ALBUM REVIEW: “Hopscotch” produced by The Industry

by Maggie Molloy

The opera tradition as we know it has always been lavish and large-scale—but never quite this large.

In 2015, the 21st century experimental opera troupe The Industry produced Hopscotch: a modern-day immersive opera experience collaboratively created by a team of six composers, six librettists, and over 100 artists. Massive in scope, the opera performances took place not in your traditional opera house, but rather, across the grand and sparkling stage of Los Angeles, California.

Photo credit: Casey Kringlen

That’s right: Hopscotch was staged in 24 cars and countless locations across Los Angeles, crafting a singularly extraordinary experience that was equal parts road trip, architectural tour, immersive theatre, and avant-garde opera.

Audience members were carted around the city in a fleet of limousines that were divided into three distinct geographical routes—each route featured eight chapters (a mixture of car rides and visits to undisclosed sites) lasting approximately 10 minutes each.

Photo credit: Casey Kringlen

The only limitation? You had to be in Los Angeles to experience it.

Well this year, the Industry has alleviated that restriction with the release of Hopscotch as an album—or more precisely, a key-shaped USB stick that you can plug into your computer or car.

Inspired by Julio Cortazar’s novel Rayuela (Hopscotch), both the live performance and the recording invite the listener to experience the narrative in a non-chronological order, and with multiple singers forming a composite of each individual character’s identity. So, without further ado, let’s meet the characters.

Hopscotch tells the tale of Lucha, an L.A.-based puppeteer who meets and marries a motorcycle-riding scientist named Jameson. But like all great scientists, Jameson loses himself in his explorations of the esoteric. Distraught, Lucha hallucinates an encounter with Jameson in the underworld and attempts, without success, to bring him back to life.

The story borrows heavily from the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (which is symbolically significant in that this myth was the basis of the world’s earliest surviving opera)—but unlike Orpheus, Lucha overcomes her grief and finds love again with a fellow performer named Orlando.

Photo credit: Casey Kringlen

Oh, and one other major difference: in Hopscotch, the narrative is nonlinear. The story is presented in episodic chapters which highlight moments of Lucha’s life, each episode acting as its own point of entry to (or a port of departure from) the overarching narrative. In the live performances, this allowed each of the three geographical routes to tell the story in a different order—and as listeners to the recording, we’re invited to experience the opera in any order we choose. Included in the digital CD liner notes is a series of suggested playlists ordered by original performance route, by composer, by librettist, by storyline, and by musical development.

“Opera is about layering—music, image, text, experience,” said Yuval Sharon, Founder and Artistic Director of the Industry, and the creative mastermind behind Hopscotch. “And that’s where Hopscotch is most operatic: it’s a project with many layers that intersect each other, offering each audience member a highly personal experience, their own combination of elements unlike anyone else’s.”

Photo credit: Casey Kringlen

The music itself is also highly personal. Each moment in the characters’ lives was shaped by a different composer and librettist, performed by a different ensemble, and was created in response to a specific street or site on the route. The only restriction? Each episode had to be 10 minutes in length—allowing the composers to play with the perception of time inside that specific life moment.

The published recording alternates between live and studio recordings, and between brief excerpts and full scenes. But even beyond those more structural variances, the music itself is also extraordinarily eclectic. The two-hour work bounces from soaring arias to infectious theatre riffs, twinkling lullabies to industrial static, free jazz and improvisation to surrealist choral soundscapes, rainy day ballads to Latin American folk melodies.

Photo credit: Casey Kringlen

And yet, somewhere amidst the swirling anarchy of avant-garde sound art and Baroque opera vocal stylings, the music takes on a much grander purpose. As the Industry’s Music Director Marc Lowenstein describes:

“From evocations of experimental music to musical theater to improvisations to folk traditions to large scale quotations of Monteverdi to installation music, from the intimacy of a single performer in a car with you to the grandness of using the entire city as a stage—as the opera hopscotches through our city, so does the music, always on a road, evoking different scenes, cultures, and sounds. A thousand paths.”

In fact, the opera is an entire web of musical and theatrical threads which connect and intersect in ever-changing ways, subject to each listener’s own experience and interpretation. Conceptually, the project is complex enough to write an entire book on (and in fact, the digital liner notes are 52 pages long), but as you travel through the swirling sonic landscape, the meaning behind the music becomes quite clear:
By creating a vibrant mosaic of so many different sounds, styles, composers, and performers, Hopscotch reminds us that Lucha’s story is also our story—and that we are all subject to these same transcendental experiences of time, memory, and perception.

Photo credit: Dana Ross

In the end, all paths converge and the opera climaxes with a live recording from the Central Hub, a temporary space on the performance route where all the journeys were live-streamed to create a dizzying panorama of life in the city—an ecstatic vision of community in Los Angeles.

“The Central Hub is the possibility of simultaneity,” Yuval Sharon said. “A circle where there is no differentiation between past, present, and future. Separate neighborhoods become one fluid landscape. And the mysterious logic that escapes you from chapter to chapter becomes completely legible, supernaturally, when you can see them all happening at the same time. In a city so infamously without a center, I think creating aspirational centers is crucial.”

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, December 23 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Andrew Norman: Mine, Mime, Meme (Cedille Records)

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For some reason, I personally find this new work by Andrew Norman for Eighth Blackbird one of his most interesting and accessible works, though it must be one of the least complex. What initially grabs the ear about this piece at its beginning is not some bizarre sound or new technique, but the use of silence. Most of the work is distilled down to a single technique, an improvisatory-sounding musical round with the cello as the leading voice and the rest of the chamber ensemble closely following suit. After an explosion of confusion in the middle, the hierarchy is shattered. Norman says it was inspired by an interactive installation by the art and technology collective Random International called Audience, where a field of small mirrored machines rotates to follow the movements of a viewer. It’s music that has an enjoyable straightforwardness to it, still fun after repeat listening.

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


Veroníque Vaka: Hvönn (Moderna Records)

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“Hvönn” translates to “Angelica” in English, but that is neither here nor there.  What I am concerned with is the suitability of this music for this introspective time of the year.  Treat yourself to some time alone with your thoughts (if you can find some!), and maybe augment that contemplation with Hvönn, or even the entirety of the album from which it comes. – Seth Tompkins

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


The Beatles (arr. Christoph Bull): “A Day in the Life” (C Bull Run Music)

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In this day and age, there is no shortage of substandard Beatles cover bands—but every once in a blue moon, a musician comes along who really adds something to the classic Beatles sound; a musician who truly puts their own unique stamp on 1960s rock ‘n’ roll.

Organist Christoph Bull is one of those musicians. He’s made a living performing everything from classical Bach to rock ‘n’ roll renditions of Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, and more. But his arrangement of the Beatles’ 1967 newspaper ballad “A Day in the Life” is probably the pinnacle (at least for an unapologetically 60s-obsessed flower child like me).

Performed on the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s architectural masterpiece of an organ, Bull’s version keeps Macartney and Lennon’s vocals but expands the verses and heightens the drama with a haunting organ accompaniment. His fingers dance through a surrealist dreamscape, the colors bursting and blossoming, building and thrilling until the very last note.

And don’t worry, that infamous final chord certainly does not disappoint. – Maggie Molloy

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Eighth Blackbird’s Hand Eye

by Maggie Molloy

Six composers. Six instrumentalists. Six works of art. Six brand new musical compositions. One evening-length adventure into the exquisite power of art and music.

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Hand Eye is a collection inspired by a collection. Recorded by the four-time Grammy Award-winning sextet Eighth Blackbird, the album is comprised of six new pieces, each composed by a member of the Sleeping Giant musical collective—and each based on a work of visual art featured in the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art.

In fact, listening through the album is a lot like walking through a museum: each piece its own extraordinary work of art, each with its own distinct colors, creative spark, and inspiration. Perhaps one work’s use of texture catches your eye—or another work’s subject matter, size, shape, or color palette.

Likewise, for Hand Eye some of the composers chose to recreate their chosen artwork aurally, while others responded more broadly to the work’s subject matter, character, themes, or artistic process. And to help bring to life this incredible variance of color, content, and artistic media, each piece on the album highlights the unique talents and timbre of a single instrument from the ensemble.

 

The album begins with a work by Timo Andres titled “Checkered Shade.” Based on the patterned pen-and-ink abstractions of artist Astrid Bowlby, the piece is a labyrinth of tangled strings and circling woodwinds. Gradually the persistent rhythms and aggressive bowings zoom outward until the lines begin to blur, and the black and white turn to softer, slower, and ever-varied shades of grey.

“9.8.08 (Varigated Spirals)” © Astrid Bowlby

“9.8.08 (Varigated Spirals)” by Astrid Bowlby

Andrew Norman’s “Mine, Mime, Meme” explores a different type of musical maze. It was inspired by rAndom International’s installation piece Audience, a modern-day fun house of sorts in which a field of mirrors rotate to follow the movements of any viewer who walks in their midst. In Norman’s musical interpretation, the cellist becomes the equivalent of that viewer. The other five instruments mimic the cello’s musical gestures, innocently enough at first—but as the music progresses, the followers get better and better at predicting the cellist’s next move, eventually consuming him altogether.

“Audience” by rAndom International

“Audience” by rAndom International

Man and machine is the main theme of the next piece, Robert Honstein’s “Conduit.” The piece takes its cue from an interactive sculpture by digital artists Zigelbaum and Coelho titled Six-Forty by Four-Eighty, in which the human body merges with computational process. Honstein recreates this synthesis sonically through bold waves of sounds and electric bursts of color that transport you straight into the computer itself.

“Six-Forty by Four-Eighty” by Zigelbaum + Coelho

“Six-Forty by Four-Eighty” by Zigelbaum + Coelho

Another interactive light sculpture provides the basis for the next piece on the album: Christopher Cerrone’s “South Catalina.” Inspired by rAndom International’s Swarm, an art installation which responds to sounds with a blast of delicately asynchronous lights, Cerrone’s composition features gentle illuminations of sound which twinkle like wind chimes in response to the piano’s heavy steps.

“Swarm Light” by rAndom International

“Swarm Light” by rAndom International

Ted Hearne’s contribution to the album, “By-By Huey,” takes as its basis Robert Arneson’s chilling painting of the same name. It’s a portrait of Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, a member of the Black Guerilla Family who murdered Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, in 1989. Like Arneson’s painting, Hearne’s piece is meant to memorialize the self-destructive: jazzy piano motives snarl and growl restlessly forward as the rest of the instruments are forced to follow or be left behind.

By-by Huey © Estate of Robert Arneson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

“By-By Huey”  by Robert Arneson

A frenzied interlude transitions into the final piece of the album, Jacob Cooper’s “Cast.” Drawing inspiration from Leonardo Drew’s paper casts of everyday objects, Cooper’s composition creates “sonic casts” of individual instrumental gestures—gradually removing the melodic gestures themselves to leave only the empty casts that surrounded them.

“Number 94” by Leonardo Drew

“Number 94” by Leonardo Drew

True, paper casts are a pretty far way from the pen-and-ink abstractions that began the album (though perhaps even farther from the interactive light installations at the center of it), and yet the album feels wholly unified by the precision, momentum, and bold musicality of Eighth Blackbird. Stylistically, each piece stands confidently on its own—but together as an album, the pieces illuminate the endless possibilities when art and music collide.

And as you exit the gallery in stillness and silence, you begin to listen to art in quite a different way than you ever have before.

ALBUM REVIEW: Utah Symphony’s “Dawn to Dust”

by Geoffrey Larson

It’s always tremendously exciting when we get a premiere recording of American works for orchestra, but this release has me especially enthralled. Utah Symphony and Thierry Fischer present an immaculately conceived performance of works by three of our most prominent composers of the moment: Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, and Andrew Norman.

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Augusta Read Thomas’ Eos is subtitled Goddess of the Dawn, a Ballet for Orchestra, and presents a tableau of Greek gods and goddesses. It’s interesting to note her remarks in the liner notes, where she mentions her compositional process involves standing at a drafting table to connect with the feel of dance. The opening movement Dawn is immediately spellbinding. It subtly evokes Copland’s Quiet City at the outset, with its spare textures and timid groups of repeating notes, eschewing the richness of Ravel’s Dawn from Daphnis and Chloe. It doesn’t last long, however, as we are soon taken on a playful journey that is a true concerto for orchestra. Utah Symphony really wows in Augusta’s music: the way challenging runs pass through the entire orchestra with perfect precision and ensemble is truly something for the ears to behold, and the Soundmirror recording team has produced a wonderfully balanced and transparent capture of the performance for Reference Recordings.

Nico Muhly’s Control is also helpfully subtitled, and the Five Landscapes for Orchestra that he explores are all impressionistic representations of Utah’s stunning natural landscape. He mentions oblique references to Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles, and I actually hear a lot of Messiaen in this music, from commanding brass chords that stand like massive pillars of rock to gamelan-like rhythms of pitched percussion. It’s a fascinating work, such a far evolution from Muhly’s earlier minimalist-influenced textures, although this DNA partially forms the rhythmic backbone of Beehive. It’s interesting that the fourth part, Petroglyph and Tobacco, reminds me of Copland’s most muscular, swashbuckling populist works; it’s portraying stone-carving, rock-painting, and a Ute song that was used when begging for tobacco, a distinctly different viewpoint than Copland’s American West.

Andrew Norman’s Switch is a percussion concerto that seems to follow in a creative line from Play, his earlier work that “explores the myriad ways musicians can play with, against, or apart from one another.” In this work, the percussionist appears to control the action of the orchestra like an insane puppeteer, which certain percussion instruments setting off licks one part of the orchestra, and so on. It never ceases to surprise, enthrall, or sound less than tremendously difficult. It’s an incredibly symphonic work that seems to be successful in a purely shock-and-awe way, a work that clearly says “look what a modern orchestra is capable of.” Haydn would have been terrified.

NEW CONCERT AUDIO: Cellist Ashley Bathgate & Sleeping Giant’s “Bach Unwound” presented by Metropolis Ensemble

by Maggie Stapleton

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The music of J.S. Bach is often described as timeless, and throughout the twentieth century, composers such as Benjamin Britten, George Crumb, and Iannis Xenakis built upon the form established by Bach, expanding the instrument’s technical and sonic capabilities while paying homage to his legacy.

Cellist Ashley Bathgate created a project that gives his music context and relevance in the twenty-first century in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based composer collective Sleeping Giant – Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein, and Andrew Norman. Each composer wrote one movement of the new suite, basing it loosely on a corresponding movement of their choice from the original Bach suites, but free to use the music as an inspiration for expressing and expanding his personal compositional voice. The new work (given the eponymous title “ASH”) incorporates extended performance techniques, live electronics, and external media resulting in a radical deconstruction and re-imagination of the original music.

We’re pleased to present the world premiere recording of “ASH” inspired by (and interspersed with excerpts from) the Unaccompanied Cello Suites of J.S. Bach, recorded on January 12, 2016 at (le) Poisson Rouge as part of Metropolis Ensemble’s Resident Artist Series. Q&A with Ashley follows.

Maggie Stapleton: What inspired you to embark upon this project?

Ashley Bathgate: This project began with my desire to rediscover Bach’s Cello Suites. The last time I worked on them was during my days as a student. This was long before I became so heavily immersed in new music. I’ve grown in so many ways since then ,and it just felt like the right time to come back to this repertoire. I wanted to also find a way to link my love of contemporary music to this “re-discovery” process. There is plenty of new music for solo cello out there but not a lot that incorporates amplification/electronics and not a lot on the same scale as Bach’s Six Suites. I wanted something epic, and I wanted it to find some tether to a body of work that has been so loved and respected over the years, these compositional masterpieces that allowed the cello to step out as a solo voice beyond its traditional role as a continuo or basso accompaniment. I wanted the past to meet the present in order to show contrast but also to highlight the evolution of music and of this instrument in particular.

MS: Did you have Sleeping Giant in mind as collaborators from the beginning? Have you worked with them (together or individually) before?

AB: Absolutely. The composers of Sleeping Giant and I have a long history together dating back to our time at the Yale University School of Music. They are dear friends. They also happen to be some of the leading composers out there right now. When I thought up this idea, they were the first people who came to mind. I have played a great deal of their music in the past and even commissioned some of them individually. I appreciate how different each of them are in their compositional styles and also how well they work together as this collective to produce lengthier, collaborative compositions. They were the dream team for this project.

MS: Were you involved in the composition process, too? (The “gargantuan email chains and in Google Hangout sessions lasting hours” (NY Times))

AB: (laughs) For better or worse, yes! I think they spared me a lot of back and forth where the actual music writing was concerned, but we were in close contact from start to finish with this project, almost 3 years! Not only skype, email and phone calls but also meeting in person before and after the music had been written. This is the thing I love most about commissioning new music: it’s a privilege to be able to work with living composers (even better when they are your friends) and to be part of their creative process. As a result, the piece feels tailor made for me in many ways and the overall experience is a much richer one, having been a part of its development in that way.

MS:Who came up with the name of the piece, “ASH”? What’s the full story there?

AB: The Sleeping Giants came up with that one. I sign all of my emails “Ash” because I am too lazy to write my entire name out. It’s become a nick name of sorts as a result. But the Giants also felt that this title suggests the image of ashes, as in the ashes of Bach’s music. In various ways they all worked with fragments and transformations of Bach, thus making something new from the “ashes” of Bach’s music and legacy.

MS: We are thrilled to share the audio from this performance with our audience. Do you have other plans to keep the life of this piece going beyond the premiere? More performances? Video productions?

AB: For sure. This is only the beginning. I am touring it a bunch this spring and next season. I’ll be giving the West Coast premiere at Santa Ana Sites on March 12th. I anticipate it will evolve a bit between now and then. There’s a lot of feedback flying around at the moment. The composers have already started making some small changes and I am also tweaking various aspects of the show from the order to the electronic components and how they are executed. It’s exciting actually, now that we have an idea what it all looks and sounds like, to see where we can take it from here. Next step will be a commercial recording and no doubt there will be some music video action on the near horizon!

Sleeping Giant

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Sleeping Giant is a collective of six young American composers (clockwise: Timo Andres, Andrew Norman, Jacob Cooper, Christopher Cerrone, Robert Honstein, and Ted Hearne). These “talented guys” (The New Yorker), who are “rapidly gaining notice for their daring innovations, stylistic range and acute attention to instrumental nuance” (WQXR) have composed a diverse body of music that prizes vitality and diversity over a rigid aesthetic. Their works have appeared in concert halls and clubs throughout the US and Europe, from Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center to Wigmore Hall and the Concertgebouw in performances by the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New York City Opera, the Jack Quartet, and the New York Youth Symphony.

Current projects include a new evening-length work for eighth blackbird, a two-year Music Alive residency with the Albany Symphony, and a collaborative work for cellist Ashley Bathgate. They have presented sold-out concerts at New York’s (Le) Poisson Rouge, Brooklyn’s Littlefield, and at John Zorn’s The Stone. In 2011, they collaborated on Histories, a Stravinsky-inspired work for Ensemble ACJW and the Deviant Septet commissioned by Carnegie Hall.

Ashley Bathgate

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American cellist Ashley Bathgate has been described as an “eloquent new music interpreter”(New York Times) and “a glorious cellist”(The Washington Post) who combines “bittersweet lyricism along with ferocious chops”(New York Magazine). Her “impish ferocity”, “rich tone” and “imaginative phrasing” (New York Times) have made her one of the most sought after performers of her time. The desire to create a dynamic energy exchange with her audience and build upon the ensuing chemistry is a pillar of Bathgate’s philosophy as a performer. Her affinity to dynamism drives Bathgate to venture into previously uncharted areas of ground-breaking sounds and techniques, breaking the mold of a cello’s traditionally perceived voice. Collaborators and fans alike describe her vitality as nothing short of remarkable and magical for all who are involved. Bathgate is a member of the award winning, internationally acclaimed sextet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and is also a founding member of TwoSense, a duo with pianist Lisa Moore, and Bonjour, a low-strung, percussive quintet with fellow new music mavens Florent Ghys, James Moore, Eleonore Oppenheim and Owen Weaver.

Equally at home in both the concert hall and the rock club, Bathgate focuses on presenting concerts that draw from a wide range of musical genres. Her dedication to performing traditional music is equally matched by her passion to promote new music by today’s composers. That dedication has led her to work with an esteemed list of composers and musicians such as John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Nik Bärtsch, Iva Bittova Martin Bresnick, Don Byron, Jace Clayton, Bryce Dessner (The National), Arnold Dreyblatt, DJ Spooky, Ben Frost, Philip Glass, Michael Gordon, Annie Gosfield, Ann Hamilton, Glenn Kotche (Wilco), David Lang, Lori Lieberman, Meredith Monk, Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Questlove and The Legendary Roots Crew, Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Trio Mediaeval, Julia Wolfe, Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and Nick Zammuto (The Books).

Bathgate studied at Bard College with Luis Garcia-Renart (B.M.) before continuing her education at Yale University with renowned cellist Aldo Parisot (M.M. & A.D). Originally from Saratoga Springs, NY, Bathgate began her cello studies with the late Rudolf Doblin, principal cellist and assistant music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in the 1950’s. After his passing, she resumed her tutelage with Ann Alton at Skidmore College. A member of the Empire State Youth Orchestra at the time, Bathgate was also the unprecedented two-time winner of the Lois Lyman Concerto Competition, performing the Saint-Saens and Schumann Cello Concertos with the orchestra at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. While at Bard College, she was invited to perform both the d’Albert and Barber Cello Concertos with the American Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leon Botstein and then went on to win Yale University’s Concerto Competition in 2008, performing with the Yale Philharmonia in New Haven’s legendary Woolsey Hall. Bathgate resides in New York City.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: yMusic’s Balance Problems

by Maggie Molloy

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New York has long been one of the U.S.’s leading centers for new and experimental classical music, and who better to spearhead the city’s lively and eccentric music scene than innovative young musicians?

yMusic is quickly making a name for themselves as one of New York’s most imaginative young music ensembles. The sextet, which formed in 2008, is named for the stylish Millennial Generation from which its musicians hail. Each of its members has their own distinct personal style and musical flair, and together their music toes the line between the classical and pop music worlds.

The ensemble is composed of a string trio carefully balanced with flute, clarinet, and trumpet. yMusic features Rob Moose on violin, Nadia Sirota on viola, Clarice Jensen on cello, Hideaki Aomori on clarinet, Alex Sopp on flute, and CJ Camerieri on trumpet.

Though the group is full of virtuosic, classically-trained musicians, yMusic strives to make classical chamber music accessible to a wider range of audiences outside of the traditional concert hall.

In their new album, “Balance Problems,” the group takes on dazzling new compositions by Nico Muhly, Marcos Balter, Andrew Norman, Jeremy Turner, Timo Andres, Mark Dancigers, and Sufjan Stevens. The result is a series of carefully crafted sonic landscapes which blend imaginative musical textures of enormous depth and detail.

The album’s sound is heavily influenced by Son Lux (Ryan Lott), a fellow genre-bending New York-based musician who served as the producer and mixing engineer for “Balance Problems.” His extensive background in electronic and experimental music informed the mixing process, helping to expand yMusic’s sound while still preserving the integrity of their acoustic instruments.

“Balance Problems” starts off with the title track, a delicate but densely colorful piece composed by modernist Nico Muhly. The piece’s overlapping wind and brass motifs are carefully balanced against the constantly shifting, often pizzicato string backdrop.

Marcos Balter’s “Bladed Stance,” toys with various tempos on different instruments, creating depth through swelling woodwind melodies which whisper like wind, gradually rising and falling with each breath.

Of all the pieces, Andrew Norman’s two-part “Music in Circles” is perhaps the most familiar in structure. True to its title, the piece begins and ends with the same airy, ambient backdrop. If you listen closely, you can even hear someone breathing on the recording. The stark, simple atmosphere gradually gives way to growing depth and drama. The middle of the piece is rounded out with vibrant and colorful timbres, each instrument’s part swirling around each other to produce a brilliant, sparkling musical texture.

The more chaotic tracks on the album are balanced out by softer, gentler compositions such as Jeremy Turner’s “The Bear and the Squirrel.” The piece begins with a rich cello tone, embracing a bass-heavy sound with smooth, sweet strings and a muted trumpet melody. The lovely, dreamlike melodies give the piece a tranquil, lulling quality.

Sufjan Stevens ends the album with “The Human Plague,” a more heavily produced track which experiments with delayed and gated effects. All of the instruments play in sync for the first time on the album, dizzily repeating one rhythm until each voice gradually slows down and fades away into silence. The result is a modern, minimalist finale which seamlessly drives home the album’s theme of blending pop and classical.

As an album, “Balance Problems” is truly brought to life by yMusic’s youthful, imaginative energy and fearless commitment to creating innovative and expressive new music. The group’s extraordinary musicianship and unique ear for pop and avant-garde musical elements allows them to flawlessly tie together two very different musical worlds into one intricate but accessible classical music album.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: October 17-18

by Maggie Molloy

Looking to expand your musical horizons? Here are some exciting and experimental Seattle music events taking place this weekend.

Inverted Space Featuring UW Student Compositions

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Young 20-somethings are often at the forefront of new music ventures, constantly pushing the boundaries of familiar music genres and creating new ways of experimenting with sound. Seattle’s vibrant young musician scene is no exception. This Friday, music students from the University of Washington are presenting a colorful concert full of contemporary musical compositions written by their peers.

Inverted Space, UW’s contemporary music ensemble, will be performing small ensemble works written by fellow UW music students. The compositions include a solo work for violin and electronics, a duo for saxophone and cello, and many other unique musical compositions with imaginative instrumentation.

The concert is part of Nonsequitur’s Wayward Music Series, and will take place in the gorgeous Chapel Performance Space at the historic Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.​ The concert is this Friday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

 

Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] Season Opener

SSO Musicians at LPR (c) Brandon Patoc

(photo credit: Brandon Patoc)

This Friday, the Seattle Symphony is taking their music outside of Benaroya Hall and into…the lobby.

That’s right; Seattle Symphony is opening their 2014-2015 [untitled] series with a late-night concert presented in Benaroya Hall’s beautiful Samuel and Althea Stroum Grand Lobby. The performance will feature compositions by the influential 20th century Hungarian composer György Ligeti as well as contemporary composers Djuro Zivkovic and Andrew Norman.

Symphony musicians will perform Gyorgy Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Métamorphoses nocturnes.” One of his more daring early works, the quartet is written in one continuous movement which can be divided into 17 contrasting sections. The concert program also features Serbian-Swedish composer and violinist Djuro Zivkovic’s “On the Guarding of the Heart” as well as American composer Andrew Norman’s “Try.”

If you’d like to hear some insightful interviews with Andrew Norman, Djuro Zivkovic, and Mikhail Schmidt, one of the violinists, check out this great feature from Seattle Symphony!

The performance will take place in Benaroya Hall’s grand lobby this Friday, Oct. 17 at 10 p.m.  Be sure to stop by the KING FM table and say hi to Second Inversion’s Maggie Stapleton!

 

William O. Smith’s Jazz Clarinet

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This Saturday night, William O. Smith is jazzing up classical clarinet music with a performance of his own imaginative compositions and creative improvisations. The classically-trained jazz clarinetist has devoted much of his career to studying and cataloguing an impressive range of extended clarinet techniques, all of which have informed his own original compositions.

Smith will be joined by trombonist Stuart Dempster and clarinetist Jesse Canterbury. The captivating program includes a piece written for clarinet and improvising computer, a piece written for clarinet and computer-transformed sounds, as well as artful improvisations in duo and trio combinations.

The event, which is co-presented by the Earshot Jazz Festival and Nonsequitur, will take place at the Good Shepherd Center’s Chapel Performance Space in Wallingford this Saturday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.