Also featured is The Engine Room, a new work by Thomas Beckman, which was written for and premiered as part of our signature Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings earlier this year. That work was also broadcast along with nine other new quartets on the CBC’s North By Northwest.
Tango, by Thomas Beckman
It is ten years ago almost to the day that I first heard the music of Imant Raminsh. I had recently moved back to Vancouver after twenty years away in New York, and I went to one of the terrific concerts for MusicFest Vancouver. The date was August 10, 2008, and at that performance the Borealis String Quartet performed Imant Raminsh’s second string quartet, which was absolutely mesmerizing.
There is a luminous and inspirational quality to Imant’s music. It is profound — there is no other word to describe it. His music touches something lasting and deep and real inside us. This is as true of his choral work as the three string quartets we will hear tonight.
Best known for his choral composition, Imant Raminsh (pictured left) studied with the great Elmer Iseler and went on to win the prize for Outstanding Choral Work at the Canadian National Choral Awards not once, but twice. What many don’t realize, though, is that Imant began his musical life first as a violinist.
I, too, was a violinist, and to play the violin is inevitably to find oneself simultaneously aspiring to and trembling before the altar of the great quartets. It is, after all, one of the great archetypes — some would argue, the great archetype — of the Classical tradition. Haydn’s perfection of the quartet, in other words, was consanguineous with his creation of the Classical Style. (Nod to Charles Rosen).
Ian Pilich writes: “Given just four parts to play with, a composer has enough lines to fashion a full argument, but none to spare for padding. Where the composer of symphonies commands the means for textural enrichment beyond the call of his harmonic discourse, and where the concerto medium offers the further resource of personal characterization and drama in the individual-pitted-against-the-mass vein, the writer of string quartets must perforce concentrate on the bare bones of musical logic.”
“Thus, in many ways the string quartet is pre-eminently the dialectical form of instrumental music, the one most naturally suited to the activity of logical disputation and philosophical enquiry.”
It’s also worth noting that composers writing for string quartet are in fact composing music for sixteen vibrating strings of varying lengths based on scientific principles first codified by Pythagoras in the 6th Century BC, more than 2200 years ago. And the quartet also encompasses the vocal roots of polyphony, with its four voices ranged from treble to bass.
It’s amazing to think, then, that music for string quartet connects us back to the very foundations of our understanding of what music, and what harmony itself, is. All of this history and complexity, expressed with sublime beauty, is encompassed in the works you will hear this evening. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed hearing Imant’s second quartet that very first time ten years ago.