This album marks the culmination of our decade-long journey with Aaron Jay Kernis’s music for string quartet. From the moment we put bow to string for Aaron’s Second Quartet, we realized his special voice and our connection to his music’s ability to capture both the complexity of the world and the simplicity of a moment. This depth fascinated us, inspired our playing and prompted us to dream of commissioning Aaron’s Third Quartet.
Six years later, after performing and recording his first two Quartets and organizing the commission, we received the first movement of his Third Quartet “River”. As the movements accumulated in our inbox, so did our sense of excitement and dread. It was clear that this piece surpassed its two preceding quartets in complexity and difficulty. The route forward was clear enough, but still daunting. Practice, rehearse, repeat. Through the spring and into the summer the piece started to take shape. Coalescing first a little at a time – glimmers of cleverness, brilliance, atmosphere amid the musical and technical challenges. As those moments grew to sections and then movements that began to make sense, we started to build them into the larger arc.
The quartet is subtitled “River”, an analogy for the constancy of change in our lives. The music too is constantly evolving, from moment to moment never predictable, never repeating itself. The flow of ideas isn’t one but four-dimensional, swirling constantly backward and forward in time and space. Yet there is a calculation of purpose, a consideration of form and care to structure that keeps the music grounded and allows a story to build out of the organic chaos.
The parallels between this music and Debussy’s iconic quartet are both coincidental and foreseeable. Programmed together before we knew anything of what Kernis’s quartet would be, the Debussy was nevertheless a perfect fit. Perhaps any quartet so carefully crafted and so imaginative would have illuminated parallels with Aaron’s new piece, yet it seems the two works share a specific ethos in their style and execution - both sharply bold and thoughtfully humble.
‘My 3rd string quartet (“River”) is a significant departure from my earlier two quartets, which looked to the distant past for form and inspiration. Instead, this new work dispenses with classical structure and influences almost completely, touching continually on processes of change and flux.
‘Far more at issue here are literary influences which helped shape and color the emotional tone of its five movements and prompted countless reflections on compositional process at this time in my life.
‘This new quartet looks at change, flow and flux of musical materials and information rather than the constancy of harmony, rhythmic and formal structures that my earlier quartets embrace.
‘String Quartet #3 (“River”) is dedicated in loving memory of singer and Astral Foundation artistic director Julian Rodescu, who touched countless lives with his artistry, generosity and friendship, and who laid the cornerstone for this collaboration with the Jasper Quartet. It was written for and is dedicated to the members of the Jasper Quartet who give its first recording here, and was generously commissioned by Caramoor, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Classic Chamber Concerts (Naples, FL), Chamber Music Monterey Bay (CA), Chamber Music Northwest (OR) and Chamber Music America’s Classical Commissioning program funded by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.’
– Aaron Jay Kernis