Violist Jonah Sirota Celebrates New Album STRONG SAD at National Sawdust This June
Jonah Sirota, former violist of the Chiara String Quartet, releases his debut solo albumSTRONG SAD worldwide on National Sawdust Tracks on June 22, 2018. Sirota will celebrate the album's release with a concert at National Sawdust (80 N. 6th St., Brooklyn) on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 at 7pm, performing music from the album with his sister, violist Nadia Sirota and pianist Molly Morkoski, both of whom are also on the recording. STRONG SAD features eight new elegies for the viola, by eight composers - Jonah Sirota, Paola Prestini, Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigur∂sson, Robert Sirota, A.J. McCaffrey, and Rodney Lister, and the improv duo Mondegreen (Jonah Sirota and Kurt Knecht).
While some of the music on STRONG SAD may follow the more traditional function of a musical elegy, remembering lost friends and loved ones, the collection also addresses the smaller losses of day-to-day life. Sirota's aim with STRONG SAD is to affirm that mourning need not be saved for funerals, and that sadness, when given a chance to breathe, can be the best path to deep and lasting contentment and joy.
He says, "The elegy as a musical form has often found a home in the plaintive middle-register voice of the viola - it tugs, and makes us aware of our inner landscape. I made this album not because I am particularly obsessed with the emotion of sadness, but because I believe in the humanity of every feeling. We can't have joy without sadness. We can't be whole without knowing our brokenness. Each of the composers on this record has offered their own beautiful, vulnerable response to a sadness. Let us learn to mourn every day a little. To help heal ourselves, each other, and this world."
STRONG SAD was produced by Valgeir Sigur∂sson and Jonah Sirota and recorded by Philip Zach at The Grid Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska and by Valgeir Sigur∂sson at Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik, Iceland. STRONG SAD will be available from National Sawdust Tracks on vinyl LP and digitally (FLAC/WAV/MP3).
Additional album release concerts are planned for Lincoln, NE (The Bay, June 10); Kansas City, MO (St. Paul's Episcopal Church, June 11); Los Angeles, CA (Art Share L.A., June 12); and San Francisco, CA (Monument, June 16). For complete details, visit www.jonahsirota.com/performances.
About the Music:
CURRENTly was co-written by Jonah Sirota and Kurt Knecht (the duo Mondegreen) and was improvised and recorded on location at St. Marks on the Campus Episcopal Church in Lincoln, NE, using the Bedient Op. 11 tracker-action Italian-style organ.
Remnant takes its name from the compositional approach taken by Valgeir Sigur∂sson, who created a musical "map," a track of digitally-produced music over which Sirota improvised multiple takes. After that, Sigur∂sson removed the original track, cutting and pasting the other layers into the final piece, much like removing the balloon from a papier-mâché sculpture after it hardens.
Rodney Lister's Quodlibet was originally the third movement of his larger solo viola sonata Complicated Grief and appears here in a multi-tracked arrangement made by Sirota. It features three Southern hymn tunes interwoven into a single composition in homage to the composer's father.
When You Lose You Win is Jonah Sirota's recorded compositional debut and his first foray into digital production, in collaboration with producer and engineer Philip Zach. The piece is about the strength gained in the recovery from loss. It is also meant as a counterbalance to Donald Trump's bullying rhetoric, in which nothing is seen as worse than being a "Loser."
A.J. McCaffrey wrote Here Come The Waterworks for viola and piano, performed by Sirota with Molly Morkoski on this album, as a musical reflection of how one processes trauma. According to McCaffrey, "I ended up thinking of the viola as a character that was trying to 're-learn' speech or song, and this came out (as somewhat of a surprise to me) as microtones - inflections of notes on the viola that lie almost in between the notes on the piano. These 'in-between notes' also emerge throughout as a kind of 'keening' or sighing figure. As with many of my pieces, the mood changes throughout, as the material occasionally becomes distracted, lashes out in grief, anger, or catharsis, or retreats into contemplation."
Paola Prestini wrote Vento e sole - Elegy for Jonah (un lamento fortepiano) as a solo piece accompanied by loop pedal, so that Sirota's performances accompany themselves. The work is about finding strength in solitude. Prestini says, "I spend a few weeks a year in Italy near the town I was born in. It is full of sun and wind, a place where my thoughts have room to breathe. I wanted [to create] a piece that has huge shifts of emotion, but also gives a lot of air and space for the viola."
Elegy for a Lost World for viola and piano (recorded by Sirota with pianist Molly Morkoski) represents the fifth work that composer Robert Sirota has written with his son Jonah Sirota's playing in mind. Robert Sirota says, "In our conversations about the creation of this work, he asked me for a piece evoking a sense of the innocence of youth. I have tried to create a vehicle that reflects Jonah's broad expressive range as well as the remarkable generosity of spirit he displays in his performing."
Sirota had wanted to commission Nico Muhly for a solo viola piece ever since Muhly wrote a quartet for the Chiara String Quartet in 2011. The resulting piece, Lean, is a duet for Jonah Sirota and his sister, the esteemed violist and long-time Muhly collaborator Nadia Sirota. This short work features a canonic interplay between the two violas played over a pre-recorded viola drone and represent the ways in which siblings support, challenge, and find inspiration from one another.
About Jonah Sirota: Jonah Sirota is a violist and composer dedicated to the imaginative performance of viola music, both original and preexisting. In addition to STRONG SAD, his projects include The Flowering Viola, a recital of lush viola chamber music featuring pianist Molly Morkoski; and Mondegreen, an improvisation duo with organist/composer Kurt Knecht. Sirota was the founding violist of the Chiara String Quartet for 18 years; 2017-2018 is the Chiara's final full-time season, as its four original members expand into new creative orbits - a decision made by the entire group in gratitude and love. With the Chiara String Quartet he recorded seven albums, including the Grammy-nominated recording of the string quartets of Jefferson Friedman, and performed in numerous major venues worldwide, becoming known for playing the complete quartets of Béla Bartók "By Heart." Jonah Sirota is a composer of music for film and media, as well as works for solo strings, chamber ensemble, and piano.
Jonah Sirota: STRONG SAD | Jonah Sirota, viola; with Kurt Knecht, organ; Molly Morkoski, piano; Nadia Sirota, viola
1. CURRENTly by Mondegreen (Kurt Knecht, Jonah Sirota) [7:39]
2. Remnant by Valgeir Sigur∂sson [4:55]
3. Quodlibet by Rodney Lister [3:29]
4. When You Lose You Win by Jonah Sirota [8:45]
5. Here Come the Waterworks by A.J. McCaffrey [11:31]
6. Vento e sole - Elegy for Jonah (un lamento fortepiano) by Paola Prestini [7:52]
7. Elegy for a Lost World by Robert Sirota [7:17]
8. Lean by Nico Muhly [2:51]
About National Sawdust Tracks: National Sawdust Tracks, formerly VIA Records, is the non-profit, in-house record label and recording studio of National Sawdust. The label is helmed by Jeffrey Zeigler, who was the cellist of the internationally renowned Kronos Quartet for eight seasons. In collaboration with its sister production organization VisionIntoArt, National Sawdust Tracks releases content that reinterprets genre, facilitates provocative collaboration, and encourages new ways of listening. With an oeuvre ranging from electronics to contemporary opera, the label is a platform for artists with profound understanding of their craft to experiment and stretch the limitations of how that craft is practiced.