MotherlandQuince Ensemble

About

Quince Ensemble releases their second recording on New Focus, "Motherland", featuring socially engaged works by Gilda Lyons, Laura Steenberge, Cara Haxo, and Jennifer Jolley. The contemporary vocal quartet explores a rich range of extended techniques and challenging subject matter as they continue their work in pushing the boundaries of the genre.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 55:30
01Bone Needles
Bone Needles
4:06

The Four Winds

Laura Steenberge
02I. Look at the nations and watch
I. Look at the nations and watch
3:21
03II. Howling like a jackal, moaning like an owl
II. Howling like a jackal, moaning like an owl
2:38
04III. North, East, South, West
III. North, East, South, West
1:30
05IV. Pneuma
IV. Pneuma
4:11
06V. Red Giant, White Dwarf
V. Red Giant, White Dwarf
2:50

Three Erasures

Cara Haxo
07I. grime, in between
I. grime, in between
3:25
08II. cut mermaid
II. cut mermaid
3:08
09III. hot ember (a postlude)
III. hot ember (a postlude)
2:29

Prisoner of Conscience

Jennifer Jolley
10I. Eve of destruction
I. Eve of destruction
3:45
11"This trial is highly typical..."
"This trial is highly typical..."
1:02
12II. Virgin Mary, put Putin down
II. Virgin Mary, put Putin down
2:27
13"Our sudden musical appearance..."
"Our sudden musical appearance..."
1:25
14III. Oh bondage, up yours!
III. Oh bondage, up yours!
1:42
15"Eto bylo iskusstvo?"
"Eto bylo iskusstvo?"
0:47
16IV. Putin will teach you how to love (the Motherland)
IV. Putin will teach you how to love (the Motherland)
2:42
17V. Police and Thieves
V. Police and Thieves
3:13
18"...All of these things..."
"...All of these things..."
1:44
19VI. Deliver Pavement
VI. Deliver Pavement
2:00
20"Pussy Riot's performance..."
"Pussy Riot's performance..."
1:27
21VII. Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest
VII. Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest
2:52
22"I don't want to label anyone..."
"I don't want to label anyone..."
0:54
23VIII. Prisoner of Conscience
VIII. Prisoner of Conscience
1:52

“To Quince, "Motherland" means our natal home, worthy of love, critique, and support. It represents the terrain of those who identify as women, as mothers of varying types - creators and producers and life-givers and life-sacrificers. Mother-land is both embodiment and inversion of Emily Dickinson’s “Nature, the gentlest mother” - capable of supporting all life, and of obliterating it with forces as simple as a breath of air. This album features never-before-heard recordings of pieces by Laura Steenberge, Gilda Lyons, Cara Haxo, and Jennifer Jolley. As long as we have breath left in us, we will sing our gratitude, our love, our frustration, and our hopes. There is no greater privilege.” -- from the liner notes by Quince Ensemble

With this bold statement, Quince Ensemble presents its ambitious, socially engaged second album with New Focus, "Motherland". Featuring premiere recordings of works by Gilda Lyons, Laura Steenberge, Cara Haxo, and Jennifer Jolley, Motherland’s range is as wide in terms of subject matter as it is in terms of sonic palette. Gilda Lyons wrote Bone Needles after being inspired by the work of women in Nicaragua who were repairing nets on the beach. The women used long needles made with fish bones-- Lyons explores the ways in which musical elements similarly weave and mend together, using a vocabulary of abstract vocal sounds. Laura Steenberge’s The Four Winds explores the mystique of the North Star, and its significance in an imagined ancient past before we had other tools to track our way. Cara Haxo’s Three Erasures are based on ingenious poetry by Emily Corwin that “erases” words from Teen Vogue magazine articles, exposing the mass media’s complicated and fraught relationship with women’s appearance and bodies. When she wrote Prisoner of Conscience Jennifer Jolley could not have imagined the deep added relevance her work would take on in post 2016 election America. Jolley chose to write a work about the arrest and trial of the Russian female punk group Pussy Riot by Putin’s regime for their outspoken criticism of his government. As Pussy Riot has remained engaged and critical of government abuses in Russia and the West and now that Russian meddling in the U.S. election and connections with the White House are front page news, Jolley’s subject matter and strong stance supporting the Russian band seems prescient. In our current climate of insecurity and doubt about the political future of the world, it is heartening to see young artists stand up and make work that proclaims their convictions with authority and commitment. Quince Ensemble is such a group, and this album, while years in the making, is extremely timely both in its engagement with women’s issues and civil liberties that are foremost on many minds in 2018.

– D. Lippel

  • Engineered by Dan Nichols, Aphorism Studios
  • Quince Ensemble; Amanda DeBoer Bartlett; Liz Pearse, Carrie Henneman Shaw, Kayleigh Butcher
  • Artwork and layout by Amanda DeBoer Bartlett

Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble

Singing with the precision and flexibility of modern chamber musicians, Quince Ensemble is changing the paradigm of contemporary vocal music. Described as "the Anonymous 4 of new music" by Opera News, Quince continually pushes the boundaries of vocal ensemble literature. As dedicated advocates of new music, Quince regularly commissions new works, providing wider exposure for the music of living composers. In 2016, they received a Chamber Music America award to commission a song cycle, The Best Place for This, by composer, LJ White. In 2016, Quince was featured on the KODY Festival Lublin, Poland in collaboration with David Lang and Beth Morrison Projects. They have also appeared on the Outpost Concert Series, the Philip Glass: Music with Friends concert at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, Alia Musica, and the SONiC Festival in New York. Comprised of vocalists Liz Pearse (soprano), Kayleigh Butcher (mezzo soprano), Amanda DeBoer Bartlett (soprano), and Carrie Henneman Shaw (soprano), Quince thrives on unique musical challenges and genre-bending contemporary repertoire.

Gilda Lyons

Gilda Lyons, (b. 1975), composer, vocalist, and visual artist, combines elements of renaissance, neo-baroque, spectral, folk, agitprop Music Theater, and extended vocalism to create works of uncompromising emotional honesty and melodic beauty. The premiere of A New Kind of Fallout—Lyons’ mainstage opera inspired by the life and work of Rachel Carson, written with librettist Tammy Ryan, and commissioned by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh—was described as “powerfully effective” (Pittsburgh Stage Magazine), “haunting” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) and “spot-on at re-creating the atmosphere of the early '60s” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). As a composer, current recording projects include the release of Lyons’ work by Quince and entelechron in the upcoming season. Lyons’ vocal collaboration with Laura Ward will be released on Lyric Fest’s all-Hagen CD. Sing for Hope featured Lyons' Hold On on their most recent release, An AIDS Quilt Songbook. Lindsey Goodman's tour de force performance of Lyons' Chrysalis was released on Goodman's debut CD, reach through the sky. As composer and vocalist her works and performances are available on the Clarion, GPR Records, Naxos, New Dynamic Records, and Roven Records labels.

Laura Steenberge

Laura Steenberge is a performer and composer in Los Angeles who researches language, the voice, mythology and acoustics. Influenced by folk music, psycholinguistics, acoustics and medieval Byzantine chant, collectively her work is a study of nonsense and the boundaries of knowledge. A multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and public speaker, Steenberge uses voice, contrabass, viola da gamba, objects, images to create works in traditional and site-specific locations throughout California, including SF MOMA, the Sutro Baths, the Hammer Museum, REDCAT and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She holds BAs in music and linguistics from the University of Southern California, an MFA in composer/performer and integrated media from CalArts, and a DMA in music composition from Stanford University. She teaches experimental sound practices at CalArts.

Cara Haxo

As a child, Cara Haxo (b. 1991) loved listening to her father read stories out loud to her. Today, she loves finding ways to incorporate these stories, poetry, and artwork into her music. Haxo was awarded the 2013 National Federation of Music Clubs Young Composers Award, the 2013 International Alliance for Women in Music Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Prize, and second prize in the 2012 Ohio Federation of Music Clubs Student/Collegiate Composers Contest. Her works have been performed by the PRISM Quartet, Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Splinter Reeds, clarinetist James Shields, the Wooster Symphony Orchestra, and the Pacific Rim Gamelan, amongst other ensembles. A native of Massachusetts, Haxo earned her Bachelors of Music in Composition at The College of Wooster, where she studied with Jack Gallagher and Peter Mowrey, and her Masters of Music in Composition at Butler University, where she studied with Michael Schelle and Frank Felice. Before Wooster, Haxo spent six summers studying at The Walden School Young Musicians Program in Dublin, New Hampshire. She has returned to Walden as faculty in recent years, teaching classes in composition, theory, and graphic notation. Haxo also taught private piano, theory, and composition lessons through the Butler Community Arts School from 2013 to 2015. An avid Francophile, Haxo studied film, literature, and archeology at The Institute for American Universities in Aix-en-Provence, France, during the summer of 2011. Haxo is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in composition at the University of Oregon, where she studies with Robert Kyr and David Crumb and works as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in Music Theory. After graduation, she hopes to teach at the college level. When she is not composing, Haxo enjoys baking muffins, going on long road trips, and reading Harry Potter in French.

Jennifer Jolley

Composer Jennifer Jolley’s diverse catalog includes choral, orchestral, wind ensemble, chamber, and electronic works. She has been commissioned by ensembles and institutions across the United States, including the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, University of Texas at Austin, Bowling Green State University, Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, The Canales Project, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and the University of Cincinnati, among others. She is Assistant Professor of Music at Ohio Wesleyan University. In recent years, Jennifer has been increasingly drawn toward subjects that are political and even provocative. Her 2015 collaboration with librettist Kendall A, Prisoner of Conscience, sets to music statements made by the Russian punk-rock band Pussy Riot as they stood trial in Moscow for “hooliganism” and “religious hatred.” Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble has performed the piece widely and will release a recording in Spring 2018. Jennifer’s 2017 piece The Eyes of the World Are Upon You, commissioned by the University of Texas at Austin Wind Ensemble, reflects on the first-ever campus shooting in America, which took place at UT-Austin in 1966. Jennifer’s blog—on which she has catalogued more than 100 rejection letters from competitions, festivals, and prizes—is widely read and admired by professional musicians. She is particularly passionate about this project as a composition teacher, and enjoys removing the taboo around “failure” for her students. In addition to her professorship at Ohio Wesleyan, she is a member of the composition faculty at Interlochen Arts Camp.


Reviews

The Art Music Lounge

The Quince Ensemble is a female vocal group that calls itself a “contemporary treble vocal ensemble.” Originally a quintet, two of the original members left the group as their performance schedules became more demanding, at which point Carrie Henneman Shaw of Ensemble Dal Niente joined to make up the current quartet. This is their third album.

The opener, Gilda Lyons’ Bone Needles, is a chilling, sharp-edged a cappella piece that sounds a bit like Meredith Monk on acid. Lyons writes that the piece was inspired by watching Nicaraguan women repairing fishing nets with long needles made of bone. The music sticks to relatively simple figures, but moves them around within the vocal quartet to create interesting rhythmic and vocal counter-lines.

Interestingly, however, the second work on this disc, Laura Steenberge’s The Four Winds, is scored more conventionally for the four voices in harmony and uses melodic, largely tonal lines. The text refers to “the imagined past, when the north star was first discovered and the cardinal directions invented.” The quartet, interestingly, sings this with straight tone, yet manages to sound like humans singing and not like a MIDI. They have excellent diction in their middle and low ranges, but above the staff the words are difficult to understand without the text (printed in the booklet). In the second piece of this suite, “Howling like a jackal, moaning like an owl,” Steenberge forsakes lyrics to present another take on Meredith Monk’s groundbreaking vocal style, including long-held notes in the mid-range where the voices cross as well as sing very close chords to create an eerie mood (the owls). Monk-like percussive effects are also heard in the third piece, “North, East, South, West,” which mostly stays on the home tone of G, while in “Pneuma” the quartet combines occasional a cappella singing with harmonica-playing in long-held lines. This has an almost Pauline Oliveros-like quality about it, though it is more tonal and attractive. Kind nutty in a good way! The finale, “Red Giant, White Dwarf,” uses excerpts from a science book which Steenberge has recombined in her own fashion. (In the line, “The solar winds blow away much of its mass,” the quartet pronounces “mass” as “mawse,” which I didn’t much care for.) Just think of them as a sort of celestial Andrews Sisters!

Emily Corwin’s Erasures was created—believe it or not—by erasing some words from a Teen Vogue magazine article, then setting the remaining words to music. The effect is pretty surreal, with the quartet singing, “I, grime, in between small hearts alike – pristine a machine a beautiful thing without a little, like shallow, like clear light through an empty water” etc. Again, the music is primarily tonal yet with modern harmonies mixed in, and I really liked the way the quartet got into the words and music here, evidently enjoying themselves while singing it.

Jennifer Jolley’s Prisoner of Conscience is a deeper and more serious work, concerning the efforts of a group with the rather strange name of Pussy Riot to combat the reign of Vladimir Putin as president of modern Russia. After releasing a “punk prayer” titled “Mother of God Drive Putin Away,” they were sentences to two years in a penal colony. The text was written by someone named Kendall A. Again, the music is largely tonal, the first piece set in G minor and using repeated contrapuntal figures which occasionally overlap and use counterpoint. Each of the eight pieces is separated by spoken lines about the fight for freedom. Where I draw the line is in Jolley’s last line in her description of the piece, comparing President Trump’s fight against the Global Socialists and their attempt to frame him as a Putin ally by disseminating fake news to what Putin has done in his country. Happily, however, this sentiment is not stated in the words of this piece, which is not only a marvelous piece of music but a strong condemnation against a true monster and an enemy of his own people (as is the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, who would have made a much better analogy). And the quartet’s performance is as good as the music they sing.

The Quince Ensemble is clearly one of the premier contemporary vocal groups of this or any other era. Their voices are not only pure but attractive, and they know how to use them to maximum effect.

—© 4.18.2018 Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge

The Clyde Fitch Report

With a title like Motherland, you know an album means business. And the latest release from the Quince Ensemble certainly does. Dropped earlier this month on New Focus Recordings, the vocal quartet’s third studio set explores four vibrant contemporary works. It takes critical aim through its anchoring piece, the a capella oratorio Prisoner of Conscience by Jennifer Jolley, with texts by Kendall A. It draws from protest art collective Pussy Riot’s trial and imprisonment for demonstrating against Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral in 2012. Square at the intersection of power, people and sexual violence — as well as three women’s courage in the face of it all — the content suits Quince quite well. (Full disclosure: I serve on the company’s board of directors.)

Founded in 2010 and based in Chicago (though members hail from across the country), I support Quince because I find them nearly peerless as an all-woman professional vocal chamber ensemble committed to contemporary music. The concept of Prisoner of Conscience is “totally up our alley aesthetically,” Kayleigh Butcher, a mezzo-soprano and Quince’s executive director, explains. “More than anything, we identify as a feminist group [and] it’s important to us to make the music we perform reflect the world we live in — to tell the stories of other people living during this time.” Quince commissions most of its repertoire, including almost all of Motherland.

Prisoner of Conscience was composed in 2015, three years past the zenith of the publicity moment for Pussy Riot; three members had already been found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and served time in Russian penal colonies. While Jolley, in a program note, admits that she “did not think this piece would be relevant,” global developments make it so: “In an era where there are rumors of Russia meddling with a presidential election and the White House doling Fake News Awards, I know now that protection of free speech is always relevant.”

To honor the chief aim of “Punk Prayer” — how Pussy Riot protested Putin’s growing ties to the church — Jolley’s music appropriates various chants and motets to illustrate resistance and dissent. Other movements, like “Oh bondage, up yours!,” borrow their energy from punk and “rriot girl” anthems. Quince embraces it all with great conviction, heightening the composer’s myriad nuances.

Kendall A’s libretto alternates between the lyrics of Pussy Riot and transcriptions of their trial proceedings, a rhythm that both riles and sobers the listener. In an email, Kendall A told me that she wanted a text of “angry, femme-fronted punk rock.” She notes that 2015 was the “summer/fall of Ferguson and the flashpoint for a larger and still ongoing national protest for Black liberation, and that was definitely informing [my] decisions.”

It turns out that she also drew on something more personal: her own experience with sexual abuse. “The figure of Putin, throughout the piece, became directly representative of my own rapist,” she told me, “but also generally of state-upheld patriarchal oppression.” One section called “Virgin Mary Put Putin Down” was “an expression of this feeling of powerlessness to bring actual change or justice, to lift myself up from my own traumas.”

The trial transcriptions, of course, clearly articulate Pussy Riot’s well-formed agenda. I am particularly stirred by the closing statement of Maria Alyokhina, who inverts the prosecution’s labeling of the group’s work as “so-called art”:

“But for me this trial is a ‘so-called’ trial. And I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of falsehood and fictitiousness, of sloppily disguised deception, in the verdict of the ‘so-called’ court. Because all you can deprive me of is ‘so-called’ freedom.”

Later, we hear a prosecutor’s question, and the answer of the witness — “Was it art? — It was witchcraft” — is repeated numerous times in a dizzying and Kafkaesque crescendo.

Separately, the music and the text might be compelling, but their juxtaposition delivers a considerable punch. For example, “Putin will teach you how to love (the Motherland),” is, musically speaking, a gorgeous, languid devotional anthem; the text depicts the prolonged gang rape of an unconscious woman. Quince renders the final phrase softly and sweetly:

“…and while she never said it,

Never gave us words from her limp, naked body,

We knew that she must like it.”

The sounds resolve harmonically in a warm major chord that also begins the next movement, “Police and Thieves.” The voices begin bluesy repetitions of “ohhhhhh yeah”s, first sustained, then in an unmistakably suggestive rhythm: “oh” (space); “oh” (space); “oh” (space); “oh” (space), and an equal pattern of “yeah” that follows. It’s completely cool, casual; yet it’s chillingly connected to what came just before. “Police and Thieves,” which describe a desolate police state, develops into enjoyable, but disorienting, gospel.

The sounds resolve harmonically in a warm major chord that also begins the next movement, “Police and Thieves.” The voices begin bluesy repetitions of “ohhhhhh yeah”s, first sustained, then in an unmistakably suggestive rhythm: “oh” (space); “oh” (space); “oh” (space); “oh” (space), and an equal pattern of “yeah” that follows. It’s completely cool, casual; yet it’s chillingly connected to what came just before. “Police and Thieves,” which describe a desolate police state, develops into enjoyable, but disorienting, gospel.

The balance of Motherland is less charged, but leaves much to recommend it. Bone Needles by Gilda Lyons opens the album, immediately drawing the ear with rhythmic dialogue between voices. Arching, looping gestures describe her observation of women mending nets with fish-bone needles on a Nicaraguan beach. I relished the singers’ spare use of vibrato.

Leaping from Central American shores to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, composer Laura Steenberge paints vocal lines in The Four Winds, a mystic and elemental portrait of the ancient past, and makes curiously refined use of a harmonica. Biblical and scientific texts set to rich harmonies describe “what will happen to the sun in a few billion years.” That journey contracts back down to the intimate discomforts of being female in Three Erasures. Cara Haxo sets pointillist poetry stitched from Teen Vogue articles that portray societal messages about body image into vivid aural tableaux.

The interpretative layers of Motherland, evoking the infinite range of the female experience, reward a deep dive. Quince has delivered art of conviction and fearless engagement with pressing social issues, and I implore them not to stop. They probably won’t because, as Jolley notes, “The fight is still on.”

Katelyn Simon, The Clyde Fitch Report, 4.27.2018

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