From the very first notes of their October 26th performance at Rackham Auditorium, it was clear that the Aizuri Quartet’s communication as an ensemble is excellent. It was fascinating and amazing to me to watch the string quartet’s body language, eye contact, and gestures throughout the performance, and to observe how they were perpetually in sync with one another on a level deeper than just the notes and rhythms. As an audience member, the connection between the members of the Quartet was tangible, and it brought additional joy and life to their performance.
What also resonated with me was the intention with which the Aizuri Quartet performed their music. After the first piece, violinist Miho Saegusa spoke briefly about the evening’s program, which was entitled “Locally Sourced.” The first half of the program, she explained, consisted of compositions inspired by the places near and dear to their composers. These pieces were Komitas Vartabed’s Armenian Folk Songs and Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 17, Sz. 67, and the locations of inspiration were Armenia and Hungary, respectively. The second half of the program was, as Ms. Saegusa put it, an exploration of the “rich musical landscape of pieces being written in America today.” It included Blueprint by Caroline Shaw and LIFT by Paul Wiancko, both of which were written specifically for the Aizuri Quartet and which are featured on their new album Blueprinting. The quartet’s reasoning behind their choice of music, and the meanings behind the chosen pieces, challenged me and reminded me that music is, at its most essential, a means of communication.
The pieces in themselves were certainly a tour in musical contrast. Armenian Folk Songs, my personal favorite of the concert, was at once ethereal, jubilant, and full of life, while the Bartók String Quartet was more longing, dissonant, and insistent. Blueprint’s name comes as a play on words of the quartet’s namesake style of Japanese woodblock printing, aizuri-e, and of the piece’s genesis as a harmonic reduction (a “floor plan”) of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 6. The beginning instructions of the piece, which were printed in the program, reflect the composition’s humorous, witty nature: “like a marble bust / stoic & grand & still/ but with a little wink or some / side-eye. The final piece, LIFT, was a rich, dramatic, and engaging adventure of its own, oscillating between jazz, folk and bluegrass inspirations.
The Aizuri Quartet’s performance was, for me, a lively experience of what twenty-first century chamber music can be. It was a pleasure to join them as they, in Ms. Saegusa’s words, “[explored] the joy in music-making.”