ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Jake Schepps Quintet: “Entwined”

by Rachele Hales


When I saw Jake Schepps’ latest album sitting in the review pile I chuckled a little remembering an old joke told to me by a friend after I chose the music of Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs as accompaniment on our long road trip:

Friend: Can you read music?

Banjo Player: Not enough to hurt my playing.

Schepps didn’t start playing the banjo until he was 21, which is ancient considering most classical virtuosos are practically born playing their instrument.  Why the banjo?  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Schepps says, “There are a lot of guitar players out there, but the banjo is different.”

Entwined is not his first ambitious banjo project, but he’s done something unique here by commissioning classically-trained composers to write music meant for a traditional bluegrass string band (banjo, guitar, violin, mandolin, and bass).  The result is progressive, mature, and fun to listen to.  “Everybody wrote pieces to their personalities,” says Schepps, “and I think that this variety really makes a big statement about how much potential there is with the string band for playing new music.”

Like what you hear? Buy it here!

The disc opens with Flatiron, a set of eight pieces composed by Marc Mellits that start with exuberance and capriciousness before relaxing into poise and serenity.  He takes us out of the series with “Dreadnought,” a lively piece that will make you want to grab a pair of spoons and play along on your knee.

Matt McBane is up next with Drawn, a beautiful five-movement composition in which gentle strumming gets stretched almost to minimalism.  Drawn takes typical bluegrass style out of its stiff denim jeans and lets the bareness of it spin and sway across an expansive wilderness.

Matt Flinner, a banjo prodigy and acclaimed mandolin player, returns us to the spirit of bluegrass in Migrations.  He’s ramped up classic Appalachian folk elements and created pieces more balladic than anything else on Entwined.

Gyan Riley concludes the album with something distinct.  Stumble Smooth, which Schepps calls “the burliest piece of music I’ve ever worked on in my life,” draws influence from bluegrass for sure, but also from modernism and free jazz.  The slow buildup highlights the percussive capabilities of the banjo before the piece evolves into what sounds like a fun, frenzied jam session.

Entwined is an adventurous project that champions the versatility of the bluegrass ensemble.  Schepps and his collaborators have given us a loosened-up bluegrass collection that even modern classical lovers will enjoy.  The only question I have is… have you hugged your banjo today?


by Maggie Molloy

This week’s music calendar features everything from blindfolded musicians to Babylonian goddesses!

Pink Martini with the Seattle Symphony


Portland is known for its unique and diverse music scene—Courtney Love, Elliott Smith, and the Decemberists are just a few Portland natives who come to mind—but nothing is quite like Portland’s Pink Martini.

Pink Martini is a 12-piece band that draws musical inspiration from around the world. With a unique fusion of classical, jazz, and old-fashioned pop influences, the group strives to create beautiful and inclusive music which transcends the boundaries of language, geography, politics, and religion.

This week Pink Martini is coming to our neck of the woods to perform two concerts with the Seattle Symphony. They will be joined by the Von Trapps, a family who is famous for their spot-on sibling harmonies, rich musical arrangements, and multilingual repertoire. Did we mention they’re descendants of the Trapp Family Singers, whose lives were the inspiration for “The Sound of Music”?

The performance is Thursday, Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Benaroya Hall.

Heather Bentley’s “The Ballad of Ishtar”


Opera is among the oldest vocal musical forms still prevalent today in Western classical music. However, this weekend Seattle musicians are putting a contemporary spin on this classic art form with composer Heather Bentley’s “The Ballad of Ishtar,” an original electroacoustic, semi-improvised opera which experiments with new sounds, new instruments, and a new story.

The opera responds to our worldwide rape culture crisis through a new musical language. It tells the story Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love, war, and sex, who is so disgusted by rape culture that she travels to the underworld and back to discover why humanity deserves any intimate connection at all.

Bringing this story to life is a fabulous cast of Seattle musicians, including singer and clarinetist Beth Fleenor as Ishtar, performance artist okanomodé as Asu Shu-Namir, and singer Jimmie Herrod as the Queen of the Underworld. The instrumental ensemble features saxophonist Ivan Arteaga, violist Heather Bentley, trumpeter Ahamefule J. Oluo, guitarist Trey Gunn, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, and guitarist Michaud Savage. Electronics, amplification, and live processing will be done by composer and sound artist William Hayes.

For a preview of some of the artists, please listen to Heather and Beth’s installment of Second Inversion’s “The Takeover”


The opera will be performed this Thursday, Jan. 22, Friday, Jan. 23, and Saturday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Music of Remembrance: Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz


Some moments in history are too powerful, to sobering, and too significant to be put into words. Art is simply the only way to fully express the emotional gravity of such moments. Next week, Music of Remembrance will present a free concert honoring the 70th anniversary of a very crucial moment in history: the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

The musical program will feature works by composers whose lives were cut tragically short by Nazi persecution: Hans Krása, Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Ilse Weber, Carlo Taube, Robert Dauber, David Beigelman, and Dick Kattenburg. The concert serves as a reminder of their courage and creative spirit even in the face of such violent and catastrophic circumstances.

For a listen back to MOR’s November 2014 concert, take a listen to this Second Inversion broadcast hosted by Mina Miller:


The concert is next Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. at the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall.

Beth Fleenor’s Workshop Ensemble


Beth Fleenor’s Workshop Ensemble (WE) is good at listening. In fact, they’re so good at listening that they don’t even need to use their eyes—they choose to perform blindfolded.

WE is a 12-piece project that performs Fleenor’s chamber works, including her “20 Etudes for Blindfolded Musicians,” a series of exercises which help cultivate a deeper sense of ensemble intention and communication by heightening each member’s full body listening and awareness.

Next week, the ensemble will perform “SILT,” a 16-minute sonic meditation which is being released on Bunny Blasto Records. They will also perform a new work for blindfolded musicians.

The performance is next Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: “American Chamber Music” from Seattle Chamber Music Society

by Maggie Molloy

The U.S. is home to many rich musical traditions. From jazz to country, funk to rock ‘n’ roll, and hip hop to house music, our country has made a name for itself as an innovative and imaginative purveyor of popular music.

But America has also made great contributions to the contemporary classical music genre. Though our country is often overshadowed by Europe’s vibrant and influential musical history, over the past century American composers have played an important role in shaping the future of classical music.

As such, this week’s album celebrates contemporary classical music a little closer to home: the Seattle Chamber Music Society performing an array of works by American composers.


The album, titled “American Chamber Music,” features several musicians from the Seattle Chamber Music Society, including the group’s artistic director, renowned violinist James Ehnes. Recorded at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s 2013 Summer Festival, the album is a compilation of works composed by Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, Elliott Carter, and Samuel Barber.

Ehnes and pianist Orion Weiss begin the album with Copland’s Sonata for violin and piano, a truly lyrical and theatrical work. Copland’s talent for composing balletic music is fully apparent in the piece’s gentle, glistening melodies and its poetic interplay between voices. Ehnes and Weiss play with the grace and elegance of dancers, transitioning flawlessly from the sweet and spirited Andante to the slow and somber Lento before closing with the sprightly, syncopated Allegretto.

Ives’s Largo for violin, clarinet, and piano is next on the program, catching the listener’s ear with its sweet, solemn piano introduction. The piece slowly builds in intensity with the addition of violin and clarinet, the music expanding into rich textures, striking harmonies, and unexpected syncopations before gradually retreating back to a soft, delicate ending.

The work is followed by Bernstein’s Trio for violin, cello, and piano, a theatrical piece with plenty of characters. The first movement features broad, beautiful violin and cello melodies soaring above sparkling piano harmonies. The second movement brings a change in texture, using pizzicato and stressed bowings to craft a busy, energetic soundscape. A lively, fast-paced, and purposeful third movement brings the piece to a dramatic close.

Carter’s “Elegy” for viola and piano is nothing short of enchanting. Violist Richard O’Neill and pianist Anna Polonsky perform the work with sincerity and tenderness, bringing to life melodies at once passionate and vulnerable. Their expressive and poignant performance makes it one of the album’s highlights.

The album finishes strong with Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11. The musicians move gracefully through the first movement’s three themes: the first a dramatic motif presented by all four instruments in unison, the second a softer, chorale-like theme, and the third a tender, lyrical melody. The famous second movement features a slow, extended melody which moves through all of the instruments and climaxes dramatically at the quartet’s highest possible pitch range. The short but compelling closing movement brings the piece to dynamic and powerful end.

The passion and urgency of the quartet’s final movement serves as a beautiful, memorable coda for an album full of works by American composers whose determination and imagination helped pave the way for what contemporary classical music is today.


by Maggie Molloy

This week’s multidisciplinary music calendar celebrates local musicians who are exploring new artistic mediums!

Angelique Poteat’s New Chamber Works


There’s nothing quite like the sights and sounds of the Pacific Northwest—and this weekend, Seattle is celebrating the chamber music of a composer inspired by just that.

Angelique Poteat’s music is heavily influenced by the beauty and splendor of the Puget Sound area. A Northwest native and a devoted cyclist, she often finds inspiration while pedaling through the natural world around her. Breathing life into her compositions this weekend are several of Seattle’s own local musicians, including members of the Seattle Symphony, faculty at the University of Washington and Cornish College of the Arts, and Second Inversion’s own Maggie Stapleton!

The performance is this Friday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

ĄRCO-PDX at the Royal Room


ĄRCO-PDX is a small ensemble with a big sound—a really big sound. The group, whose name stands for Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra of Portland, is committed to performing authentic classical music with an amplified sound and a rock music aesthetic.

This weekend, the group is coming to Seattle to perform works by Vivaldi and Northwest composer Kenji Bunch. The program features Seattle violin virtuoso Andrew Sumitani on “Storm at Sea,” ĄRCO-PDX violinist Mike Hsu on “Winter,” and Portland cello shredders Hannah Hillebrand and Liz Byrd on Vivaldi’s Double Cello Concerto. And of course, we can’t forget the concert’s opener: a one-man live cello-and-laptop band named Cellotronik.

The performance is this Friday, Jan. 16 at 8:30 p.m. at the Royal Room in Seattle.

Byron Au Yong’s “Mò Shēng 墨声 Ink Sound”


In some ways, sound is like paint: it can vary in color, thickness, texture, and quality—and, like paint, when you combine different sounds you can create a beautiful and unique work of art. This weekend, Seattle composer Byron Au Yong is blurring the line between ink painting and sound in a new work titled “Mò Shēng 墨声 Ink Sound.”

The performance, which takes place at the Frye Art Museum, is in conjunction with Chinese artist Pan Gongkai’s exhibition of large-scale, site-specific ink paintings titled “Withered Lotus Cast in Iron.” Surrounded by these paintings, the Passenger String Quartet will perform Au Yong’s “Mò Shēng 墨声 Ink Sound.” The piece was composed in response to Pan’s paintings, inspired by the simplicity and density of sound as it relates to the amount of ink on a brush.

The performance is this Sunday, Jan. 18 at the Frye Art Museum on Capitol Hill at 2 p.m. and again at 3:30 p.m.

NEW VIDEOS: The Westerlies

In their signature charming, dapper, and talented style, The Westerlies dropped by our studios during their holiday visit to Seattle for a video shoot here in our studios.  Please enjoy this assortment of videos featuring music by Andy Clausen (trombonist with the goldenrod shirt/navy jacket!), Charles Ives, and Wayne Horvitz.