A Mouthful of Forevers: An Interview with Gregg Kallor

by Maggie Molloy

Composer and pianist Gregg Kallor is used to being on stage during the premiere of most of his compositions—but at the Town Music season finale last night, he watched from the audience as Joshua Roman led members of the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras in the world premiere performance of his new string orchestral work, A Mouthful of Forevers.

Based in New York, Kallor’s music fuses elements of classical and jazz to create a deeply personal musical language. We caught up with him during the dress rehearsal of his new piece to talk about music, poetry, and his new world premiere.

 

Second Inversion: What was it like hearing A Mouthful of Forevers performed for the first time?

Gregg Kallor: Exhilarating, nerve-wracking, gratifying, exciting—it was amazing. This is actually the first piece of mine that I have not been a part of the premiere of (as a performer or conductor).  It’s a different experience to sit in the audience and listen to it—but I couldn’t ask for a better advocate than Joshua Roman. It was so beautiful to watch these musicians whom I’ve never met all digging into this piece that I wrote. They’re all bringing their experience and their ideas. They really took it on as their own, and there’s no greater feeling than that.

SI: How would you describe the sound of this piece?

GK: I wanted to write something both lithe and lush—evocative vignettes with the grooving rhythms and shifting moods that Joshua navigates so beautifully.

SI: What was the inspiration for this piece?

GK: There’s an incredible poet, her name is Clementine von Radics, and she wrote a poem called “Mouthful of Forevers”; it’s also the title of a collection of poems that she published. It’s exquisite—it’s this heartbreaking, beautiful love poem and it’s talking about how both people have come into it with baggage and scars, but that makes the miracle of them finding each other that much more potent. It’s just beautiful. Her language is so honest and direct—there are no filters. I’m struck by a lot of her poetry—I’ve read that book ten times, but that poem in particular just really got to me and it was the inspiration for this piece.

SI: What was it like collaborating with Joshua Roman on this premiere?

GK: Joshua is one of the best musicians I’ve ever met. He’s extraordinary as a player, he’s a fantastic composer—now I’m seeing him conducting and it’s amazing. He’s just an extraordinary musician and a great, great friend, and I’m so honored and lucky that he’s championing my music.

LIVE BROADCAST: Town Music Season Finale

by Maggie Molloy

Every end marks a new beginning—and as the 2016-2017 Town Music series comes to a close, artistic director Joshua Roman looks excitedly toward the future with a program of works by living (and thriving!) composers.

For this Wednesday’s season finale, Joshua conducts members of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra as they perform alongside SYSO alums and musical mentors. The wide-ranging program draws from musical traditions old and new, near and far—featuring a tribute to Haydn by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw, the world premiere of a new jazz-inspired work by Gregg Kallor, a tango-infused chamber piece by Osvaldo Golijov, a string homage to Hindustani classical by Reena Esmail, and much more.

Join us as we broadcast the performance LIVE this Wednesday from Town Hall Seattle! Download our app or click here to listen to the broadcast online from anywhere in the world, streaming live on Wednesday, June 21 at 7:30pm PST.

Concert Program:

Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
Reena Esmail: Teen Murti
Gregg Kallor: A Mouthful of Forevers (World Premiere)

—INTERMISSION—

Osvaldo Golijov: Last Round
Christopher Theofanidis: Visions and Miracles
Jessie Montgomery: Starburst


Town Music’s Every New Beginning concert is Wednesday, June 21 at 7:30pm at Town Hall. Click here for more information, and click here to tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast.

NEW VIDEOS: Daniel Bernard Roumain & Marc Bamuthi Joseph: Blackbird, Fly

Second Inversion presents two excerpts from BLACKBIRD, FLY: A concert for Voice, Body, and Strings recorded live at Town Hall Seattle on December 6, 2016!

BLACKBIRD, FLY weaves together an enduring tapestry of movement, narrative, music and Haitian folklore to engage audiences in dialog about critical questions of our time.

Steeped in hip hop aesthetic, this intimate duet between two preeminent sons of Haitian immigrants – composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) and arts activist/spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph – unveils their life stories in search of their identity and role models, and delves into universal themes of tolerance and inclusion.

Introspective yet uplifting, BLACKBIRD, FLY is a culmination of Roumain and Joseph’s recent collaborations with Atlanta Ballet, Boston Children’s Chorus, University of Houston, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Opera Philadelphia. In each of these communities, Roumain and Joseph have created and premiered new works that offer myriad experiential arts education opportunities, youth empowerment and social engagement around our shared values.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM: “Blackbird, Fly” with Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Join us tonight, Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30pm (PST), for a live video stream from Town Hall Seattle featuring composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain with spoken word artist and arts activist Marc Bamuthi Joseph in “Blackbird, Fly,” a concert for voice, body, and strings. Together these two American sons of Haitian immigrants explore themes of family history, folklore, politics, and race, all of it coursing with the rhythm and energy of hip hop.

If you’re in Seattle, we’d love to see you there! Get your tickets here and be sure to hello at the broadcast table in the lobby.

Program Notes by Aaron Grad c/o Town Hall Seattle

Blackbird, Fly is the co-creation of Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, two powerhouse performers who demolish boundaries in their respective art forms. Roumain, otherwise known as DBR, combines his classical training in violin and composition with the energy of hip hop and pop music, whether he is accompanying Lady Gaga on American Idol or presenting a new orchestral piece at Carnegie Hall. Joseph is best known as a spoken word artist and a National Poetry Slam champion, but his career has spanned from acting on Broadway to arts activism in Oakland.

These two men, both born in the United States to Haitian immigrants, have used their personal histories and artistic talents as springboards to examine larger questions about our society’s past, present and future, especially as it relates to Black life in America. After coming together for a number of projects across the country, from the Atlanta Ballet to San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Roumain and Joseph distilled their collaboration into what they describe as “a concert for voice, body and strings,” a label that hardly captures the enormous range and impact of this evening-length duet.

Roumain’s music for Blackbird, Fly is a kaleidoscopic mixture of classical, rock and hip-hop sounds that he creates on several electric violins as well as piano and laptop. When he sends aggressive bow strokes through a heavily saturated distortion pedal, or when he holds the violin across his chest and strums it like a guitar, his sound and technique comes closer to Jimi Hendrix than any concert violinist. Other times he extracts a pure, clean tone from his violin, using subtle sound effects to thicken and amplify his musical gestures into textures that give the impression of an entire string ensemble playing.

Joseph’s words and expressive body movements likewise transcend any one style or narrative thread. Part storytelling, part folklore and part politics, his libretto touches on everything from fatherhood and friendship to mass incarceration and police bias, all infused with the fluid rhythms of hip-hop and spoken word. He introduces an international perspective, with vignettes that recall visits to Haiti, Paris, Tokyo and Senegal. There is also a deep sense of history as he reflects back on figures such as Huey Newton and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Blackbird, Fly is awash in paradox: It is personal but universal; it is high art and pop culture; it is unflinchingly honest and still joyful and optimistic; it is tender and vulnerable and outrageously powerful and virtuosic all at the same time. This is a performance that might generate more questions than answers, but isn’t that exactly what we need today if we hope to understand each other and ourselves?

© 2016 Aaron Grad.

CONCERT PREVIEW: The John Cage Musicircus

by Maggie Molloy

This Saturday, the circus is coming to town—the Musicircus, that is. Come one, come all for a most unusual evening of art, dance, music, and chaos.

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Created by the avant-garde and always-iconoclastic composer John Cage in 1967, the
Musicircus is more of a “happening” than a traditional classical music concert. The score invites any number of performers to perform any number of pieces (musical or otherwise) simultaneously in the same place.

And this Saturday, Seattle-based percussionist and Musicircus ringmaster Melanie Voytovich has planned a multimedia presentation of this innovative work at Town Hall.

The John Cage Musicircus will feature over 40 musicians, dancers, performance artists, and poets performing pieces written (or inspired) by Cage and his explorations into the avant-garde. Woven in among the chaos are live performances of many of Cage’s best-known works, including the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, In a Landscape for (unprepared) piano, Child of Tree for amplified cactus, Third Construction for unorthodox percussion instruments, Cartridge Music for amplified small sounds, 45’ For a Speaker for spoken voice, and other works of all styles and artistic disciplines.

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Performers will be stationed all over Town Hall, with audience members encouraged to explore how the sonic and visual experience shifts as they wander freely throughout the circus, gawking at the oddities within. Like much of Cage’s work, the event erases the boundary between performers and audience members, beckoning even the most ordinary among us to run away and join the circus.

And so without further ado, allow me to introduce you to just a few of this weekend’s circus performers:


melanie-voytovichName: Melanie Voytovich

Performing: John Cage’s Third Construction and Composed Improvisation for snare drum

Describe your pieces in one word:
Third Construction: Historic
Composed Improvisation: Exploration

What makes your pieces unique? Cage composed Third Construction in 1941 during his time at Cornish. Through this work (and others in his Construction series), he sought to recreate the effects of tonality and harmonic progression upon traditional aspects of musical form—but using only non-pitched percussion instruments. The result was what Cage called a “micro/macrocosmic structure”: a musical form in which the grouping of units of time was the same on the small and the large scale.

Third Construction calls for four performers and a large assortment of exotic and unorthodox instruments, including a teponaxtle (Aztec log drum), quijadas (jawbone rattle), lion’s roar (a washtub with a small hole through which a rope is noisily pulled), and an assortment of cymbals, shakers, claves, tom-toms, and tin cans. By exploring these otherwise unconventional percussive colors and timbres within a controlled musical structure, Cage creates a work that is endlessly inventive—yet surprisingly unified.

Composed Improvisation for snare drum alone is similarly oxymoronic. Composed in 1987, the piece was composed using chance procedures derived from the I Ching: an ancient Chinese classic text that is commonly used as a divination system. The “score” for Composed Improvisation is literally just two pages of instructions which build the structure to the improvisation (number and duration of sections, use of implements, preparations, etc).


ania-ptasznikName: Ania Ptasznik

Performing: John Cage and Lejaren Hiller’s HPSCHD, live coded

Describe your piece in one word: Transparent

What makes your piece unique? In the year when HPSCHD first debuted, computers were in their infancy.

What was extremely complicated to do then is surprisingly simple now. This performance, among other things, is a reflection on the evolution of technology and the changes that have taken place since the work was first created.

Live coding is the act of composing music with computer code. Unlike Ed Kobrin, the original computer programmer behind HPSCHD, one can now create music in real time, on the fly. As I execute functions based the patterns of I Ching hexagrams, the code will be available for everyone to see. I intend to bring the audience into the bare, yet elegant language of the computer while providing a subdued backdrop to a room of human performers. What makes this piece unique, I think, is in the dualities that take place: between head and heart, “high art” and debauchery, visibility and invisibility, and human and machine.


kerry-obrienName: Kerry O’Brien

Performing: Alvin Lucier’s Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra and John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)

Describe your pieces in one word: Shimmering

What Makes Your Pieces Unique? Alvin Lucier’s Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra (1988) is a solo for amplified triangle. Typically heard as part of an orchestra, the triangle is lucky to be struck once or twice each performance. There’s value in this: triangles can teach patience. But the triangle has other lessons to teach. In Silver Streetcar, Lucier instructs a percussionist to examine this instrument thoroughly, discovering the peculiar ways it can clang and quiver, reverberate and sing. With one hand, I’ll strike the triangle, varying the speed, intensity, and location of my striking, while with my other hand, I’ll dampen, mute, and manipulate the triangle to create further variations. As it turns out, there’s a world of complexity inside the shimmer of a triangle. 

Every so often, I’ll take a break from triangle playing to read the first few installments from John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)a mashup of musings that may shimmer with relevance (or shimmer with contradiction) given America’s recent politics. If you listen closely, you might hear some of these musings amidst the Musicircus chaos.


ilvs-strauss

 

Name: ilvs strauss

Performing: John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing

Describe Your Piece in One Word: Wordy

What Makes Your Piece Unique? I’ll be using Cage’s text as a starting point for discourse, both literal and physical.

 

 


michaud-savage-2Name: Michaud Savage

Performing: John Cage’s Eight Whiskus, Aria, and 8 Mesostics Re: Merce Cunningham

Describe your pieces in one word: Someantics

What makes your pieces unique? These pieces speak to Cage’s interest in disparity and cohesion, seen realized in three inventive approaches: sketch, collage, and notation.


tom-bakerName: Tom Baker

Performing: The Cage Elegies (original work inspired by Cage)

Describe your piece in one word: Elegiac

What makes your piece unique? The Cage Elegies is a “conversation” between myself and John Cage. The piece uses Cage’s recorded voice as its main material, around which the electric guitar circles and interacts.

It is in three movements, entitled: 1) Nowhere 2) Middle 3) Questions, with improvisations as prelude, interludes, and postlude. Many aleatoric procedures were brought to bear on the composing of this work, including the spoken text and length of all sections. 


jesse-myersName: Jesse Myers

Performing: John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (for prepared piano)

Describe your piece in one word: Ever-changing

What makes your piece unique? The piano preparation process and sounds in this music are always changing. The music is a process in itself which transports the listener through a series of moods based on Indian aesthetics called ‘rasas.’ This music is alive as the sounds, preparations, music, and process is ever-changing.


bonnie-whitingName: Bonnie Whiting

Performing: John Cage’s Third Construction and 51’15.657″ for a Speaking Percussionist (an original, solo-simultaneous realization of Cage’s 45′ for a Speaker and 27’10.554″ for a Percussionist)

Describe your pieces in one word: Third Construction: Joyous; 51’15.657″ for a Speaking Percussionist: Multiplicity

What makes your pieces unique? Cage’s 45′ for a Speaker and his 27’10.554″ for a Percussionist are vintage pieces: music from the mid-50’s and part of a series of timed works that he enjoyed mixing together and referred to in notes and letters as “the ten thousand things.” A culmination of 14 months of work and study, this version is the first to feature one performer executing both pieces in their entirety.

Cage subjected several of his lectures to chance procedures, and the result is his quirky and imaginative 45′ for a Speaker. Additionally, this particular version of Cage’s 27’10.554″ score is a very faithful realization, focusing on a performer-determined search for most uniquely beautiful and interesting sounds: a fusion of traditional percussion instruments as well as an array of found-objects, non-percussive sounds, and electronic sounds.

This idea of simultaneity: of layering rather than true interpolation is one of the most fascinating branches of Cage’s output. He stumbled upon it in his work with collaborative (and life) partner dancer Merce Cunningham. In some ways, this realization of these pieces is a microcosm of the (later) Musicircus idea, making it a great fit for this event.


stacey-mastrianName: Stacey Mastrian

Performing: John Cage’s Experiences No. 2 for voice, The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs for voice and closed piano, A Chant with Claps for voice and hand claps, and selections from Song Books for voice with or without theatre and electronics

Describe your pieces in one word:  Eclectic

What makes your pieces unique? The first three pieces I will perform come from the 1940s—early in Cage’s output—when the voice appears in a simple and unaltered manner but is paired in unusual ways, whereas the last grouping of pieces spans the artistic and stylistic gamut, employing speaking, singing in various modalities, other noises, and electronics.

Experiences No. 2 (1948), for solo voice to text by e. e. cummings, was originally written for a dance by Merce Cunningham. Cage writes a straightforwardly beautiful melody that is interspersed with measured silences, and the singer can choose a comfortably low key in which to perform the work. This performance will feature nine dancers from Souterre, with world premiere choreography by Eva Stone.

A Chant With Claps (194?) exists only in manuscript form, and C.F. Peters and the John Cage Trust have graciously granted me permission to perform this rarity. This very brief, unpublished work bears the dedication “For Sidney,” which likely refers to ethnomusicologist Sidney Cowell, the wife of Cage’s former teacher, Henry Cowell.

Guitarist Mark Hilliard-Wilson and I will perform a version of The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942), with alliterative, imagery-rich text fragments from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake that describe the infant Isobel; Joyce himself said this passage was inspired by a piece of music. Cage’s piece has a rather conventionally notated melodic line, but it is composed of only three pitches, which gives it a chant-like quality.

Song Books (1970) embrace far more than singing. In this iteration I will be performing Solos for Voice No. 7 (which involves me building an object resembling a wigwam out of toothpicks and tissues), No. 43 (I utilize electronics and improvise a duet with myself), No. 53 (I vocalize in ten different styles and five languages), No. 57 (I must achieve immobility), No. 71 (I write a card with note or sketch in ink), and No. 78 (I take off my shoes and put them back on).


Name: Michael Schell

Performing: John Cage’s Cartridge Music

Describe your piece in one word: Noisy

What makes your piece unique? A milestone of live electronic music and a classic of indeterminate notation, this uncompromising work from 1960 directs the performer(s) to use ceramic phonograph cartridges with various objects other than a conventional stylus. These objects are then “played” by the performers, along with auxiliary sounds created by attaching contact microphones to various objects, the resulting mix being amplified and projected through loudspeakers.

Performers build their score independently using Cage’s graphic pages and transparencies. The result is a sound world built from typically “undesirable” sonorities (hum, white noise, mechanical shuffling), small sounds (sounds of soft amplitude that take on very different characteristics when greatly amplified), and sounds that partake of more conventional meaning (such as toys or standard musical instruments played unconventionally and amplified using contact microphones). What gives the work coherence is the common electromechanical origin of its sound sources, and the consistent, largely non-metric, rhythmic milieu enforced by its unconventional notation and performance directions.

In other words: this is a rare example of an indeterminately-notated, non-improvisational composition that has a recognizable character and always comes out sounding good.


maggie-molloy-headshotName: Maggie Molloy

Performing: John Cage’s Dream and In a Landscape for solo piano, and an original zine titled Diary: How to Read John Cage

Describe your pieces in one word: Translucent

What makes your pieces unique? Dream and In a Landscape are both pretty tame by Cage standards: there are no chance operations, no graphic notations, no amplified cacti, no screws or bolts inside the piano. In fact, each of these pieces is comprised of just a handful of notes and a whole lot of sustain pedal. The melodies drift slowly and freely from one hazy note to the next, with the pedal blurring all of it into a beautifully simple and ethereal dreamscape. And although these pieces are certainly a far cry from most of Cage’s more daring compositions, they are still unmistakably Cagean: the gently meandering melodies evoke his quiet nature, his slow, thoughtful manner of speaking—his utter willingness to lose himself entirely in sound.

If Dream and In a Landscape are explorations of Cage’s character, then my next piece is an exploration of his mind. Diary: How to Read John Cage is a zine I created in response to Cage’s monstrous five-hour art piece, Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). Written and recorded in the years leading up to Cage’s death, the Diary’s contents range from the trivial details of everyday life all the way to the vast expanse of history, philosophy, and global politics—and all with an idiosyncratic dose of humor and wit. Over the course of eight weeks, I read and listened through Cage’s entire Diary and created my own personal diary tracking the experience. Copies of my John Cage Diary zine will be available free of charge at the Musicircus.


The John Cage Musicircus is Saturday, Nov. 19 from 7-10 p.m. at Town Hall Seattle. Second Inversion’s Maggie Molloy will present a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

From John Cage to Afro-Cuban Jazz: Concerts You Do NOT Want to Miss This Season

by Maggie Molloy

Ahh, fall. The leaves are changing, the rain is sprinkling, the sky is cloudy, and the pumpkin spice marketing is in full swing. Those hot summer days are finally behind us and we’re back to our familiar, cozy, flannel-covered fall in Seattle. After all, October is a time for new beginnings, new adventures, and—most importantly—new music.

bridget-kibbey

Seattle’s 2016-2017 concert season is jam-packed with fresh new music of every shape, style, and structure (or lack thereof). From John Cage to Afro-Cuban jazz,  Astor Piazzolla to Andy Warhol, Benjamin Britten to Brazilian poetry—there is something for everyone. Here are some of our top picks for the season:

On Stage with KING FM: Second Inversion is thrilled to host two concerts this year as part of the second season of On Stage with Classical KING FM! In March, we’ll present the Seattle Marimba Quartet with an eclectic program of classical favorites, modern marimba repertoire, and interactive drumming rhythms drawing from Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and African musical traditions.

Then in May, back by popular demand, we present the Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with the mesmerizing Tamara Power-Drutis for a program that transforms pop songs into art songs, reimagining both classic and modern tunes as intimate chamber works for the recital hall. Check out our videos from last season for a sneak-peek of what you can expect.

seattle-rock-orchestra-quintet

Seattle Symphony: Ditch the conventional concert-going experience of strict seating, fancy attire, and three-hour long performances with Seattle Symphony’s [Untitled] concert series. This season you can catch landmark works by Witold Lutosławski (arguably Poland’s most innovative composer since Chopin), drench yourself in the dramatic soundscapes of Polish composer and singer Agata Zubel, explore the wide-ranging musical styles of Soviet era composers, and even enter into the twisted worlds of two of America’s most confounding cultural icons: pop artist Andy Warhol and jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.

And speaking of jazz: Seattle Symphony will also co-present their annual Sonic Evolution concert with Earshot Jazz this November. Grace Love and the Garfield High School Jazz Band join the symphony for an evening celebrating two extraordinary Seattle musicians: the incomparable composer and record producer Quincy Jones and the legendary blues singer Ernestine Anderson, both of whom attended Garfield High School.

Untitled Concert

Meany Center for the Performing Arts: Formerly known as the UW World Series, Meany Center is still just as committed as ever to bringing music from around the world to their Seattle stage. In November, they’ll feature the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds quintet, known around the globe for their dynamic playing, culturally conscious programming, and adventurous collaborations. Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, Cuban-born jazz saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, and Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen are just a few of the composers listed on this program.

In January, the New York-based Jack Quartet presents an evening of composed and improvised music along with visiting artists from the internationally acclaimed Six Tones Ensemble and UW School of Music faculty members Richard Karpen, Juan Pampin, Cuong Vu, and Ted Poor. And if you can’t make it to these concerts, don’t sweat—Second Inversion will be broadcasting them live on our online stream.

imani-winds

John Cage Musicircus: Come one, come all to the John Cage Musicircus this November 19! This multimedia concert “happening” features over over 60 musicians, dancers, performance artists, and poets simultaneously performing pieces from Cage’s expansive body of work, including the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, In a Landscape for (unprepared) piano, Child of Tree for amplified cactus, Third Construction for unorthodox percussion instruments, Cartridge Music for amplified small sounds, 45’ For A Speaker for spoken voice, and much more!

Performers will be stationed all over Town Hall, with audience members encouraged to explore how the sonic and visual experience shifts as they wander freely throughout the building. Plus, Second Inversion’s own Maggie Molloy will present the pre-concert lecture, perform two piano works, and distribute free copies of her John Cage Diary series as a zine for audience members to take home!

john-cage-musicircusNorth Corner Chamber Orchestra: Celebrate those cozy winter nights with NOCCO’s annual Solstice Celebration, this year featuring the music of Stravinsky, Respighi, Bach, and Seattle composer Angelique Poteat. Then in February for Black History Month, NOCCO performs a program featuring a newly commissioned work by local composer Hanna Brenn and performance artist C. Davida Ingram alongside classics by two Pulitzer Prize-winning African American composers: Scott Joplin and George Walker. And in April, their season wraps up with a brand new world premiere by NOCCO’s principal clarinetist and composer, Sean Osborn, along with well-loved works by Rossini and Haydn.

noccoSeattle Modern Orchestra: These guys are starting their season off with a bang: three new premieres by living composers. First, a U.S. premiere by Lithuanian composer Vykintas Baltakas, then a West Coast premiere by German composer Wolfgang Rihm, followed by a world premiere by American composer Andrew Waggoner featuring Grammy-winning guest pianist Gloria Cheng.

The rest of the season features cutting-edge collaborations with University of Washington’s Solaris Vocal Ensemble and the Paris-based clarinetist Carol Robinson, a world premiere by SMO co-artistic director Jérémy Jolley, the 80th birthday of legendary Seattle trombonist Stuart Dempster, the 90th birthday of renowned Seattle clarinetist and composer William O. “Bill” Smith, and the centennial celebration of American composer Robert Erickson.

gloria-chengUniversal Language Project: ULP is back for another season of interdisciplinary and out-of-the-box collaborations between 21st century musicians and artists of all disciplines. In October: a multi-media work by Marcus Oldham about racial reconciliation (featuring Second Inversion regulars the Skyros Quartet). In January, composer Chris Stover showcases his works for chamber jazz ensemble featuring spoken word, found sounds, and dance inspired by Brazilian poets. Then in March, the season wraps up with a surreal, outer space-inspired performance featuring artist Erin Jorgensen with local musicians, the overtones of her 5-octave marimba merging with intimate whispering and beautifully minimal music in a small stab towards enlightenment.

erin-jorgensenEmerald City Music: Now in its inaugural season, Emerald City Music is on a mission to make classical chamber music accessible to broader audiences in Seattle and Olympia. And they’re not wasting any time: their inaugural season features 45 renowned guest artists from around the world. Each of the concerts offers a uniquely thematic glimpse into the chamber music repertory, featuring classical masterworks and newly composed music alike. Bookended by concerts featuring familiar works by Bach and Beethoven, this year you can also expand your classical music palette with cutting-edge performances of works by the likes of Henri Dutilleux, Thomas Adès, Benjamin Britten, Bohuslav Martinů, Percy Grainger, David Schiff, Per Nørgård, Ryan Francis, Thomas Koppel, and more.

dover-quartetTown Music Series: Curated by Second Inversion Artistic Advisor Joshua Roman, the Town Music Series programs cutting-edge and virtuosic chamber works which bring together the best of old and new classical traditions. Their 2016-2017 season kicks off with cellist Joshua Roman joined by violinist Caroline Goulding for an evening of dynamic duets by Halvorsen, Kodály, and Ravel. Stay tuned for details on the rest of the season!

joshua-romanWayward Music Series: If you’ve got wayward or otherwise unconventional music taste, the Wayward Music Series will keep you satiated all year long. Check their online calendar or subscribe to their newsletter for specifics on upcoming events, which span the new music gamut from contemporary classical to the outer limits of jazz, electroacoustic experiments to explorations of the avant-garde, eccentric instruments to unorthodox sound art, multimedia collaborations and much more.

wayward-music-seriesThese are just a handful of the new music happenings we’re most looking forward to this season—for more up-to-the-minute details on experimental, avant-garde, and otherwise unconventional music events around the Northwest, check out Second Inversion’s full event calendar!

Finding the Music

by Joshua Roman

Fraud. Faker. Sham artist.

Roman_2 (Joshua Roman. Photo credit: Hayley Young)

These are just some of the things that ran through my head as I tried to push through the internal noise and jot down a few melodic ideas to match the words in front of me. The negative voice in my head can be quite derisive. I’ll avoid, for your sake, typing the more profane things it comes up with to keep me from making progress.

While that voice was not helpful at all, it was not entirely without ground to stand on. I’d never taken someone else’s words and set them as music before. I’d never written for an ensemble of such size, or a piece of such scope. It was yet another creative stretch past my previous efforts and it was, at times, very painful. There were times when I really did feel like I was faking it until I could make it.

But that’s the thing about doing something for the first time, isn’t it? You don’t know what will happen. Not that you can ever truly know, and be 100% sure, of any future. But at least you can have an experience-based sense of what to expect.

So how did I end up in this stress position, reaching for something new? I tend to say “yes” a lot. It’s one of the things that has been a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, both. In this particular case, I’m super glad that I did say “yes”, because those intense, stressful periods were short, and interspersed with real glimpses of inspiration. Were it not for the deadline, I might have had nothing but joy and a synergetic experience. Truth be told, though, without a deadline I might have never finished. And, once the piece was complete, I had the thoroughly moving experience of performing it with committed and powerful musicians. And there’s more to come!

41xrjOsUnvLThis project, my setting of Tracy K. Smith‘s poem “Life on Mars”, from her Pulitzer prize winning book Life on Mars was an outgrowth of an earlier collaborative seed. Scott Reed, at the Music Academy of the West, had approached me about working with Tracy at some point, and as an intro to her work, had given me a copy of Life on Mars as well as another one of her books, Duende. I’d read them multiple times when there suddenly was the need for another composer on one of Town Hall Seattle’s concerts full of premieres. We wanted four new works with our available forces – Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire was the big work on the program, scored for Soprano, Violin, Cello, Flute, Clarinet, Piano, and a few doublings – and had run out of contacts with time on their hands. I was convinced to set two of the nine pieces from “Life on Mars” for that concert, and when Music Academy of the West found out I was already in that project, they commissioned me to finish the 9 song cycle.

I chose “Life on Mars” because to me it represented a colorful, modern voice using creative analogies to probe some of the deeper questions about complicity and empathy. Up to that point, the little music I’d written down on paper had been more fanciful in nature; playing with the idea of light traveling through different atmospheres, or exploring the naïve quality of young love. I wanted, this time at least, to look something straight in the face and tell it I was not afraid.

Tracy’s work does this. In “Life on Mars,” we circle around the darkness, toying with theories about what binds us together or pulls us apart. We also take the time to more directly confront episodes of moral error, looking at the horrifying story of a man who kept his daughter in a cage in his basement for years, a girl recounting the rape and destruction wrought on her village, and the actions at Abu Ghraib.

Finding a musical way to embrace the variety of tones, even among those darker passages, was a unique challenge. The nine poems had a few through lines – a character named Tina (a real-life friend and colleague of Tracy’s) muses about scientific connections to emotion and language while the author’s voice responds in the text – and a rhythm of wild fantasy in contrast with the depths of depravity emerges – but my initial and pervading instinct was to follow the many colors within the poems to their most natural musical styles. Thus, I began to search out the most obvious clues and go from there.

One of the first things that jumped out at me was the sarcasm in the poem about Abu Ghraib (“Strung Up”). As I heard a voice in my head speaking the text, enunciation became stronger and a blues rhythm began to emerge. There was no going back from this, and it became a hardcore blues riff with bass clarinet taking center stage along with the soprano. In “They”, where the girl has been dragged from her village, the italicized text and hauntingly stark descriptions of the event made me feel an incredibly discordant juxtaposition of stillness with bubbling energy underneath. More whispered than spoken, with moments of beautiful reverie that become disturbing for their context.


At other times, it was not a voice that captured my imagination so much as connections to the structure or the words themselves. The first movement references “dark matter” (which I chose as the title of the song), and the rhythm of those words began popping up as a unifying music gesture. In “Back and Forth”, violin and cello exchange false harmonics in an easy dancing rhythm, and the singer alternates between two notes as she sings the line. I used a simple inversion technique in “In Error” as the words “and told in reverse” are sung, and amplified the effect with a sudden stop on the word “hacked.”


As for structure, one of the happy things about writing based on an existing piece of art (or anything, really) is that I am able to come up with a musical structure based on what I perceive as the existing narrative. Rather than coming up with a new abstract form, or imposing my own, I was able to just spend a lot of time with the text and watch as the shape began to emerge, seemingly on its own. Obviously this is my interpretation, and is based on my musical associations with the text, as well as my understanding of the text on its own merit. Other artists might not have gone off so playfully with passages like the one in “A Pair of Them” where words like “spaces”, “nothing”, and “equation” are repeated in the text, and so repeated as flourishing musical gestures in the song. Also, someone else might not have bothered to count that there were 12 statements about “The earth” and decided that a “Passacaglia” was in order, with each phrase starting on a different chromatic tone over the same ground (earth).

I could geek out all day over this, hehe. That’s the fun part. Once you get an idea, it can be absolutely exhilarating. My parents, who hosted me at their farm in Oklahoma for much of the writing of this piece, probably thought I was nuts as I would shout and repeat just-discovered harmonies over and over again on the piano. Especially as I’m not really a trained pianist or vocalist, but have no shyness at home.

But even that might not compare to hearing this sung and played live. I’m very grateful to all the musicians who have performed notes I’ve written – each time it has been a humbling and invigorating experience. And, as someone fairly new to composition, mind-bending as well. With this piece, with my short chamber work “take me all the way,” and again with my cello concerto “Awakening.”

The latest performance of my own work, which you can hear in its entirety, was with Jessica Rivera singing “we do it to one another” at Town Hall Seattle, and all of the musicians brought their best in a performance that left me feeling amazing gratitude. Jessica and the others really got into the characters, and left me with goosebumps from intensity as well as beauty (yes, there are moments of great beauty in this poetry as well). Jessica Rivera is someone who takes the roles she inhabits very seriously. She is not only a singer with a beautiful voice, but one that uses it with a great sense of responsibility and deep preparation.

I was especially grateful for their dedication as a fever had me horizontal for much of the week, and shaky on my feet even during the performance, which I conducted. So, a brief but heartfelt thank you is necessary to:

Jessica Rivera (soprano)
Mae Lin (violin)
Richard Belcher (cello)
Todd Palmer (clarinet, bass clarinet)
Andrew Rehrig (flute)
Conor Hanick (piano)

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(February 25, 2016 performance at Town Hall Seattle. Photo Credit: Libby Lewis)

As part of this very special event, Tracy was able to join us and read some of her poetry, including “Life on Mars.” You can hear this, as well as our panel discussion with Rebecca Hoogs, below. Tracy shares some of her insight into the writing process, as well as her feelings about having her work turned into a musical piece after the fact. Spoiler: we feel the same about that – it is a unique situation when compared to either setting poems from an author of the past, or working with a librettist in a real-time collaboration.

Thank you for supporting my artistic journey by reading this blog. Please feel free to comment, and even suggest topics for future posts. There are plenty on the docket, but it’s always nice to know what you are most interested in hearing about, as well. In a process that is not too dissimilar from my composing, that negative voice pops up during the writing of blog posts as well. One thing I’m slowly learning: sometimes that voice just means you’re breaking new ground, and it’s important to keep going as you expand your artistry, and ultimately, your concept of self.

I hope you have a chance to listen to the concert in its entirety. Back to my initial impulse to write this particular piece; I am a fan of music that helps us escape, celebrate, etc. I know I am in part, an entertainer. But sometimes, I think it’s important to explore a little deeper, within the safe place that art can offer. Then we have the opportunity to challenge ourselves to look within, with fearless scrutiny, and face every aspect of our collective nature together.