STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, December 23 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!

Andrew Norman: Mine, Mime, Meme (Cedille Records)


For some reason, I personally find this new work by Andrew Norman for Eighth Blackbird one of his most interesting and accessible works, though it must be one of the least complex. What initially grabs the ear about this piece at its beginning is not some bizarre sound or new technique, but the use of silence. Most of the work is distilled down to a single technique, an improvisatory-sounding musical round with the cello as the leading voice and the rest of the chamber ensemble closely following suit. After an explosion of confusion in the middle, the hierarchy is shattered. Norman says it was inspired by an interactive installation by the art and technology collective Random International called Audience, where a field of small mirrored machines rotates to follow the movements of a viewer. It’s music that has an enjoyable straightforwardness to it, still fun after repeat listening.

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11am hour today to hear this piece.

Veroníque Vaka: Hvönn (Moderna Records)


“Hvönn” translates to “Angelica” in English, but that is neither here nor there.  What I am concerned with is the suitability of this music for this introspective time of the year.  Treat yourself to some time alone with your thoughts (if you can find some!), and maybe augment that contemplation with Hvönn, or even the entirety of the album from which it comes. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.

The Beatles (arr. Christoph Bull): “A Day in the Life” (C Bull Run Music)


In this day and age, there is no shortage of substandard Beatles cover bands—but every once in a blue moon, a musician comes along who really adds something to the classic Beatles sound; a musician who truly puts their own unique stamp on 1960s rock ‘n’ roll.

Organist Christoph Bull is one of those musicians. He’s made a living performing everything from classical Bach to rock ‘n’ roll renditions of Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, and more. But his arrangement of the Beatles’ 1967 newspaper ballad “A Day in the Life” is probably the pinnacle (at least for an unapologetically 60s-obsessed flower child like me).

Performed on the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s architectural masterpiece of an organ, Bull’s version keeps Macartney and Lennon’s vocals but expands the verses and heightens the drama with a haunting organ accompaniment. His fingers dance through a surrealist dreamscape, the colors bursting and blossoming, building and thrilling until the very last note.

And don’t worry, that infamous final chord certainly does not disappoint. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.

REVIEW: Trance Frendz by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm

by Maggie Molloy


Some people like to go out on Friday nights. Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm like to stay in and make music.

Though both are prominent composers, pianists, producers, and performers in the new music world, they prefer to spend their evenings off creating, well, even more music. I guess you could say they’re more than just musical collaborators—they’re best friends. Or rather, best “frendz.”

“Trance Frendz” is the title of the pair’s newest set (the term “album” is firmly rejected by both Frahm and Arnalds), which features music from an evening of improvisation at Berlin’s Durton Studio. It began as a video session of the two performing an improvised duo, in promotion of a different album titled “Collaborative Works: An Evening with Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm.”

But instead of ending the session after the first take, the two continued to improvise throughout the night, ending up with a number of new pieces written and recorded on the fly, with no overdubs and no edits.

What started as a short promo video quickly turned into a 45-minute studio film titled “Trance Frendz,” and the music was included as a second disc in their “Collaborative Works” album.

And now, “Trance Frendz” has officially been released as its own separate CD and vinyl.

Each piece in the set is named after the time in the night when it emerged, with the mood clearly modulating throughout the hours. And yet, the pieces all blur together, unified by the relaxed mood, organic movement, striking intimacy, and genuine honesty behind each one.

“We meet because we’re buddies and we’ve known each other for a long time,” Frahm said in an interview with the Boiler Room. “We eat pizza, drink some beers, stay up way too long and try new things for fun. Everything that we put out is basically just a byproduct of us spending time together and geeking out on music.”

The improvisations are slow-moving and patient, at first led primarily by twinkling piano melodies. But as the night wears on, the delicate piano motives gradually expand to feature growling organ basslines, rumbling drones, and some serious synth.

As the pair continues wandering into the early hours of the morning, the shimmering hum of the piano returns to the forefront with a series of whimsical music-box-worthy melodies, complimented by sweet, subtle vocal humming atop the creaking of antique piano lids and tape recorders. The set comes to a close with soft, hazy piano melodies sparkling amidst a nocturnal calm.

“This music is not the most catchy, not the most hit-you-in-the-face festival-kicking song of the year, or a declaration of: ‘Look at me. Watch how great I am,’” Frahm said. “It unfolds over time, is a little more rich—and I like that kind of humbleness about it.”

It’s the perfect soundtrack for a quiet night in with a friend—charming, sincere, organic, and ambient.

“Ultimately, the fun is in there,” Arnalds said. “The video is a testament to that. It’s in those sessions, in the recordings, and in our friendship.”


by Seth Tompkins

Robert Sirota and Victoria Sirota_by Michael Falco for New York Times

Robert Sirota’s music seems ultimately conscious.  The variety of sounds he manages to draw from the organ is staggering.  On Celestial Wind, a new album from Albany Records, this crazily expansive palette is combined with clear musical polyglottism; the overall effect leaves the listener with a sense of limitless possibility.  The music on this release stretches from the playful, mischievous, and profane to the somber, introspective, and sacred.

One instance of the composer’s understanding of the organ is his clear awareness of the qualities of traditional organ music.  He resurrects and references harmonies of the past at several points on this disc.  However, these moments of time travel occur without any derision toward their traditional sounds in the service of a rigid modernism.  On the contrary, these moments are deftly woven into the arcs of their pieces, stitched together with the rest Sirota’s omniscient musical lexicon.  A standout example of this is the final two movements of Letters Abroad, which begins with a glorious homage to Fanny Mendelssohn.  This track alone includes a satisfyingly multifaceted set of sounds that wryly flows from the congenial, charming, and victorious to the anxious and haunting before finally moving to a delicate, peaceful intimacy.

Robert Sirota’s mastery of the possibilities allowed by the organ would not be possible without his 45-year “collaboration” with his wife, who is the performer on this release.  Organist Victoria Sirota, who is also an author and an Episcopal priest, among other things, deftly executes Robert’s music.  She plays with an evident mastery and flexibility that obviously both inspired this music’s composition and made its realization possible.  This is especially evident in the opening piece, Toccata, which Robert Sirota himself notes is his “most difficult organ piece.”

Easter Canticles, Two Lenten Chorale Preludes, and Celestial Wind are the three sacred pieces on this release.  Musically, however, these three pieces differ dramatically.  Two of the pieces have concrete sacred sources; the chorale preludes are based on pre-1800 sacred music, and Celestial Wind is inspired by a passage from the Book of Acts.  Despite this similarity in source material, these two pieces differ dramatically; Celestial Wind is the more progressive of the two.  The other sacred piece, Easter Canticles, which also includes a solo cello part (touchingly performed by Norman Fischer), is not based on a specific musical or textual source, but rather, inspired by the story of the Passion of Christ.  Interestingly, Victoria Sirota cites this as “the most religious piece” on the album.

Lest this release seem to be all gravity and reverence, do not overlook the Four Pieces for Organ.  They are just plain fun!  Written as a show piece, these short romps explore Klangfarbenmelodie in the tradition of Schoenberg and Webern, splitting lines across the vast array of voices available on the organ.  Although that idea may seem esoteric, any concerns will quickly dissipate in the face of the Sirotas’ playfulness.  These pieces show that Robert Sirota’s global understanding of the organ is certainly not limited to the serious.