String Quartet No. 5(2011)
|I. Prelude: Terra Incognita
II. Scherzo: Upheaval
III. Variations on Les Pèlerins
|Commissioned by the Houston Friends of Chamber Music, Inc. and the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University
|April 28, 2011; Houston Friends of Chamber Music series; Stude Concert Hall at Rice University, Houston, TX; Emerson String Quartet
My 5th string quartet was written for the Emerson String Quartet and commissioned by Chamber Music Houston (on the occasion of their 50th anniversary) and the Barlow Endowment. The original inspiration of my piece was about a journey: that of French-speaking peoples emigrating from Europe to North America (Quebec and other parts of Canada) and ultimately to the U.S. , but one might also just as well apply it to any migratory journey full of unexpected turns, trials and tribulations. The piece is not programmatic, but more reflective of states of mind, states of being.
I first encountered the Emerson String Quartet as a young student when I saw a film featuring them performing the last movement of the Ravel string quartet. The playing was off the charts with energy and I was totally enraptured and inspired by the experience. Many years later (2007), I was honored to be the recipient of the Stoeger award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and this led to a new Cello Sonata for David Finckel (cellist of the Emerson Quartet at that time) and pianist Wu Han which they premiered at the Aspen Music Festival in 2008 and subsequently recorded. So when the Chamber Music Houston 50th anniversary commission came along, we all immediately thought of the Emerson Quartet since they have been a regular fixture on their concert programs over the years.
My string quartet is in four contrasting movements. The first movement, Terra Incognita (Latin for an unexplored or strange land) serves as a lyrical prelude to the work. This leads directly into the scherzo, which contains more gritty, insistent music (the title Upheaval refers to the Acadian expulsion from parts of Canada in the mid-18th century). The third movement is a set of 5 variations on a French-Canadian folk song entitled Les Pèlerins. In the folk song, the words speak of a pilgrimage to a holy shrine (yet another journey). After some initial ethereal and muted sustained tones, the theme is presented simply, although interrupted from time to time by high, soft string harmonics. Each variation then becomes more and more motion oriented. The final movement, entitled Perpetuum, is a no-holds-barred, relentless progression to the end, full of contrapuntal riffs passed between the instruments and full of rhythmic vitality.
- Pierre Jalbert