Lucid Culture


The Aizuri Quartet Explore Ilari Kaila’s Strikingly Memorable Tunesmithing

Ilari Kaila draws deeply on many diverse styles, from postminimalism to the Romantic and even the most elegant side of 70s art-rock: it’s impossible to pigeonhole his music. The most striking feature of the Aizuri Quartet’s all-Kaila album with pianist Adrienne Kim, The Bells Bow Down – streaming at Spotify – is what a great tunesmith he is. He’s the rare composer who has absolutely no fear of being anthemic. He likes to build on hypnotically circling, clustering riffs. Bell-like figures are also a recurrent trope on this record, balanced by both airy and kinetic phrasing from the strings.

The album begins with the title track, a requiem for pianist Hanna Sarvala. There’s a striking, plaintive horn-like riff echoed ethereally in the high strings; Kim enters emphatically with an incisive, chiming melody, the quartet wafting and diverging behind her. An insistent upward drive follows, up to a rippling neoromantic Kim cadenza. Again, the strings recede: Sarvala must have been a forceful presence, echoed in Kim’s resonant waves. Kaila brings it full circle with a sad pavane fthat builds to an anxious eighth-note melody against Kim’s assertive chords.

Flutist Isabel Gleicher joins Aizuri violist Ayane Kozasa and the pianist for the dancing, hypnotically circling, jaunty Cameo. Again, bell-like piano figures come to the forefront, the flute adding a bittersweet harmonic element.

Kim and the Aizuris’ cellist Karen Ouzounian contrast resonance and ripples as they gather steam in the duo piece Hum and Drum, then the cello breaks free and flutters along with the piano’s brisk, precise belltone figures and contrasting, stern lefthand. A puckish bit of pizzicato and Debussy allusions liven the mood.

A warily rustling riff hits a big, austerely blues-tinged peak. fades and then rises through a terse interweave in Wisteria, the first of the string quartet pieces. Taonta, a five-part suite for solo piano, has an introduction that Kaila calls a sarabande, shifting from a coy scamper to an unexpected somberness. Hypnotic waves of belltones permeate the second part, Rosary. Xianwei: Tail-Biting Fish is an evocative portrait of floating and sudden dives. The chiming title segment is a bracing, artfully spacious blend of the trancelike and the acerbic. Kaila brings a return to spaciousness versus animation in the final segment, The Caudal Fin: it’s the tail end, get it?

Jouhet, a second string quartet piece, takes its name from an ancient Finnish lyre and was written to commemorate the centennial of that country’s republic. Kaila weaves a series of stark folk themes together, the biting textures of the viola and cello ceding to the clustering violins of Ariana Kim and Miho Saegusa. A subtly stairstepping passage that brings to mind early ELO backs away for a bit of a stately canon, whirling accents and then a darkly spinning dance. This is fascinatingly colorful music, and the quartet and their accomplices attack it with relish.

February 9, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exhilirating, Revelatory Carnegie Hall Debut by the Aizuri Quartet

In their Carnegie Hall debut last night, the Aizuri Quartet played an exhilarating, “wonderfully quirky” program, as violinist Miho Saegusa grinningly characterized a lively, animatedly conversational performance of Haydn’s String Quartet in B minor, Op. 64, no. 2. And that wasn’t the highlight of the night. The suite of Komitas’ Armenian folk songs, via a colorful Sergei Aslamazian arrangement, were often gorgeously poignant. And Paul Wiancko‘s 2016 triptych Lift, an “ode to joy,” as violist Ayane Kozasa put it, was a thrilling, ceaslessly bustling, distinctly urban choice of coda. Wiancko is a cellist by trade: his work for strings takes maximum advantage of all those instruments can offer.

The theme of the night was “locally sourced” music inspired by the composers’ home turf that also resonated with the group members. Cellist Karen Ouzounian explained that the night’s five dances collected by Komitas – a Near Eastern musical polymath and proto Alan Lomax– were “a musical link for a lot of families in the diaspora to a distant home…a tiny window into Armenia.” Growing up in Toronto, she’d developed a passion for the repertoire, something the group clearly share.

The wistfully waltzing song without words they opened with set the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the night, lit up with Saegusa’s sparkling pizzicato. They’d revisit that plaintiveness with the third piece, a distantly Viennese-tinged waltz, Kozasa adding aching intensity with a solo toward the end. In between, a kinetic, celebratory number featured forceful call-and-response and a nimble pizzicato bassline from Ouzounian. The acerbic fourth tune, with its uneasy, Iranian-tinged modalities and stormy gusts, morphed into a jauntier waltz that set the stage for a bounciy vamping conclusion.

In the Haydn, violinist Emma Frucht got to indulge in some unusual single-string voicings that the composer had written for a string-playing buddy. The group reveled in the occasional puckish, peek-a-boo moment and coy instants of anticipation: they’d really taken the quartet apart to find all the best jokes. Dynamics were very hushed in the quietest passages, so that when the group really dug into the Romany-inspired minor-key phrases that Haydn would inevitably smooth out, the effect was all the more striking. Deft handoffs of neatly interwoven counterpoint between the instruments became more animated as the music grew more straightforwardly triumphant, to a playful coda.

Wiancko’s triptych had a cinematic restlessness, a hive of activity built around several intriguing thematic variations. The ensemble kicked it off memorably with a shiver of harmonics, quickly hitting a bustle that brought to mind Charles Mingus’ mid-50s work. Seemingly tongue-in-cheek rounds of pizzicato gave way to circular, Philip Glass-ine phrasing and some of the night’s most unselfconsciously lustrous harmonies between the violins. As the piece went on, lively swoops and dives along with a long series of short, colorful solo spots for each of the instruments mingled with hazy atmospherics, Debussy-esque echoes of ragtime and a return to a frenetic cityscape to tie up any possible loose end. What appeared to be a sold-out crowd exploded with a series of standing ovations.

The Aizuri Quartet’s next New York gig is Dec 15 at 11 AM at Subculture, playing a program TBA; cover is $20, which includes coffee and breakfast snacks. Concert Artists Guild, who sponsored this show, also have a characteristically innovative series of performances from future stars of the serious instrumental music world. Their next one is Feb 11, 2020 at 7:30 PM back at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, with pianist Yi-Nuo Wang playing works by Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Brahms, Chen-yi Lee and Liszt; tix are $30.

December 5, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Aizuri Quartet Launch a New Season at a Favorite Upper West Side Classical Institution

It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the Aizuri Quartet‘s eclectically entertaining, dynamic performance earlier this month at the popular Music Mondays series of free concerts on the Upper West Side.

The ensemble – violinists Emma Frucht and Miho Saegusa, violist Ayane Kozasa and cellist Karen Ouzounian – began with an arrangement of a Hildegard Von Bingen diptych, its somber, stately, plainchant shifting artfully between the high strings and the cello, following a lengthy, aptly otherworldly introduction. The group’s take on Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, op. 77, no. 2 spotlighted those individual, intertwining voices in as high definition as anyone could have wanted, illuminating its innumerable (some might say interminable) moments of playful repartee.

Then they played Caroline Shaw‘s deviously Beethoven-influenced Blueprint, its tightly interwoven cellular motives eventually reaching a burst of quiet jubilation, in contrast with its airy, spacious accents. There was also an augmented Brahms work on the bill, after the intermission, but sometimes sticking around for an entire evening of music ia a luxury. The Aizuri Quartet’s next New York concert is. December 4 at 7:30 PM at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, with works by Komitas, Haydn and Paul Wiancko.; tix are $30 The Music Mondays series at Advent Church at the northeast corner of 93rd St. and Broadway continues on Nov 18 at 7:30 PM with the Brass Project playing works by Bach, Reena Ismail, Gabriella Smith and a New York premiere by Kinan Abou-Afach

October 17, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment