A Mouthful of Forevers: An Interview with Gregg Kallor

by Maggie Molloy

Composer and pianist Gregg Kallor is used to being on stage during the premiere of most of his compositions—but at the Town Music season finale last night, he watched from the audience as Joshua Roman led members of the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras in the world premiere performance of his new string orchestral work, A Mouthful of Forevers.

Based in New York, Kallor’s music fuses elements of classical and jazz to create a deeply personal musical language. We caught up with him during the dress rehearsal of his new piece to talk about music, poetry, and his new world premiere.

 

Second Inversion: What was it like hearing A Mouthful of Forevers performed for the first time?

Gregg Kallor: Exhilarating, nerve-wracking, gratifying, exciting—it was amazing. This is actually the first piece of mine that I have not been a part of the premiere of (as a performer or conductor).  It’s a different experience to sit in the audience and listen to it—but I couldn’t ask for a better advocate than Joshua Roman. It was so beautiful to watch these musicians whom I’ve never met all digging into this piece that I wrote. They’re all bringing their experience and their ideas. They really took it on as their own, and there’s no greater feeling than that.

SI: How would you describe the sound of this piece?

GK: I wanted to write something both lithe and lush—evocative vignettes with the grooving rhythms and shifting moods that Joshua navigates so beautifully.

SI: What was the inspiration for this piece?

GK: There’s an incredible poet, her name is Clementine von Radics, and she wrote a poem called “Mouthful of Forevers”; it’s also the title of a collection of poems that she published. It’s exquisite—it’s this heartbreaking, beautiful love poem and it’s talking about how both people have come into it with baggage and scars, but that makes the miracle of them finding each other that much more potent. It’s just beautiful. Her language is so honest and direct—there are no filters. I’m struck by a lot of her poetry—I’ve read that book ten times, but that poem in particular just really got to me and it was the inspiration for this piece.

SI: What was it like collaborating with Joshua Roman on this premiere?

GK: Joshua is one of the best musicians I’ve ever met. He’s extraordinary as a player, he’s a fantastic composer—now I’m seeing him conducting and it’s amazing. He’s just an extraordinary musician and a great, great friend, and I’m so honored and lucky that he’s championing my music.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Memory Palace by Christopher Cerrone

by Maggie Molloy

Still frame from Mark DeChiazza’s video for Christopher Cerrone’s Memory Palace.

The method of loci is a mnemonic strategy dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The idea is this: you memorize the layout of a building or geographic space, then assign memories to any number of discrete locations within itand to recall the information, you imagine yourself walking back through the space.

In composer Christopher Cerrone’s Memory Palace, he takes that method one step further: instead of imagining a geographic space, he creates a sonic one. Composed for solo percussion and electronics, the piece is performed on a collection of homemade instruments and field recordings. In Cerrone’s memory, the palace is built of crickets and cheap guitars, wind chimes and wooden planks, beer bottles and quiet breath. The result is a vivid mosaic of music and memory—an intimate retrospective of a life lived in sound.

Memory Palace is a kind of paean to places and people that have deeply affected me,” Cerrone said. “The sounds in the piece are signposts; they help me remember—and more important, understand, who I am.”

Percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum premieres Cerrone’s Memory Palace in this brand new video by Mark DeChiazza:

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 16 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Daníel Bjarnason: “all sounds to silence come” (Bedroom Community)

There is so much good music coming out of Iceland that sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep up with all of it. Icelandic composer and conductor Daníel Bjarnason is a staple on my personal playlist—his gorgeously textured, celestial soundscapes blur the line between classical and electronic musical idioms, drawing freely from the intellectual rigor of the classical tradition while living in the spontaneity and experimentalism of new music.

Scored for chamber orchestra and conducted by Bjarnason, “all sounds to silence come” is a two-movement bonus track released on his debut album Processions. The piece makes use of the orchestra’s entire timbral palette, drifting from a dramatic and densely textured first movement to a soft and ethereal second that hovers just above silence. The result is an immersive sound world that shimmers with color and sparkles with orchestral detail. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Alyssa Morris: Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano (MSR Classics)
Michele Fiala, oboe; William Averill, piano

Have you ever wondered what the four personalities of Hartman’s Personality Profile would sound like as duets for oboe and piano?

Before reading this most people probably hadn’t wondered, but now it’s an intriguing proposition! American composer Alyssa Morris brings us Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano. She based the four-movement work on the four general categories associated with the Hartman test, which aims to assess the underlying elements that motivate individuals, then assigns them a color: Yellow is motivated by fun, White by peace, Blue by intimacy, and Red by power.

Each movement is entertaining, energetic, and expertly executed by oboist Michele Fiala and pianist William Averill. They capture not just the basic comic book hue of each color, but rather the full kaleidoscopic palette within each personality and clearly have a great time doing it. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Ben Lukas Boysen: Golden Times 2 (Erased Tapes Records)

It occurs to me that this track could be heard as mournful or melancholy, but I have an alternative interpretation.  Despite the Donnie Darko aesthetic, Golden Times 2 seems to be a relaxed and optimistic meditation.  I especially love the extra-low bass that creeps around for most of the track and the swingy cymbal groove that completely transforms the vibe upon entry.  Grab a cold beverage and a seat in the sunshine and enjoy!
– 
Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.


Robert Beaser: Pag-Rag (Albany Records)
Christopher Janwong McKiggan, piano

Pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan was the 2009 collegiate gold medalist from the Seattle International Piano Competition. As he moves forward in his career, he is charting a path of new music, commissioning seven composers in 2012 to compose works for piano inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Beaser’s Pag-Rag is both undeniably fun and a deliciously mean technical challenge for the pianist. A far cry from most listeners’ straightforward idea of a rag, this piece is full of lightning-fast changes of character and texture, giving it unexpected depth and variety. It’s a wonderful showcase of McKiggan’s playing. – Geoffrey Larson

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

Westerlies Go West: Tonight at the Royal Room!

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Sasha Arutyunova.

The Westerlies are back in the Northwest this week, coming home with new sounds and brand new music to premiere tonight at the Royal Room in Columbia City.

Far from your typical brass band, the Seattle-bred, New York-based quartet is known on both coasts for their bold artistry, impeccable finesse, eclectic musical interpretations, and remarkable versatility. Together, they’ve cultivated an expansive brass quartet repertoire featuring over 50 original compositions as well as adaptations of composers as diverse and wide-ranging as Ives, Ellington, Bartók, Ligeti, and many more.

Comprised of Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler on trumpet with Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone, the Westerlies grew up together playing music in Seattle under the mentorship of Wayne Horvitz—making their homecoming performance all the more special, as Horvitz is the co-founder and music programmer of the Royal Room.

The Westerlies performing with Wayne Horvitz at the Royal Room. Photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Tonight, you can expect to hear a little jazz, a little classical, some folk, roots, blues, and chamber influences—but no matter what the Westerlies play, the one element that remains constant across all of their music is the warmth, camaraderie, charisma, and humor of four longtime friends.

“Whatever ‘sound’ the Westerlies have stumbled upon is the result of four friends channeling these diverse interests through warm air, buzzing lips and conical brass tubes—with a lot of love and saliva in there too,” said Andy Clausen.

For a sneak preview, check out our in-studio videos of the guys performing works by Charles Ives, Andy Clausen, and Wayne Horvitz:


The Westerlies perform at the Royal Room Thursday, June 15 at 8pm. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

Community and Empathy at the 2017 Ojai Music Festival

by Alexander K. Rothe

This year’s Ojai Music Festival (June 8-11) in Ojai, California was the chance of a lifetime to experience how music can serve to imagine and also activate a world of greater tolerance and social justice. The theme of this year’s festival was community and empathy, and the innovative programming of Vijay Iyer provided a space in which to reflect on this theme in a variety of different contexts. Iyer didn’t tell the audience how to interpret the theme, but rather framed the question in such a way that it invited further discussion. Each concert approached the theme from a slightly different angle, but there was a common thread connecting each one: the featured artists and composers had either participated in or been influenced by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a collective of African-American musicians founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1965.

Vijay Iyer and Jennifer Koh following the spectacular world premiere of Iyer’s violin concerto.

A highlight of the festival’s first evening was the spectacular world premiere of Iyer’s violin concerto for Jennifer Koh. Koh, who was interviewed later during the festival, is a warm, intelligent person, and this was reflected in her performance of Iyer’s violin concerto. The concerto—a genre that traditionally involves a hierarchical relationship between the hero-soloist and the orchestra—was instead reconceived here as a dialogue between equals. The soloist was depicted as a vulnerable figure responding to the musical material of the orchestra. For example, at one point during the concerto, the violinist sustains a single pitch while the orchestra plays the melody. When Koh performed this section, she drew her bow close to the bridge, resulting in a brittle, fragile sound—like a voice on the verge of breaking.

The festival’s second day was especially rich in its musical offerings. The afternoon concert featured two artists who were both inspired by the AACM. Claire Chase gave a magnificent demonstration of her Density 2036 project, performing a series of compositions based on Edgard Varèse’s revolutionary 1936 musical work Density 21.5. Later during the panel discussion on the AACM, Chase mentioned that she couldn’t have conceived of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), which she founded in 2001, without the history of the AACM.

The audience cheers for Claire Chase, who performed selections from her Density 2036 project. Also pictured are composers Tyshawn Sorey, Pauchi Sasaki, and Vijay Iyer.

The Friday afternoon concert also featured a performance of Tyshawn Sorey’s brilliant composition The Inner Spectrum of Variables, which presents a fresh take on aleatoric procedures. The conductor performs a series of gestures instructing the ensemble which path to take in the score, a technique reminiscent of Boulez’s Eclat. Sorey refers to this technique as “conduction,” which is an elaborate system of conducted improvisation that he adopted from Butch Morris. Sorey, who also participated in the AACM panel, emphasized the organization’s influence on his personal and professional development. Having grown up in a poor neighborhood in which funding for the arts was not readily available, Sorey turned to the history of the AACM as a source of inspiration to guide him in his quest for self-determination. 

The Friday evening concert was the West Coast premiere of George Lewis’s Afterword, an opera about the history of the AACM. Compared to the 2015 world premiere in Chicago, the Ojai staging was more minimalist—there were no dancers and only a few props—and the gestures and movements of the three singers were much more transparent in meaning. This staging worked well because it highlighted the powerful message of the libretto—the transformative nature of creative music and the ultimate success of the AACM. The most impressive aspect of the performance was the superb singing and dramatic intensity of Gwendolyn Brown, Joelle Lamarre, and Julian Terrell Otis. The International Contemporary Ensemble did a wonderful job supporting the singers, and one had the sense that both were in dialogue with each other. In sum, the opera was a great success, and the audience was clearly moved.

The powerful West Coast premiere of George Lewis’s opera Afterword: pictured here, from left to right, are Gwendolyn Brown, Sean Griffin, George Lewis, Joelle Lamarre, Julian Terrell Otis, and Steven Schick.)

Another highlight of this year’s festival was the world premiere of the chamber version of Courtney Bryan’s Yet Unheard, to a text by Sharan Strange. The rich, nuanced voice of Helga Davis was juxtaposed with a chorus mourning the tragedy of Sandra Bland. Sharan Strange’s deeply moving text serves as a site of empathy, creating a community of listeners honoring the memory of Sandra Bland.  

In conclusion, this year’s festival accomplished its aim of creating a new kind of community through diverse and innovative programming. Pre-concert talks encouraged open dialogue between composers, performers, and audience members. After each concert, many of the performers and composers would come out and interact with the audience on the festival grounds. Moreover, the focus on the impact of the AACM—as a collective of musicians transcending genre boundaries—was especially effective for making connections between communities normally assumed to be separate. The juxtaposition of improvised and notated traditions—as well as examples that draw on both—broke down the hierarchy that often exists between the two. The programming of artists and composers fluent in multiple traditions further contributed to this tendency.   

On a personal note: this year’s festival was a profound experience that will always remain with me. I will strive to adhere to the tolerance and open-mindedness demonstrated by the festival programming. Finally, I eagerly await next year’s festival, which will be directed by the amazing violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya.

Courtney Bryan, Helga Davis, and Sharan Strange mourn the tragedy of Sandra Bland with Yet Unheard.


Alexander K. Rothe is a Core Lecturer at Columbia University, where he completed his Ph.D. in Historical Musicology in 2015. His research interests are opera staging, Regieoper, Wagner Studies, and new music. He is currently working on a book project on stagings of Wagner’s Ring cycle and afterlives of 1968 in divided Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. Dr. Rothe regularly blogs on musical topics on his website.

ALBUM REVIEW: Bearthoven’s Trios

Photo by Jaime Boddorff.

by Seth Tompkins

Trios, the new release by New York City-based piano trio Bearthoven is a masterclass in eclecticism.  With this album, the trio, which consists of percussion (Matt Evans), piano (Karl Larson), and bass (Pat Swoboda), set out to create a collection that presents a sample of the more than 20 new works that Bearthoven has commissioned as well as to showcase music from composers with markedly different musical backgrounds.  Trios more than achieves these goals; the blend of sharply contrasting aesthetics and exceptional musicianship here yields a fascinating and joyful product that fuses exuberant eclecticism with top-quality performance.

Although each of the six pieces on Trios comes from quite different musical places, there is an overarching structure.  Broadly speaking, these selections fit into two groups: three of the six tracks are rhythm-forward, “post-minimalist” pieces, while the other three tend toward soundscape and abstraction.  Trios begins with one of the post-minimal compositions, and alternates between the two categories, ending with Adrian Knight’s peaceful and contemplative “The Ringing World.”

While Bearthoven identifies as a “piano trio,” their instrumentation (percussion, piano, and bass) is decidedly unusual.  This setup is common in other types of music (jazz, pop, etc.), but is largely unexplored as a vehicle for contemporary classical.  One other notable group that shares this interesting space is the all-acoustic ensemble Dawn of Midi, similarly composed up of drums, piano, and bass, and also based in New York City.  Both groups occupy similar inter-genre spaces.  However, their divergent raisons d’être result in musical outputs that are complementary and non-duplicative: while Dawn of Midi focuses on self-composed and improvised groove-based music that is influenced by global traditions, Bearthoven is oriented around collaboration with a diverse range of composers whose music tends strongly toward contemporary classical.

That is not to say that Bearthoven has an aversion to grooves, however.  In fact, the opening track, Brooks Frederickson’s “Undertoad,” and the second-to-last track, Brendon Randall-Myers’s “Simple Machine,” have collections of grooves that are both wantonly energetic and fascinating in their complex construction.  Bearthoven executes both enjoyably and with great attention to detail, which is typical for tracks on this release.

The more atmospheric pieces on Trios also showcase Bearthoven’s remarkable energy and outstanding musicality.  Especially in these tracks, the constant communication between the players is obvious.  On Knight’s “The Ringing World” and Fjóla Evans’ “Shoaling” particularly, the unity with which the trio executes (sometimes quite subtle) shifts of volume, intensity, and time is a triumph.  The responsiveness and individual mastery necessary to pull off that kind of seamless groupthink is rare and requires real dedication.

Diversity of repertoire, attention to detail, flexibility, and commitment to individual and ensemble excellence are Bearthoven’s strengths.  With these assets, Bearthoven has achieved a consistent ensemble sound that is apparent even in the face of broad eclecticism.  Based on Trios, Bearthoven is an ensemble that can be counted upon to deliver with poise, mastery, and style—and to produce new material that is both diverse and superlative.

Photo by Jaime Boddorff.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry on Friday, May 26 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET

A Far Cry and members of Silk Road premiere Vijay Iyer’s “City of Sand.”

by Maggie Molloy

New and familiar works from all corners of the globe come together this Friday night at A Far Cry’s concert collaboration with members from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. And although the concert itself is in Boston (and also completely sold out), you can still hear every minute of this musical tour de force right here on Second Inversion during our live video stream of the performance this Friday, May 26 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET.

Joined by Silk Road members Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), Sandeep Das (tabla), Haruka Fujii (percussion), Joseph Gramley (percussion), and Wu Man (pipa), A Far Cry explores music from across the ages and around the world, ranging from Bartók’s famous Romanian Folk Dances to a brand new world premiere of Vijay Iyer’s City of Sand.

The world-ranging program features composers and music from about a dozen different countries, including India, Iran, China, Syria, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, America, Japan, and more. Check out the full program below, and click here for program notes.

Kayhan Kalhor: Gallop of a Thousand Horses
Zhao Jiping: Sacred Cloud Music
Kinan Azmeh: Ibn Arabi Postlude
Béla Bartók, arr. Arthur Willner: Romanian Folk Dances
Kojiro Umezaki: For Zero
Vijay Iyer: City of Sand (World Premiere)
Sandeep Das, arr. Jesse Irons: Tarang
JPP and Marin Marin, arr. Karl Doty & Erik Higgins: Finnish and Swedish Fiddle Tunes
Kinan Azmeh: Bass Duo
Sapo Parapaskero, arr. Ljova & Osvaldo Golijov: Turceasca

Visit our website on Friday, May 26 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET to watch the sold-out performance LIVE. To learn more about our live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, click here.