Monday, January 18, 2016

Esme on SSQ's NY premieres of two Julia Adolphe Quartets

Julia Adolphe
I first came in contact with Julia Adolphe's music on a road trip to play at the Pikes Falls Music Festival in Vermont.  My drivers were Evan Soloman and Sarah D'Angelo, a wonderful couple, artistic team, and entrepreneurial force.  They are the co-founders of INSCAPE chamber ensemble, a Grammy-nominated group that performs all over America.  They also established a summer residency at Pikes Falls, where I've been lucky enough to play with them these past two years.  We were all listening to a first edit of their new CD "American Aggregate", which would soon be released.  Evan and Sarah, who had just come out of the recording studio, were obsessively picking out little details and assessing the cuts with a critical ear.  Meanwhile, I was relaxing in the backseat, simply curious about all the new compositional voices I was hearing.  Julia's piece came on, and I was immediately entranced.  The piece "Wordless Creatures" created a sensation that I now associate with Julia's music of constant growth.  It is a kind of story-telling--full of churning motion and development.  There are identifiable themes and gestures, but the music never feels steady; rather, it is in constant evolution.  Whether slow or fast, her inventiveness is in direct dialogue with my curiosity.
I recently visited a friend who nervously read aloud a mystery she had written full of twists and turns.  We discussed at length how, when sculpting a plot, the author must remain sensitive to what the reader does or does not know.  Pacing the revelation of information so that the story is constantly stimulating, intriguing yet natural requires incredible virtuosity. I returned from this visit to rehearse and realized that Julia's music possesses this gift and only grows more interesting as we delve deeper into our interpretive process.

I had the fortune to perform "Veil of Leaves" that same summer in Pikes Falls. Sometimes I hunger for music to begin from absolute stillness, from some sort of primal origin, which "Veil of Leaves" does.  In this work, the opening four-voice unison is our point of departure, from which the sounds seem to split off from each other, like shards of refracted light radiating away from a center. The initial whole dissolves into a miniature in the form of little rhythmic motives that each instrument plays with a special technique called artificial harmonics.  We lightly place our fingers on the strings, creating a much higher sound with a windy, whistling quality to it.  Complexity and an almost raucous chaos ensues when these atoms of the theme are set free to clash and crash against each other in the middle section before culminating in a powerful climax.

In her work "Between the Accidental", the music begins with far more energy and agitation, through the use of a myriad of dissonant sonorities.  Still, I feel this constant sense of diffusion and growth, in which the musical narrative constantly defies expectation, turning and expanding from the unified "once upon a time" of 16th notes that opens the work.

Julia's music challenges all our expressive and technical faculties, but it is so rewarding.  Like a great novel in which you already know the ending but forget how the hero might get there, her lines transport us into their story.  We can't wait to share these new pieces with you at upcoming concerts including Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in NYC on March 14.

-Esme Allen-Creighton