STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, January 6 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!

Sarah Kirkland Snider: Unremembered: VIII. The Witch (New Amsterdam)

unremembered_cover-300x300“The Witch” is the 8th vignette in a 13-piece song cycle titled Unremembered from fabulous composer Sarah Kirkland Snider. Aggressive strings and a militant orchestration set the scene for a spooky narrative that takes us into shadowy woods full of subtle horrors. Shara Nova’s growling vocals capture both the beauty and foreboding of this imagistic and vivid score. Snider’s “The Witch” is layered, grisly and intense from start to finish. Highly recommended for listeners of all ages, just maybe not before bedtime. – Rachele Hales

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

Aphex Twin: Mt. Saint Michel performed by Alarm Will Sound (Cantaloupe Music)

acoustica_300dpi_cmykStarting the new year swamped with work and already behind from the previous year is not ideal, but it is the situation many of us find ourselves in this January. Alarm Will Sound’s version of Aphex Twin’s Mt. Saint Michael is the perfect music for this situation. Perhaps embracing the chaos along with pursuit of self-care

is the way forward. – Seth Tompkins

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

Conlon Nancarrow (arr. Evan Ziporyn): Four Player Piano Studies performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (Cantaloupe Music)

55805527bd9c35da77388ee16ee84cb456d8fd53You could say the 20th century experimental composer and expatriate Conlon Nancarrow was a bit of an introvert. He lived most of his life in isolation, and for decades composed only for player pianos—working alone, by hand, to produce and perfect a massive library of swingin’ blues and boogie-woogie piano rolls, his famous 49 Studies for Player Piano among them.

Well, composer Evan Ziporyn decided to take a few of those piano roll etudes and put them into human hands—the hands of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Ziporyn created a mixed ensemble arrangement that retains the visceral intensity and mechanical energy of Nancarrow’s original rolls, but reimagines them through the Technicolor timbral palette of Bang on a Can. It’s snazzy, jazzy, and full of color—proof that although player pianos have become largely obsolete, Nancarrow’s music is still very much alive. – Maggie Molloy

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

Lisa Bielawa: Synopsis No. 12 “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” Michael Norsworthy, clarinet (BMOP/Sound)

bmop1017sI have to confess that I was super biased to love this piece even before I heard it; as a clarinetist, I am a huge fan of the unaccompanied clarinet repertoire, and as a musician, I am huge fan of Lisa Bielawa. Incredible, bizarre, enigmatic works have been written for clarinet alone by composers like Igor Stravinsky, William Bolcom, and Shulamit Ran. As they require one single voice to command the listener’s attention, they are tremendously difficult to compose and perform. Luckily, the clarinet’s huge range provides ample opportunity to create a wide variety of colors and characters, and a bit of extended techniques can help as well. Bielawa’s work presents the performer with a number of different fragments and gives them free reign to decide the order in which they are played, and how many times they are used. The idea behind “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” and the other 14 Synopses (all with six-word titles) is tied to Hemingway’s six-word short story “For sale, baby shoes: never used.” Apparently, Bielawa’s musical fragments each represent a different vacation activity. BMOP’s clarinetist Michael Norsworthy does a lot of trilling and running around the register of the instrument – sounds like he had a busy summer vacation.

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

LIVE BROADCAST: Friday, March 18 at 7:30pm: Pianist Jeremy Denk presented by the UW World Series

by Maggie Stapleton

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Join us for a special LIVE broadcast this Friday, March 18 at 7:30pm (PT) of pianist Jeremy Denk presented by the UW World Series at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus. Denk is the winner of a 2013 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the 2014 Avery Fisher Prize and Musical America’s 2014 Instrumentalist of the Year award. This Friday’s program features a huge variety of music, some newer, some older, all worth tuning in for or better yet, coming to see live if you’re in Seattle! The New York Times called Denk a musician “you want to hear no matter what he performs.”

Bach: English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808
Byrd: Ninth Pavan and Galliard in D Minor from Lady Nevell’s Book 
Bolcom: Graceful Ghost Rag 
Hayden/Joplin: Sunflower Slow Drag
Tatum: Tea for Two 

Hindemith: Ragtime from 1922 
Ives: Ragtime Dances No. 3 & 4 from Four Ragtime Dances 
Nancarrow: Canon
Lambert: Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhauser 
Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988

SI host Geoffrey Larson will keep you company on the stream for the broadcast on Friday night and if you come to the show, say hello to Maggie Molloy in the lobby, enter to win a fabulous prize, and grab some SI swag!


ALBUM REVIEW: Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano

by Rachele Hales

I was excited – well, excited and scared – to be given the opportunity to review Anthony de Mare’s latest album of Stephen Sondheim “re-imaginings.”  Excited because Sondheim’s impact on me was very strong as I was one of many children who listened; scared because I didn’t want to find flaws in the interpretations that might underscore my devotion to the originals.  After listening to Liaisons: Re-imagining Sondheim From the Piano several times, I can calm similar worries other listeners may have by entreating you to remember that “the way is clear, the light is good/ I have no fear, nor no one should.”


Thirty-six composers from a wide variety of backgrounds were commissioned by Anthony de Mare to re-imagine a Sondheim song of their choice as a solo piano piece.  The result proves that things change – but they don’t, when you make something that lasts.  Mark Eden Horowitz, author of Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions, puts it this way: “One of the reasons Liaisons succeeds so brilliantly is because Sondheim’s music is such a rich source for sounds, ideas, and approaches.”  Too true.  The pleasure of Liaisons is hearing how thirty-six other Sondheim fans engage with his music in their own ways.  There are thirty-seven selections in the 3-CD collection.  So many worth exploring, just one would be so boring.  Alas, it’s impossible to review them all here but you can listen to samples of each glorious one at the Liaisons Project website.  With that said…  Curtain up!  Light the lights!  Play it, boys!


Once upon a time, all your favorite fairytales were combined into one story about loss and confusion.  Oh yeah, and nearly everyone dies.  Sondheim’s original prologue to Into the Woods acts as both exposition by introducing us to each character and also provides a path through the show.  Andy Akiho’s version takes us into the woods, where witches, ghosts and wolves appear, by maintaining the driving rhythm of the original but allowing each character’s narrative/personality to speak with the clever use of a prepared piano.  Dimes were used on the strings for the cow scenes, door knocks and narration utilized poster tack, and the witch is portrayed by clusters of credit cards.  Akiho’s use of these found objects to alter the timbre is just as effective and innovative as Sondheim’s witty spoken narrative.

When asked about his intent with the Into the Woods’ climactic ballad “No One is Alone,” Sondheim replied, “What I truly mean is that no action is isolated.”  One action you can take is to write a musical, only to find its score the subject of a landmark commissioning twenty-nine years later.  Fred Hersch drew from his jazz background to make subtle changes to the piece.  In doing so, he’s maintained the purity and simplicity of the original but plumped it up to create a lusher sound.  It feels less like an arrangement and more like a fantasia.

With Kenji Bunch’s selection we attend the tale of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of fleet street.  Sweeney Todd is based on an urban legend (though some claim the story is true) from Victorian London about a barber who seeks revenge upon the corrupt judge who sentenced him to unjust incarceration, raped his wife and caused her insanity, and eventually kept Todd’s daughter Joanna as his ward for lustful reasons.  Todd’s revenge of choice?  Slitting the throat of the judge (and other clients) and partnering with his amoral landlady to grind the flesh, use it as fillings for her meat pies, and turn a handsome profit.  It’s a musical thriller that wonderfully sustains fear and anxiety throughout, which Bunch amplifies to horror-show levels with “low register rumblings, shrieking high clusters, and insistent rhythmic ostinato patterns.”

Venezuelan composer Ricardo Lorenz turns those meat pies into spicy empanadas with his “Worst Pies In London”/”A Little Priest” combo.  Mrs. Lovett’s cheeriness shines through here with help from a range of Latin American styles including tango, salsa, and merengue.  But is it any good?  Sir, it’s too good, at least.

“Green Finch and Linnet Bird” is Joanna’s song to the caged birds she identifies with while sequestered in the judge’s home.  Toward the end of the original number there’s a trill notated for the singer and Jason Robert Brown found his way into the arrangement through that trill.  Rather than focusing on Joanna, he’s chosen instead to paint pianistic portraits of the birds.  A charming notion, but the aviary became too complex.  He thought one was enough; it’s not true.  It takes two to play his “Birds of Victorian England.”

Hopping across the pond to a bit of American history now, we get a couple arrangements from Assassins, a show that’s about exactly what it says on the tin.  “The inverse of the American Dream is the American Nightmare, which confuses the right to pursue happiness with the right to be happy,” writes Horowitz.  In Sondheim’s opening song, “Everybody’s Got the Right,” our presidential assassinators/assassination attempters sing out this misguided philosophy (aim for what you want a lot/everybody gets a shot/everybody’s got a right to their dreams…) as they purchase their weapons from the gun proprietor.   Michael Daugherty inserts snippets of “Hail to the Chief” as reminders of the show’s subject and ends the piece by spinning out the opening chords until they “explode like a volley of gunfire.”

Sondheim turned the poem Charles Guiteau wrote the morning of his execution (“I Am Going to the Lordy”) into a cakewalk march to the gallows in “The Ballad of Guiteau.”  Guiteau’s trial was famous not just because he assassinated President Garfield, but also because he was, as one doctor testified, a “morbid egoist” who delighted in the attention he received during the trial.  A media sensation, he smiled and waved at spectators throughout the trial (and even as he walked up to the gallows, where he stopped to read said poem, going so far as to request that an orchestra play behind him while he read).  Right up until his conviction he thought he’d have a good chance of becoming president himself and considered running.  Why am I writing about history instead of music?  Because the way Jherek Bischoff plays Sondheim’s original histrionic promenade against moments of emptiness perfectly suits the sad, ridiculous insanity of Guiteau’s mindset.

Having just a vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution.  Anthony de Mare’s work on this project has, bit by bit and piece by piece, amounted to a thoroughly enjoyable collection that sounds like thirty-six composers having a musical conversation with America’s preeminent composer of musical theatre.  Liaisons offers up something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone.

In this 2013 image released by ECM Records, Anthony de Mare, left, and Stephen Sondheim pose in New York. Pianist Anthony de Mare and three dozen composers had put their own imprints on songs Sondheim wrote over the past half-century, a tribute to the man who redefined Broadway. "Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim From the Piano" was released last month as a three-disc set by ECM. It features 37 original compositions by an All-Star team of composers. (Nan Melville/ECM Records via AP)

Anthony de Mare, left, and Stephen Sondheim pose in New York. (Nan Melville/ECM Records via AP)