ALBUM REVIEW: Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s ‘AEQUA’

Featured

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Saga Sigurdardottir.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir treats each of her works as an ecosystem. Musical materials—motifs, harmonies, textures—are passed from performer to performer through her pieces, constantly developing and transforming. Like different species in an ecosystem, these elements sometimes coexist peacefully and sometimes compete or clash.

In her new album AEQUA, Thorvaldsdottir works with performers from the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) to create a variety of musical ecosystems of different sizes, featuring both large and small chamber ensembles. The album captures the beautiful chaos of the natural world, the individual voices evolving and intertwining across each piece.

AEQUA’s small ensemble works—“Spectra,” “Sequences,” “Reflections,” and “Fields”—are characterized by the integration of slow, lyrical string melodies into dense, unwieldy sound worlds. As the materials are passed around the ecosystem of instruments, the melodies—calm and plaintive—rise to prominence in some moments and at others descend into the eerie whirl of sound created by sustained, clashing harmonies, percussive bursts, and darker permutations of the melody itself.

There is a constant ebb and flow throughout the chamber works as the performers crescendo, then decrescendo, join in energetically all at once to form an intricate texture, then fade away to leave only a gentle melody or quiet sustained tone. This consistent pattern of rising and falling intensity gives a cyclic quality to the pieces, as though the musical ecosystem is transforming across life cycles and seasons.

The circle effect is also used in Thorvaldsdottir’s large ensemble works, “Aequilibria” and “Illumine.” Running chromatic motifs create wild spirals of sound, the cyclic rise and fall unfolding rapidly and with greater intensity. There are moments of calm when the chaotic texture gives way to lyrical melodies and gentle sustained tones, but forceful percussion and chromatic outbursts quickly interrupt the peace.

The album’s only solo piece, “Scrape,” performed by ICE pianist Cory Smythe, manages to capture this complex interplay of different species in an ecosystem with just one instrument. While the piece is largely situated in the lower register of the piano with heavy, thudding rhythms and a rich, dark timbre, there are clear, piercing runs in the higher register that interrupt and play off of the low sounds. Moments of silence are incorporated, building anticipation for the looming rise in intensity and playing into the cyclical nature of AEQUA.

In its own way, each piece on the album feels as though you’re walking through the forest or staring into the depths of the ocean, observing the peaceful and violent ways creatures and plants coexist. The complex interplay of melodies, harmonies, and rhythms as they develop—both working together and clashing—creates a kind of beauty that, like the natural world, is at times unsettling and overwhelming, but endlessly captivating.

Phil Kline’s ‘Unsilent Night’ Rings Twice this Season in Puget Sound

by Maggie Molloy

Whether you’re the world’s biggest Santa-fan, a grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, or even just an avant-garde enthusiast looking to expand your holiday music horizons, Phil Kline’s got just the carol for you—and you’ve got two chances to experience it this year in the Puget Sound region.

Kline’s Unsilent Night is a contemporary twist on holiday caroling that is celebrated annually around the globe. But don’t worry, there’s no singing involved. In true 21st century fashion, all you have to do is download an app.

This nontraditional holiday carol is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December. Audience members each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal Unsilent Night.

Countless participants meet up with boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers and each hit “play” at the same time. Then they walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture that is unlike any Christmas carol you have ever heard.


Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night takes place in Seattle this Friday, Dec. 14 starting at 6pm at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall. Click here for more information.

The Tacoma rendition is Friday, Dec. 21 starting at 6:30pm at Mason United Methodist Church. Click here for more information.

Duo Noire: Revolution Classical Style Now

by Dacia Clay

Christopher Mallett (left) and Thomas Flippin (right). Photo by John Rogers.

Duo Noire is made up of two dudes—Thomas Flippin and Christopher Mallett—but their new album is made up entirely of female composers’ music.

As the story goes, way back in 2015, before the #MeToo movement, Thomas’s wife, Rev. Vicki Flippin brought his attention to issues she was having at work. Around that same time, a major classical guitar society came out with their season announcement—and not a single woman on the program.

“I could not believe it,” Flippin said. “I guess you could say that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was just like, I can’t believe it’s 2015, Obama’s been elected, and someone green-lighted them playing this season of all men playing all male music.”

That’s when the idea for Duo Noire’s latest album, Night Triptych, was born. Not only did Flippin and Mallett, the first African-American guitarists to graduate from the Yale School of Music, commission works by exclusively women for their new album—they also made sure to include women from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Hear the rest of the album’s story, and the story of how the two former SoCal punk rock guitarists came to do what they do today.

Musical Chairs: Leanna Keith on Classical KING FM

by Maggie Molloy

Leanna Keith is not your average flutist.

Sure, she can breathe beautiful, delicate melodies through her instrument—but she can also speak into it, sing, hum, or beatbox through it, clatter its keys, bend its pitches, make its melodies vibrate, flutter, shimmer, and soar.

Keith is a flutist and composer specializing in contemporary classical and experimental sounds. She explores the furthest reaches of her instrument’s range, both in music and in performance. On any given evening in Seattle you might catch her performing in new music ensembles ranging from the experimental chamber troupe Kin of the Moon to the Japanese drumming collective Dekoboko Taiko. Next Friday, she’s performing Nicole Lizée’s etudes for glitch film on a concert with pianist Jesse Myers.

And this Friday, Oct. 19 at 7pm PT, she’s in the Classical KING FM studios as the special guest on Musical Chairs with Mike Brooks, where she will share a handful of her favorite recordings from across her musical career, plus details about her upcoming performances.

Tune in at 98.1 FM, listen through our free mobile app, or click here to stream the interview online from anywhere in the world!

Musical Chairs: Maggie Molloy on Classical KING FM

Maggie Molloy likes listening to strange music. Lucky for her, she gets to do it for a living.

Since joining the Second Inversion team in 2014, Maggie has written over 300 articles on new, experimental, avant-garde, and otherwise unconventional music. In her current role as Second Inversion Editor, she curates our music library and programs all of the music you hear on our 24/7 online stream—and she also serves as an on-air host.

This Friday, Maggie is the guest on Classical KING FM’s Musical Chairs with Mike Brooks, where she will share just a handful of her favorite recordings from across her musical career. She’ll share memories from her week as a journalist covering the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, her summer spent studying experimental music composition at the IRCAM in Paris, her performances at the John Cage Musicircus and the Harry Partch Festival, her big break into the world of radio, and the composers who left her starstruck.

Musical Chairs airs this Friday, Oct. 12 at 7pm PT on Classical KING FM. Tune in at 98.1 FM, listen through our free mobile app, or click here to stream the interview online from anywhere in the world!

Late Nights in the Lobby: Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] Season

by Maggie Molloy

On just a handful of Friday nights each year, an intimate crowd of curious listeners gathers in the Grand Lobby of Benaroya Hall for concerts that are not confined by time period or tradition—or even titles, for that matter.

Now in its seventh season, the Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] series presents contemporary and experimental chamber works in a late-night, no intermission concert setting. Performances are held in the lobby, the musicians and audiences framed by floor-to-ceiling windows that look out across the sparkling lights of the city.

On any given [untitled] evening, you might hear music ranging from an Andy Warhol “popera” to Russian avant-folk songs, immersive arctic soundscapes, or even a piano that plays itself. This season, you can hear the icy windstorms of Hans Abrahamsen, the modernist masterworks of Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio, and the reorchestrated love songs of Reinbert de Leeuw.

[untitled] 1: Hans Abrahamsen
Friday, October 19, 2017 | 10pm

The sparse sound world of Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee builds and melts like a haunting snowfall. Whispering winds, ghostly canons, and shifting timbres coalesce into a meditation on time itself, the music moving at once forward and backward, swirling through chilling storms before evaporating into an eerie and unsettling silence. Thomas Dausgaard conducts.


[untitled] 2: Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio
Friday, March 22, 2018 | 10pm

Three pianos, three harps, three percussionists, and approximately three zillion notes comprise Pierre Boulez’s restlessly virtuosic Sur Incises. The chaotic colors of his 40-minute musical frenzy are balanced against the haunting dreamland of Luciano Berio’s Circles, a dramatic setting of three poems by E. E. Cummings. Soprano Maria Männistö sings the tempestuous role originally written for Berio’s wife, Cathy Berberian, with Ludovic Morlot conducting.


[untitled] 3: Reinbert de Leeuw
Friday, June 7, 2018 | 10pm

The elegant songs of Schubert and Schumann are reimagined with the rawness of early 20th century cabaret in Reinbert de Leeuw’s pastiche song cycle Im wunderschönen Monat Mai. Its title taken from the opening line of Schumann’s beloved Dichterliebe, the piece transforms Romantic lieder into 20th century melodrama—passionate, theatrical, and uninhibited. Sarah Ioannides conducts this riveting cabaret starring soprano Maria Männistö.


For tickets and more information on the Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] series, please click here.

Mark Abel Gains Perspective with ‘Time and Distance’

by Dacia Clay

Composer Mark Abel has been a lot of things in his life: a classical musician, a denizen of the post-punk music scene in New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, a newspaper journalist, and a classical musician and composer again. All of these things have a home in his creative glossary. As with much of Abel’s music, his latest album, Time and Distance, uses the centuries-old vehicle of art song to engage with contemporary issues—both the global and the personal.

In this interview, I speak with Mark about what art song is, why it’s his musical form of choice, and what he’s doing to bring it into the 21st century. We also talk about the pieces on his new album which deal with everything from Medusa and the #MeToo movement to his own personal “disgruntlements,” and his first go at making a music video.

Plus, check out his music video for “Those Who Loved Medusa” below: