LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry on Friday, March 17 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET

On Friday, March 17 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET we continue our media partnership with Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry with a live video stream of their next Jordan Hall performance at New England Conservatory! Join us here for West of the Pecos, a concert inspired by the vast open landscape of the American West. In this program, AFC delves into music from the last two centuries that explores these exciting, harsh, vibrant spaces. Legendary clarinetist David Shifrin joins AFC for Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

 

Click here to read the full program notes for the performance, featuring this repertoire:

Diamond: Rounds for String Orchestra
Copland: Clarinet Concerto
Still: Mother and Child
Dvorak: American String Quartet

To learn more about upcoming live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, visit secondinversion.org/afarcry

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20150929 -- A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)

20150929 — A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)

VIDEO PREMIERE: Valencia by Caroline Shaw feat. Jasper Quartet

Fact: the Valencia orange was hybridized in Santa Ana, California in the mid-1800s and has survived through the decades. Whether you enjoy it soccer practice style in wedges or with slightly orange-tinted and moistened fingers after peeling the whole thing, the sweet flesh is a refreshing treat.

Fast-forward to 2017… we have a new interpretation of this fruit to enjoy, also tinged with a Valencia orange hue:

Cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel of the Jasper Quartet says, “the vibrancy of Caroline Shaw’s “Valencia” is both an evocative representation of a humble orange and a stunning example of the brilliant compositions on Unbound, releasing March 17, 2017. The Jasper String Quartet is delighted to present the definitive recordings of these 7 new remarkable pieces. Packed with energy and brilliance, ‘Valencia’ immediately piques the listener’s imagination.”

Unbound is co-produced by Sono Luminus and New Amsterdam. You can pre-order this March 17 release here.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry on Friday, January 13 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET

On Friday, January 13 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET we continue our media partnership with Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry with a live video stream of their next Jordan Hall performance at New England Conservatory! You can watch The Conference of the Birds right below. Click here to read the full program notes for the performance.

In the meantime, here are a couple of previews:

The Conference of the Birds is an exploration of the very heart of A Far Cry – the concept of dynamic shared leadership. Lembit Beecher’s new work references this idea in the context of an old Persian story, and Stefan Jackiw and Alexi Kenney’s duo of double concertos embody it on the stage.

Program:
Selections from Codex Calixtinus
Bach: Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (Stefan Jackiw and Alexi Kenney, violins)
Beecher: The Conference of the Birds (premiere) 
Pärt: Tabula Rasa

To learn more about upcoming live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, visit secondinversion.org/afarcry

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20150929 -- A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)

20150929 — A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)

NEW VIDEOS: Daniel Bernard Roumain & Marc Bamuthi Joseph: Blackbird, Fly

Second Inversion presents two excerpts from BLACKBIRD, FLY: A concert for Voice, Body, and Strings recorded live at Town Hall Seattle on December 6, 2016!

BLACKBIRD, FLY weaves together an enduring tapestry of movement, narrative, music and Haitian folklore to engage audiences in dialog about critical questions of our time.

Steeped in hip hop aesthetic, this intimate duet between two preeminent sons of Haitian immigrants – composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) and arts activist/spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph – unveils their life stories in search of their identity and role models, and delves into universal themes of tolerance and inclusion.

Introspective yet uplifting, BLACKBIRD, FLY is a culmination of Roumain and Joseph’s recent collaborations with Atlanta Ballet, Boston Children’s Chorus, University of Houston, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Opera Philadelphia. In each of these communities, Roumain and Joseph have created and premiered new works that offer myriad experiential arts education opportunities, youth empowerment and social engagement around our shared values.

NEW VIDEO: Movement for String Quartet and Piano by Andrius Žlabys

On May 24, 2016, Town Hall Seattle concert-goers and Second Inversion listeners were fortunate to hear the world premiere of Movement for String Quartet and Piano by Andrius Žlabys. If you missed it, we’re pleased to present this video production on the Town Hall stage!

Joshua Roman sat down to chat with Andrius about the piece and his composition background.

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.

NEW VIDEO: Skyros Quartet performs Peteris Vasks

by Maggie Stapleton

If you missed our showcase at Northwest Folklife in May, or hey, even if you were there, we have a little throwback treat to one of our favorite moments, filmed a few weeks later at Resonance at SOMA Towers: Skyros Quartet‘s rendition of Peteris Vasks’ String Quartet No.3: II. Allegro energico. We love this video and hope that you do too!

Be sure to check out our other videos, shot in our studios and in fun venues around Seattle, too!

NEW VIDEO: Decoda plays György Kurtág’s Hommage à R. Schumann

by Maggie Stapleton

Three members of Decoda (Carnegie Hall’s first ever affiliate ensemble!) stopped by our studios during their Spring 2016 residency at the University of Washington School of Music to film one of their favorite pieces, György Kurtág’s Hommage à R. Schumann.

Meena Bhasin, viola
Carol McGonnell, clarinet
Elizabeth Joy Roe, piano

Decoda is a chamber ensemble comprised of virtuoso musicians, entrepreneurs, and passionate advocates of the arts. Based in New York City, they create innovative performances and engaging projects with partners around the world.

And a bit of exciting Decoda-related news: we were ecstatic to discover recently that Decoda cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir has launched new a Seattle-based ensemble with violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, Pacific Northwest Ballet Concertmaster and violist Melia Watras, fellow University of Washington professor. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Frequency!