ALBUM REVIEW: Ashley Bathgate’s ‘ASH’

by Peter Tracy

Photo by Bill Wadman.

The Bach Cello Suites are unavoidable: cellists from around the world grow up playing them, audiences revere them, and they keep finding their way into movies, TV shows, and pop culture. Even for cellists like new music superstar and Bang on A Can All-Star Ashley Bathgate, the Bach suites remain a staple of the repertoire, and after over 200 years they continue to inspire not just performers, but composers as well.

In fact, Bathgate recently commissioned the composers of the New York-based collective Sleeping Giant to write a Bach-inspired six movement suite for her newest album ASH, continuing the long-standing tradition of bringing Bach’s influence into the present day.

Bathgate gave Sleeping Giant composers Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein, and Andrew Norman rather simple instructions: take any inspiration you find from Bach’s music and write one movement each to form a collaborative suite. With movements from some of today’s most innovative and stylistically diverse composers, these simple instructions have resulted in a bold and imaginative new work.

The album begins with a contribution from Andrew Norman titled “For Ashley”: a fast-paced, upbeat introduction inspired by the repetitive arpeggiation of the Fourth Suite Prelude. Repeated staccato patterns morph and transform to include rhythmic variation, chords, and harmonics, resulting in a piece that is always in motion. Christopher Cerrone’s “On Being Wrong” takes us in a totally different direction: reverb and pre-recorded cello merge together with Bathgate’s live performance to create a layered and resonant piece including both driving rhythms and meditative, open harmonic passages.

Described by the composer as a “madcap gigue,” Timo Andres’ “Small Wonder” continues the suite with some more chaotic energy. Small, eclectic musical cells build on each other, Baroque dance rhythms continually surfacing along with cheeky quotes from Bach’s gigues. The fourth piece in the suite, Jacob Cooper’s “Ley Line,” takes similarly direct inspiration: a moment from the end of the Fifth Suite Prelude featuring an open string drone is stretched out and reimagined to be over ten minutes long. Bathgate’s playing becomes frantic and raspy as the harmonies grow more and more dissonant over the drone, making for a continuous sense of tension that rises and falls throughout.

Perhaps the most unique moment on the album comes in the form of Ted Hearne’s “DaVZ23BzMHo,” whose title references a Youtube video the piece samples. Hearne manipulates music from a 90s-era commercial into a wash of reverb and atmosphere, placing Bathgate’s resonant chords and harmonics on top. The hazy and slowed down music seems to have a mind of its own, stopping and starting to leave Bathgate alone in meditative silence or sliding unpredictably in and out of tune. The cello vies for attention over the chaotic backdrop, playing increasingly dissonant harmonies until the two come together again and Bathgate is left droning off into silence.

Robert Honstein’s “Orison” takes things in an even more atmospheric direction. Inspired by the resonance of the cello in huge cathedral spaces, Honstein’s piece is built around reverb, with each successive note playing a duet of sorts with the continued ringing of the previous ones. “Orison” is a Middle English word for prayer, and if Hearne’s piece was tenuously meditative, Honstein’s is calm and reflective: single tones and chords ring out in regular succession, leaving plenty of space in between to end the suite with the equivalent of a contemplative Sarabande.

While ASH is something of a showcase for Sleeping Giant, it’s Bathgate’s vibrant energy as a performer that unites the album and amplifies the composers’ voices. From Norman’s sharp rhythms to Hearne’s slow-motion dreamscapes and Honstein’s reverb-soaked sense of calm, Bathgate showcases an ability to adapt to any stylistic challenge and bring her own voice to the mix.

On ASH, the composers of Sleeping Giant draw wildly different inspiration from Bach’s music and filter these inspirations through their own distinctive styles, which is a testament to the diversity and lasting impact of Bach’s music. While each piece grew out of Bach’s Cello Suites, the pieces that make up this collaboration present a wide range of musical ideas and techniques that continue to explore, much as Bach did, the possibilities of the cello as a solo instrument.

John Lunn on Pop Music, Minimalism, and Composing for Downton Abbey

by Dacia Clay

The long-awaited Downton Abbey movie has just been released, as has its fantastic score by John Lunn. Lunn is the Emmy Award-winning composer of the soundtrack for the Downton Abbey TV show as well.

In this interview, he talks about his surprising musical roots in pop and minimalism, how you can hear those influences in the music for Downton, what it’s like to write for the show and the movie, and he even reveals (gasp!) a movie spoiler.

re·create percussion on Classical KING FM | Friday, Sept. 20, 8pm

by Peter Tracy

re·create percussion performs live on Classical KING FM 98.1 on Friday, Sept. 20 from 8-9pm PT. Click here to tune in from anywhere in the world.

re·create percussion is an ensemble on a mission. With mallets in hand, the duo serves up well-crafted and sparkling performances on marimba and vibraphone that range from reimagined classics to bold new compositions (and even a few pop arrangements).

You can find the duo, which consists of Rebekah Ko and Storm Benjamin, performing at a wide variety of new music events around the region, such as the recent Good Vibes Only concert in Washington Hall or with the Seattle-based Sound Ensemble. Whether as part of a larger ensemble or as a duo, re·create has been active in sharing their love of percussion music with their community and find ways to bring new listeners into the fold. Since their founding in 2017, the duo has brought energy, skill, and elegance to repertoire ranging from Steve Reich to Ed Sheeran.

This Friday at 8pm PT, we’re lucky to have the dynamic duo in the KING FM studios on NW Focus LIVE, where they’ll be treating us to a program featuring Ivan Trevino’s entrancing “2+1,” Anders Koppel’s lively Toccata for Vibraphone and Marimba, Ryan Elvert’s evocative “Ocean Dances” (written specifically for the duo), a reimagined Ed Sheeran classic, and an original re·create composition. Click here to tune in.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Cheating, Lying, Stealing’ by David Lang

by Maggie Molloy

“Ominous funk” is the expression marking at the beginning of David Lang’s score for Cheating, Lying, Stealing.

It’s an apt descriptor for a pulsing piece of post-minimalism that owes about as much to rock music as it does the classical tradition. The piece has an immediacy that’s hard to shake, and its infectious off-kilter groove is heightened by its unusual instrumentation: cello, bass clarinet, piano, marimba, and some triangles and car parts for percussion.

We’re thrilled to premiere our exclusive in-studio video of the piece, performed by an all-star cast of Seattle musicians: cellist Rose Bellini, clarinetist Rachel Yoder, pianist Brooks Tran, and percussionists Melanie Sehman, Storm Benjamin, and Kerry O’Brien.


For more performances by percussionists Melanie Sehman, Storm Benjamin, and Kerry O’Brien, check out Good Vibes Only this Friday, Aug. 30 at Washington Hall.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Saro’ by The Westerlies

by Maggie Molloy

The Westerlies. From left: Chloe Rowlands, Riley Mulherkar, Willem de Koch, Andy Clausen.

An old English ballad gets a brassy new spin in the Westerlies’ rendition of “Saro,” which borrows from an arrangement by Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon.

The tune, which dates back to the 18th century, is timeless in its bittersweet melody and melancholy lyrics⁠—the wrenching memory of a love just out of reach. Yet the Westerlies capture the tune’s heartache and spin it into hope without using any words at all, their radiant melodies and hymn-like harmonies telling a new tale of the poor man and his pretty Saro.

We’re thrilled to premiere our in-studio video of the Westerlies performing “Saro.”