Aizuri Quartet Releases Second Album EARTHDRAWN SKIES

Earthdrawn Skies will also be the final album for the current formation of the Aizuri Quartet.

By: Apr. 21, 2023
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Aizuri Quartet Releases Second Album EARTHDRAWN SKIES

The Aizuri Quartet has released a new album, Earthdrawn Skies, on June 30, 2023 on Azica Records. This highly anticipated second album explores deep connections between humankind and the natural world through the contrasting works of Hildegard von Bingen, Eleanor Alberga, Komitas Vardapet, and Jean Sibelius. The quartet's critically acclaimed debut album, Blueprinting (New Amsterdam Records 2018) was nominated for a GRAMMY Award and named one of NPR Music's Best Classical Albums.

Earthdrawn Skies will also be the final album for the current formation of the Aizuri Quartet; violinists Emma Frucht and Miho Saegusa, violist Ayane Kozasa, and cellist Karen Ouzounian. Kozasa and Ouzounian have both announced that they'll be departing for new opportunities this year. Kozasa will be pursuing new creative projects in addition to her full-time viola professorship at Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. Ouzounian will be focusing on her solo career, along with new interdisciplinary collaborative projects. Frucht and Saegusa will stay on with the Aizuri Quartet, performing first with a series of guest artists and selecting two new permanent members to be announced before the 2023-2024 season.

Aizuri violinists Saegusa and Frucht said in a statement: "We've treasured our time making music with Ayane and Karen over the last eleven years. Together, we realized the dream of starting and building a quartet from the ground up, and what wonderful adventures we've had! We thank them for being such invaluable partners and for bringing boundless creativity and energy to our quartet. Our work has allowed Aizuri to unlock incredible possibilities and bring new life to the concept of a string quartet. We're excited to nurture this legacy as we continue to grow and evolve in Aizuri's next chapter. It's bittersweet that our time with them is coming to an end - while we'll miss them dearly, we wish them all the best in their new journeys!"

For Earthdrawn Skies, the Aizuris have infused personal associations and life experiences into four carefully selected pieces. While disparate in period and style, each composition is, in Ouzounian's words: "rooted in a sense of tradition and connection to the land, even as the composers seek something beyond their reach: an understanding of God, the physics of the cosmos, homeland, happiness."

Von Bingen's Medieval chant Columba aspexit, composed in honor of Saint Maximin, has been adapted for string quartet in an arrangement commissioned by the Aizuris by Alex Fortes. Comprising a captivating series of solos, duets and trios, the arrangement culminates in an ecstatic, full-group unison. "The four of us have often talked about 'singing through our instruments' and how the quartet is one organism," Saegusa said. "This piece presented us with a unique and challenging question, one we were excited to explore: how can we truly become one voice?"

British-Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga's contemporary String Quartet No. 1 is composed as an exploration of the cosmos, drawing on the natural sciences. Rich with swirling and evocative textures and harmonies, her three-movement work launches us into space amid jaunty, jagged rhythms and melodies; evokes a star-filled sky with warm, contemplative passages; and returns us to earth with both energy and finality. "There is so much depth to Alberga's music - the score encourages endless exploration and discovery," Frucht said. "We're so excited to be able to champion this work, and grateful to have had the opportunity to record it."

The celebrated Armenian priest, composer, choirmaster and ethnomusicologist Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) is remembered as the "savior" of Armenian music, collecting and transcribing great volumes of Armenian traditional music in addition to his many original compositions. The selection of his Armenian Folk Songs for this album reflects Ouzounian's heritage as a Toronto-born artist from a family that survived the 1915-1923 Armenian Genocide and immigrated to Canada in the 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War. For Ouzounian, Komitas' music was part of a tradition that "brought us together and became an enduring, deeply treasured link to a distant homeland," she said. "The music of Komitas gave us a sense of our roots, our homes and lands from which we were displaced, the contours and nuances of our language, the warmth and sorrow and ebullience of our families, a link between those who perished and those who are living. Playing the music of Komitas with the Aizuri Quartet and sharing it with you gives voice to the unheard, and I hope it conveys the heart, the hope, and the love of my Armenian family."

The album's final selection, Sibelius's String Quartet in D Minor Op. 56, Voces Intimae, was written during a period of self-exile for the Finnish composer. Struggling to break free from his battle with alcoholism, Sibelius composed this unique work suffused with self-reflection and a striving to connect with his homeland and natural surroundings. For Kozasa, who immigrated to the United States from Japan as a child, "this quartet feels like a rediscovery of identity - and this was something I could associate with growing up," she said. "As a Japanese kid living in Dallas and Chicago with yearly visits to a homeland that I had very vague and flickering memories of, I felt very attached to this recording that dared to reflect deep within itself and search for a new voice. For me, despite the hardships that come with migrating and never feeling like I quite fit in, on the flip side, I had the chance to become whoever I wanted to be, and this string quartet gifted me that superpower."

About Aizuri Quartet
The Aizuri Quartet has established a unique position within today's musical landscape, infusing all of its music-making with infectious energy, joy, and warmth, cultivating curiosity in listeners, and inviting audiences into the concert experience through its innovative programming, and the depth and fire of its performances.

Praised by The Washington Post for "astounding" and "captivating" performances that draw from its notable "meld of intellect, technique and emotions," the Aizuri Quartet was named the recipient of the 2022 Cleveland Quartet Award by Chamber Music America, and was awarded the Grand Prize and Concert Artists Guild Management Prize at the 2018 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition along with top prizes at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan and the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in London. The Quartet's debut album, Blueprinting, featuring new works written for the Aizuri Quartet by five American composers, was released by New Amsterdam Records to critical acclaim ("In a word, stunning" - I Care If You Listen), nominated for a 2019 GRAMMY Award, and named one of NPR Music's Best Classical Albums of 2018. The Aizuri Quartet's follow-up to Blueprinting, Earthdrawn Skies is out on Azica Records in 2023.

In early 2022 the Aizuri Quartet was named fellows to the Artist Propulsion Lab, a project of WQXR, New York City's Classical radio station. The Quartet's fellowship includes live-broadcast performances, radio content, and the release of new AizuriKids videos, featuring animation by Lembit Beecher and Ayane Kozasa; a wide range of music, such as Elizabeth Cotten, Caroline Shaw, Paul Wiancko, and Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti; with guest appearances by artists Rhiannon Giddens and Andrew Yee.

The 2021/22 season saw notable performances, including concerts with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ken-David Masur, in which Aizuri Quartet performed John Adams's Absolute Jest. With legendary indie rock band Wilco, Aizuri Quartet opened five concerts at the United Palace in Washington Heights and appeared with Wilco on The Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert. Also in 21/22, the quartet premiered David Ludwig's Organistrum with Anthony McGill and Demarre McGill at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and unveiled new works by Paul Wiancko and Lembit Beecher at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

The Aizuris view the string quartet as a living art and springboard for community, collaboration, curiosity and experimentation. At the core of its music-making is a virtuosic ability to illuminate a vast range of musical styles through the Aizuri's eclectic, engaging and thought-provoking programs. The Quartet has drawn praise both for bringing "a technical bravado and emotional power" to bold new commissions, and for its "flawless" (San Diego Union-Tribune) performances of the great works of the past. Exemplifying this intrepid spirit, the Aizuri Quartet curated and performed five adventurous programs as the 2017-2018 MetLiveArts String Quartet-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leading The New York Times to applaud Aizuri Quartet as "genuinely exciting," "imaginative," and "a quartet of expert collaborators." For this series, the quartet collaborated with spoken word artist Denice Frohman and shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki, commissioned new works by Kinan Azmeh, Michi Wiancko and Wang Lu, as well as commissioned new arrangements of vocal music by Hildegard von Bingen and Carlo Gesualdo, which was paired with the music of Conlon Nancarrow, Haydn and Beethoven in a program focused on music created in periods of isolation.

The Aizuris believe in an integrative approach to music-making, in which teaching, performing, writing, arranging, curation, and the quartet's role in the community are all connected. In 2020, the quartet launched AizuriKids, a free, online series of educational videos for children that uses the string quartet as a catalyst for creative learning and features themes such as astronomy, American history, and cooking. These vibrant, whimsical, and interactive videos are lovingly produced by the Aizuris and are paired with activity sheets to inspire further exploration.

The Aizuri Quartet is passionate about nurturing the next generation of artists, and is deeply grateful to have held several residencies that were instrumental in its development: from 2014-2016, the String Quartet in Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, the 2015-2016 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet in Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, and the resident ensemble of the 2014 Ravinia Festival's Steans Music Institute.

Formed in 2012 and combining four distinctive musical personalities into a powerful collective, the Aizuri Quartet draws its name from "aizuri-e," a style of predominantly blue Japanese woodblock printing that is noted for its vibrancy and incredible detail. Learn more at

Earthdrawn Skies Tracklist
1. Hildegard von Bingen - Columba aspexit (arr. Alex Fortes) [6:38]

Eleanor Alberga - String Quartet No. 1
2. I. Détaché et martellato e zehr lebhaft und swing it man. [6:26]
3. II. Espressivo, with wonder and yearning. [7:02]
4. III. Frantically driven yet playful [7:04]

Komitas Vardapet (arr. Sergei Aslamazian) - Armenian Folk Songs
5. Yergink Ampel A (It's Cloudy) [2:31]
6. Haprpan (Festive Song) [1:28]
7. Shoushigi (For Shoushig) [2:54]
8. Echmiadzni Bar (Dance from Echmiadzin) [2:11]
9. Kaqavik (The Partridge) [1:41]

Jean Sibelius - String Quartet in D Minor Op. 56, Voces Intimae
10. I. Andante-Allegro molto moderato [6:09]
11. II. Vivace [2:30]
12. III. Adagio di molto [10:03]
13. IV. Allegretto (ma pesante) [5:58]
14. V. Allegro [4:59]

Total Time: 67:44

Album Credits
Producer and Recording Engineer: Alan Bise
Recorded at Sauder Concert Hall at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, Feb. 10-13, 2022
Interior Photos: Shervin Lainez
Cover Art and Album Design: DM Stith (@vermeerier)

*Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

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