Second Inversion’s Top 5 Moments of 2015

2015 has been a huge year for us! Besides filling the 24/7 stream with new music and insights, we kept busy out in the community, on the blog, and making videos! This is the final post in a series of “Top 5 of 2015” lists (check out our Top 5 Videos and Top 5 Albums) before we plunge into 2016.  Here are our top 5 moments/events/milestones/projects/good times:

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#5: John Cage Diary Series

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Armed with high-quality headphones and book in hand, over the course of eight weeks, Second Inversion’s Maggie Molloy listened through each of the eight parts of Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)recently published by Siglio Press, and created her own personal diary tracking the experience.

She gracefully navigated through the zigzagging maze that is Cage’s musical mind and shed light on some fascinating aspects of Cage’s life: his love of mushrooms, cats, anechoic chambers, technology (it’s arguable to say Cage may have predicted the internet), dance, and so much more.  Dive in from the beginning and let her guide you through this incredible series! Stay tuned for more great creative features and clever wit from Maggie M. in 2016!


#4: Live Broadcasts

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In 2015 we presented SEVEN live streaming broadcast concerts from Town Hall Seattle and Meany Hall, including Third Coast Percussion, Catalyst Quartet, Deviant Septet, SYSO Alums and Mentors, Johnny Gandlesman, ETHEL and Robert Mirabal, Ensemble Variances with Lisa Bielawa! These broadcasts allowed us to connect with concert-goers in the community while reaching audiences nation and world-wide on our 24/7 stream! Many of them are also available on our live concerts on-demand page Stay tuned for plenty more in 2016.


#3: Music Videos (& a New Music USA Grant)

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We’re grateful for all of the foundation support we’ve received for Second Inversion this year! Our grant from New Music USA was particularly exciting because it to helped fund our music videos. Our video stars include Joshua Roman, Turtle Island String Quartet, Jherek Bischoff, Ashley Bathgate, Danish String Quartet, musicians from OneBeat, Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz, and so many more. It’s been a wildly fun journey connecting with artists who are passionate about sharing new music with audiences. We’re incredibly grateful for the time they donated to be a part of this project! Check out the complete video collection on our video page.


#2: Northwest Folklife Festival

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In 2015 we had our first Northwest Folklife Showcase – really, our first public performance of any kind! The Passenger String Quartet and Seattle Cello eXperiment performed for an absolutely packed Center Theatre. It was an amazing opportunity for us to contribute to Folklife’s diverse music and cultural offerings and to connect with new audiences. Some showed up expecting a more traditional “classical” concert and instead were able to Rethink Classical. Needless to say, we’ll be back for a 2nd showcase in 2016!


#1: Joshua Roman named Artistic Advisor

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In March of 2015, Second Inversion brought Joshua Roman on board as the Artistic Advisor! Joshua has helped us “Rethink Classical” with our Seattle community and our national and global audiences by posting to our blog, introducing music on our 24/7 stream, and collaborating on new ideas and initiatives. Stay tuned for more from Joshua in 2016!

ALBUM REVIEW: Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano

by Rachele Hales

I was excited – well, excited and scared – to be given the opportunity to review Anthony de Mare’s latest album of Stephen Sondheim “re-imaginings.”  Excited because Sondheim’s impact on me was very strong as I was one of many children who listened; scared because I didn’t want to find flaws in the interpretations that might underscore my devotion to the originals.  After listening to Liaisons: Re-imagining Sondheim From the Piano several times, I can calm similar worries other listeners may have by entreating you to remember that “the way is clear, the light is good/ I have no fear, nor no one should.”

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Thirty-six composers from a wide variety of backgrounds were commissioned by Anthony de Mare to re-imagine a Sondheim song of their choice as a solo piano piece.  The result proves that things change – but they don’t, when you make something that lasts.  Mark Eden Horowitz, author of Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions, puts it this way: “One of the reasons Liaisons succeeds so brilliantly is because Sondheim’s music is such a rich source for sounds, ideas, and approaches.”  Too true.  The pleasure of Liaisons is hearing how thirty-six other Sondheim fans engage with his music in their own ways.  There are thirty-seven selections in the 3-CD collection.  So many worth exploring, just one would be so boring.  Alas, it’s impossible to review them all here but you can listen to samples of each glorious one at the Liaisons Project website.  With that said…  Curtain up!  Light the lights!  Play it, boys!

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Once upon a time, all your favorite fairytales were combined into one story about loss and confusion.  Oh yeah, and nearly everyone dies.  Sondheim’s original prologue to Into the Woods acts as both exposition by introducing us to each character and also provides a path through the show.  Andy Akiho’s version takes us into the woods, where witches, ghosts and wolves appear, by maintaining the driving rhythm of the original but allowing each character’s narrative/personality to speak with the clever use of a prepared piano.  Dimes were used on the strings for the cow scenes, door knocks and narration utilized poster tack, and the witch is portrayed by clusters of credit cards.  Akiho’s use of these found objects to alter the timbre is just as effective and innovative as Sondheim’s witty spoken narrative.

When asked about his intent with the Into the Woods’ climactic ballad “No One is Alone,” Sondheim replied, “What I truly mean is that no action is isolated.”  One action you can take is to write a musical, only to find its score the subject of a landmark commissioning twenty-nine years later.  Fred Hersch drew from his jazz background to make subtle changes to the piece.  In doing so, he’s maintained the purity and simplicity of the original but plumped it up to create a lusher sound.  It feels less like an arrangement and more like a fantasia.

With Kenji Bunch’s selection we attend the tale of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of fleet street.  Sweeney Todd is based on an urban legend (though some claim the story is true) from Victorian London about a barber who seeks revenge upon the corrupt judge who sentenced him to unjust incarceration, raped his wife and caused her insanity, and eventually kept Todd’s daughter Joanna as his ward for lustful reasons.  Todd’s revenge of choice?  Slitting the throat of the judge (and other clients) and partnering with his amoral landlady to grind the flesh, use it as fillings for her meat pies, and turn a handsome profit.  It’s a musical thriller that wonderfully sustains fear and anxiety throughout, which Bunch amplifies to horror-show levels with “low register rumblings, shrieking high clusters, and insistent rhythmic ostinato patterns.”

Venezuelan composer Ricardo Lorenz turns those meat pies into spicy empanadas with his “Worst Pies In London”/”A Little Priest” combo.  Mrs. Lovett’s cheeriness shines through here with help from a range of Latin American styles including tango, salsa, and merengue.  But is it any good?  Sir, it’s too good, at least.

“Green Finch and Linnet Bird” is Joanna’s song to the caged birds she identifies with while sequestered in the judge’s home.  Toward the end of the original number there’s a trill notated for the singer and Jason Robert Brown found his way into the arrangement through that trill.  Rather than focusing on Joanna, he’s chosen instead to paint pianistic portraits of the birds.  A charming notion, but the aviary became too complex.  He thought one was enough; it’s not true.  It takes two to play his “Birds of Victorian England.”

Hopping across the pond to a bit of American history now, we get a couple arrangements from Assassins, a show that’s about exactly what it says on the tin.  “The inverse of the American Dream is the American Nightmare, which confuses the right to pursue happiness with the right to be happy,” writes Horowitz.  In Sondheim’s opening song, “Everybody’s Got the Right,” our presidential assassinators/assassination attempters sing out this misguided philosophy (aim for what you want a lot/everybody gets a shot/everybody’s got a right to their dreams…) as they purchase their weapons from the gun proprietor.   Michael Daugherty inserts snippets of “Hail to the Chief” as reminders of the show’s subject and ends the piece by spinning out the opening chords until they “explode like a volley of gunfire.”

Sondheim turned the poem Charles Guiteau wrote the morning of his execution (“I Am Going to the Lordy”) into a cakewalk march to the gallows in “The Ballad of Guiteau.”  Guiteau’s trial was famous not just because he assassinated President Garfield, but also because he was, as one doctor testified, a “morbid egoist” who delighted in the attention he received during the trial.  A media sensation, he smiled and waved at spectators throughout the trial (and even as he walked up to the gallows, where he stopped to read said poem, going so far as to request that an orchestra play behind him while he read).  Right up until his conviction he thought he’d have a good chance of becoming president himself and considered running.  Why am I writing about history instead of music?  Because the way Jherek Bischoff plays Sondheim’s original histrionic promenade against moments of emptiness perfectly suits the sad, ridiculous insanity of Guiteau’s mindset.

Having just a vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution.  Anthony de Mare’s work on this project has, bit by bit and piece by piece, amounted to a thoroughly enjoyable collection that sounds like thirty-six composers having a musical conversation with America’s preeminent composer of musical theatre.  Liaisons offers up something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone.

In this 2013 image released by ECM Records, Anthony de Mare, left, and Stephen Sondheim pose in New York. Pianist Anthony de Mare and three dozen composers had put their own imprints on songs Sondheim wrote over the past half-century, a tribute to the man who redefined Broadway. "Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim From the Piano" was released last month as a three-disc set by ECM. It features 37 original compositions by an All-Star team of composers. (Nan Melville/ECM Records via AP)

Anthony de Mare, left, and Stephen Sondheim pose in New York. (Nan Melville/ECM Records via AP)

A Celebration of American Composers: Video Edition

In celebration of July 4th, we have compiled some of our favorite videos by American Composers. Thanks to all of the artists and composers for sharing their music and performances with us!

NEW VIDEOS: Jherek Bischoff and Scrape

Jherek Bischoff recently co-curated the Bang on a Can marathon here in Seattle.  Part of this epic, six-hour new music extravaganza included a collaboration between Jherek and the local string ensemble Scrape, who stopped by our studios for a video session of some awesome original tunes!

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: February 13-15

by Maggie Molloy

Messiaen, new music marathons, and more are bound to make your Valentine’s Day weekend memorable!

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(Photo Credit: Brandon Patoc)

Get into the Valentine’s Day spirit this weekend with an intimate late-night contemporary music performance in Benaroya Hall’s breathtaking Samuel and Althea Stroum Grand Lobby. Seattle Symphony musicians will be performing the second installment of this season’s [untitled] series, a unique musical sequence which presents new and contemporary music in a more casual concert setting.

This Friday’s performance features Jacob Druckman’s avant-garde “Synapse” for tape as well as his virtuosic “Valentine” for solo double bass. The program also includes Vladimir Martynov’s timeless “Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished)” and John Adams’ dynamic String Quartet, a piece which restlessly explores elements of minimalism, folk melodies, and more.

Here’s a great interview feature produced by Seattle Symphony!

The performance is this Friday, Feb. 13 at 10 p.m. in Benaroya Hall’s grand lobby.

 

Bang on a Can Marathon

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(Photo Credit: Peter Serling)

An entire marathon of new music is coming through Seattle this Sunday—literally. Six full hours of new music, to be exact. This Sunday the New York-based contemporary classical music collective Bang on a Can is taking over Seattle’s Moore Theatre to present a wide variety of new musical works by local, national, and international artists.

One of the evening’s highlights includes the electric chamber band Bang on a Can All-Stars and red fish blue fish performing the Seattle premiere of Steve Reich’s masterwork, “Music for 18 Musicians.” You can also look forward to a performance of Brian Eno’s ambient classic, “Music for Airports” and a musical set by Seattle’s own experimental hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces. The jam-packed program also includes an indie-orchestral collaboration featuring Seattle composer Jherek Bischoff with Scrape Ensemble and Jim Knapp, a piano-percussion duo featuring Gust Burns and Greg Campbell, signature works by Bang on a Can co-founders, and so much more!

The marathon kicks off this Sunday, Feb. 15 at 4 p.m. at the Moore Theatre. Doors open at 3 p.m.

 

Simple Measures Presents “Messiaen Around with Time”

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What classical music enthusiast doesn’t love a good music pun? Fill your weekly corny music joke quota this weekend at Simple Measures’ “Messiaen Around with Time.”

Celebrate 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen as Seattle artists bring to life his enduring eight-movement masterpiece, “Quartet for the End of Time.” Messiaen wrote and premiered the piece while in a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany in 1940. The piece combines birdsong and beautiful imagery to create poignant and powerful music. Simple Measures will share the full story behind the piece before clarinetist Sean Osborn, violinist Cordula Merks, pianist Mark Salman, and cellist Rajan Krishnaswami perform it.

The performances are this Friday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford and this Sunday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. at Town Hall in Seattle.