Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 30 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Florent Ghys: “An Open Cage” (Cantaloupe Music)
Bang on a Can All-Stars

If you don’t have five hours to listen to John Cage’s sprawling, narrated sound art piece Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), Florent Ghys’s “An Open Cage” offers a compelling (and surprisingly catchy) four-minute summary. In Ghys’s version, a solo pizzicato bass line dances within the rhythms of Cage’s calm and serene narration, painting his deadpan delivery with a funky groove and a distinctly contemporary color. The unconventional duet expands as the piece grows in musical force, gradually adding more and more instruments until finally a small chorus of voices appears, echoing Cage’s words:

“The avant-garde is flexibility of mind and it follows like day the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without avant-garde, nothing would get invented.”

 – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Anthony Barfield: Soliloquy (Albany Records)
Joseph Alessi, trombone; Stentorian Consort Quartet

Here at Second Inversion, I hear new music every single day. But sometimes, no matter how far you’ve traveled, you need to go home. So…I picked trombone music this week.  Anthony Barfield’s Soliloquy is a delightful and thoughtful piece. There is a lightness here that belies the seriousness of this piece’s genesis. Beyond the composition, the quality of the performance on this recording is exceptional. In case you’re wondering what good trombone playing sound like, this is it. – Seth Tompkins

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


Augusta Read Thomas: “Incantation” (MSR Classics)
Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, viola

In 1995, Augusta Read Thomas wrote three iterations of “Incantation” for solo strings—violin, viola, and cello—as a tribute to her friend Cathryn Tait. Tait, battling cancer at the time, premiered the piece a few weeks before her death—a piece which celebrates her generosity of spirit with grace, richness, and elegance.

Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio’s solo viola performance of “Incantation” speaks with a distinctly eloquent, present, and meditative atmosphere. She moves through the short, five-minute work’s loose ABA form and concludes on a major seventh, unresolved, as though ending with a question. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


Bright Sheng: Silent Temple II (Telarc Records)
Ying Quartet

I’ve always been a big fan of the pizzicato obbligato movement, which, in limiting all performing instruments to one motion (the plucking of strings), immediately achieves a unique character. Bright Sheng creates mystery with his pizzicato in Silent Temple II, evoking droplets of water, the creaking and cracking of old wood planks, or the rustling and knocking of bamboo. Or is it the plucked Chinese zither instrument, the guzheng, that we hear? In any case, he succeeds at evoking the stunning environment of his inspiration for the work, an abandoned Buddhist temple he visited in the 1970s in northwest China. Left empty and unattended at the height of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and falling into disrepair, it retained its quiet grandeur. In the case of the pizzicato here, only the smallest gestures of the quartet are necessary to paint a vivid picture. 
– Geoffrey Larson

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

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, June 16 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Daníel Bjarnason: “all sounds to silence come” (Bedroom Community)

There is so much good music coming out of Iceland that sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep up with all of it. Icelandic composer and conductor Daníel Bjarnason is a staple on my personal playlist—his gorgeously textured, celestial soundscapes blur the line between classical and electronic musical idioms, drawing freely from the intellectual rigor of the classical tradition while living in the spontaneity and experimentalism of new music.

Scored for chamber orchestra and conducted by Bjarnason, “all sounds to silence come” is a two-movement bonus track released on his debut album Processions. The piece makes use of the orchestra’s entire timbral palette, drifting from a dramatic and densely textured first movement to a soft and ethereal second that hovers just above silence. The result is an immersive sound world that shimmers with color and sparkles with orchestral detail. – Maggie Molloy

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


Alyssa Morris: Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano (MSR Classics)
Michele Fiala, oboe; William Averill, piano

Have you ever wondered what the four personalities of Hartman’s Personality Profile would sound like as duets for oboe and piano?

Before reading this most people probably hadn’t wondered, but now it’s an intriguing proposition! American composer Alyssa Morris brings us Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano. She based the four-movement work on the four general categories associated with the Hartman test, which aims to assess the underlying elements that motivate individuals, then assigns them a color: Yellow is motivated by fun, White by peace, Blue by intimacy, and Red by power.

Each movement is entertaining, energetic, and expertly executed by oboist Michele Fiala and pianist William Averill. They capture not just the basic comic book hue of each color, but rather the full kaleidoscopic palette within each personality and clearly have a great time doing it. – Brendan Howe

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


Ben Lukas Boysen: Golden Times 2 (Erased Tapes Records)

It occurs to me that this track could be heard as mournful or melancholy, but I have an alternative interpretation.  Despite the Donnie Darko aesthetic, Golden Times 2 seems to be a relaxed and optimistic meditation.  I especially love the extra-low bass that creeps around for most of the track and the swingy cymbal groove that completely transforms the vibe upon entry.  Grab a cold beverage and a seat in the sunshine and enjoy!
– 
Seth Tompkins

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


Robert Beaser: Pag-Rag (Albany Records)
Christopher Janwong McKiggan, piano

Pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan was the 2009 collegiate gold medalist from the Seattle International Piano Competition. As he moves forward in his career, he is charting a path of new music, commissioning seven composers in 2012 to compose works for piano inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Beaser’s Pag-Rag is both undeniably fun and a deliciously mean technical challenge for the pianist. A far cry from most listeners’ straightforward idea of a rag, this piece is full of lightning-fast changes of character and texture, giving it unexpected depth and variety. It’s a wonderful showcase of McKiggan’s playing. – Geoffrey Larson

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