Second Inversion’s 24-Hour Star-Spangled Marathon

by  Maggie Molloy

This Fourth of July, Second Inversion is celebrating the history of American musical innovation. Tune in all day long on July 4 for our 24-hour Star-Spangled Marathon, featuring American composers across history.

Throughout the day we’ll take you from the spiritual fantasias of Florence Beatrice Price to the jazzy rhapsodies of George Gershwin, from the musical nuts and bolts of John Cage to the tape experiments of Pauline Oliveros—from the minimalist musings of Philip Glass to the spacious landscapes of John Luther Adams, the avant-jazz stylings of Don Byron, the musical tapestries of Gabriela Lena Frank, and far beyond.

This Fourth of July, we’re celebrating the history of American music in all of its sparkling diversity, from sea to shining sea. Click here to tune in.

Plus, discover our hosts’ favorite musical selections from the marathon below.

Florence Beatrice Price: Fantasie Negre (Sono Luminus)
Lara Downes, piano

Fantasie Negre is such a cool piece, a fascinating mix of romantic era Western European influence and African American spiritual—it’s almost as if Liszt visited the American South and immediately rushed to a piano to interpret the melodies he heard. Fantastic gospel-like moments seep through dazzling displays of technique. It’s even more impressive when you think about all the things Price had to overcome just to compose: a black woman born in Little Rock, Arkansas, she attended New England Conservatory in 1906 but had to pass as Mexican in order to avoid abuse. Though she returned to Arkansas and married, she moved her family to Chicago to flee lynchings; her husband eventually became abusive and she filed for divorce, a rare step for a woman of her time. Despite these difficulties, her prodigious talent produced 300 works in her lifetime.
 Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour on July 4 to hear this piece.


Steve Reich: Come Out (Nonesuch)
Daniel Hamm, voice

In 1966, Steve Reich took a four-second audio clip and spun it into one of the most harrowing musical works of the 20th century. Come Out takes as its basis a mere scrap from an analog tape interview of Daniel Hamm, a black teenager who was wrongfully arrested for murder in 1964 (one of what would come to be known as the Harlem Six). In the clip, Hamm describes the horrific police brutality he faced behind bars. But the police would not take him to the hospital unless he was bleeding—so he ripped open one of his bruises and “let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.”

Come out to show them. Reich gradually loops, phases, and transforms these words beyond recognition over the course of 13 minutes, transporting the listener beyond language and into the dizzying and devastating reality of the situation at hand. Over 50 years later, we find ourselves still spinning in the same tape loop, Hamm’s words still echoing in the race relations of today. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour on July 4 to hear this piece.


John Luther Adams: Dream in White on White (New Albion)
Barbara Chapman, harp; Apollo Quartet and Strings

Many artists have long recognized that one of the United States’ most powerful attributes is its natural landscape and the massive scale thereof. However, this essential characteristic of the country has been something that many American composers have neglected (or at least struggled) to incorporate effectively into their music, focusing instead on human-centric cultural or traditional elements.

John Luther Adams breaks that mold, using the beauty, power, complexity, and scale of the American landscape itself as the inspiration for much of his work. Going further, Adams lived in Alaska, that state that perhaps best encapsulates the awesome power of the American landscape, for many years. He has managed to forge a unique and engrossing musical language that transports listeners to mountaintops, ocean shores, and glacial snowfields. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour on July 4 to hear this piece.


Nico Muhly: Mothertongue (Bedroom Community)

Nico Muhly is an American contemporary composer whose mission is to gnaw at the edges of classical & rock/pop. Mothertongue is a fun example of how he melds genres, combining the intimacy and beauty of chamber music with a conceptual pastiche that adds fidgety energy to the mix. In the first movement, “Archive,” Muhly accomplishes this by incorporating the beauty of Abby Fischer’s voice speak-singing a jumble of numbers and places which, turns out, are all addresses where Muhly & Fischer have lived.

In “Hress,” the frenetic third movement, found sounds (pouring coffee, crunching cereal, etc.) create a morning routine. Don’t expect “Hress” to evoke a lazy Sunday sunrise, though. As the music picks up it’s clear these are the sounds of someone either hungover or extremely jet-legged going through the motions to get out the door and on with the day. Mothertongue proves Muhly has a knack for finding the sweet spot between concept and emotional connection; he’s corroding classical boundaries and inviting the next generation to explore his musical Pangaea. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour on July 4 to hear this piece.


Amir ElSaffar: Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy

I love this music! I’ve never heard anything like it. ElSaffar has fused together a lot of different musical traditions in this, but what stands out to me most are the jazz and the Middle Eastern sounds. ElSaffar is the child of an Iraqi immigrant and an American. He was born outside of Chicago, and grew up listening to his dad’s jazz collection. His first musical training was in a Lutheran church choir. Iraqi music came later for him—in 2001 he used the money he got from winning a jazz trumpet competition in to go to Iraq and study something called maqam music, and he spent the next five years studying with Iraqi masters in the Middle East and Europe. Anyway, I love how these traditions come together in his music so effortlessly to make something new. – Dacia Clay

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11pm hour on July 4 to hear this piece.

Music for Troubled Times: SMCO Performs Gabriela Lena Frank

by Maggie Molloy

Music is one of the great unifiers of our humanity, particularly in times of political division and social unrest. This Saturday, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra reflects on today’s troubled times with a message of hope and a program of music that unites traditions old and new, near and far.

The concert, titled “Journeys of Discovery and Hope,” begins with a composer whose life and music embodies her own cross-cultural heritage. Born to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Gabriela Lena Frank’s music draws from her extensive travels in South America, her studies of Latin American folklore, and her background in the Western classical music tradition.

“In our day and age it’s important that classical music is not seen as an aged art form that is reserved for people who occupy a certain stereotype: white, affluent, elderly,” said SMCO Music Director Geoffrey Larson. “Gabriela Lena Frank’s music makes a compelling statement that this genre belongs to all people and cultures, and is alive with great variety and diversity.”

Under Larson’s baton this Saturday, SMCO performs Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout for string chamber orchestra. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje as envisioned by the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Across its six short movements, Leyendas uses Western classical instruments to emulate the rich timbres and harmonic textures of Andean instruments such as the panpipe and the tarka—and also to depict the vibrant characters of Andean history and folklore.

“With the influence of her own heritage, Frank creates music with fierce Peruvian-derived rhythms and fascinating allusions to traditional instruments,” Larson said. “She brings a vibrant palette of colors to her music that broadens audience conceptions of what an ensemble can sound like, and what classical music can be.”

For Saturday’s program, Frank’s vividly illustrated Andean walkabout is paired with something a bit more traditional but every bit as timely: Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times, for which the orchestra will be joined by Choral Arts Northwest and soloists Tess Altiveros, Julia Benzinger, Brendan Tuohy, and Charles Robert Stephens.

“Journeys of Discovery and Hope” is the second concert in SMCO’s 2017-2018 season, which is dedicated to celebrating diversity and honoring voices that have been too often marginalized—or worse, silenced—throughout the classical music tradition.


“Journeys of Discovery and Hope” is Saturday, Jan. 20 at 8pm at Plymouth Congregational Church. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist.  Tune in on Friday, January 12 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Angélica Negrón: La Isla Mágica (Innova Recordings)
Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass

Brimming with whimsy and wistful nostalgia, Angélica Negrón’s La Isla Mágica combines punchy, video game-worthy electronics with double bass, percussion, and ambient vocals. Performed here by Eleonore Oppenheim on her debut solo album Home, her bass swings, sways, and dances amid a swirl of technicolor electronics. At times it sounds almost as though she’s in the middle of a theme park, playing among the neon signs, the colorful carnival games, and the translucent stars above. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to  Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Gabriela Lena Frank: Danza de los Saqsampillos (Naxos Records)
Alias Chamber Ensemble

I seriously can’t get enough of these works by Gabriela Lena Frank, with all their vibrant colors and stunning rhythmic character. Gabriela was born in the US to parents of Peruvian/Chinese and Lithuanian/Jewish ancestry, and much of her music is influenced by her heritage. Danza de los Saqsampillos is inspired by the Peruvian “saqsampillo,” a rambunctious jungle-dweller with a characteristic jumping two-person dance. This performance from the Alias Chamber Ensemble album Hilos is the version for two marimbas.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to  Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Bowie: “Ashes to Ashes” (arr. Bischoff)
Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff

David Bowie once said that “Ashes to Ashes” represented his own feelings of inadequacy about his work not having much importance.  Until “Ashes to Ashes” was released in 1980, much of Bowie’s music was cloaked in concept and personas so the vulnerability and maturity of this song was, among other things, his way of closing that chapter and moving on. In this version, from an album recorded just two weeks following Bowie’s death in 2016, the harsh textures, edginess, and synthesized guitars of the original are replaced with softer melancholy strings and sultry nightclub vocals.  Bowie is celebrated here, not emulated, and that’s what makes this tribute shine.
 Rachele Hales

Tune in to  Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Crowell: “Waiting in the Rain for Snow” (New Amsterdam Records)
NOW Ensemble

This is exactly what waiting in the rain for snow sounds like.

NOW Ensemble’s flute, clarinet, double bass, oboe, piano, and electric guitar combine the excitement and anticipation of dramatic, beautiful flakes drifting from the sky, with the anxious desire to stay dry while the undesirable in-between phase of sleet insistently pounds the pavement in front of you. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to  Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.