New Music for May: Joshua Roman, JACK Quartet, and a Microtonal Music Fest

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

New music flyer May 2018 FINAL

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: avant-garde piano solos, Eastern-European cimbalom songs, a dark ambient memorial, and more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Live Music Project: 4th Annual Lecture-Concert
The Live Music Project celebrates its 4th birthday with a scintillating lecture from a cyborg, a centuries-spanning solo violin performance by Mikhail Shmidt of the Seattle Symphony, a ticket giveaway, and the most adorable cupcake toast this side of the Cascades.
Tues, 5/1, 6:30pm, Naked City Brewery & Taphouse | $30

DXARTS: Points vs. Fields
UW School of Music faculty performers Cuong Vu, Ted Poor, Richard Karpen, and Juan Pampin perform an ephemeral new improvisation for trumpet, drums, piano, and live electronics, programmed alongside Bernard Permegiani’s classic exploration of the meaning of sound itself, De Natura Sonorum for loudspeaker orchestra.
Tues, 5/1, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$15

Emerald City Music: Metamorphosis
A season-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial ends with a special multimedia feature on the iconic conductor, plus performances of two composers whose work he championed during his lifetime: Strauss and Beethoven.
Fri, 5/4, 8pm, 415 Westalve Ave, Seattle | $40-45
Sat, 5/5, 7:30pm, Evergreen State College Recital Hall, Olympia | $23-$43

Matt Shoemaker Memorial Concert
Longtime friends and collaborators of the late Matt Shoemaker perform works in his honor ranging from experimental noise to sound art, dark ambient, and beyond.
Sat, 5/5, 7pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Town Music: JACK Quartet with Joshua Roman
Cellist Joshua Roman joins forces with the JACK Quartet to perform his new piece Tornado, inspired by his roots in Oklahoma. Works by Jefferson Friedman, John Zorn, Amy Williams, and Carlo Gesualdo complete the program.
Thurs, 5/10, 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist Church | $15-$20

Harry Partch Festival
Experience the handmade microtonal instruments of Harry Partch in this sprawling three-day music festival featuring new works composed for Partch’s instruments, as well as rarely-performed works from the composer’s archives. Master classes, demonstrations, and lectures, complete this homage to a uniquely American artist.
Fri-Sun, 5/11-5/13, Various times, Meany Theater | $10-$60

Portland Cello Project
Equally at home in rock clubs and concert halls, Portland Cello Project reimagines classical favorites and contemporary hits alike for their famous choir of cellos. Expect everything from Bach to Coltrane to Radiohead.
Tues, 5/15, 7:30pm, The Triple Door | $26-$35

Seattle Art Museum: John Cage’s Themes and Variations
John Cage is best known as one of the leading figures of the 20th century avant-garde in music—but much of his work crossed boundaries into performance art, theatre, and even visual art. His sculpture Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel recently joined the Seattle Art Museum’s collection. Learn more about his contributions to both art and music in this conversation with curators Catharina Manchanda and Carrie Dedon.
Wed, 5/16, 6:30pm, Seattle Art Museum | $10

Peter Nelson-King: Post Avant-Garde
Multi-instrumentalist and modern music rabble-rouser Peter Nelson-King presents an eclectic program of individualist piano music from the 1980s, featuring works by Robert Beaser, George Benjamin, Peter Sculthorpe, John Tavener, Augusta Read Thomas, Charles Wuorinen, and more.
Thurs, 5/17, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Pro Musica: Sacred Ground
Explore the intersections of music, spirituality, and the natural world in this program of nature-inspired works by Tõnu Kõrvits, Hyo-Won Woo, and Healey Willan.
Fri, 5/18, 8pm, St. James Cathedral | $12-$38
Sat, 5/19, 8pm, St. James Cathedral | $12-$38

Nat Evans: Flyover Country
Composer and interdisciplinary artist Nat Evans uses his family history across the last three centuries as a lens to look at ecological destruction, genocide of indigenous people, capitalism, and food systems in the United States.
Sat-Sun, 5/19-5/20, 8pm, The Grocery | $5-$20

Mostly Nordic: Finlandia
The Emerald Ensemble perform Jean Sibelius’s beloved hymn to Finland alongside 20th century works by Finnish composers Einojuhani Rautavaara, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, and more.
Sun, 5/20, 4pm, Nordic Museum | $25

Music of Remembrance: Gaman
A world premiere by composer Christophe Chagnard explores the experience of Japanese immigrants who were forced into internment camps in the wake of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Combining traditional Japanese and classical Western instruments, the piece brings a powerful story to life through the words and images created by three artists and poets during their captivity in the Minidoka camp.
Sun, 5/20, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $30-$45

The Westerlies
Far from your typical brass band, this Seattle-bred, New York-based quartet is known on both coasts for their bold artistry, impeccable finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility. The band returns to the West this month for a one-night-only performance in Seattle.
Wed, 5/23, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $5-$15

Frequency with Yura Lee: Dialogues
Guest violinist Yura Lee joins members of Frequency (violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, violist Melia Watras, and cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir) for duos by Berio, Maderna, Ravel, and Watras. Also on the program is Dohnányi’s Serenade for string trio.
Sun, 5/27, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$20

New Year, New Music: January Concerts in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - January 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: vintage sampling keyboards, avant-garde noise, graphic scores, and etudes from the likes of György Ligeti and John Cage.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: Ligeti Violin Concerto
Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich joins the orchestra for a performance of György Ligeti’s stunningly virtuosic Violin Concerto. Also on the program: Stravinsky’s long-lost Funeral Song and Mozart’s sublime Symphony No. 39.
Thurs, 1/4, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74
Sat, 1/6, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74

Paper Puppet Opera: Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’
One of the darkest works in the classical canon is reimagined through bleak shadow puppet abstraction in this Schubertiade-meets-puppet-show spectacular. Baritone David Hoffman and pianist Peter Nelson-King join the Paper Puppet Opera for a shadow puppet performance of all 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise.
Fri, 1/12, 7:30pm, Trinity Parish Hall | $25
Sat, 1/13, Trinity Parish Hall | $25

Jesse Myers: To Sober and Quiet the Mind
Seattle pianist Jesse Myers presents an evening of introspective solo piano works from the masters of time and space—Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and more. Forgo the chairs and bring a pillow or mat for the ultimate musical meditation.
Fri, 1/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Bern Herbolsheimer Musical Memorial
In celebration of the late Bern Herbolsheimer’s life and music, the St. Helens String Quartet and local soloists come together to perform a selection of his chamber works.
Sat, 1/13, 5pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | FREE

Second City Chamber Series: Just Us Folks
The Carpe Diem String Quartet performs chamber works inspired by folk music from every corner of the world, featuring music by Erberk Eryilmaz, Vittorio Monti, Lev Zhurbin, Dave Brubeck, and more.
Fri, 1/19, 7:30pm, Annie Wright School, Tacoma | $10-$25

SCMS Winter Festival
Seattle Chamber Music Society’s annual Winter Festival features a variety of classical music performances from across the centuries, including 20th century works by Amy Beach, Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, and Edward Elgar.
1/19-1/28, Various times, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52

Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival
This brand new music festival touring through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene features contemporary music by the likes of Julia Wolfe, Andy Akiho, Andrew Norman, Steve Reich, and Lou Harrison, among others. Featured performers include Ashley Bathgate, the Sandbox Percussion Quartet, the Iktus Duo, and more.

Delgani String QuartetFri, 1/19, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Orlando CelaSun, 1/21, 3pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center | $20
Hub New MusicMon, 1/22, 7:30pm, 18th & Union | $20
Iktus DuoThurs, 1/25, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Sandbox PercussionSat, 1/27, 7pm, Music Center of the Northwest | $20
The City of TomorrowTues, 1/30, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $20
Ashley BathgateThurs, 2/01, 8pm, Rainier Arts Center | $20

NUMUS Northwest 2018
This day-long event is dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond. Musicians, composers, and curious bystanders alike come together for a day of live performances and interactive presentations on topics ranging from fundraising to networking, media pitching, grant writing, and more.
Sat, 1/20, 8:30am-9:30pm, Cornish Kerry Hall | $20

SMCO: Journeys of Discovery and Hope
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra performs Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje: where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Also on the program is Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times.
Sat, 1/20, 8pm, Plymouth Congregational Church | $15-$25

Third Coast Percussion: ‘Paddle to the Sea’
Third Coast Percussion performs their own live score in this special screening of Paddle to the Sea, a Canadian film which illustrates the epic journey of a young boy’s small wooden boat from Northern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Third Coast’s film score weaves in music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Thurs, 1/25, 8pm, Meany Theater | $28-$44

Erin Jorgensen: Bach and Pancakes
It’s Bach like you’ve never heard it before—on marimba! Erin Jorgensen performs a marimba arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, followed by a pancake breakfast.
Sun, 1/28, 10am, Studio Current | $5

Pacifica Chamber Orchestra: Sunshine Concert
From scherzos to serenades, the Pacifica Chamber Orchestra performs 20th century works by Dag Wirén, Julius Fučík, Eugène Bozza, and more.
Sun, 1/28, 3pm, First Presbyterian Church, Everett | $15-$20

Music of Remembrance: Art from Ashes
Music of Remembrance presents a free community-wide concert to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day, featuring chamber music written in Terezín and in the Vilna ghetto, plus works by composers whose lives were cut short by Nazi persecution.
Mon, 1/29, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | FREE

December New Music: Cello Conspiracies, Mandolin Messiahs, and an Unsilent Night

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - December 2017

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: American gamelan, ambient drones, homemade instruments, and experimental chamber ensembles.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

UW Percussion Ensemble: John Cage’s ‘The City Wears a Slouch Hat’
Under the direction of Bonnie Whiting, the University of Washington Percussion Ensemble presents a theatrical rendition of John Cage’s recently-discovered radio play The City Wears a Slouch Hat, pairing Cage’s vintage music with brand new works by UW composition students.
Fri, 12/1, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10

‘The Saci’ & ‘The Greater Trumps’
New music and modern dance collide in this brand new partnership between Karin Stevens Dance and the Universal Language Project. Their debut collaboration features performances of Jovino Santos-Neto’s Saci – A Brazilian Folktale alongside a new rendition of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, reimagined here for the 21st century with a libretto by Doug Thorpe.
Fri, 12/1, 8pm, Cornish Playhouse | $15-$50
Sat, 12/2, 2:30pm, Cornish Playhouse | $15-$50

The Esoterics: EXCELSIS – Contemplating Extremity
The Esoterics cast their choral gaze upward in this program featuring works inspired by spirits, galaxies, comets, and the cosmos. The centerpiece of the program is Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts’ To touch the sky: a nine-movement compendium of celestial feminine poetry.
Fri, 12/1, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (Seattle) | $15-$22
Sat, 12/2, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church (West Seattle) | $15-$22
Sun, 12/3, 7pm, Christ Episcopal Church (Tacoma) | $15-$22

On the Boards: Phil Kline’s ‘Unsilent Night’
In this contemporary twist on holiday caroling, audience members each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise Phil Kline’s ethereal Unsilent Night. Participants meet up with boomboxes and speakers and each hit “play” at the same timethen walk through the streets of Lower Queen Anne creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture.
Sat, 12/2, 6pm, On the Boards | FREE

On Stage with Classical KING FM: Holiday Concert with KING FM Personalities
KING FM personalities step out of the radio booth and onto center stage to perform old and new Christmas carols and festive classical arrangements—including music for dueling cellos, tubas, and even a theremin.
Sat, 12/2, 7:30pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers | $20-$25

Ladies Musical Club: Expressions of Winter
Seattle’s longest-running musical organization celebrates the season with a concert of original winter-inspired works composed by Ladies Musical Club members.
Sun, 12/3, 2pm, Music Center of the Northwest | FREE

Town Music: A Cello Conspiracy
Joshua Roman performs in an all-cello show alongside four of the Seattle Symphony’s superstar cellists: Efe Baltacıgil, Nathan Chan, Meeka Quan DiLorenzo, and Eric Han. Featuring works ranging from Rossini and Paganini to Reena Esmail and Christopher Cerrone, this is one cello showdown you do not want to miss.
Mon, 12/4, 7:30pm, Fremont Abbey Arts Center | $15-$20

UW Modern Ensemble: Messiaen, Stockhausen, Glass
Under the direction of Cristina Valdes, the University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble tackles three iconic masterworks of the 20th century: Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis, and Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion.
Tues, 12/5, 7:30pm, University of Washington, Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Emerald City Music: The Miró Quartet
The world-renowned Miró Quartet performs Kevin Puts’ stunning Credo for string quartet in a vogue, open bar setting alongside classic quartets by Haydn and Schumann.
Fri, 12/8, 8pm, 415 Westlake Ave (Seattle) | $45
Sat, 12/9, 7:30pm, Evergreen State College (Olympia) | $10-$43

Seattle Art Song Society: Together
Seattle Art Song Society celebrates the centennial of Finland’s independence with an evening of art songs and Christmas music penned by Finnish composers ranging from Sibelius to Kilpinen, Merikanto, Nummi, and Kuula.
Sat, 12/9, 7:30pm, Queen Anne Christian Church | $20-$40

Cornish Presents: Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble
The four-voice, all-woman Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble performs a program of genre-bending new repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Sat, 12/9, 8pm, Cornish College of the Arts, PONCHO Hall | $5-$20

Seattle Mandolin Orchestra: Mandolin Messiah
Handel’s immortal oratorio comes to life on the plucked strings of the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra in this abridged Messiah performance featuring a cast of four vocal soloists and a whole lot of pizzicato.
Sun, 12/10, 7pm, Green Lake United Methodist Church (Seattle) | $15-$20

Portland Cello Project: Celebrating 20 Years of OK Computer
Portland Cello Project’s massive 800-piece repertoire ranges from Bach to Kanye and beyond. The group celebrates 20 years of Radiohead’s OK Computer with a performance at Benaroya Hall featuring special guests Kyleen King and Adam Shearer.
Sun, 12/10, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $35-$40

NOCCO: Mystics, Servants, & Devils
A week before Winter Solstice, the North Corner Chamber Orchestra presents a program contrasting the old and the new, the magical and the devotional. A world premiere of Jim Knapp’s Noverture is paired with works by Bach, Pärt, and Stravinsky.
Sat, 12/16, 2pm, Magnolia United Church of Christ (Seattle) | $15-$20
Sun, 12/17, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $15-$20

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, September 1 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Philip Glass: Mad Rush (Sony Classical)
Philip Glass, piano

Half hypnotic, half neurotic, Philip Glass’s Mad Rush for solo piano is a minimalist masterpiece. He first premiered the piece in 1979 for the Dalai Lama’s first public address in North America—because his actual arrival time was so vague, they needed music that could be stretched for an indefinite period of time. Thus was born one of the most iconic piano pieces of the late 20th century.

Performed here by the composer himself, the densely layered arpeggios circle and surround you, lifting you into a trance that almost seems to suspend time itself.  Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Lang: cage (in memory of john cage) (Warner Classics)
Conrad Tao, piano

It’s been becoming increasingly clear to me lately that John Cage’s music can be an extremely powerful gateway into a different universe of listening.  So, pieces like this one make more sense to me now than they used to.  This piece, like Cage’s music, is an inducement to listen with open ears – a reminder to hear music for what it is. – Seth Tompkins

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

 


George Shearing: “Sigh No More Ladies, Sigh No More” (Grouse Records)
Vancouver Chamber Choir; Jon Washburn, conductor

Don Pedro: By my troth, a good song.
Balthasar: And an ill singer, my lord.

No ill singers here!  This fun, jazzy version of “Sigh No More Ladies, Sigh No More” from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is sung gloriously by the Vancouver Chamber Choir.  The lyrics are…  less glorious.  In the play, Balthasar croons that women should accept men for their cheating and bad behavior rather than hassling them about it.  He sings:

“Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never
Then sigh not so, but let them go
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny nonny.”

Is it wrong that lyrics so backwards are so much fun to sing?
– Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11pm hour today to hear this piece.

From John Cage to John Luther Adams: September in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - September 2017

 

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: saxophone sextets, prepared guitar improvisations, music for speaking pianist, and more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Untouchable Numbers: Celebrating John Cage
In celebration of what would have been John Cage’s 105th birthday, Seattle’s Ace Hotel hosts a 24-hour marathon of his music in the lobby.
Tues, 9/5, all day, Ace Hotel Seattle | FREE

Opera on Tap
Local singers let their hair down and sing their hearts out, performing famous operatic masterpieces and hidden musical gems alike in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Tues, 9/5, 7:30pm, High Dive Seattle | $5-$8

Seattle Symphony: ‘Star Trek Beyond’
The Seattle Symphony busts out the big screen for a live performance of Star Trek Beyond featuring Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino’s soaring new orchestral score.
Wed, 9/13, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $45-$120

Emerald City Music: Not Even the Wind…
Emerald City Music kicks off their second season with a John Luther Adams world premiere inspired by the Sonoran Desert. Chamber works by Bernstein, Norman, Reich, and Dvořák round out the program.
Fri, 9/15, 8pm, 415 Westlake Ave, Seattle | $45
Sat, 9/16, 7:30pm, The Washington Center, Olympia | $28-$43

Seattle New Music Happy Hour
Second Inversion and The Live Music Project host a happy hour for musicians, new music enthusiasts, and curious bystanders alike to come together and expand Seattle’s ever-growing network of artists and musicians.
Tues, 9/19, 5:30pm, Queen Anne Beerhall | Free; Food & drink available for purchase

Celebrating the Life and Songs of Bern Herbolsheimer
Seattle Art Song Society pays tribute to the late Bern Herbolsheimer with a recital featuring vocal works by the celebrated Seattle composer.
Sat, 9/23, 7:30pm, Queen Anne Christian Church | $20-$30

Seattle Classic Guitar Society: Matt Palmer
Guitarist Matt Palmer presents an evening of music by composers from Russia, Brazil, and beyond, including Sergey Rudnev, Olga Amelkina-Vera, Konstantin Vassiliev, Dilermando Reis, and more.
Sat, 9/23, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $28-$38

New Music for Singing/Speaking Percussionists
Percussionists Bonnie Whiting and Jennifer Torrence perform an evening of world premieres for speaking and singing percussionists, including music for crash cymbals, resonant feedback, small electronic toys, deconstructed language, and more. Plus, an improvisation with DXARTS professor Afroditi Psarra featuring her signature wearable electronics and embroidered synthesizers.
Wed, 9/27, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10-$20

Chris Botti with the Seattle Symphony
Grammy Award winner and pop-jazz powerhouse Chris Botti brings his trumpet and his acclaimed band to Benaroya Hall to perform with the Seattle Symphony.
Fri, 9/29, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $65-$105
Sat, 9/30, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $65-$105
Sun, 10/1, 2pm, Benaroya Hall | $65-$105

Seattle Pro Musica: Rearranged
Seattle Pro Musica lends their classically-trained voices to Broadway choruses and cabaret solos in this lively evening of show tunes at the Triple Door.
Fri, 9/29, 7:30pm, The Triple Door | $25-$49
Fri, 9/29, 9:15pm, The Triple Door | $25-$49

On Stage with KING FM: Seattle Marimba Quartet
Seattle Marimba Quartet performs a program of modern marimba repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries, plus marimba arrangements of music by the likes of Bach, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, and more.
Sat, 9/30, 7:30pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers | $20-$25

ALBUM REVIEW: John Cage’s Music for Speaking Percussionist by Bonnie Whiting

by Michael Schell

One of the more esoteric musical subgenres that emerged in the 1970s is the “talking instrumentalist” piece. Frederic Rzewski composed and performed many piano works where the performer recites a text while playing, and thanks to the contrabass virtuoso Bertram Turetzky, we now have a number of talking double bass pieces in the repertory. Even wind players have gotten into the act, including Seattle’s own Stuart Dempster, who in Robert Erickson’s General Speech recites General Douglas MacArthur’s retirement speech through a trombone.

Now we can add Bonnie Whiting to this distinguished list. Head of Percussion Studies at the University of Washington, she has made a specialty out of commissioning and performing speaking percussionist pieces. In her debut album from Mode Records, she turns her attention to John Cage (1912–1992), famous both for his witty creative writings and for his groundbreaking percussion compositions.

The centerpiece of the album is a 51-minute track titled—appropriately enough—51’15.657” for a Speaking Percussionist. It’s a personal showcase for Whiting, who has been performing it since 2010, including at Seattle’s 2016 John Cage Musicircus. Since Cage did not write any compositions that explicitly call for a talking percussionist, Whiting combines two chance-determined “time length” pieces from the 1950s that Cage suggested could be performed simultaneously.

Whiting performing 51’15.657” for a Speaking Percussionist at the John Cage Musicircus, Town Hall, Seattle, November 2016. Photo by Lee Goldman.

The first, 45’ for a Speaker, was built by Cage out of randomly selected excerpts from several of his contemporaneous lectures. These mostly come across as juxtaposed humorous vignettes, rather like his later Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), which Second Inversion profiles here. The pacing of the words varies, so Whiting’s vocal delivery is sometimes rapid, sometimes sparse, and there are many long silences. Cage supplied a fixed script, which is published in his collection Silence.

By contrast, the score of the accompanying piece, 27’10.554” for a Percussionist, is open-ended, specifying only the timing of notes, their relative loudness, and whether their sound source should be wood, metal, drumhead, or “anything else.” It’s up to Whiting to assemble a suitable battery for the task, something that she does with aplomb, using both conventional and “junk” instruments. As with 45’ for a Speaker, the timing of the percussion music ranges from very active to very sparse, but since it’s always in free rhythm it’s mainly up to the text to convey a sense of tempo and beat.

Although Whiting’s playing occasionally drowns out her voice (this is by design!), her diction is clear, and the text is usually intelligible—even if owing to its chance selection it doesn’t always make normal sense. Whiting’s light and agile speaking voice offers a refreshing contrast to all the male voices that have traditionally dominated recordings of this kind of piece, and the feat of covering both vocal and instrumental roles at the same time is an impressive tour de force. Listening to it is like imagining Gertrude Stein deliver a lecture on modern music in a room occupied by a crazy robotic drum corps.

Excerpt from Whiting’s annotated score to 51’15.657” for a Speaking Percussionist.

The following track, Music for Two (By One), lasts a more modest 13 minutes and was similarly fashioned by Whiting from two different Cage pieces, one for voice and one for percussion. Both were written with indeterminate notation, and both come from his late collection Music for _____ (completed in 1987). Here the texts are bare letters and isolated syllables, so the emphasis is on tone color rather than meaning. Though the texture is relatively thin, as in 51’15.657” for a Speaking Percussionist, the result is more compact and integrated. In Whiting’s hands, it makes a nice entry point to this style of Cage piece.

A different side of Cage is revealed in The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, a tiny classic for voice and piano from 1942. It was this work that launched Cage’s lengthy artistic engagement with Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Clearly astonished by that unique monument of 20th century literature, Cage seems to have endeavored to stand back and let the text speak for itself as much as possible. After selecting a passage depicting a child’s lullaby, Cage wrote the voice part using just three pitches. For the piano part, Cage doesn’t even open the instrument, instead simply directing the performer to tap and rap on the closed cover and lid. He could hardly have intervened any less while still having set Joyce’s words to music!

Although The Wonderful Widow is fully written out in standard notation, Cage’s humble approach to his source material anticipates the even more ego-effacing attitude evinced in his later, chance-determined works. Whiting tackles the piece as another solo effort, doing both the singing and the piano tapping. The softness and simplicity of her interpretation gives it an unmistakably nurturing tone—a kind of release after the complex tracks preceding it.

Excerpts from Cage’s autograph of The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs.

Two more tracks wrap up the album: Cage’s A Flower (which is a kind of companion work to The Wonderful Widow) and a performance by Whiting’s frequent collaborator Allen Otte, where he plays Cage’s prepared piano piece Music for Marcel Duchamp while reciting a text and adding frame drum embellishments.

For an album with such a focused concept, John Cage: Music for Speaking Percussion offers an admirable range of musical experiences. Mode Records is making it available both in conventional audio formats and as a Blu-ray Disc, with the latter featuring a video interview with Whiting and Otte and HD footage of all the works in performance, thus conveying the theatricality that’s so impressive when you see them live. The release is Volume 52 (!) in Mode’s longstanding project to record Cage’s complete compositions, and it’s essential listening for enthusiasts of Cage or percussion music. Here’s hoping that there’s much more yet to come from both Bonnie Whiting and Mode Records.

 

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 30 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Florent Ghys: “An Open Cage” (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

If you don’t have five hours to listen to John Cage’s sprawling, narrated sound art piece Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), Florent Ghys’s “An Open Cage” offers a compelling (and surprisingly catchy) four-minute summary. In Ghys’s version, a solo pizzicato bass line dances within the rhythms of Cage’s calm and serene narration, painting his deadpan delivery with a funky groove and a distinctly contemporary color. The unconventional duet expands as the piece grows in musical force, gradually adding more and more instruments until finally a small chorus of voices appears, echoing Cage’s words:

“The avant-garde is flexibility of mind and it follows like day the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without avant-garde, nothing would get invented.”

 – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Anthony Barfield: Soliloquy (Albany Records)
Joseph Alessi, trombone; Stentorian Consort Quartet

Here at Second Inversion, I hear new music every single day. But sometimes, no matter how far you’ve traveled, you need to go home. So…I picked trombone music this week.  Anthony Barfield’s Soliloquy is a delightful and thoughtful piece. There is a lightness here that belies the seriousness of this piece’s genesis. Beyond the composition, the quality of the performance on this recording is exceptional. In case you’re wondering what good trombone playing sound like, this is it. – Seth Tompkins

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


Augusta Read Thomas: “Incantation” (MSR Classics)
Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, viola

In 1995, Augusta Read Thomas wrote three iterations of “Incantation” for solo strings—violin, viola, and cello—as a tribute to her friend Cathryn Tait. Tait, battling cancer at the time, premiered the piece a few weeks before her death—a piece which celebrates her generosity of spirit with grace, richness, and elegance.

Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio’s solo viola performance of “Incantation” speaks with a distinctly eloquent, present, and meditative atmosphere. She moves through the short, five-minute work’s loose ABA form and concludes on a major seventh, unresolved, as though ending with a question. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Bright Sheng: Silent Temple II (Telarc Records)
Ying Quartet

I’ve always been a big fan of the pizzicato obbligato movement, which, in limiting all performing instruments to one motion (the plucking of strings), immediately achieves a unique character. Bright Sheng creates mystery with his pizzicato in Silent Temple II, evoking droplets of water, the creaking and cracking of old wood planks, or the rustling and knocking of bamboo. Or is it the plucked Chinese zither instrument, the guzheng, that we hear? In any case, he succeeds at evoking the stunning environment of his inspiration for the work, an abandoned Buddhist temple he visited in the 1970s in northwest China. Left empty and unattended at the height of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and falling into disrepair, it retained its quiet grandeur. In the case of the pizzicato here, only the smallest gestures of the quartet are necessary to paint a vivid picture. 
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.