LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry’s “The Blue Hour” on Friday, Nov. 10 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET

by Maggie Molloy

One woman’s story comes to life through the voice of five composers tonight in A Far Cry’s performance of The Blue Hour. Based on Carolyn Forché’s abecedarian poem “On Earth,” the song cycle explores the last hour of one woman’s life, the fleeting memories from A to Z that flash before her eyes—and how her one single story is ultimately many stories: an intimate snapshot of our shared humanity.  

Grammy-winning jazz singer Luciana Souza joins the chamber orchestra in this song cycle written by a collaborative of five leading composers: Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Shara Nova, Angélica Negrón, and Caroline Shaw.

And although the concert itself is in Boston, you can still hear every minute of this musical tour de force right here on Second Inversion during our live video stream of the performance this Friday, November 10 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET. Visit the video link below to tune in to tonight’s live stream, or click here to stream directly from Facebook.

In anticipation of tonight’s performance, we asked each of the five composers one question about the poetry, music, and meaning behind The Blue Hour:

Second Inversion: What is this poem about, and how did it inspire the music?

Rachel Grimes: Carolyn Forché’s remarkable poem “On Earth” is a profoundly beautiful and devastating exploration of the last moments before death from the perspective of a woman recollecting her life in shards of crystalline memories. Through the lens of these visceral personal moments are glimpses into different points in time in human history, recalling childhood, the fallout of war, a sense of home, intimacy, loss, nostalgia, the mundane, and the epic. 

In a phone conversation with all of the composers, the poet welcomed us to excerpt the poem in order to better serve the music and the new work as a whole. We were overwhelmed at this generous invitation, and vowed to honor the poem and to be true to the feeling of the whole work. We set about to excerpt it, choosing passages that felt ripe for music-making, while maintaining her original abecedary form. We consulted with Joseph Cermatori to sculpt a unified libretto, and to follow that original intent of the form. The poem was endlessly inspiring: so many images, particular and visual, and so many emotions and opportunities to investigate the human experience on a very intimate scale. Especially inspiring was the chance to explore, through this perspective of this one life coming to an end, the experience of facing death and the treasury of life’s myriad experiences that are in so many ways universal to all.

SI: What makes Luciana Souza the perfect singer for this song cycle’s premiere?

Shara Nova: When we composers first got together, we knew we wanted to find a singer who was able to read what we anticipated to be a challenging score, who had a wide vocal range and also had a sound closer to folk or jazz. Luciana Souza (pronounced like Loo-See-Ah-Nah Soh-za) has a dynamism and a warm, natural voice that really excited us.

Once I knew that she was going to be the singer, I started writing some of the movements on guitar, influenced by the great Brazilian songwriters like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and then once I had that foundation, I expanded the arrangements for A Far Cry and removed the guitar parts. I wanted the music to be very tuneful and song oriented, as well as take the opportunity to really show off and explore the color and vibrancy of this extraordinary ensemble.  

SI: What was the composition process like?

Sarah Kirkland Snider: We got together one weekend and spent a lot of time reading through the text together, talking about it, brainstorming ideas. We each highlighted the bits of text that we felt the strongest connection to and then divided it up along those lines, with the idea that we’d interweave our voices in movements of varying length, texture, style, and emotion.

We decided there would be moments of spoken text, moments in which the ensemble sang and spoke, and a canonic refrain that happened three times, written by Caroline. Shara was the first one to start writing, and she sent us some computer mock-ups of her drafts. Some of my assigned bits of text followed hers, so in those movements I used a motive of hers as an ostinato or jumping-off point, or made harmonic and rhythmic decisions based upon hers, depending on whether I wanted contrast or continuity.

We all worked in this fashion, brick by brick, sharing our drafts with each other and responding to them musically, striving to maximize cohesion between the movements and forward momentum in the overall form. It was great fun getting inside the compositional mind of some of my favorite fellow composers. What I love about this piece is that, to my ear, it hangs together as a single journey, but you can hear our different voices emerge at different moments. This lends the music the same sense of collective consciousness that is innate to the poem itself. 

SI: How does the process of collaborative composition serve to illustrate or enhance the meaning behind this poem?

Angélica Negrón: There’s moments of deep sorrow, empathy, mystery, despair, warmth, confusion, intimacy and so many other layers and nuances in between. By bringing together five different composers each with a unique perspective and a distinctive sound, we’re able to explore more profoundly these layers of meaning and capture the complexity of this person’s life. Each composer opens up a new world of possibilities of the text and by allowing ourselves to being vulnerable and receptive of other’s interpretations, we find new connections and make new discoveries.

I feel this piece weaves together not only each composers’ individual interpretation of the text but also the common ground among us that we found along the way.  I’ve never been a part of such a deeply meaningful and truly collaborative project in which everyone’s voices are highly complementary to each other yet add a unique and essential ingredient to the whole. There’s a shared sensibility and an unusual connection between the composers that’s hard to describe, and this poem is at the center of it all. 

SI: What does this piece sound like?

Caroline Shaw: I’d say it sounds like micro and macro visions of the earth—precious sonic details emerging from and receding into a mysterious whole.


Visit our website on Friday, November 10 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET to watch a LIVE video stream of A Far Cry’s The Blue Hour with Luciana Souza. To learn more about our live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, click here.

LIVE BROADCAST: PROJECT Trio Plays Peter and the Wolf, Brooklyn-Style

by Maggie Molloy

You may have heard Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf, but you have never heard it like this before. Tune in Wednesday at 7:30pm for a Second Inversion live broadcast of PROJECT Trio performing Peter and the Wolf—Brooklyn style.

Comprised of three classically-trained musicians with an ear for eclecticism, PROJECT Trio brings humor, charisma, technical prowess, and clever arrangements to classical repertoire and pop music alike. Expect jazzy basslines, beatboxing flute riffs, and plenty of personality.

For this concert, PROJECT Trio takes the classic tale of Peter and the Wolf out of Russia and into Brooklyn, turning the animals into other kids and the wolf-chase into a parkside showdown.

Catch their performance live this Wednesday at Town Hall as part of Joshua Roman’s Town Music series. And if you can’t make it to the show, tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast from anywhere in the world! Download our app or click here to listen to the broadcast online, streaming live on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30pm PST.

Until then, here’s a sneak peek of the gang performing their rendition of another classical music staple:


PROJECT Trio performs Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30pm at Town Hall. Click here for more information, or click here to tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast.

Women in (New) Music: Two Women and an Opera House

by Elisabeth Blair, with introduction by Maggie Molloy

It’s been a few years since the Metropolitan Opera featured a work by a female composer—113 years, to be exact.

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That century-long drought ends this month with Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin, running now through Dec. 29 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Dazzling melodies, lush orchestration, shimmering electronics, modern LED set designs, and a heartrending French libretto by Amin Maalouf come together to tell a stylized tale of the 12th century troubadour Jaufré Rudel.

But we can’t all be in New York City to see it—so Classical KING FM 98.1 is bringing you the next best thing: a live broadcast of the matinee performance this Saturday, Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. PST.

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L’Amour de Loin (French for “love from afar”) first premiered at the Salzburg Festival in Austria in 2000, and quickly went on to become one of the most acclaimed operatic works of the 21st century. Scored for just three soloists, chorus, and orchestra, the opera offers an intimate look at the enduring power and purity of true love.

“In the midst of composing it, I understood that it was also my story,” Saariaho said in an interview with the New York Times. “I was at once the troubadour and the lady, these two parts of me that I try to reconcile in my life. To write music, concentration is necessary; an interior hearing. To be a woman, to be a mother, one needs to be always available and busy. It’s difficult to have, at the same time, your feet on the ground and your head in the sky.”

It’s difficult for anyone—but especially for women, who have been systemically and institutionally excluded from composition and other leadership roles throughout history. Saariaho’s Metropolitan Opera premiere is a triumph for women everywhere who are fighting to have their music heard—a triumph made possible by the bold footprints of the women who came before us.

The first and only other woman to break the ranks forcefully enough to see her work performed at the Met was English composer and suffragist Ethel Smyth, with her 1903 opera Der Wald: a richly orchestrated folktale of two young lovers and the witch who comes between them.

And so, with the Met’s century-long spell of male composers finally broken, we wanted to take you back in time 100 years and give you a closer look at just what it took for Smyth to become history’s first female composer on the Metropolitan Opera stage.

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Ethel Smyth’s adulthood began with a well-orchestrated protest.  When she was 19, her father forbade her to go to Leipzig to study music composition. She responded by refusing church, musical participation at dinner parties, riding, and speaking. Eventually her father, having become so frustrated with her that he kicked her bedroom door until the panel was “all but penetrated,” relented—and gave up disallowing her much of anything ever again.

She continually found creative solutions to the restrictions placed upon women at the time. In 1878, still 19 and now victoriously arrived in Leipzig, she dressed up as an elderly lady in order to attend an evening concert unescorted. The costume included drawn-on wrinkles and a rented wig, and the ruse was a success. She was plainly unafraid of public humiliation—a valuable quality in a woman whose life’s calling forced her to overstep social mores each day.

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A devout dog-lover, Smyth had a total of five dogs in close succession. Eight years before her death she devoted an entire book, Inordinate (?) Affection, to recollections of her animal companions that sometimes offer an unlikely and intimate view of the elite music world at the time.

In her memoirs she tells of a time that she spiritedly took up a dare and wore a French coachman’s hat while riding her bike down Piccadilly, leading her dog as she went. This may seem unremarkable now, but in the first decade of the 20th century, such a gender-bending public display was bold.

In a musical context she was also unafraid. In 1911 she put on a concert of her opera The Wreckers herself, stepping outside the main concert venues and securing a conductor, Thomas Beecham—who promptly forgot about this engagement. When it came time for the performance, he was nowhere to be found—so Smyth simply conducted the performance herself.

Combined with luck, money, and a high social status, these qualities—a refusal to engage with the male-determined status quo in the manner expected, boundlessly creative problem-solving, and bold ambition—helped her break through the ceiling of the classical music world.

But it was no easy task.

ethelSmyth’s memoirs recall a merry-go-round of failure, rejection, dashed hopes, extraordinary social maneuverings, disappointments, delays, cancellations, futile energies spent, promises broken, twists of fate, and every other kind of impediment, particularly in her fight to have her operas staged.

As she notes in one of her memoirs, What Happened Next, so many sudden, untimely deaths, dismissals and retirements occurred during or leading up to performances that she wondered whether her operas were cursed. Long-awaited contracts about to be signed would halt when the person responsible would be “swept off the scene by sudden illness.”

A producer in Germany, one Georg Pierson, had been working on the rehearsal sheets for a hoped-for premiere of Der Wald when he fell ill and soon thereafter died. (She wrote blithely but resignedly to her long-time companion Henry Brewster, “You will not be surprised to hear that I have killed Pierson.”)

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These events were generally disastrous for her plans, forcing her to start over, leverage new social capital, and follow what leads she could. She underwent trial after trial in this way, and her American adventure was no exception. Soon after she arrived for her five-week stay in New York City, Maurice Grau—the director of policy of the Metropolitan Opera House and the man who had booked Der Wald after its success at Covent Garden—died, after a brief illness.

By Smyth’s account, Grau’s successor was whiny, manipulative, and oppositional. In New York she also suffered from tonsillitis, a fever, and finally laryngitis, and she was only able to attend the final choral rehearsal. Although she granted that the press reviews were favorable overall, of the Met performance itself she remarked only, “I do not remember much about it except that the scene-painting and the quality of the orchestra were on a higher level than at Covent Garden and everything else far worse.”

The replacement director had also limited Der Wald’s run to just two performances in New York and one in Boston, and she felt she had travelled too far for too little return. She pronounced her consent to the New York City project as “one of the major foolish acts of my life.”

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“The cards put by kind Fate into [my] hands […] were good health, a fair dose of persistence and fighting instinct, and most important of all, a small independent income which rendered possible a continuous struggle for musical existence such as no woman obliged to earn her livelihood in music could have carried on.”

In her book Female Pipings in Eden, Smyth carefully details with typical clear-headedness how difficult a process it was for anyone, men included, to move a work from conception to performance. It began with writing the manuscript and parts, making costly engravings, and convincing publishers whom she suspected were of the opinion that “all this damned modern stuff ought to be put down by the police.”

If publication could be had, then a conductor was needed, and at the time conductors always worked with a committee of several dozen tradesmen, who avoided new music in favor of older, more crowd-pleasing stuff. Add to this already intimidating process the hassle of being a woman, and the obstacles became, as she points out, almost insurmountable.

“As things are today,” she wrote, “it is absolutely impossible in this country for a woman composer to get and to keep her head above water; to go on from strength to strength, and develop such powers as she may possess.”

Yet Ethel Smyth did the impossible, and even maintained a vibrant optimism while doing it. She delighted in the notion that any day now a “champion” of women in music, someone with all the power, will, and money necessary to make changes, would enter the scene. She suggested presciently that “the wireless, and future developments thereof that we cannot foresee, may help to break down many ancient taboos, this among the number.”

It is difficult to imagine maintaining such an optimism despite everything—and yet she did. But have we, who are swimming now in the internet and in globalism, yet arrived at that taboo-breaking moment?

Smyth was an exceptional human being and she broke exceptional ground in the face of great resistance. Yet it was apparently asking too much of society to invest in the talent, ambition, and vision of any other female opera composer in the past century who dreamed of a Metropolitan Opera debut.

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Thus we find ourselves at the end of a 113 year gap—the time between the staging of Ethel Smyth’s Der Wald and the current staging of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin—hoping that enough changes are taking place within the classical music world and society at large that we will not have to wait another century for the next woman composer to grace the stage.

Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin runs through Dec. 29 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. KING FM 98.1 presents a live broadcast of the performance on-air this Saturday, Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. PST. Tune in at 98.1 or online at www.king.org.

Please click here for a full list of references.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: “Blackbird, Fly” with Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Join us tonight, Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30pm (PST), for a live video stream from Town Hall Seattle featuring composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain with spoken word artist and arts activist Marc Bamuthi Joseph in “Blackbird, Fly,” a concert for voice, body, and strings. Together these two American sons of Haitian immigrants explore themes of family history, folklore, politics, and race, all of it coursing with the rhythm and energy of hip hop.

If you’re in Seattle, we’d love to see you there! Get your tickets here and be sure to hello at the broadcast table in the lobby.

Program Notes by Aaron Grad c/o Town Hall Seattle

Blackbird, Fly is the co-creation of Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, two powerhouse performers who demolish boundaries in their respective art forms. Roumain, otherwise known as DBR, combines his classical training in violin and composition with the energy of hip hop and pop music, whether he is accompanying Lady Gaga on American Idol or presenting a new orchestral piece at Carnegie Hall. Joseph is best known as a spoken word artist and a National Poetry Slam champion, but his career has spanned from acting on Broadway to arts activism in Oakland.

These two men, both born in the United States to Haitian immigrants, have used their personal histories and artistic talents as springboards to examine larger questions about our society’s past, present and future, especially as it relates to Black life in America. After coming together for a number of projects across the country, from the Atlanta Ballet to San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Roumain and Joseph distilled their collaboration into what they describe as “a concert for voice, body and strings,” a label that hardly captures the enormous range and impact of this evening-length duet.

Roumain’s music for Blackbird, Fly is a kaleidoscopic mixture of classical, rock and hip-hop sounds that he creates on several electric violins as well as piano and laptop. When he sends aggressive bow strokes through a heavily saturated distortion pedal, or when he holds the violin across his chest and strums it like a guitar, his sound and technique comes closer to Jimi Hendrix than any concert violinist. Other times he extracts a pure, clean tone from his violin, using subtle sound effects to thicken and amplify his musical gestures into textures that give the impression of an entire string ensemble playing.

Joseph’s words and expressive body movements likewise transcend any one style or narrative thread. Part storytelling, part folklore and part politics, his libretto touches on everything from fatherhood and friendship to mass incarceration and police bias, all infused with the fluid rhythms of hip-hop and spoken word. He introduces an international perspective, with vignettes that recall visits to Haiti, Paris, Tokyo and Senegal. There is also a deep sense of history as he reflects back on figures such as Huey Newton and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Blackbird, Fly is awash in paradox: It is personal but universal; it is high art and pop culture; it is unflinchingly honest and still joyful and optimistic; it is tender and vulnerable and outrageously powerful and virtuosic all at the same time. This is a performance that might generate more questions than answers, but isn’t that exactly what we need today if we hope to understand each other and ourselves?

© 2016 Aaron Grad.

LIVE BROADCAST: Imani Winds at 7:30pm PT tonight

Join us tonight, Tuesday, November 15 at 7:30pm PT, for a LIVE audio broadcast on our 24/7 stream featuring Imani Winds presented by Meany Center for the Performing Arts! If you’re in Seattle, we’d love to see you there. Get your tickets here and be sure to hello at the KING FM table in the lobby!

Click here to listen starting at 7:30pm PT if you’re joining us online for the broadcast!

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North America’s premier wind quintet, the Grammy nominated Imani Winds has taken a unique path, carving out a distinct presence in the classical music world with its dynamic playing, culturally important programming, adventurous collaborations and inspirational youth outreach programs. Fabio Bidini, one of Italy’s foremost pianists, joins the quintet for part of the program.

Coleman: Red Clay and Mississippi Delta
Rimsky-Korsakov: Selections from Scheherazade
Piazzolla: Contrabajissimo
D’Rivera: A Farewell Mambo
Mozart: Quintet in E-flat Major for Winds and Piano, K.542

Shaheen: Dance Mediterranea

Click here from 7:30-9:30pm PT to listen to this fabulous program!

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: Town Music at Town Hall: Duos wtih Joshua Roman & Caroline Goulding

Join us Wednesday, October 5 at 7:30pm (PST) for a live video stream from Town Hall featuring our Artistic Advisor, Joshua Roman and the “precociously talented” violinist Caroline Goulding performing duos by Kodály, Ravel, and Handel-Halvorsen. If you’re in Seattle, we’d love to see you there! Get your tickets here and be sure to hello at the broadcast table in the lobby.

If you are expecting something small and dainty from this slim chamber music configuration, think again—the works on this program showcase the full power of these two world-class soloists. Halvorsen’s Passacaglia converts old harpsichord music by Handel into an epic display of Romantic virtuosity, while Kodály’s Duo channels the rustic energy of Hungarian folk music. In Ravel’s Sonata, a bewitching tribute to Debussy, the violin and cello produce a staggering array of colors and textures.

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LIVE BROADCAST: Friday, March 18 at 7:30pm: Pianist Jeremy Denk presented by the UW World Series

by Maggie Stapleton

Listen on our webplayer | Listen on our mobile app

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Join us for a special LIVE broadcast this Friday, March 18 at 7:30pm (PT) of pianist Jeremy Denk presented by the UW World Series at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus. Denk is the winner of a 2013 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the 2014 Avery Fisher Prize and Musical America’s 2014 Instrumentalist of the Year award. This Friday’s program features a huge variety of music, some newer, some older, all worth tuning in for or better yet, coming to see live if you’re in Seattle! The New York Times called Denk a musician “you want to hear no matter what he performs.”

Program:
Bach: English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808
Byrd: Ninth Pavan and Galliard in D Minor from Lady Nevell’s Book 
Bolcom: Graceful Ghost Rag 
Hayden/Joplin: Sunflower Slow Drag
Tatum: Tea for Two 

Hindemith: Ragtime from 1922 
StravinskyPiano-Rag-Music 
Ives: Ragtime Dances No. 3 & 4 from Four Ragtime Dances 
Nancarrow: Canon
Lambert: Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhauser 
Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

SI host Geoffrey Larson will keep you company on the stream for the broadcast on Friday night and if you come to the show, say hello to Maggie Molloy in the lobby, enter to win a fabulous prize, and grab some SI swag!

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