Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in on Friday, March 17 to hear these pieces and lots of other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Julia Wolfe: Cruel Sister;  Ensemble Resonanz

Image result for julia wolfe cruel sisterSibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning in Julia Wolfe’s Cruel Sister for string orchestra. Based on an old English ballad of the same name, the piece tells the tale of two sisters: one bright as the sun, and the other cold and dark. When a young man comes courting, the dark sister pushes the bright sister into the sea so that she can marry him. But when two minstrels find the dead sister washed up on the shore, they create a harp from her breastbone, strung with her yellow hair—and they play the ghostly instrument at the dark sister’s wedding.

Wolfe tells the tale with no words, instead following the dramatic arc of the original ballad through orchestra alone. Restless strings detail the gruesome murder, airy resonances evoke the lifeless body floating on the sea, and an obsessive, foreboding pizzicato waltz brings the music of the mad harp back to life. – Maggie Molloy

Piazzolla: Adiós Nonino arr. Déjardin; Boston Cello Quartet

Image result for boston cello quartet piazzolla album

I couldn’t be happier that this amazing little piece cropped up in my playlist. I like a good Piazzolla tango once in a while, and Adiós Nonino is a very special one. It’s a somber, lyrical work, one that was intensely personal for Piazzolla, written after the death of his father. He said:

“And to close that very bad year of 1959, one day the phone exploded like an atom bomb. I was performing with (Juan Carlos) Copes in Puerto Rico…when I received a call from Dedé (his wife)…from New York. Nonino had died in Mar del Plata. It was too much.

“When I got back to New York a few days later, I asked to be alone in a room in the apartment, and in less than an hour I wrote Adiós Nonino. And then I cried as I had few times before in my life…In that piece I left all the memories I had of my dad.”

It’s some of his most soulful music, and it was arranged in something like 20 different ways during his life. In this version, the Boston Cello Quartet adds a beautifully dark, expressive sound, with an ending that is incredibly intimate. This new-era version of Adiós does not disappoint. – Geoffrey Larson

Olga Bell: Khabarovsk Krai

Musician Olga Bell was born in Russia, raised in Alaska, and now lives in New York as a member of the Dirty Projectors.  On her solo album Krai (meaning “periphery”/”edge”), she explores the forgotten areas of her homeland in her native Russian, combining old folk fables with fresh, trance-y electronic sounds.  In “Khabarovsk Krai,” crafty use of pitch-shifting software allows Bell’s vocals to sink, swoop, moan, and smear her voice inside your ears as she sobs “Russia, Mother Russia, Russian Motherland.”  Much like the landscape that inspired the work, the song shifts constantly and is full of striking, unusual surprises. – Rachele Hales

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.


by Jill Kimball

The whole early music world sighed in sadness earlier this month when Anonymous 4 announced 2015-16 would be the group’s last season together. (No, really–they’re serious this time.)

Anonymous 4

Luckily, the group cushioned the blow with an astounding record just released this week on the Cantaloupe label: love fail.

The piece for two sopranos, two altos and percussion was composed exclusively for Anonymous 4 by David Lang, who is perhaps best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning the little match girl passion. Lang’s vocal music is haunting and sparse, much like the medieval music Anonymous 4 is known for.

We asked Anonymous 4 member Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek a few questions about love fail, working with David Lang, and what the future holds for these famed singers:

Anonymous 4 usually concentrates on centuries-old music. Why did you feel compelled to record love fail, an entirely new piece?

Well, actually, Anonymous [4] has commissioned several composers in the past, including Steve Reich, Richard Einhorn and Sir John Tavener. We love the idea of collaboration with composers who have an interest in early music and the sonorities of our  voices–and it’s fun to create something new.

What is love fail all about?

It’s about the challenges and rewards of developing a relationship with another human being. David picked and arranged texts ranging from medieval sources, such as Marie de France, to the poems of Lydia Davis. The pieces are in turn heart-wrenching and funny–just like love and life.

What was your favorite part about performing this piece?

Some of the individual movements, such as “head heart,” are so moving and beautiful that they are almost hard to sing…in a good way! We enjoyed the contrasts between the profound and the comical, but ultimately the sheer beauty of David’s music makes it a very special piece to perform. And we get to play percussion instruments, which is great fun!

Love fail is a piece whose composer is alive and able to provide you with feedback—an unusual thing in the Anonymous 4 universe. What was it like working with David Lang?

David is a wonderful collaborator who really wrote this piece with our voices and individual strengths in mind. Always willing to listen and change things if necessary, this piece grew and developed out of our mutual contributions.

Millions of people will mourn the loss of Anonymous 4 come 2016, but as musicians ourselves, we know how exciting it can be to move on to a new project. Tell us about your future musical plans.

The members of the group have actually been doing individual projects for several years now and we are all looking forward to developing those further…here, in our own words:

Jacqui will continue her work both as a mezzo-soprano soloist specializing in early and new music and as a voice teacher with a studio in NYC. She also gives masterclasses and ensemble technique workshops at Colleges throughout the US.This Fall she will be starting a Doctoral Program- a D.M.A in Voice- at The Juilliard School.

Marsha will be doing more research and performance of American music; she also plans to seek a new role in the Bay Area, supporting and funding performing artists and ensembles.

Susan will be developing a new podcast radio program — called “ChantVillage” — about chant from all spiritual traditions, both historically and in the world today. She will also continue leading Chant Camps, and teaching college courses on medieval and American popular music.

Ruth will continue singing early music in both concert and liturgical settings as well as expanding her work in improvisatory performance with a variety of other instrumentalists and singers. She also teaches workshops and offers individual sessions in sound healing and improvisation.