NEW CONCERT RECORDING: SCRAPE

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Scrape is an unconducted string ensemble (15 bowed strings, with harp and electric guitar) dedicated to performing the works of Jim Knapp and various guest composers. Second Inversion recorded their most recent performance on October 3 at the Good Shepherd Center, all works by Knapp and one premiere by Brendon Williams. Several of the selections can be found on their most recent CD release, Approaching Vyones, available here!

Enjoy this live performance and click over to our Live Concert archive for more!

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Lou Harrison’s La Koro Sutro

by Rachele Hales

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“Old Granddad” sounds like something you might ask a bartender to mix up, but it’s actually what you get when you manipulate scrap metal, trash cans, and oxygen tanks into a percussion instrument played with baseball bats.  Given its resemblance to a gamelan it is often also referred to as an “American Gamelan,” but I think we can all agree that “Old Granddad” is a much cooler name.  It was built by Lou Harrison and his partner William Colvig and is heard throughout Harrison’s Suite for Violin with American Gamelan and La Koro Sutro.  So what does this thing sound like, anyway?  I’m so glad you asked!  Pretty much like gongs and chimes, turns out.

 

Harrison’s Suite for Violin with American Gamelan opens with a haunting folk melody before morphing into what Harrison calls “stampedes” in recognition of the “lively and unrelenting rhythms” used to reflect Balinese dance.  The final Chaconne of the suite brings the entire piece to a peaceful, dreamy conclusion.  Harrison successfully fuses his strong Asian influence with a Western compositional attitude in this suite, and the CD only gets sweeter from here.

La Koro Sutro is the second piece on this album and translates from Esperanto as “The Heart Sutra,” which is one of the most beloved and famous sutras of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and describes the path one must take to achieve the pure distillation of wisdom (Nirvana).  Harrison’s use of Esperanto, the most widely-spoken constructed language in the world, is a clear social and political statement reflecting his hope for a united world and the transcendence of ethnic & national boundaries.

While the suite on this disc is lovely, this reviewer was utterly captivated by the title track La Koro Sutro, largely because of the astounding choral performance by The Providence Singers.  The warmth and precision they bring to this recording cannot be overstated, especially in “5a Paragrafo” where, in the text, The Bodhisattva (enlightenment being) reaches total tranquility & euphoria and will stay there forever.  Do I understand Esperanto?  No.  Am I educated about Buddhism?  Not really.  But I learned what pure bliss sounds like the moment “5a Paragrafo” hit the 1:30 mark.  On their website The Providence Singers describe the selection this way: “It is in a six-note B-minor scale — the E-natural is left out as it would be out of tune in justly tuned syntonon diatonic.”  Since I don’t know what any of that means I can only describe it as…  glowing.

La Koro Sutro concludes with a return to the original Sanskrit text and heavy emphasis on the deeper sounds of Old Granddad (created by whacking oxygen tanks with baseball bats – don’t try it at home!) as well more of the gorgeous plinking heard throughout the entire sutra.   Lou Harrison said that “making an instrument is one of music’s greatest joys,” and this reviewer is very grateful for his contribution.  La Koro Sutro is a rewarding album for patient listeners and makes me want to bring 1995 back so I can just lay on my floor and listen to it all day.

Go here to purchase the album, performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Gil Rose!

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: October 25, 28, 30

by Maggie Molloy

From percussion concertos to Kaki King, this week is packed with exciting contemporary music performances!

Tacoma Symphony Orchestra’s Season Opener Featuring Evelyn Glennie

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This concert is now SOLD OUT, but worth highlighting nonetheless!

Evelyn Glennie is not your average percussionist. The triple-Grammy winning musician was the first person in musical history to create and maintain a career as a solo percussionist, all while being profoundly deaf.

This Saturday, she will perform the world premiere of Sean O’Boyle’s new percussion concerto, “Portraits of Immortal Love,” with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra. The piece, which is inspired by the 100-year anniversary of World War I, features percussion instruments ranging from waterphones to hand bells to singing bowls and shell wind chimes. The percussive instruments are meant to illustrate the aching beauty and desperate hope of long-distance love in a time when written word was the only means of communication.

In keeping with the organic, colorful rhythmic quality of percussion instruments, the Symphony will also perform Ravel’s “Bolero,” Debussy’s “Nocturnes,” and Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” The performance also doubles as the inaugural concert welcoming Tacoma Symphony Orchestra’s new Music Director, Sarah Ioannides.

The performance will take place at the Pantages Theatre in Tacoma this Saturday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

Cornish’s Contemporary Piano Series Featuring Jonathan Powell

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Jonathan Powell is bringing some contemporary colors to the classical piano keyboard next Tuesday. As part of Cornish College of the Arts’ Contemporary Piano series, Powell will be performing a program rich in color with Romantic and lesser-known contemporary works by early 20th century composers.

The program includes solo piano works composed by Nikolai Medtner, Alexander Scriabin, Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, and Karol Szymanowski. The pieces showcase Powell’s musical talents as an international touring soloist with a wide range of colorful repertoire and a specialty in late-Romantic music. In particular, Powell is often associated with Sorabji, a prolific piano composer who’s demanding piano compositions Powell has performed and premiered at several concerts internationally.

The Contemporary Piano performance will take place at Cornish’s PONCHO Hall next Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 8 p.m.

Kaki King and ETHEL String Quartet

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The inimitable, uncategorizable Kaki King is joining forces with ETHEL, an experimental New York based string quartet, to create an evening of truly imaginative, totally indescribable music.

King is a guitarist and composer with an impressively diverse musical career. Aside from releasing six incredibly distinct LP records over the course of 10 years, she has also toured extensively and contributed to a variety of film and TV soundtracks. Though she’s impossible to pin down, King is known for her percussive, often jazzy melodies and her use of multiple tunings on acoustic and lap steel guitars.

ETHEL shares a similar interest in pushing musical boundaries. Unlike your typical string quartets, ETHEL plays with amplification and regularly incorporates improvisation into their performances. The group frequently performs original works as well as works by contemporary composers.

Kaki King and ETHEL will perform at the Edmonds Center for the Arts next Thursday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m.

NOW Ensemble: Live Broadcast on Wednesday, November 5!

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Our next live broadcast on Second Inversion’s 24/7 stream is Wednesday, November 5 at 7:30pm, featuring the NYC-based NOW Ensemble presented by Town Music at Town Hall performing:

Derek Bermel: Interval Training (World Premiere!)
Judd Greenstein: Folk Music
Missy Mazzoli: Magic with Everyday Objects
Patrick Burke: All Together NOW
Mark Dancigers: Dreamfall

Join the Facebook event and invite your friends.  Big thanks to the Office of Arts & Culture for their support of this recording and broadcast.

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Stay tuned for news on more live broadcasts from Town Hall, in-studio recordings, and broadcasts of pre-recorded concerts throughout the year!

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Gabriel Prokofiev: Selected Classical Works 2003-2012

By Maggie Molloy

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Classical music buffs are typically familiar with the works of 20th century Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev; but are they familiar with the works of his grandson?

Gabriel Prokofiev is a London-based composer, producer, and founder of the Nonclassical record label. Created in 2004, Nonclassical is an independent record label which is dedicated to the discovery and promotion of new, innovative, forward-thinking classical music. The label’s albums often feature collaborations between classical musicians and producers who typically work in different genres.

The label also hosts club-nights: contemporary classical performances presented in London pubs, rock venues, and nightclubs, with DJs performing between acts. The idea behind club-nights is that they make contemporary classical music more accessible, particularly to a younger audience.

In honor of Nonclassical’s 10th anniversary, this past August Prokofiev released an album titled “Gabriel Prokofiev: Selected Classical Works 2003-2012.” In keeping with Nonclassical’s mission, the selected compositions feature elements of the Western classical music tradition while also experimenting with innovative new sounds and instrumentation.

Buy it here!

The album begins with the complete recordings of Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 1 and String Quartet No. 2 performed by the Elysian Quartet. Both pieces utilize rich, percussive rhythms, visceral bow strokes, dense musical textures, and dynamic interplay between voices. Prokofiev tends to favor swelling violin melodies layered over very rhythmic, typically pizzicato backdrops. With each movement, he utilizes the full pitch range of every instrument (as well as every possible style of playing) in order to fully immerse the listener in a unique musical atmosphere.

The quartets are followed by two movements of Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, performed by the Heritage Orchestra and featuring DJ Yoda. If anyone was going to combine the two seemingly separate worlds of hip hop and classical music, Prokofiev is probably the most qualified to do so: the unique concept for this piece is informed by his background as a producer of hip hop, grime, and electro records. The concerto’s dynamic rhythms and dramatic punches are at times reminiscent of Stravinsky—except for, you know, with turntables.

Since his turntable concerto, Prokofiev has further fused hip hop and classical music in a number of other projects. Earlier this year, the Seattle Symphony performed Prokofiev’s orchestral arrangements of Seattle hip hop pioneer Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Posse on Broadway” and “Baby Got Back.” The Symphony also premiered Prokofiev’s own original Sir Mix-A-Lot-inspired orchestral composition, “Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot.”

Though these compositions did not make it onto his compilation album, Prokofiev does feature plenty of other imaginative works. Four selections from his Piano Book No. 1, performed by GéNIA, give the album a slightly softer edge. The pieces seem to explore every pitch of every octave on the piano, ranging from growling bass backdrops to light, whimsical melodies.

The piano pieces are followed by all four movements of Prokofiev’s Cello Multitracks, performed by Peter Gregson. This piece is certainly not your typical cello repertoire: it was written for nine layered cello parts, all of which are intended to be recorded by a single cellist. The piece truly highlights the cello’s unbelievable range, combining even the toughest, grittiest sounds with the most vocal, melodic qualities of the instrument. Plus, hearing numerous layers of the same instrument interweaving with itself also creates a truly unique aural experience.

Prokofiev’s compilation album ends with an excerpt from “Import/Export: Suite for Global Junk” performed by Powerplant. The piece is inspired by musicians and composers from around the globe who use unconventional objects as percussion instruments. The result is a rich array of percussive sounds and echoing rhythms.

From his turntable concerto to his nine-cello suite to his found-objects percussion piece, Prokofiev’s compilation album showcases his ear for experimentation and musical innovation. Regardless of his musical lineage, Gabriel Prokofiev has certainly secured a name for himself as one of London’s most imaginative contemporary composers.