On 3 December at Wigmore Hall Quatuor Bozzini focus on the music of Cassandra Miller and Gerald Barry, in three concerts that include the London premiere of Thanksong with soprano Juliet Fraser. Quatour Bozzini also perform Miller’s About Bach, Warblework, and Leaving, all of which they premiered and recorded. Thanksong received its first live performance this summer on 15 August at the Dartington International Summer School, following a filmed online premiere in 2020.
The concerts are available to stream through the Wigmore Hall website here.
The title of the 15-minute work references the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ from Beethoven’s op.132 String Quartet, summoning the same prayerful and inward mood of that piece’s opening. To compose Thanksong Miller sang along (automatic singing-in-meditation) to the four individual parts of the quartet, many times in repetition, transforming the material into gentle pendulum-like repeated gestures. The members of the quartet and soprano each perform independently, as if five soloists. The quartet members play the music by ear, listening in headphones to Miller’s voice – and the composition is held together by the pacing and breath of Juliet Fraser, as she sings Beethoven’s line as slowly and quietly as possible.
In June 2022 About Bach was performed at the 76th Ojai Music Festival in California; violinist Keir GoGwilt blogged about his experience of preparing the piece. Ensemble Resonanz also performed the work in Hamburg last year.
The 25-minute work, an expansion of a piece for solo viola first intended for Pemi Paull, won the 2016 Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music. Miller writes of About Bach,
This is a piece about process. 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: “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.” Quatuor Bozzini, who commissioned and premiered the work, recorded it in 2018.
Leaving responds to a 2005 composition of the same title by Zav RT, taking a recording of the piece and deriving its material from it, and joining it with what Miller calls “the meanderings and wanderings” of Canadian fiddle player Oliver Schroer, who passed away in 2008. It is a celebration of their friendship and musical collaborations, through which they continually rediscover and return to each other.
The piece is also dedicated to Miller’s mother. “There is a large and important piece of me that is always missing when we are apart”, Miller writes. “Living in different cities as we do is an unsolvable heartache - what to do about it but to write music?”
Manchester Collective tour Leaving to Bristol, London, Birkenhead, Manchester, and Cardiff in February 2023 as part of their Bag of Bones programme, a new project devised by Alice Zawadzki.