STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, April 14 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Valgeir Sigurðsson: “Architecture of Loss: The Crumbling” (Bedroom Community)

Valgeir Sigurðsson’s “Architecture of Loss: The Crumbling” is five minutes of bold, emotive, string-heavy resonance sweetened with silvery piano and sharpened by nearly subliminal scratches and creaks. The music is drawn from the concept of “formation and disintegration,” so the sparse notes and lingering strings serve the theme well. It’s a piece evocative of splintering glaciers: beautiful yet uneasy.
Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11m hour today to hear this piece.


Danny Clay: “Two and Six” (Ignition Duo)

Unlike some stuff we play on Second Inversion, Danny Clay’s “Two and Six” is an example of music best experienced in headphones. The interplay of harmonics between the two guitars is more engrossing and intimate in stereo, especially if the audio is piped straight to your brain. So, I advise you to put your cans on and chill out to this introspective conversation between twin electric guitars. Whether you need to focus or relax, this track is an excellent choice. – Seth Tompkins

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


Terry Riley: “Venus in ’94″
Performed by Gloria Cheng (Telarc Records)

He’s one of the world’s foremost boundary-bursting minimalists; she’s a Grammy-winning pianist known for championing new music—it’s a match made in musical heaven. The world premiere recording of Terry Riley’s “Venus in ’94” sparkles under Gloria Cheng’s free-spirited fingers, which gracefully soar up, down, and around an utter obstacle course of intricate voicings and rhythms.

Half waltz, half scherzo, the piece is a delicate but deftly virtuosic lesson in extravagant romanticism—or as Riley himself describes it: “A tip of the hat to early Schoenberg, Chopin, and Brazil.”
Maggie Molloy

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

ALBUM REVIEW: In the Light of Air: ICE Performs Anna Thorvaldsdottir

by Maggie Molloy

Anna Þorvaldsdóttir tónskáld er höfundur Aeriality sem Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands frumflytur nk. fimmtudag. Anna lauk nýverið doktorsnámi sínu í tónsmíðum. Hún segir heilu og hálfu vinnubækurnar með hugmyndum bíða úrvinnslu og vonast til að geta einbeitt sér að tónsmíðunum af krafti á næstu árum.

photo: Kristinn Ingvarsson

You could say composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir is a bit of an ice sculptor. No, not the frozen water type of ice—the musical type of ICE. The Icelandic composer recently collaborated with ICE, the International Contemporary Ensemble, to create a new four-movement chamber work titled “In the Light of Air.”

And while we’re on the topic of ICE, let it be known that they are not your average ensemble. With a modular makeup of 35 leading instrumentalists, the group performs contemporary classical music in forces ranging from solos to large ensembles. In fact, they make it their mission to advance the music of the 21th century by pioneering new musical works and multimedia strategies for audience engagement.

In 2011 they created ICElab, an innovative new musical project which places teams of ICE musicians in collaboration with emerging composers to develop works that push the boundaries of the classical genre.

ICE’s latest album, titled “In the Light of Air: ICE Performs Anna Thorvaldsdottir,” is just a single product of that collaborative project. The album features two gorgeously enigmatic pieces: “In the Light of Air” for viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion, and electronics, and “Transitions” for solo cello. The performers on the album are ICE members Kyle Armbrust on viola, Michael Nicolas on cello, Nuiko Wadden on harp, Cory Smythe on piano, and Nathan Davis on percussion.

The title track is a tetralogy of works that together form a unified structure—the four main movements are connected by texturally fascinating transitions and framed by a prologue and epilogue. The first movement is an airy, delicate sound world aptly titled “Luminance.” The percussion and electronics provide a slowly rumbling bass part beneath a gradually shifting texture of sound materials, melodic fragments, and harmonies.

The second movement, titled “Serenity,” is an entire ocean of sound: infinitely varied yet beautifully unified in its ever-changing timbres and textures. The translucent calm sparkles with gorgeous harp details and gentle piano echoes, the vast and limitless soundscape punctuated with delicate, misty whispers of simple melodies.

The third movement is much shorter than the rest. Clocking in at less than four minutes, “Existence” is a slow and pensive journey, each bow stroke in the strings a deliberate, measured step through an atmospheric sound mass of deep drones and rumbling echoes.

The piece ends with “Remembrance,” a movement which delicately balances the lyrical, long-breathed melodies of the strings with the harmonic depth of piano and the textural interest of percussion. In fact, the percussion part features an installation of metallic ornaments which Thorvaldsdottir designed specifically for use in this particular movement. The ornaments, called Klakabönd (which is Icelandic for “a bind of ice”), were created by artist Svana Jósepsdóttir.

And if you’re lucky enough to see the piece performed live, there is an additional multimedia component: “In the Light of Air” incorporates a light constellation that was designed in collaboration with ICE. A collection of lightbulbs twinkles softly above the musicians during the performance, glowing and dimming according to the intensity of the music.

The other piece on the album is “Transitions,” which was commissioned by cellist Michael Nicolas in 2014. The single movement work explores the theme of man and machine, both of which are represented through contrasting cello parts. Nicolas soars through the organic lyricism and expressive melodies of man while also excelling at the metallic timbres and technical accuracy of machine. Through his sensitive balance and imaginative interpretation of each role, he showcases the cello’s rich tone, wide pitch range, and stunning timbral depth.

As a composer, Thorvaldsdottir is known for creating large sonic structures that reveal a vast variety of sustained sound materials—and both of these pieces are a perfect example of her visionary style. Throughout the album, her subtle timbral nuances, poetic textures, and lyrical gestures immerse the listener in austere, somber, and utterly spellbinding soundscapes.

So in the end, Thorvaldsdottir is probably more of a sound sculptor than an ice sculptor—but either way, she is certainly carving out a name for herself in the contemporary music scene.

In the Light of Air is released on August 28, 2015 – you can pre-order on Amazon or iTunes!

A Shared Lesson

by Joshua Roman

Roman_15There’s something about stretching the limits, pushing the boundaries, that turns me on. When it’s a shared experience, the reward is greatly magnified. I recently had the honor of working with young musicians in a setting that kept all of us on our toes. In partnership with my series at Town Hall Seattle, the Seattle Youth Symphony called on some of their lovely players and alumni to join me and a few colleagues acting as mentors for a concert of 20th and 21st century string ensemble music.

It’s important to demonstrate to young musicians that ours is a tradition of innovation and creativity. Classical music is a living, breathing thing, not stuck in the past. The same discipline used to bring a Beethoven Symphony to its peak form can be turned to the task of helping birth a new work, and share a new idea. One of the most fruitful ways of passing along a teaching is to lead by example, and I’m ever so grateful to my friends from the Seattle Symphony and other orchestras who played in our ensemble as mentors. Sitting alongside their future colleagues, working together to prepare a very challenging program and present it in a few short days was not an easy task. Through Town Hall Seattle’s partnership with Second Inversion and KING FM, we also gave these aspiring musicians a chance to participate in a video recording session, the results of which are now viewable online.

The program: the world premiere of Running Theme by Timo Andres, which was commissioned by Town Hall. Then, John AdamsShaker Loops; and lastly, Béla Bartók’s Divertimento. The schedule: 6 rehearsals including the recording session and the dress rehearsal, from a Wednesday to a Saturday. A chance for the young musicians to have a glimpse of the condensed and intensive experience professional musicians are often faced with.

The diversity of style within the program was integral to its success in creating a powerful experience for the students. The Divertimento is a fantastically fun work that retains much of Bartok’s folk influence, while delving into more chromatic and idiosyncratic ideas in the slow movement. It’s a difficult work, and there are many solos, another opportunity for our mentors to lead by example. Shaker Loops has long been one of my favorite works, and to me represents minimalism at its most exciting and transportive. To see musicians who had never played this kind of music learn to embrace and inhabit a new way of feeling musical structure and phrasing over a few short days was very cool.

Perhaps the best part was the way they rose to the challenge of putting together Running Theme, an entirely new piece of music for which they could not sit and study previous recordings or hear in concert before taking on the responsibility of presenting it to the world for the first time. Every piece in the canon had a birth, every composer in history has counted on musicians and audiences to give them a shot at leading into the unknown. The evolution of one’s feelings as moments begin to be recognized, form really takes shape, and the conviction borne of seeing both the big picture and feeling the importance of subtlety is a beautiful process, one that for me is so integral to how we then share our hearts with the audience.

What’s the value of this experience? Hopefully, for the protégés, a glimpse of what it takes to be a professional musician. To learn to be prepared at rehearsals, on the ball and focused regardless of the familiarity of the music. To be inspired by the level of the mentors, and of course hear the little tips that come along the way. And to be empowered by the notion that they can be a part of the amazing lineage of classical music and its creation, by working directly with an exciting – and in this case young – composer.

For the mentors, to see the growth and feel the energy of youth, and be challenged to lead by example. Also, to be reminded of the wonder they felt sitting in such a group for the first time when they were that age, and the confidence that develops as something unknown becomes a familiar tool in now capable hands.

For me, the incredible joy of seeing the chemistry between musicians, mentor and protégé. And the honor of leading the team as we work together to the best of our ability to convey something that will transport an audience to a place where the impossible becomes possible, and our inner selves are given a common voice.

MUSIC ON ROTATION:
Fiona Apple – Tidal (album)
Timo Andres – Shy and Mighty (album)
Olivier Messiaen – Fête des Belles Eaux – performed by Ensemble d’Ondes de Montreal (2008)