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.
|01||Ode on a Broken Loom|
Ode on a Broken Loom
|Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello||9:10|
|Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello|
|02||I. Agua de Florida|
I. Agua de Florida
|03||II. Agua de Rosas|
II. Agua de Rosas
|04||III. Agua de Manantial|
III. Agua de Manantial
|Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello||7:03|
In the BrinkLedah Finck
|Bergamot Quartet, Ledah Finck, violin, Sarah Thomas, violin, Amy Tan, viola, Irène Han, cello, Terry Sweeney, drumset|
|06||Part 1. Lost|
Part 1. Lost
|07||Part 2. Flood of Ashes|
Part 2. Flood of Ashes
|08||Part 3. Human Nature|
Part 3. Human Nature
|09||Part 4. In the Brink|
Part 4. In the Brink
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.Read More
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 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 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 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 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 (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 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
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
In the Brink, the Bergamot Quartet's debut album, showcases premiere recordings of four works for string quartet. The album features music by mid-career composers Paul Wiancko, Tania León, and Suzanne Farrin, as well as the titular, four-part work, "In the Brink", by violinist/composer Ledah Finck, a co-founder of the quartet. The ensemble makes a solid attempt to introduce new music into the string quartet's contemporary canon (listen to the album here).
Wiancko's Ode on a Broken Loom launches off the album with musical narrative of densely weaving threads. Bergamot gets a chance to show off their technical chops and impeccable sense of rhythm, allowing Wiancko's tightly imitative gestures to be as effective as they can be. The music itself comprises of engaging material organized into three distinct motivic sections. By the end of the piece, the quartet quickly reprises each theme in a stereotypical flashy ending. The form, while traditional and basic, leads the audience through the work and creates an easy listening for an otherwise crowded soundworld. However, this is telling of a larger trend in Wiancko's music, which is that it straddles the line between complexity and popular post-minimalism, often in a manner which distracts from both rather than serving either one.
The three-movement work, Esencia, explores Caribbean and Latin American music of León's background. All three movements are filled with lyrical melodies and contrasting rhythmic sections, standard in all of León's work. Bergamot again gets a chance to show off their strength of ensemble blend and rhythmic integrity, aspects ever rarer to find in a string ensemble. Despite the performance, the work simply comes across as a piece which is more entertaining for the performers than the audience. León's traditional harmonic and rhythmic world, while beautiful in short bursts, seldom varies or expands into anything exceptional.
Undecim, by New York composer Suzanne Farrin, is the true gem on the album. I, for one, am incredibly grateful to Bergamot for promoting Farrin and her music, as I was completely unfamiliar with her prior to their album release. Undecim is comprised of ten sections presented together in one movement. The work alternates between full ensemble and solo sections, allowing all four individuals to have their own time in the limelight. Farrin uses the piece to explore the concept of memory, specifically within the context of the vast classical canon of string quartet repertoire. The music, while inspired by the idea of previous repertoire, makes no attempt at a poor emulation or mockery, and in fact creates an engaging work, climaxing with the buzz of piercing harmonics.
The Bergamot Quartet is joined by percussionist Terry Sweeney on drumset for the final work on the album, Finck's In the Brink. Finck proves herself as both a composer and performer on the album, creating an emotional four-part work using the quartet, drumset, and the ensemble members' voices. In the Brink starts off with a post-minimalist sound which continuously expands into an exploration of the human experience with intricately scored extended techniques. Certain sections of the music, especially in the first two movements, would benefit from either more fluid transitions or just longer amounts of time spent on one idea, so that it can be fully explored before simply moving on to the next one.
The most aurally striking aspect of listening to the entire album is the awkward change when listening to Finck's In the Brink. It is recorded and mixed by someone different than the first three pieces, and the contrast in recording quality and sound is strikingly off-putting. It is disappointing because it does the music a serious disservice, especially when compared to album's earlier tracks.
All in all, the Bergamot Quartet's debut album successfully presents premiere recordings of new works by their group of top-notch performers. While not all the pieces are equally captivating, Bergamot still creates music with extreme technical skill and intense dedication to the support of new music.
The four world première recordings by the Bergamot Quartet on a New Focus Recordings CD are also likely to appeal only to a specialized audience, even though three of the four use the highly familiar instrumental ensemble of a string quartet. Ledah Finck’s four-movement In the Brink goes a step beyond strings by including a drum set (played by Terry Sweeney) and a variety of vocalizations – elements often employed in contemporary music, especially in works that, like this one, are intended to reflect societal troubles and fragmentation. The second movement, “Flood of Ashes,” takes the societal commentary furthest and uses the drum set most intensely, while the third, “Human Nature,” opens with the sound of eructations and squeaking doors and is exactly the sort of presentation that seeks to draw attention to how up-to-date its sensibilities are. The other pieces on the disc have their own avant-garde approaches. Paul Wiancko’s Ode on a Broken Loom has some effective string writing and a comprehensible form (the initial intensity returns at the end), although it seems more an exercise in performance technique than a communicative piece. The three-movement Esencia by Tania León includes “Agua de Florida,” which mixes intense and laid-back elements; “Agua de Rosas,” which contrasts higher and lower string sounds, pizzicato and legato elements; and “Agua de Manantial,” which tosses out various melodic fragments and allows some brief expressiveness in the middle of the proceedings. Exactly what all this is the “essence” of is never quite clear, but the rhythms and textures are often interestingly interwoven. The shortest work on the disc, Suzanne Farrin’s Undecim, is mostly gestural, contrasting high and low notes, runs and static notes, chords and single notes – it explores string capabilities but does not really take the audience anywhere. This (+++) CD is quite well-played by the ensemble, but like many discs consisting entirely of newly composed music (often with an advocacy component), this one seems designed for a small group of committed cognoscenti who will embrace the sound and approach without expecting a wider set of listeners to become engaged with the music – and without much caring whether other people do or not.
In which we find string quartet music taking a well measured leap in to the future with a set of premiere pieces that respect the tradition while expanding the future. A progressive set that’s not so cutting edge that it alienates the old timers, this is how to be ground breaking in a very good way. Solid and skillful, this is the classical music of the future.
— Chris Spector, 6.01.2022