Second Inversion’s Top 5 Blog Features of 2016

2016 was a great year for new blog series and features here at Second Inversion dot org. From unusual instruments to concerts in national parks, our music journalists covered the region far and wide!

#5: New Music Concert Flyers

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Each month in 2016, Second Inversion and the Live Music Project created a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between. We gave copies to all of the listed groups to distribute to their audiences to help spread the word about similar concerts. It’s been incredibly rewarding to bring unity and support to our vibrant community!


#4: Music in the American Wild

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In August 2016, we took an in-depth look at an exciting project that came to Washington’s national parks in honor of the National Parks Service’s centennial: Music in the American Wild. The touring ensemble performed works commissioned by eleven composers, all Eastman graduates and affiliates. Second Inversion’s Seth Tompkins covered the Washington leg of the tour in three blog posts.


#3: Anatomy of a Prepared Piano for John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano

The avant-garde and always-iconoclastic composer John Cage liked to think outside the box—the toolbox, that is. In 1940, he invented the prepared piano: a piano that has had its sound altered by placing objects such as screws and bolts in between the strings. His magnum opus for the instrument was the Sonatas and Interludes, a collection of 20 pieces clocking in at over an hour in length. This spring, Seattle-based pianist Jesse Myers performed the work in its entirety and Maggie Molloy went behind the scenes to see what (literally) goes into the piano!

All photos by Maggie Molloy.


#2: Women in (New) Music 

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This year Second Inversion launched Women in (New) Musican ongoing exploration into the past, present, and future of feminism in classical music. This multimedia series will highlight feminist issues within and beyond the classical music sphere, inviting female-identifying musicians, artists, and writers from all areas of the field to share their own experiences. Our posts so far have included a timeline of female composers, Q&As with composers and performers, studies on females in the classroom, and more!


#1: Virtual Tour of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium

Harry Partch was a pioneer of new music. He was one of the first 20th century composers to work extensively with microtonal scales, creating dozens of incredible instruments specifically for the performance of his musical texts and corporeal theatre works. Over 50 of his handmade instruments are housed in The Harry Partch Instrumentarium, currently in residence at the University of Washington and we presented a virtual tour of the instruments by Second Inversion’s own Maggie Molloy!

All photos by Maggie Molloy.

Women in (New) Music: Women, Creativity, and the Classroom

by Kaley Lane Eaton

Well, here we are. It is 2016, and 14 of the top US orchestras have programmed zero works by female composers in the 2016-2017 season. The U.S. presidential election has exposed various unsettling realities that women experience on a daily basis, much of which is particularly relatable for women in leadership positions in male-dominated fields.

As a female composer working towards my DMA in composition, after spending years entrenched in feminist liberal arts colleges and female-dominated opera programs, it is easy to get discouraged about the state of women; indeed, recent studies have shown that gender imbalance in favor of men can actually contribute to health problems for women in those fields. But the imbalance in our field need not be permanent.

In 2013, as part of my Master’s thesis, I conducted a study titled “Women, Creativity, and the Classroom” with the goal of highlighting how women versus men are conditioned to experience their creativity in the music classroom. As my study found (and additional research supports), gender imbalance in creative leadership roles is rooted in K-12 classrooms across America.

The lack of women in our music education paradigm is rooted in the lack of presence of women in the actual world of music. The popular new music blog NewMusicBox conducted an informal study of progressive chamber ensembles that focus on performing the work of recent and living composers, calculating the percentages of their season repertoire composed by women:

Both interpretations of these pie charts are troubling: that women have written only an average of 16% of all existing new music, or that these ensembles are deliberately selecting such a small percentage of actual existing repertoire.

These numbers reflect the kind of education that girls and women receive in school and higher education: A History of Western Music by Grout and Palisca, the standard music history text used in most institutions, includes only eight mentions of women as composers in its 1136 pages. Consistently, only 15.8% of doctorates awarded in music composition and theory go to women.

Despite the wealth of research that points to a universal (although with variation) aptitude for creativity among children, there is a gap in research that examines how each gender navigates creativity in differing social circumstances. Carol Gilligan’s groundbreaking work illuminates the fact that pubescent girls deal with dissociation, a psychological phenomenon where one questions the validity of experience and hesitates to express experiences authentically.

Gilligan notes, “If [girls] speak freely and reveal what they see and hear and know through experience, they are in danger of losing their relationships.” If we assume this truth, then young girls feel their relationships are at risk when they express their authentic selves, which distances them from the desire to pursue creative and expressive work. This was the concept I attempted to unearth in my research, and my findings prove dissociation is well at work within the minds of our young girls.


Methods Phase I: Surveys

I undertook a variety of methods to collect data from two 6th grade drumming classes and two 9th and 10th grade (combined) choir classes: during the initial phase, I administered a detailed survey in which I asked students to rank their feelings towards, enjoyment of, and beliefs about their creative activity. Students had the opportunity to justify their numerical rankings with written responses, which most chose to do – these responses heavily impacted my conclusions. On the same survey, I also asked these students to list their musical role models.

Below is a selection of questions and their results, visualized into a graph. A “5” on the answering scale indicates strong agreement, and a “1” indicates strong disagreement.

To read the full study, which featured a series of six questions, please click here.

Survey Question: I feel comfortable taking risks in improvisation and composition activities.

6th Grade Responses
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9th/10tGrade Responses
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Findings:

  • All girls who answered with 2 or 3 indicated a fear of making a mistake, being laughed at, or cited their lack of experience with music. Their responses showed high social awareness: “my peers will think,” “they will laugh,” etc.
  • High school girls indicated that mistakes were a major component of the activity: those that answered 4 and 5 had justifications like “I might mess up but I know it’s ok,” and those that answered low cited reasons such as “I make too many mistakes.” As our improvisation activity had no possible “mistakes,” the girls were allowing a fabricated idea of the “mistake” to inform their comfort level.
  • Many girls of all scoring levels indicated they were low in self-esteem and therefore did not feel comfortable taking risks.
  • By contrast, 6th grade boys answered with only 4s and 5s – showing strong confidence in risk-taking. These boys explained that improvising and risk-taking were enjoyable regardless of circumstance, and not a single boy used any vocabulary relating to the opinion of their peers.
  • High school boys indicated confidence was related to skill – “It’s fun because I am good at it.”
  • Not a single survey from a high school boy used the word “mistake” or any of its synonyms. One survey did say rather poignantly, “No risk and no consequence to improvisation.”

Questions in the survey phrased using “I believe” were designed to assess students’ levels of self-esteem and self-confidence in their creative ability. Self-esteem and self-confidence are not accurate predictors of actual talent and creativity in either men or women from childhood to adulthood, with men typically showing inflated confidence and women showing low self-esteem. My findings support that; these questions showed great gender and age disparity.

Survey Question: I believe I have leadership skills in music.

6th Grade Responses
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9th/10th Grade Responses
9th-grade-second-questionFindings:

  • This question showed not only the greatest gender disparity in both ages, but also the greatest change from 6th grade to high school. Genders answered in nearly opposite percentages in all grades.
  • Comments that students left on surveys display the same trends that the other questions indicate – where boys viewed leadership as an expression of individual power, girls viewed leadership as a construction primarily in place to help others. Girls were careful not to justify their high scores with self-praise but rather with acknowledgement of group needs.
  • Girls that cited strong or neutral attitudes towards leadership skills in both 6th grade and high school were unanimous in their view of leadership as a role that is in place to help others, rationalizing their scores with statements such as “I work well with groups,” “Students tend to ask me for help,” “I want to encourage others,” and  “I’m not the best but I want to help others.” Responses such as these reflect the tendency for girls of all ages to divert positive attention away from themselves and attribute it to outside forces.
  • Boys showed waning confidence with age in their responses to this question as well, but also illuminated their conception of leadership as fundamentally different from the girls’ conception: leadership was a mark of success, of individual power and talent – not a role primarily concerned with helping others.
  • Boys in all grades cited achievement, confidence and skill (or lack thereof) as a means of justifying their leadership scores. Those that answered low said they were “not a leader”, “not comfortable”,  “just started with music” or “didn’t play an instrument” and those that answered highly said “I play in a band”, “I’m great at music”, “I love music,” “music is my strength,” and “I’ve led musical groups before.”
  • This is important to contrast with the high school girls’ answers – boys felt that their passion and their strength was enough to qualify them as a leader, whereas girls unanimously cited nomination from their peers as the primary reason for pursuing leadership.

Overall, these responses illuminate the central problems that divide our genders from childhood throughout adulthood: society places more pressure on women to be a certain “way,” whatever that “way” may be. In 6th grade, girls begin to display awareness of society’s pressures: that in order to succeed, they must fit someone else’s definition of who they are. Because creativity and identity are intricately intertwined, this inhibits the development of their creative life. Boys, however, respond to different pressures and display less fear of failure. The pressures of masculinity that so shape their adolescent life predispose them to risk-taking in order to be accepted by male peers. Creativity is simply another form of risk-taking, and the likelihood that boys will face societal rejection upon taking creative risks is much smaller.  


Methods Phase II: Expressing their experiences

During the second phase, I designed an improvisation activity for 6th grade students and asked them to write, draw, or somehow represent on paper their experience during the improvisation activity. Following the written activity, each student had the opportunity to share his or her experience with the class. I created two poems, one using the girls’ responses and one using the boys’, of which each line is a student-written response.

Girls
My mind was all over the place.
They might think I’m crazy.
I felt like my mind was an unknown puzzle trying to find the right pieces, the pieces were my peers, community.
What would work with the other person?
I was thinking about sounds that would sound really good or bad.
What I did sounded bad.
I felt like we were a community.
I was nervous that if I messed up maybe some people would laugh at me.
We are a community.
With each beat came harmony.
The rhythm didn’t come as planned, so I thought of something else.
I had nothing to be afraid of.
I stare at the window as I drum my new idea and try to tune in.
I am listening with the beats on my hand, their beats on my ears, and the drum in my heart.

Boys
My mind was blank.
In my own world with my own beat yet fully aware of the beats around me.
At first I didn’t know what to do but then I got into rhythm, it was really easy for me. I think I am nervous because it’s out of my comfort zone and I don’t really do music.
When I put my hand on a drum I can feel it lingering through my fingers.
I felt very musical and a little offbeat.
When we started the first improv I didn’t have a clue what to do. When we did the second I had a better idea.
A certain rush comes through me that I can’t explain, it feels like I could do anything I put my mind to.


Who will I be?: Musical Role Models

When I researched this same group of students’ musical role models, the results were harrowing:

  • Of the 27 artists mentioned by both 6th grade girls and boys, zero were female.
  • 50% of the 6th grade girls and 13% of 6th grade boys indicated they had no musical role models. 26.6% of high school girls and 17.6% of high school boys had no musical role models.
  • Comparing this data to the survey data, in which 6th grade girls answered with lower scores for each question across the board, there seems to be a correlation at this age between available role models and creative confidence.
  • 30 high school girls mentioned 46 artists, 20 of which were female. High school girls represented the most diverse stylistic tastes of all samples, with role models ranging from classical, pop, and classic rock to musical theatre.
  • Interestingly, this sample was the only group to mention family members as role models, with 4 of the 30 girls citing relatives as major musical influences. Four high school girls also mentioned their classroom music teacher – who is a woman – as a musical role model.
  • In stark contrast, the 18 high school boys surveyed mentioned 40 artists, only one of which was female. Only one high school boy mentioned family as an influence and only one mentioned the classroom music teacher.

The numbers are clear: young women and men do not have enough female musical role models. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that, of all the samples, only the high schools girls mentioned female artists as role models, and even then, at a lower rate than they mentioned male artists. In order for us to claim true equality in the way we educate our young musicians, both boys and girls should ideally be claiming comparable numbers of male and female role models.


What Can We Do?

The classical music world – especially the portion that contains new music, in which living composers are the vital presence – is a relatively small portion of society. There are few opportunities to have conversations about gender representation because the majority of white, male composers and conductors in leadership positions have rarely had to battle institutional barriers; thus the conversation of institutional barriers rarely makes the top of the agenda.

Further, in speaking with some of my composing colleagues and collecting survey data from adult, professional female composers and conductors, many women noted hostility between women in our field. Often, this is reported as conflict between women who celebrate their gender as an important factor of their art and women who refrain from explicitly speaking about it. Thus the gender conversation, in gender imbalanced situations, can range from inspiring, to awkward, to, unfortunately, silencing or even harassing, as reported in several surveys. The unpredictability of this kind of conversation based on past experiences, according to these same reports, often prevents women (and men) from bringing it up.

The best way we can improve the situation is to address the problem, and to think critically about the music that we consume, study, perform, and share. Music teachers must work tirelessly to develop their own curriculums that include equal representations of female and male composers and creative role models and refrain from using old textbooks that do not provide accurate representations of women and people of color. This is no easy task, as even the most dedicated of progressive teachers often fail to provide their students with fair numbers. It is, however, feasible. There is enough available published music for school music ensembles to be able to provide close to equal representation of female composers at school concerts.

Where possible, educators can incorporate composition into school curriculum to allow for student compositions to be presented in concert as well. Educators may also opt for an active role in the pursuit of equality by asking students to write letters to publishing companies and arts organizations that fail to provide decent representation of women.


Conclusions

Our music industry, in all its facets – from underground indie rock to classical music to corporate pop – reflects our societal attitude towards women: we are not creative agents, but targets of male visions. This mentality has permeated our school system, where the same dichotomy is enforced in the way that we allow our students to relate to one another socially and in the way that we, as teachers, encourage and reprimand them.

Behaviorally, we expect girls – from kindergarten to high school – to follow rules rather than question them. Every day, the patterns that our girls experience in school are reinforced by the patterns they see in women in the media. As girls age and become more aware of social roles and dynamics, they consequently begin to pigeonhole themselves as appeasers, as helpers, as bystanders. We heap the responsibility of perfect social order in the classroom on our girls rather than expecting equal contribution AND deviation from both genders. Girls of all ages should feel just as comfortable as boys to mess up, to break rules, to be punished – this is how we develop confidence, and this is how we break creative boundaries.

kaley-lane-eaton-with-studentsIn my data, it became clear that over time, girls associate creativity with deviation from the group, and boys associate creativity with individual success. What seems like a difference in vocabulary is representative of our society’s depressingly imbalanced attitude towards the role of women. What results from this imbalance is exactly what we have now: consistently misunderstood female public figures, and very few women in creative leadership roles. This, in turn, reinforces the vicious cycle: in this world, there are few creative female role models and, most importantly, new, relevant art is not being created to its full capacity.

Can our world progress in equality, in empathy, in opportunity for all, if this is the dominant paradigm? My answer is yes: it is in the hands of artists and educators, who are thankfully and wonderfully radical in what they do, to chip away at this paradigm.

Every initiative made by major arts organizations to combat social problems, be they issues of race, social class, gender, or other imbalances in the arts community, serves to help women and girls rise up. Every resilient and brave woman that applies for professorships, fellowships, and grants inspires a friend, student, or colleague. Every mother that shares what her day at work was like with her daughter creates an inspired young leader. Every woman that makes a record inspires a girl to write her first song. And every vote made towards candidates, initiatives, and policies that address equity helps to create a society where women and men both lead and take creative risks. For these reasons, I am optimistic.

Please click here for a full list of references.

Women in (New) Music Series Launch!

by Maggie Molloy

If you attended a major symphony performance anywhere in the U.S. last year, chances are you did not see any works by women composers.

In fact, if you’re like most Americans, it’s quite conceivable that you have never seen a live performance of a symphonic work by a woman composer—and it’s not because women aren’t writing music.

women-in-musicAccording to a survey of 89 American symphony orchestras (ranging from regional ensembles to full-time, major orchestras), women composers accounted for only 1.7 percent of the total pieces performed in the 2015-2016 concert season. And of the performances of works by living composers, women accounted for just 14 percent.

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Infographic by Rachel Upton and Ricky O’Bannon. Research conducted by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

To say that women are underrepresented in classical music would be an understatement. Women are clearly not being heard—the question is, why is nobody listening?

As a new music media outlet, Second Inversion is in a unique position to help combat this inequality. Since our inception we have worked tirelessly to provide educated and unbiased coverage of music by both men and women alike, with the firm belief that good music is good music, regardless of the gender of the composer, conductor, or performers.

We will continue to provide thorough and balanced new music coverage—but we would also like to challenge ourselves and our listeners to think more critically about issues of gender and diversity in the music that they program, perform, and consume.

Second Inversion is proud to launch our Women in (New) Music series: an ongoing exploration into the past, present, and future of feminism in classical music. This multimedia series will highlight feminist issues within and beyond the classical music sphere, inviting female-identifying musicians, artists, and writers from all areas of the field to share their own experiences.

Our goal is to showcase a broad and diverse range of perspectives, collaborating with one another to craft a series that is inclusive, empowering, and thought-provoking for all of our readers, listeners, contributors, and colleagues. It is our hope that this series will eventually grow into an entire online library of interviews, guest blog posts, photos, videos, editorials, opinion pieces, artworks, creative projects, and more, accessible as a free resource for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of feminism and music.

We look forward to the critical discussions and challenging ideas that this series will ignite, and hope that you will join us in this dialogue with an open and analytical mind. Together, we can better educate ourselves and others in the classical music community about issues of systemic gender discrimination in classical canon—and together, we can ensure that not another concert season passes with less than 2 percent of women’s works on the program.

Because ultimately, good music transcends all politics of gender and sexuality, and together, we can preserve and propel a music tradition made richer by women’s contributions.

We welcome all questions, concerns, feedback, and ideas on the Women in (New) Music series. If you are interested in contributing or have questions about how you can get involved, please contact Maggie Molloy at maggiem@king.org.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Cornish Presents: A Tribute to Janice Giteck

by Maggie Molloy

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Seattle-based composer Janice Giteck has a long list of music accomplishments. Not only is she an award-winning composer and a beloved professor, but she is also a historian, an ethnomusicologist, an anthropologist, and an activist.

“As an artist, I strive to articulate my experiences of the world in which I live,” Giteck said. “My work challenges the paradigm of hierarchy and embraces a spirit of transformation through relationship. I make music, knowing that it can be a source of profound connection between people.”

Next week, Seattle celebrates the myriad accomplishments of this exceptional composer with a tribute concert at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall. We’ll get to those details later—but first, here’s a bit more about the woman of the hour:

Though originally from New York, Giteck has firmly rooted herself in the music and art of the Pacific Northwest. Whether composing for the concert hall or writing music for dance, theater, film, or multimedia performances, Giteck has always been inspired by cultural diversity and social issues both within and beyond the Pacific Northwest community. Her compositions combine elements of the Western classical tradition with a unique blend of Buddhist, Hasidic, Javanese, and African influences.

“My style is very pitch oriented, polytonal/modal, extremely melodic, rhythmic, with specific textures or qualities of sound—very frontal, and a generous amount of silence,” Giteck described. “I often juxtapose specifically notated sounds with instructions for improvisation. The elasticity of this format allows the music to have clear direction compositionally, and also to ‘breathe’ with a sense of play and spontaneity.”

Her compositions are deeply spiritual, thoughtful, reflective—ritualistic, even. Her music has a way of filling the entire space and immersing the audience in its tremendous emotional energy.

“My music is often combined with text and ethno-poetic materials of ritual,” Giteck said. “The pieces serve as dramatic microcosms, rich juxtapositions of different aspects of humanness, intensely emotional, both primal and sophisticated. There is also space for contemplation.”

Giteck began her multifaceted compositional studies with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, and on a French government grant, attended the Paris Conservatory as a student of Olivier Messiaen (yes, the Olivier Messaien). She went on to study West African percussion with Obo Addy, and Javanese Gamelan with Daniel Schmidt, fueling her interest in non-Western musical idioms.

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“Musically, my style comes from a personal hybrid culture:  Euro-American concert music, Eastern European Jewish music (my great, great grandfather and his father played klezmer for the last Russian czar), Native American chant, African drumming, and Indonesian gamelan,” Giteck described.

Fascinated by the relationship between music and healing, Giteck went on to study psychology, resulting in a master’s degree from Antioch University in Seattle, followed by work as a music specialist at Seattle Mental Health Institute. Currently a professor at Cornish College of the Arts, Giteck teaches a variety of music courses, including classes focused on how artists respond to their social environments.

Most recently, as composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony from 2013-2015, Giteck co-created the “Potlatch Symphony” with the orchestra and members of several regional Native tribes. The piece has had three performances, including a premiere to a capacity audience at Benaroya Hall.

This Tuesday, Cornish alumni, faculty, students, and friends are gathering to honor the long and dedicated compositional career of Giteck with a concert of her music performed by long-time friends and former students. The concert features performances and presentations by long-time “Janice-collaborators” Paul Taub, Roger Nelson, Matt Kocmieroski, Laura DeLuca, Walter Gray, and Lucas Werdal.

“In my music I want to give energy, to fuel, rather than exhaust the listener with heady, difficult to understand aggregates of sound,” Giteck said. “I aim to dance with a kind of ‘uranium’ powerful enough to lure the soul, to surrender to ‘what is’. I hear music as a portal, a physical entry into the psyche, where it can engage a deep, inner-life channel.”

The Janice Giteck tribute concert is on Tuesday, April 12 at 8 p.m. at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall on Capitol Hill. For more information, please visit this link.

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ALBUM REVIEW: “Strum” by Jessie Montgomery

New York-based violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery looks confidently over her shoulder in the cover art for her debut album “Strum: Music for Strings.” Surrounded by the black and white rubble of a broken and buried city, she emerges with strength and poise, her chin held high and her hand on her hip—a golden light amidst the dust and debris.

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In some ways, the image evokes the artwork of the Harlem Renaissance—the use of color, the stylized portraiture, the message of strength and, above all, hope.

For nearly two decades, Montgomery has been affiliated with the Sphinx Organization, a group which supports the accomplishments of young African-American, Latino, and minority string players. Since 2012 she has held a post as Composer-in-Residence with the Sphinx Virtuosi, a conductor-less string orchestra, and she has also been a two-time laureate in the annual Sphinx Competition.

“Strum” is the first album dedicated solely to Montgomery’s music, and marks her debut as a leading composer and performer. The album features performances by the Sphinx Virtuosi, PUBLIQuartet (of which Montgomery is a co-founder), and of course, the Catalyst Quartet—Montgomery’s own chamber music group.

The album combines classical chamber music with elements of folk music, spirituals, improvisation, poetry, and politics, crafting a unique and insightful newmusic perspective on the cross-cultural intersections of American history.

The first piece, “Starburst,” serves as a one-movement introduction to the colorful album, highlighting the dynamic energy and multilayered soundscapes to come. Premiered by the Sphinx Virtuosi, the piece is performed with grace, precision, and explosive verve.

What follows is a markedly more soulful and melancholy requiem titled “Source Code,” performed by the Catalyst Quartet. The one-movement work echoes with the rich musical history of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, with many of its melodies and musical textures inspired by AfricanAmerican artists of that era.

“I experimented by re-interpreting gestures, sentences, and musical syntax (the bare bones of rhythm and inflection) by choreographer Alvin Ailey, poets Langston Hughes and Rita Dove, and the great jazz songstress Ella Fitzgerald into musical sentences and tone paintings,” Montgomery said of her inspiration for the piece. “Ultimately, this exercise of listening, re-imagining, and transcribing led me back to the black spiritual as a common musical source across all three genres.”

Ripe with poignancy, the piece tells a countless tales as its haunting melodies and slow glissandos ruminate through the gorgeous, blues-inspired harmonies.

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Photo credit: Jiyang Chen

Montgomery goes on to explore a wide range of musical textures in “Break Away,” a work comprised of five short movements with added improvisational elements. Written for the PUBLIQuartet in 2013, the piece moves from musical abstractions to songlike melodies, airy glissandos to jazz improvisations. Technically demanding and skillfully performed, the piece explores a vast terrain of musical textures in under 10 minutes and ends with a wildly dissonant bang.


Montgomery
then breaks away from chamber music for “Rhapsody No. 1,” an unaccompanied violin solo which serves as the first in a series of six rhapsodies which she plans to write in tribute to the tradition of J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.

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Photo credit: Jiyang Chen

“In paying tribute to this archetypal tradition, I have chosen to elaborate by writing for a variety of solo voices across instrument families—violin, viola, flute, bassoon, and double bass—so that the final rhapsody in the cycle is a five part chamber work for all of the instruments in the collection,” she said of the cycle.

Here Montgomery showcases her passion and artistry as a soloist, balancing sensitivity and intimate expression with technical proficiency and fiery passion, crafting a compelling and unforgettable introduction to what’s sure to be a rapturous suite.

But in the case of this album, what follows is another type of rhapsody: Montgomery’s tribute to the 200th anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Scored for solo string quartet and string orchestra, Montgomery’s “Banner” begins as a simple variation on the theme of the U.S. national anthem, but quickly expands into an exploration of world anthems and patriotic songs, begging the question: “What does a 21st century anthem sound like in today’s multicultural environment?

For Montgomery, a 21st century anthem pays tribute to all of America’s wide-ranging cultures, while also allowing space for the possibilities of new and ever-changing folk and popular idioms. She explores as many as she can in just under 10 minutes, drawing from both classical and folk traditions while also incorporating the high energy and rhythmic verve of marching bands, drumline choruses, multilayered fanfare, and more.

The album comes to a close with the title track, “Strum,” performed by the Catalyst Quartet. Strummed pizzicato lines serve as a texture motive across all four instruments, creating a rhythmic vitality which propels the piece forward from its nostalgic first moments all the way through to its ecstatic and dramatic ending. Layered rhythms and harmonic ostinati round out the piece’s warm, dancelike spirit, crafting a joyous and hopeful ending to Montgomery’s debut.

And while this album may just be the beginning for Montgomery, “Strum” certainly echoes with possibility.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Q&A with Laura Schwendinger

by Maggie Molloy

It’s been raining to beat the band this week—but not even the wildest thunderstorms could drown out the beautiful music of Seattle’s North Corner Chamber Orchestra (NOCCO). This Sunday, NOCCO invites you to get out of the cold and into the warmth of the concert hall for a very special “Heart of Winter” performance.

LauraSchwendinger

Known for their dynamic performances and adventurous programming, NOCCO’s 2015-2016 season features works by three different American women composers. The star of this weekend’s performance is composer Laura Schwendinger’s gorgeously luminescent Chiaro di Luna, a piece filled with icy strings and glimmering melodies inspired by the mysterious beauty of Lake Como in Italy.

Second Inversion sat down with Laura to ask her five questions about Chiaro di Luna, female composers, and NOCCO’s upcoming season.

Second Inversion: What is the story or emotion behind Chiaro di Luna, and how would you describe this piece?

Laura Schwendinger: It was written after my residency at the beautiful Rockefeller Bellagio Center on Lake Como in Italy. We would walk out on the veranda at night, and look out at the beautiful lake, and when there was a moon we could see the outline of the lake and the Dolomite Mountains beyond. Chiaro Di Luna celebrates the dark beauty of that experience.

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

LS: Chiaro di Luna was written for the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra of Hungary, so I wanted to tap into the Romantic side of my expression a little more. It was one of the first works where I ventured into those waters (no pun intended), after having moved away from Romanticism for a time. I think of my work as being lyrical but passionate, and intense at times. I’m a “maximalist” and at times a romantic.

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

LS: French composers have had a huge influence on me. Debussy, Ravel, and very substantially Dutilleux, and at the same time many American composers such as my teacher Andrew Imbrie, with his lyrical voice, and even composers like Elliot Carter and Aaron Copland have influenced me and my way of thinking and hearing.

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?

LS: It’s funny, I get asked about that a lot, and being a female I understand it. I think though, there are so many fine female composers  now that it’s almost hard for me to think of my favorite living composers without including at least 50-60% women.

I think it’s wonderful NOCCO is programming women and I think that other ensembles should get to know the music of women and if they do, they’ll realize how many great women are out there writing amazing music. That might not have been true 30 years ago, but it is certainly true now.

I run a contemporary music ensemble at UW Madison, where I am a professor, and last year I programmed an entire concert of music by women without even thinking about it. In other words, I programmed music that was great and after I had, I realized all of the works were by women!

SI: What do you hope audiences will take away from listening to Chiaro di Luna?

LS: I hope they will see the dark and beautiful, brooding Lake Como—under the moonlight with the Italian night sky and a full moon above.

 

NOCCO’s “Heart of Winter” concert is this Sunday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Magnolia Church of Christ in Seattle. In addition to Laura Schwendinger’s Chiaro di Luna, NOCCO musicians will also perform Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, Darius Milhaud’s Chamber Symphony No. 5 for 10 Winds, and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite. For additional information and tickets, visit NOCCO.org.