Pacifica Quartet Presents Works By Pulitzer-Winning Composers On Cedille Records
The Grammy-winning Pacifica Quartet showcases works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Shulamit Ran, Jennifer Higdon, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich on Contemporary Voices, the ensemble's newest Cedille Records album, available July 10, 2020.
Contemporary Voices includes the world-premiere recording of Ran's Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory - String Quartet No. 3; plus Higdon's Voices and Zwilich's Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet, with renowned classical saxophonist Otis Murphy making his Cedille label debut (Cedille Records 90000 196).
The Pacifica has ties to all three composers.
A moving tribute
Written for the Pacifica, Ran's four-movement Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory - String Quartet No. 3 (2012-2013) is a moving tribute to artists who created during the Holocaust, focusing on painter Felix Nussbaum, who perished in Auschwitz in 1944.
Titles of the individual movements suggest the emotional strands the work explores: "That which happened," "Menace," "If I perish - do not let my paintings die," and "Shards, Memory."
In her program note, Ran relates how she "came to know intimately and greatly admire" the Pacifica when they were in residence at the University of Chicago, where Ran was a professor of composition (now emerita).
The initial impetus for the concept, Ran says, was the Pacifica's proposition that she use the visual arts as a point of departure. "I found out that the quartet members had special interest in art created during the early part of the 20th century, perhaps between the two world wars."
Higdon's Voices (1993) evokes explosive energy, otherworldly calm, and spiritual serenity through three movements evoking different images: "Blitz," "Soft Enlacing," and "Grace."
Higdon and the Pacifica first met in 1997 at a summer music festival, where they were paired up as a young composer and young string quartet. "This is the piece they performed," Higdon writes in the CD booklet. "Inspired by their incredible musicality and enthusiasm, I decided to dedicate this quartet to them."
In Zwilich's three-movement Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet (2007), a lusciously singing saxophone shares the spotlight with virtuosic string playing.
For the recording, the Pacifica, quartet in-residence at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, enlisted the services of Murphy, professor of saxophone at IU who has won praise for his "polish and sensitivity" (Chicago Tribune) and "the ability to phrase the music so that it takes on a life of its own" (Saxophone Journal).
The Pacifica had recommended Zwilich to Arizona Friends of Chamber Music president Jean-Paul Bierny, who was looking to commission a work for the unusual combination of string quartet and saxophone, according to Brandon Vamos, the Pacifica's founding cellist. "Everyone in the quartet knew of her work and greatly admired it." Moreover, Vamos's parents, violinist Almita and violist Roland Vamos, were members of the Lydian Trio, which commissioned, premiered, and recorded Zwilich's 1982 String Trio. "I heard her trio many times as a child," he said.
Contemporary Voices was recorded by the multiple Grammy-nominated team of producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone January 16, 2019, at Logan Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Chicago and December 20-21, 2019, in Auer Hall at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music.
Contemporary Voices is the Pacifica Quartet's 12th Cedille Records album. Their discography includes, among other projects, Souvenirs of Spain & Italy, with guitarist Sharon Isbin; Mozart & Brahms Clarinet Quintets with New York Philharmonic principal clarinet Anthony McGill; Brahms' Piano Quintet with Menachem Pressler of the Beaux Arts Trio; and Dvorak's Quintet Op. 97 with violist Michael Tree of the Guarneri String Quartet.
Cedille released the ensemble's four-album cycle of Shostakovich's complete string quartets, paired with works by other Soviet-era composers, to rave reviews: "The playing is nothing short of phenomenal" (Daily Telegraph, London). Named Musical America's 2009 Ensemble of the Year, the Pacifica earned a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for their 2008 recording of Elliott Carter's String Quartets Nos. 1 and 5 on Naxos. Their website is www.pacificaquartet.com.
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