Departure Duo: Immensity of


Departure Duo (Nina Guo, soprano, and Edward Kass, bass) releases their debut recording, Immensity Of, including works by Katherine Balch, John Aylward, Emily Praetorius, and György Kurtág. By featuring three works written for them alongside the work that formed their duo (the Kurtág) the virtuosic and adventurous duo calls attention to the precedent as well as the potential of this unique instrumentation that connects two poles of register and expression.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 51:14


Katherine Balch
01I. le haut étang fume
I. le haut étang fume
02II. quand le monde sera réduit
II. quand le monde sera réduit
03III. j’ai tendu des cordes
III. j’ai tendu des cordes
04IV. il sonne une cloche
IV. il sonne une cloche


John Aylward
05I. Der Schwan
I. Der Schwan
06II. Der Panther
II. Der Panther
07III. Das Einhorn
III. Das Einhorn

Einige Sätze aus den Sudelbüchern Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs

György Kurtág
08Koan (tr.)
Koan (tr.)
10Geständnis (tr.)
Geständnis (tr.)
12Eine wichtige Bemerkung (tr.)
Eine wichtige Bemerkung (tr.)
13Eine wichtige Bemerkung
Eine wichtige Bemerkung
14Alpenspitzen (tr.)
Alpenspitzen (tr.)
16Ein Liebhaber der klassischen Philologie (tr.)
Ein Liebhaber der klassischen Philologie (tr.)
17Ein Liebhaber der klassischen Philologie
Ein Liebhaber der klassischen Philologie
18Ein Gourmand (tr.)
Ein Gourmand (tr.)
19Ein Gourmand
Ein Gourmand
20Franklin, der Erfinder (tr.)
Franklin, der Erfinder (tr.)
21Franklin, der Erfinder
Franklin, der Erfinder
22Die Kuh (tr.)
Die Kuh (tr.)
23Die Kuh
Die Kuh
24... und eine neue Welt ... (tr.)
... und eine neue Welt ... (tr.)
25... und eine neue Welt ...
... und eine neue Welt ...
26Die Kartoffeln (tr.)
Die Kartoffeln (tr.)
27Die Kartoffeln
Die Kartoffeln
28Gebet (tr.)
Gebet (tr.)
30Kirchtürme (tr.)
Kirchtürme (tr.)
32... ein Kirchstuhl ... (tr.)
... ein Kirchstuhl ... (tr.)
33... ein Kirchstuhl ...
... ein Kirchstuhl ...
34... an die aufgehende Sonne ... (tr.)
... an die aufgehende Sonne ... (tr.)
35... an die aufgehende Sonne ...
... an die aufgehende Sonne ...
36Dreistigkeit (tr.)
Dreistigkeit (tr.)
38Der gute Ton (tr.)
Der gute Ton (tr.)
39Der gute Ton
Der gute Ton
40Dank (tr.)
Dank (tr.)
42Ein Mädchen ... (tr.)
Ein Mädchen ... (tr.)
43Ein Mädchen ...
Ein Mädchen ...
44Die Hände (tr.)
Die Hände (tr.)
45Die Hände
Die Hände
46Verlorne Mühe (tr.)
Verlorne Mühe (tr.)
47Verlorne Mühe
Verlorne Mühe
48Touropa (tr.)
Touropa (tr.)
50Ein merkwürdiger Gedanke (tr.)
Ein merkwürdiger Gedanke (tr.)
51Ein merkwürdiger Gedanke
Ein merkwürdiger Gedanke
52Immensity Of
Immensity Of

Soprano Nina Guo and bassist Edward Kass, appearing here as Departure Duo, carry serious new-music bona fides, both having performed with major contemporary ensembles on an international stage. As Departure Duo they are seriously committed to growing the repertoire for this unusual and highly expressive instrumentation.

For Phrases, composer Katherine Balch sets texts by Arthur Rimbaud. “Sets” isn’t completely accurate — her relationship to the texts is innovative and changeable; sometimes text is rendered as a simple setting, sometimes the text is torn apart in order to portray it more completely, sometimes the text is fragmented to such a degree as to be more like clay in the composer’s hands than actual words. She hews close to the saturated, arresting tone of Rimbaud’s images (violet flowerlets, a lone black wood, pink fire). Guo and Kass “speak” to one another in a vocabulary hovering among meaning, gesture, and pure sound. After the hot scramble of le haut étang fume, quand le monde sera réduit disarms with a pure and gently ornamented voice supported by a simple bass line rich in harmonics. It is a moment suspended in time, not needing to grow in any direction. j’ai tendu des cordes lives in pure rhythm, starting as a groove on its first three syllables that soon crumbles into syncopated and unpredictable rhythms and a descending bass line that drops out of the stomach. In the final song, il sonne une cloche, streaming vocal tones threaded through with bird-like passages are delicately held aloft by pale arpeggios from the bass, which simply floats away.

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In Tiergarten (Zoo), John Aylward finds inspiration in three poems of Rilke, each about an animal with a powerful mythical history: the swan, the panther, and the unicorn. He lets each poem speak for itself, working with the rich images that the texts bring forth. In Der Schwan, Rilke’s texts contrast the swan’s awkward land-based tread against its well-poised and regal bearing in the water. The long, steady high notes in the voice are counterpointed by an endlessly turning harmonic glissando in the bass, a hidden moto perpetuo that makes the majestic presentation above the water possible. For Der Panther, Rilke imagines a powerful being alienated from his true nature. Aylward locks the musicians in a close dance, reedy double-stops and scratch tones rubbing against the smooth surfaces of the voice; a duo of intimate inter-reactions. He plays wonderfully against type in Die Einhorn (The Unicorn) — the bass accompanies the voice with mostly furtive staccato and pizzicato lines, articulating the notes with a broad spectrum of colors and expression, combining with Guo’s clear and luminous presentation to give remarkable ambiguity and depth to Rilke’s words.

Although not well-known today, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was a renowned physicist of the 18th century. His posthumously-published scrapbooks later revealed him to be a world-class aphorist as well. These aphorisms were the inspiration behind György Kurtág’s Einige Sätze aus den Sudelbüchern Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs (Some Sentences from the Scrapbooks of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg).

Many of Lichtenberg’s aphorisms are humorous in nature and Kurtág audibly takes pleasure in this. In Die Kuh (The Cow), Kurtág uses an understated yet warbly, somewhat trippy voice, accompanied by the most delicate of pizzicatos, to relay that in Göttingen a woman once said, “In the time when our blessed cow was still alive.” For Die Kartoffeln (The Potatoes), Kurtág deploys masterful atonal first-species counterpoint to depict the somnolence of root vegetables awaiting spring. More seriously, Lichtenberg was an expert observer of human nature (as is Kurtág) and the sentiment behind ... und eine neue Welt … ( ... and a new world …) was likely controversial in Lichtenberg’s time. Kurtag’s rendering is daring on its own — he sets off the first two words with an audacious silence (fifteen seconds of a fifty-one-second piece!) and then completes the sentence with plain-spoken forcefulness. The whole piece is beautifully formed to set off the last syllable of “Entdeckung” with a playful (and rebellious) wink. In Verlorne Mühe (Effort in Vain), we feel too well the universal sensation of shame — the hot stab of a rolled “r” of “im Dunkel rot werden.”

Presentation can be a challenge with such short works, and so many of them (18 aphorisms, most less than a minute, the shortest being 15”). To foreground the connection between music and words, Guo and Kass take turns reading each brief text before its corresponding music.

The last work on the album is Immensity Of by Emily Praetorius. Enigmatic and arresting, the piece is dominated by achingly long glissandi in both instruments. The time scale is geologic — change turns slowly. It is a lonesome landscape, desertlike and depopulated. Whistling and birdsong, clucking mouth sounds and low, knocking pizzicatos appear and reappear, like hallucinations, but the interpretation can only be personal.

– Kyle Bartlett

Recorded August 2021 at Gordan Hall, MA

Joel Gordon, recording engineer

Mixed and Mastered by Joel Gordon and Departure Duo

Cover Image: Untitled from series Parallel by Anne-Sophie Coiffet

Photo by Kate Nottage

Design & Layout: Marc Wolf,

Departure Duo

Departure Duo is a soprano and double bass duo comprised of Nina Guo and Edward Kass. Committed to performing repertoire written specifically for soprano+double bass, the duo seeks to show the incredible variety of styles and sounds possible through their combination. Departure Duo firmly believes that contemporary music can and should be accessible to all, and by encouraging dialogue with audiences, new music will not be viewed as a niche genre.

The duo’s long-term project, "30 by '30," aims to catalog 30 hours of soprano+double bass music by 2030. The approach is twofold: commissioning+premiering new works and researching pre-existing ones. Departure Duo frequently collaborates with living composers to create new music for their “high-low” partnership and, since 2015, has brought over a dozen works to life, including three of the pieces on this album. Their commissioning work has received support and recognition from Chamber Music America's Classical Commissioning Grant Program and New England Conservatory's Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department. On the research front, Departure Duo maintains the “30 by '30” database, which has over 22 hours of catalogued repertoire and is a freely accessible resource for anyone interested in soprano+double bass. The goal of “30 by ‘30” is to show that soprano+double bass music is an undeniable body of repertoire, one that is both musically viable and extremely diverse. The duo wants to recognize the whole community that makes up this high-low corner of the musical universe and encourage more people to join.

Departure Duo regularly tours and performs recitals, and recent highlights include Spoleto Festival USA, a Yellow Barn artist residency, Center for New Music (San Francisco), Indexical (Santa Cruz), Omaha Under the Radar, Jordan Hall, and KM28 (Berlin). As individuals, Nina and Edward have appeared with contemporary music groups including Ensemble Dal Niente, Ensemble Modern, ensemble ascolta, Callithumpian Consort, Wet Ink, and Decoder, and at festivals around the world such as the Tanglewood Music Center, Lucerne Festival, Achtbrücken (Cologne), SICPP (Boston), the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music, and Pacific Music Festival (Japan).

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