On Saturday 11 June Cassandra Miller’s work for string quartet About Bach will be performed at the 76th Ojai Music Festival in California. The piece will be performed by Keir GoGwilt (violin), Miranda Cuckson (violin), Carrie Frey (viola), and Coleman Itzkoff (cello) in the spectacular outside performance space of the Libbey Bowl.
GoGwilt has recently blogged about preparing the piece. "About Bach", he writes, "does more to achieve the transcendent effects that Bach is so lauded for...by endlessly following the most seemingly mundane aspects of practice: phrasing, timing, tuning, and the repetition of small differences. In rehearsing with Miranda, Carrie, and Coleman, I'm reminded that transcendental effects come most readily from personal and particular interactions: the balancing of time feels, the satisfying work of slow tuning, the calibration of rhythms, phrases, and timbres."
About Bach was awarded the 2016 Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music: the 25-minute piece is an expansion of a solo work for viola written for Pemi Paull. “This is a piece about process”, Miller writes. “I first took a recording of a short phrase (the first phrase in major) of the famous Chaconne from Bach’s Partita no. 2, performed live by Pemi. I then meticulously transcribed the recording with the help of some software — this is a process I’ve developed over some years to apprehend the exact rhythmic musicality of a performance.”
“The opening of the piece is simply this transcribed phrase of Bach, with a harmony of my own making, which turns the phrase into a gently jaunty chorale. From there the phrase goes through a somewhat inaudible process that is simply let to run, until it runs itself out. It’s a constant meandering, a non-developmental piece in an extreme sense.”
In her profile of Miller for Prospect, Kate Molleson described the piece as “the sound of a lone violin teeters on a tightrope for 25 minutes. Underneath, the other members of the quartet flicker from chord to hopeful chord as though bolstering their colleague’s risky mission.”
About Bach was written for Quatuor Bozzini; their recording of the piece was released through Another Timbre in 2018; it was performed by Ensemble Resonanz in Hamburg last year. About Bach will also appear as part of Wigmore Hall’s day of concerts spotlighting Miller’s music in December 2022. In May 2023 the Hebrides Ensemble perform the piece in Glasgow.
The coming months see further performances of Miller’s music: her Viola Concerto will receive its world premiere in July at the BBC Proms from Lawrence Power and the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Omer Meir Wellber. On 18 June Ilan Volkov conducts her orchestral work Round with the Brussels Philharmonic.