Blueprinting Aizuri Quartet
Blueprinting is the Grammy-nominated debut album from the Aizuri Quartet, featuring works by five of today's most exciting American composers -- Lembit Beecher, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Caroline Shaw, Gabriella Smith, and Paul Wiancko -- who all possess a special understanding of the expressive range and power the Aizuri Quartet is capable of harnessing. The result is a collection of viscerally powerful pieces that glow with ingenuity and push the string quartet in inventive and unexpected ways.
The album has received critical acclaim, lauded by NPR Music for keeping the “250-year-old string quartet formula…vibrant and vital” and the Boston Globe for providing five pieces that are each “a hit.” Memory Select writes: “They exhibit the elegance and precision you’d want from a group calling itself a String Quartet, but they feel like a rock band,” redefining the genre and producing a “performance [that] is, in a word, stunning” (I Care If You Listen).
Aizuri Quartet was founded in 2012 and draws its name from “aizuri-e,” a style of predominantly blue Japanese woodblock printing that is noted for its vibrancy and incredible detail. The group has equal devotion to performing works from the past and present, forming a dialogue between classic and contemporary music and bringing the same respect to new pieces as those by Beethoven or Schumann, and as such has been awarded Grand Prize at the 2018 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition, First Prize at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan, and Third Prize at the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in London.
As the album title suggests, Blueprinting implies building a project that takes time and requires significant planning. The works featured on the album were all born out of a close collaboration between the quartet and the composers, and Aizuri Quartet committed to exploring the full spectrum of the story behind each piece, adding layers of richness through their discovery during long rehearsals, workshops, performances, and tours. These pieces have become a central and personal part of Aizuri Quartet's repertoire, and embody the inquisitive spirit and infectious energy of the quartet.
Blueprinting opens with Gabriella Smith's Carrot Revolution, written as a response to the Barnes Foundation's exhibit The Order of Things in which paintings from Dr. Albert C. Barnes' collection were displayed with other, mostly unexpected, objects. As such, Smith celebrates new ways of looking at old things, such as the string quartet and her musical influences (including Bach, Gregorian chant, Georgian folk songs, and Celtic fiddle tunes) by juxtaposing drastically different techniques and sounds. Caroline Shaw's Blueprint follows, which Shaw describes as a harmonic reduction of Beethoven's string quartet Op. 18 No. 6 and serves as a conversation without words between the Aizuri Quartet, Beethoven and Haydn.
Yevgeniy Sharlat's two-part RIPEFG, written in honor of his dear friend, the late composer Ethan Frederick Greene, adds color and texture with the addition of a melodica, an instrument Greene would also bring to lessons. A two-movement suite from Lembit Beecher's chamber opera Sophia's Forest follows, which depicts the inner world of the opera's narrator -- a 9-year old girl named Sophia who arrives in the US with only her mother after her father disappeared in a civil war -- through a sound world made by the quartet and nine custom-built, electronically-controlled sound sculptures that generate sound acoustically from bike wheels and wine glasses. The album concludes with Paul Wiancko's three-part piece LIFT, which he describes as "an investigation of elation in musical form" as he "joyously explores the capacity for harmony, color, and rhythm itself to evoke and inspire" -- an appropriate finale to an album built on exploration, expression, and wonder.
Aizuri Quartet is: Ariana Kim and Miho Saegusa (violins); Ayane Kozasa (viola); and Karen Ouzounian (cello).
The pieces on Blueprinting were made possible by support from the Curtis Institute of Music, Curtis on Tour, the Barnes Foundation, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, and the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.
Blueprinting was recorded, produced, edited, mixed and mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon, NY. Nathan Debrine was the assistant engineer, with additional editing by Charles Mueller. Melodica by Ayane Kozasa (tracks 3 and 4) and sound sculptures by Lembit Beecher (tracks 5 and 6).