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.

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

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

Photo on left by Patrick Monaghan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by William Frederking.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

not seeing
the room is white
until that red apple

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


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

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

Photo on right by Marc Perlish.

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

Second Inversion’s Top 5 Videos of 2016

Second Inversion is proud to produce video sessions in our studios and in beautiful venues around Seattle. You can peruse them all on our video page, but here are the top 5 viewed in 2016!

#5: Andy Akiho: in/exchange for string quartet and steel pan (featuring Friction Quartet)

#4: John Cage: Living Room Music (featuring So Percussion)

#3: Steve Reich: Cello Counterpoint (featuring Rose Bellini, cello)

#2: Gabriel Kahane: Bradbury (304 Broadway) from “The Ambassador” (featuring Gabriel Kahane and Brooklyn Rider)

#1: Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint (featuring Rachel Yoder, clarinet)

Stay tuned for more great videos to come in 2017!

NEW VIDEO: Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint

by Maggie Stapleton

New York Counterpoint for amplified clarinet and prerecorded clarinets is one of many pieces in Steve Reich’s “counterpoint” series, in which one live performer typically plays against up to a dozen recordings of the same instrument. Reich aims to capture “the throbbing vibrancy of Manhattan” in this work, performed here by Rachel Yoder, who also recorded the backing tracks.

This is our first of three Steve Reich videos in collaboration with On the Boards Ambassador James Holt, who is presenting a concert dedicated to the music of Steve Reich on Tuesday, February 2 at 8pm:

Counterpoint | Phase – A hypnotic evening of music in a non-traditional setting from the American master of minimalism. 

LINEUP:
Nagoya Marimbas: Erin Jorgensen & Memmi Ochi
Cello Counterpoint: Rose Bellini
New York Counterpoint: Rachel Yoder
Violin Phase: Luke Fitzpatrick/Marcin Pączkowski

Pre-sales for this event are sold out. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

Stay tuned for our of video Violin Phase! Cello Counterpoint is now up and running

RY-2015

Rachel Yoder is a versatile clarinetist and teacher based in the Seattle area, currently performing with the Seattle Modern Orchestra, Madera Wind Quintet and the Odd Partials clarinet/electronics duo. Rachel is editor of The Clarinet, journal of the International Clarinet Association, and works as adjunct professor of music at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA. She has performed and presented throughout the United States, including appearances at conferences of the International Clarinet Association, International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), and Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS). She holds a doctorate in clarinet from the University of North Texas, and also holds degrees from Michigan State University and Ball State University.

ALBUM REVIEW: Preamble by Qasim Naqvi

by Maggie Molloy

Standard Western music notation is made up of five lines, four spaces, and a whole lot of dots and symbols. But contemporary composer and drummer Qasim Naqvi was looking to make classical music that was a little less traditional.

Qasim Naqvi PicPerhaps best known as the drummer for the Brooklyn-based modern acoustic trio Dawn of Midi, Naqvi is also an accomplished composer in his own right. In his new album, titled “Preamble,” he combines graphic notation and traditional notational forms to inject a little aleatory into his compositions. Expanding upon the musical innovations of composers like Ligeti and Xenakis, these aleatoric components allow for the musicians to make spontaneous choices within a structured framework.

“Some of the graphic components deal with dynamics and expression, while others deal with duration and rhythm or ranges that are unique to the particular instruments in the ensemble,” Naqvi said. “This symbolic language is fused into a more conventional style of notation.”

“Preamble” is comprised of a series of short works for mixed acoustic instruments. Released this fall on NNA Tapes, the album features the Contemporary Music Ensemble of NYU and Naqvi himself as the conductor. The work was originally commissioned by the media artist Mariam Ghani, the choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly, and the St. Louis Art Museum as a score to a film installation loosely based on China Miéville’s sci-fi noir novel “The City & the City.”

“One aspect of the book involves two cities that essentially inhabit the same space, but because of the mindset of the citizenry and the threat of a Big Brother-type power known as the Breach, they are perceived as two separate geographic spaces,” Naqvi said. “Even though both cities are intertwined, in a sense, the citizens must unsee the people, buildings, and events of the other city. This, among many other plot elements from Miéville’s book, was used as a conceptual framework that was then mapped onto the real places and histories of St. Louis.”

The result is a suite of seven short pieces weaving in and out of time to explore the principles of chance and intention—in both music and history. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the scope of Naqvi’s album is nothing if not ambitious. But without a minute wasted, Naqvi manages to explore the power of music in all of its complexity, with special concern taken to St. Louis’s cultural, geographical, and political histories.

“It’s very much about the city’s history and as well the tragic and fracturing events of Ferguson, sort of raising the question of what a city chooses to see and unsee in times of tragedy,” he said.

The first piece on the album is the title track, which immediately introduces Naqvi’s unusual timbral palette: flute, clarinet, strings, vibraphone and piano. Metallic dissonances and abstracted harmonies ebb and flow in a fascinating textural landscape that seems to exist outside of time and space altogether.

It’s followed by the resonant plucking, sparse harmonies, and hollow textures of “Meg Erase Meta,” a piece inspired by St. Louis’s complex network of underground caves—a city beneath a city, so to speak. With modest forces of strings and piano, Naqvi explores these hidden places and the musical magic to be found within them.

But Naqvi also explores the city’s more somber mysteries. The duality and disjointed melodic fragments of “Children of the Drawer” give way to the sharp and, at times, jarring woodwinds of “Imagined Garages,” wherein long pauses punctuate metallic clamor and fragmented melodic flutters.

“Beyond Stars” takes on a more meditative atmosphere, with sliding strings in the lower registers swaying fluidly back and forth across a softly shimmering harmonic backdrop. A more frantic and unsettling “Aero” builds into the drama of the closing piece: “Esc.” Flute, clarinet, and strings swell into different colors and shapes, transforming and shifting across the soundscape until we are left with an unexpected silence.

Throughout “Preamble,” Naqvi colors outside the lines—he takes his bold textural and timbral palette and smears the rules of time, space, and traditional composition. He explores the notion of chance and intention throughout music and throughout history—and ultimately, by leaving some of the musical elements up to the performers, he ensures that this tale of two cities is never told the same way twice.

“What happens as a result is that you have these moments of the music being in control, and then you have moments where the music starts to fall over onto itself,” Naqvi said. “Those types of moments really interest me because they’re inexplicable. You can’t transcribe or write those moments down or recreate them. And there’s something kind of amazing about that.”

PS – for a special bonus, here’s a recent installment of The Takeover, hosted by Qasim Naqvi, introducing all of the tracks on Preamble:

ALBUM REVIEW: “Dreams and Prayers” by A Far Cry

by Jill Kimball

A Far Cry

A Far Cry.

When really, really good musicians get together to play music, something magical happens. Some of the best performances in history have been called divine or heavenly. No matter their faith (or lack thereof), those who appreciate music can agree there’s something otherworldly about an amazing performance or recording.

“We’re kind of scrubbing on our instruments, and what somehow comes out of that physical act is something spiritual or transcendent, ” says Miki-Sophia Cloud, a violinist with the self-conducted chamber orchestra A Far Cry. “The history of spiritual mysticism [is] about connecting the physical and the spiritual, which is such a theme in music as well.”

In observing the connection between mysticism and music, the members of A Far Cry had a great idea. They decided to make an album called Dreams & Prayers, a unique collection of music that explores the relationship of spirituality and sound. It begins with Hildegard of Bingen, fast-forwards to the present day, backtracks to 1994, and then concludes at the bedside of a newly-healed Ludwig van Beethoven. Four works, three faith traditions, and 1,000 years comprise this stunning, exhilarating, and (dare I say it?) transcendent album.

The disc gets is name from its focal work, Osvaldo Golijov‘s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind. Golijov originally composed the piece for klezmer clarinet and string quartet–more specifically, for the Kronos Quartet–and has now written an arrangement specifically for A Far Cry to premiere. What’s especially exciting about this recording is that the klezmer clarinetist is David Krakauer, the very same musician who played the premiere with Kronos.

The whole piece is inspired by the writings and teachings of Isaac the Blind, a Jewish mystic who lived in 12th and 13th century Provence. Its three movements are inspired by the three historical Jewish languages: Aramaic, Yiddish and Hebrew. The kind of transcendence explored here is more ecstatic and lively than it is dreamy or serene: you get the sense that Krakauer and the Criers just let go and played with abandon, reveling in the piece’s driving dance rhythms, lush orchestration and utter chaos.

With this 33-minute tornado at the center of Dreams & Prayers, it’s easy to forget there’s another world premiere on the CD: Mehmet Ali Sanlikol‘s Vecd, commissioned by the ensemble. Vecd, in Arabic, “refers to a state of rapture or ecstasy,” according to the composer; the piece is a musical evocation of the kind of spiritual ecstasy Sufi whirling dervishes try to achieve in formal religious ceremonies. Almost everyone will find this piece aesthetically appealing, even if they don’t make the religious connection. It begins with just a few musicians playing soft, meditative sustained notes. Then, a dramatic melody swoops in. Over the course of a few minutes, it gains in speed and volume until the piece reaches its whirling climax. The sound gradually slows and fades until, as in the beginning, only a few musicians remain.

My absolute favorite part about Dreams & Prayers is its opening track, an original arrangement of the chant O ignis spiritus paracliti by the incomparable Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard isn’t famous just because she was one of history’s first female composers. She’s famous because she was a composer, writer, philosopher, theologian, scientist, mystic, and Benedictine abbess…simultaneously. And her music was like nothing anyone had heard before: her chants were more expressive, complex and artistic than any of those composed before and even during her lifetime. It’s such a pleasure to hear her haunting chant arranged so simply on this disc: no extraneous notes or harmonies, just one pure melodic line played in perfectly-imperfect unison by the violinists of A Far Cry. Despite its simplicity, it’s not background music: this track deserves your undivided attention.

A close second favorite is the album’s heart-wrenching conclusion, the third movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15. At first it seemed strange for A Far Cry to include something so comparatively conventional, but then I read T.S. Eliot’s thoughts on the piece:

“I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaiety about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.”

History tells us T.S. Eliot was on the nose about this piece: Beethoven likely wrote it following his recovery from an abdominal illness. In the original manuscript, he describes the third movement as a “Holy song of Thanksgiving to a convalescent of the Deity.”  It’s an ode to the emotional healing power of music, further proof that we turn to music for a respite from all forms of pain. One last time, A Far Cry connects the physical with the spiritual in their impeccable yet sensitive performance of this movement.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Dreams & Prayers is available to buy through the ensemble’s own label, Crier Records, here.

CD REVIEW: MARGARET BROUWER’S “SHATTERED”

by Seth Tompkins

Image

Photo by Christian Steiner

The May 27 Naxos release, Shattered (Physical CD and iTunes download), features music by American composer Margaret Brouwer that traces her individual response to the global events of the first decade of the 21st century.  Reflecting the tone of the world in the 2000s as seen through the eyes of a globally-conscious American, this disc is complete with the sounds of shock, disillusionment, sadness, uncertainty, introspection, realignment, and self-healing that were experienced by so many in recent years.  In addition to the adroit performances found here, the liner notes lend additional emotional traction to this intense music.

Musically, the contemporary instrumental works on this release tend toward an effective fusion of traditional and extended techniques.  Unlike many such attempts, the music heard here blends the two without the extended materials becoming gimmicky or distracting.  In fact, the nuanced and appropriate inclusion of these elements enhances the music, achieving in an arena where musical success is often elusive.

Shattered Glass (for flute, cello, percussion, and piano) is a distinctly painful piece, a fact which becomes quite clear after a reading of this release’s liner notes.  The ensemble playing here is tight and thoughtful, with each player coming to the fore and fading into the background at just the right moments.  This is 13-minutes of engaging introspection, which, in some ways, is a crystallized expression of the ideas contained in the piece that follows, the quintet for clarinet and strings.

Brouwer’s clarinet quintet is quite complex, using 12-tone techniques and incorporating holy music from both the Christian and Islamic faiths.  Also written as a response to recent world events involving the United States and the Middle East, the quintet musically breaks out and explores many of the individual issues that make up the chaotic and seemingly grim world in which it was written.

The song Whom do you call angel now? is a more personal reflection on the world events that inspired the prior pieces, specifically the events of September 11, 2001.  The text by David Adams is set simply, but with a healthy measure of Romantic-era touches that place this piece squarely in the art-song tradition.

Lonely Lake, for the Blue Streak Ensemble, is a depiction of a single day at the remote cabin where the composer sensed hope for the future in the face of the troubling events that dominate the tone of much of this release.  The imitation loon calls that conclude this piece are particularly engrossing, inviting meditation with the aloof realness of the woods.

Certainly, there is music from the past that bears repeating and reinterpreting.  The two arrangements at the end of this collection are examples of such music.  Written for the Blue Streak Ensemble while at the cabin on Lonely Lake, Brouwer’s arrangements of Debussy’s Claire de Lune and Bach’s Two-Part Invention in F are fresh reworkings of these two lovely classics.  In addition to giving listeners new things for which to listen in the context of familiar favorites, they provide the simple pleasure that is sometimes critical in times that strain individuals’ understanding of the world around them.