STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, May 26 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

David Lang: the national anthems III. fame and glory (Cantaloupe Music)
Calder Quartet and Los Angeles Master Chorale

A survey of national anthems from nations all over the world confronted composer David Lang with a startling reality: the texts of these songs are generally quite violent. It seems that in the course of expressing national pride through song, we tend to reflect on the bloody struggle of war that gave us the freedoms we now enjoy.

Lang put together a sort of “meta-anthem” text from the anthems of a few nations, and observed that “hiding in every national anthem is the recognition that we are insecure about our freedoms, that freedom is fragile, and delicate, and easy to lose.” His music for string quartet and chorus, titled the national anthems in purposeful lower-case, exudes this unsettled feeling of insecurity.

“Fame and glory” has a lot of counterpoint and imitation, seemingly creating a dialogue within the chorus that is mindful of the past and its relationship with the present. It’s not overtly political music, but it is incredibly sensitive, contemplative, and hopeful. Lang has successfully achieved a sort of extra-mindfulness in his setting of this pieced-together text, a fascinating reflection on and transformation of the one-sided militarism of national anthems. – Geoffrey Larson

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


Toru Takemitsu: Toward the Sea
Michael Partington, guitar and Paul Taub, alto flute

Celebrated Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu breathes a meditative second life into the tale of Moby Dick with his three-section work, Toward the Sea. In the final section, entitled “Cape Cod,” Michael Partington’s guitar gently chops and forms the New England seascape while Paul Taub’s airy alto flute responds as Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod.

It is a beautifully haunting meditation paired with images of Cape Cod inspired by Melville’s novel. With these pieces, Takemitsu emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the book, quoting the passage, “meditation and water are wedded together.” He also said that “the music is an homage to the sea which creates all things, and a sketch for the sea of tonality.”

The composer wrote no bar lines and took a Cagian, aleatory approach to the work, in which performers are given more interpretive license. The flute’s primary melodic line derives from the spelling of “sea” in German musical notation – E♭-E-A – a motif which later became a favorite of Takemitsu’s. – Brendan Howe

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


Carolina Eyck: “Metsa Happa (Jumping River)” (Butterscotch Records)
Carolina Eyck and ACME

If you thought the theremin was only for corny sci-fi film soundtracks and intergalactic sound effects, think again. Carolina Eyck, one of the world’s foremost theremin virtuosi, has spent the past decade exploring and expanding the musical possibilities of this eerie electronic instrument.

Her album Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet, recorded with members of ACME, takes the instrument out of the galaxies and into the woods of Northern Germany, with each piece inspired by her childhood memories of growing up there.

In keeping with the whimsical, free-spirited explorations of childhood, Eyck composed her Fantasias in full takes with zero editing. In “Metsa Happa (Jumping River),” theremin melodies playfully hop in and out of a rolling river of strings, soaring high above the waves and diving deep beneath their iridescent surface. – Maggie Molloy

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


Stevie Wonder: “Superstition” (arr. Kathy Halvorson)
Threeds Oboe Trio

Turns out you can replace a synthesizer and a clavinet with a few reed instruments and you still have a song that’s funky as hell. Threeds Oboe Trio’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition” shows off impressive technical ability and a rebellious sense of humor. “Superstition” has a driving bassline provided by clarinet and, since it swings just as hard as the original, it will have you smiling and grooving and bebopping before the oboes even kick in. – Rachele Hales

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

ALBUM REVIEW: David Lang’s the national anthems

by Maggie Molloy

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As we near another anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, we’re reminded of just how terrifyingly destructive and divisive those events were, both within our country and beyond it. Nearly 3,000 innocent civilians died that day—along with another 6,000 who were injured—and that was only the beginning of what was to come.

The attacks led our nation’s troops into what has become the longest-running war in U.S. history. Since 9/11, nearly 2 million U.S. soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. Over 6,000 American troops have been killed, another 44,000 wounded, and the rest of our nation’s lives forever changed in the legislation that has followed.

Nineteen hijackers changed our nation, our world, and the entire course of history.

It begs the question: Why?

Why are the nations of the world so divided? Why do we keep terrorizing one another? Why do we keep fighting these wars? Are we really all that different?

These are some of the questions composer David Lang asks with his composition “the national anthems” (note the lowercase, implying equality), a choral work released earlier this summer on Cantaloupe Music. Performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale (under the baton of Grant Gershon) with the Calder String Quartet, the album takes a critical look at the way we as individual nations define ourselves.

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Los Angeles Master Chorale under the baton of Grant Gershon. Photo credit: David Johnston

“I had the idea that if I looked carefully at every national anthem I might be able to identify something that everyone in the world could agree on,” Lang said. “If I could take just one hopeful sentence from the national anthem of every nation in the world I might be able to make a kind of meta-anthem of the things that we all share. “

He combed through the anthems of all 193 countries in the United Nation, pulling one line from each to use in his libretto.

“What I found, to my shock and surprise,” Lang said, “Was that within almost every anthem is a bloody, war-like, tragic core, in which we cover up our deep fears of losing our freedoms with waves of aggression and bravado.”

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David Lang. Photo Credit: Peter Serling

That underlying sense of fear haunts the entire work, with the choir’s prayerful voices rising above a stained glass string accompaniment. The piece is organized into five movements exploring themes of peace, courage, glory, freedom, and community, ever so slowly sprawling outward from the first movement’s unified, tight-knit harmonies toward contrapuntal chaos.

The piece builds in quiet urgency through the war-stained patriotic glory of the middle movements, the once-unified voices separating as the wounded strings weep softly in the distance. And yet, the final movement returns to a churchlike hymn, the voices once again finding unity in their hopes, their prayers, and their music.

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Calder Quartet. Photo Credit: Autumn de Wilde

The anthem is paired with another largescale choral work: Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “the little match girl passion,” based on the children’s story of The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s a classic parable given new depth through Lang’s masterful part-writing: a poor young girl, beaten by her father, fails to sell matches on the street and freezes from the bitter cold of the cruel world around her. Yet in wake of “the national anthems,” her story serves a dual purpose, reminding us of the personal wars and private tragedies we all face—and how truly delicate and cherished is our freedom.

“Hiding in every national anthem is the recognition that we are insecure about our freedoms, that freedom is fragile, and delicate, and easy to lose,” Lang said. “Maybe an anthem is a memory informing a kind of prayer, a heartfelt plea: There was a time when we were forced to live in chains. Please don’t make us live in chains again.