Westerlies Fest: Four Days of Ear-Expanding Brass Music

by Peter Tracy

This February Seattle audiences will have more than a few chances to see the genre-bending, virtuosic, and undeniably charismatic brass quartet known as the Westerlies live in concert.

In recent years the members of this Seattle-bred, New York-based ensemble—comprised of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpet and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone—have made a name for themselves across the country performing original compositions and arrangements that blur the lines between chamber music, jazz, folk, and anything in between.

Following the release their new album Wherein Lies the Good, the band is headed to venues across Seattle for what is quickly becoming a tradition in the Seattle music scene: Westerlies Fest. This four-day festival will feature three evenings of performances by the Westerlies in collaboration with poets and musicians from Seattle and around the country.

The weekend culminates in a day-long Westerlies Fest Jamboree which will include listening sessions, open rehearsals, and free workshops for musicians of all skill levels. Finally, the Westerlies will perform a concert of original compositions at the end of the Jamboree, sending off this year’s festival in style.

But for the Westerlies, the festival is about more than just performing: it’s a chance to give back to their community, make an impact in local schools through daytime workshops and residencies, and highlight artists they admire. This spirit of community and collaboration is at the heart of the festival and the many exciting performances happening throughout.

Celisse. Photo by Christopher Boudewyns.

Celisse | The Westerlies
Thursday, Feb. 6, 7:30pm, The Royal Room

The Westerlies will kick things off with singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Celisse, who has collaborated with the likes of Lizzo and Mariah Carey and performed in settings ranging from Broadway to Carnegie Hall. Having recently contributed horn lines to her upcoming solo album, the Westerlies will perform alongside Celisse in an evening of cutting-edge original music that blends jazz, rock, blues, and more.


Robin Holcomb.

Robin Holcomb | The Westerlies
Friday, Feb. 7, 7:30pm, The Royal Room

On Friday, the Westerlies will be joined by Seattle-based pianist, composer, librettist, and singer-songwriter Robin Holcomb, whose genre-defying body of work includes four albums of songs and instrumental compositions. She has also founded numerous ensembles, performed at the United Nations, and, most recently, contributed the title track “Wherein Lies the Good” to the Westerlies’ new album, which they’ll perform alongside a variety of other wide-ranging music.


Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye.

Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye | Troy Osaki | The Westerlies
Saturday, Feb. 8, 7:30pm, Town Hall Seattle

The worlds of poetry and music collide in the third evening of Westerlies Fest, which features poetry duo Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, who have toured the world giving workshops and performing their poetry live. This unique performance will include the Westerlies providing musical accompaniment to spoken word performances by these internationally-recognized artists, and will also feature performances by local poet and three-time Seattle Grand Slam Champion Troy Osaki.


The Westerlies.

The Westerlies JAM-Boree
Sunday, Feb. 9, All Day, Nickerson Studios @ SPU

The Westerlies will close out the festival with a performance of their own music, including pieces from their new album Wherein Lies The Good and their trademark mix of folk tunes, jazz arrangements, and original compositions. Plus, throughout the day audience members are invited to attend free listening sessions, open rehearsals, and music workshops.


Westerlies Fest is Feb. 6-9 in Seattle. For tickets and more information, please click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Saro’ by The Westerlies

by Maggie Molloy

The Westerlies. From left: Chloe Rowlands, Riley Mulherkar, Willem de Koch, Andy Clausen.

An old English ballad gets a brassy new spin in the Westerlies’ rendition of “Saro,” which borrows from an arrangement by Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon.

The tune, which dates back to the 18th century, is timeless in its bittersweet melody and melancholy lyrics⁠—the wrenching memory of a love just out of reach. Yet the Westerlies capture the tune’s heartache and spin it into hope without using any words at all, their radiant melodies and hymn-like harmonies telling a new tale of the poor man and his pretty Saro.

We’re thrilled to premiere our in-studio video of the Westerlies performing “Saro.”

Westerlies Weekend in Seattle: Sept. 20-23

by Gabriela Tedeschi

The Westerlies are a Seattle-bred brass quartet that has gained national acclaim for their genre-defying chamber music. Now, they’re giving back to the community that raised and inspired them with Westerlies Fest: a four-day music festival in Seattle featuring student workshops and concert collaborations with local artists.

The New York-based quartet is made up of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. Mulherkar, Clausen, and de Koch are childhood friends from Seattle, and Rowlands (their newest member) was also born in Western Washington.

“The festival, for us, is an opportunity to feature all of the elements of what we do in their purest form as we envision them,” de Koch said. “Of course Seattle, being our hometown, seemed like the perfect place to bring together everything that we’ve gleaned from living in New York and traveling around the country performing.”

The festival runs Thursday, Sept. 20 through Sunday, Sept. 23. During the day on Thursday and Friday, the Westerlies are speaking and performing in schools around Seattle, with an emphasis on teaching in underserved areas. On Saturday and Sunday, they are leading a workshop for high school and college age musicians at Seattle Pacific University.

All four evenings, the Westerlies are performing at different venues around Seattle with a diverse group of collaborators ranging from spoken word poets to jazz singers and music students of all levels and instruments. Learn more about the concerts below:

Poets Troy Osaki (left) and Azura Tyabji (right).

Troy Osaki and Azura Tyabji with The Westerlies
Thursday, Sept. 20, 7:30pm, Wing Luke Museum

In partnership with Youth Speaks Seattle, the Westerlies are inviting local spoken-word poets to perform alongside them. Music will be interspersed between poetry performances, and the quartet will also accompany two poems with original compositions.

“[This performance includes] a lot of exciting young voices from Seattle that we wanted to hear and we wanted to give a platform to,” Mulherkar said.

One poet is Troy Osaki, a friend of the Westerlies from Garfield High School who now serves as a Youth Speaks mentor. Seattle Youth Poet Laureate Azura Tyabji will also perform original works, as will Zora “Rainchild” Seboulisa and Esther Eidenberg-Noppe. Emphasizing identity and examining areas of inequality, these young artists use poetry as a tool for inspiring change in the world.


TORCH with The Westerlies
Friday, Sept. 21, 7:30pm, Nickerson Studios at Seattle Pacific University

Friday’s performance is really two concerts in one: a set from the Westerlies and a set from the Seattle-based chamber ensemble TORCH.

The group is comprised of trumpeter Brian Chin, clarinetist Eric Likkel, double bassist Steve Schermer, and percussionist Ben Thomas (who also plays vibraphone and bandoneon). Like the Westerlies, TORCH is known for combining the intellectual rigor of classical music with a genre-meshing sound. Chin is also the founder and artist director of the nonprofit arts organization Common Tone Arts, a partner for the festival.

“That night really features some of the best of Seattle’s contemporary classical scene,” Mulherkar said. “This is really an opportunity for us to bring what we got from New York and present it right alongside all the amazing music that’s going on in Seattle.”


Kate Davis (left) and Theo Bleckmann (right; photo by Lynne Harty).

Theo Bleckmann and Kate Davis with The Westerlies
Saturday, Sept. 22, 7:30pm, First Free Methodist Church

The Westerlies are joined by two acclaimed guest artists from New York: contemporary classical and jazz singer Theo Bleckmann and singer-songwriter Kate Davis.

The core of Bleckmann’s set will be “Songs of Refuge and Resistance,” a project that the Westerlies and Bleckmann developed this June while in residency at Yellow Barn, an international center for chamber music in Vermont. The project combines songs of refuge and protest pieces to highlight both music’s integral role in resistance movements and its ability to provide solace in the midst of turmoil.

Davis will perform a set of original works showcasing her warm, velvety vocals and inventive lyrics—including a Westerlies collaboration on her song “St. Joseph,” arranged by de Koch.


The Westerlies with Workshop Students
Sunday, Sept. 23, 4pm, Nickerson Studios at Seattle Pacific University

Sunday’s performance will serve as the culmination of the two-day student workshop the Westerlies are hosting for young musicians of all levels, styles, and instruments. The workshop will give students insight into the Westerlies’ unique approach to composition, improvisation, and ensemble practice.

“One thing that we’ve grown to be passionate about as an ensemble is improvising in a way that isn’t idiosyncratic to any genre,”  de Koch said. “The goal is to be able to introduce improvisation in a way that isn’t inhibited by any of the trappings of particular styles of music.”

The Westerlies also want to push young musicians to explore unusual instrument combinations, and to allow creative compatibility to overtake conventional ideas about ensemble work. Given their own history, the Westerlies know that good chemistry can lead to great music with any instrumentation.

“When we formed as a band, we didn’t form with the intention of being a brass quartet,” de Koch said. “We formed because we got along well as friends and admired one another’s personalities and musical tastes.”

At the concert on Sunday, students will perform in ensembles with the Westerlies, playing the music they create themselves through improvisation exercises.


Westerlies Fest runs Sept. 20 through Sept. 23. Thursday and Sunday’s performances are free, but reservations are recommended to guarantee admission. Student discounts and festival passes are available for Friday and Saturday’s concerts. For tickets and more information, click here.

Second Inversion’s Top 5 Moments of 2016

2016 was filled with lots of fun on our 24/7 stream, video production studios, & blog, but this year we really focused on getting out in the community. While these digital offerings reach people world-wide, we are grateful to connect with our Seattle-area fans and like-minded folks! Here are our top 5 moments/events/milestones/projects/good times listed in chronological order.

This is the final post in a series of Top 5 of 2016 lists (check out our Top 5 Videos,Top 5 Albums, and Top 5 Blog Features).

February 1, 2016: Co-presenting Brooklyn Rider and Gabriel Kahane at the Tractor Tavern

2016-02-02-09-03-04

When we had the opportunity to team up with Tractor Tavern to co-present Gabriel Kahane and Brooklyn Rider, we jumped for joy and hopped aboard. The honky-tonkin’ venue was filled with people from all walks of musical life and a great showcase of how to – as we like to say around here – Rethink Classical. Click here for a review of the performance.


April 9, 2016: Second Inversion Presents: Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with Tamara Power-Drutis

Second Inversion moved up and over to the Eastside to close Classical KING FM’s inaugural concert series On Stage with Classical KING FM at Bellevue’s newest concert hall, RESONANCE at SOMA Towers. The Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with the inimitable, versatile vocalist Tamara Power-Drutis, transformed popular song into art song, in a program that re-imagined the work of artists such as Radiohead, Beck, Bjork and others as intimate and emotional chamber works born for the recital hall. 

Best of all? Back by popular demand, they’ll be performing again next year on April 15, 2017! Tickets are on sale now.

All photos by Jason Tang.


May 26, 2016: Second Inversion Showcase at the 2016 Northwest Folklife Festival

This spring, we came together to celebrate the sounds of the Pacific Northwest in our 2nd annual Second Inversion Showcase at the Northwest Folklife Festival, which featured performances by the bi-coastal brass quartet The Westerlies, the innovative and always-interactive Skyros Quartet, and the boundary-bursting Sound of Late.

All photos by Maggie Molloy.


July-November: New Music Happy Hours hosted by Second Inversion and the Live Music Project

Second Inversion and the Live Music Project host monthly(ish) Happy Hours at the Queen Anne Beerhall for anyone and everyone with an open mind and a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue about music and art in Seattle and beyond. Sign up for e-mail alerts to find out when the next one is occurring!

All photos by Maggie Molloy.

October 3, 2016: Steve Reich at 80

reichat80Second Inversion celebrated Steve Reich’s birthday in huge style with a 24 hour marathon of his music on our stream. Our staff and over a dozen community members joined in the fun by contributing recorded introductions to their favorite Reich pieces and by writing mini-reviews. We have more 24 hour marathons planned for 2017, birthday and non-birthday related!

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, November 18 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!

Jacob Cooper: Silver Threads (Nonesuch)

st-front_finalThis piece is the opening song of a six-part cycle of the same title.  With text by 17th-century Japanese poet Bashō, this track is a good choice if you’re looking for a uplifting contemplative experience. Make sure your headphones or speakers can produce decent bass for this one; the sliding low tones make this piece come alive. – Seth Tompkins

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


Robert Honstein: “Why are you not answering? I don’t wish to play games”
From RE: You (New Focus Recordings)

fcr146_cover-750x0Here’s a little 21st century love story for you:

Once upon a time, Boston-based composer Robert Honstein’s email address was erroneously paired with the online profile of one Midwestern, middle-aged Jeffrey K. Miller. As such, Robert was mistakenly cc’d on hundreds of private emails and unwittingly given a ringside seat at the romantic travails of a complete stranger.

Inspired, Robert decided to make an album of lyricless love songs titled RE: You using the email exchanges as its basis. The pieces, titled after unusual (and sometimes alarming) email subject lines, explore not so much love itself as the longing for love—those most intimate, most vulnerable, most profound moments of our humanity.

Performed with a mixed chamber ensemble of strings, winds, percussion, and piano, this album’s got all the ups, downs, butterflies, and backlashes of looking for love on the internet. We may be living in a digital age, but the universal yearning for love is just as palpable as ever. – Maggie Molloy

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


Zubin Hensler: The Beach (Songlines Recordings) 

songlines-1617-2-440x440Oh, The Westerlies.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways: Willem, Andy, Zubin, Riley…  All four have a knack for taking common brass instruments and crafting uncommon brass music. In Zubin Hensler’s “The Beach,” trumpets and trombones create a sound more tender and poetic than the typical military/fanfare we’re used to hearing from brass. Here, the notes float in the air like seagulls and the warmth the performers exude makes the heart feel all good and mushy. Total sigh…

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


Michael Gordon: Timber (Hauschka Remix) (Cantaloupe Music)

ca21121_timber_remixed_frontComing off a long period of orchestral composition, Michael Gordon welcomed an opportunity to throw orchestration and pitch out the window when he composed Timber in 2009. Scored for six wooden simantras (a fancy word for 2x4s) cut at gradual lengths, the 60-minute original work has a simple beauty that can easily turn a hardware store into a performance venue.

Timber has been remixed into twelve vignettes by producers and DJs who incorporate some electronica, drones, and beats into Mantra Percussion’s studio recording. I’m excited to present Hauschka’s iteration, which goes so far as to incorporate prepared piano in the mix. If you like Timber but want a smaller dose, join Hauschka and the good company of Mira Calix, Greg Sanier, Johann Johannson and many more, on this beautifully re-imagined collection. – Maggie Stapleton

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