ALBUM REVIEW: Thrive on Routine by American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME)

by Maggie Molloy

Photo credit: Ryuhei Shindo

We all have our morning routines. Some of us like to go for a brisk morning walk, read the newspaper, flip through the daily comics, or have a leisurely cup of coffee. Some of us like to hit the snooze button six or seven times, roll out of bed, rub the sleep from our eyes, and scramble to work. American modernist Charles Ives liked to wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning, garden in his potato patch, and play through some of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. (How’s that for a little early morning exercise?)

Ives’ idiosyncratic early morning regimen was the inspiration behind composer-pianist Timo Andres’s Thrive on Routine, the title track of a new album by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME). A flexible music collective comprised of over 20 musicians (Andres among them), ACME is an ensemble known for championing masterworks of the 20th and 21st centuries. Their newest album is no exception: Andres finds himself in good company amongst works by John Luther Adams and fellow ACME members Caroline Shaw and Caleb Burhans.

Andres’ “Thrive on Routine” was, in fact, first commissioned and premiered by the ACME string quartet in 2009. Structured in four short, continuous movements, the piece offers abstract imitations of Ives’ Bach-and-potatoes routine, evoking a rustic alarm jingle, the pastoral drone of the potato patch, and a folk-infused passacaglia. The earthy, textured landscapes come to life under the fingers of violinists Yuki Numata Resnick and Ben Russell, violist Caleb Burhans, and cellist Clarice Jensen.

That same group gives voice to Caleb Burhans’ composition “Jahrzeit,” a requiem for his late father. In Judaism, the jahrzeit is a time of remembering the dead by reciting the Kaddish, lighting a 24-hour candle, and remembering the person who has died. In Burhans’ piece, the strings flicker and glow like a quiet flame, the colors blending and separating in a warm and pensive haze.

The work is followed by two similarly introspective compositions by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. The first is her solo cello suite “in manus tuas,” inspired by a 16th-century motet by Thomas Tallis and performed by ACME Artistic Director Clarice Jensen. Shaw’s composition makes the cello sing, its strings echoing like sacred choral music against a serenely silent cathedral.

Shaw’s second work, the achingly gorgeous “Gustave le Gray” for solo piano, features Timo Andres as the performer. Inspired by Chopin’s Op. 17 A Minor Mazurka, Shaw maintains the poignant, long-breathed melodies but forgoes the trademark Chopin ornamentations. The resulting music plays like an improvisation on Chopin, transforming phrases of the original mazurka as it blossoms ever outward into new chromatic melodies and characters.

The album closes with John Luther Adams’ breathtakingly beautiful “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow,” featuring the ACME string quartet along with Andres on piano, Peter Dugan on celesta, and Chris Thompson and Chihiro Shibayama on vibraphones. Atmospheric melodies, delicately detailed textures, and enchanting celesta embellishments bring this immersive sonic landscape to life, evoking the extraordinary vastness of the natural world and the overwhelming sense of awe that comes with simply being in its presence.

Because whether it’s a potato patch or a snowy mountainside, there’s beautiful music to be found all around us—sometimes we just need to step out of our routine.

 

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in on Friday, March 3 to hear these pieces and lots of other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!
Nico Muhly: Beaming Music (Bedroom Community)

Marimba and organ are not your average keyboard duo, but it works so well I could cry. Thank you, Nico, for doing this. and what’s in a name? “The title refers not only to the various metric subdivisions of the main material, but also to Chris Thompson, the percussionist who commissioned it, whose his sunny disposition colored each stage of this piece’s conception, rehearsal, and performance.” If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will. – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Nico Muhly: Fast Cycles (Bedroom Community)

When I was in college, organ music (specifically that of J.S. Bach) was one thing I used as a study aid. The continuous tone of the organ and the steady harmonic and rhythmic movement of Bach’s compositions kept me focused. Now, I’d like to present a piece of organ music that might be less relevant as a study aid, but that is vastly more useful as a source of inspiration. Nico Muhly’s Fast Cycles brims with inventive uses of the organ. While this piece might not literally be “pulling out all the stops,” it certainly delivers on excitement and beautifully novel sounds from an instrument that is too often forgotten. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.


Alejandro Bento: “Heartbeat” from Ripples (Subtempo Records)

In such troubling times as these, there’s nothing quite like an introspective solo piano piece to help you find your center. Alejandro Bento’s “Heartbeat” is one of three such works on his EP Ripples, a simple and stunning collection which traces a wide emotional arc through modest musical means.

Bento’s fingers float above the piano in soft washes of sound, each melody shaped with striking intimacy and refreshing sincerity. The piece ebbs and flows organically up and down the piano keyboard, gently persuading you into a soothing musical meditation and—if you listen closely—quietly connecting you to the beat of your heart. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.


Nico Muhly: Honest Music (Harmonia Mundi)

I’m fascinated by this piece by Nico Muhly, scored for violin and pre-recorded sound. (I guess we used to say “violin and tape” for works like this, but it’s never a tape nowadays, is it? The performer(s) play with a CD or sound from digital download.) It’s interesting how the layers of pre-recorded harp, percussion, and electronic organ don’t really seem to interact with the solo violin part (which layers over itself, and is thus played by two violinists in this performance), at least not explicitly. The elements stacked on top of each other just seem to exist, and all have distinct purpose of their own, like people living above and below each other in an apartment building. The title seems to stem from the earnest, forthcoming character of this music. Honesty, even in wordless musical form, feels so refreshing.

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

TICKET GIVEAWAY: Gabriel Kahane at the Triple Door

We are giving away a pair of tickets to see Gabriel Kahane at the Triple Door on Wednesday, March 8 at 7:30pm!

gabrielkeventTo enter, click here to send an e-mail to the Second Inversion team and fill in the blank in the subject line (“New Music is ________”). Deadline is Sunday, March 5 at 11:59pm.

More about the show and Gabriel Kahane:

Wednesday, March 8, join us at The Triple Door as we co-present Gabriel Kahane for a journey of art songs through the ages, from Schumann’s Dichterliebe to Kahane’s Craigslistlieder as well as other original works from this composer, song-writer, and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. Tickets are on sale now!

A Brooklyn-based pianist, and composer; singer/songwriter, Gabriel Kahane is a musical polymath equally at home in classical, theater, jazz, and indie pop settings. He has written large-scale orchestral works, piano sonatas, string quartets, and song cycles. He has collaborated with everyone from Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright to the Kronos Quartet, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.

A trip down memory lane…live in our studios, from Kahane’s last visit to Seattle with Brooklyn Rider:

See you there!

New Composed Music: March 2017 Seattle * Eastside * Tacoma

SI_button2Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and be sure to tag it with “new music.”


 

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
waywardmusic.org (check website for complete listings)

2
Utterances
James Falzone and Bonnie Whiting present a seamless evening of original, composed, and improvised music based on text, spoken word, and translation.
Thurs, 3/2, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
waywardmusic.org

4
The Sound Ensemble: From Page to Stage
TSE melds the artistic mediums of art and literature in this concert in which each piece is inspired by texts from different authors.
Sat, 3/4, 7pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

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sound|counterpoint: The Red Earth Project
Curated by Seattle composer Adam Haws, this program spans centuries and genres with a re-imagining of Bach, tunes from jazz and rock greats, & more.
Sun, 3/5, 4pm, Waterfront Park Community Center, Bainbridge Island | $10-$20

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Second Inversion Presents: Gabriel Kahane
Kahane presents his song cycle Craigslistlieder, Schumann’s Dichterliebe, and songs from previous albums and brand new, unreleased material.
Weds, 3/8, 7:30pm, The Triple Door | $15-$18

11
On Stage with KING FM: Seattle Marimba Quartet
SMQ showcases classical favorites and modern marimba repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries plus drumming styles from around the world.
Sat, 3/11, 7:30pm, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $20

11
Seattle Modern Orchestra: Double Portrait
SMO celebrates the centennial of American composer Robert Erickson and the 80th birthday of legendary Seattle trombonist and composer Stuart Dempster.
Sat, 3/11, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $10-$25

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Sound of Late: 2000 Moving Parts
Harpist Jennifer Ellis invites the audience to experience the customarily inaudible elements of this grand instrument. Music by Ellis, Andrew Stiefel & more.
Sat, 3/11, 8pm, FLUTTER Studios | $15

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Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra: Hearing Nature
SMCO partners with Seattle Art Museum to trace the natural inspirations of composers of four different time periods, comparing their music to the visual art of their contemporaries.
Fri, 3/17, 8pm, First Free Methodist Church | $15-$20

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Cursive: Tall Wind
Specializing in performing hidden gems of modern classical music, Cursive presents a unique program inspired by the passions and unease of changing seasons.
Thurs, 3/23, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

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Choral Arts Northwest: A Kipling Passion
John Muehleisen uses the passion form to explore how we might find healing in the face of unspeakable tragedy, honoring and bringing voice to veterans and families.
Fri, 3/24, 8pm, Plymouth Church, Seattle | $24-$28
Sat, 3/25, 8pm, Everett First Presbyterian | $24-$28
Sun, 3/26, 2pm, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Bremerton | $24-$28

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Philharmonia Northwest: An Afternoon of PDQ Bach
Philharmonia Northwest presents the West Coast premiere of PDQ Bach’s Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra with pianist Jeffrey Biegel.
Sat, 3/25, 2pm, Benaroya Hall | $20-$30

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Universal Language Project: Undertones
Marimba sounds merge with intimate whispering, stream-of-consciousness thoughts, DIY life philosophy, and beautifully minimal music. Featuring Erin Jorgensen and curated by Jim Holt.
Fri, 3/31, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $15-$20
Sat, 4/1, Cornish Playhouse’s Alhadeff Studio | $15-$25

Seattle Sounds and Musical Utterances: Q&A with James Falzone and Bonnie Whiting

“There is a ‘sound’ here, no doubt,” says James Falzone of Seattle’s distinctive new music scene. “It is one I would describe as patient and less influenced by the frenetic energy that you might find in a city with less vistas.”

Photo on left by Patrick Monaghan.

Those famous Northwest vistas are relatively new to clarinetist/composer James Falzone and percussionist Bonnie Whiting, each of whom recently moved here from the Midwest to serve as educators at two major academic institutions: Falzone as the new Chair of Music at Cornish College of the Arts and Bonnie Whiting as the Chair of Percussion Studies and Artist in Residence at the University of Washington.

Both powerful players in contemporary and experimental music circles, Falzone and Whiting first met at one of our New Music Happy Hours (co-presented with the Live Music Project)—and their conversation led to a musical collaboration which premieres this Thursday, March 2 at the Wayward Music Series.

Utterances is the name of the performance, which combines original, composed, and improvised music based on text, spoken word, and translation. The program merges the distinct sounds and styles of each musician: Falzone known for his matchless musical fusion of jazz, classical, and world music traditions, and Whiting for her interdisciplinary performances which often venture into nontraditional notation and instrumentation.

The concert program opens and closes with duo improvisations that expand, challenge, and subvert the traditional roles of clarinet and percussion. In between are solo sets featuring original works by Falzone, Whiting, and other composers, along with a performance by Falzone’s jazz-infused clarinet and saxophone sextet the Renga Ensemble.

We sat down with both artists to talk about Seattle sound experiments, unusual instruments, and musical utterances:

Second Inversion: You are both relatively new to Seattle, each serving as educators at two major academic institutions in the Northwest.  What do you find most inspiring about your respective new roles, and what do you hope to accomplish?

Photo by William Frederking.

James Falzone: Cornish has a legacy unlike any other institution, connected to the very heart of American experimentalism. Being the steward of that legacy is something I find very exciting but also humbling, and I intend to take good care of it. This means learning from that legacy and continuing the sense of openness, experimentation, and disruption that Cornish has always represented.

Bonnie Whiting: There are already so many fabulous opportunities that exist for percussionists at UW: the Harry Partch instrument collection on campus, a partnership with the Seattle Symphony, opportunities to perform with groups like the steel band and gamelan ensembles through the ethnomusicology department, and an ever-expanding jazz program.

I’m excited to teach, create, and perform new music by living composers alongside historical works from the 20th century. I also plan more touring and outreach for the percussion ensemble. In March, we’ll perform and lead a hands-on workshop for Tent City 3 (currently hosted on the UW campus.) I’ve been giving workshops in local high schools and middle schools, and we are going to be featured at the Northwest Percussion Festival in April.

In addition to my work with the students, it’s thrilling to have such great faculty colleagues. It’s an incredible scene for new music and improvised music, and I’ve met so many dream collaborators. Right now, I’m working on a project with another new faculty member in the DX Arts program: Afroditi Psarra. She has these incredible embroidered synthesizers and works with sensors, and so integrating these into a percussive soundscape has been fascinating.


SI: What do you find most unique or inspiring about the Northwest’s new music scene?

JF: There is a “sound” here, no doubt. It is one I would describe as patient and less influenced by the frenetic energy that you might find in a city with less vistas. I’m hearing this in composed music, in improvised music, in the soundscape around me; even in the way people speak.

Artists seem hard at work here, presenting their ensembles and music and building a sense of community, attributes of a healthy, vibrant scene. I’m delighted to be a part of it as an artist, and hope to use my role at Cornish to be of service. The wonderful NUMUS Northwest event—which, though not sponsored by Cornish, was held there as a means of service to the community—is an example of what I want to see Cornish doing more of in the future.

Solo improvisation by James Falzone, inspired by the writing of Christian Wiman:


SI: How did this collaboration come about, and how would you describe the music you’re creating together in this performance?

BW: James happened to sit across from me at a New Music Happy Hour last fall, and we had a great conversation. I had heard of him and was familiar with his music; we both moved from the Midwest and moved in similar experimental music circles but hadn’t yet had the pleasure of collaborating.

Earlier this month, we opened the Seattle Improvised Music Festival with a duo set and it was a real joy. One of the elements that has developed (that I love) is the way we subvert the traditional roles played by a percussionist and a wind player. Often, he’ll play rhythmic, groove figures while I make distorted long tones. He’s also happy to move while playing and explore the space. It’s been fun to find percussion instruments that can travel too.

Transcription of an electronic audio score by Richard Logan-Greene. Original realization and performance by Bonnie Whiting:


SI: The Renga Ensemble features six clarinets/saxophones—what is it about this instrument combination that grabs you and pulls you in?

JF: I love homogenous sounding ensembles, though I know many composers do not. The sound of six single reeds resonating together offers far more color than one might imagine. But Renga Ensemble, both in its original state and now with this Seattle mix of players, has always been about personality coming through the texture by way of improvisation.

All of the music I’ll be presenting incorporates improvisation, mixed with through-composed elements, and this back and forth—this teetering between the “already” and the “not yet”—is what my work focuses on. For me, improvisation brings forth a musician’s personality like nothing else can and the challenge I set for myself in the Renga music is to find the balance point so that you hear the voice of each player as much as you hear the voice of the composer.


SI: Many of your percussion performances feature unusual instruments, sounds, or spoken elements—has your career as a percussionist changed the way you listen to your surroundings in your everyday life? (Or vice versa—was it your interest in sounds that originally led you to percussion?)

BW: Even as a kid I had a long attention span, and I have always loved sounds. My mother says some of my first toys were pots and pans on the kitchen floor. Just the other night I was listening to the radio on a long drive across upstate New York, and I stumbled upon the last movement of Mahler 9.  It’s quite long and I was on the Thruway, so gradually the piece became punctuated by static as I moved out of range. This intensified the listening experience for me: my memory filled in some of the music, my imagination more, and I actually enjoy the sound of static.

I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to replicate the sound of static and white noise on my snare drum and sandpaper blocks, and my collection of found tuned pot lids are more valuable to me than my five-octave marimba. I’m naturally drawn to pieces that use speech patterns to generate rhythmic material: Globokar’s Toucher and Parenti’s Exercise No. 4 on our program feature this technique. These days, I have a very young son and I enjoy “performing” our bedtime stories, adding sound effects and rhythm each night.


SI:What were some of the written sources that inspired the music of Utterances?

JF: In addition to improvised duets with Bonnie, I’ll be presenting two works that connect to text. The first is an ongoing solo project I call “Sighs Too Deep for Words,” which is an improvised, long-form work that is inspired by language from the New Testament that speaks of “utterances,” which is sometimes translated as “sighs,” that communicate the prayers we do not have words for.

The other pieces come from music I’ve created for my Renga Ensemble, which takes its name from a form of Japanese collective poetry. Most of the music for Renga was created around a haiku by American poet Anita Virgil:

not seeing
the room is white
until that red apple

“The Room Is,” composed by James Falzone and performed with the Renga Ensemble:


SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audience members will gain from attending?

BW: John Cage often said that his goal as a composer was to “make an art that, while coming from ideas, is not about those ideas, but rather produces others.” I echo this desire when I honestly answer that I don’t wish for our audience members to gain any one insight or worse, “message.” I hope our program might inspire others to improvise, or to make work of their own, or to seek out the fantastic spirit that is within each mundane utterance or environmental sound in their daily lives.

Photo on right by Marc Perlish.

Utterances is Thursday, March 2 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. For more information, click here.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Seattle Marimba Quartet

Join us Saturday, March 11 at 7:30pm as we present the Seattle Marimba Quartet as part of On Stage with Classical KING FM at Resonance at SOMA Towers! Get your tickets now – it’s a small venue and will easily sell out!

SMQ thinks way outside the box when it comes to percussion – and classical music. Join us for a showcase classical favorites (Bach, Mahler, Ravel), a unique blend of drumming styles from around the world, and modern marimba repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries. Best of all, YOU will have a chance to learn and perform Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and African drumming rhythms right along with them! Presented by Second Inversion, KING FM’s project dedicated to rethinking classical music. 

SMQ formed in 2007 by members Christian Krehbiel, Chris Lennard, Craig Wende and Brian Yarkosky while earning music degrees at the University of Washington. SMQ strives to engage audiences with their unique blend of drumming styles from around the world, as well as modern marimba repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries. Much of their current repertoire consists of their original mallet keyboard arrangements with works by such composers as Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Mahler, and Bach. SMQ’s showcase of the diversity of percussion makes for an interesting and entertaining concert experience.

And – SMQ has just released their new album, A Thousand Pictures, which offers a great preview of what you’ll hear live on Saturday, March 11!

Seattle New Music Happy Hour: Wednesday, February 22 at 5:30pm

How happy?

SO HAPPY! (photo cred: NUMUS Northwest)

The next edition of New Music Happy Hour (co-hosted by Second Inversion & Live Music Project) is TONIGHT, Wednesday, February 22 at 5:30pm at the Queen Anne Beerhall!

Join Seattle’s vibrant community of musicians, music-lovers, and open minds for an evening of casual banter and meaningful dialogue about music and art in Seattle and beyond.

Sign up for alerts for future happy hour dates and day-before reminders so you won’t miss a beer, er, beat.