish.

Writing the piece for four of the most renowned percussionists in contemporary classical music also doesn’t hurt. Sō Percussion’s perfect blend of rhythmic precision and organic expressivity brings the score to life, immersing the listener in an unforgettable soundscape filled with sweet strings and shimmering rhythms.

Who knew you could craft such an entrancing and intricate sound world from just a few pieces of wood and some strings?