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Calidore String Quartet Releases BABEL This Month

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The new album includes works by Schumann, Shaw and Shostakovich.

Calidore String Quartet Releases BABEL This Month

On October 23, Signum Classics will release BABEL, the Calidore String Quartet's second album on the label, following 2018's Resilience. The program of quartets by Schumann, Shostakovich and Caroline Shaw was conceived of in response to this unsettling time of polarization and lack of civility in public discourse.

The Quartet, who have been praised by The New York Times for "deep reserves of virtuosity and irrepressible dramatic instinct," chose for this new album works that explore what the Quartet call "the visceral forms of expression at the convergence of music and language," when music fills the void of forbidden speech and how it carries on when language has been exhausted.

Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Caroline Shaw's collection of "Three Essays" addresses language's power to stir emotion and spread information and ideas through written, spoken and digital forms. The "First Essay: Nimrod" alludes to the biblical overseer of the construction of the Tower of Babel. The story, which seeks to explain the origin of the world's languages, takes place following the Great Flood, when all of mankind speaks in a common tongue. Led by Nimrod, the human race seeks to construct a tower tall enough to reach heaven. In response, God confounds their speech, making the builders unintelligible to one another and halting the construction. Shaw writes that the "Second Essay: Echo" "touches on a number of references: the concept of the "echo chamber" that social media fosters in our political discourse; the "echo" function in the Hypertext Preprocessor programming language; and of course the effect of an echo." The "Third Essay: Ruby" brings the philosophical and musical elements of the first two essays together, referring both to the programming language Ruby (developed in Japan in the mid-1990s), as well the simple beauty of the gem stone for which the language was named."

While Caroline Shaw provides a commentary on contemporary social dialogue, Dimitri Shostakovich illuminates music's power to substitute for language as an act of defiance in Soviet Russia. On the exterior, the Ninth String Quartet is one of the most uplifting and optimistic in the cycle of Shostakovich's fifteen quartets. Such an aesthetic put it clearly within the strict guidelines of the Soviet "Pure Music" regulations, making it immune to censorship. But beneath the music's surface lies Shostakovich's use of Jewish idioms, a symbol of his own defiance.

Robert Schumann found himself stifled in communicating his true feelings of love for the young Clara Wieck, a piano prodigy and famous concert artist whose father vehemently opposed their union. After years, the two finally wed, leading to one of Schumann's most prolific periods. His Third String Quartet was completed within a couple of months and presented to Clara on her 23rd birthday. Through his music, Schumann expressed the relief of finally being able to freely communicate his love for Clara. The work is saturated with a two-note descending motive, known as Schumann's "Clara Theme."

"We hope this album will connect us with our audiences at a time when we are prevented from performing in-person concerts," says Ryan Meehan of the Calidore String Quartet. "We are sending this recording out into the world as our own message of connection, in the language of music that conveys more than words ever can."

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