Perhaps it’s due to what she’s referred to as her punk rock-inspired “kill-your-idols mentality,” but it seemingly never occurred to Bernstein to explore the setting most common to the violin, the string quartet. That changed when she presented an evening of her chamber music compositions at Brooklyn’s Firehouse Space, using a nine-piece ensemble that she divided into several configurations.
“One of the groupings was a string quartet,” she recalls, “and I was really struck by how my music came to life with that instrumentation. The sound just popped – it was so rich.”
Inspired by that experience, Bernstein returned to the string quartet format in 2018 when she called on Nagano, Falcon, and Jozwiak to form VEER Quartet, aptly named for the ability of the individual musicians and the collective ensemble to swerve from one style or concept to the next. What makes the group unique is their shared experience, spanning chamber music, jazz, free improv, and other genres. That gave Bernstein free rein in following her compositional imagination wherever it led.
“I wrote the music for the quartet with a range of approaches,” she describes. “Because I’m an improviser, my compositional imagination naturally includes improvisational sounds. Some of these pieces are almost like expressive and artistic games that the soloists play. And some of my pieces are very through-composed with just a small improvisational element.”
“Frames No. 1,” for instance, presents a series of brief sketches meant to spark solo and group improvisations, whereas “News Cycle / Progression” pairs two pieces – a harmonic progression with improvisational rules of engagement and a wholly through-composed section built on that progression. Inspiration can come from the visual arts (“Clay Myth,” which puns on the name of painter Paul Klee) or dreams (“Nightmorning”). “World Warrior” instructs the players to be as chaotic as possible, while “Hidden” submerges a solo melody under dense layers of group harmony.
Ultimately Sarah Bernstein offers an expansive, daring vision of what a modern string quartet can be, unbeholden to tradition or genre but fully aware of and engaged with both. VEER Quartet is a vibrant, challenging, and exploratory album that introduces a thrilling new ensemble to several scenes at once.
RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2022