Staff Picks: Friday Faves

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

Trimpin: Above, Below, and In Between (Seattle Symphony Media)
Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

To say sound-sculptor Trimpin likes to think big would be an understatement—installations like a six-story-high xylophone, a tower of approximately 500 guitars (housed at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture), and an 80-foot installation that responds musically to the motions of passersby are just a few of his musical inventions.

In 2015 he was the composer in residence at the Seattle Symphony, during which time he created a site-specific installation and original composition for the Benaroya Hall lobby that was given its world premiere by the Symphony with Ludovic Morlot. Above, Below, and In Between was the name of his creation—and its centerpiece was a piano that can be conducted and played without being touched.

The resulting piece is a surround-sound fantasia of motion-controlled robotic piano, electronically activated chimes and horns, live orchestra musicians, and wandering soprano—a colorful kaleidoscope of sound and invention. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this piece.


Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants: The Fifteenth Collection (Pinna Records)
Sarah Cahill, piano

Mamoru Fujieda’s Patterns of Plants series is born of a fascinating, elegant creation process: an exquisite combination of nature and technology. The composer worked with the “Plantron,” a device created by botanist and artist Yuuji Dogane that measures electrical fluctuations on the surfaces of leaves of plants, and converted the resulting data into sound using computer programming. Through a process he has likened to searching “in a deep forest” for “beautiful flowers and rare butterflies,” Fujieda listened for musical patterns, and used them as the basis for composing short pieces, which he then grouped into collections reminiscent of Baroque dance suites.

The result is music that has a beautiful symmetry to it, is uniquely expressive in its own way, and is ultimately peaceful to the utmost. Other collections feature a variety of different instrumental combinations, but this Fifteenth Collection is performed on solo piano. It’s given highly sensitive consideration by pianist Sarah Cahill.
 Geoffrey Larson

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


Quentin Sirjacq: “Far Islands” (Schole Records)

“Far Islands” is the perfect song for stress relief.  Quentin Sirjacq’s enchanting minimalism gives one room to breathe and contemplate the spaces in between the sparse piano plucks and fuzzy synthesizer.  Sirjacq once stated that his music “is neither nostalgic nor romantic, but ‘reminiscent’”—this is a perfect description.  His delicate composition here is reminiscent, to use his word, of peacefully floating in a warm lake; it loosens the tension in your muscles and readies your mind for leisure.  Listening with a glass of wine in hand would be perfection. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8pm hour today to hear this piece.


Philip Glass: “Floe” from Glassworks (Sony Classical)
Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble

As the second movement in Glass’ famed six-part chamber work, Glassworks, “Floe” holds a place of esteem in its own right, featured in the 1989 Italian horror film, The ChurchThroughout the movement, Glass layers contrasting timbres in the signature fashion that boosted the entire Glassworks album into popularity with a large audience, giving him widespread name recognition.

This recording by Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble creates a beautiful, mystical trance from the outset and maintains a sense of timelessness throughout. Scored for two flutes, two soprano saxophones, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, two horns, viola, cello, and synthesizer, Glass taps into this particular group of instruments’ blending abilities in such a way that the combined parts create an entirely new and greater texture for the whole. – Brendan Howe

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

2017 New Music Grammy Nominees

Extra! Extra! The 2017 Grammy nominees have been announced and we’re here to celebrate the discs that have been featured as our Album of the Week or in regular rotation on our 24/7 stream. Congratulations to all of the nominees!

2016 Second Inversion Albums of the Week

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Steve Reich — Third Coast Percussion (Cedille)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 15-19

51moxudgtlIn their new album, the quartet surveys the composer’s works for percussion over a four-decade span, beginning with the most recent: his three-movement Mallet Quartet. Composed in 2009, the work is scored for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas. Third Coast Percussion twirls effortlessly through the circling motives and interlocking canons of the two outer movements, transitioning seamlessly both in and out of the central slow movement. A stark musical contrast between the thinly textured, almost transparent middle movement against the persistent pulse of the outer two brings color and narrative to the piece. – Maggie Molloy

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Serious Business — Spektral Quartet (Sono Luminus)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 8-12

dsl-92198-coverSpektral’s new album, titled “Serious Business,” is anything but serious. The album comprises four different perspectives on humor through the lens of classical music, featuring three new works by living composers and one classic from that late, great father of the string quartet, Joseph Haydn.

But don’t let the lighthearted humor fool you—these guys are no classical music newbies. Comprised of violinists Clara Lyon and Austin Wulliman, violist Doyle Armbrust, and cellist Russell Rolen, the Spektral Quartet performs music from across the classical music spectrum. The group is committed to creating connections across the centuries and providing a discourse between the traditional classical canon and the, well, not-so-traditional contemporary classical canon. – Maggie Molloy

Best Music Film

The Music Of Strangers — Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble (Sony)
Second Inversion Album of the Week July 25-29 (companion album to the film)

Sing Me HomeWe need music now more than ever—not as a distraction or an escape, but as a gateway toward experiencing our shared humanity. We need music to open our hearts, our ears, and our minds. We need music to connect us in ways which transcend language, religion, tradition, and geography.

That’s the idea behind Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a global music collective comprised of performers and composers from over 20 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. – Maggie Molloy

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Real Enemies — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (New Amsterdam)
Second Inversion’s Album of the Week October 10-14

a2976727568_16Whether you’re a conspiracy theory junkie or a sideline skeptic, even the most patriotic of us loves a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Whether it’s the Watergate scandal or the inner-workings of the Illuminati, alien sightings or the mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, we just can’t help but turn up our ears when we hear a juicy top-secret scheme.

And since we’re already listening, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue decided to take our eavesdropping ears to the next level: his new album Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration into America’s unshakable fascination with conspiracy theories. Performed with his 18-piece big band Secret Society and released on New Amsterdam Records, the album traverses the full range of postwar paranoia, from the Red Scare to the surveillance state, mind control to fake moon landings, COINTELPRO to the CIA-contra cocaine trafficking ring—and everything in between. – Maggie Molloy


2016 albums in rotation on Second Inversion’s 24/7 stream

Best Surround Sound Album & Best Engineered Album, Classical

Dutilleux: Sur La Mêe Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) (Seattle Symphony Media)

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Best Contemporary Classical Composition

Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) (VBI Classic Recordings)

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New Music Grammy Nominees 2016

We are thrilled that seven of our Albums of the Week received 2016 Grammy nominations!  Here’s a recap of these awesome new music releases:

Seattle Symphony’s Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’  (Best Orchestral Performance, Best Classical Instrumental Solo, & Engineered Album, Classical)

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“The Seattle Symphony dances with precision and grace through the dense textures and intertwined solos of the first movement, the delicately colored timbres and haunting lyricism of the second, and finally the convulsive rhythms and fascinating orchestration of the third.” – Maggie Molloy (on Symphony No.2)

 

 

 

Roomful of Teeth’s Render (Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance)

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“The last piece on the album is the title track, also composed by Brad Wells, which was inspired by David Eagleman’s short story ‘Search.’ The ensemble’s voices ebb and flow in soft waves, gracefully gliding in and out of near-silence to create a serene and mystical sound world.” – Maggie Molloy

 

 

 

eighth blackbird’s Filament (Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance)

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“It goes without saying that the performance quality on this disc is top-notch, no less fine than any of eighth blackbird’s past albums. You’re luxuriously free to focus solely on the compositions themselves, all of which are worth contemplating at length. In an age when most albums’ connecting filaments are somewhere between ultrathin and nonexistent, it’s a pleasure to listen to a set of pieces with such close ties.” – Jill Kimball

Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields (Best Contemporary Classical Composition)

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“Anthracite Fields is not an easy listen, but I don’t think Julia Wolfe wanted it to be. We Americans tend to gloss over unpleasant parts of our history when, in order to make peace with our past, we’d do better to confront it. In telling these miners’ stories through vivid music, Wolfe has brought an important but often ignored chapter of our country’s story to the forefront…. You’ll learn a little about life in late-1800s Pennsylvania, you’ll contemplate energy usage and workers’ rights, and if you’re like me, you’ll have a good cry.” – Jill Kimball

 

Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s In the Light of Air (Producer of the Year, Classical – Dan Merceruio)

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“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.” – Maggie Molloy

 

 

ZOFO’s ZOFO Plays Terry Riley (Producer of the Year, Classical – Dan Merceruio)

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“‘ZOFO Plays Terry Riley’ proves that the musical magic of piano extends far beyond a pianist’s 10 fingers. Through their exploration of Riley’s works, Zimmermann and Nakagoshi paint a vivid and colorful picture of the immense textural, timbral, and stylistic possibilities of piano duets. After all, it’s amazing what a pianist can do with an extra hand or two.” – Maggie Molloy

 

 

Anythony de Mare’s Liaisons – Reimagining Sondheim from the Piano (Producer of the Year, Classical – Judith Sherman)

1444893095_cover“Having just a vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution.  Anthony de Mare’s work on this project has, bit by bit and piece by piece, amounted to a thoroughly enjoyable collection that sounds like thirty-six composers having a musical conversation with America’s preeminent composer of musical theatre.  Liaisons offers up something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone.” – Rachele Hales

“Migration Series”: Q&A with Derek Bermel

In anticipation of Seattle Symphony’s first Sonic Evolution series concert, “Under the Influence Of Jazz,” we had a chance to talk to Derek Bermel about his piece, “Migration Series,” which will be part of a star-studded program. The concert is tonight, Thursday, October 29 at 7:30pm at Benaroya Hall. Be sure to stop by the KING FM/Second Inversion table and grab some swag!

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Second Inversion: Do you think the fusion of genres in Seattle Symphony’s Sonic Evolution series is a good strategy to expand and diversify the audience?

Derek Bermel: Absolutely. I think when you can give audiences a hook to come see something they’re familiar with and then you hit them with something they’re not so familiar with, it’s a gentle way of exposing way them to music they might not know about.  I think it’s truly a groundbreaking series – I’ve been following what Seattle Symphony’s been doing for the last four or five years.  Ludovic Morlot and Simon Woods are looking at music and art holistically as it effects peoples’ lives and they’re looking at what’s going on locally and trying to build in pathways for people who are not normally familiar with symphonic music to get into the vibe.

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Roosevelt High School Jazz Band, who will perform “Migration Series” with Seattle Symphony

SI: The title of tonight’s show is “Under the Influence of Jazz.” How has jazz influenced your composition style as a whole? 

DB: I grew up listening to and playing a lot of jazz, so there was a lot of influence right from the start. I was and still am a huge fan of Thelonious Monk and I remember walking into the record store as a kid and seeing a bright red record in the bargain bin and spending my allowance on it.  That record, “It’s Monk’s Time,” really blew my mind and changed my life.  It coincided with the time in my life when my grandma bought me a small, “honky tonk” piano and I immediately started imitating Monk’s playing on this piano.  It really worked on this piano because it had some keys that didn’t go down all the way and it went out of tune quickly, but I really got that stride and feel by imitating Thelonious Monk.  I also played clarinet and saxophone in the jazz band and was listening to a lot of Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington.

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Jacob Lawrence

SI: And how about the visual artistic influence of Jacob Lawrence? Tell us about your experience with his set of paintings “The Migration Series,” and how it influenced this composition.

DB: I first encountered the paintings when I was young, going into the city (New York) with my mom and saw the exhibit.  There was something about them that struck me in such a deep way. I think it was my connection to African American music and my friends and I saw something in the paintings that felt like music and felt like dance. They jump off the page and they’re very evocative of gesture, shapes, colors, and movement.  I was very drawn to these pictures and they stayed in my mind for many years.  When I started to write this piece, there was something about the form and the way I was writing that had kind of a mosaic quality. I wanted musical themes, approaches, and rhythms to come back during the piece, and for the piece to ebb and flow with this mosaic quality.

I’ve been lucky enough that the Seattle Symphony and Maestro Morlot are interested in having the images displayed along with the show.  It’s an idea that’s been brought up before, but this time it’s actually going to happen!  I’m very excited see how the piece will play with the images.  For me, the thrill is to introduce more people to this artwork as well.  It feels very powerful as an artist to be able to make a tribute to another artist that you admire so much and to let people know about it. A lot of people have gotten to know Jacob Lawrence’s work through my piece, so that’s very gratifying for me as an artist.

And for a taste of the piece and Derek’s insights about the structure of the piece, take a listen!

ALBUM REVIEW: Seattle Symphony “Dutilleux”

by Maggie Molloy

855404005072_SSM1007_Dutilleux_iTunesThe Seattle Symphony is no stranger to contemporary classical—earlier this year they earned a Grammy Award for their breathtaking recording of John Luther Adams’ innovative masterpiece “Become Ocean.” Over the years they have garnered international acclaim for their innovative programming, commissioning of new works, and extensive recording history—and they’re certainly not slowing down anytime soon.

The Seattle Symphony’s latest contemporary classical endeavor is a three-disc, multi-year recording project of all the orchestral works by the late French composer Henri Dutilleux. This August, they are releasing Volume 2 of “Dutilleux,” featuring a studio recording of the violin concerto “L’arbre des songes” (“The Tree of Dreams”) with violinist Augustin Hadelich and gorgeous live performances of “Métaboles” and Symphony No. 2 (“Le double”).

Under the directorship of French conductor Ludovic Morlot, the Symphony brings passionate virtuosity and drama to Dutilleux’s vividly colorful orchestration. In fact, Dutilleux’s refined ear for aural color and texture has led many to characterize him as the principal heir of Debussy and Ravel in the line of influential French composers. His music extends the legacy of these earlier composers while also adding a little more bite; his music’s rhythmic verve, dramatic urgency, and unapologetically frequent use of dissonance show clear ties to Bartók and Stravinsky.

But like the Impressionists, Dutilleux was also very inspired nature. His five-movement “Métaboles,” written in 1964, takes its title from the Greek metabolos, meaning “changeable.” Dutilleux cited the primary inspiration for the piece being the constant flux and ceaseless flow of nature—the ongoing transformations and metamorphoses of organic life.

The piece unfolds in five connected movements which musically imitate these evolutions. Each of the first four movements features a different family of instruments—woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion—allowing the Symphony to fully showcase its incredible breadth of musical talent. From the straining sonorities of the first movement to the sweet lyricism of the second, from the jazzy brass of the third to the pointillist palpitations of the fourth, the Symphony passes through each transformation seamlessly. The wildly chaotic fifth movement brings the entire orchestra back together in a bold and thunderous finale.

Next on the album is Dutilleux’s 1985 violin concerto “L’arbre des songes” (“The Tree of Dreams”) featuring violinist Augustin Hadelich. Dutilleux strays from the typical three-movement concerto form, instead opting for four movements connected by three interludes. Hadelich flies furiously up and down the fingerboard through each of the four distinct movements, showcasing his stunning technique and beautiful tone.

The first movement is rich with gorgeous, long-breathed melodies that shoot straight up into the stratosphere. The second movement skitters and jitters across restless rhythms before transitioning to the wistful and rhapsodic dream that is the third movement. The piece ends with a wildly theatrical fourth movement that showcases Dutilleux’s brilliant orchestration and bold style. Each of the wide-ranging movements are connected by strikingly imaginative interludes—listen for the third, in which Dutilleux actually composed an episode that is meant to sound as if the orchestra is tuning and warming up!

“All in all,” Dutilleux wrote in a preface to his score, “the piece grows somewhat like a tree, for the constant multiplication and renewal of its branches is the lyrical essence of the tree.”

Evolution is a key theme of Dutilleux’s “Le double” symphony as well. He strayed from the standard symphonic procedure of juxtaposing musical themes, instead creating his symphony from the variation and transformation of short musical ideas. He also made innovative use of the orchestral timbres: within the full ensemble he created a smaller group of 12 instruments—oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, timpani, harpsichord, celesta, two violins, viola, and cello—creating in a sense two orchestras, hence the title “Le double.”

Written in 1959, the piece is reminiscent of a modern-day concerto grosso, but unlike the traditionally Baroque form, in “Le double” the smaller ensemble acts as a mirror or ghost of the larger one, creating a fascinatingly complex and richly textured musical panorama.

“I endeavored to avoid the stumbling block of the somewhat archaic form,” Dutilleux said. “The 12 musicians of the smaller orchestra considered separately do not constantly play the role of soloists; it is the mass they form that constitutes the solo element. This mass does not merely confront and dialogue with the larger formation, but at times fuses with, or superimposes itself upon the latter, leaving ample opportunity for polyrhyhthmics and polytonality.”

The Seattle Symphony dances with precision and grace through the dense textures and intertwined solos of the first movement, the delicately colored timbres and haunting lyricism of the second, and finally the convulsive rhythms and fascinating orchestration of the third. The piece ends with a deeply contrasting passage of slowly changing sonorities which spread up and down the orchestra’s pitch range before settling into a serene silence.

And after the full album’s 75 minutes of mesmerizing harmonies, remarkably complex rhythms, and brilliantly colored orchestral textures, that silence sounds beautifully crafted.

MORLOT, MIX-A-LOT AND MUSIC’S FUTURE

by Jill Kimball

A Seattle-born musician and composer caused quite a stir last week when he visited Benaroya Hall for a performance with the Seattle Symphony.

Sir Mix-A-Lot with the Seattle Symphohny

Photo: Ben VanHouten for The New York Times

The musician in question has a keen ear for rhythmic detail and often finds inspiration in electronic music. He in turn inspired a series of pieces by Gabriel Prokofiev, the talented and musically adventurous grandson of Sergei. The Seattle Symphony’s Artistic Director, Ludovic Morlot, took to the podium over the weekend to premiere Prokofiev’s latest work with the orchestra as part of its Sonic Evolution series.

The Seattle Symphony premieres new works by avant-garde composers at least a handful of times every year, so why the commotion? It’s because that as-yet-unnamed musician is actually hip-hop artist Sir Mix-A-Lot, whose 1992 breakout hit “Baby Got Back” is included in Prokofiev’s latest suite dedicated to Mix-A-Lot’s complex beats. In the weekend performance, the rapper invited several dozen female audience members onstage to dance along as he and the Symphony performed Prokofiev’s remix of the famous ode to derrières.

After watching the video, all of us at Second Inversion launched into a discussion about the Sonic Evolution series, about genres, about the future of music. We weren’t the only ones. I noticed conversations popping up all over my Facebook feed, on Twitter, even on the Metro bus during my commute. I heard a lot of the same questions posed: Does the Symphony need a video of women getting down to a popular song in Benaroya Hall to stay relevant? Does the association with Gabriel Prokofiev really turn this dyed in the wool hip-hop song into something classical? Is a group of world-class, classically-trained musicians “selling out” when it performs Top 40 music? The most scathing comment I saw: “This … is not music and does not belong in Benaroya.”

Take a look at the last three seasons under Ludovic Morlot’s baton and you’ll see that the Seattle Symphony has offered an increasingly wide variety of concert experiences to attract new audiences while still embracing traditional classical music. The day before Sir Mix-A-Lot’s performance, the Symphony played Ravel and Dutilleux before a silent, reverent, seated audience. A few weeks ago, the Symphony performed new and old music featuring a handful of SSO instrumentalists, a pair of turntables and a few other instrument oddities in the Benaroya lobby, where audience members took in the concert sitting on carpet squares, piling into small booths or milling around the walkways above. (That full concert, by the way, is available on demand below.)

When concerts of Mozart, Debussy and Rachmaninoff are still abundant–just flip through the Symphony’s 2014-15 brochure to find out how abundant–I have to wonder why those who enjoy the traditional Symphony experience are intent on keeping the music that doesn’t appeal to them out of the concert hall.

From where I sit, music does not, cannot exist in one dimension at a time. Many of the decades-trained musicians we see performing the classical canon onstage enjoy listening to non-classical music and often enjoy playing it, too. John Williams is a composer, but his well-rounded musical résumé includes more than just classical credits. Most of the composers we’ve met in our studios draw from a handful of musical genres to write their music. Sir Mix-A-Lot, then, is more than a rapper: he, like Wiliams and Prokofiev and so many others, is simply a musician who appreciates the work of other musicians.

I won’t attempt to answer the question we’ve all asked at some point–what is a musician?–except to say that musicians can still be musicians even if we don’t like them. A few here at Second Inversion admitted Sir Mix-A-Lot’s performance didn’t really “work” for them. But judging from the feedback on that YouTube video, it worked for more than a million others.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this concert was purposefully scheduled to cap off the annual American League of Orchestras conference, hosted this year by the Seattle Symphony. That means Ludovic Morlot made a conscious decision to conduct his orchestra alongside a rapper and dozens of booty-shaking women for a room full of America’s most influential leaders in classical music. In doing so, he wasn’t just attracting young people in order to sell tickets: he was telling the guardians of classical music to rethink tradition. He demanded that they listen to something completely radical and asked them to do nothing more than consider it.