For his first string quartet, Marshfield composer Evan Premo decided to focus on “vulnerability.”
“It was something I was interested in exploring as a concept personally,” he said recently by phone.
“Each movement is inspired by a different side of the concept of vulnerability,” Premo said. “And then, thinking about the idea of a string quartet, and what an incredible and crazy relationship that is. It’s kind of a marriage between people who commit to working together so much. Performance standards are so high for one thing, and they’re traveling so much together — and the vulnerability that is required for that sort of relationship.
“Turning it into music is a vulnerable act, maybe second only to singing,” Premo added.
Scrag Mountain Music will present the Aizuri Quartet in the world premiere of Premo’s quartet, “Deeply Known,” Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne; Friday, Nov. 9, at the Montpelier Unitarian Church; and Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Warren United Church, all at 7:30 p.m. A “Very Open Rehearsal” will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield.
Also on the program, “Aizuri Quartet: Deeply Known,” is Gabriella Smith’s rocking “Carrot Revolution” and a series of spirited Armenian folk songs arranged by Komitas Vartabed. Soprano Mary Bonhag, Scrag Mountain co-artistic director with Premo, her husband, will be featured in Arnold Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10.
“This is Schoenberg on the brink of atonality, but still very much rooted harmonically and extending from the music of Mahler and Strauss,” wrote Bonhag, who first learned the work for a performance at Tanglewood in 2017.
“It had been on my list of pieces to learn for years, so I was so happy to have the space and opportunity to tackle such a challenging and stretching piece of music working with the great soprano Dawn Upshaw (a longtime mentor of mine) and cellist Norman Fischer (who coincidentally I had worked with as a young string player in New Hampshire),” Bonhag said. “What I was most surprised by was how remarkably tonal it was, not in a ‘tuneful’ way, but in a way that my ear could connect my melodic line as it reached and dipped with the string parts.”
Premo’s String Quartet No. 1, “Deeply Known,” was commissioned by Robert Eddy and Kathy Wonson Eddy of Randolph through the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation. It was written specifically for the Aizuri Quartet, recently quartet-in-residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, who will perform the work again March 22, 2019, at the Five Boroughs Music Festival in New York.
Each of the four movements — slow-fast-slow-fast in tempo — is inspired by a different side of the concept of vulnerability. The first movement is largely in the violin range, so the viola and the cello are really up in their register.
“To me, there’s a vulnerability to that,” Premo said. “Technically it’s challenging, but there’s a kind of oneness in the sound.”
The second movement is more complex, using different scales.
“It’s a much more aggressive and angry movement,” Premo said.
That is countered in the healing nature of the third movement, based on the traditional hymn, “This Little Light of Mine.”
“The last movement is a dance, so that’s very rhythmic and quite joyous,” Premo said. “All the movements have motivic connections to one another.”