A Celebration of American Composers: Video Edition

In celebration of July 4th, we have compiled some of our favorite videos by American Composers. Thanks to all of the artists and composers for sharing their music and performances with us!

Staff & Community Picks: July 1, 2015

A weekly rundown of the music our staff and listeners are loving lately!  Are you interested in contributing some thoughts on your favorite new music albums? Drop us a line!

OnOnalbumcover“On and On and”- and what? Well that’s the whole point, there is no “what.” This piece is based on the writings of John Muir, in particular his description of the cycle of nature going “on and on.” The rising and falling patterns of this piece, at times reaching great heights of range and dynamics and suddenly falling, only to build back up again, is indicative of a simple concept seen everywhere in nature, and indeed in all realms of the arts – the buildup and release of energy, and energy can never be created or destroyed, only transformed. – by David Wall

915_coverLisa Bielawa’s album “The Lay of the Love” speaks to the amazing ways humans find hope and comfort in dark times. She was inspired to learn that thousands of World War I soldiers carried Rilke’s work, The Lay of the Love and Death, with them in their coat pockets. She wrote a moving piece for baritone, piano, and violin set to its text. The next piece, “Wait,” was inspired by just one passage in Eugene Onegin that holds out hope for an escape from exile. In the album’s closing piece, “Hurry,” a soprano narrator digs deep to find a creative muse during a bleak period in her life, and a chamber ensemble cries out alongside her. There’s an inspirational message here for anyone who needs a pick-me-up. – by Jill Kimball


The John Adams Chamber Symphony is one of my favorite works of music and is a mind-bending, exhilarating, fiendishly difficult piece to perform – every time I hear of a new recording I have a fangirl-level freakout. But the insanity of the Chamber Symphony is just the beginning of this musical thrill-ride from the Aurora Orchestra; we also get a touch of Charles Ives, Copland’s original chamber version of Appalachian Spring, and a Nico Muhly arrangement of Paul Simon, all presented in story-board fashion prefaced by a spoken-word and mandolin piece by Max Baillie. This tour-de-force of Americana doesn’t just show the range of different styles between the different composers, it exposes surprising similarities. – by Geoffrey Larson


ALBUM REVIEW: “The Bach/Gould Project”

by Maggie Molloy

Catalyst-QuartetJohann Sebastian Bach was a master of musical variations—so much so that even now, nearly 300 years later, his works continue to inspire new interpretations, adaptations, and arrangements by musicians from around the globe.

Among Bach’s most famous and most frequently reimagined works is his “Goldberg Variations.” Originally composed in 1741 for harpsichord, the piece consists of an aria and 30 variations. Over the years, the “Goldberg Variations” have inspired countless diverse arrangements, ranging from saxophones and double bass to marimba, prepared piano, jazz trio, synthesizer, and even double-necked electric guitar.

But despite all of these imaginative reinterpretations of the classic Baroque work, no one has ever created a fully realized four-voice arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations”—until now.

The Catalyst Quartet recently released their debut album, “The Bach/Gould Project,” which features the group’s own unique arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations” for string quartet. And in addition to this 45-minute masterpiece, the album also explores Bach’s lasting influence by featuring a one-movement work written by a world-renowned interpreter of Bach’s keyboard music: Canadian pianist and composer Glenn Gould.

The Catalyst Quartet’s arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations” combines Bach’s carefully-crafted counterpoint with the warmth, resonance, and timeless elegance of a string quartet. Comprised of violinists Karla Donehew-Perez and Jessie Montgomery, violist Paul Laraia, and cellist Karlos Rodriguez, the quartet’s polyphonic clarity, rhythmic verve, and graceful phrasing breathe new life into Bach’s classic work.

The string quartet arrangement allows each voice to shine through more sweetly and more whimsically than in the harpsichord arrangement, while still maintaining the original work’s complex counterpoint and multifaceted formal structure. Furthermore, the melodic ornamentation, musical imitation, and motivic interplay between voices sparkle in the quartet arrangement, creating a gorgeous and multidimensional musical texture.

Bach’s music is famous for its dense textures, complex counterpoint, and intricate harmonic and motivic organization. In fact, his music is so intellectually rigorous that some musicians have made an entire career out of specializing in Bach musical interpretation—and Gould is among them.

Gould’s 1955 piano recording of the “Goldberg Variations” is among the most famous renditions of the influential work—in fact, the recording turned him into an overnight piano sensation. But what many people don’t know is that during the years in which Gould was preparing to record the “Variations,” he was also composing a new string quartet. Thus, the second half of “The Bach/Gould Project” features a Catalyst Quartet performance of Gould’s 1956 composition String Quartet Op. 1.

The 35-minute work is written as a single long movement divided into five sections—and while some of its contrapuntal richness may have been inspired by Bach, for the most part the composition is far from Baroque. The Expressionist melodrama and dense musical textures are at times reminiscent of early Schoenberg, though the piece’s rich harmonies and lush lyricism also have clear ties to late German Romantics such as Strauss and Wagner.

The piece is darkly sumptuous; a bold contrast to the polished charm of the “Goldberg Variations.” But the Catalyst Quartet pulls off the dramatic mood change seamlessly, capturing the stormy and tempestuous character through their carefully-balanced contrapuntal dialogue.

The String Quartet ends with an extended fugue-like coda, bringing the album full circle back to its Baroque beginnings. And while the two works may be musical worlds apart, the Catalyst Quartet’s performance of both the “Goldberg Variations” and Gould’s String Quartet are pure gold.


by Maggie Stapleton

This week’s Seattle new music events offer cross-genre flavors at the Crocodile, a world premiere by Timo Andres, and a homecoming for the Westerlies!

Town Music: Town Hall Seattle and Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras present John Adams’ ‘Shaker Loops’ and original work, commissioned by Town Hall from Timo Andres 


Town Music Artistic Director (and Second Inversion’s Artistic Advisor!) Joshua Roman will conduct the Seattle Youth Symphony (current members and alums!) in the Town Music season finale.  This talented group of musicians will present the world premiere of a new work by Timo Andres, who “achieves an unhurried grandeur that has rarely been felt in American music since John Adams came on the scene” (The New Yorker). His new work was commissioned by Town Hall and will be a great fit amidst John Adams’ Shaker Loops and Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings.

Second Inversion will present this concert as a LIVE BROADCAST.  You can tune in at bit.ly/SI-stream and RSVP to our Facebook Event!

The performance is this Saturday, June 27 at 7:30pm (doors at 6:30pm) at Town Hall Seattle on First Hill.

STG Presents Son Lux and Olga Bell 

55427c656c2cc3.93172918Son Lux’s leader is Ryan Lott, who was named “Best New Artist” by NPR’s All Song’s Considered in 2008.  Lott “works at the nexus of several rarely-overlapping Venn Diagrams (Pitchfork)” which couldn’t be a better description of what we seek to showcase on Second Inversion.  His composition “Beautiful Mechanical,” for yMusic instantly caught our attention and is in frequent rotation on our 24/7 stream.  He has also collaborated with a multitude of other prestigious artists including Richard Reed Parry, Chris Thile, Lorde, Beyoncé producer Boots, Sufjan Stevens, Matthew Dear, Busdriver, Vijay Iyer, Nico Muhly and Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw.

Son Lux will perform selections from their latest album Bones (released June 23), the premiere release from the newly formed trio, including Guitarist-composer Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang.

Olga Bell joins Son Lux for this event.  Olga’s elite training as a classical pianist paved way for the pursuit of electronic composition and songwriting. Second Inversion regulars are likely familiar with Bell’s 2014 New Amsterdam release Krai, which is a tribute to edge towns in her birth country of Russia. Olga Bell is also noted for her work with Nothankyou, Charlift, and Dirty Projectors.


The performance is this Saturday, June 27 at 9pm (doors at 8pm) at the Crocodile in Belltown.

The Westerlies: Summer Show at The Royal Room 
SAA_0954_cSashaArutyunova2014_1600pxWEBThe Westerlies (“prevailing winds from the West to the East) are home from another year of Conservatory training in NYC and return to The Royal Room for a special performance of brand new music soon to be recorded on their second album!

This brass quartet composed of Riley Mulherkar, Zubin Hensler, Andy Clausen, and Willem de Koch navigate between American folk music, jazz, classical, and indie rock and have expanded the repertoire by premiering over 40 original brass quartets.  Second Inversion hosted them for an in-studio video session back in January and we’re always thrilled to have them back in town.


The Westerlies will be joined by Brooklyn based indie-alt vocalist Julia Easterlin. Vocals. Loops. Drums. Drones. Beatz. The Westerlies and Easterlin – a great combination!


The performance is this Sunday, June 28 at 5pm (doors at 4:30pm) at the Royal Room in Columbia City.

ALBUM REVIEW: ZOFO Plays Terry Riley

by Maggie Molloy

Riley_CD_front_cover_ZOFOWith piano, the musical possibilities are so vast that sometimes your biggest limitation is the fact you only have two hands—which is why internationally acclaimed solo pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi teamed up to create ZOFO, a four-hand piano duo committed to performing contemporary classical music.

ZOFO, which is shorthand for 20-finger orchestra (ZO=20 and FO=finger orchestra), is one of only a handful of duos worldwide devoted exclusively to piano duets, and they are paving the way for other four-hand duos by focusing on 20th and 21st century repertoire and commissioning new works from celebrated contemporary composers.

Their latest musical project was in collaboration with one of the biggest names in contemporary classical: Terry Riley. Riley, who turns 80 years old this Wednesday, was one of the pioneers of minimalist music, alongside other influential American composers like La Monte Young, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.

Minimalism began in the 1960s as a new musical approach which focused on observing the internal processes of the music rather than striving to reach a thematic or harmonic goal. Some of the prominent features of minimalism were consonant harmony, steady pulse, repetition, phasing, and gradual transformation.

But as all musicians know, minimalism is far from simple—as is evidenced by Riley’s beautifully complex piano music. For ZOFO’s latest project, they devoted an entire album to exploring Riley’s music for four-hand piano.

The album, titled “ZOFO Plays Terry Riley,” features the five pieces from Riley’s four-hand piano suite “The Heaven Ladder, Book 5,” a handful of four-hand piano arrangements of other Riley works, and one newly commissioned work written specifically for ZOFO.

The album is framed by the five pieces in “The Heaven Ladder, Book 5,” and ZOFO dances through the complex choreography of each with effortless grace and precision. First is “Etude from the Old Country,” a vibrant and adventurous four-handed braid of circling melodic motives.

Next is “Jaztine,” which was written for Riley’s foster child. The piece is full of childlike joy and curiosity—and it also illustrates a heightened sense of imagination; in his composer’s note, Riley described the piece as being “interrupted suddenly at one point by a heavily trodding march of elephants ceremoniously dressed in Thai raiments.” The piece is followed by “Tango Doble Ladiado,” a short, sweet, and spirited Latin American tango.

ZOFO completes the four-hand suite with “Waltz for Charismas” and “Cinco de Mayo” at the end of the album. Inspired by Schoenberg’s piano music, “Waltz for Charismas” explores a number of time signatures outside the typical waltz pattern of three beats per measure, creating a lively and multihued musical texture. ZOFO finishes the suite with “Cinco de Mayo,” dancing through the swirling Latin melodies with freedom and flair, exploring the keyboard’s full range of pitches, colors, and characters.

The album also features three four-hand arrangements of Riley’s other instrumental works, which Zimmermann and Nakagoshi arranged in collaboration with Riley. Nakagoshi created four-hand piano versions of two Riley string quartets. His arrangement of “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight” is pure passion and poetry, while his arrangement of “G Song” captures all the warmth and lyricism of a string quartet with just a single piano keyboard. The four hands weave in and out of each other so seamlessly that it’s difficult to tell where one player’s hands end and the other’s begin.

“The challenge of playing piano-four-hands is that the space you have for yourself is limited,” Zimmermann said. “But if you work around each other in a graceful way, it actually does not need to be something negative. When we rehearse really well and intensively, I still feel free—completely free with my movements.”

Zimmermann’s arrangement of “Simone’s Lullaby” from Terry’s “The Heaven Ladder, Book 7” (originally written for solo piano) is a soft and delicate beauty, exploring the piano’s full range through twinkling melodies above a rich, warm bass accompaniment.

The final piece featured on the album is “Praying Mantis Rag,” a dazzling, jazz-infused four-hand piece commissioned by ZOFO. The piece highlights the duo’s playful charm and vibrant virtuosity through its lively ragtime rhythms and its glitzy, glamorous, and unapologetically jazzy character.

“ZOFO Plays Terry Riley” proves that the musical magic of piano extends far beyond a pianist’s 10 fingers. Through their exploration of Riley’s works, Zimmermann and Nakagoshi paint a vivid and colorful picture of the immense textural, timbral, and stylistic possibilities of piano duets. After all, it’s amazing what a pianist can do with an extra hand or two.