More Tunes about Memory and Chaos

Bergamot Quartet are a contemporary classical string quartet formed in Baltimore in 2016. It so happens they are all women, and part of their aim in life is to showcase new compositions by women – at any rate that would be their priority. Their album In the Brink (NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR316) has a lot of strong material and it’s evident the players Ledah Finck, Sarah Thomas, Amy Tan and Irene Han are highly capable and gifted players, evolving their vision of what chamber music means to them and what it do for an audience.

My two favourite pieces here are ‘Undecim’ and the title work ‘In The Brink’. ‘Undecim’ was composed by Suzanne Farrin and is based on some unusual ideas about “memory as a fragmentary process”, which is a notion I can certainly relate to as I grow older and find myself more busy, less able to recall certain basic facts with the ease I once had. This fragmentation is expressed as unexpected string glissandi, with wild musical slides and swoops up and down the necks of the two violins, one viola and the cello, plus bizarre dynamics, lots of pauses, and odd tunes emerging from all of this heavy bowing action. Great stuff; we need more modern compositions about memory (and other faculties and senses too), and this one is very “relatable”. ‘In the Brink’ was composed by Ledah Finck of the ensemble, and it’s an ambitious work in four parts…how ambitious? It starts out frankly declaring we’re “Lost”, and moves to its endpoint by way of a “Flood Of Ashes” and finds time to utter about “Human Nature” too, all in the space of less than 20 mins. It’s also highly odd and musically adventurous, with its drumming and vocal interjections in among the string music, even if it sometimes feels like an off-Broadway dance show with a message delivered in chanted slogans. We gotta salute Finck for bravely trying to address the crises facing the world. I really enjoy the wild mood swings on this piece, including certain moments where the drivers seem to have forgotten how to drive the bus completely. Beside tunes about memory, we also need more modern compositions which attempt to recast the chaotic state of the modern world into a repeatable, playable format, and derive aesthetic value from it.

Also here: ‘Broken Loom’ by Paul Wiancko, which for me is a shade too “narrative” somehow (trying to make a musical picture of weaving threads), but I certainly like the complexity and tricky time-switches. It’s also very rich, by which I mean there’s a lot to listen to and a lot to digest. ‘Esencia’ in three parts is by Tania Leon and it draws influence from music of Latin America and Caribbean; another intricate and complex one; strong on cross currents and clashing rhythms, but I felt it could be a bit more exciting even so. I’ll finish up by repeating the ensemble’s vision for their music: “We share a belief that chamber music is of vital importance to the world at large. It teaches us cooperation, teamwork, how to lead and how to support.” Nobody could take issue with any of that, and we wish the Bergamots every success with their enterprise. From 6th June 2022.

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