NEW VIDEO: Skyros Quartet performs Peteris Vasks

by Maggie Stapleton

If you missed our showcase at Northwest Folklife in May, or hey, even if you were there, we have a little throwback treat to one of our favorite moments, filmed a few weeks later at Resonance at SOMA Towers: Skyros Quartet‘s rendition of Peteris Vasks’ String Quartet No.3: II. Allegro energico. We love this video and hope that you do too!

Be sure to check out our other videos, shot in our studios and in fun venues around Seattle, too!

NEW VIDEOS: Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet featuring Tamara Power-Drutis

by Maggie Stapleton

It’s hard to question Seattle Rock Orchestra‘s reputation as “the coolest orchestra in town.” You may have seen their full orchestra cover sets of The Beatles, Neil Diamond, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Muse, Stevie Wonder, but they’re a flexible ensemble that also likes to show a more intimate side of genre pollination.

Featuring the mesmerizing Tamara Power-Drutis on vocals, here are three examples of the pop-art song fusion, filmed on April 9, 2016 at the gorgeous Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue.

Jeremy Enigk (arr. Scott Teske): Ballroom 

Beck (arr. Jherek Bischoff and Scott Teske): Do We? We Do.

Radiohead (arr. Scott Teske): Nude 

These videos were filmed in conjunction with On Stage with Classical KING FM, a concert series designed to spotlight brilliant local musicians and a little something extra, whether it’s food, wine, dancing or exclusive talks. If you like those videos and want to hear more, you can stream more selections from this performance below and on our on-demand audio page!

For information about the 2016-17 On Stage with Classical KING FM season, including a reprise performance of SROQ + Tamara, click here!

2016.04.09: Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet feat. Tamara Power-Dr

Photo credit: Jason Tang

CONCERT PREVIEW: Q&A with Joan Tower

by Maggie Molloy

joan_tower

When you’re a chamber musician, you have to know how to dance.

You have to be able to communicate directly with the other players through music and movement. You have to move together and apart, support each other’s parts, and make each other shine; you have to work together to tell a cohesive story without stepping on each other’s feet.

This notion of musicians as dancers was the inspiration behind Grammy Award-winning composer Joan Tower’s Chamber Dance, a piece which is being performed in Seattle this weekend by the North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO) in their 2015-2016 season finale.

The piece maximizes the chamber orchestra’s textural and timbral palette by weaving through a rich and colorful tapestry of solos, duets, small ensembles, and full ensemble—each instrument serving as just one small part of the larger dance.

NOCCO will also perform Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C Major, featuring violinist Elisa Barston as the soloist, and the NOCCO Winds will join forces with cellist Eli Weinberger and bassist Ross Gilliland to perform Dvořák’s Serenade for Winds, Cello, and Double Bass in D Minor.

Dance on over to Seattle this weekend to get in on the action! In the meantime, we sat down with the woman of the hour, Joan Tower, to find out more about what we can expect at this concert:

Second Inversion: What was the inspiration behind Chamber Dance?

Joan Tower: Having been a chamber music pianist for a long time with the Da Capo Chamber Players, a group I founded in 1972, I was immediately impressed with how Orpheus (the conductorless group for which I wrote Chamber Dance) was actually a large chamber group that interacted the way a smaller chamber group would: through an elaborate setup of sectional leaders who were responsible for the score. An amazing feat accomplished over years of trials and errors—and an amazing ensemble indeed.

SI: How is this piece similar to and/or different from your other compositions? 

JT: It’s similar in structure to many of my chamber pieces, but different in that the solos get surrounded by larger forces within a bigger “palette.”

SI: What composers, artists, or styles of music most influence your work? 

JT: Many different styles of music have influenced my work: I grew up in South America surrounded by all the Latin music of that culture; was trained as a pianist in the European Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, etc. model; married a jazz pianist who introduced me to all the greats at that time in NYC; and I formed my own group the Da Capo Players who performed the music of many living composers of that time (1972-1987). My biggest influences were Beethoven, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Pärt, Adams, Monk, Evans and lots of popular Latin music.

SI: Three out of the four NOCCO programs this season feature American women composers’ works. Why do you think this is a significant programming decision?

JT: Because it is rarely done, and women make up less than 5 percent of all classical programing—which still is a statistical problem. I am happy to see some visionary conductors find the right music and go for it.

SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from listening to your Chamber Dance?

JT: A memory of some kind, I hope. 

Performances are Saturday, June 4 at 2 p.m. at University Unitarian Church in Seattle and Sunday, June 5 at 8 p.m. at the Royal Room in Columbia City. For additional information and tickets, visit NOCCO.org.

Second Inversion presents Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet & Tamara Power-Drutis (Saturday, April 9, 8pm)

by Maggie Stapleton

MCP Finals-117-(ZF-8208-77611-1-001)

For nearly 70 years, KING FM has been Seattle’s classical radio station. In this day and age, radio stations are becoming much more than boxes that play music. 

Our latest venture is a concert series of intimate performances at Bellevue’s newest concert hall, RESONANCE at SOMA Towers. Throughout the 2015-16 season, each concert has spotlighted brilliant local musicians and includes a little something extra, whether it’s food, wine, dancing or exclusive talks. Early Music Underground kicked off the season with a music and wine pairing, KING FM hosts Lisa Bergman, Dave Beck, and Bryan Lowe came out of the broadcast booth and onto the stage with their instruments. A Viennese New Years Waltz kicked off 2016 with style and grace. Musical husband-wife duos took the stage for a Valentine’s Day celebration. The Sempre Sisters, Brandon Vance & Eliot Grasso, and Magical Strings infused classical music with Irish fervor for a happy hour concert during the week of St. Paddy’s day.

And now, on Saturday, April 9 at 8pm, to close the season, Second Inversion is taking over and bringing some cross-genre fusion to RESONANCE with the Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet featuring the inimitable, versatile vocalist Tamara Power-Drutis. These fine musicians will transform popular song into art song, performing a program that reimagines the work of artists such as Radiohead, Beck, Bjork and others as intimate and emotional chamber works born for the recital hall. 

Join us there! 

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 CONCERT AUDIO: New Works for Flute & Ensemble

by Jill Kimball (original post November 18, 2015 with edits by Maggie Stapleton)

For most classically-trained musicians, performing a world premiere is the exception. But for flutist Paul Taub, it’s the rule.

Taub, a Cornish College of the Arts professor and well-known Seattle-area performer, has been a proponent of new music for decades. Over the years, he’s performed and commissioned countless premieres. But last November, he took it a step further.

Taub organized a concert of made up exclusively of world premieres by five area composers–Tom Baker, Andy Clausen, David Dossett, Jessika Kenney and Angelique Poteat–and featured a handful of world-class local performers, including Taub himself. The concert was part of the Wayward Music Series at the Good Shepherd Center’s chapel performance space. Second Inversion was there to record the concert and we’re pleased to present the audio!

I asked Taub a few questions about the pieces he commissioned, and his answers are below.

paultaub
What inspired you to do a whole concert of world premieres?

My musical life—as a student, an educator, member of ensembles, professional organizations, circles of colleagues and friends—has often centered on new works and their creators and interpreters. And my relationships and interactions with composers have been highlights of my career. In my thirty-six years in Seattle, I have participated in hundreds of commissions of new music. This project gave me a chance to create opportunities for five unique composers to write works for me, in a chamber setting. The works you will hear on this program will contribute significantly to the general repertoire for the flute in chamber music. They are also gifts to the Seattle music-loving community, brought together through its interest and support and enjoy­ment of these engaging and inspiring composers. For me, the final gift is to be able to prepare and perform these new works with some of my favorite colleagues – Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Walter Gray, cello; Joe Kaufman, contrabass; Cristina Valdes, piano; and Matthew Kocmieroski, percussion!

You’ve heard and performed lots of new music. What do you think makes a new piece really good?

That’s a tough question! People have such contrasts in taste, stylistic preference… What one person considers a masterpiece someone else will find trivial, or boring. I consider myself a musical omnivore in terms of style so I can only answer the question more “generally” by saying that what I really, really like is music that grips me both emotionally and intellectually. Somehow the perfect balance between those two elements makes for a great piece.

Why did you choose these five composers?

[These composers] have been invited to participate in this project because of the high artistic quality of their work, the diversity of their styles, the varied stages of their career trajectories, and above all, because their music truly speaks to me and to the public.

The variety of musical styles is a key element of the project. Baker and Kenney are well-established “mid-career” composers, with impressive resumes and works that have been played internationally. Poteat, in her late 20s, is emerging as a significant voice in the Seattle and national music world, with recent pieces commissioned by the Seattle Symphony. Emerging composers Dossett and Clausen (whose band The Westerlies has taken the jazz world by storm), are recent college graduates (Cornish College of the Arts and the Juilliard Jazz Program). The composers’ musical styles are varied and contrasting, with influences as diverse as jazz, electronics, Persian modes, classical music and improvisation.

What does the rest of this concert season have in store for you?

I’m especially looking forward to a few events. I’ll be playing a solo by Estonian composer Helena Tulve with the Seattle Modern Orchestra on February 20; touring the Northwest with a program of Brazilian flute and piano music with pianist/composer Jovino Santos Neto (Portland, Methow Valley, Seattle and Bellevue) in late February/early March; and taking the lead in a concert of music by Janice Giteck on April 12 at Cornish.

Memorization : Internalization

by Joshua Roman

I write this post as I head towards a concert in an unusual situation. I might actually use the sheet music.

SHM

This is very rare for me. I was brought up to not use music – in fact, it was not allowed in lessons at all. Memorization was not another step, it was simply part of “learning the piece”, and if you had learned the piece, you wouldn’t be using the music. It seemed simple enough, so that’s what I did for the first ten years of my musical life – never having the sheet music in front of me at a lesson, unless my teacher wanted to show me a rhythm or note I’d misread.

I do believe that as an approach, when coupled with the right techniques for internalizing music, this is the most effective method. It makes memorization a natural part of the process instead of something to be feared. Also, many of my friends growing up would save memorization for last, and in my experience, the thing saved for last is always the one that carries the most anxiety. This is as much to do with the placement in the order of things as it is to do with the actual task itself.

In order to make memorization part of the learning process, I like to start getting away from the music as early as possible. Even after the first reading, one should play through what you remember. Don’t worry if it’s not much at all. Over time, you’ll begin to remember more. Draw upon whatever senses help you. Visualizing the page, hearing when the theme returns, or similar (or unusual) sounds occur, the feeling in your hands in passagework, the emotional effect of the structure, etc., these are all useful. The main thing is to get an overview. Then, go back and use the music again, or even just look to see what you missed.

This is a very effective way of internalizing the piece, which goes beyond memorization. It’s not just about overview, though. As you continue your practicing beyond the initial reading of a new piece, continue avoiding looking at the music whenever possible, while playing. In fact, I like to study the music before touching the cello – hear it in my head, mark things down, make a plan – and then practice. Even if the plan gets tossed out the window, the practicing is almost always more effective.

You can come up with your own analogy of what the notes, dynamics, and other markings on the page are, but in the end they are just the beginning, the road map. One must follow them to the letter, but the map is there to send you on a journey, to take you off of the page into a 3D world full of valleys and mountain ranges, oceans and rivers. It’s a shame when I hear a performance stuck on the page because someone is afraid to let go. For me, switching the mentality from memorization to internalization is very helpful.

Another exercise: As you have a passage you need to practice, run it in your head while looking at the music. Be careful to note all of the expressive markings and dynamics, and to have a strong sense of the phrasing and character. Then, close your eyes and play. Go as deep into the character as possible, and don’t worry if you miss a few notes. Rinse and repeat. If you are truly immersing yourself in the musical aspects and not just the technical (caveat: you must have a good technical foundation, and be going slow enough that the technique of the passage is not an issue), you’ll find it etched deep into your performative brain and easy to recall later.

People ask me a lot if I have a photographic memory. I don’t- I just like to use as many kinds of memory as possible. At any given moment, it’s nice to have backups. But really, a well rounded memory bank of a piece is the natural result of a curious exploration of the work from all angles. As you study the score, you develop the visual memory. As you are aware of your body while you play, the motor memory kicks in. With the characters and emotional content come the structure of the piece, and as you listen in your head or sing out loud, the purely aural memory strengthens as well. Sometimes, stories, colors, shapes or other imaginative ideas become a part of the mashup. With all of these at play, it’s hard to forget something you learned well even years ago.

Our descent is about to start, and I’m going to review the Pärt as we go down. I stepped in on last minute notice for this recital, and while we’ve made plenty of time to rehearse, I haven’t had as much time on my own to practice. I’ve been feeling under the weather lately and the doctor gave me some wild medication which made me pretty useless yesterday, but today is better. I’m happy I even made it to the end of this post, and have gone through it several times to make sure sentence order is not reversed. Conversations have been full of backwards syllables, so I’m not sure Fratres is the best piece to internalize in this state…

(Joshua and Andrius Zlabys performing at Town Hall in April, 2014)

71iGqKjzYALIf you want to know more about memory outside of music, my pianist Andrius Zlabys recommends reading Moonwalking with Albert Einstein. I’ve been seeing the effects of the process as his lovely daughter puts it into practice and it’s quite impressive.

Last note: performance practice has changed in the last century, and it is more common now for music to be used. I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing, although I prefer not to use it myself. I find that if I’m able to internalize the music and remove the physical stand and sheet music from the stage, it’s one less barrier between the emotions in the music and the audience.

 
PLAYLIST:
Concerto Grosso No. 1 – Schnittke (Gidon Kremer et al.)
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie
David Bowie Narrates Peter and the Wolf – Prokofiev