2017 New Music Grammy Nominees

Extra! Extra! The 2017 Grammy nominees have been announced and we’re here to celebrate the discs that have been featured as our Album of the Week or in regular rotation on our 24/7 stream. Congratulations to all of the nominees!

2016 Second Inversion Albums of the Week

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Steve Reich — Third Coast Percussion (Cedille)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 15-19

51moxudgtlIn their new album, the quartet surveys the composer’s works for percussion over a four-decade span, beginning with the most recent: his three-movement Mallet Quartet. Composed in 2009, the work is scored for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas. Third Coast Percussion twirls effortlessly through the circling motives and interlocking canons of the two outer movements, transitioning seamlessly both in and out of the central slow movement. A stark musical contrast between the thinly textured, almost transparent middle movement against the persistent pulse of the outer two brings color and narrative to the piece. – Maggie Molloy

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Serious Business — Spektral Quartet (Sono Luminus)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 8-12

dsl-92198-coverSpektral’s new album, titled “Serious Business,” is anything but serious. The album comprises four different perspectives on humor through the lens of classical music, featuring three new works by living composers and one classic from that late, great father of the string quartet, Joseph Haydn.

But don’t let the lighthearted humor fool you—these guys are no classical music newbies. Comprised of violinists Clara Lyon and Austin Wulliman, violist Doyle Armbrust, and cellist Russell Rolen, the Spektral Quartet performs music from across the classical music spectrum. The group is committed to creating connections across the centuries and providing a discourse between the traditional classical canon and the, well, not-so-traditional contemporary classical canon. – Maggie Molloy

Best Music Film

The Music Of Strangers — Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble (Sony)
Second Inversion Album of the Week July 25-29 (companion album to the film)

Sing Me HomeWe need music now more than ever—not as a distraction or an escape, but as a gateway toward experiencing our shared humanity. We need music to open our hearts, our ears, and our minds. We need music to connect us in ways which transcend language, religion, tradition, and geography.

That’s the idea behind Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a global music collective comprised of performers and composers from over 20 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. – Maggie Molloy

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Real Enemies — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (New Amsterdam)
Second Inversion’s Album of the Week October 10-14

a2976727568_16Whether you’re a conspiracy theory junkie or a sideline skeptic, even the most patriotic of us loves a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Whether it’s the Watergate scandal or the inner-workings of the Illuminati, alien sightings or the mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, we just can’t help but turn up our ears when we hear a juicy top-secret scheme.

And since we’re already listening, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue decided to take our eavesdropping ears to the next level: his new album Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration into America’s unshakable fascination with conspiracy theories. Performed with his 18-piece big band Secret Society and released on New Amsterdam Records, the album traverses the full range of postwar paranoia, from the Red Scare to the surveillance state, mind control to fake moon landings, COINTELPRO to the CIA-contra cocaine trafficking ring—and everything in between. – Maggie Molloy

2016 albums in rotation on Second Inversion’s 24/7 stream

Best Surround Sound Album & Best Engineered Album, Classical

Dutilleux: Sur La Mêe Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) (Seattle Symphony Media)


Best Contemporary Classical Composition

Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) (VBI Classic Recordings)


ALBUM REVIEW: Seattle Symphony “Dutilleux”

by Maggie Molloy

855404005072_SSM1007_Dutilleux_iTunesThe Seattle Symphony is no stranger to contemporary classical—earlier this year they earned a Grammy Award for their breathtaking recording of John Luther Adams’ innovative masterpiece “Become Ocean.” Over the years they have garnered international acclaim for their innovative programming, commissioning of new works, and extensive recording history—and they’re certainly not slowing down anytime soon.

The Seattle Symphony’s latest contemporary classical endeavor is a three-disc, multi-year recording project of all the orchestral works by the late French composer Henri Dutilleux. This August, they are releasing Volume 2 of “Dutilleux,” featuring a studio recording of the violin concerto “L’arbre des songes” (“The Tree of Dreams”) with violinist Augustin Hadelich and gorgeous live performances of “Métaboles” and Symphony No. 2 (“Le double”).

Under the directorship of French conductor Ludovic Morlot, the Symphony brings passionate virtuosity and drama to Dutilleux’s vividly colorful orchestration. In fact, Dutilleux’s refined ear for aural color and texture has led many to characterize him as the principal heir of Debussy and Ravel in the line of influential French composers. His music extends the legacy of these earlier composers while also adding a little more bite; his music’s rhythmic verve, dramatic urgency, and unapologetically frequent use of dissonance show clear ties to Bartók and Stravinsky.

But like the Impressionists, Dutilleux was also very inspired nature. His five-movement “Métaboles,” written in 1964, takes its title from the Greek metabolos, meaning “changeable.” Dutilleux cited the primary inspiration for the piece being the constant flux and ceaseless flow of nature—the ongoing transformations and metamorphoses of organic life.

The piece unfolds in five connected movements which musically imitate these evolutions. Each of the first four movements features a different family of instruments—woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion—allowing the Symphony to fully showcase its incredible breadth of musical talent. From the straining sonorities of the first movement to the sweet lyricism of the second, from the jazzy brass of the third to the pointillist palpitations of the fourth, the Symphony passes through each transformation seamlessly. The wildly chaotic fifth movement brings the entire orchestra back together in a bold and thunderous finale.

Next on the album is Dutilleux’s 1985 violin concerto “L’arbre des songes” (“The Tree of Dreams”) featuring violinist Augustin Hadelich. Dutilleux strays from the typical three-movement concerto form, instead opting for four movements connected by three interludes. Hadelich flies furiously up and down the fingerboard through each of the four distinct movements, showcasing his stunning technique and beautiful tone.

The first movement is rich with gorgeous, long-breathed melodies that shoot straight up into the stratosphere. The second movement skitters and jitters across restless rhythms before transitioning to the wistful and rhapsodic dream that is the third movement. The piece ends with a wildly theatrical fourth movement that showcases Dutilleux’s brilliant orchestration and bold style. Each of the wide-ranging movements are connected by strikingly imaginative interludes—listen for the third, in which Dutilleux actually composed an episode that is meant to sound as if the orchestra is tuning and warming up!

“All in all,” Dutilleux wrote in a preface to his score, “the piece grows somewhat like a tree, for the constant multiplication and renewal of its branches is the lyrical essence of the tree.”

Evolution is a key theme of Dutilleux’s “Le double” symphony as well. He strayed from the standard symphonic procedure of juxtaposing musical themes, instead creating his symphony from the variation and transformation of short musical ideas. He also made innovative use of the orchestral timbres: within the full ensemble he created a smaller group of 12 instruments—oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, timpani, harpsichord, celesta, two violins, viola, and cello—creating in a sense two orchestras, hence the title “Le double.”

Written in 1959, the piece is reminiscent of a modern-day concerto grosso, but unlike the traditionally Baroque form, in “Le double” the smaller ensemble acts as a mirror or ghost of the larger one, creating a fascinatingly complex and richly textured musical panorama.

“I endeavored to avoid the stumbling block of the somewhat archaic form,” Dutilleux said. “The 12 musicians of the smaller orchestra considered separately do not constantly play the role of soloists; it is the mass they form that constitutes the solo element. This mass does not merely confront and dialogue with the larger formation, but at times fuses with, or superimposes itself upon the latter, leaving ample opportunity for polyrhyhthmics and polytonality.”

The Seattle Symphony dances with precision and grace through the dense textures and intertwined solos of the first movement, the delicately colored timbres and haunting lyricism of the second, and finally the convulsive rhythms and fascinating orchestration of the third. The piece ends with a deeply contrasting passage of slowly changing sonorities which spread up and down the orchestra’s pitch range before settling into a serene silence.

And after the full album’s 75 minutes of mesmerizing harmonies, remarkably complex rhythms, and brilliantly colored orchestral textures, that silence sounds beautifully crafted.