All Tomorrow’s Parties: Paying Homage while Looking Ahead with Nadia Shpachenko

Photo by Albert Chang.

by Dacia Clay

Nadia Shpachenko is a multiple Grammy-nominated pianist and Professor of Music at Cal Poly Pomona University who has never stopped playing with her toys.

Shpachenko’s love of playing—both with toys and on her piano, and sometimes, with her toy piano—is part of what makes her new album, Quotations and Homages, so much fun to listen to. She’s got this wide-open sense of adventure that comes across not only in her playing, but in the pieces she commissions and the composers from whom she commissions them. (Shpachenko seems to choose composers by their willingness to be co-conspirators in her exploits as much as for their compositional aptitude.) An album of pieces that pay homage to everyone from Messiaen to the Velvet Underground? Yes! A piece inspired by Stravinsky called “Igor to Please” written for 6 pianists on 2 toy pianos, 2 pianos, and electronics? Yay! Let’s do it!

In this interview, Nadia talks about why she’s such an advocate for new classical music, about the ideas that inspired this new album and the pieces therein, and about breaking piano strings. 

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

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, July 22 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Leah Kardos: Core feat. Leah Kardos, electronics (bigo & twigetti)

a2980782583_10Leah Kardos’ debut album, Feather Hammer, is an expression in 12 tracks of her love for her very first instrument: the piano.  She’s added some sparse electronica and a selection of hand-picked effects to “Core” that create a marriage of lyrical piano & melancholia.  Should I call it ambient piano?  Euphonic dreamscape classical?  Austere electronica?  Whatever I’m not into labels, I’ll just close my eyes and let her music kiss the quiet spaces in my mind. – Rachele Hales


Roberto Sierra: Triptico feat. David Tanenbaum, guitar; Shanghai String Quartet (New Albion)
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I must confess that I have never been a huge fan of classical guitar works, and I’m not a huge fan of the combination of guitar and strings, either. However, maybe I’m starting to see the light, because I really enjoy the sounds of this chamber music work of Roberto Sierra that evokes his native Puerto Rico. The first movement is lush and bewitching, with a musical nod to the tree frog known colloquially as “coqui.” Many great composers recognized the value of a playful pizzicato obbligato intermezzo as a middle movement, and it works wonders here in the guitar and string combination. The rhythmic flourishes of the third and final movement are even more fun and surprising. Music like this serves as an important reminder: always listen with an open mind! –
Geoffrey Larson

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


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Olivier Messiaen: “Oiseaux Exotiques” (Yvonne Loriod, piano; Ensemble InterContemporain; Pierre Boulez, conductor) (Naïve Records)

There are an estimated 10,000 species of birds on Earth, each with its own unique song—and Olivier Messiaen wanted to learn them all.

No other composer (or ornithologist, for that matter) was ever so completely committed to the painstaking transcription, study, and musical application of birdsong as Messiaen. Together with his second wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod, he traveled far and wide to discover the distinctive melodies of exotic birds from around the world.

Messiaen’s 15-minute masterwork “Oiseaux Exotiques” brings together the idiosyncratic songs of 18 different bird species from India, China, Malaysia, and the Americas, creating a brilliantly colored orchestra of feathered friends which would otherwise never cross paths in nature. Composed for piano and a strident ensemble of woodwinds, brass, and percussion, the work’s twinkling timbral palette and spontaneous melodies combine elements of both Eastern and Western musical traditions.

Because East or West, near or far, loud or soft, and big or small, every bird has a song—if we just slow down and listen. – Maggie Molloy

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Utah Symphony’s “Dawn to Dust”

by Geoffrey Larson

It’s always tremendously exciting when we get a premiere recording of American works for orchestra, but this release has me especially enthralled. Utah Symphony and Thierry Fischer present an immaculately conceived performance of works by three of our most prominent composers of the moment: Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, and Andrew Norman.

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Augusta Read Thomas’ Eos is subtitled Goddess of the Dawn, a Ballet for Orchestra, and presents a tableau of Greek gods and goddesses. It’s interesting to note her remarks in the liner notes, where she mentions her compositional process involves standing at a drafting table to connect with the feel of dance. The opening movement Dawn is immediately spellbinding. It subtly evokes Copland’s Quiet City at the outset, with its spare textures and timid groups of repeating notes, eschewing the richness of Ravel’s Dawn from Daphnis and Chloe. It doesn’t last long, however, as we are soon taken on a playful journey that is a true concerto for orchestra. Utah Symphony really wows in Augusta’s music: the way challenging runs pass through the entire orchestra with perfect precision and ensemble is truly something for the ears to behold, and the Soundmirror recording team has produced a wonderfully balanced and transparent capture of the performance for Reference Recordings.

Nico Muhly’s Control is also helpfully subtitled, and the Five Landscapes for Orchestra that he explores are all impressionistic representations of Utah’s stunning natural landscape. He mentions oblique references to Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles, and I actually hear a lot of Messiaen in this music, from commanding brass chords that stand like massive pillars of rock to gamelan-like rhythms of pitched percussion. It’s a fascinating work, such a far evolution from Muhly’s earlier minimalist-influenced textures, although this DNA partially forms the rhythmic backbone of Beehive. It’s interesting that the fourth part, Petroglyph and Tobacco, reminds me of Copland’s most muscular, swashbuckling populist works; it’s portraying stone-carving, rock-painting, and a Ute song that was used when begging for tobacco, a distinctly different viewpoint than Copland’s American West.

Andrew Norman’s Switch is a percussion concerto that seems to follow in a creative line from Play, his earlier work that “explores the myriad ways musicians can play with, against, or apart from one another.” In this work, the percussionist appears to control the action of the orchestra like an insane puppeteer, which certain percussion instruments setting off licks one part of the orchestra, and so on. It never ceases to surprise, enthrall, or sound less than tremendously difficult. It’s an incredibly symphonic work that seems to be successful in a purely shock-and-awe way, a work that clearly says “look what a modern orchestra is capable of.” Haydn would have been terrified.

Listen to the Girls: Q & A with Angelique Poteat

by Jill Kimball

Angelique Poteat

Composer Angelique Poteat. Photo: Hayley Young

We in the world of music are often thankful for this increasingly digital world. It allows us to access new music from all over the globe, to communicate with musicians and music appreciators who live thousands of miles away, and to find inspiration in countless eras, countries, and languages.

But for many young women, globalization has its drawbacks. It allows us to obsessively compare ourselves with other women, some of whom we know and others whom we’ve never met. It invites anonymous bullying in comment forums and objectification in the media. And for many teenagers, it turns the schooltime popularity contest into a 24/7 battle.

“We have this global access, so we can see what’s going on all over the world,” says Seattle-based composer Angelique Poteat. “When you hear about women in the media, you can see that people are constantly expecting more from women. You’re expected to do it all…family, work, et cetera.”

Poteat wanted to know how teen girls felt about society’s high standards for them, both online and in real life. She surveyed a handful of teens who sing in the Northwest Girlchoir, and the answers she got were so stunning that she set the words to music with the help of grants from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and 4Culture.

On Wednesday, November 18, members of the Northwest Girlchoir get to do something they’ve probably never done before: sing a piece set to words they wrote themselves. The Girlchoir premieres Poteat’s five-movement work, Listen to the Girls, alongside the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra at Seattle’s University Christian Church. You can buy tickets right here.

I asked Poteat a few questions about the project, and her answers are below.

 

Where did you get the inspiration for Listen to the Girls?

I noticed that all this stuff kept coming up in the media about young women and self esteem and unrealistic standards that girls are being held up to. Rather than take the media’s word for it, I wanted to get the girls’ opinions. I came up with a questionnaire and gave it to Seattle-area middle and high school girls. I asked things like, “Who are your role models? Do you have a fear of failure? Where does it come from? How does criticism influence the decisions you make? What are the pros and cons of using social media?” I used all of this information and came up with text for a piece of music. I scored it for large orchestra with a girlchoir, so I could have girls actually singing the words of girls.

Members of the Northwest Girlchoir.

Members of the Northwest Girlchoir.

What kinds of things did the girls say in the survey?

You’ll be able to hear it all in the piece. In the first movement, you’ll hear their responses to the question, “Who are you?” They answered, we’re redheads, nerds, geeks, we like contact sports, we’re adopted, we like film and anime. Stuff you’d hope young women would be interested in.

In the second movement, we find out who their role models are. You’ll see that it’s women who are strong, kind, smart and honest, who inspire and change, who fearlessly speak their mind and stand up for their beliefs.

The third and fourth movements are about doubt and social media. There’s an internal conflict here: the girls want to know what their friends are doing, they never want to miss out on anything. But they also feel like they have to stand up to the expectations of their friends, they have to change the way they look or behave to get approval.

In the last movement, they sing about the pressure to succeed in a competitive world where value is placed on perfection. But what is perfection? Are we supposed to be attractive or smart? Can’t we be both? It ends really triumphantly. The girls are determined to say they’re not a stereotype, they’re not objects, they’re working harder for people to accept them as they are.

What does it sound like?

I wanted to write something that was more relevant to the girls, so it’s got a bit of an energetic, perhaps lightly pop-ish feel to it. The first movement is really fiery, with fast stuff weaving in and out. There’s a moment with a grooving bass line. Second movement is kind of an off-kilter waltz. The third movement is mostly an orchestra movement, with long lines, rich harmonies, and changes in mood. The fourth movement is about social media, so it’s kind of mechanical, almost like you’re sitting at a computer and you’ve got this frantic energy. In the last movement about societal pressure, it’s very march-like and strict, and then there’s a very grand conclusion.

What will be different about this new generation of women?

Today we have global access, so we can see what’s going on all over the world. And because of that, we can see that women are so completely varied. These girls feel like it’s okay to be an individual, but they also see that people are expecting more from them than before. I think it’s really hard to deal with that pressure. We’ve all felt it.

Of all the classical music performed today, only 14 percent is composed by women. How does it feel to be in the minority?

I don’t know what it feels like to be a male composer, but it does feel curious to be a certain minority in my field. I always feel really weird when I get programmed for one of those concerts showcasing female composers, because you’ll never see a program called “Music of Male Composers.” Luckily, if you’re listening to the music and you don’t know who wrote it, it’s just music. I’ve never felt that being a woman is really holding me back.

What kind of music do you usually compose?

Music for large orchestra is my main focus right now. Earlier this year, the Seattle Symphony premiered a piece I wrote, and that was so exciting for me. I’ve always been influenced by jazz, rock and roll, and 20th century masters like Bartók and Messiaen. All those old dead guys used to write music inspired by whatever was popular in their day, and I think it’s wonderful that composers are trending toward that again.

What did you want to communicate by calling your piece Listen to the Girls?

There are so many places on the internet and in real life where people try to guess what girls and women are thinking. Instead of guessing, why don’t we just listen? Open up your ears, get rid of the biases and expectations, and just hear what these women have to say.

A Shared Lesson

by Joshua Roman

Roman_15There’s something about stretching the limits, pushing the boundaries, that turns me on. When it’s a shared experience, the reward is greatly magnified. I recently had the honor of working with young musicians in a setting that kept all of us on our toes. In partnership with my series at Town Hall Seattle, the Seattle Youth Symphony called on some of their lovely players and alumni to join me and a few colleagues acting as mentors for a concert of 20th and 21st century string ensemble music.

It’s important to demonstrate to young musicians that ours is a tradition of innovation and creativity. Classical music is a living, breathing thing, not stuck in the past. The same discipline used to bring a Beethoven Symphony to its peak form can be turned to the task of helping birth a new work, and share a new idea. One of the most fruitful ways of passing along a teaching is to lead by example, and I’m ever so grateful to my friends from the Seattle Symphony and other orchestras who played in our ensemble as mentors. Sitting alongside their future colleagues, working together to prepare a very challenging program and present it in a few short days was not an easy task. Through Town Hall Seattle’s partnership with Second Inversion and KING FM, we also gave these aspiring musicians a chance to participate in a video recording session, the results of which are now viewable online.

The program: the world premiere of Running Theme by Timo Andres, which was commissioned by Town Hall. Then, John AdamsShaker Loops; and lastly, Béla Bartók’s Divertimento. The schedule: 6 rehearsals including the recording session and the dress rehearsal, from a Wednesday to a Saturday. A chance for the young musicians to have a glimpse of the condensed and intensive experience professional musicians are often faced with.

The diversity of style within the program was integral to its success in creating a powerful experience for the students. The Divertimento is a fantastically fun work that retains much of Bartok’s folk influence, while delving into more chromatic and idiosyncratic ideas in the slow movement. It’s a difficult work, and there are many solos, another opportunity for our mentors to lead by example. Shaker Loops has long been one of my favorite works, and to me represents minimalism at its most exciting and transportive. To see musicians who had never played this kind of music learn to embrace and inhabit a new way of feeling musical structure and phrasing over a few short days was very cool.

Perhaps the best part was the way they rose to the challenge of putting together Running Theme, an entirely new piece of music for which they could not sit and study previous recordings or hear in concert before taking on the responsibility of presenting it to the world for the first time. Every piece in the canon had a birth, every composer in history has counted on musicians and audiences to give them a shot at leading into the unknown. The evolution of one’s feelings as moments begin to be recognized, form really takes shape, and the conviction borne of seeing both the big picture and feeling the importance of subtlety is a beautiful process, one that for me is so integral to how we then share our hearts with the audience.

What’s the value of this experience? Hopefully, for the protégés, a glimpse of what it takes to be a professional musician. To learn to be prepared at rehearsals, on the ball and focused regardless of the familiarity of the music. To be inspired by the level of the mentors, and of course hear the little tips that come along the way. And to be empowered by the notion that they can be a part of the amazing lineage of classical music and its creation, by working directly with an exciting – and in this case young – composer.

For the mentors, to see the growth and feel the energy of youth, and be challenged to lead by example. Also, to be reminded of the wonder they felt sitting in such a group for the first time when they were that age, and the confidence that develops as something unknown becomes a familiar tool in now capable hands.

For me, the incredible joy of seeing the chemistry between musicians, mentor and protégé. And the honor of leading the team as we work together to the best of our ability to convey something that will transport an audience to a place where the impossible becomes possible, and our inner selves are given a common voice.

MUSIC ON ROTATION:
Fiona Apple – Tidal (album)
Timo Andres – Shy and Mighty (album)
Olivier Messiaen – Fête des Belles Eaux – performed by Ensemble d’Ondes de Montreal (2008)