LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: December 4-7

by Maggie Molloy

These artists are spicing up the December music calendar with everything from comedy to cabaret to neoclassicism and more!

Ahamefule Oluo’s “Now I’m Fine” at On the Boards

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Brighten up one of those dreary Seattle nights with a trip to “Now I’m Fine,” a multidisciplinary music event combining comedy with classical music.

“Now I’m Fine” is an experimental pop opera about holding it together, starring comedian, musician, and storyteller Ahamefule Oluo. The performance draws from his personal stories about illness, sorrow, hope, and other emotions and experiences to which all of us can relate. Unlike the rest of us, though, Oluo tells these personal stories with the help of a 17-piece orchestra and a fantastic cast of performers.

The stories range from tragic to triumphant, travelling through the happy, the sad, and even the awkward. The result is a theatrical production filled with laughter, life lessons, and a lot of beautiful music.

The show runs Dec. 4-7 at On the Boards’ Merrill Wright Mainstage Theater. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

 

The Esoterics’ Irving Fine Centennial

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Prepare to fall down the rabbit hole next weekend when the Esoterics bring to life poetry from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

The Seattle-based vocal ensemble is performing neoclassical composer Irving Fine’s musical settings of six poems from “Alice in Wonderland” as part of a larger performance commemorating his 100th birthday. But that’s not all—they will also perform essentially all of Fine’s other choral works, including his poignant “Hour Glass,” his witty and virtuosic “Choral New Yorker,” his musical setting of the Yiddish poem “An Old Song,” and much more.

The performances are Friday, Dec. 5 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6 at All Pilgrims Christian Church at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 7 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church at 3 p.m.

 

My Brightest Diamond at the Crocodile

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Not many musicians can shine in both classical and art-rock musical settings—but Shara Worden is a sparkling star no matter what she’s playing. Her avant-garde rock music project, My Brightest Diamond, combines her operatic vocal training and classical composition studies with a theatrical performance art aesthetic.

Next weekend My Brightest Diamond is bringing some glitter and grace to Seattle with a show at the Crocodile. The show is part of a U.S. tour in support of her new album, “This is My Hand,” which was released this past September. The album combines elements of opera, cabaret, chamber music, rock, and even electronic, drawing from Worden’s many multifaceted musical endeavors over the course of her career.

The concert is next Saturday, Dec. 6 at the Crocodile at 8 p.m.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: yMusic’s Balance Problems

by Maggie Molloy

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New York has long been one of the U.S.’s leading centers for new and experimental classical music, and who better to spearhead the city’s lively and eccentric music scene than innovative young musicians?

yMusic is quickly making a name for themselves as one of New York’s most imaginative young music ensembles. The sextet, which formed in 2008, is named for the stylish Millennial Generation from which its musicians hail. Each of its members has their own distinct personal style and musical flair, and together their music toes the line between the classical and pop music worlds.

The ensemble is composed of a string trio carefully balanced with flute, clarinet, and trumpet. yMusic features Rob Moose on violin, Nadia Sirota on viola, Clarice Jensen on cello, Hideaki Aomori on clarinet, Alex Sopp on flute, and CJ Camerieri on trumpet.

Though the group is full of virtuosic, classically-trained musicians, yMusic strives to make classical chamber music accessible to a wider range of audiences outside of the traditional concert hall.

In their new album, “Balance Problems,” the group takes on dazzling new compositions by Nico Muhly, Marcos Balter, Andrew Norman, Jeremy Turner, Timo Andres, Mark Dancigers, and Sufjan Stevens. The result is a series of carefully crafted sonic landscapes which blend imaginative musical textures of enormous depth and detail.

The album’s sound is heavily influenced by Son Lux (Ryan Lott), a fellow genre-bending New York-based musician who served as the producer and mixing engineer for “Balance Problems.” His extensive background in electronic and experimental music informed the mixing process, helping to expand yMusic’s sound while still preserving the integrity of their acoustic instruments.

“Balance Problems” starts off with the title track, a delicate but densely colorful piece composed by modernist Nico Muhly. The piece’s overlapping wind and brass motifs are carefully balanced against the constantly shifting, often pizzicato string backdrop.

Marcos Balter’s “Bladed Stance,” toys with various tempos on different instruments, creating depth through swelling woodwind melodies which whisper like wind, gradually rising and falling with each breath.

Of all the pieces, Andrew Norman’s two-part “Music in Circles” is perhaps the most familiar in structure. True to its title, the piece begins and ends with the same airy, ambient backdrop. If you listen closely, you can even hear someone breathing on the recording. The stark, simple atmosphere gradually gives way to growing depth and drama. The middle of the piece is rounded out with vibrant and colorful timbres, each instrument’s part swirling around each other to produce a brilliant, sparkling musical texture.

The more chaotic tracks on the album are balanced out by softer, gentler compositions such as Jeremy Turner’s “The Bear and the Squirrel.” The piece begins with a rich cello tone, embracing a bass-heavy sound with smooth, sweet strings and a muted trumpet melody. The lovely, dreamlike melodies give the piece a tranquil, lulling quality.

Sufjan Stevens ends the album with “The Human Plague,” a more heavily produced track which experiments with delayed and gated effects. All of the instruments play in sync for the first time on the album, dizzily repeating one rhythm until each voice gradually slows down and fades away into silence. The result is a modern, minimalist finale which seamlessly drives home the album’s theme of blending pop and classical.

As an album, “Balance Problems” is truly brought to life by yMusic’s youthful, imaginative energy and fearless commitment to creating innovative and expressive new music. The group’s extraordinary musicianship and unique ear for pop and avant-garde musical elements allows them to flawlessly tie together two very different musical worlds into one intricate but accessible classical music album.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: November 21 & 23

by Maggie Molloy

David Bazan and the Passenger String Quartet

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David Bazan is a Seattle singer-songwriter best known as the creative force behind Pedro the Lion, a local indie-rock band which broke up in 2006 when Bazan went solo. However, this weekend Bazan is joining forces with a new type of band: the Passenger String Quartet.

The Passenger String Quartet is a neoclassical Northwestern ensemble dedicated to playing avant-garde, experimental new works. The group recently collaborated with Bazan to create an album full of all new studio recordings of Pedro the Lion and Bazan solo songs. For the past couple months, Bazan and the quartet have been touring in support of the album, titled “David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet Volume 1.”

After a long series of sold-out shows across the U.S., this weekend Bazan and the Passenger String Quartet are bringing the tour back home with a performance at Seattle’s own Neptune Theatre. The show is this Friday, Nov. 21. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the performance begins at 9 p.m.

 

TangleTown Trio Presents “Night of the Living Composers”

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Halloween may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a spooky, spoofy musical performance every once in a while. This weekend TangleTown Trio is presenting “Night of the Living Composers.” A most unusual performance, the concert features the works of several contemporary, living composers.

TangleTown Trio is a local ensemble composed of mezzo-soprano and composer Sarah Mattox, violinist and violist Jo Nardolillo, and pianist Judith Cohen. The group specializes in classical music inspired by different genres of American music, including jazz, folk, and theatre.

For this weekend’s performance, they are tackling the works of many local living composers, including Christophe Chagnard, Bern Herbolsheimer, Carol Sams, Randolph Hokanson, and several others. The concert features but one dead composer—see if you can tell which one is the ghost.

“Night of the Living Composers” is this Sunday, Nov. 23 at the Columbia City Theater. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the performance begins at 5:30 p.m.

 

The Piano Trio: Classic to Contemporary

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Over the centuries, the piano trio has grown to include an extraordinarily large and diverse repertoire, securing a name for itself as a staple component of chamber music. This weekend, violinist Michael Jinsoo, cellist David Requiro, and pianist Christina Valdes are celebrating that vast and vibrant repertoire with a performance titled “The Piano Trio: Classic to Contemporary.”

The program features piano trios ranging from the passionate, poignant Beethoven to the experimental, aleatoric Ives. The concert will also feature trios by Brahms and Garcia, rounding out a program of exceptional chamber works from throughout history.

The concert is this Sunday, Nov. 23 at Cornish’s PONCHO Hall at 7 p.m.

NEW VIDEOS: NOW Ensemble

NOW Ensemble visited Seattle earlier this month for the TownMusic at Town Hall series and Second Inversion spent some quality time with them here in our studios!

For more in-studio sessions, including videos of Joshua Roman & Friends and ETHEL, visit our Video page.

To hear the archive of NOW Ensemble’s performance at Town Hall, visit our Live Concert Recordings page.

CD REVIEW: “Dreams and Prayers” by A Far Cry

by Jill Kimball

A Far Cry

A Far Cry.

When really, really good musicians get together to play music, something magical happens. Some of the best performances in history have been called divine or heavenly. No matter their faith (or lack thereof), those who appreciate music can agree there’s something otherworldly about an amazing performance or recording.

“We’re kind of scrubbing on our instruments, and what somehow comes out of that physical act is something spiritual or transcendent, ” says Miki-Sophia Cloud, a violinist with the self-conducted chamber orchestra A Far Cry. “The history of spiritual mysticism [is] about connecting the physical and the spiritual, which is such a theme in music as well.”

In observing the connection between mysticism and music, the members of A Far Cry had a great idea. They decided to make an album called Dreams & Prayers, a unique collection of music that explores the relationship of spirituality and sound. It begins with Hildegard of Bingen, fast-forwards to the present day, backtracks to 1994, and then concludes at the bedside of a newly-healed Ludwig van Beethoven. Four works, three faith traditions, and 1,000 years comprise this stunning, exhilarating, and (dare I say it?) transcendent album.

 

The disc gets is name from its focal work, Osvaldo Golijov‘s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind. Golijov originally composed the piece for klezmer clarinet and string quartet–more specifically, for the Kronos Quartet–and has now written an arrangement specifically for A Far Cry to premiere. What’s especially exciting about this recording is that the klezmer clarinetist is David Krakauer, the very same musician who played the premiere with Kronos.

The whole piece is inspired by the writings and teachings of Isaac the Blind, a Jewish mystic who lived in 12th and 13th century Provence. Its three movements are inspired by the three historical Jewish languages: Aramaic, Yiddish and Hebrew. The kind of transcendence explored here is more ecstatic and lively than it is dreamy or serene: you get the sense that Krakauer and the Criers just let go and played with abandon, reveling in the piece’s driving dance rhythms, lush orchestration and utter chaos.

With this 33-minute tornado at the center of Dreams & Prayers, it’s easy to forget there’s another world premiere on the CD: Mehmet Ali Sanlikol‘s Vecd, commissioned by the ensemble. Vecd, in Arabic, “refers to a state of rapture or ecstasy,” according to the composer; the piece is a musical evocation of the kind of spiritual ecstasy Sufi whirling dervishes try to achieve in formal religious ceremonies. Almost everyone will find this piece aesthetically appealing, even if they don’t make the religious connection. It begins with just a few musicians playing soft, meditative sustained notes. Then, a dramatic melody swoops in. Over the course of a few minutes, it gains in speed and volume until the piece reaches its whirling climax. The sound gradually slows and fades until, as in the beginning, only a few musicians remain.

My absolute favorite part about Dreams & Prayers is its opening track, an original arrangement of the chant O ignis spiritus paracliti by the incomparable Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard isn’t famous just because she was one of history’s first female composers. She’s famous because she was a composer, writer, philosopher, theologian, scientist, mystic, and Benedictine abbess…simultaneously. And her music was like nothing anyone had heard before: her chants were more expressive, complex and artistic than any of those composed before and even during her lifetime. It’s such a pleasure to hear her haunting chant arranged so simply on this disc: no extraneous notes or harmonies, just one pure melodic line played in perfectly-imperfect unison by the violinists of A Far Cry. Despite its simplicity, it’s not background music: this track deserves your undivided attention.

A close second favorite is the album’s heart-wrenching conclusion, the third movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15. At first it seemed strange for A Far Cry to include something so comparatively conventional, but then I read T.S. Eliot’s thoughts on the piece:

“I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaiety about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.”

History tells us T.S. Eliot was on the nose about this piece: Beethoven likely wrote it following his recovery from an abdominal illness. In the original manuscript, he describes the third movement as a “Holy song of Thanksgiving to a convalescent of the Deity.”  It’s an ode to the emotional healing power of music, further proof that we turn to music for a respite from all forms of pain. One last time, A Far Cry connects the physical with the spiritual in their impeccable yet sensitive performance of this movement.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Dreams & Prayers is available to buy through the ensemble’s own label, Crier Records, here.