Selected as Caramoor’s 2016-17 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence, the Argus Quartet brings exciting perspectives staunchly devoted to new music. These perspectives reimagine the chamber concert experience and enhance relationships with local students in Caramoor’s Student Strings mentorship program, who respond directly and enthusiastically to new music.
About a year ago, the Argus Quartet had the special privilege of seeing the new music ensemble Eighth Blackbird perform “Hand Eye,” a concert of works by the Sleeping Giant composers collective. They were so moved by the performance, that they had the idea to put together their own Sleeping Giant program.
The six members of the Sleeping Giant composers collective — all Yale alumni — are some of today’s most sought after young composers. Their works have been performed by the world’s most prestigious ensembles, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the JACK Quartet. The pieces in this special program represent six distinct voices that challenge our notions of a string quartet’s sound and musical capacity in very different ways. The compositions extend over a vast artistic and emotional range: from the dark sonic immersion of Jacob Cooper’s “Bad Black Bottom Kind” to the sparse, brooding portrait of depression in Christopher Cerrone’s “How to Breathe Underwater,” to the playful wit of Andrew Norman’s “Peculiar Strokes.” The program runs approximately 75 minutes in length.
Sleeping Giant Collective CerroneHow to Breathe Underwater AndresEarly to Rise Cooperbad black bottom kind – Intermission – HearneFor David Lang HonsteinArctic NormanPeculiar Strokes
After the Show
As part of our Student Strings program partnering with local schools, there will be a reception after the performance for students and their parents.
Jason Issokson, violin
Clara Kim, violin
Dana Kelley, viola
Joann Whang, cello
Argus Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013 and is receiving invitations from concert series throughout the United States and abroad. Recent performances include appearances at Carnegie Hall, Laguna Beach Live!, the Hear Now Music Festival, Music Academy of the West, the Birdfoot Festival, and the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam. This season also includes performances with the Brentano Quartet and clarinetist David Shifrin at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the Oneppo Chamber Series, and Carnegie Hall. The Argus Quartet will serve as the Ernst Stiefel Quartet in Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts during the 2016-17 season.
Argus is dedicated to reinvigorating the audience-performer relationship through innovative concerts and diverse repertoire – connecting with and building up a community of engaged listeners is at the core of the quartet’s mission. The quartet also believes that today’s ensembles can honor the storied chamber music traditions of our past while forging a new path forward. In that spirit, their repertoire includes not just staples of the chamber music canon but also a large number of pieces by living composers.
Through Chamber Music America and the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Argus has commissioned a number of new works including quartets by Donald Crockett, composer and GRAMMY nominee Eric Guinivan, and the 2014 Hermitage Prize winner Thomas Kotcheff. Argus served as the Quartet in Residence at New Music on the Point under the guidance of the JACK Quartet, and was also selected as one of three ensembles to perform works from Kronos Quartet’s “Fifty for the Future” commissioning project at Carnegie Hall.
The quartet recently began an appointment as the Yale School of Music’s Fellowship Quartet in Residence and is the first ensemble to be mentored by the Brentano String Quartet in that capacity. In addition to their teaching responsibilities at Yale, Argus has worked with students through residencies and masterclasses at James Madison University, Rockport Music, the Milken School, the Young Musicians Foundation, California State University Long Beach, and the Birdfoot Festival.
About the Music.
Sleeping Giant Collective
The six members of the Sleeping Giant composers’ collective —all Yale alumni— are some of today’s most sought-after young composers. Their works have been performed by the world’s most prestigious ensembles, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the JACK Quartet. The pieces in this special program represent six distinct voices that challenge our notions of a string quartet’s sound and musical capacity in very different ways. The compositions extend over a vast artistic and emotional range: from the dark sonic immersion of Jacob Cooper’s bad black bottom kind to the sparse, brooding portrait of depression in Christopher Cerrone’s How to Breathe Underwater, to the playful wit of Andrew Norman’s Peculiar Strokes.
Christopher Cerrone / b. 1984 / How to Breathe Underwater (string quartet version arranged for Argus, 2016)
How to Breathe Underwater is a portrait of depression. In the same way that Schumann wrote miniatures based on the literary figures in Carnaval, How to Breathe Underwater was inspired by a character in the Jonathan Franzen novel Freedom. While reading the novel, I was struck by the character named Connie Monaghan. The author described her as having “no notion of wholeness—[she] was all depth and no breadth. When she was coloring, she got lost in saturating one or two areas with a felt-tip pen.” This kind of singular obsessiveness, and the sense of being overwhelmed and eventually drowned by it, inspired me to compose this piece. In fact, I initially called the piece “All Depth and No Breadth.”
However, I decided that “How to Breathe Underwater” was a more appropriate title. In the end, I wanted to suggest optimism, not fatalism.
– Christopher Cerrone
Timo Andres / b. 1985 / Early to Rise
Early to Rise is very productive within a short span of time—a four-movement string quartet compressed into a single 10-minute unit. It’s also the most recent in a series of Schumann-inspired pieces I’ve written; this time, the seed is a five-note accompanimental figure from his late piano cycle Gesänge der Frühe (“Morning Songs”). At first, Early to Rise uses this figure in a canon, gently cycling through harmonies while its rhythms rub against each other in expanding and contracting patterns.
The following three sections are all built on long crescendi, increasing in register and intensity until they reach “tipping points.”
The first violin instigates the second section with a sped-up version of the five-note figure, forced constantly to modulate by the lower strings’ contrary motion. A chacconne is the foundation of the third movement, though unlike traditional chacconnes, it modulates with each repetition, forming longer, upwardstriving wedges.
In the final section, momentum builds in the opposite direction with a simple downward-drifting chorale, picking up speed until it reaches a frenetic conclusion.
– Timo Andres
Timo Andres performed at Caramoor in June of 2000 with the New York Pops, as pianist in Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, at age 16. Caramoor and Orchestra of St. Luke’s are co-commissioners of Mr. Andres’ The Blind Banister, which received its New York Premiere at Caramoor in July 2016.
Jacob Cooper / b. 1980 / bad black bottom kind
“Interpret signs and catalogue A blackened tooth, a scarlet fog. The walls are bad. Black. Bottom kind. They are sick breath at my hind”
– Nick Cave, The Mercy Seat
When it came time to write a piece for the Calder Quartet, two pieces that I had been enthralled with for quite some time bubbled to the surface of my mind and approached the point of obsession: Sheets of Easter by the band Oneida, and The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Each work pounds through hundreds of repetitions of the same lines, yet manages to hold—or even build— the tension throughout, in a manner that is ecstatically harrowing. The original opening section of bad black bottom kind, rhythmic and relentless, drew inspiration (and its title) from these works. I have since thrown away the opening material, instead expanding the final drone-focused portion to comprise the entire work. The hammering is gone; the bad black bottom remains.
– Jacob Cooper
Ted Hearne / b. 1982 / For David Lang
For David Lang is a short string quartet composed in homage to an influential teacher. In this work, I took the harmonic progression from one of Lang’s pieces and superimposed it on a pattern scheme from another one. The quartet plays a litany of percussive sounds in rhythmic precision, including those produced by bowing on the bout of the instrument, laterally on the strings, playing with the winding of the bows.
– Ted Hearne
Robert Honstein / b. 1980 / Arctic
Arctic is a response to photographer Chris McCaw’s Sunburn series, a body of work exploring extended direct exposures of photo paper to sunlight. The long exposures, sometimes up to 24 hours, magnify the sun’s rays resulting in a literal burning of the paper. The result is an incinerated trace of the sun’s motion across a hazy, negative image of surrounding landscape. Combining pastoral beauty with a visceral physicality, the images evoke feelings of time, materiality and abstraction.
My piece Arctic responds to a pair of photos taken in Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle. Shot close to the summer solstice they are nearly 24-hour-long exposures of the midnight sun. These images, huge 12 panel works, document the sun’s long, sinuous path across a barren, mountainous landscape. Arctic imagines both the midnight sun and the opposite phenomenon, polar night, or the 24 hours of darkness that occur during the winter solstice.
The first movement, Midnight Sun, is short and fast. Its relentless bright energy continues uninterrupted, pausing only to catch quick breaths before pushing forward. The second movement, Polar Night, begins slowly with a simple, undulating theme set against a long passacaglia figure. The music builds in intensity as flickers of color and grit emerge from the texture. As the intensity recedes we are left with the opening theme set against a slowly shifting harmony.
In both movements you will also hear traces of the burning found in McCaw’s photos. Musical lines dissolve into brittle color, harmony grinds into noise, and holes sometimes appear, recalling the seared paper of McCaw’s images.
Arctic was commissioned by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.
– Robert Honstein
Andrew Norman / b. 1979 / Peculiar Strokes
Peculiar Strokes is an open-ended collection of miniatures, each of which explores a particular, peculiar bow stroke. Movements from the set can be extracted, mixed, and matched in any order.
– Andrew Norman
Peculiar Strokes was commissioned by Caramoor, on behalf of the Jasper String Quartet, for A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century. World Premiere: August 4, 2011 at Caramoor.
Program notes by the composers are courtesy of artists’ management.