Seattle Symphony Spotlight: John Luther Adams on “Become Desert”

by Dave Beck

Composer John Luther Adams describes his work with Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot and the SSO musicians as “one of the happiest musical relationships of my life.” It’s a collaboration that has resulted in a Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award for 2013’s Become Ocean.

Five years later, that collaboration continues with the world premiere this week of Adams’ Become Desert. It takes place Thursday night, March 29, and Saturday night, March 31 in Benaroya Hall—with Ludovic Morlot conducting the Seattle Symphony and members of the Symphony Chorale.

John Luther Adams speaks with Classical KING FM’s Dave Beck in our studios about moving from tundra to desert, his fascination with immense spaces, and the importance of using the right tools—in his case, the best number 2 pencil that can be found.

Listen to the full interview below.


The Seattle Symphony presents the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Become Desert on Thursday, March 29 and Saturday, March 31. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

The Essential John Luther Adams

by Michael Schell

Did you miss Second Inversion’s John Luther Adams Marathon on March 28? Are you interested in exploring the music of America’s most famous ecologist-composer by sampling a few key pieces? If so, check out this selection of JLA’s most indispensable albums to date.

Earth and the Great Weather

If you’re ever remanded to a desert island where you can take along a single John Luther Adams album, this is the one to pick. Subtitled A Sonic Geography of the Arctic, this ten-movement composition from 1993 was Adams’ breakout piece. It’s both an ecological oratorio of the far North and a compendium of the techniques that Adams would hone over the next 25 years: haunting drones and trills, ritualistic taiko-like drumming, and overtone-based textures inspired by his teacher James Tenney (compare the latter’s Shimmer to this album’s track Pointed Mountains Scattered All Around). It even has some things you don’t find in other Adams pieces, such as Alaska nature recordings and texts from Native Alaskan languages


The Far Country

This is another fine sampler album from 1993 that features three medium-length pieces for large ensemble. Dream in White on White is a plaintive work for strings and harp reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Orpheus. The early choral composition Night Peace openly displays its debt to Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. The Far Country of Sleep begins with a solo trumpet motif that’s almost identical to Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, but as this orchestral piece progresses, it makes clear that its philosophical affinity is with Rachel Carson rather than Nietzsche.


Inuksuit

This outdoor piece for multiple percussionists has been performed all over North America (including here in Seattle in 2015). Adams considers this recording, three years in the making and captured on location in rural Vermont, to be a definitive representation.


Become Ocean

And here it is: Seattle Symphony’s Grammy Award-winning recording of Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning piece. Released in 2014, it’s the first recording of Adams’ music by a major orchestra. Although the sound world of Become Ocean isn’t all that far from Ravel’s daybreak scene in Daphnis et Chloé, Adams’ instinct as an ecologist is to let his textural soundscape unfold on its own terms and at its own pace, with a minimum of intervention. Indeed, this work is so well proportioned that it seems much shorter than its 42-minute duration. Become Ocean is both a fulfillment of the trajectory of Adams’ work since Earth and the Great Weather and a searchlight illuminating the wonders yet to come from this imaginative composer.


The Seattle Symphony presents the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Become Desert on Thursday, March 29 and Saturday, March 31. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

A Spotify version of our Essential JLA playlist is available below:

John Luther Adams Marathon: Streaming Worldwide!

Photo by Pete Woodhead.

by Maggie Molloy

Lose yourself in immersive sonic landscapes of John Luther Adams this Wednesday during our eight-hour marathon of his music on Second Inversion! Tune in on Wednesday, March 28 from 9am-5pm PST for a full eight hours of music by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer whose newest orchestral work, Become Desert, receives its world premiere this week at the Seattle Symphony.

Become Desert is the highly-anticipated sequel to Adams’ orchestral masterwork Become Ocean, which was commissioned and recorded by the Seattle Symphony in 2013. Become Ocean is a 45-minute orchestral approximation of the ocean’s ebb and flow—and it flowed right to the top of classical music charts. The piece went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

Living in Alaska for most of his career, Adams’ music has always been inspired by landscapes, ecology, environmentalism, and the natural world—and though he now splits his time between New York and the Mexican desert, his music is still profoundly immersed in the spirit of nature. While Become Ocean submerges the audience in broad waves of sound and shimmering detail, Become Desert takes its inspiration from stillness, space, and light of the desert. At their core, both pieces reflect on two contrasting manifestations of global warming: sea level rise and desertification. 

Adams’ work also holds a very special place in Seattle. In addition to the world premiere of Become Ocean, the Seattle Symphony has performed a number of Adams’ pieces during their Tuning Up! Festival and their [Untitled] series. Last year Emerald City Music also premiered one of Adams’ chamber pieces inspired by the sounds of the Sonoran Desert, titled “there is no one, not even the wind…”

Our marathon this Wednesday features music from throughout Adams’ career, ranging from studies on Georgia birdsongs to field recordings and Alaska Native poetry, metaphysical drum meditations, and expansive sonic geographies—all culminating in the Seattle Symphony’s surround-sound recording of Become Ocean.

Click here to tune in, and read below to learn a bit about our hosts’ favorite musical selections from our John Luther Adams marathon.

John Luther Adams: Become Ocean (Cantaloupe Music)
Seattle Symphony
Ludovic Morlot, conductor

Global devastation never sounded prettier than in John Luther Adams’ apocalyptic musical palindrome Become Ocean. Inspired by the oceans near his former home in Alaska, Adams composed this piece commissioned by Seattle Symphony as a response to what he noticed in the world around him: ice caps melting, sea levels rising, and humanity neglecting to address the changes that impact our future. The fact that human life emerged from the ocean and may soon be destined/forced/doomed to return to the expanse of water is reflected in the palindromic structure of the piece itself; from the second climax indicating a tidal surge the music is played in reverse. Despite the subject matter, Become Ocean feels less like flailing and choking in the ocean’s turbulence and more like floating peacefully on its calm surface. – Rachele Hales


John Luther Adams: The Light that Fills the World (Cold Blue Music)
Unnamed ensemble

From a distance, the Arctic tundra looks like a vast white canvas—up close, it shimmers with infinite color and detail. John Luther Adams spent much of his life exploring the intricacies of that limitless canvas, composing from a 16×20 ft. one-room cabin in the Alaskan woods. He composed The Light That Fills the World during the early dawn of spring one year when, following the long darkness of winter, the landscape was still white with snow and filled with brilliant new light.

Scored for a mixed chamber ensemble of winds, strings, and percussion, the piece captures the slow and sacred rising of the sun across that vast blanket of snow: the way the surface of the earth shifts with that cosmic change of color, the way the broad, seemingly static fields of sound sparkle with enigmatic detail—and the way the listener floats, suspended in that bright and all-consuming light. – Maggie Molloy


John Luther Adams: The Wind in High Places (Cold Blue Music)
JACK Quartet

In the JLA catalog, this piece is a favorite of mine for two reasons. As someone who appreciates places with a significant altitude component (a hiker), I connect deeply with what I perceive as this piece’s portrayal of the unsentimentality of high places. Such places, like all of nature, have no stake in your personal successes or failures, but they are often strikingly beautiful, and made more so by their neutrality.

I also love this piece for its skillful construction and bold technical limitations. The idea of a string quartet entirely made of natural harmonics (where the players do not use the left hand fingers at all) seems outlandish and silly on the surface. But, in this piece, it works. Credit for success in any decent recording of this piece certainly belongs in large part to the performers, but this unusual element also signals the composer’s skill, especially in the face of self-imposed rules. – Seth Tompkins


John Luther Adams: Tukiliit (Cantaloupe Music)
Lisa Moore, piano

John Luther Adams’ large ensemble works each feel like something that has no real beginning or end; something that has existed for eternity, like a place in nature waiting to be discovered. His solo piano work Tukiliit is different. This piece seems to have a clear trajectory, if not a beginning, middle, and end. In a Pictures at an Exhibition-like way, it seems to portray the grandeur of some timeless outdoor fixture with big, towering chords.

The subtitle, “The Stone People Who Live in the Wind,” is an attempt at a literal translation of the main title Tukiliit, which also serves as the Inuktitut word for any stone object with special meaning. The music seems to meander from stone statue to statue, taking in their cold beauty and exploring the majesty of their surroundings. – Geoffrey Larson


John Luther Adams: Strange Birds Passing (Mode Records)
New England Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble
John Heiss, conductor

I love learning about the creative processes of artists and how their work develops over time. There’s something totally fascinating about a human being who’s unleashed creatively, and about how artists dive into the brain’s idea factory, venture out into the world, and look into the self, seeking this nebulous carrot on a stick, i.e., finding a way to really, finally, wholly say what they mean to say about what needs to be said.   

Recently, I had the pleasure of learning about John Luther Adams’ creative process. It turns out that over time, he came up with this idea called “sonic geography” which he has said is about the “imaginary territory somewhere between human imagination and the world around us.” Which is very different from his approach on his first album, songbirdsongs. At that point in time, JLA was into direct translations of the natural world into music. He studied bird song in particular regions—each movement of the album representing a different one—and scored the bird song into…people song. The orchestration is complex and innovative, but the idea at its core is pretty simple. In Strange Birds Passing, it’s almost as if you’re hearing Adams’ first inkling of how to say what needed to be said, nearly free of his later abstraction. Both are totally compelling. But this little window into the beginning of his process is super cool. – Dacia Clay


The Seattle Symphony presents the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Become Desert on Thursday, March 29 and Saturday, March 31. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

New Music for March: Roomful of Teeth, Women in Music Marathon, and a Sequel to “Become Ocean”

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! 

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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 - March 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: sonic cinema, 12-tone touch guitar, microtonal MIDI, and pantonal piano poetry.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

UW Modern Music Ensemble: Ludovic Morlot and Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir
Ludovic Morlot leads the UW Modern Music Ensemble in a program of contemporary French works, including Tristan Murail’s spectral masterpiece Le Lac and the U.S. premiere of Betsy Jolas’ Wanderlied, with cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir as the soloist. Two of Morlot’s students conduct works by Pierre Boulez and Marc-André Dalbavie.
Thurs, 3/1, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10

On the Boards: ‘On Loving the Muse and Family’
Seattle bassist and composer Evan Flory-Barnes presents an evening of original music inspired by the late-night variety shows of the ’50s and ’60s, featuring performances with musicians from the True Loves, the Seattle Girls Choir, Industrial Revelation, the Teaching, and a full chamber orchestra.
Thurs-Sat, 3/1-3/3, 8pm, On the Boards | $15-$30
Sun, 3/4, 5pm, On the Boards |$15-$30

The Tudor Choir: Nico Muhly World Premiere
Cappella Romana presents the Tudor Choir performing the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Small Raine, inspired by the same ancient English tune as another piece on the program: John Taverner’s 16th-century Western Wind Mass.
Fri, 3/2, 8pm, St. Mark’s Cathedral | $39-$49

Sound of Late: Book of the Dark
Amidst a program ranging from Arvo Pärt’s mystical minimalism to Ruth Crawford Seeger’s grittily angular music, Sound of Late unveils the world premiere of Book of the Dark by American composer Alan Shockley.
Sat, 3/3, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $15

Second Inversion Women’s Day Marathon
Celebrate International Women’s Day with Second Inversion’s 24 hour marathon of new and experimental music by women composers. Tune in all day on March 8 to hear works by over 100 women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music, including Meredith Monk, Laura Kaminsky, Du Yun, Angélica Negrón, and many more.

Town Music: Roomful of Teeth
Experimental a cappella ensemble Roomful of Teeth combines yodeling, Broadway belting, Inuit throat singing, and other vocal traditions from around the world to craft a program of thrilling soundscapes that challenge traditional notions of vocal music.
Fri, 3/9, 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist Church | $15-$20

TORCH: CD Release Concert
Contemporary chamber ensemble TORCH releases their first full-length album with a concert featuring the varied and vibrant sounds of their composer collective.
Sat, 3/10, 7:30pm, Alhadeff Studio at Cornish Playhouse | $10-$15

Women Who Score: HerStory
In honor of International Women’s Day weekend, HerStory celebrates some of music history’s most prolific and influential women composers with a performance of music by Amy Beach, Clara Schumann, Louise Farrenc, and Libby Larsen. This special preview concert benefits the Women Who Score’s inaugural season in the Fall of 2018.
Sun, 3/11, 7pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $37

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Director’s Choice
PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal’s annual selection promises modern and experimental music paired with bold, beautiful choreography. PNB dancers perform to music by Francis Poulenc, Richard Einhorn, Gavin Bryars, and Thom Willems.
3/16-3/25, Various times, McCaw Hall | $37-$187

Seattle Pro Musica: Sounds & Sweet Airs
As part of a citywide celebration of William Shakespeare, Seattle Pro Musica performs choral settings of poetry and prose by the Bard of Avon—including world premieres from Northwest composers Jessica French, Don Skirvin, and Giselle Wyers.
Sat, 3/17, 7:30pm, Seattle First Baptist Church | $12-$28

Emerald City Music: In Blue…
Journey to the American South with this concert exploring the influence of blues music on American composers. Hear George Gershwin’s timeless Rhapsody in Blue performed on two pianos alongside music by Leonard Bernstein, Frederic Rzewski, and more.
Fri, 3/23, 8pm, 415 Westlake Ave (Seattle) | $45
Sat, 3/24, 7:30pm, The Minnaert Center (Olympia) | $10-$43

Baltic Centennial: 100 Years of Statehood
Seattle Choral Company, the Mägi Baltic Ensemble, and other Seattle choirs come together to celebrate 100 years of independence for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in a concert featuring 20th and 21st century music from the leading composers of the Baltic states.
Sat, 3/24, 8pm, St. Mark’s Cathedral | $5-$25

Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’
Composed in 1941 while captive in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, Olivier Messiaen’s sublime Quartet for the End of Time is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century and a deeply spiritual work contemplating faith, time, and love. It is performed by Seattle new music luminaries Luke Fitzpatrick, Rose Bellini, James Falzone, and Jesse Myers.
Sun, 3/25, 2pm, St. Mark’s Cathedral | $15-$20

Deceptive Cadence: Celebrating Paul Taub’s 38 Years at Cornish
In celebration of Paul Taub’s decades-long career at Cornish, the flutist performs a program of 21st century works, including music by his late Cornish colleague Bern Herbolsheimer as well as a newly commissioned piece by alumna Beth Fleenor.
Sun, 3/25, 7pm, PONCHO Concert Hall | $5-$10

Seattle Symphony: John Luther Adams ‘Become Desert’
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams created an entire sea of sound with his illustrious Become Ocean, which received its world premiere at the Seattle Symphony in 2013. Now he’s back with a sequel: Become Desert.
Thurs, 3/29, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122
Sat, 3/31, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$122

Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

From Icelandic sound sculptures to pan-global jazz, found sounds and field recordings to sprawling, city-wide operas, 2017 was filled with some pretty incredible new music. As this year draws to a close, our Second Inversion hosts take a look back at our Top 10 Albums of 2017:

The Industry and wild Up: Hopscotch (The Industry Records)
Release Date: January 13, 2017

Hopscotch is by far the most inventive, labor-intensive, and meticulously designed work of the year. Live performances of the opera take place in 24 cars on three distinct routes, stopping at various locations-turned-performance spaces throughout Los Angeles. It involves everything from animated sequences exploring themes of identity and community to hearing star musicians perform in the car with you as you ride to your next unknown destination. The album recording is just as expansive, inviting the listener to experience the musical narrative in a non-chronological order, with multiple singers forming a composite of each character’s identity.

Intentionally disorienting, surprising, and overwhelming, artistic director Yuval Sharon and his team at the Industry have created an absolutely immersive experience—and audiences have been blown away. – Brendan Howe


yMusic and Son Lux: First (Communal Table Records)
Release Date: February 17, 2017

Something I hear frequently said about new classical music, from detractors and fans alike, is that it’s hard to listen to. First is a decidedly “new classical” album that does not fit into that framework at all. It’s—and I say this without irony—a freaking delight to listen to. It’s full of stories; for example, in the titular track, the instruments seem to be vying for first place until this looming bass note kicks in, threatening to take them all down. The titles themselves kickstart the imagination: “Trust in Clocks,” “Memory Wound,” and “I Woke Up in the Forest” are some of my favorites. Composer Ryan “Son Lux” Lott and producer Thomas Bartlett took yMusic’s edict to make a chamber music record structured like a rock album to heart and, with the addition of amazing performances by the group, turned it into art. – Dacia Clay


American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Thrive on Routine (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: February 24, 2017

Thrive on Routine was an interesting choice of title for ACME’s 2017 release. Timo Andres’ programmatic string quartet that follows the potato-tending and Bach-playing morning routine of Charles Ives thus becomes the album’s centerpiece, and by relation the rest of the selections are colored by the idea of beauty arising from the mundane. Minimalist textures in Caleb Burhans’ “Jahrzeit” and John Luther Adams’ “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow” provide a sense of calm and even pacing, while a deliberate, almost “learned” style extends from Andres’ title track to Caroline Shaw’s “in manus tuas” and “Gustave Le Gray” for solo cello. – Geoffrey Larson


Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Recurrence (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: April 7, 2017

The massive, slow-moving sound sculptures of Iceland shimmer and sparkle in Recurrence, an album of ethereal orchestral works by five emerging and established Icelandic artists. Daníel Bjarnason leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra through a luminous program ranging from Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s kaleidoscopic “Flow & Fusion,” to María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s oceanic “Aequora,” Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s icy and iridescent “Dreaming,” and more. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music. – Maggie Molloy


PRISM Quartet with So Percussion and Partch: Color Theory (Naxos)
Release Date: April 14, 2017

Mixing colors takes on new meaning in Color Theory, an album blending the hues of four saxophones with an experimental percussion quartet and the microtonal musical instruments of Harry Partch. The PRISM Quartet teams up with So Percussion and the Partch ensemble to explore the full spectrum of color in music, from the deepest blues to the boldest reds, oranges, and yellows. Steven Mackey’s “Blue Notes & Other Clashes” mixes colors ranging from muted to magnificent through eight short movements culminating in a prismatic fantasy, while Ken Ueno’s “Future Lilacs” explores the shifting shades of the overtone series and Stratis Minakakis’s “Skiagrafies” paints a sonic canvas with color-changing harmonies. – Maggie Molloy


Amir ElSaffar: Not Two (New Amsterdam Records)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

In a year choked with disunity in nearly every part of our lives, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s jazzy pan-global album Not Two offers a welcome musical melting of borders. ElSaffar draws inspiration from different cultures and their instruments, primarily Western Asia and America, and declares that they “do not exist as separate entities ‘belonging’ to any people or place.” His humanism coupled with the skill of his collaborators results in an album that pulses with mystical jazz spells, thrills with august horns, and reminds us that music is egalitarian. Knowing that Not Two was recorded in one marathon 16-hour session is just the cherry on top of ElSaffar’s accomplishment.
Rachele Hales


Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

LAPQ’s Beyond pushes the boundaries of what a percussion ensemble can do, with a healthy dose of ambient-leaning music combined with a smaller measure of perhaps slightly more familiar groove-based music that might seem more typical of percussion repertoire. With works by heavy-hitting composers Daníel Bjarnason, Christopher Cerrone, Anna Thorvalsdottir, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh paired with thoughtful and delicate execution, Beyond is a tour-de-force that stands at the leading edge of music for percussion. – Seth Tompkins


Third Coast Percussion: Book of Keyboards (New Focus Recordings)
Release Date: August 4, 2017

If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.

Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation. – Dacia Clay


Qasim Naqvi: FILM (Published by Erased Tapes)
Release Date: September 29, 2017

Perhaps best known as the drummer from the group of acoustic virtuosos Dawn of Midi, Qasim Naqvi also plays other instruments and composes both art music and music for television and film. The album FILM, as you might guess, falls into the latter category. Released in September of 2017, FILM contains music written for the film Tripoli Cancelled and the video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral, both by Naeem Mohaiemen. This release, like other projects by Naqvi, celebrates the legacy of Moog synthesizers. The atmospheric sounds on this album were inspired by disused architecture, and sometimes recall the music of John Carpenter. – Seth Tompkins


Bang on a Can All-Stars: More Field Recordings (Cantaloupe Music)
Release Date: October 27, 2017

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ More Field Recordings. A star-studded cast of composers are each asked to find a recording of something that already exists (a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody) and then write a new piece around it.

A follow-up to their original 2015 release Field Recordings, this year’s rendition is a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from the likes of Caroline Shaw, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, and Glenn Kotche (to name just a few), with the All-Stars playing along to field recordings ranging from quilting interviews to Chilean birdsongs, lava fields, and snoring sleepers.
Maggie Molloy

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, December 8 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

John Luther Adams: Among Red Mountains (Cantaloupe Music)
Lisa Moore, piano

I love Christmas music. I really do. However, that is not to say that I can make it through the whole holiday season without some sort of respite from the unrelenting positivity parade that is Christmas music. That’s where music like John Luther Adams’s Among Red Mountains comes in. This blocky, atmospheric piece reminds me of the amorality and complexity of outdoor spaces that exist a million miles from the sometimes-suffocating saccharine sparkles of the holiday season.
– Seth Tompkins

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


Mohammed Fairouz: Jebel Lebnan (Naxos Records)
Imani Winds

Jebel Lebnan is one of my favorite woodwind quintets written in the last 50 years. Few works for wind quintet approach it in seriousness of tone, making it a very welcome addition to a chamber music genre that is full of a lot of bright and cheerful music.

Mohammed Fairouz was born in the United States in 1985, and his music reflects an informed view of the cultures and political forces of his Arabic heritage. The quintet’s title means “Mount Lebanon,” and the piece chronicles events in the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, starting with the stark Bashir’s March, marked “intense and relentless with no compassion or tenderness.” An interlude features the solo flute in a plaintive, far-off Arabic melody, and then we experience the funereal Ariel’s Song followed by a sort of spring-like reawakening and a finale invoking the Lebanese patron saint Mar Charbel. Powerful emotions abound throughout, making it a must-listen for those looking to discover new perspectives in the unique woodwind quintet genre. – Geoffrey Larson

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


Bora Yoon: Semaphore Conductus (Cantaloupe Music)
Young People’s Chorus of New York City; Francisco Núñez, conductor

If ever there was a piece meant for radio, this is it!  Sound-artist/composer Bora Yoon’s alluring and avant-garde “Semaphore Conductus” is an exploration of communication, sound, and the language of audio signals.  Surrounding the rise and fall of harmonious vocals is a rich blend of audio transmissions plucked from time: Morse code, radio signals, heartbeats, and cellphone noises.  Because this piece was recorded in surround-sound it is highly recommended that you listen via headphones if possible to ensure maximum delight. – Rachele Hales

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


Olga Bell: “Primorsky Krai” (New Amsterdam Records)

“God’s too high for us/Moscow far too distant,” Olga Bell laments in Russian in her piece “Primorsky Krai.”

Bell pays homage to her impressions of her native Russia’s Primorsky Krai, or Maritime Frontier, the far southeastern finger of the country bordering China, North Korea, and the Sea of Japan. It’s one of nine territories in which Bell explores dizzy, confusing questions of identity in her 2014 album, Krai. She combines polyrhythmic percussion with melodic vocal lines, blistering in their diction and timbre, and brings all the wild, raw drama of the home region of most of the world’s Siberian tigers.
– Brendan Howe

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

VIDEO PREMIERE: John Luther Adams’ “there is no one, not even the wind…”

by Maggie Molloy

John Luther Adams’ newest work whispers like the winds of the Sonoran Desert. Inspired by the stillness and light of the American Southwest, “there is no one, not even the wind…” is an immersive desert soundscape scored for two flutes, strings, piano, and percussion.

We are thrilled to premiere our video of Emerald City Music in their sold-out world premiere performance of Adams’ “there is no one, not even the wind…”

The piece takes its title from a poem by the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz titled Piedra Nativa (Native Stone). He writes, “No hay nadie ni siquiera tú mismo.” (“There is no one, not even yourself.”) Adams takes this line one step further, removing even the wind itself.

“there is no one, not even the wind…” was co-commissioned by Emerald City Music, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Camerata Pacifica, the Redlands Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Music Northwest. Click here to learn more about Emerald City Music’s world premiere performance in our conversation with Artistic Director Kristin Lee and Executive Director Andrew Goldstein.