a year unfolding, sound by sound
Juri Seo
Argus Quartet
Joann Whang
Catalog Number: 
#1 022
new classical
string quartet

Lawrenceville, NJ

Release Date: 
May 24, 2019
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

Respiri (breathing) is Juri Seo’s second album with innova after Mostly Piano (#968, 2017).  Focusing on string writing (the Argus Quartet and cello solo) the works explore themes of life, death, memory, and change. Seo represents a rare breed of contemporary classical music that lives at the edge of old and new. Seo freely navigates through colorful sonorities of string instruments that merge in and out of kaleidoscopic harmonies. Her intricate melodies blend in dense counterpoint. Argus’ extraordinary versatility shines in every track. They effortlessly move between warm tones and noisy harmonics; they dissolve a tight canon into a hazy texture in a heart beat. Listeners will experience the full range of human emotions and feelings, from agony to bliss. 

The album begins with the titular track Respiri, an homage to the late British composer Jonathan Harvey, a practising Buddhist. Seo takes Harvey’s signature musical gesture – an evocation of breathing – and expands it to a long arch. The breaths simply stop at the end, symbolizing a peaceful death.

The second piece, Suite for Cello, performed with spirit by Joann Whang, deals with ideas of memory and identity. Despite the familiar Bach-like surface, there is a lingering sense of displacement — a result of its clashing tones and split harmonic center. Its five “dance” movements are at once familiar and foreign.

If Respiri ends with a peaceful death, String Quartet - Infinite Season commences an unending cycle of births and rebirths through a journey that traces the sounds of nature as they change throughout a yearly cycle. Each movement corresponds to one season’s transformation into the next. The first, Winter-Spring, captures the turbulent changes of weather at the end of winter. The main musical motive comes from a call of Black-Capped Chickadees—a simple two-note fee-bee. Spring-Summer is a series of canons with bird songs. A faint hum of cicadas appear at the end of the movement. Their buzzing chorus and death become the next movement, Summer-Fall. The finale, Fall-Winter, begins with melodic fragments demarcated by silence. At the end, the snow buntings’ chew-ki-tik ki-ki echoes in the depth of winter. String Quartet - Infinite Season tells the story of a year unfolding, sound by sound. The constant flux of the sounds of nature is a bright stillness, shining through the violence of external change. 

Juri Seo, a Guggenheim fellow and a Koussevitsky Commission recipient, is a composer and pianist based in New Jersey. She teaches music at Princeton University. 

The Argus Quartet is a first prize winner at the Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition, as well as the 2017 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition, and has served as the Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Juilliard School and the Fellowship Quartet in Residence at the Yale School of Music.



"It is without refrain that I can say that Seo has mastered fluidity, the easiness of transition between poles that would seem irreconcilable. If you’d ask me where the border between all those things was, I’d say it’s everywhere, at all times, and it’s not made for division, but for connection." [FULL ARTICLE]


"The fifty-four-minute Respiri presents a flattering portrait, even if the three pieces provide more a primer than comprehensive account. That said, the recording is certainly rewarding enough to leave one eager to hear more of Seo's work. [FULL ARTICLE]


"Altogether the suite is so richly imagined that it’s easy to come up with one’s own imagery for each section. However our climate may change, we presume seasons will still be with us, even if not exactly the ones we’re used to. And they will continue to inspire exceptional art, as they’ve done for Seo. I should mention that String Quartet – Infinite Season is also easy to enjoy and appreciate without knowing its thematic foundation. I’m glad the album arrived and introduced me to the superb music of Juri Seo." [FULL ARTICLE


"By building on strong premises and each seeking out a richer formal and dramatic design than the last, the pieces point to promising future directions; Seo’s listeners will find in Respiri an encouraging step forward on an open-ended path." [FULL ARTICLE] - Andrew Stock


"Through the affecting and evocative music, Seo explores universal notions of life, death, memory, and change” [FULL ARTICLE]