Bergamot Quartet: In the Brink

About

Bergamot Quartet releases its first full length recording with premieres by Suzanne Farrin, Tania León, Paul Wiancko, and Ledah Finck, who is also a violinist in the group. The critically acclaimed quartet merges a refined chamber music sensibility with a versatile and precise approach to contemporary scores, making a valued contribution to the repertoire with works that can be performed by new music specialists and generalized quartets alike.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 50:53
01Ode on a Broken Loom
Ode on a Broken Loom
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello9:10

Esencia

Tania León
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello
02I. Agua de Florida
I. Agua de Florida
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello5:57
03II. Agua de Rosas
II. Agua de Rosas
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello6:45
04III. Agua de Manantial
III. Agua de Manantial
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello5:59
05Undecim
Undecim
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello7:03

In the Brink

Ledah Finck
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello, Terry Sweeney, drumset
06Part 1. Lost
Part 1. Lost
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello, Terry Sweeney, drumset2:14
07Part 2. Flood of Ashes
Part 2. Flood of Ashes
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello, Terry Sweeney, drumset4:14
08Part 3. Human Nature
Part 3. Human Nature
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello, Terry Sweeney, drumset3:18
09Part 4. In the Brink
Part 4. In the Brink
Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello, Terry Sweeney, drumset6:13

Bergamot Quartet’s In the Brink demonstrates an ensemble that is evolving the string quartet idiom from a strong grounding in its well established performance practice. The works included on this debut album from the group highlight their symbiotic playing style along with their versatility in realizing different expressive demands. All four works are heard in their premiere recordings, and represent significant contributions to the string quartet discography that are sure to make their way into the repertoire of other ensembles.

The metaphorical connection between music and textiles proves a fertile source of inspiration for Paul Wiancko’s Ode on a Broken Loom. Individual notes are like fibers, spun out to create a rich tapestry that takes on structural shape. The interrelationship between voices, or strands of material, is reinforced by imitative gestures between instruments. Wiancko’s loom is not thread with flimsy material — Ode on a Broken Loom is vigorous and physical, propelled forward by interlocking echoing phrases and syncopated accents. A disembodied melody is heard underneath quick swells in a contrasting middle section before the work turns towards a churning chorale, organum woven from strands pulled from the strings of the quartet. The vigor of the opening returns for a rousing conclusion, a garment that has taken its final form.

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Tania León’s Esencia reflects her unique vantage point on music from different parts of the Americas, in particular from the Caribbean and Latin America. Elements of son, danzon, guajiras, and montunos animate three movements that marry León’s dynamic rhythmic writing with her colorful approach to harmony. León seems to toy with listener expectations, delivering an introduction to the opening movement, “Agua de Florida”, that suggests a disquisitive pace of unfolding before it is interrupted by energetic, swung lines. Languorous lyricism characterizes the middle section, lazily gliding between pitches with the casualness of summer heat. “Agua de Rosas” embeds melodies that echo the Andes mountains within flowing, layered textures. “Agua de Manantial” returns to the syncopations of the opening movement, highlighting vibrant rhythmic unisons and opposing rhythmic figures. A contrasting middle section hints at what León calls “Coplandesque harmonic overtones,” a nod to her adopted country of residence.

Suzanne Farrin’s Undecim engages with memory as a fragmentary process. Farrin imagined the stringed instrument bow as a conduit to repertoire from the past, referencing long gone pieces in a sort of archival mélange. Undecim grapples with the charged process of memory, holding on and struggling to let go. A final passage of harmonic glissandi offers a sense of release.

The final work on the album is Ledah Finck’s title work, scored for quartet plus drum set (Terry Sweeney). Finck was moved by the confluence of crises the world faces in our current moment. She deftly weaves vocalizations, sung, spoken and intoned, into a diverse musical context that includes driving moto perpetuo textures, angular, rhythmic figures that interact with the drumset, and sparse sonic explorations. The third movement, “Human Nature” opens with a chorus of scratch tones and over pressure techniques before launching into a torrent of sound that ascends in register. “Human Nature” elides into the fourth movement, “In the Brink,” with connective material — a chorale texture that hearkens to early music. After a contemplative moment of naturalistic sounds, the work establishes an interlocking rhythmic groove between drum set and hand claps. A call and answer passage between a cappella vocals and lush quartet chords leads into the final passage — an initially hopeful major chord pulsating with subdivisions that gradually detunes, ending the piece in a shroud of uncertainty befitting the manifold crises facing humanity.

– Dan Lippel

Album art by Alex Sopp

Album liner graphic design by Amy Tan

Bergamot Quartet photo by Corey Hayes

Ode on a Broken Loom, Esencia para cuarteto de cuerdas, and Undecim

Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered by Sam Torres

Produced by Paul Wiancko

Recorded at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall

In the Brink

Recorded and Mixed by Matthew Sullivan

Assistant Recording Engineer: Nicky Young

Produced by Paul Wiancko

Mastered by Sam Torres

With special thanks to Mike Tierney

Recorded at Reservoir Studios

Mixed at Power Station

Bergamot Quartet

Bergamot Quartet is fueled by a passion for exploring and advocating for the music of living composers, continually expanding the limits of the string quartet's rich tradition in western classical music. With a priority given to music by women, they aim to place this new, genre-bending music in meaningful dialogue with the histories that precede it with creative programming, community-oriented audience building, and frequent commissioning.

Bergamot Quartet is Ledah Finck and Sarah Thomas, violins; Amy Tan, viola; and Irene Han, cello. Founded at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore in 2016, the quartet also studied at the Mannes School of Music as its inaugural Cuker and Stern Graduate String Quartet in Residence.

Ledah Finck

Ledah Finck is a violinist, violist, improviser, and composer who resides in NYC. A passionate creator, performer, and curator of contemporary classical music, she is a member of the contemporary-music string quartet Bergamot Quartet, currently the Graduate String Quartet in Residence at the New School. Her pursuit of contemporary music is strongly supplemented by performing and collaborating in other genres such as Jazz Manouche, Appalachian and Celtic folk, and experimental music. Compositional projects include commissions by Imani Winds, Ayane and Paul, Alarm Will Sound/Now Hear This, the Bridge Ensemble, The Peabody Community Chorus, and a work for the Bergamot Quartet and percussionist Terry Sweeney that is the title track for Bergamot’s upcoming debut album, In the Brink. Her solo albums Mayfly and outside songs can be heard on Bandcamp.com.

https://www.ledahfinck.com

Terry Sweeney

Terry Sweeney is an avid chamber musician and collaborator. Terry is a member of Sandbox Percussion and The Percussion Collective and has performed over 250 concerts across the United States and Europe.

In Sandbox’s 2021/22 season Terry premiered new works by Andy Akiho, David Crowell, Tawnie Olson, Jessica Meyer, and Tyshawn Sorey. In 2020, Terry premiered Don’t Look Down, a work by Christopher Cerrone with pianist Conor Hanick, at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts. Sandbox also presented the first-ever percussion quartet performance at Dumbarton Oaks, on a program that included world premieres by Andy Akiho and Viet Cuong. Terry has collaborated closely with composer John Luther Adams, presenting programs of his music at venues such as Storm King Art Center, Tippet Rise Art Center, Trinity Church Wall Street, Caramoor, and String Theory at the Hunter in Chattanooga. With Sandbox, Terry has performed Viet Cuong’s concerto Re(new)al with the Albany Symphony and the Curtis Symphony Orchestra.

With the Percussion Collective, Terry performed Christopher Theofanidis’s percussion concerto with the Colorado Symphony. In 2023, he will make his debut at the Musikverein in Vienna with a program that includes a new arrangement of John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction for six percussionists, Alejandro Vinao’s Stress and Flow, as well as Garth Neustadter’s Seaborne. The tour will also include performances in Amsterdam’s legendary Concertgebouw, the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and Munich’s Allerheiligen-Hofkirche.

Sandbox released their debut album And That One Too on Coviello Classics in 2020. In 2021, Sandbox released Andy Akiho’s Seven Pillars which was subsequently nominated for two GRAMMY® awards.

As an educator, Terry directs the percussion studies for the Yellow Barn Young Artist Program, is a faculty member at the University of Missouri Kansas City, co-directs the NYU-Sandbox Seminar. Terry holds degrees from the Peabody Conservatory and the Yale School of Music and endorses Pearl/Adams musical instruments, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks and mallets, Remo drumheads, and Black Swamp accessories.

http://www.terrysweeneypercussion.com

Paul Wiancko

Paul Wiancko was recently featured in The Washington Post’s “22 for ‘22: Composers and Performers to Watch” and called “a restless and multifaceted talent who plays well with others,” a reference to Paul’s collaborations with artists ranging from Max Richter, Nico Muhly, Chick Corea, and Norah Jones to members of the Emerson, Guarneri, JACK, and Kronos Quartets--to bands like Arcade Fire, The National, Dirty Projectors, and Wye Oak. “Even with this chronically collaborative spirit,” the Post continues, “Wiancko maintains a singular voice as a composer.” Chosen as one of Kronos Quartet’s “50 for the Future,” Paul’s own music has been described as “dazzling” and “compelling” (Star Tribune), and “vital pieces that avoid the predictable” (Allan Kozinn).

A serial chamber musician, Paul’s performances with Musicians From Marlboro have been described as "utterly transparent" and "so full of earthy vitality and sheer sensual pleasure that it made you happy to be alive" (Washington Post). In 2009, he joined the award-winning Harlem Quartet, with whom he spent 3 years performing and teaching extensively throughout the US, Europe, South America, and Africa. Paul currently writes and performs as a member of the viola and cello duo Ayane & Paul and the quartet-collective Owls

Paul has been composer-in-residence at Spoleto Festival USA, Music From Angel Fire, Caramoor, Twickenham, and the Portland, Newburyport, and Methow Valley Chamber Music Festivals, and has composed works for the St. Lawrence, Kronos, Aizuri, Parker, Calder, and Attacca Quartets, yMusic, Alexi Kenney, Tessa Lark, David Byrd Marrow, and many others. NPR writes, “If Haydn were alive to write a string quartet today, it may sound something like Paul Wiancko's LIFT”–a work that “teems with understanding of and affection for the string-quartet tradition” (New York Times) and is featured on the Aizuri Quartet’s Grammy-nominated album Blueprinting, one of NPR’s top 10 classical albums of 2018.

Paul Wiancko performs on a 2010 Mario Miralles violoncello and resides in Brooklyn, NY. He enjoys woodworking and never travels without a tenkara fishing rod.

http://www.paulwiancko.com

Tania León

Tania León (b. Havana, Cuba) is highly regarded as a composer, conductor, educator, and advisor to arts organizations. Her orchestral work Stride, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Recent commissions include works for Los Angeles Philharmonic, NDR Symphony Orchestra, Grossman Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, and pianist Ursula Oppens with Cassatt String Quartet. Appearances as guest conductor include Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Gewandhausorchester, Orquesta Sinfónica de Guanajuato, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Cuba.

Upcoming premieres feature commissions for the NewMusic USA Amplifying Voices Program, The Musical Fund Society in Philadelphia to celebrate their 200th anniversary, and The Crossing chamber choir with Claire Chase, flutist, among others.

A founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, co-founded the American Composers Orchestra’s Sonidos de las Américas Festivals, was New Music Advisor to the New York Philharmonic, and is the founder/Artistic Director of Composers Now, a presenting, commissioning and advocacy organization for living composers.

Honors include the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement, awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the ASCAP Victor Herbert Award, among others. She also received a proclamation for Composers Now by New York City Mayor, and the MadWoman Festival Award in Music (Spain).

León has received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin, and SUNY Purchase College, and served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A CUNY Professor Emerita, she was awarded a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship, and Chamber Music America’s 2022 National Service Award.

https://www.tanialeon.com

Suzanne Farrin

Suzanne Farrin is a composer who explores the interior worlds of instruments and the visceral potentialities of sound. Her music has been performed by some of the great musicians of today on stages across Europe and North and South America.

Earlier works have concentrated on establishing an intensity and personal language through careful study of solo instruments along with the interpretive personalities that come with them. Those works include pieces for solo strings (corpo di terra, for cello; Time is a Cage for violin and uscirmi di braccia, for viola and piano or bass drum). Though they have now been played by many interpreters, they were expressly written for people close to Suzanne (Julia Lichten, cello; Cal Wiersma, violin and Antoine Tamestit and Markus Hadulla, viola and piano). That intimacy is a productive space for her: it is as if exploring the very personal habits, sounds and physicality of each brings her closer to a more universal experience.

This search for transcendence has more recently been applied to vocal music. In dolce la morte, Suzanne felt she was expressing the inherent conflicts, contractions and corporal strife that exists in the great master’s love poetry. The piece is her own, but the “mask” of Michelangelo provided a productive mouthpiece from which she could project her own resonance and desire.

Her music has been featured at venues and festivals including The Gothenburg Art Biennial, Mostly Mozart, Matrix, Alpenklassik, Music in Würzburg, BAM NextWave, Theaterforum (Germany), Town Hall Seattle, Carnegie’s Weill Hall, Symphony Space, Wigmore Hall, the Walker Art Center, Centro de Artes de la Universidad Nacional de San Martín (Argentina) and, in New York (where she lives) The Stone, Spectrum, Subculture, Miller Theater, Merkin Hall, Wavehill, Lincoln Center, the Park Avenue Armory, and Joe’s Pub, among many others.

In addition to composing, Suzanne is a performer of the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument created by the engineer Maurice Martenot in France in the 1920s as a response to the simultaneous destruction and technological advances of WWI. Her life as an interpreter on the instrument has taken her to venues such as the Abrons Arts Center in NYC, Centro de Artes in Buenos Aires as well as television, where she was was recently featured in an episode directed by Roman Coppola on the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle.

Suzanne is the Frayda B. Lindemann Professor of Music and Chair at Hunter College and The CUNY Graduate Center, where she teaches composition. She holds a doctorate in from Yale University. Corpo di Terra (New Focus Recordings) is devoted entirely to her work, which may also be heard on the VAI, Signum Classics, Tundra and Albany Records labels. She is currently the Frederic A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize winner in Composition.

http://www.suzannefarrin.com

Reviews

5

The Art Music Lounge

This is the debut recording of the all-woman Bergamot Quartet, a group dedicated to discovering and playing new music. Well, gee, there’s a novel concept in the classical world, even here in the 21st century, where 95% of string quartets have the bulk of their repertoire taken up by the old-timey pieces!

We start out with Paul Wiancko’s Ode on a Broken Loom, written in 2019 on a commission from the Eybler Quartet. It opens with fast-paced, polyphonic, bitonal music that introduces the piece to us. The development is interesting but, to my ears, a bit too long before moving on to the second theme, but it then gets more interesting, including a section in which Wiancko writes for the strings in such a way that they almost sound like a tape playing backwards; then, a bit later, a section where the quartet almost sounds like an organ or a hurdy-gurdy. Weird, but very interesting! The music accelerates near the end for the finish: exciting but, I thought, just a shade formulaic.

Next up is Tania León’s Essencia, written in 2009 on a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation. (Sometimes you really do wonder if modern-day composers write anything without grants or commissions. Hell, if Brahms, Mahler, Debussy or Stravinsky did that, we wouldn’t have had most of their music!) This one is highly rhythmic, using Latino music as an inspiration but, except for the rhythms, sounding much more bitonal and, at times, even atonal. The first movement is largely a moto perpetuo except for a slower, more relaxed section in the middle, and this is some of the most creative music presented here, with odd little note flurries scattered around and even a microtonal slide upward by the full quartet playing in unison. The second movement is much more rhythmically complex, often pitting two contrasting rhythms against one another with brief slower interludes of a more lyrical nature. Here, León, too, uses microtonal slides, but also contrasting rhythms, some of an asymmetrical nature, This is a VERY interesting piece. The third and last movement, using asymmetric rhythms at a faster pace, also takes the time to explore a lyrical theme here and here. I found this piece to be interesting but a bit too formulaic. It got stuck in ruts a bit too long here and there for me.

I found Undecim, written by Suzanne Farrin in 2006, to be a much more innovative work in every way. Here, Farrin juxtaposes contrasting, even conflicting, themes to create a fascinating mosaic that somehow jells together. Her lines notes discuss the fact that “Memories are partial, incomplete and fragmented,” but of course it is the music, its quality and its emotional and intellectual impact that counts, and I believe that she has written a truly interesting work that deserves more performances (and yes, even more recordings, good as this one is). I was caught up in the way she introduces and manipulates her themes and theme fragments, and I think you will be, too. Absolutely nothing in this piece is formulaic or predictable.

We end with In the Brink (2019) by the Bergamot Quartet’s lead violinist, Ledah Finck. This, too is a fascinating, multi-faceted work which includes some speak-singing by the quartet members to fragmented words (“where are we are you? Am I you we I’m terribly afraid of becoming lost”). The words, I thought, were superfluous and distracting to the music, which was far more interesting. The second movement, strangely enough, includes a drum solo, during which the quartet plays very little but shouts a lot. Oddly, the acoustic for this piece is entirely different from the rest of the album. The microphone placement is very close and the sound is rather boxy. Perhaps this was an artistic choice; I don’t know. The third movement consisted of sounds made, I think, by the quartet members pulling on the strings of their instruments before actually bowing them in rapid, overlapping figures. This then leads to fast, rising figures played by the two violins with drum and cymbal accompaniment until they disappear into the violin stratosphere; the last movement opens with viola and cello playing a more lyrical theme, but then devolves into an almost silent passage with a few “crinkly” sounds in it, followed in turn by a syncopated passage featuring bows being struck against the sides of their instruments, light snare drum, and handclapping. You certainly can’t say that they aren’t adventurous. They also sing about how they hold each other in the brink “of all our questions,” thus the title of this CD.

An interesting debut disc, then, with some very interesting pieces on it and a few not so interesting. But at least they’re not afraid to take chances!

— Lynn René Bayley, 5.07.2022

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