STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, December 8 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

John Luther Adams: Among Red Mountains (Cantaloupe Music)
Lisa Moore, piano

I love Christmas music. I really do. However, that is not to say that I can make it through the whole holiday season without some sort of respite from the unrelenting positivity parade that is Christmas music. That’s where music like John Luther Adams’s Among Red Mountains comes in. This blocky, atmospheric piece reminds me of the amorality and complexity of outdoor spaces that exist a million miles from the sometimes-suffocating saccharine sparkles of the holiday season.
– Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Mohammed Fairouz: Jebel Lebnan (Naxos Records)
Imani Winds

Jebel Lebnan is one of my favorite woodwind quintets written in the last 50 years. Few works for wind quintet approach it in seriousness of tone, making it a very welcome addition to a chamber music genre that is full of a lot of bright and cheerful music.

Mohammed Fairouz was born in the United States in 1985, and his music reflects an informed view of the cultures and political forces of his Arabic heritage. The quintet’s title means “Mount Lebanon,” and the piece chronicles events in the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, starting with the stark Bashir’s March, marked “intense and relentless with no compassion or tenderness.” An interlude features the solo flute in a plaintive, far-off Arabic melody, and then we experience the funereal Ariel’s Song followed by a sort of spring-like reawakening and a finale invoking the Lebanese patron saint Mar Charbel. Powerful emotions abound throughout, making it a must-listen for those looking to discover new perspectives in the unique woodwind quintet genre. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Bora Yoon: Semaphore Conductus (Cantaloupe Music)
Young People’s Chorus of New York City; Francisco Núñez, conductor

If ever there was a piece meant for radio, this is it!  Sound-artist/composer Bora Yoon’s alluring and avant-garde “Semaphore Conductus” is an exploration of communication, sound, and the language of audio signals.  Surrounding the rise and fall of harmonious vocals is a rich blend of audio transmissions plucked from time: Morse code, radio signals, heartbeats, and cellphone noises.  Because this piece was recorded in surround-sound it is highly recommended that you listen via headphones if possible to ensure maximum delight. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.


Olga Bell: “Primorsky Krai” (New Amsterdam Records)

“God’s too high for us/Moscow far too distant,” Olga Bell laments in Russian in her piece “Primorsky Krai.”

Bell pays homage to her impressions of her native Russia’s Primorsky Krai, or Maritime Frontier, the far southeastern finger of the country bordering China, North Korea, and the Sea of Japan. It’s one of nine territories in which Bell explores dizzy, confusing questions of identity in her 2014 album, Krai. She combines polyrhythmic percussion with melodic vocal lines, blistering in their diction and timbre, and brings all the wild, raw drama of the home region of most of the world’s Siberian tigers.
– Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, October 20 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Trimpin: Above, Below, and In Between (Seattle Symphony Media)
Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

With the use of found objects and immersive technology, Trimpin’s sculpture-composition eloquently weaves pieces of an old pump organ, secondhand chimes, and a Microsoft Kinect in the expansive work of Above, Below, and In Between.

The title of this piece is not only indicative of the wall of sound that is layered between soprano, orchestra, and robotics, but also the immersive quality of the installation.  Having taken place in the lobby of the Seattle Symphony, audience members were intermingling with reedhorns and prepared piano. Its one-time debut is immortalized in the recording you can hear today on Second Inversion. – Micaela Pearson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Igor Stravinsky: Ebony Concerto (RCA Victor)
Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; The Thundering Herd

Stravinsky’s dabbles and experiments with African-American music began at the close of WWI and reached peak success with his 1945 Ebony Concerto, paying admirable homage to the music of Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, and guitarist Charles Christian.

Composed for jazz clarinetist Woody Herman and his original big band, the First Herd, the concerto is by turns rambunctious, bluesy, and rhythmically ahead of its time (it would be another ten years before Dave Brubeck began exploring time signatures in jazz other than the ubiquitous 4/4). This particular 1987 recording features clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and a later iteration of Woody Herman’s band, the Thundering Herd.

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Sanford: “Una Notte all’Opera” (Oxingale Records)
The Pittsburgh Collective

The Pittsburgh Collective is just an insanely good band, and this is an insane track. Some of our favorite Italian operatic melodies are thrust into the world of the big band with “Una Notte all’Opera,” with some really fun results. We get a solo trumpet screaming out arias, a reed section carving through fast unison runs, and a massive drum break in the middle. I’m not sure how the drum solo is opera-inspired, but it ends with a nice quote of the chorus from the Consecration Scene in Act I of Verdi’s Aida, simultaneously beautiful and hilariously out of place. The ending is just the icing on the cake, highlighting Sanford’s creativity and comedy in this chart.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


Quentin Sirjacq: “Aquarius” (Karaoke Kalk)
Quentin Sirjacq, piano/percussion/synth

From French composer Quentin Sirjacq, we last year received the album Far Islands and Near Places, a musical response to the islands of Japan. In the track “Aquarius,” the simple melodic structures combined with mixed meter encourage reflection. But don’t get me wrong—there is levity here, too; the tiny slides in the piano are completely charming. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9:30pm hour today to hear this piece.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, October 6 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Michael Gordon: Timber (Cantaloupe Music)
Remixed by Ikue Mori

Michael Gordon could make music out of just about anything. His piece Timber, composed for six percussionists playing 2×4 planks of wood, is not just good—it’s so good  it spurred an entire album of remixes by 12 different electronic artists.

This particular remix by Ikue Mori slows down the texture and explores the space between the notes, with the music slowly oscillating up and down, side to side, from one headphone to the other and back again. With an echoing, almost ritualistic pulse, Mori’s version feels ghostlier than the original. It’s almost as though the wooden planks were cut from haunted trees—evoking a spookier interpretation of the title Timber. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Julia Wolfe: Lick (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

This is an intense piece in many ways. It’s rhythmically difficult, aggressively pounding, and relentless throughout; it features no sound softer than a determined forte until possibly the very end. Generally I would abhor something like this, but the Bang on a Can All-Stars are able to give it a truly fascinating showcase: raucous and full of indomitable character.

It’s the first piece that Julia Wolfe wrote for the ensemble, hoping they would “go over the top” with the work’s “intense energy” born of the body-slamming rhythms of Motown, funk, and rock music of Julia’s childhood. I think it worked. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Florence Price: Dances in the Canebrakes (MSR Classics)
William Chapman Nyaho, piano

William Chapman Nyaho: Asa is the second of five volumes curated by Ghanaian-American composer and pianist William Chapman Nyaho. All five volumes feature a fascinating and impressive collection of music of Africa and the African diaspora.  This second volume is focused on dance music, and Nyaho certainly shines as he dances his hands across the keys of his piano with striking expertise.

In Florence Price’s Dances in the Canebrakes, Nyaho treats the listener to three movements that feel like a courtly cakewalk.  Price, I should note, was the first black woman in the US to be recognized as a symphonic composer and to have her work performed by a major American orchestra. Price was a pioneer and is perfectly at home in this anthology of musical unity. – Rachele Hales

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


Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal: “N’kapalema” (No Format Records)

I’m currently going through a months-long phase of discovering West African music, which started with Peter Gabriel’s collaborations with Youssou N’Dour and then led me through to Toumani Diabaté and Rokia Traoré. (Give them a listen!)

It looks like Ballaké Sissoko will carry the torch next. In “N’kapalema,” a collaboration with cellist Vincent Ségal for Sissoko’s album Musique de nuit, the composer plucks precise, intricate melodies on the kora while Ségal overlays the cello’s husky voice. For me, it evoked an image of a lot of families in their homes at dusk, all saying prayers before a candlelit dinner. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece. Plus, catch the duo in Seattle when they perform as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival on Oct. 22.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 30 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Florent Ghys: “An Open Cage” (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

If you don’t have five hours to listen to John Cage’s sprawling, narrated sound art piece Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), Florent Ghys’s “An Open Cage” offers a compelling (and surprisingly catchy) four-minute summary. In Ghys’s version, a solo pizzicato bass line dances within the rhythms of Cage’s calm and serene narration, painting his deadpan delivery with a funky groove and a distinctly contemporary color. The unconventional duet expands as the piece grows in musical force, gradually adding more and more instruments until finally a small chorus of voices appears, echoing Cage’s words:

“The avant-garde is flexibility of mind and it follows like day the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without avant-garde, nothing would get invented.”

 – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Anthony Barfield: Soliloquy (Albany Records)
Joseph Alessi, trombone; Stentorian Consort Quartet

Here at Second Inversion, I hear new music every single day. But sometimes, no matter how far you’ve traveled, you need to go home. So…I picked trombone music this week.  Anthony Barfield’s Soliloquy is a delightful and thoughtful piece. There is a lightness here that belies the seriousness of this piece’s genesis. Beyond the composition, the quality of the performance on this recording is exceptional. In case you’re wondering what good trombone playing sound like, this is it. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Augusta Read Thomas: “Incantation” (MSR Classics)
Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, viola

In 1995, Augusta Read Thomas wrote three iterations of “Incantation” for solo strings—violin, viola, and cello—as a tribute to her friend Cathryn Tait. Tait, battling cancer at the time, premiered the piece a few weeks before her death—a piece which celebrates her generosity of spirit with grace, richness, and elegance.

Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio’s solo viola performance of “Incantation” speaks with a distinctly eloquent, present, and meditative atmosphere. She moves through the short, five-minute work’s loose ABA form and concludes on a major seventh, unresolved, as though ending with a question. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Bright Sheng: Silent Temple II (Telarc Records)
Ying Quartet

I’ve always been a big fan of the pizzicato obbligato movement, which, in limiting all performing instruments to one motion (the plucking of strings), immediately achieves a unique character. Bright Sheng creates mystery with his pizzicato in Silent Temple II, evoking droplets of water, the creaking and cracking of old wood planks, or the rustling and knocking of bamboo. Or is it the plucked Chinese zither instrument, the guzheng, that we hear? In any case, he succeeds at evoking the stunning environment of his inspiration for the work, an abandoned Buddhist temple he visited in the 1970s in northwest China. Left empty and unattended at the height of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and falling into disrepair, it retained its quiet grandeur. In the case of the pizzicato here, only the smallest gestures of the quartet are necessary to paint a vivid picture. 
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 16 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Daníel Bjarnason: “all sounds to silence come” (Bedroom Community)

There is so much good music coming out of Iceland that sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep up with all of it. Icelandic composer and conductor Daníel Bjarnason is a staple on my personal playlist—his gorgeously textured, celestial soundscapes blur the line between classical and electronic musical idioms, drawing freely from the intellectual rigor of the classical tradition while living in the spontaneity and experimentalism of new music.

Scored for chamber orchestra and conducted by Bjarnason, “all sounds to silence come” is a two-movement bonus track released on his debut album Processions. The piece makes use of the orchestra’s entire timbral palette, drifting from a dramatic and densely textured first movement to a soft and ethereal second that hovers just above silence. The result is an immersive sound world that shimmers with color and sparkles with orchestral detail. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Alyssa Morris: Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano (MSR Classics)
Michele Fiala, oboe; William Averill, piano

Have you ever wondered what the four personalities of Hartman’s Personality Profile would sound like as duets for oboe and piano?

Before reading this most people probably hadn’t wondered, but now it’s an intriguing proposition! American composer Alyssa Morris brings us Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano. She based the four-movement work on the four general categories associated with the Hartman test, which aims to assess the underlying elements that motivate individuals, then assigns them a color: Yellow is motivated by fun, White by peace, Blue by intimacy, and Red by power.

Each movement is entertaining, energetic, and expertly executed by oboist Michele Fiala and pianist William Averill. They capture not just the basic comic book hue of each color, but rather the full kaleidoscopic palette within each personality and clearly have a great time doing it. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Ben Lukas Boysen: Golden Times 2 (Erased Tapes Records)

It occurs to me that this track could be heard as mournful or melancholy, but I have an alternative interpretation.  Despite the Donnie Darko aesthetic, Golden Times 2 seems to be a relaxed and optimistic meditation.  I especially love the extra-low bass that creeps around for most of the track and the swingy cymbal groove that completely transforms the vibe upon entry.  Grab a cold beverage and a seat in the sunshine and enjoy!
– 
Seth Tompkins

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


Robert Beaser: Pag-Rag (Albany Records)
Christopher Janwong McKiggan, piano

Pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan was the 2009 collegiate gold medalist from the Seattle International Piano Competition. As he moves forward in his career, he is charting a path of new music, commissioning seven composers in 2012 to compose works for piano inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Beaser’s Pag-Rag is both undeniably fun and a deliciously mean technical challenge for the pianist. A far cry from most listeners’ straightforward idea of a rag, this piece is full of lightning-fast changes of character and texture, giving it unexpected depth and variety. It’s a wonderful showcase of McKiggan’s playing. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, May 26 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

David Lang: the national anthems III. fame and glory (Cantaloupe Music)
Calder Quartet and Los Angeles Master Chorale

A survey of national anthems from nations all over the world confronted composer David Lang with a startling reality: the texts of these songs are generally quite violent. It seems that in the course of expressing national pride through song, we tend to reflect on the bloody struggle of war that gave us the freedoms we now enjoy.

Lang put together a sort of “meta-anthem” text from the anthems of a few nations, and observed that “hiding in every national anthem is the recognition that we are insecure about our freedoms, that freedom is fragile, and delicate, and easy to lose.” His music for string quartet and chorus, titled the national anthems in purposeful lower-case, exudes this unsettled feeling of insecurity.

“Fame and glory” has a lot of counterpoint and imitation, seemingly creating a dialogue within the chorus that is mindful of the past and its relationship with the present. It’s not overtly political music, but it is incredibly sensitive, contemplative, and hopeful. Lang has successfully achieved a sort of extra-mindfulness in his setting of this pieced-together text, a fascinating reflection on and transformation of the one-sided militarism of national anthems. – Geoffrey Larson

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


Toru Takemitsu: Toward the Sea
Michael Partington, guitar and Paul Taub, alto flute

Celebrated Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu breathes a meditative second life into the tale of Moby Dick with his three-section work, Toward the Sea. In the final section, entitled “Cape Cod,” Michael Partington’s guitar gently chops and forms the New England seascape while Paul Taub’s airy alto flute responds as Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod.

It is a beautifully haunting meditation paired with images of Cape Cod inspired by Melville’s novel. With these pieces, Takemitsu emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the book, quoting the passage, “meditation and water are wedded together.” He also said that “the music is an homage to the sea which creates all things, and a sketch for the sea of tonality.”

The composer wrote no bar lines and took a Cagian, aleatory approach to the work, in which performers are given more interpretive license. The flute’s primary melodic line derives from the spelling of “sea” in German musical notation – E♭-E-A – a motif which later became a favorite of Takemitsu’s. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Carolina Eyck: “Metsa Happa (Jumping River)” (Butterscotch Records)
Carolina Eyck and ACME

If you thought the theremin was only for corny sci-fi film soundtracks and intergalactic sound effects, think again. Carolina Eyck, one of the world’s foremost theremin virtuosi, has spent the past decade exploring and expanding the musical possibilities of this eerie electronic instrument.

Her album Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet, recorded with members of ACME, takes the instrument out of the galaxies and into the woods of Northern Germany, with each piece inspired by her childhood memories of growing up there.

In keeping with the whimsical, free-spirited explorations of childhood, Eyck composed her Fantasias in full takes with zero editing. In “Metsa Happa (Jumping River),” theremin melodies playfully hop in and out of a rolling river of strings, soaring high above the waves and diving deep beneath their iridescent surface. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Stevie Wonder: “Superstition” (arr. Kathy Halvorson)
Threeds Oboe Trio

Turns out you can replace a synthesizer and a clavinet with a few reed instruments and you still have a song that’s funky as hell. Threeds Oboe Trio’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition” shows off impressive technical ability and a rebellious sense of humor. “Superstition” has a driving bassline provided by clarinet and, since it swings just as hard as the original, it will have you smiling and grooving and bebopping before the oboes even kick in. – Rachele Hales

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

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, April 28 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Shara Nova: You Us We All (Zosima)
Performed with Baroque Orchestration X

In recent years there’s been a notable resurgence of Baroque forms and instruments in contemporary classical music—but nowhere so convincingly as in Shara Nova’s Baroque chamber pop opera You Us We All.

This colorful court masque tells the story of five allegorical characters searching for meaning in the modern age, traversing through corny fan letters and cornetto solos, broken hearts and Baroque instruments all along the way.

Nova’s lustrous vocals sparkle in the leading role of Hope, alongside a small but mighty cast of singers who play Virtue, Love, Time, and of course, Death. Baroque Orchestration X provides a clean and courtly backdrop on period instruments, with some more modern percussion (typewriter, anyone?) thrown in for a 21st-century spin. All in all, it’s the perfect marriage of old and new: antique instruments, modern music, timeless themes—and just a dash of existentialism. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this piece.


Béla Fleck and Mike Marshall: “The Big Cheese” (Sony Classical)

Here in Seattle, it FINALLY feels like spring has arrived… after a record-breaking-ly soggy winter (look it up).  Still, I’ve been feeling some hesitation to go outside and reconnect with the glowing orb in the sky.  If you, like me, could use a kick in the pants to “get out there,” this track could just do the trick.  The lithe Appalachian flavors here are mixed with some decidedly more square music by English Renaissance composer William Byrd.  Perfect!
Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Patrick Laird: “Che” 
Performed by Break of Reality

Break of Reality is the ultimate “don’t usually like classical but I love this” band.  They brand themselves as “cello rock” and it’s a fitting description as even my punk-rock-playing drummer dad would feel at home in this music.  With fierce cellos and intense percussion, “Che” is a passionate, almost violent, exploration of anger and fear.  If you’re looking for a unique classical experience, this is your stop.
Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


Julia Wolfe: Early that summer (Innova Records)
Performed by ETHEL

Boy, this is a crunchy piece. Wolfe uses dissonance throughout this ostinato-filled string quartet to propel the energy along, creating an unfolding sense of conflict. It makes sense: she composed the work while reading a book on American political history, where seemingly small incidents (often introduced in the book with the phrase “early that summer”) would snowball into major political crises. This piece was composed in 1992, but it still represents some music that instead of shying away from the dissonance of our current political climate, dives fully in and revels in it.  – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.