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.

From Concert Hall to Capitol Hill Nightclub: Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra’s SPARK

by Maggie Molloy

When it comes to classical music, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra likes to think outside the concert hall. This Saturday, Second Inversion is thrilled to sponsor the launch of SMCO’s new SPARK performance series: an immersive concert experience that presents classical music old and new in nightclubs and other unexpected venues.

“It’s every musician’s dream for their friends who have no experience with classical music to enjoy this incredible art form as much as we do,” said Geoffrey Larson, Music Director of SMCO. “I wanted to provide a space to enjoy classical music without any rules, real or perceived: where audience members could have a drink, get up and dance, applaud and scream and shout whenever they want. I wanted to show how music of the classical genre can be relevant to our lives today—whether it was composed 300 years ago or three days ago.”

The series launch, which takes place amid the neon lights of the Fred Wildlife Refuge on Capitol Hill, features music from both eras. The concert unfolds as a fully-produced, continuous musical experience that oscillates between guest artist DJ Suttikeeree’s electronic dance music sets and SMCO’s electrifying classical music performances.

Under Geoffrey Larson’s baton, SMCO pairs a Vivaldi chamber concerto with Max Richter’s modern recomposition of the Baroque master’s famous Four Seasons. The centerpiece of the evening is Mason Bates’ infectious and aptly-titled Rise of Exotic Computing for sinfonietta and laptop, and a world premiere of a new work for horns and orchestra by William Rowe—co-commissioned and performed by SMCO and the Skylark Quartet—rounds out the program. Electronic interludes from DJ Suttikeeree provide both dynamic contrasts and fluid connections between the evening’s wide-ranging works.

“Suttikeeree will be spinning his own brand of electro-hop, mixing in fragments of the orchestral music our audience will hear onstage and providing a heartbeat that ties together the different genres throughout the night,” Larson said.

The first of its kind in Seattle, the SPARK series was created with the guidance of composer and producer Gabriel Prokofiev, whose orchestral arrangement of Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back” premiered to viral success with the Seattle Symphony in 2014. The grandson of legendary Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, Gabriel is also the founder of the Nonclassical record label and Club Night series based in London.

“Gabriel was extremely helpful in helping me strategize three things: what role the DJ should play in the event, how to structure the general ‘flow’ of the evening, and (to a lesser extent) what sort of music we should consider performing,” Larson said. “Through trial and error, Gabriel has come up with a pretty strong and unique concept for the flow of the larger Nonclassical Club Night events, and this sort of timing has been adapted into our plans for the SPARK series.”

Like Nonclassical Club Nights, the SPARK series aims to create immersive, cross-disciplinary performances that redefine the rules of classical chamber music, breaking away from the constraints of the traditional concert hall and sparking new and inspiring collaborations.


The SPARK series launch is this Saturday, May 20 at 8pm at the Fred Wildlife Refuge on Capitol Hill. Click here for tickets and more information.

ALBUM REVIEW: Max Richter’s Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works

by Geoffrey Larson

Three novels by Virginia Woolf, the British modernist writer living 1882-1941, shaped a choreographic work by Wayne McGregor created for The Royal Ballet in 2015—a triptych that Max Richter was given the risky task of scoring. These three works show the great variety in Woolf’s writing, each contrasting dramatically in subject matter and purpose. In his score, Richter has drawn on his own varying talents as a pianist, film composer, and electro-acoustic producer. But is this music worthy of its inspiration?

It’s worth mentioning that Richter is not the only living composer who has undertaken the task of creating a musical companion to Virginia Woolf’s writing. Philip Glass’ challenge of scoring the 2002 film The Hours was both different and similar: the story of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway was the key subject of the film, but the action took place in three different time periods. Glass’ aesthetic was successful at weaving together the different storylines, using the bare materials of pulsing, repetitive rhythmic patterns and simple harmonic changes to help the listener connect the dots. Perhaps minimalist music, the genre that both Glass and Richter subscribe to in different ways, is that which serves Woolf’s narrative style and subject matter the best. Apart from the most obvious fact that both phrases of minimalist music and sentences of Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness writing seem to go for pages, both artistic forms create magic out of seemingly basic, ordinary materials.

“Minimalist” music makes use of repeating simplicity (say, continuous groups of eighth notes) and fairly straightforward harmony, while Woolf looks to the realistic lives of everyday people for her subject matter. The first few pages of Mrs. Dalloway are a complete tour-de-force of narrative storytelling, creating something stunningly engrossing out of the doldrums of daily routine: Woolf takes an ordinary London street scene, and with great care delves into the thoughts and dreams of one random passerby after the next, looking past the mundane to essentially create something fascinating from nothing.

It seems perfect then that the Mrs. Dalloway section that begins Richter’s album starts with a sample of London street sounds: Big Ben, church bells, etc. Slipped in at the very beginning is the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf herself, a BBC archive of her reading the essay “Craftsmanship” in 1937. As this gives way to a gentle piano line played by the composer himself, we immediately understand that this project is something deeply personal for Richter, who spent much of his early 20s with his nose in Woolf novels. The sound of Richter’s piano anchors the music of this part, and although it has clear emotional depth and a richness of sound flowing from the Deutsches Filmorchestrer Babelsberg under the baton of Robert Ziegler, there are a couple moments that sound so similar to Philip Glass that they could be mistaken for the other composer’s heavily piano-based score of the same Mrs. Dalloway subject matter. However, what follows next in Orlando is stunningly different.

Richter always seems at his best when he brings his skill as an electronic musician and producer to bear on the world of the orchestra, and when he is confronted with Woolf’s more unusual story of a fictional 16th-century male poet who transforms into a woman and lives to the present day, things get interesting. In “Modular Astronomy” he patches together a beat using a mosaic-like conglomeration of orchestral sounds, each of them bizarrely clipped. If you are a classical musician, you are either awed and fascinated by this effect or it gives you a conniption. Richter uses analogue modular synth, sequencing, digital signal processing, and computer-generated synth as he explores Orlando, sometimes eschewing the orchestra for exclusively electronic sounds. These tracks may be the most beautiful surprise on this album, although it’s hard to beat the breathtaking reference in “Love Song” to a famous theme that composers such as Rachmaninoff also couldn’t resist modernizing.

The final track is by far the longest, and is the sole selection dedicated to The Waves, a 1931 novel consisting of the soliloquies of six characters. The sound of waves at the outset seems to have a sort of triple-significance: beyond the allusion to this most experimental of Woolf novels and the current of the river that would ultimately take the author’s life in her suicide, we can feel the relentless weight of depression washing over her. A reading of her suicide note would have seemed cheap here if they had gotten a less-than-fantastic actor to record it; we’re lucky Gillian Anderson was given the chance to do such a poignant reading. High strains of violin in wide-open intervals begin to accompany the words in a heart-breaking progression, and when the orchestra and soloists are left alone at the conclusion of the letter, the music continues on with ever-deepening orchestration and intensity. We’ve been without a true emotional climax of great orchestral scale so far in this album, but the final track does not disappoint.

There’s something else to address here. Many a graduate thesis has been written on the subject of Virginia Woolf’s great subtlety: she masterfully leads us deeper into the lives of seemingly unimportant characters and pulls us in unexpected narrative directions without our knowledge, all while crafting language that makes use of colorful, existential references and imagery. Does the music of Richter’s score to Woolf Works possess a similar subtlety? The answer is a complicated yes and no.

Richter’s music is often disarmingly and purposefully simple, which for many makes it instantly accessible. Most listeners’ ears will easily absorb the trademark “cinematic” harmony and orchestration that create drama and emotion in a straightforward way, and in a sense, what you hear is what you get. Certainly, opening the album with a recording of the voice of Virginia Woolf herself is anything but subtle. However, poetic details in this music’s construction are hidden beneath the surface. Richter claims “asymmetries and trapdoors” in the rhythm and harmony of the music for Mrs. Dalloway, with the intention that this music is meant to feel “misremembered after a long absence.” The electronic creations of Orlando draw heavily on variations on a fragment known as La Folia, popular with a huge variety of composers starting in the 17th century. A ground bass is the backbone of this sort of music, and music to The Waves is also structured this way. A “suicide” theme in the final track connects to musical allusions to the shell-shocked character Septimus in “War Anthem” from the Mrs. Dalloway music. The subtlety of these details makes Woolf Works a richer musical offering, and is probably Richter’s greatest gift to the world of art influenced by the writing of Virginia Woolf.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, May 12 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Missy Mazzoli: “Orizzonte” (Cantaloupe Music)
Performed by Lisa Moore

Missy Mazzoli’s “Orizzonte”—Italian for “horizon”—features gently undulating sine waves to create an audible landscape, over which pianist Lisa Moore plays a hypnotic line of understated landmarks.

During a residency at a squat in Amsterdam, the piano on which Mazzoli worked had been left to the elements for a year as part of an art installation, so some of the keys didn’t work. She wrote “Orizzonte” for that piano. The piece includes no bar lines, so the rhythm changes with each performance. It’s the perfect music for refocusing your mind as you watch power lines rise and fall through your car window. – Brendan Howe


Richard Carrick: “Sub-merge” (New World Records)
Performed by Richard Carrick with DZ4 Wind Quartet

Have you ever wondered what a wind quartet would sound like underwater? Richard Carrick did.

His two-part “Sub-merge” is written to sound like an ensemble under the ocean, illustrated through sinuous sonic distortions and contorted musical textures. Scored for winds and piano, at times you can actually hear the individual instruments being pushed and pulled away from one another in the currents, creating rich harmonies and microtonal echoes that sparkle like a sunken treasure.
 Maggie Molloy

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


Max Richter: Sleep: Path 5 (delta) (Deutsche Grammophon)

This Max Richter piece reminded me of the cravings for still, peace, and introspection which often seem to come as an involuntary reaction to prolonged stress and business.  In this track, I hear both the defensive, convalescent retreat and the hopeful, rejuvenating centering that come with sleep, often in the same night.  Taking in this small portion of the piece makes me want to investigate the larger (8 hours!) work, perhaps overnight.   Perhaps I should “sleep on it.” – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Allen Vizzutti: Snow Scenes for Trumpet and Orchestra (De Haske Records)
Performed with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jan De Haan

Vibrant and jazzy, Allen Vizzutti’s Snow Scenes for Trumpet and Orchestra is another effortless performance by this master trumpeter. Vizzutti, who has performed on hundreds of motion picture soundtracks and TV shows (as well as with Sinatra, Streisand, Prince, and on and on…), is a bonafide savant when it comes to the trumpet. Don’t believe it? Let countless YouTube videos of Vizzutti performing while rotating the trumpet, or playing it upside down, or just teaching “trumpet clinics,” make the case.  His talent is stupefying.
Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Memorial (Soundbrush Records)
Performed by the Canticum Novum Youth Choir

Here is a stunning work of music that cannot be ignored. Ellen Taafe Zwilich’s Memorial for the Victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre is scored for a regular SATB chorus that begins singing the Requiem aeternam text, and is then joined by a children’s choir with a heartbreaking task: reciting the names of the young victims of the school shooting.

Subject matter aside, the music is fascinatingly beautiful, with shifting colors and long, drawn-out suspensions. There is an enchanting interplay in the voices that only serves to heighten the power of Zwilich’s reaction to this tragedy, and makes this short work a must-hear.  – Geoffrey Larson

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