Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife 2016!

Featured

by Maggie Stapleton

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We are excited to announce the lineup for Second Inversion’s 2nd annual showcase at Northwest Folklife on Friday, May 27 from 8-10pm! RSVP to our Facebook event and invite your friends to this exciting FREE event!

Sound of Late
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Sound of Late is a new music ensemble that creates distinctive performances and unexpected collaborations that build and inspire the communities around us. They believe music is best when shared with other people, which is why Sound of Late is working to support the artistic and creative community across the Pacific Northwest. By dissolving the boundary between artist and audience, they hope to inspire new collaborations and to raise the visibility of our region.

For more on Sound of Late, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

Skyros Quartet
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The Skyros Quartet, praised by the Topeka Capital-Journal as “stellar,” brings a bright and inventive style to the concert hall and can be seen performing, teaching, and leading community events in their new hometown of Seattle, as well as concertizing around the US and Canada.The Skyros Quartet is passionate about the future of music and performing works by living composers. They have worked extensively with composers Tonia Ko, Andy Davis, Devin Maxwell, and Liza Sobel.

For more on Skyros Quartet, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

The Westerlies 
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The Westerlies (“prevailing winds from the West to the East”) are a New York based brass quartet comprised of four friends from Seattle, Washington: Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet, and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. They re-imagine the chamber music experience through boldly personal performance, recording, collaboration, education, and outreach. Since their inception in 2011, they have cultivated a new brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of Ives, Ellington, Bartok, Ligeti, Stephen Foster and numerous traditionals. Their music exudes the warmth of their longstanding friendships, and reflects the broad interests of its members.

For more on The Westerlies, visit our “Meet the Artist” feature!

2016 FOLKLIFE PREVIEW: Meet Sound of Late

by Maggie Molloy

For many artists, water is a muse—for some, it is the very essence of music itself.

In Seattle, we awake and fall asleep to the gentle swooshing of Sound, and our lives are shaped and smoothed by its sparkling presence. For us, water is a source of comfort and relaxation, inspiration and even transportation.

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And so this Friday, we invite you to paddle on over to our annual Second Inversion Showcase at the Northwest Folklife Festival, where you can dive into the underwater sound world of Sound of Late.

Based in Seattle and Portland, Sound of Late is a new music ensemble known for creating collaborative, cross-disciplinary concerts which build upon and inspire the communities surrounding them. Most recently, they presented a maritime music series titled “What Water Knows,” featuring shimmering, ocean-inspired music alongside music and poetry of marine biologists and commercial fishers.sol-grp300x210

But in case you missed it, no need to feel blue. Lucky for us, they’ve, ahem, distilled their water-themed program into a shorter set as part of our Folklife Festival Showcase, where they’ll be performing along with the Skyros Quartet and the Westerlies.

We caught up with Sound of Late’s horn player Rebecca Olason to talk about water, whale songs, and the Pacific Northwest:

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Second Inversion: How would you describe or characterize your ensemble’s sound?

Rebecca Olason: Sound of Late primarily plays works by living composers, but our sound is fairly diverse. We might play works that are within the serialist tradition in one concert and folk inspired music in the next. Our set for this concert has a mix of music inspired by water, featuring a local folk singer, a work by a marine biologist (who is also a rock musician), and a piece inspired and imitative of whale song. We try to represent the variety of styles and sounds that are present in contemporary chamber music.

SI: The Pacific Northwest is really blossoming in the contemporary classical music sphere—what do you think makes our music scene here so unique?

RO: Having lived on the East and West coasts, I feel that the Pacific Northwest scene is unique because in many ways it is impossible to participate without being an innovator. To play contemporary classical music here, you have to be a risk-taker, and a person who will find a path where there wasn’t one before. It is more difficult to find a way to present your music as there are fewer new music venues, presenters, and groups.

The challenges of creating music here are a catalyst for the vibrancy, inventiveness, and passion of the community, which are also reflected in programming and actual musical style. Most contemporary classical groups are willing to make mistakes, and to take risks, but I feel that this is especially true of our community in the Pacific Northwest.

SI: Northwest Folklife strengthens local communities through art and music, celebrating diverse cultural heritages and working to ensure their continued growth and development. What types of communities or music traditions are represented in your music?

RO: The bulk of Sound of Late’s current repertoire is contemporary classical, though we often collaborate with other communities, and love to play improvisational music. This concert is inspired by and features maritime folk music.

SI:  As a Seattle-based ensemble, what does the annual Northwest Folklife Festival mean to you?

RO: We are a newly Seattle-based chamber group, so Folklife represents a new future in this amazing city for us!  The festival strikes me as one of the greatest celebrations of musical talent in the area from a broad stroke of traditions, and I am so honored and excited to be a part of it!

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

RO: I am looking forward to the chance to distill our last concert series into a quick, yet captivating show. We performed a series of concerts full of music inspired by water featuring music by contemporary classical composers, scientists, and fishers. What I really liked about these concerts was how many different experiences and musical traditions we were able to feature, so we tried to represent that variety in our small set. I hope that our audience will be inspired by our music, and contemplative of their own experience with water.

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Sound of Late will be featured along with the Skyros Quartet and The Westerlies at our 2nd Annual Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife on Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m. For more information, please click here or RSVP to our Facebook event.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: Town Music at Town Hall Season Finale

Tonight at 7:30pm (PST), join us for a live video stream from Town Hall, featuring our Artistic Advisor, Joshua Roman along with violinists Johnny Gandelsman & Arnaud Sussman, violist Kyle Armbrust, and pianist/composer Andrius Žlabys!

In the meantime, be sure to read our Q&A between Joshua Roman and Andrius Žlabys about his world premiere, A Movement for String Quartet and Piano.

The program also includes Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No.2 and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57. We’ll be streaming the audio on our 24/7 channel, too!

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And also to tide you over, here’s a sneak peek of the Britten from a rehearsal last week!

If you’re still waiting for the broadcast to begin, hop over to our 24/7 stream to hear our eclectic mix of new music!

ALBUM REVIEW: Kalevi Aho’s Theremin Concerto & Horn Concerto

by Brendan Howe

Contemporary orchestral composer extraordinaire Kalevi Aho gives us an abstract, impressionistic version of the extremes of Lapland – the far northern region of his native Finland – in a dual release of his Horn Concerto and Theremin Concerto. The concertos feature soloists Annu Salminen and Carolina Eyck, respectively.

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Throughout the single-movement Horn Concerto, Aho added what he describes as a ‘ritualistic’ element, wherein the soloist opens the piece backstage, then moves gradually across the stage from left to right before going backstage again towards the end.

annuBeginning with spare details from Annu Salminen’s French horn, the concerto moves forward to reveal a discordant undercurrent of energy that continues throughout both pieces. Strings pierce like icy wind over the gray landscape, horns call to one another in pine forests, and clarinets and oboes hurry from their front doors to their cars and hope the frost hasn’t yet set in their engines. There are occasional moments of respite and silent wonder in this dreamlike hallucination. The piece has a structural and stylistic integrity that makes it at once recognizable and unpredictable – a unique and intriguing combination.

Before smoothly segueing into the Theremin Concerto as Aho does, here are some brief notes on the unusual device. As the world’s first electronic instrument, it has accrued an extremely limited canon since its debut 96 years ago, due to its otherworldly, hair-prickling tone. For perspective, 1950s sci-fi movie soundtracks and the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations comprise its best-known works.

JmDl184A_400x400Carolina Eyck is one of few extremely talented thereminists in the world. When Aho saw her perform, he was fascinated by the way that the instrument is played, merely by moving and manipulating one’s hands within the electromagnetic field of its two antennae. This inherent theatrical element, combined with Eyck’s flair for performance, inspired him to write the Theremin Concerto specifically for her.

The concerto is organized into eight continuous movements, based on the traditional eight-season division of the year of Lapland’s native Sami people. It is telling (though unsurprising) to note that the titles of five of the eight movements involve or imply some form of snow or frost.

Ernte, or Harvest, opens the work, seemingly just after all the festivities have ended and the coming winter looms large in mind. The controlled wail of the theremin complements the orchestra—for now.

The second and third movements, entitled Herbstverfarbung (Autumn Colors) and Schwarzerschnee (Black Snow) make use of the vocal capacities of both clarinet and theremin, each calling their kin to come home as the daylight wanes ever more quickly. Aho expertly evokes the micro-events occurring within the season in preparation for the long darkness, and adds a faint, percussive texture of dead brambles as the work moves into Weihnachtsdunkelheit (Christmas Darkness). Tinkling triangles chime every so often, revealing a mystical spirit in the otherwise bleak scene.

The next movement, Frostwinter, holds nothing back, and the full, cold, spectral fury of the blizzard is unleashed. The listener is enveloped in a white-out world of high winds and ferocious frost, semitonal dissonance between the strings, horns, and woodwinds paint a sort of grayscale Munchian backdrop for the completely out-of-control theremin.

Once the storm is passed, a triangle cautiously pierces the snow-muffled landscape, and people peek out of their windows to see their first sunlight for weeks as the strings build upon a rare, major tonality.

Not being one to give the impression that all is well, Aho continues with the final three turbulent movements—Tragender Schnee (Crusted Snow), Eisschmelze (Melting of the Ice), and the final, longest movement, Mitternachtssonne (Midnight Sun)—tempering his work with the wisdom of those who live through cycles of extremes every year. He allows the listener to recognize that judgments of good and bad are irrelevant because the cycle is, by definition, a unified whole. Each instrument, especially the outlandish theremin, weaves its own path and, occasionally, helps another navigate the harsh seasonal shifts of Lapland.

Universal Language Project Podcast: Revealing the Composer’s Artistic Process

by Maggie Stapleton

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We are thrilled to announce the launch of Universal Language Project’s brand new podcast! This is a co-production between Second Inversion and ULP, featuring interviews recorded in our studios and live concert recordings from our live concert recording archives.

Each episode features a 20-minute interview with a Northwest composer to gain insight into their creative intentions and artistic process followed by a recording of a brand new work – often from the premiere, live and unedited in all its glory.

Episode 1: Jovino Santos Neto

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Three-time Latin Grammy nominee Jovino Santos Neto, a master pianist, composer and arranger, is among the top Brazilian musicians working today. Currently based in Seattle, Washington, he has throughout his career been closely affiliated with the Brazilian master Hermeto Pascoal. He was an integral part of Pascoal’s group from 1977 to 1992, where he fine-tuned his artistry, performing around the world and co-producing several legendary records.

For this composition, SACI, the Universal Language Project commissioned Jovino to write a multi-movement piece designed to pair with Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. This work is intended as commentary on Stravinsky’s work where, about 100 years later, we are also creating great shows in a time of limited financial means. This work is based on a mythical Brazilian folk character, the Saci, who simultaneously helps us out of tricky situations and mischievously keeps us humble. This work beautifully merges Jovino’s background in Brazilian jazz with contemporary classical composition to create a delightfully charming and important new piece.

Stephan Michael Newby, Baritone / Narrator
Eric Rynes, Violin
Eric Likkel, Clarinet
Brian Chin, Trumpet
Nathan Vetter, Trombone
Steve Morgan, Bassoon
Todd Gowers, Bass
Ben Thomas, Percussion

Recorded Live at the Velocity Dance Center in Seattle, WA
May 16th, 2015
Bill Levey: Audio Engineer

Episode 2: Wayne Horvitz

Wayne Horvitz is a composer, pianist and electronic musician who has performed extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. He is the leader of the Gravitas Quartet, Sweeter Than the Day, Zony Mash, The Four plus One Ensemble and co-founder of the New York Composers Orchestra.

Working primary in a jazz inspired large ensemble medium, Wayne’s music seems to naturally defied any one genre and offers a truly unique sound to the 21st century music collection. This piece, A Stammer for Tori, was inspired by the violinist Victoria Parker and is written for a small mixed chamber ensemble.
Victoria Parker, Violin
Susan Telford, Flute
Eric Likkel, Clarinet
Brian Chin, Trumpet
Nathan Vetter, Trombone
Rajan Krishnaswami, Cello
Kevin Johnson, Piano
Rob Tucker, Percussion

Recorded Live at the Velocity Dance Center in Seattle, WA
Jan. 9th 2015
Bill Levey: Audio Engineer

The Universal Language Project is a music-centric multi-arts concert series dedicated to generating new music for the 21st century. It is a program of Common Tone Arts, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to creating positive change for our diverse world through music and arts education.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Town Music Season Finale: Q&A with Andrius Žlabys

by Joshua Roman

On Tuesday, I’ll be joined on my chamber music series Town Music by Johnny Gandelsman, Arnaud Sussman, Kyle Armbrust, and Andrius Žlabys for a program of 20th and 21st Century works. We’ll present the world premiere of “Movement for String Quartet and Piano”, written by Andrius and commissioned by Town Hall Seattle. Andrius is a fantastic musician and a regular collaborator of mine, so I jumped at the chance to interview him over the phone about composing, performing, and his new piece.

download (2)By the way, you can hear this performance LIVE on Second Inversion – tune into the 24/7 stream on Tuesday, May 24 at 7:30pm PST!

Joshua Roman: When was the first time you thought about writing your own music?

Andrius Žlabys: Well, actually from childhood. I started by improvising, before I began formal piano studies, to the horror of my piano teacher, because my whole setup was fairly developed in an amateur way. So I had learned, on my own, the Bach Toccata and Fugue for organ, but my fingers were all over the place, so it was a kind of promising disaster.

JR: What style did you improvise in?

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AŽ: I started to come to the keyboard (we have a grand piano where I grew up) – and I would begin just tinkering with the piano, finding any sonorities I could. I don’t know what style that was. Kid style. But I think I might have made some sense, because my parents thought “it’s not just regular banging on the piano”, and I would spend a lot of time on it. So they decided maybe it’s a good idea to try lessons. And so I kept improvising, and the style was kind of baroque for a while, and then some contemporary elements were added as I was exposed to more contemporary music. And at some point I did try to write it down, fragments, but I didn’t have any formal composition studies until I came to the U.S. to Interlochen, where I studied composition.

JR: Did you ever write anything that was performed at Interlochen?

AŽ: Yeah! I wrote a piano sonata, a piece for violin and piano, and actually a suite for cello and piano. When I auditioned for schools, I got into Peabody as a double major; composition and piano, but I chose to go to Curtis as a piano major. So for a while, I didn’t compose, and then started up again later. But I kept improvising.

JR: Who are some of your influences as a composer?

AŽ: I have composers that I love and play all the time like Bach, and obviously Mozart. Looking at more current composers, I love Messiaen, and I love Shostakovich, Schnittke, and Arvo Pärt. But I was also influenced by many of my close friends who are composers. For example, Dmitri Levkovich, and Yevgeniy Sharlat, who was a tremendous influence. He wrote a piano quartet for me; through that and other pieces that I observed him writing I got to see the process, the struggle, and moments of joy when it comes through.

Somehow I was so in a piano mode that I never developed the ability to write lengthy things. Because the actual technique of writing is to be able to capture the ideas before they float away. So once I became able to capture longer ideas, there was more possibility. The ideas were always there, I just never had the capacity to capture them until I took up composing in a more focused way.

JR: Do think that composing affects your piano playing at all?

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AŽ: Absolutely. Yes, they’re so interconnected. In interesting and sometimes strange ways. For example, when I compose – as a piano teacher, I change a lot. Because I start to see all kinds of motivic connections that I would never see otherwise. I remember once I was teaching Mozart Fantasia in C minor, and at the time I was actively writing a piece, and I saw all kinds of things in the Mozart that were totally out of my vision when I was practicing the piece myself. So yes, it affects my interpretation. First of all, you get to see how the thought is developed. So I get to see what is the core idea, which influences the piece mostly on a subconscious level. I get to see how everything revolves around that idea, which is usually just a couple of notes. And to see the whole, not just the parts – that musical cognitive process, a kind of inner logic.

Since I started composing more, Beethoven has become a total mystery. In his case, there are so many rather simple harmonic progressions; we have tonic-dominant, dominant-tonic; fairly straightforward. And then you get ornamentation in the form of the melody, which is also often just very simple arpeggios. And the real genius is somewhere in between those two things. Because by themselves, harmonic progressions are just harmonic progressions, right? And without them, those ornamentations would not make sense. So something happens in this very thin area, a kind of boundary layer. So I began to see more of those things when I started really composing.

As a performer of my own music, I always hear “how it should really sound”. It makes me much more demanding of what my sound should be. On the other hand, I realize that how the piece should sound is not defined by, you know, precise dynamics. When I analyze the great works I now see how masterfully the composers placed those dynamics. They are precise enough, but leave just enough room for freedom, and every composer does it differently. It’s such an important element, and when I compose myself, I can imagine the music being interpreted in different ways, as long as the underlying thought is somehow expressed.

JR: How do you feel playing the piano affects your composition? This is kind of the opposite question.

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AŽ: Playing the piano of course gives me access to polyphony. For me, voice leading in composition is probably the most important thing. The lines follow a certain kind of logic – almost like physical laws. And then, when they try to break the boundaries of those laws, those have to be intentional moments, not accidental. Voice leading, polyphony, the importance of independent yet strongly interacting lines, are the most important values for me, no matter what style. I think that if you look at any music that we consider great music, the voice leading is almost always impeccable, unless intentionally not so. Then, of course, it’s breaking those rules quite purposefully.

Writing for piano, it helps to know how to write for my own hands. Sometimes it makes me write kind of demanding stuff for the piano, and then of course I have to deal with it.

JR: Aside from knowing the idiom of the piano, do you think being someone who interprets other people’s music and performs it for audiences affects your compositions at all?

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Photo Credit: D. Matvejavas

AŽ: Oh yes, absolutely. It’s been kind of a tradition throughout classical music; every composer was a performer and every performer a composer, up to a certain historical period when they began to separate. Ideally you should be able to play every instrument that you’re writing for. I can only play piano, but I try to strongly envision how it would be on the other instruments, so I can write in a way that would be comfortable. Or if uncomfortable, there would be a good reason for that.

For me, I want to write as few notes as possible to convey the feeling. I try to avoid unnecessary complexity. It’s like words; I like to be laconic if possible. Get to the point.

JR: Let’s talk about your piece, A Movement for Piano Quintet.

AŽ: Movement for String Quartet and Piano. Actually, somehow I prefer — “quintet” for me is not as noble sounding as “quartet”, because for me it implies a kind of mesh. I think the string quartet is such a complete sonority. The piano is like a guest, that gets to join for a little while.

JR: Fair point. What was the inspiration for your piece, Movement for String Quartet and Piano?

AŽ: The initial sketches for the piece, and the original motive – a rising three note line – came from a feeling I had during the events in Ukraine in 2014. In fact, the piece is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the war in Ukraine. So the whole piece comes from that feeling or thought. It’s definitely not a very happy piece. There’s a sense of things going wrong, and kind of a protest against that.

This was very close to home – Lithuania. I felt solidarity with Ukraine, and we felt that this could happen to Lithuania as well. To this day, there’s a lot of uncertainty about that.

JR: How does the feeling affect your compositional process?

AŽ: Well, there’s nothing explicit on purpose. There’s an intention, and I think that intention directs the whole process. The obsessive rhythm, and the images that might be seen, come from that intention. It’s not a peaceful piece, even though it has peaceful moments, maybe. There’s kind of an underlying feeling of foreboding.

JR: Is that the ostinato?

AŽ: Yes, the ostinato, with its obsessive quality.

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There’s another place with strong images – after the big climax there’s a solo quartet section, which is kind of like a Sarabande. And then the piano eventually comes on top, and that feeling was of disjointed, parallel realities, that kind of coexist, but not necessarily coincide. That creates a hallucinatory feeling; it’s not quite a cadenza, but elaborate passagework that comes on top of quite a nice harmony and destroys it.

Then there’s a pizzicato canon, which feels like a person who’s locked into a room of a certain number of dimensions, and cannot get out of it. It’s just perpetually repeating. And again, the piano comes in with little scales which are really a rearticulation of the theme from the beginning.

One of the reasons I couldn’t write for a while when I was – back at Curtis was that I felt I wasn’t allowed to write tonal music. So when I would write, the stuff that would come out would be tonal, and I would dismiss it because it’s just not contemporary. And at some point I said “OK, if that’s what’s coming out then that’s what I have”. That’s my natural language. So, of course, everybody looks for their own style, but my idea is that if I have something that sounds a certain way in my head, and it sounds enough that I want to write it down, then that takes precedence over style. For me, if I can express a certain idea to the best of my ability, or state of mind, then the style will take care of itself.

I hope you’ll be able to join us at Town Hall for the Town Music season finale on Tuesday, May 24, 7:30pm. If you’re not in Seattle, you can listen worldwide on the webstream here at Second Inversion!

Joshua’s May 2016 Playlist

2016 FOLKLIFE PREVIEW: Meet the Skyros Quartet

by Maggie Molloy

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Beethoven to Britten, Sibelius to Shostakovich—the sky is the limit for the Seattle-based Skyros Quartet. Comprised of violinists Sarah Pizzichemi and James Moat, violist Justin Kurys, and cellist Willie Braun, the quartet is known for their innovative and interactive approach to classical music both old and new.

Founded in 2010, Skyros studied chamber music at the University of Texas at Austin under the mentorship of the Miró Quartet and Sandy Yamamoto. By 2012, they became the first quartet-in-residence at the University of Nebraska, where they pursued doctorates in chamber music performance under the guidance of the Chiara String Quartet.

Suffice it to say, they’re pretty qualified musicians. And lucky for us, they recently relocated to Seattle to continue their work as contemporary classical performers, teachers, and collaborators.

You can catch Skyros in action on Friday, May 27 at our annual Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife, along with Sound of Late and the Westerlies. In the meantime, we sat down with the quartet to talk about classical music, cultural heritages, and #casualfridays:

Second Inversion: How would you describe or characterize your ensemble’s sound?

skyros-018James Moat: Whether we’re playing Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich, or Ruben Naeff’s “Jackass,” our group strives to create a sound world that is true to the nature of the composer.

When performing the classics, we have help from history to determine what kind of character and sound we’re looking for in our performance. When playing modern works, we’ve always taken every opportunity to work directly with the composer. This type of collaboration is always interesting because the composer has a chance to work with us to find the sound that they want, and we also have a chance to provide them with our own interpretations. The result is a wonderful blend of everyone’s artistic contributions.

SI: The Pacific Northwest is really blossoming in the contemporary classical music sphere—what do you think makes our music scene here so unique?

skyros-024+-+Version+2Willie Braun: Contemporary classical music in Seattle is more than just a sphere or scene, it’s a whole community of composers, performers, and audiences who are passionate about sharing the experience of new music. Having recently moved to the Seattle area last fall, our quartet has felt very welcomed into this community. It is refreshing to see so many artists collaborating, working together, and supporting one another to create music rather than compete for audiences.

The result is a diverse community representing many unique spectrums of contemporary classical music. Seattleites are great audiences, ready and willing to try something new. Going back a few decades, Seattle has a rich history of supporting innovation in music (i.e. grunge) and audiences here are still eager to explore new sounds and experiences.

SI: Northwest Folklife strengthens local communities through art and music, celebrating diverse cultural heritages and working to ensure their continued growth and development. What types of communities or music traditions are represented in your music?

Matching+headshot1Sarah Pizzichemi: The classic canon of string quartet literature is a melting pot of Western art music and a diverse range of influences from Balinese gamelan and Russian folk music, to American jazz and the Finnish national epic poem. The intimate yet universal appeal of four voices in conversation through the timbral spectrum of the string instrument family has made it an ideal medium for composers to record their most cherished musical thoughts, and a way to celebrate many cultural heritages in one masterwork.

We consider ourselves above all else collaborators, and we especially like to work with living composers who are continuing this tradition of musical globalization through the lens of today’s experiences. As an ensemble we also directly explore specific musical traditions like Celtic, Americana, pop culture, film scores, and different types of folk music in contexts like our #casualfriday series on Facebook and YouTube.

SI: As Seattleites, what does the annual Northwest Folklife Festival mean to you?

Sarah Pizzichemi: Skyros Quartet just moved to the Seattle area in September, but I personally was born and raised here. Some of my earliest memories are coming to Folklife to hear the cornucopia of different kinds of music. My parents were fans of world and folk music, so it was so influential for me to hear live ensembles and bands playing such a diverse range of music all in one setting.

As a junior high school student I participated in Folklife as an Irish Dancer, and as a high schooler, I would come to Folklife with other musician friends and we would busk near the Center House playing Shostakovich quartets. I will never forget the invigorating feeling of catching the attention of passersby with the ferocious second movement of the Eighth String Quartet!

I’ve continued to make memories with friends at Folklife, especially visiting the Trad Stage, as I have quite a few friends in the Celtic music circuit. I can’t wait for this year and the special opportunity to share my passion of contemporary classical music with Folklife audiences.

SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?

skyros+063Justin Kurys: As a quartet, we are very passionate about reaching and connecting with new audiences. As this is our first time performing at Folklife, we are looking forward to interacting with the diverse audience this type of event attracts!

Performances are always at their best when a connection with the audience is created. We hope to engage the audience and create a musical landscape for them to take a journey with us as we perform a very interesting and varied show. The music we will perform shows a different side of art music from what is generally conceived of when people think of classical art music, so we hope that this inspires thought and emotion that is somewhat unexpected from the audience coming into this.

The Skyros Quartet will be featured along with Sound of Late and the Westerlies at our 2nd Annual Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife on Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m. For more information, please click here or RSVP to our Facebook event.

ALBUM REVIEW: You Us We All by Shara Nova & Andrew Ondrejcak

by Maggie Molloy

“Dear Beyoncé,” Shara Nova sings dotingly above the excited clattering of an antique typewriter. “Do you ever think that you’re like everybody else? Just another human, fartin’ around this damned earth?”

Queen Bey makes no reply.
600x600Regal, royal, and ridiculously talented, Beyoncé is just one of several modern pop gods called upon in Nova’s contemporary Baroque chamber opera, You Us We All. The album-length opera is a mixed-up, mashed-up court masque about five allegorical characters searching for meaning in the modern age, filled with corny fan letters and cornetto solos, broken hearts and Baroque instruments.

It’s a work of 21st-century musical theater written for 17th-century instruments—an ornate, Baroque-style pageant of life and death with music by Nova, libretto by Andrew Ondrejcak, costumes by Zane Pihlstrom, and choreography by Seth Stewart Williams.

Shara Nova (previously known as Shara Worden) is one of those musicians who is notoriously impossible to pin down. She’s an artist in every sense of the word—a composer, a singer-songwriter, a mezzo-soprano extraordinaire, and a musical chameleon.

Perhaps best known as the frontwoman her own avant-garde rock band, My Brightest Diamond, she has also collaborated with composers and artists as diverse as the Decemberists, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Sufjan Stevens, Colin Stetson, David Byrne, and many more. For Nova, writing and starring in her own Baroque chamber opera was simply the next logical step in a career of beautifully unusual musical endeavors.

You Us We All began with a commission from the Belgian ensemble Baroque Orchestration X (B.O.X.), a collective that is committed to creating new music on old instruments. Inspired by their wide range of rare period instruments, Nova began working with writer, director, and production designer Andrew Ondrejcak to craft a new theatrical work that would combine the lavish nobility and grace of the Baroque era with the boldness and artistic experimentation of the 21st century.

The opera premiered last year with performances in Belgium, Germany, Amsterdam, and New York. And though no performances made it over to the West Coast (yet!), we can still live vicariously through the original cast recording, starring Nova herself with her hand-picked skeleton cast of curious characters.

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The opera takes its structural form from the Baroque masque—a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and 17th-century Europe and involved extravagant music, costumes, sets, and dances. Masques typically featured a series of tableaus in lieu of a standard plot, and opted for allegorical characters to represent abstract virtues such as Beauty, Strength, or Justice.

At its core, You Us We All adheres to this basic structure of pomp and circumstance—but what begins as lighthearted courtly entertainment quickly turns into something much darker: a radical look inward at how we define our culture and, perhaps more importantly, ourselves.

Nova’s warm, lustrous vocals sparkle in the role of Hope, along with acclaimed New York-vocalist Helga Davis as Virtue, baritone Martin Gerke as Love, performance artist Carlos Soto as Time, and countertenor Bernhard Landauer as Death. The 10-piece B.O.X. collective provides a backdrop of clean, courtly, polite, and precise accompaniment reminiscent of a Baroque dance suite—but with some more contemporary percussion thrown in for a 21st-century edge.

The opera tells a tale of Love, Virtue, Hope, and Death—four dreadfully superficial characters who define themselves solely through their fabulous costumes, ornamented melodies, and material possessions. Surrounded by the glitter and glamour of riches and wealth, they begin to reflect on the meaning of their lives in the modern world only as Time strips away their carefully-crafted layers of pomp and artifice.

The opera unfolds through a number of modern-day arias and recitatives: Death falls for Love, Virtue and Hope head out to a strip club, Time drinks away his sorrows—you know, the usual operatic drama.

But it’s all tied together will introspective little letters Hope writes to the pop divinities, almost like philosophical prayers to the gods above. In her own little 21st-century way, Hope’s fan letters harken back to the Baroque tradition, when philosophers sought to reconcile the existence of life and God through their writings.

It just serves as a reminder that although we’re three centuries past Baroque music and philosophical musings, we are still just as lost as ever. But at least we’re not alone—the opera reminds us that you, us, we all still have each other. And Nova’s prominent role reminds us that above all, we still have Hope.

“Dear Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, is it true that you’re split from one single chromosome?” she sings sweetly above the antique typewriter. “Are we not us each all split from one single chromosome, and spend our lives trying to put the pieces back together?”