Composer Hannah Lash writes music that is informed in equal measure by historical precedents, such as the Baroque inspired "Suite: Remembered and Imagined," as it is by a modernist examination of instrumental phenomenon, such as the dual meaning of the word "Pulse" as it pertains to bow changes as well as beatings in closely spaced sonorities. A virtuoso harpist in her own right, she joins the acclaimed JACK Quartet for "Filigree in Texture," a work integrating aspects of Middle Ages tapestry with early contrapuntal practice.
Suite: Remembered and Imagined
|07||VI. Menuet antique et fragile|
VI. Menuet antique et fragile
Filigree in Textile
Hannah Lash’s multi-layered music balances rhetoric with sensuality and enters into a dialogue with pre-existent forms while simultaneously reexamining them. On this excellent recording of her music for string quartet by the JACK Quartet, we hear Lash’s engagement with two canonic traditions as points of inspiration (the Baroque Suite as well as an extra musical discipline — tapestry arts from the Middle Ages), alongside two works that concern themselves with instrumental and musical phenomenon.
Frayed opens with sighing chords, breathing through the quartet like a series of inhales. The passage is performed with mutes on, lending it a covered sound, almost like a delicate harmonica. The accumulated energy eventually explodes into vigorous music before material from the opening is re-integrated, toggling back and forth between contrasting energies. As the work evolves, “frayed” edges of each expressive world begin to show—overpressure on the culmination of a repeated chord, a hybrid gesture of pizzicato and glissando articulated with the back of the frog of the bow.
Suite: Remembered and Imagined takes a traditional Baroque Suite as a jumping off point for Lash’s reinterpretations. The opening “Allemande” presents jaunty lines at different speeds simultaneously, with an aural illusion of the second violin playing at a different tempo than the others. Each line on its own captures the genteel propriety of the German dance, but together they are heard as if through a distorting prism. Echoes of the opening of the Prelude from Bach’s C major cello suite begin the “Courante,” as the four string instruments complete each others’ scalar passages, weaving together a harmonic progression that moves easily between keys. An insistent high register pedal point on the original tonic enters midway through the movement, framing the subsequent passagework in terms of its relationship to the home key. A brooding “Sarabande” follows, marked by closely spaced, dense chord voicings.The language is reminiscent of early 20th century Romantic string quartets, with the short-long rhythm characteristic of a traditional “Sarabande” asserting itself throughout. In a Suite that has a fair share of light hearted humor and irony, this movement stands out for the weight of its expression. The playful “Gavotte” opens with an ascending pizzicato line — the other instruments occasionally highlight individual notes by doubling them in harmonics at the octave. Later in the movement, violin trills fulfill the same function, but they are pitched slightly lower than the main pizzicato line, sounding as if they are sung by a singer whose voice has seen better days. The off-kilter “Gigue” features short chromatic phrases in a violin part that seems to constantly be interrupting itself. The final movement, “Minuet antique et fragile,” is played entirely pizzicato, in a rhythm that skips and swings gently, closing the Suite not with a grand gesture, but instead with a sly wink.Read More
Pulse-space pits beatings that result from dense, closely spaced voicings against the pulsing created by bow changes in the ensemble. Individual instruments in the quartet emerge briefly from the prevailing repeated pattern, either to play an intense sustained line on top of the other three, to weave a fragmented line within them, or to superimpose a new rhythmic layer. The relentless work culminates in a section of impassioned sustained notes played by the whole quartet, each instrument voice leading to a new pitch in a dramatic chorale texture.
Lash joins the JACK on harp for Filigree in Textile, a three movement work inspired by tapestry arts from the Middle Ages. The first movement, “Gold,” opens with a mournful cello solo, and features intricate imitative counterpoint. Through this disciplined treatment of the motivic material, Lash draws a parallel between the rigors of the craft of tapestry making and early compositional technique.“Gold” closes with a pizzicato passage, leading gracefully into “Silver” which remains pizzicato throughout, neutralizing the bowed strings and placing them in the same world of articulation as the harp. This middle movement is in rhythmic unison throughout, a “formal and somber dance” as Lash describes it, with a bell-like middle section wherein harmonics move from a secondary embellishing role to a primary function as the main timbre. The final movement, “Silk,” is a moto perpetuo tour de force for the harp, who glues the ensemble together with a percolating, running lines and pointed accents. The quartet snakes along behind Lash, taking her suggestions of goal notes shortly after she articulates them, as she traces the threads of this musical tapestry.
Hannah Lash’s compositional voice is an important one in our contemporary scene. Her aesthetic integrates elements from the canonic repertoire with a keen sense of the expressive power of experimental techniques within a largely conventional sound world. The JACK Quartet’s performance of these pieces takes full advantage of their versatility, presenting them with intelligence and sensitivity to Lash’s cultivated language.
– D. Lippel
Tracks 1-8: JACK Quartet: Christopher Otto, violin; Ari Streisfeld, violin; John Pickford Richards, viola; Kevin McFarland, cello
Track 9-11: JACK Quartet: Austin Wulliman, violin; Christopher Otto, violin; John Pickford Richards, viola; Jay Campbell, cello; Hannah Lash, harp
The JACK Quartet electrifies audiences worldwide with "explosive virtuosity" (Boston Globe) and "viscerally exciting performances" (New York Times). David Patrick Stearns (Philadelphia Inquirer) proclaimed their performance as being "among the most stimulating new-music concerts of my experience." The Washington Post commented, "The string quartet may be a 250-year-old contraption, but young, brilliant groups like the JACK Quartet are keeping it thrillingly vital." Alex Ross (New Yorker) hailed their performance of Iannis Xenakis' complete string quartets as being "exceptional" and "beautifully harsh," and Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times) called their sold-out performances of Georg Friedrich Haas' String Quartet No. 3 "mind-blowingly good."
The recipient of New Music USA's 2013 Trailblazer Award, the quartet has performed to critical acclaim at Carnegie Hall (USA), Lincoln Center (USA), Wigmore Hall (United Kingdom), Suntory Hall (Japan), Salle Pleyel (France), Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ (Netherlands), La Biennale di Venezia (Italy), the Lucerne Festival (Switzerland), Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia), Reykjavik Arts Festival (Iceland), Festival Internacional Cervatino (Mexico), Kölner Philharmonie (Germany), Donaueschinger Musiktage (Germany), Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik (Germany), and Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Germany).
Comprising violinists Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Kevin McFarland, JACK is focused on the commissioning and performance of new works. In addition to working with composers and performers, JACK seeks to broaden and diversify the potential audience for new music through educational presentations designed for a variety of ages, backgrounds, and levels of musical experience.
The members of the quartet met while attending the Eastman School of Music and studied closely with the Arditti Quartet, Kronos Quartet, Muir String Quartet, and members of the Ensemble Intercontemporain.http://www.jackquartet.com/
Hailed by The New York Times as “striking and resourceful...handsomely brooding,” Hannah Lash’s music has been performed at such major venues as Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall, Lincoln Center, the Times Center in Manhattan, the Chicago Art Institute, Tanglewood Music Center, and the Aspen Music Festival & School, among others. In 2016, Lash was honored with a Composer Portrait Concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, which included commissioned works for pianist Lisa Moore (Six Etudes and a Dream) and loadbang (Music for Eight Lungs). In the 2017-2018 season, Lash’s Piano Concerto No. 1 “In Pursuit of Flying” was given its premiere performances by Jeremy Denk and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; the Atlantic Classical Orchestra debuted Facets of Motion for orchestra; and Music for Nine, Ringing was performed at the Music Academy of the West School and Festival. In the 2018-2019 season, Paul Appleby and Natalia Katyukova gave the world premiere of Songs of Imagined Love, a song cycle commissioned by Carnegie Hall. Hannah Lash’s music is published exclusively by Schott Music.
This stunning collection of string quartet music by composer Hannah Lash, performed by the singular JACK Quartet, ripples with fresh ideas and energy while engaging with some of classical music’s most cherished conventions. The opening movement of “Suite: Remembered and Imagined,” for example, draws inspiration from the Baroque suite, but the various lines progress at different speeds, conveying an off-kilter canter on the edge of the abyss. The second movement references bits of the prelude from Bach’s C major cello suite, as individual lines start finishing one another’s sentences, while a needling upper register violin line cleaves things open.
“Filigree” uses tapestry arts from the Middle Ages as its point of reference, with the composer’s own harp playing beautifully interweaving with JACK Quartet’s luminous strings. All three movements introduce different sorts of meshed lines and counterpoint, as in the mournful “Gold,” or the pithy pizzicato of “Silver.” “Frayed” is a dazzling back-and-forth between delicately voiced, muted sighs or exhalations—at times suggesting the sound of a glass harmonica—and slashing, almost primeval lines pushed to the point of unraveling by masterful bow pressure, and “Pulse-space” is a relentlessly driving juggernaut of acoustic beating and massed sound, with brief solo excursions poking out of the din.
-Peter Margasak, 9.3.19, Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: August 2019
Hannah Lash uses more traditionally modernist techniques — and a brasher approach to harmony — in the works on Filigree (New Focus), a collection of her music performed by the JACK Quartet. But even so, her works are framed inventively, and in a way that shows a curiosity about the whole of music history, rather than just recent trends. For example, Frayed, the short work that opens the disc, has an antique, vibrato-free sound, at first — almost as if a piece of Medieval music had wandered into the present to tentatively state its case. Lash soon allows the sound to blossom, first allowing a warm tone, with vibrato, then adding a plucked bassline that gives it a fleetingly jazzy feel, and then punctuating the opening chord progression with frenetic, high anxiety bursts of aggressive bowing, full-ensemble pizzicato, sliding notes, and even brief passages that are bowed so hard as to be nearly toneless.
If the opening bars of Filigree hint at neo-Medievalism, Lash’s playful Suite: Remembered and Imagined looks backward more overtly, its six movements named for the dances in a Baroque suite. For the most part, Baroque music fanciers will have to work hard to find the contours of the eras dances within these movements; even the closing “Menuet antique et fragile” has so many displaced beats and unpredictable rhythms that you can’t quite picture the actual dance.
That said, after an Allemande that seems oddly mechanistic at first, but comes to be a spiky riot of stratospheric pitches and low-end pizzicato, the Courante is downright antique, built around ascending and descending scales. Not that this simplicity lasts long. Lash tinkers with speeds and harmony, pushing the dance into a more up-to-date realm before moving to a dark, menacing Sarabande, a brisk, chromatic Gavotte, and a largely tonal Gigue, in which all four instruments play tightly interlocking pizzicato lines.
The hard-driven, rhythmically steady bowing that opens Pulse-space melds a Minimalist impulse to an acerbic harmonic language and a shifting tension level. Even when repetition gives way to sudden (and dramatic) change, the work’s energy level and rugged emotional power never lets up.
Lash composed the album’s closing work, Filigree in Textile, for JACK and the harpist Yolanda Kondonassis. But Lash is also a harpist (Kondonassis was one of her teachers), and on the recording, she plays the harp line, which stands out nicely against the quartet texture (and sometimes blends seamlessly with it.) Here, too, there is a hint of medievalism in some of Lash’s string melodies, occasioned, perhaps, by the fact that Lash was inspired by both the illustrative tapestries of the era, and early counterpoint.
The movements, “Gold,” “Silver,” and “Silk,” are bright, energetic, and inviting, but their real attraction is that they are so changeable — stylistically, harmonically and rhythmically — that even after several hearings, they continue to surprise.
-Allan Kozinn, 11.19.19, San Francisco Classical Voice
The durability of the string quartet never ceases to amaze me and with artists like Lash and the JACK perpetuating the medium it should be around for centuries to come. The album hits the ground running with Frayed, which brilliantly employs extended techniques to sound like it’s literally coming apart as you listen. Suite: Remembered and Imagined engages with Baroque dance rhythms across its six short movements, using Lash’s inventiveness to remain relentlessly modern. The title of Pulse-Space may make you think of a Pink Floyd outtake, but is instead a threnodic outpouring of pure emotion, with only Lash’s restraint keeping it from neo-romanticism. Inspired by Medieval weaving techniques, Filigree In Textile also features Lash on harp (it was originally performed by her teacher, the great Yolanda Kondonassis, who has a fine recent album of her own) and allows you to add the finishing touches as you assemble the threads in your mind. As expected, the JACK makes all of this sound as natural as breathing and it's hard to imagine a better presentation of this excellent, deeply involving music.
-Jeremy Shatan, 8.24.19, AnEarful
Hannah Lash‘s name began appearing on my radar about two years ago but this is my first actual encounter with her music. This recent (2011) Harvard graduate’s star seems to be rising quickly and this is a fine place as any to start to get to know her work. New Focus Recordings is a label with good instincts regarding new and important music and this one is typical of their collective acumen.
This release features 4 works. One is for harp (Lash’s instrument) with string quartet and the rest are for string quartet alone. I find it difficult to describe Lash’s work concisely. Like many in her generation she seems to have been exposed most comprehensively to a huge range of styles and techniques and she appears to be selecting judiciously among those to apply those techniques by which she can achieve her compositional goals.
The works include the single movement, Frayed followed by Suite: Remembered and Imagined (in 6 short movements), the single movement Pulse-Space, and the three movement Filigree in Textile which features Lash on harp along with the Jack Quartet. The rather sparse liner notes are by the composer. They may lack detail as to composition date, commissioner, etc. but they do reflect what the composer’s thought processes were with each piece. She is clearly more concerned with conveying her metaphorical ideas than the technical aspects of her work. That is perhaps best left to future musicologists.
Her work is direct, one might even say concise. Using a basically tonal palette, the composer explores a variety of musical and metamusical ideas. These are intimate and interesting works that seem very much to the point. Keep in mind too that this is simply a disc of recent chamber music which gives no idea as to how she handles larger forms. But from the perspective of this album alone her brevity has an almost Webernian quality (not the thorny harmonies or difficult rhythms, just the brief and direct statements she makes with the music here).
The always wonderful Jack Quartet plays in two different configurations here. Tracks 1-8 feature Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld, violins; John Pickford Richards, viola; and Kevin McFarland, cello. Tracks 9-11 feature: Austin Wullman and Christopher Otto, violins; John Pickford Richards, viola; Jay Campbell, cello; and Hannah Lash, harp.
As usual with well written new music multiple listens reveal more detail. The music is both interesting at first listen as well as compelling enough to provoke yet another listen. Lash is a rising star who deserves the attention of a new music audience who will learn the subtleties of her musical language. There is great beauty here.
-Allan J. Cronin, 12.10.19, New Music Buff
Performed by the JACK Quartet, the four works on Filigree offer an exciting sampling of Hannah Lash's creative output. The presence in her music of experimental techniques and imaginative treatments reflects an intrepid contemporary sensibility, while at the same time she's not afraid to weave elements from the canonic repertoire into her material; consistent with that, two of the recording's pieces draw upon two canonic traditions, the Baroque Suite and tapestry arts from the Middle Ages. Each work builds upon a thoughtfully conceived conceptual foundation that pulls the listener into her compositional world, eager to hear more. No better choice of string quartet conceivably could have been made for the project, the JACK Quartet renowned for its versatility and the commitment it brings to its performance of a composer's material.
A recipient of many awards and commissions and currently a member of the composition faculty at the Yale University School of Music, Lash has composed orchestral works and chamber settings for lauded ensembles such as Eighth Blackbird, Flux Quartet, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, loadbang, the American Composers Orchestra, and others. A harpist as well as composer, she performs with the JACK Quartet on the recording's closing work, Filigree in Textile (the quartet membership featured in that performance—violinists Austin Wulliman and Christopher Otto, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell—differs slightly from the quartet that otherwise appears, with Ari Streisfeld and Kevin McFarland in place of Wulliman and Campbell, respectively).
A Baroque character pervades the opening section of Frayed when mutes are attached to the strings, the result a delicate, wheezing sound; that hushed shimmer detonates, however, two minutes along with a furious outburst of energy. Aggressive bowing and plucks, the latter peppering the sound field like hailstones, appear thereafter, Lash further complexing the design by accentuating extreme contrasts in volume, tempo, and attack. Raw bowed phrases reflect the frayed quality intimated by the title, as do the emphatic short statements that repeatedly appear.
In the subsequent Suite: Remembered and Imagined, Lash uses the structure of a Baroque Suite as a springboard for six concise movements. The suitably jaunty “Allemande,” the term referring to a stately court dance popular in Germany centuries ago, initiates the work with lively crosscurrents, after which “Courante” perpetuates the liveliness of the first movement, with this time the instruments acrobatically finishing each others' scalar passages. Though the term “Sarabande” refers to another dance form, the sober movement exchanges the light-hearted spirit of the first two for a brooding presentation that's more Bartok than Bach. The rhythmic impetus returns for “Gigue,” even if its forward momentum's thwarted by the brevity of the violin's chromatic phrases, followed by the gently swaying “Menuet antique et fragile,” which, true to its title, plays as if it's advancing ever-so-carefully along a high wire. One comes away from Lash's Suite struck by the way the traditional dance forms have been refracted through her idiosyncratic prism.
The most aggressive of the album's pieces, Pulse-space navigates an unsettling, at times harrowing path for nine minutes, the music's effect intensified by the addition of closely spaced voicings to the group's relentless pulsing. At strategic moments, individual players separate themselves from the pack to alter the complexion of the core throb without ever threatening to overpower it.
At album's end, the three-movement Filigree in Textile brings Lash herself aboard for a piece originally written for Yolanda Kondonassis and the JACK Quartet. “Gold” begins with a cello solo of mournful mien before the others emerge to transform the material into an exercise in elegant counterpoint, the resonant sound of the harp a pleasing addition and the interlacings of the five instruments suggestive of tapestry-making. By closing with a pizzicato passage, “Gold” transitions seamlessly into “Silver,” whose design is pizzicato throughout, the move ostensibly converting the instruments into harp-like devices for six minutes. The concluding “Silk” provides the most comprehensive presentation of the strings-and-harp combination, with all involved unleashing an abundance of sinuous patterns for twelve minutes.
Filigree offers not just an in-depth account of Lash's work but an arresting study in contrasts, stylistic predominantly. At one extreme we have the harrowing Pulse-space, at the other the comparatively restrained Filigree in Textile. While hardly a definitive portrait of the artist (what single album-length recording could be?), one definitely comes away from the release with an informed understanding of and appreciation for Lash's compositional approach.
-Ron Schepper, 8.2019, textura
Filigree is JACK Quartet’s release of a collection of music for string quartet by composer Hannah Lash. I had not been very familiar with much of Lash’s output prior to this album, but after a number of listening I plan to explore more of her work. Obviously the playing is top-notch, as JACK brings to all of their performances and recordings. Additionally, Lash’s variations of style from one piece to the next was very refreshing. I generally don’t listen to albums of music by a single composer from start to finish, but I found this particular album very easy to listen to in that way. I think this is a testament to Lash’s skill as a composer to craft engaging pieces in a variety of styles, as well as JACK’s ability to breathe life into any piece with the utmost sensitivity, regardless of style.
The opening track, Frayed, is a huge standout. Because this album was my first time really listening to Lash’s music I wanted to really explore it in detail. My first time through the album I listened to this particular piece 2-3 times before I moved to the next track. The interplay between long sustained chords - with varying degrees of dissonance - juxtaposed against more violent outbursts of heavy bowing and distorted overpressure created a dichotomy of sound worlds I could live in forever. Pulse-space is also an impressive composition and demonstrates incredible dedication and execution of a single idea. The piece introduces a strict pulsing rhythm from the start and explores variations of that idea through altering speeds, registers, harmonic content and layers surrounding the pulse. The remaining tracks on the album are equally engaging, and if you’re not familiar with Hannah Lash’s work I highly encourage picking up a copy of this album.
-Jon Fielder, 10.15.19, Klang New Music
A high minded meeting of the minds in which a smart quartet takes on the music of contemporary composer Hannah Lash, all involved show why they have such sterling, worldwide reputations as they move the frontiers of contemporary classical forward. Despite the title, the music is not delicate but often engaging in it’s complexity and depth taking the listener to places not previously imagined. Stellar work from all involved.
-Chris Spector, 6.18.19, Midwest Record
Maybe it is just a coincidence, but I have had a number of encounters with the music of Hannah Lash lately, both on recordings and in live performance. But I don’t think it is a coincidence; rather, it is a reflection of the stealthy power of this young American composer’s writing. Having an entire album of her music performed by one of the preeminent ensembles celebrating new music, JACK Quartet, is certainly a nice feather in her cap.
One of the most attractive and distinctive features of Lash’s music is a vibrant sensuality. The most telling example on this CD of this quality occurs in Filigree in Textile, which is a musical study of medieval textile patterns. The three movements are titled “Gold,” “Silver,” and “Silk.” She does find inspiration in the textural qualities of these materials; low, slow sonorities for gold, bright color for silver, and a luxuriant legato flow for the silk. I found myself enjoying the music despite the physical allusions. The music is beautifully crafted, and JACK Quartet does fine job responding to Lash’s impulses. Equally delightful is Suite: Remembered and Imagined, a seven-section work modeled after the Baroque suite style. There are flashes of Bach-like melodic patterns here and there, neatly paying homage to that great master of suite composition, but elsewhere Lash’s language is contemporary (and tonal), while at the same time honoring the concepts of gavottes, gigues, and menuets. I expect to return to this work often for sheer pleasure; it brings a smile to my face.
The two other works on the program, Frayed, which is a musical study of human breathing patterns, and Pulse-space, essentially a sophisticated study of rhythmic and pitch relations, are constructed in a more challenging language, but are no less captivating. Frayed comes across with a deceptively lower level of energy, but careful listening will be rewarded by the pleasure of hearing Lash’s intricate layering of texture and harmony. Pulse-space is the darkest work on the program, with a slashing propulsiveness that I found reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann (his score to Psycho in particular).
I am going to continue to keep an ear open for the music of this immensely talented composer. I think you all should as well.
— Peter Burwasser, 5.04.2020