ALBUM REVIEW: Danny Elfman’s Rabbit & Rogue

by Lauren Freman

If, like me, you thought that Danny Elfman’s Rabbit & Rogue looked like a fashionable reboot of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, you might be tempted to write off this score as self-indulgent and twee. But hear me out—

Rabbit & Rogue was the source material for a collection of short films that premiered at the LA Film Festival just last month. Produced by Indi.com, the Danny Elfman Project: Rabbit and Rogue was a contest inviting filmmakers to create a short film to set to the score, in the same vein as Disney’s Fantasia. Or Baby Driver. Submissions were judged by a star-studded panel, and the winning pieces screened for LAFF’s 36,000-some-odd festival attendees. The Limited Deluxe Edition was just released as an album this past June, brought to life by the Berlin Session Orchestra with conductor Joris Bartsch Buhle.

Rabbit & Rogue actually first premiered in 2008, as the six-movement score to a ballet, commissioned for the American Ballet Theater and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. The production was met with a few curmudgeonly responses (one New York Times critic named it “irksome” and “relentless”) which, okay, slow your roll. It’s a Danny Elfman score. Y’know, Danny Elfman? The guy who wrote the score for The Simpsons, and Batman Returns, and basically every Tim Burton movie ever? If you’re not here for whimsy, then get up out my face. But to be honest, I had a hard time imagining this as a ballet too. It’s just too cinematic (you can take the Danny Elfman outta the film score…), which is likely the motivation behind repurposing this piece for short films.

The “Intro” begins quietly with the percussion bubbling with a nervous heartbeat, which sets into motion the fidgety, pent-up kinesthetic energy that permeates the entire work. It opens gradually into a spacious—though no less fidgety—storybook landscape, letting the saxophone serve some serious Creation du Monde vibes before tumbling abruptly into the second movement, “Frolic.”

At points, the second movement could be mistaken for a Looney Tunes score (that xylophone tho). It evokes the sense that Rabbit is scampering through other symphonic works: there’s a reference to a theme from Rite of Spring’s third movement, a “Flight of the Bumblebee” nod in one piano solo section, and this perfectly cheeky moment about nine minutes in, where we are in full John Williamsy triumphant brass glory, then a pause—just long enough to raise an eyebrow—then BAM we’re doing a wild Charleston. It’s worth a listen just for the sonic scavenger hunt alone.

You know what they say: The way to a new music snob’s heart is through their gamelan. Admittedly, Rabbit & Rogue’s third movement, “Gamelan,” bears dubious resemblance to any traditional gamelan, but still it’s pretty magical. The beginning of this movement reprises the fluttery rabbit-heartbeat from the “Intro” (Are you trying to pass off the Berlin Session Orchestra’s xylophones as gamelan, Danny? Tell the truth…). The movement later leans hard into standard box office film score territory: sweeping, no-surprises-here anthems that remind you of the VHS tapes you watched and re-watched as a kid. If any one movement is dangling precariously close to preciousness, it’s this one. One might rebut, though, that, in a ballet about the adventures of a bunny, a little preciousness might be forgiven.

I won’t spoil the rest, but suffice it to say that Elfman continues this Macaulay Culkin-meets-Milhaud-meets-Mel-Blanc remix all the way through the Finale. Does this mean that Rabbit & Rogue essentially is, in fact, a fashionable reboot of a Bugs Bunny cartoon? Okay, yes. But who cares? The value in this piece is in its marriage of smartypants in-jokes and blockbuster soundtrack accessibility.

If, like me, you spend a fair amount of time wrestling for common ground with friends and family who “just don’t GET classical music,” this is precisely the kind of music that serves our cause. This kind of you-got-new-music-in-my-film-score/you-got-film-score-in-my-new-music mashup allows us to offer “If you liked that, you might enjoy this John Adams; this Charles Ives; this Conlon Nancarrow,” and before you know it, you and Uncle Craig are blasting Pierrot Lunaire from his truck like it’s no big deal.

As classical music people, our biggest image problem is in being perceived as too serious. Rabbit & Rogue helpfully reminds us to lighten up, lol at Elfman’s musical jokes, and for goodness’ sake, watch some cartoons.



Lauren Freman is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer, hell-bent on blurring the boundaries between high and low art. Follow her at
www.freman.band, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival

by Maggie Molloy

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and you know what that means: parades, picnics, and barbeques abound! And while hot dogs, fireworks, and flag-covered clothing are a (somewhat) relevant expression of American independence, our county has a whole lot more than just cured meats and corny t-shirts to be proud of.

Tuning Up!Which is why this summer, the Seattle Symphony is turning off the barbeque and turning up the music with Tuning Up!: a two-week festival celebrating American musical creativity in the 20th and 21st century. This star-spangled celebration features nine concerts which traverse America’s vast musical landscape, from jazz to Broadway, avant-garde to minimalism, classics to Hollywood, and much more.

So whether you crave the jazzy grooves of George Gershwin or the swinging blues of Duke Ellington, you can hear it all during the Tuning Up! Festival. Maybe you prefer the massive soundscapes of John Luther Adams, the hypnotic minimalism of Philip Glass, or the movie magic of John Williams—the festival has all that too!

Suffice it to say, Second Inversion is all over this festival. Come visit us at the KING FM table in the lobby at the following events for music, magnets, and other free swag!


Stage & Screen: From Appalachian Spring to the Red Violin
Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.

From stage to screen to concert hall, these giants of American music transcended borders and paved the way for generations to come. Among them is Florence Beatrice Price: the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The Seattle Symphony pays tribute with a rousing orchestral rendition of her ragtime classic, Dances in the Canebrakes. Plus, dancers take to the stage alongside the Symphony for a performance of Aaron Copland’s famous folk-inspired and Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring.

The program also features Leonard Bernstein’s elegant Divertimento for Orchestra, poignant movie music from Schindler’s List and The Red Violin, and a heartwarming tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch who, among his many accomplishments in music, served as the Principal Pops Conductor at the Seattle Symphony from 2008 until his death in 2012.


The Light that Fills the World: A Meditation in Sound & Light
Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In the face of trauma and political turmoil around the world, Seattle Symphony offers an intimate meditation in sound and silence, light and dark. Julia Wolfe’s My Beautiful Scream, written after the events of 9/11, opens the program with a slow-building and softly illuminating agony. What follows is utter silence: John Cage’s famous 4’33”.

The program also features Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams’ immersive, Arctic-inspired soundscape The Light That Fills the World, the delicate breath of Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, and Philip Glass’ scientific salute, The Light.

Plus, the Symphony invites you to submit your own Glass-inspired photographs to be featured during the performance. Deadline for submissions is this Friday, June 24.


In the White Silence: John Luther Adams’ Alaskan Landscapes
Friday, July 1 at 10 p.m.

To say that composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams is inspired by nature would be a bit of an understatement. He spent much of his life composing from a 16×20 ft. one-room cabin in the Alaskan woods, creating large-scale soundscapes which blur the line between nature and man-made instruments.

In 2013, the Seattle Symphony commissioned and premiered John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean, a 42-minute meditation for large orchestra which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award.John Luther Adams

And now, during this special late-night concert, the Symphony revisits one of Adams’ earlier explorations into sonic geography: the 75-minute soundscape In the White Silence. The piece unfolds slowly and patiently, translating the vast horizons of the frozen far north into a musical landscape of clean, radiant harmony and subtle transformation.


Looking for more in American music? Check out the Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival Map below:

Tuning Up! Visual Guide

ALBUM REVIEW: Traffic Quintet Plays Alexandre Desplat

by Maggie Molloy
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Most music and film fans are familiar with the music of Alexandre Desplat. After all, eight Oscar nominations (including one win), two BAFTA awards, a Golden Globe, and two Grammys tend to put you on the map.

But even if you’ve never heard of Alexandre Desplat, you’ve almost certainly heard his music. Do movies like The Queen, The Golden Compass, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ring a bell? How about The Danish Girl, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Godzilla, and The Grand Budapest Hotel? Desplat composed the music for all of them, and for many more.

But you don’t have to be a movie buff to appreciate the music of Desplat—in fact, you don’t even have to watch the movies.
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The Traffic Quintet recently released an album titled “Traffic Quintet Plays Alexandre Desplat,” which reimagines 13 of Desplat’s famous film scores for piano quintet, with occasional interventions from the composer himself on flute, glockenspiel, and celesta.

Led by director and violinist Dominique Lemonnier (better known as Solrey), the Traffic Quintet is committed to revisiting iconic soundtracks which have entered into the musical canon. The ensemble, which features violinists Solrey and Constantin Bobesco, violist Estelle Villotte, cellist Raphaël Perraud, and bassist Philippe Noharet, made their debut in cinema in 1997 when they performed Desplat’s music for Jacques Audiard’s film Un héros très discret. After their first encounter with the silver screen, they kept their film-inspired name, a tribute to filmmaker Jacques Tati, and began to explore the world of film music. For this latest project, the quintet is joined by the pianist Alain Planes.

Traffic Quintet Alexandre DesplatAfter working on Un héros très discret,
Solrey became Desplat’s favorite soloist, concertmaster, artistic director, and eventually, his wife.

“Solrey’s influence on my music is crucial,” Desplat said. “When I heard her sound for the first time, the rich palette of her bow technique, the energy or tenderness she could convey with her instrument, I was under her charm, I was hooked: I had to inject this special and modern conception of violin playing into my compositions.”

Solrey supervised all the transcriptions on “Traffic Quintet Plays Alexandre Desplat,” and was also the one who persuaded Desplat to perform on the album. But with such a vast library of musical scores to choose from, how could they possibly pick which to perform?

“Closely,” Desplat said, “Solrey and I would spend hours listening to my collection of soundtracks to decide which piece had the potential required: a strong musicality and an original orchestration, which offered many transcription options, a technical challenge for the five musicians.”

Solrey also came up with the musical program for the album. Given the ensemble’s strong ties to cinema, the Traffic Quintet’s performances feature original video projections which tie into the colors and themes of the music in order to create an immersive experience for the audience. For this album, Solrey uses Desplat’s native city Paris as the storyline, musically portraying a leisurely stroll along the banks of the River Seine, capturing the changing light and the mysterious secrets of the river.

“Alexandre’s music invites you on a walk, wraps you up and lulls you gently into contemplation,” Solrey said. “The beauty of the banks and the ever-flowing streams of the Seine become a source of inspiration. I have been steeped in his music for so many years that when I came to go through the many scores I had recorded as a solo violinist, creating a sequence that would trace Alexandre’s musical evolution came quite naturally to me.”

The stroll begins with a twinkling piano theme from The King’s Speech. Soft strings accent the sweetly circling piano melody in this charming rendition of the movie’s warm, minimalist soundtrack.

Then, as if walking past the open window of a riverside apartment, the listener is suddenly transported into a daydream. A gorgeous, haunting flute and violin theme takes the listener into the mid-17th century world of Girl with a Pearl Earring. The two instruments intertwine over a bed of strings, balancing passionate lyricism with restraint, evoking musical images of the the young maid and her painter.

Yearning strings then travel through tales of love, death, and heartbreak in the music from Love Etc. and Le plus bel âge. The Traffic Quintet amps up the drama for the syncopated melodies and the textured pizzicato and col legno harmonies of Un héro très discret, a movie about a French man who sets out to Paris to find adventure and make himself a hero.

But like any slow stroll along the water, the listener soon encounters the shadows and hidden secrets of the flowing river. Aggressive, bold bowings and relentless rhythmic drive build suspense in the music of the political thriller, The Ghost Writer, before the listener returns to the calm, contemplative piano melodies of the existential, experimental drama film The Tree of Life.

Cello and double bass ground the foreboding music of Un prophète, a film about an imprisoned Algerian criminal who rises in the inmate hierarchy. Subtle glockenspiel flourishes and persistent col legno bowings create texture beneath the dramatic violin melodies. Tragedy, mystery, and discovery shine through in the pensive melodies and arresting climaxes of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, with introspective melodies shifting through flute, violin, piano, and cello.

The walk along the river eventually takes the listener through tales of forbidden love, transitioning through the ominous and slow-moving crescendos of the espionage erotic thriller Lust, Caution followed by the soaring, palpably passionate (and sometimes mischievous) violin and cello melodies of Chéri.

Layered strings shift slowly through colorful harmonies in the music of Sur mes lèvres, and the Parisian stroll comes to a close with the whimsical lyricism and silvery shimmer of Coco avant Chanel, a tribute to French film, fashion, and music.

And although Desplat and the Traffic Quintet traverse the music of 13 wildly different films in just over an hour, all the individual stories blend together in the beautiful wash of the River Seine.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Silent Movie Mondays “Silent Treasures Series” featuring “Ben Hur: A Tale of The Christ (1925)” + Q&A with Stewart Copeland

by Rachele Hales

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What is so delicate that even saying its name will break it? Silence. And on February 29th the silence will be obliterated by Seattle Rock Orchestra’s performance of a new score to an old classic. Wave your lighters in the air and thank Stewart Copeland for bringing the noise.

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Kim Roy conducts SRO. Photo credit: Holly Kerchner, http://wildideal.com/

A former drummer for The Police, Copeland pivoted his musical career in 1982 when he began composing for film. In addition to the numerous film scores he’s now got under his belt, he has also composed for videogames, ballets, and operas and even took on film editing. He’s further honed those editing chops by condensing the very old, very damaged reel of Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ from 143 minutes to a family-friendly 90 minutes. He was then able to score the film and take it on tour. The chariot awaits you on the big-screen as Seattle Rock Orchestra performs the score live with Copeland himself keeping the beat on drums.

 

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SRO Cello section. Photo credit: Holly Kerchner, http://wildideal.com/

Ben-Hur is the most expensive silent film ever made and the iconic chariot race scene has inspired numerous copy-cats, including the pod race in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. It’s the story of Ben-Hur, who is the childhood friend of a powerful Tribune who later betrays him and his family. As a slave, he meets a certain carpenter’s son (Hi, Jesus!) who offers him kindness and… well, I can’t give away the ending.


Ben-Hur will be closing out the Silent Movie Mondays “Silent Treasure Series” at The Paramount Theatre on Monday, February 29th at 7pm. Tickets are $25. There will be a post-movie VIP Q&A with Copeland at the theatre.

 

Rachele Hales: I understand that you got to enter the Warner Brothers cold-storage vault to fish out a very damaged “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ.” Can you describe what it was like being inside that vault?

Stewart Copeland: Well I never actually went into the vault. We just had to wait for over a week for it to defrost. I now regret not personally attending the telecine either. It would have been spiritually uplifting to handle the actual celluloid.

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RH: Can you talk about some of the unique challenges with the “Ben-Hur” project?

SC: The opportunities outweighed the challenges by far. The silence allowed complete freedom to drive it all with music. No dialogue or sound effects to dodge! The operatic acting style and the enormous scale of the images gave license to set the orchestra to full rage. Figuring out how to tell the tale in ninety minutes did take some careful consideration and cleaning up the dust and scratches, repairing damaged frames, sorting out the varying frames per second (which depended on who was cranking the camera that day) and refining the color (technically b&w but they used color washes) all could be described as work but it sure was fun!

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RH: You jumped into solo film scoring while still with The Police. Was it a nice break from the thrill of being in a rock band or was it a different kind of thrill for you? What was the impetus for the new musical focus?

SC: It was a nice break from the miseries that we inflicted upon one another in the band! Although the humble film composer is a mere craftsman in the service of the director’s art it was liberating to only answer to a non-musician. It meant that I could be the non-negotiating god of music in the studio and be judged at the end rather than during the process.

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RH: You’ve collaborated with many other musicians, including Tom Waits, Snoop Dogg, and Adam Ant. What have you learned from those artists and have those collaborations influenced your solo work at all?

SC: Oh yes, I try to learn from everyone and everything. From Tom Waits how to look in a different direction from the obvious, from Snoop how to give everything a try, and from Adam, um, I never did quite get his knack for coolness.

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RH: What would the soundtrack of your own life include?

SC: Jimi Hendrix, Stravinsky and Ravel would cover most of it although you might need some Wagner in some spots and Donald Duck in others.

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RH: You’ve composed operas, ballets, film and television scores and, of course, been a mega rock idol. What is next for you?

SC: Stay tuned. I’ve got a whole ‘nuther deal coming up…(hint)…if the network buys it.

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ALBUM OF THE WEEK: THE WESTERLIES’ “WISH THE CHILDREN WOULD COME ON HOME”

by Maggie Stapleton

We’ve written about the Seattle-born/NYC-based brass quartet The Westerlies before in our first ever video premiere feature.  Now we have a spotlight on their May release of Wayne Horvitz’ music – Wish the Children Would Come On Home, for which their Official CD Release Party is Friday, August 8 at the Royal Room.

So, why Wayne Horvitz?  (Why NOT Wayne Horvitz is really a better question, but…) Andy, Willem, Zubin, and Riley are long acquainted with Wayne as a teacher, mentor, and friend from their growing up in Seattle, but Horvitz actually approached THEM about doing the album in early 2013.  He recognizes all of the musicians as “technically excellent, theoretically sophisticated, mature beyond their years, astute, perceptive, and self-aware.”

Jazzy sonorities and harmonies combined with a composed structure give this album that quality of “it has a little something for everyone” – the Westerlies chose a broad range of Horvitz’ music to arrange and record, including jazz tunes, film music, and classical chamber pieces.  Now, none of these pieces were originally composed for brass, so the Westerlies had the extra task of doing the arrangements.  Horvitz praises the fact that “they sound like a band, not a brass ensemble” despite “the way they have manufactured a kind of limitation, simply by creating a quartet with 2 trumpets and 2 trombones.  Within all the bounty of their collective backgrounds, they have created a band that is a real hassle!  No rhythm sections, no chordal instruments, and music that is sometimes fiendishly difficult.”  I couldn’t agree more.  The textures and sounds created sound like much more than the sum of its parts (which are all great!).

The music on this album ranges from sultry (Please Keep That Train Away From My Door), lulling (Waltz from Woman of Tokyo), bombastic (The Band With Muddy), nostalgic (Triads totally has a Renaissance quality to my ears), goofy/playful (The Barbershop), free and experimental (Interludes), and smoky (The Store, The Campfire).

Keep an ear out for Andy, Willem, Zubin, and Riley’s voices on the Second Inversion stream!  As we incorporate this disc into our programming, you’re likely to hear one of them introduce the tracks on this album.  In the meantime, mark your calendar for the show nearest you on their WA, OR, and CA tour.

You can purchase Wish The Children Would Come On Home at The Westerlies’ Store.