This interview originally aired on June 16, 2021. We rebroadcast it on September 1, 2021.
Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
Pacifica Quartet — Contemporary Voices (Cedille)
“I can relate so much to these three pieces after going through this pandemic,” said violist Mark Holloway reflecting on, Contemporary Voices, the most recent release from Pacifica Quartet. “Each one has something quite unique to say.”
The recording features three contemporary pieces commissioned by the quartet, which won a Grammy for best Chamber Music Performance. The ensemble is also opening the MN Beethoven Festival on June 27.
Can you talk about ‘Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory — String Quartet No.3’ by Shulamit Ran and the visual art that inspired it?
“There was an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called ‘Glitter and Zoom German Portraits from the 1920s.’ I think this was an inspiration to Ran. The quartet was in residence at the museum, and they wanted music that had a connection to the visual art.
“There's a German-Jewish painter named Felix Nussbaum who perished in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Ran wanted to show in music what a normal life, with its joys and sorrows, and ups and downs might be like. Daily life can be torn apart by cruelty, war and hatred. Nussbaum keep painting in the camps during the war. The struggle to survive, create, express and identify is really powerful.”
Can you talk about Jennifer Higdon’s work Voices that she dedicated to the quartet after collaborating with them at a summer festival?
“It's a real knockout of a piece. It starts off with this relentless, crazy frenzy of energy called ‘Blitz.’ It's a real explosion. Higdon was saying that a lot of pieces start out soft and then loud. She wanted to see what it might be like the other way around.”
Is it true that the combination of instruments on Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet isn’t a combination you hear often?
“I too, was unsure what it would sound like. The fact that we're playing with someone else is already something to celebrate. You're joining forces and making music together with a friend. In this case, it's her terrific colleague, Otis Murphy, who's a saxophone professor at Indiana University. You hear the jazziness and different sounds coming from her pen. The piece has a celebratory nature to it, and it just really seems appropriate after all we've been through.”
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.