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.

Classical Christmas Carols for the 21st Century

by Maggie Molloy

After years of the same old Christmas carols every December, the holiday hymns start to run together. But whether you’re the world’s biggest Santa-fan or a grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, there’s still a little sparkle of holiday magic to be found in every classical Christmas tune—buried though it may be beneath the corny sing-alongs and ugly sweaters of the winter season.

This year, we’re highlighting composers who break out from the cookie cutter Christmas carols and reimagine holiday classics for 21st century audiences. From time-stretched hymnal melodies to bluegrass banjo solos and synthy washes of sound, today’s composers are getting creative with their Yuletide carols.

Here are our top picks for contemporary Christmas albums that will add some holiday spice to your winter soundtrack:

Jherek Bischoff: Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire Walk with Me (Self-Produced)

Jherek Bischoff’s new EP reimagines your favorite Christmas carols as timeless trios for electric bass, sleigh bells, and synthesizers. Composed in the style of Angelo Badalamenti’s moody Twin Peaks score, Bischoff offers eerie renditions of holiday classics old and new, ranging from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” to Charlie Brown’s “Christmas Time is Here” and even a synth-laden “Silent Night.”


Imagine Christmas (Sono Luminus)

They’re classic Christmas carols like you’ve never heard them before: reimagined and rearranged by the likes of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, the Jasper String Quartet, the Skylark Vocal Ensemble, Cuarteto Latinamericano, and more. The result is a kaleidoscope of musical styles ranging from lute lullabies to Latin percussion, twinkling piano solos to swinging strings and ambient drones.


Phil Kline: Unsilent Night (Cantaloupe Music)

Phil Kline’s contemporary twist on Christmas caroling captures the sparkle and whimsy of the holidays without any of the corny sing-alongs. Unsilent Night blends shimmering bells, time-stretched hymnal melodies, holiday nostalgia, and ambient noise into an ethereal electroacoustic soundscape. Though originally composed as an aleatoric sound sculpture for outdoor performance, you can listen to the  album from the comfort of indoors.


DePue Brothers Band: When It’s Christmas Time (Beat The Drum Entertainment)

Christmas caroling meets bluegrass jam session in this “grassical” family album featuring a twangy twist on holiday classics. The DePue brothers dance through their own festive arrangements of Christmas hits brimming with sweet strings, infectious grooves, and a whole lot of banjo.

ALBUM REVIEW: Jherek Bischoff’s Cistern

by Geoffrey Larson  

Jherek+Bischoff+by+Alex+Stoddard+4+Landscape

Photo credit: Alex Stoddard

Cistern is Jherek Bischoff’s anticipated follow-up to his debut album Composed, which featured a quirky, orchestral pop sound. On Composed, Bischoff recorded orchestral instruments separately and layered the sounds to create a full ensemble. With Cistern, he gets help from the excellent NYC-based ensemble Contemporaneous, who provide the orchestral sounds that have become the touchstone of his work. It’s been called “headphone music,” and it is experienced best when enveloped in large headphones. Audiences in Times Square were given just this opportunity, listening to a late-night “Silent Orchestra” performance of Cistern on wireless headphones, accompanied by visuals displayed on massive video screens (a Midnight Moment presented by Times Square Arts).

jherekbischoffnyc

Times Square presentation. Photo credit: Jim Batt.

Serenity – that’s the feeling that pervades the music on this album. It’s music that isn’t meant to really excite or engage you in a particular way, but seeks to bring you to a contemplative place. For Bischoff, that place was a massive cistern underneath Fort Worden on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where he improvised inside a space with a 45-second reverb. This is no place for fast, complex music, and it’s easy to hear the inspiration of this cavernous space in the music of the album, which uses simple, slow motives and a lot of repetition to convey its ideas.

 

The experience of playing in a massive darkened echo chamber is possibly the most closely portrayed by Lemon, the album’s shortest track, and the evocative closing track The Sea’s Son, which use silence to the fullest extent. Interesting orchestration abounds on Cistern from the start of the album, with a toy piano and militaristic percussion entering the mix on the track Automatism. Strings sliding and bending pitch create an interesting atmosphere on the title track, a straight-up passacaglia. The one track to create a bit of tension is The Wolf, playing low instruments off the rest of the ensemble in a hunt-like dance of sound, but it stands apart from the all-encompassing introspection of this album.

Jherek+Bischoff+by+Alex+Stoddard+3

Photo credit: Alex Stoddard

Though music that is relentlessly inward-looking and meditative rarely suits my taste, the melodies and harmonies of Closer to Capture, together with the stop-start of this music’s rhythm makes it the star for me on this new release. It’s also hard not to be swept away by the nostalgia of The Sea’s Son; Bischoff says that as he composed in this album’s slower, almost back-to-basics style, he was reminded of the simpler times of his childhood, growing up on a sailboat in Seattle. As the final track’s unresolved harmony hangs in the air, it’s easy to visualize a human figure standing on the prow of a boat, gazing across the bay. I find that I actually enjoy the music of Cistern much more in film soundtrack form; Bischoff has done a small amount of scoring (i.e. Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer), and I hope we can look forward to more film-related projects from this busy composer.

For more videos featuring Jherek Bischoff, visit our video page for 3 tracks from Cistern recorded right here in our studios with a quartet of the Seattle-based string ensemble, SCRAPE.

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Strung Out in Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute

by Maggie Molloy

The Starman sent shock waves across the universe when he died last month after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer—and while we continue to mourn the loss of this talented artist and creative visionary, we find comfort in knowing that his sparkling light will never burn out.

David Bowie’s bold vision, fierce courage, and revolutionary music continue to live on in the lives and art of his family, friends, fans, and collaborators. A true artist, he continued creating all the way up until his death—and his musical influence will continue to live on long after.

Within days of Bowie’s death, punk-rock pianist and cabaret songstress Amanda Palmer teamed up with pop polymath Jherek Bischoff to create “Strung Out in Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute.”

Strung-Out-in-Heaven

Arranged, recorded, mixed, and released within just two weeks, the six-song EP also includes six Bowie-inspired works of visual art. The album also features musical contributions from singer-songwriter Anna Calvi and actor, writer, and director John Cameron Mitchell.

The EP was financed by Palmer’s Patreon supporters, and is being sold for $1 on Bandcamp. Part of the money will go to Bowie’s publisher, and the remaining proceeds from the first month of sales will be donated to the cancer research wing of the Tufts Medical Center in memory of Bowie.

 

“I was on the phone with Jherek [Bischoff], discussing another project, and I was feeling a bit trapped in the non-productive new-mother cave—so we joked that we should do a flash Bowie tribute,” Palmer wrote in a statement. “And suddenly, we weren’t joking. I had funding from my 7,000 fans on Patreon to ‘make stuff.’ What better ‘stuff’? We started that night, giving ourselves a deadline of two weeks to release it as a surprise.”

And so in the spirit of surprise Bowie tributes, Second Inversion decided to write a surprise album review. Here are all the things we love about this shimmering Starman string tribute:

PalmerBowie1

Cassandra Long: “Blackstar”

BLACKSTAR: The album begins with the end: a cover of the title track from Bowie’s final studio album. Palmer and Bischoff turn Bowie’s surreal musical dreamscape into a soulful string lament, with Palmer’s and Calvi’s vocals echoing from opposite ears above layered string melodies. It’s one part mystic hymnal, one part cult cabaret, one part pop poetry, and all parts transcendent.

 

PalmerBowie3

Sarah Beetson: “Space Oddity”

SPACE ODDITY: Palmer’s husband, author Neil Gaiman, provides the countdown to “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s 1969 interstellar single. Weightless string melodies and pizzicato backdrops sparkle like the stars beneath Palmer’s airy vocals in this nebulous outer-space adventure.

 

 

 

 

PalmerBowie2

David Mack: “Ashes to Ashes”

ASHES TO ASHES: Palmer and Bischoff strip out the synth from this New Romantic 1980s nursery rhyme and focus instead on its melancholic vocal melodies. Palmer’s theatrical voice floats softly through layers of angular string melodies and deadpan backup vocals—wistful, nostalgic, and “strung out in Heaven’s high.”

 

PalmerBowie6

Bill Sienkiewicz:”Heroes”

 

 

 

 

HEROES: Of course, the album just wouldn’t be Bowie if it didn’t have a rendition of his 1970s synth-laden serenade, “Heroes.” Effervescent strings propel Palmer’s fervent vocals forward in this heartfelt tribute, with John Cameron Mitchell providing the background vocals for its impassioned climax.

 

PalmerBowie5

HA-HA: “Helden”

HELDEN: Palmer and Mitchell also team up for an abridged cover of the German version of “Heroes.” Their fiery duet soars triumphantly over a textured string backdrop, paying tribute to a Bowie classic that truly transcends language.

 

PalmerBowie4

Félix Marqués: “Life on Mars?”

 

 

 

 

LIFE ON MARS?: Bischoff turns Bowie’s surrealist sci-fi anthem into a lively instrumental string serenade, taking the original heartrending melody and transforming it into a happy and hopeful reminder of Bowie’s boundless musical imagination.

 

Because that’s the beauty of Bowie: his creative vision extended beyond genre, geography, or language. Throughout his chameleonic career, he created music that could connect and inspire people from all over the globe, and perhaps even beyond it.

“Music is the binding agent of our mundane lives,” Palmer wrote. “It cements the moments in which we wash the dishes, type the resumes, go to the funerals, have the babies. The stronger the agent, the tougher the memory, and Bowie was NASA-grade epoxy to a sprawling span of freaked-out kids over three generations. He bonded us to our weird selves. We can be us, he said. Just for one day.”

In the end, Bowie’s contributions to the world of music extend far past the confines of rock, glam, pop, or classical genres, reminding us that when it comes to art, the sky is the limit—and a creative spirit like his belongs right up alongside the stars. Rest in peace, Starman.

“The man, the artist, exits,” Palmer wrote. “But the music, the glue; it stays. It never stops binding us together.”