LIVE BROADCAST: Town Music Season Finale

by Maggie Molloy

Every end marks a new beginning—and as the 2016-2017 Town Music series comes to a close, artistic director Joshua Roman looks excitedly toward the future with a program of works by living (and thriving!) composers.

For this Wednesday’s season finale, Joshua conducts members of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra as they perform alongside SYSO alums and musical mentors. The wide-ranging program draws from musical traditions old and new, near and far—featuring a tribute to Haydn by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw, the world premiere of a new jazz-inspired work by Gregg Kallor, a tango-infused chamber piece by Osvaldo Golijov, a string homage to Hindustani classical by Reena Esmail, and much more.

Join us as we broadcast the performance LIVE this Wednesday from Town Hall Seattle! Download our app or click here to listen to the broadcast online from anywhere in the world, streaming live on Wednesday, June 21 at 7:30pm PST.

Concert Program:

Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
Reena Esmail: Teen Murti
Gregg Kallor: A Mouthful of Forevers (World Premiere)

—INTERMISSION—

Osvaldo Golijov: Last Round
Christopher Theofanidis: Visions and Miracles
Jessie Montgomery: Starburst


Town Music’s Every New Beginning concert is Wednesday, June 21 at 7:30pm at Town Hall. Click here for more information, and click here to tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast.

Second Inversion’s Top 5 Album Reviews of 2016

You can count on Second Inversion for Album Reviews of the latest and greatest new releases. These are the top 5 most popular reviews of 2016!

#5: Jessie Montgomery: Strum (Azica)

download-26The 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. And while this album may just be the beginning for Montgomery, “Strum” certainly echoes with possibility. – Maggie Molloy


#4: Northwestern University Cello Ensemble: Shadow, Echo, Memory (Sono Luminus)

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As the album continues onward from the Rachmaninov through the Mahler, it becomes clear that the Ensemble has achieved their purported goal of using the cello to express textures of dark and light, bring to life sounds and images from another time, and finally to aid listeners in revisiting their own histories. It does indeed provide a fascinating, haunting individual experience to those who are up for a little soul-searching. – Brendan Howe


#3: Contact: Discreet Music by Brian Eno (Cantaloupe Music)

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As performers, Contact makes the music their own—and as listeners, so do we. With precision, patience, and the utmost reverence, Contact recreates Eno’s ambient masterwork as an echo chamber of circling motives and mismatched musical textures. Each ripple of the repetitious melody is a perfectly crafted piece of the larger pattern, a discreet but unique little gem in and of itself. – Maggie Molloy


#2: Boston Modern Orchestra Project: Mason Bates’ Mothership (BMOP/Sound)

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Part of what makes this music great is its versatility: it’s at home in so many different settings, from the venerated orchestral concert hall, to the sweaty dance club, to your living room on a Tuesday night. – Geoffrey Larson


#1: Pink Floyd: “Wish You Were Here” Symphonic featuring Alice Cooper with the London Orion Orchestra (Decca)

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Fans of Pink Floyd will definitely enjoy the musical fantasia of Wish You Were Here Symphonic.  Those who are less familiar with Pink Floyd will also find a lot to love in this recording.  You listen to this album for the symphonic arrangements and in every way they deliver.

This was Smith’s first go at producing an album by himself and I’d call it a great success.  I hope to hear symphonic versions of Pink Floyd’s other classics in the future.  Hint hint, Pete Smith.  Tell us, where will you go from Here? – Rachele Hales

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.


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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.

ALBUM REVIEW: “The Bach/Gould Project”

by Maggie Molloy

Catalyst-QuartetJohann Sebastian Bach was a master of musical variations—so much so that even now, nearly 300 years later, his works continue to inspire new interpretations, adaptations, and arrangements by musicians from around the globe.

Among Bach’s most famous and most frequently reimagined works is his “Goldberg Variations.” Originally composed in 1741 for harpsichord, the piece consists of an aria and 30 variations. Over the years, the “Goldberg Variations” have inspired countless diverse arrangements, ranging from saxophones and double bass to marimba, prepared piano, jazz trio, synthesizer, and even double-necked electric guitar.

But despite all of these imaginative reinterpretations of the classic Baroque work, no one has ever created a fully realized four-voice arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations”—until now.

The Catalyst Quartet recently released their debut album, “The Bach/Gould Project,” which features the group’s own unique arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations” for string quartet. And in addition to this 45-minute masterpiece, the album also explores Bach’s lasting influence by featuring a one-movement work written by a world-renowned interpreter of Bach’s keyboard music: Canadian pianist and composer Glenn Gould.

The Catalyst Quartet’s arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations” combines Bach’s carefully-crafted counterpoint with the warmth, resonance, and timeless elegance of a string quartet. Comprised of violinists Karla Donehew-Perez and Jessie Montgomery, violist Paul Laraia, and cellist Karlos Rodriguez, the quartet’s polyphonic clarity, rhythmic verve, and graceful phrasing breathe new life into Bach’s classic work.

The string quartet arrangement allows each voice to shine through more sweetly and more whimsically than in the harpsichord arrangement, while still maintaining the original work’s complex counterpoint and multifaceted formal structure. Furthermore, the melodic ornamentation, musical imitation, and motivic interplay between voices sparkle in the quartet arrangement, creating a gorgeous and multidimensional musical texture.

Bach’s music is famous for its dense textures, complex counterpoint, and intricate harmonic and motivic organization. In fact, his music is so intellectually rigorous that some musicians have made an entire career out of specializing in Bach musical interpretation—and Gould is among them.

Gould’s 1955 piano recording of the “Goldberg Variations” is among the most famous renditions of the influential work—in fact, the recording turned him into an overnight piano sensation. But what many people don’t know is that during the years in which Gould was preparing to record the “Variations,” he was also composing a new string quartet. Thus, the second half of “The Bach/Gould Project” features a Catalyst Quartet performance of Gould’s 1956 composition String Quartet Op. 1.

The 35-minute work is written as a single long movement divided into five sections—and while some of its contrapuntal richness may have been inspired by Bach, for the most part the composition is far from Baroque. The Expressionist melodrama and dense musical textures are at times reminiscent of early Schoenberg, though the piece’s rich harmonies and lush lyricism also have clear ties to late German Romantics such as Strauss and Wagner.

The piece is darkly sumptuous; a bold contrast to the polished charm of the “Goldberg Variations.” But the Catalyst Quartet pulls off the dramatic mood change seamlessly, capturing the stormy and tempestuous character through their carefully-balanced contrapuntal dialogue.

The String Quartet ends with an extended fugue-like coda, bringing the album full circle back to its Baroque beginnings. And while the two works may be musical worlds apart, the Catalyst Quartet’s performance of both the “Goldberg Variations” and Gould’s String Quartet are pure gold.

LIVE BROADCAST: Catalyst Quartet

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Our next live broadcast on Second Inversion’s 24/7 stream is Thursday, March 19 at 7:30pm (PDT), featuring the Catalyst Quartet presented by UW World Series! They’re performing:

Montgomery: Strum
Tower: In Memory
Glass: String Quartet No.3 Mishima
D’Rivera: Wapango
Ives: String Quartet No.1
Barber: String Quartet Op.11

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Catalyst Quartet was in here in November and recorded an awesome in-studio video. Here’s a taste of Glenn Gould’s String Quartet:

Stay tuned for news on more live broadcasts, in-studio recordings, videos, and broadcasts of recorded concerts throughout the year!