An Introduction to the String Quartets of Ben Johnston

Ben Johnston’s (b. 1926, Macon, Georgia) enigmatic string quartet cycle constitutes a milestone in 20th Century chamber music.(1) But the works are rarely performed. While the compositions’ thorny rhythms are likely a deterrent for many performers, what ultimately keeps this music out of the repertoire is Johnston’s bold exploration of pitch and harmony. All but the first of Johnston’s 10…

Chamber Music: It’s Your Move

Playing chamber music is one of life's great pleasures. The literature is wonderful, of course. But there also is the joy that comes with shared experience. At its best, chamber music requires developing profoundly human musical relationships that are intuitive and creative, intimate and vulnerable. Yet, many students find it difficult to access these deeper levels of communication. Some, having never felt such intensely personal…

I’m partial to the 13th

A recent post in my husband’s blog (Steven Cornelius) describes his disciplined approach to ear training. At one point he mentions the overtone series. I can relate. This is currently at the center of my musical existence as my quartet continues to record Composer Ben Johnston‘s string quartet cycle. It also happens to be at the root of our Western…

To Boldly Go…

This blog has been dormant for so long, I almost forgot it existed. Now seemed an excellent time to weigh in, as I have been thinking a lot about Ben Johnston and his explorations in extended just tuning, having recently written about him for the American String Teachers’ Association publication. Also, Kepler is deep into SQ No. 6. With yesterday’s…

The Shape of Things…

Last Friday I visited the Racine Art Museum, where they had a show of works by Barbara Sorensen and Karen Gunderson. Walking through Sorensen’s ‘speleothems‘ installation was a dizzying, surreal experience. Pacing around and between these stalagmite and stalactite shaped forms, each step revealing new and unexpected perspectives, was like entering a cave on another planet in a distant universe.…

Going to the Source

On January 14, Gramercy Trio will premiere a new trio by Gunther Schuller*. It is a fantastic piece, and we are keenly aware of our good fortune, although in commissioning Gunther we knew we would get a winner. We were thrilled when Gunther came to a rehearsal. He put us through the wringer for 4 hours. It is fascinating for…