ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Dublin Guitar Quartet Performs Philip Glass

by Rachele Hales


Riddle me this: how is it possible that a woman who doesn’t enjoy minimalist music can fall so hard for Philip Glass?  You’ll find the answer in the forty nimble fingers of the Dublin Guitar Quartet.  They’ve taken the music of Glass, transcribed it for guitar (a feat in and of itself – even Glass has never dared to try), and from minimalist compositions created such richness of sound that at times I forgot I was listening to only four instruments.  What pours out of their guitars sounds near-orchestral.  This depth is due in no small part to masterful audio engineering that offers each plucking string a crispness that allows you to really appreciate how flawlessly in unison these artists are.

The album is replete with technical perfection, but my favorite moments are the pockets of sweet, gentle, understated pieces like “String Quartet #5 – Mvt. 1” that make you feel young again.  Like, really young.  Like you are a sleepy child being lulled to slumber by the sweetness of your mother whisper-singing in your ear except her voice is like a quiet harp.  The piece practically glows!  It’s beautiful.

Even the moments of wild strumming, like in “String Quartet #2 – Company Mvt II,” have a distinct delicate and lyrical quality.  It’s easy to forget you’re listening to four guitars and not one.

Each selection on this disc was transcribed with care, played tightly, and packed with emotion.  It’s a true celebration of the composer and perfectly highlights the immense skill of the performers.  How does a chamber group manage to make four guitars sound simultaneously orchestral and singular?  Clearly there is magic in the hills of Ireland.

Want this album to be yours?  Hop on over to iTunes.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Orchestra Underground: Tech & Techno

by Maggie Stapleton

Founded back in 1977, the NYC-based American Composers Orchestra is dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers by way of concerts, commissions, recordings, educational programs, and new music reading sessions.  With an esteemed leadership of Derek Bermel, Artistic Director; George Manahan, Music Director; Dennis Russell Davies, Conductor Laureate; and Robert Beaser, Artistic Advisor Laureate this organization is in amazing hands.

Orchestra Underground: Tech & Techno is the fifth digital album from ACO.   Each piece was commissioned or premiered by ACO for Orchestra Underground, “a series stretching the definition of, and possibilities for the orchestra.  The series challenges conventional notions about symphonic music, embracing multidisciplinary and collaborative work, novel instrumental and spatial orientations of musicians, new technologies and multimedia.”  Orchestra Underground just celebrated its 10th anniversary season in 2013-14 and what better way to celebrate than with this collection of live recordings by Mason Bates, Edmund Campion, Anna Clyne, Justin Messina, and Neil Rolnick.

This release busts out of the gate with Edmund Campion’s Practice, a full-blasted introduction of orchestral forces, cresting and blending seamlessly into an electronic, computer generated outro in Campion’s cheeky musical response to the age-old question, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” Appropriate, seeing as most of the music on this album was recorded in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall which seeks to host the latest contemporary sounds from classical, pop, jazz, and world music artists.

Like all of the music on this CD, the fusion of traditional orchestral instruments with electronic forces is brilliantly executed in Justin Messina’s Abandon.  This work is played to an electronic soundtrack Detroit techno from the early ‘90s during which they experienced a musical rebirth in the underground clubs.

Tender Hooks, by Anna Clyne features a pair of laptops operated by Jeremy Flower and Joshue Ott, which transmit and receive live data from the orchestra.  Each element of this recording combines standard notation, written instructions and graphic representation.  It also pays homage to one of the earliest electronic instruments, the Theremin!

Neil Rolnick collaborates with violinist Todd Reynolds, to present their instrument creation, the iFiddle.  As Rolnick puts it this is “not just a concerto for violin, but a concerto for a cyborg violin that has been intimately joined to a computer.”  This union definitely displays both elements of a traditional violin, and yes, I think cyborg describes it best.  This piece is strikingly accessible, with catchy violin melodies throughout.

The opening of Omnivorous Furniture by Mason Bates has the feel of “do your best robot dance,” inspired by down-tempo electronic music which soon leads way to full on dance party/funkadelic triptastic.  Mason Bates uses computer and drum pad with the orchestra in this work heavily influenced with British hip-hop.

If you’re looking for a gateway into electronically inspired orchestral music, this is a great disc!  If you’d like to purchase the collection, you can visit iTunes, Amazon, or the American Composers Orchestra.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Richard Reed Parry’s “Music for Heart and Breath”

by Maggie Stapleton


As a gigantic Arcade Fire fan, my heart grew 10 sizes when I found out about Richard Reed Parry’s Music for Heart and Breath, an album of original compositions.  When I actually heard the music and learned about the inspiration for the pieces, I was knocked over like I haven’t been in the longest time.

The musical conceptualization of this album comes from the heart – literally.  Each of the six pieces requires involuntarily moving organs of the body to dictate the tempi and rhythms.   How, you may wonder, does one determine those speeds?

Paging Doctor Beat.  We’ll need your stethoscopes.

Each musician is instructed to play with a stethoscope (and consequently, at a soft dynamic level) in order to be exactly in sync with his or her own heartbeat.  The variety in ebb and flow between the players’ pulses creates a pointillistic effect – in many instances on the album is like that of a relaxing rainfall – that will undoubtedly never sound exactly the same in two different instances.

In fact, the nature of the performance situation can impart serious variation on the length of the piece.  Rehearsals take significantly more time than performances.  “Interruptions,” took 25 minutes to rehearse the first time, and only 19 minutes to perform.  Thanks, adrenaline!

The album journeys between instrumentation varieties and sizes and features an all-star cast of musicians: yMusic, Kronos Quartet, Nico Muhly, Nadia Sirota, and Bryce & Aaron Dessner.  The smallest group is a duet; the largest a 14-member chamber orchestra, with sizes in between to keep depth of sound and dynamic range at varying levels.

(music streaming for this album is no longer available)

While Parry doesn’t have formal training in classical music, he comes from a family of musicians and  enjoys music from Machaut to Debussy to Ligety to Reich.  Influences from all of those composers are hinted at here and there throughout the disc.  Parry presents himself as an extremely well-rounded musician and a revolutionary way of conceiving time and imparting creative innovation into the realm of music performed on orchestral instruments.

I think Parry sums it up best with this lovely phrase, “I think there’s something quite beautiful about the idea of trying to literally play your heart out.”

You can purchase this album at Deutsche GrammaphonAmazon, or iTunes.



by Maggie Stapleton

We’ve written about the Seattle-born/NYC-based brass quartet The Westerlies before in our first ever video premiere feature.  Now we have a spotlight on their May release of Wayne Horvitz’ music – Wish the Children Would Come On Home, for which their Official CD Release Party is Friday, August 8 at the Royal Room.

So, why Wayne Horvitz?  (Why NOT Wayne Horvitz is really a better question, but…) Andy, Willem, Zubin, and Riley are long acquainted with Wayne as a teacher, mentor, and friend from their growing up in Seattle, but Horvitz actually approached THEM about doing the album in early 2013.  He recognizes all of the musicians as “technically excellent, theoretically sophisticated, mature beyond their years, astute, perceptive, and self-aware.”

Jazzy sonorities and harmonies combined with a composed structure give this album that quality of “it has a little something for everyone” – the Westerlies chose a broad range of Horvitz’ music to arrange and record, including jazz tunes, film music, and classical chamber pieces.  Now, none of these pieces were originally composed for brass, so the Westerlies had the extra task of doing the arrangements.  Horvitz praises the fact that “they sound like a band, not a brass ensemble” despite “the way they have manufactured a kind of limitation, simply by creating a quartet with 2 trumpets and 2 trombones.  Within all the bounty of their collective backgrounds, they have created a band that is a real hassle!  No rhythm sections, no chordal instruments, and music that is sometimes fiendishly difficult.”  I couldn’t agree more.  The textures and sounds created sound like much more than the sum of its parts (which are all great!).

The music on this album ranges from sultry (Please Keep That Train Away From My Door), lulling (Waltz from Woman of Tokyo), bombastic (The Band With Muddy), nostalgic (Triads totally has a Renaissance quality to my ears), goofy/playful (The Barbershop), free and experimental (Interludes), and smoky (The Store, The Campfire).

Keep an ear out for Andy, Willem, Zubin, and Riley’s voices on the Second Inversion stream!  As we incorporate this disc into our programming, you’re likely to hear one of them introduce the tracks on this album.  In the meantime, mark your calendar for the show nearest you on their WA, OR, and CA tour.

You can purchase Wish The Children Would Come On Home at The Westerlies’ Store.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Howard Hersh’s “Angels and Watermarks”


by Seth Tompkins

Angels and Watermarks, a new release from Snow Leopard Music, features music of Californian composer Howard Hersh.  California-based pianist Brenda Tom performs on all three pieces on this CD, two of which are for solo keyboard.  This disc contains a delightful mix of musical styles set in the broad and colorful world of Hersh’s own modern musical language.



The final piece on the disc, Dream, for solo piano, was written as the composer was “exploring ways of incorporating tonal harmony.” Recalling, at times, some of the lighter music of Arvo Pärt, this piece unfolds slowly and delicately, repeating simple melodic lines in a manner consistent with its title.  The overall effect is one of relaxation, but not without struggle.  Resolution finally comes after the seven-minute mark, with the surprising introduction of a powerful bass note.  This is the first point in the piece when low sounds of any heft are used; it is the only moment when the piece feels at all grounded.  It is a brief moment, but quite satisfying and appropriate in the context of this largely ethereal solo.  On this track, pianist Brenda Tom’s reserve and patience are laudable.  She does not rush the development of this piece, but allows it to grow at the measured, steady pace that this type of music requires in order to be effective.

The preceding piece, Angels and Watermarks, showcases a completely different type of performance from Tom.  Here, she wholeheartedly digs into multi-faceted music that displays the harpsichord in many different lights.

In Angels and Watermarks, for solo harpsichord, Hersh has built a suite that not only fulfills its goal of displaying the harpsichord’s “historical voice,” but that also takes the instrument into relatively new places, all of which work equally well.  The title adds depth to this sonic exploration; it is taken from the title of an essay by painter Henry Miller, in which Miller describes his attempt to create authentic and personal art while inescapably conscious of the work of the generations of artists that came before.  This connection seems appropriate for a suite that clearly references past sounds while branching out in new directions.

The outer movements of Angels are the most referential to classical harpsichord styles, complete with comfortably familiar (but slightly tedious) filigree straight out of the 17th century.  Despite this traditional styling, the modern harmonies in these movements keep them interesting.  The second movement is a romping perpetuum mobile that, among other devices, uses a variety of meters and cluster chords to keep listeners on their toes.  The middle movement is perhaps the most challenging of the suite, containing the widest variety of sounds from disparate genres.  Here live ghosts of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, 20th century minimalism, impressionism, and ragtime, along with a healthy dose of ancient sounds that showcase the almost lyre-like qualities of the harpsichord.  Despite the mash-up, pianist Brenda Tom blends the styles beautifully.  The fourth movement, designed to recall the toccata, is also particularly enjoyable.  Continuing in the style-blending footsteps of the third, it includes, along with a healthy dose of straight-forward and exuberant chromaticism, a good deal of blues and an apparent (and charming) recurring reference to Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la TurkAngels and Watermarks is successful in that it seamlessly blends harpsichord sounds, both old and new, in a pleasingly contiguous way.  Hersh manages to transcend the unmistakable sound of the harpsichord in service of good music, an impressive feat.

The leading piece on this disc, Hersh’s Concerto for Piano and Ten Instruments is the collection’s best example of the full spectrum of Hersh’s original musical language.  As in the other two pieces, some genre-specific sounds (tango, swing, and bossa nova, mostly) do appear occasionally, but overall, the language here seems original and modern.   When it comes to the accompanying ensemble, Hersh has chosen the instruments well; he manages to draw an impressively wide spectrum of colors from the mid-sized ensemble.  Of particular note is the broad array in which the solo piano interacts with the ensemble; some passages are purely piano or purely ensemble, but are also a myriad colors in between in which the piano plays every role that could be expected, from melodic leader to supporting player.  Brenda Tom, as in Angels, again moves effortlessly between styles and characters, further deepening the already engaging music of the Concerto.

One of the more enjoyable characteristics about the Concerto is the light and airy quality of many of Hersh’s melodies; they manage to feel free and easy without lacking substance.  The tact of conductor Barbara Day Turner and the ensemble is notable here; such smoothness would not be possible without their adept support.  Percussionist Patti Niemi, in particular, executes Hersh’s perfectly balanced percussion parts with exceptional grace and reservation.

You can purchase this album on:
AmazoniTunes, or Arkiv Music