ALBUM REVIEW: Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s ‘AEQUA’

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by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by Saga Sigurdardottir.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir treats each of her works as an ecosystem. Musical materials—motifs, harmonies, textures—are passed from performer to performer through her pieces, constantly developing and transforming. Like different species in an ecosystem, these elements sometimes coexist peacefully and sometimes compete or clash.

In her new album AEQUA, Thorvaldsdottir works with performers from the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) to create a variety of musical ecosystems of different sizes, featuring both large and small chamber ensembles. The album captures the beautiful chaos of the natural world, the individual voices evolving and intertwining across each piece.

AEQUA’s small ensemble works—“Spectra,” “Sequences,” “Reflections,” and “Fields”—are characterized by the integration of slow, lyrical string melodies into dense, unwieldy sound worlds. As the materials are passed around the ecosystem of instruments, the melodies—calm and plaintive—rise to prominence in some moments and at others descend into the eerie whirl of sound created by sustained, clashing harmonies, percussive bursts, and darker permutations of the melody itself.

There is a constant ebb and flow throughout the chamber works as the performers crescendo, then decrescendo, join in energetically all at once to form an intricate texture, then fade away to leave only a gentle melody or quiet sustained tone. This consistent pattern of rising and falling intensity gives a cyclic quality to the pieces, as though the musical ecosystem is transforming across life cycles and seasons.

The circle effect is also used in Thorvaldsdottir’s large ensemble works, “Aequilibria” and “Illumine.” Running chromatic motifs create wild spirals of sound, the cyclic rise and fall unfolding rapidly and with greater intensity. There are moments of calm when the chaotic texture gives way to lyrical melodies and gentle sustained tones, but forceful percussion and chromatic outbursts quickly interrupt the peace.

The album’s only solo piece, “Scrape,” performed by ICE pianist Cory Smythe, manages to capture this complex interplay of different species in an ecosystem with just one instrument. While the piece is largely situated in the lower register of the piano with heavy, thudding rhythms and a rich, dark timbre, there are clear, piercing runs in the higher register that interrupt and play off of the low sounds. Moments of silence are incorporated, building anticipation for the looming rise in intensity and playing into the cyclical nature of AEQUA.

In its own way, each piece on the album feels as though you’re walking through the forest or staring into the depths of the ocean, observing the peaceful and violent ways creatures and plants coexist. The complex interplay of melodies, harmonies, and rhythms as they develop—both working together and clashing—creates a kind of beauty that, like the natural world, is at times unsettling and overwhelming, but endlessly captivating.

Phil Kline’s ‘Unsilent Night’ Rings Twice this Season in Puget Sound

by Maggie Molloy

Whether you’re the world’s biggest Santa-fan, a grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, or even just an avant-garde enthusiast looking to expand your holiday music horizons, Phil Kline’s got just the carol for you—and you’ve got two chances to experience it this year in the Puget Sound region.

Kline’s Unsilent Night is a contemporary twist on holiday caroling that is celebrated annually around the globe. But don’t worry, there’s no singing involved. In true 21st century fashion, all you have to do is download an app.

This nontraditional holiday carol is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December. Audience members each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal Unsilent Night.

Countless participants meet up with boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers and each hit “play” at the same time. Then they walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture that is unlike any Christmas carol you have ever heard.


Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night takes place in Seattle this Friday, Dec. 14 starting at 6pm at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall. Click here for more information.

The Tacoma rendition is Friday, Dec. 21 starting at 6:30pm at Mason United Methodist Church. Click here for more information.

Duo Noire: Revolution Classical Style Now

by Dacia Clay

Christopher Mallett (left) and Thomas Flippin (right). Photo by John Rogers.

Duo Noire is made up of two dudes—Thomas Flippin and Christopher Mallett—but their new album is made up entirely of female composers’ music.

As the story goes, way back in 2015, before the #MeToo movement, Thomas’s wife, Rev. Vicki Flippin brought his attention to issues she was having at work. Around that same time, a major classical guitar society came out with their season announcement—and not a single woman on the program.

“I could not believe it,” Flippin said. “I guess you could say that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was just like, I can’t believe it’s 2015, Obama’s been elected, and someone green-lighted them playing this season of all men playing all male music.”

That’s when the idea for Duo Noire’s latest album, Night Triptych, was born. Not only did Flippin and Mallett, the first African-American guitarists to graduate from the Yale School of Music, commission works by exclusively women for their new album—they also made sure to include women from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Hear the rest of the album’s story, and the story of how the two former SoCal punk rock guitarists came to do what they do today.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Spirals’ by Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir

Nordic Affect (Left to right: Hanna Loftsdóttir, Guðrún Hrund Harðardóttir, Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, and Guðrún Óskarsdóttir.)  Photo by David Oldfield.

by Maggie Molloy

“Hér” is the Icelandic word for here. That idea of being present—of listening, of connecting here and now through music is at the heart of Nordic Affect’s new album He(a)r. Out now on Sono Luminus, the album is a collection of seven world premiere recordings penned by women composers and performed by women musicians.

He(a)r is an ode to hear, here, hér, and her,” writes Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, the ensemble’s artistic director and violinist. Wide-ranging sound worlds from Stefánsdóttir, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Mirjam Tally, and Hildur Guðnadóttir comprise the album, each offering a distinct perspective on the ways in which we hear and create sound—our individual voices and the ways in which they interact.

“Spirals,” one of two works contributed by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, circles around these themes and expands outward: dense chords, hazy melodies, and fragmented sounds from an old music box echo and grow into an immersive meditation on time itself.

We are thrilled to premiere a brand new video for Sigfúsdóttir’s composition “Spirals,” performed by Nordic Affect.


Nordic Affect’s He(a)r is out now on Sono Luminus. Click here to listen to the full album.

Feast Your Ears on New Music: Our November Concert Guide

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 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.”

November 2018 New Music Flyer

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: spatial explorations, dramatic incantations, sonic meditations, and a whole lot of drummers.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Creativity in Hard Times: The Federal Music Project of the 1930s
Pianist Leslie Amper presents a multimedia lecture-recital telling the story of President Roosevelt’s Arts Initiative. The performance includes images, historic recordings, and piano performances of music by William Grant Still, Ernest Bloch, Henry Cowell, Roger Sessions, Ruth Crawford, and Aaron Copland.
Thurs, 11/1, 7:30pm, UW Brechemin Auditorium | FREE

Seattle Modern Orchestra: The Invisible
The depths of the unknown are explored in this program of sobering works ranging from George Crumb’s Eleven Echoes of Autumn to Chinary Ung’s Still Life After Death. Music by Yigit Kolat and Rebecca Saunders complete the program.
Thurs, 11/1, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25

Pacific Northwest Ballet: All Premiere
Haunting sounds from Dustin Hamman, King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Ólafur Arnalds, and Nils Frahm form the basis of Silent Ghost, a new PNB premiere with choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo. It’s presented alongside performances featuring the music of Michael Giacchino, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert.
11/2-11/11, Various times, McCaw Hall | $37-$189

Hanna Benn. Photo by Mallory Talty.

Seattle Collaborative Orchestra: Sankofa
In the Twi language of Ghana, ‘Sankofa’ translates to “Go back and get it.” It’s also the title of Hanna Benn’s musical meditation on the ways in which our heritage shapes our future. Seattle Collaborative Orchestra performs the piece alongside world premieres by Northwest composers Julian Garvue and Makenna Carrico.
Fri, 11/2, 7:30pm, Roosevelt High School Theatre | $10-$20

Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir with the UW Symphony
Schelomo (Hebraic Rhapsody) was the final work in Ernest Bloch’s “Jewish Cycle,” a series of compositions exploring his musical and religious identity. The fiercely lyrical cello solo, performed here by Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, was envisioned as the incarnation of King Solomon, with the orchestra representing the world around him. Music of Hindemith and Brahms complete the program.
Fri, 11/2, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$15

Cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir.

Music of Remembrance: 20th Birthday Celebration
For the past two decades, Music of Remembrance has honored victims of the Holocaust through music. In this special anniversary performance, they are joined by guests from Spectrum Dance Theater and the Northwest Boy Choir for an evening of opera, dance, choral, and chamber works.
Sun, 11/4, 4pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $55

Cornish Presents: Gamelan Pacifica
The sacred echoes of gongs, chimes, and wide-ranging percussion make up the traditional gamelan ensembles of Indonesia. Gamelan Pacifica honors and expands upon that history with a unique blend of traditional and contemporary musical forms.
Sun, 11/4, 7pm, PONCHO Concert Hall | FREE

Bremerton Symphony Orchestra: From the Silver Screen
Sci-fi fans rejoice! This concert of classical music from the movies features a triad of pieces  from 2001: A Space Odyssey, including György Ligeti’s haunting Lux Aeterna, Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube, and the opening of Richard Strauss’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Plus, music from The Godfather, ET, and more!
Sat, 11/10, 7:30pm, Bremerton Performing Arts Center | $10-$28

Meany Center Presents: Brooklyn Rider
A string quartet for the 21st century, Brooklyn Rider explores the healing properties of music in this concert of brand commissions from four of today’s top composers (all of whom happen to be women): Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Matana Roberts, and Caroline Shaw.
Tues, 11/13, 7:30pm, Meany Hall | $40-$48

Brooklyn Rider.

Black Violin.

STG Presents: Black Violin
It’s not everyday you see a hip-hop duo playing classical instrumentsbut violinist Kev Marcus and violist Wil B. are redefining both genres. They bring their unique brand of “classical boom” to the Paramount Theatre.
Thurs, 11/15, 7:30pm, Paramount Theatre | $31-$61

Philharmonia Northwest: Seattle Sounds
The sounds of the Pacific Northwest take center stage in this concert of music by contemporary Seattle composers. Hear William Bolcom’s jazzy Seattle Slew Suite, Ken Benshoof’s lyrical Concerto for Cello and String Orchestra, and the world premiere of Sarah Bassingthwaighte’s enchanting Sleeping in the Forest.
Sun, 11/18, 2:30pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (Seattle) | $15-$20

UW Percussion Ensemble: Percussion Music as Revolution
The visceral energy and powerful sounds of percussion ensemble are on full display in the U.S. premiere of Yiheng Yvonne Wu’s Violent Tender, performed alongside Edgard Varèse’s groundbreaking Ionisation and Philip Schuessler’s The Glass Abattoir for speaking percussion ensemble, among other works.
Fri, 11/30, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10

Emerald City Music: The Daedalus Quartet
Beethoven’s infamous Kreutzer Sonata (and the dramatic tale behind it) form the basis of this concert exploring how the Kreutzer theme inspired future composers. String quartets by Leoš Janáček, Sergei Taneyev, and Tchaikovsky are performed alongside a quartet arrangement of Beethoven’s original Kreutzer Sonata.
Fri, 11/30, 8pm, 415 Westlake | $45

Second Inversion Spooktacular: 48-Hour Spooky Music Marathon

by Maggie Molloy

IT’S BACK FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE… Second Inversion’s annual 48-Hour Spooky Music Marathon!

Let us provide the soundtrack for your Halloween haunts! On October 30 and 31, tune in to Second Inversion for a 48-hour marathon of new and experimental music inspired by monsters, witches, ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.

Click here to tune in to the scream—er, stream of Halloween music from anywhere in the world, or tune in on the go using the free KING FM mobile appTo give you a sneak peek of the spooky music that’s in store, our Second Inversion skeleton crew shares our favorite selections from the Halloween playlist:

Vincent Raikhel: Cirques (New Focus Recordings)
Red Light New Music

As an avid hiker, I couldn’t resist Vincent Raikhel’s Cirques. A reflection of the glacial geological formations so often encountered in the Cascade Mountains, this piece immediately transported me to a faraway corner of the imposing mountain range in Seattle’s backyard. In the context of the Spooky Music Marathon, this piece made me think of the creeping claustrophobia that one might feel in a cirque, especially as the sun sets, as it does so quickly in the mountains. It’s curious, how something so open to the sky, so large and static, can suddenly feel as if it is closing in on you in the waning light… – Seth Tompkins


Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire (Hungaroton Records)
Erika Sziklay, soprano; 
András Mihály, conductor; Budapest Chamber Ensemble

It just wouldn’t be a Halloween marathon without a spooky clown—and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is nothing if not haunting. A masterpiece of melodrama, the 35-minute work tells the chilling tale of a moonstruck clown and his descent into madness (a powerful metaphor for the modern alienated artist). The spooky story comes alive through three groups of seven poems (a result of Schoenberg’s peculiar obsession with numerology), each one recited using Sprechstimme: an expressionist vocal technique that hovers eerily between song and speech. Combine this with Schoenberg’s free atonality and macabre storytelling, and it’s enough to transport you to into an intoxicating moonlight. – Maggie Molloy


Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury (Innova Recordings)

Likely written as an attempt to reconcile his own anger, Harry Partch’s stage play Delusion of the Fury is (superficially, at least) well-suited to Halloween. Containing killing, a ghost, body horror, futility, and absurdism, this piece not only touches on the more classic campy elements of spookiness, but is oriented around some of the darker elements of horror—existentialism, futility, and powerlessness to name a few. Plus, for my money, few musical things conjure the uneasy feelings associated with horror and dread like microtonal scales. – Seth Tompkins


Bernard Herrmann: Psycho Suite (Stylotone Records)

This piece is so timelessly cool and undeniably scary. Like John Williams’ Star Wars score borrowed the dark side of the Force from the dojo-dominating “Mars, the Bringer of War” in Holst’s The Planets, Herrmann borrows the creepy suspenseful stringiness of Norman Bates from the dancing skeletons in Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre (and maybe from Mussorgsky’s Bald Mountain witches).

I’m a sucker for a good film score. That blend of music and movie can be so powerful. Consider the fact that thousands of people were scared to take a shower after Psycho—and that’s in large part because of Herrmann’s music. I love, too, that Hitchcock gave Herrmann license to do as he pleased with the score—except for the shower scene, for which Hitchcock asked Herrmann to write no music. Herrmann nodded and smiled at the director, and then did as he pleased instead. Thanks to Herrmann’s creative insubordination, we have one of the most iconic, cover-your-eyes scenes in film history. – Dacia Clay

Joep Beving’s Philosophy of Music

by Gabriela Tedeschi

Photo by © Rahi Rezvani, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon.

Solipsism refers to the philosophical idea that only the individual’s mind exists because nothing outside of it—others’ minds or the world—can truly be known. In other words, solipsism holds that there is no universal reality.

Dutch pianist and composer Joep Beving disagrees—his debut album Solipsism is meant more as a challenge to that philosophy than a statement in support of it. The up-and-coming artist, who has gained international acclaim through Solipsism, two follow-up albums, and several singles, uses music to challenge the notion that no shared reality exists. By distilling music to its aesthetic essence, Beving strives to create a universal language, something that disproves solipsism and speaks to everyone.

This week, Seattleites have the chance to experience Beving’s universal musical reality. Beving is performing pieces from his anti-solipsist solo piano albums in the Nordstrom Recital Hall in Benaroya Hall on Friday, Oct. 26 at 8pm.

But it’s not just about allowing audiences to experience a universal reality; it’s also about improving the way we experience the world outside of the concert hall. Beving believes in using his universal language as a way to provide comfort and solace in a chaotic world. Though generally soft and slow, there’s a gentle, rhythmic flow to his music that makes it majestic in an understated way. The warmth of his harmonies portray an underlying sense of hope even while the pieces traverse haunting, melancholy paths.

Beving’s music also stands out because of his gentle touch on the keys. After his grandmother’s death in 2009, he inherited her German piano and discovered that it required a lighter touch, ultimately leading him to adopt a more tender, classical style of playing. By working with a smaller range of dynamics and articulations, Beving is able to make a dramatic impact with the slightest changes in touch.

Though Beving’s music is dark and ruminative, its underlying tenderness leaves you with a sense of inner peace. You’ll leave the concert hall with a newfound connection to those around you, too, knowing that you’ve felt the same things and experienced the same reality.

Find out more about Beving’s musical philosophy in our interview below.

Second Inversion: In your work, music is the universal form of communication. How did you develop this philosophy as a composer?

Joep Beving: When I started to write music behind my piano at home, it was at a time that I myself was feeling more and more alienated from the people around me and the reality we live in. I lost track of the human scale of things and everything seemed to be more and more grotesque and unreal. The piano helped me to look for something essential, something to find trust and comfort in.

I stripped down the music to a very minimalist essence, to the point that it started to affect me. I had a hope that the music would resonate with people in general, and for this I strived to capture beauty in the hopeful belief that there is some form of universal truth in there. My only indicator of coming close to this were my own goosebumps, and I remember seeing it as an experiment in communication in the sense that if there was some sort of absolute aesthetic it could mean that my goosebumps should be yours too.

With music you can make a very personal connection to people you don’t know; they will find some form of recognition in the music and this creates a connection—a human connection that I feel is so needed in these times.

SI: You’ve mentioned that inheriting a German piano from your grandmother has influenced your style, leading you to adopt a more classical approach. How would you describe the way your music and playing have evolved over time?

JB: In my younger years I played a bit of jazz and the struggle was always to play as many notes as possible. I was very impatient and my technical skills didn’t allow for me to play what I was hearing in my head. When I grew older I started to dislike the way I was (trying) to play and looked at other ways to improvise, getting inspired by minimalists and pianists like Keith Jarrett who would create these magnificent atmospheres and tell what I experienced as more profound stories. I didn’t play that much piano but when I did, I looked for these type of stories.

It was only four years ago that all of sudden almost from one day to another my playing style turned into what it is now, and a lot of that has to do with the sound of my grandmother’s piano. It is the space between the notes played that contains the most magic, and with this instrument this empty space sounded so good that I didn’t want to contaminate it with too many notes.

SI: Your music can be mournful and haunting, but it also strives to be a soothing antidote to a chaotic world. Do sad and soothing work together easily or is it difficult to strike a balance?

JB: Absolutely. I believe that melancholy is like the default human condition or emotion. There is the element of sadness about the unfairness of life and many other things, but there’s also the hope that today or one day it will be better. Making music to that basic emotion feels honest and truthful or perhaps soothing, since it so well reflects how we really feel deep down. Music has the power to communicate on a level beyond the rational and establish this connection on a deeper level of understanding; it reminds us that we all more or less feel the same as humans.


Joep Beving is performing this Friday, Oct. 26 at 8pm at Nordstrom Recital Hall. For tickets and more information, click here.