Aizuri Quartet and Adrienne Kim:
THE BELLS BOW DOWN — Chamber Music of Ilari Kaila
1 The Bells Bow Down (2006) 9:25
In Memoriam Hanna Sarvala
Adrienne Kim, piano; Aizuri Quartet: Ariana Kim and Miho Saegusa,
violins; Ayane Kozasa, viola; Karen Ouzounian, cello
2 Cameo (2015) 8:11
Isabelle Lepanto Gleicher, flute; Ayane Kozasa, viola; Adrienne Kim, piano
3 Hum and Drum (2017) 11:46
Karen Ouzounian, cello; Adrienne Kim, piano
4 Wisteria (2003) 6:21
Aizuri Quartet: Miho Saegusa and Ariana Kim, violins; Ayane Kozasa,
viola; Karen Ouzounian, cello
5 I. Sarabande 3:14
6 II. Rosary 2:25
7 III. Xianwei: Tail-Biting Fish 2:32
8 IV. Taonta 3:40
9 V. The Caudal Fin 3:34
Adrienne Kim, piano
10 Jouhet (2017) 9:37
Aizuri Quartet: Ariana Kim and Miho Saegusa, violins; Ayane Kozasa,
viola; Karen Ouzounian, cello
In an interview with the Hong Kong website Interlude, Ilari Kaila said “I hope to never write music that doesn’t feel personal.” The Finnish-born composer was talking, on that occasion, specifically about The Bells Bow Down (Kellojen kumarrus), a single-movement work for piano quintet composed in memory of his friend, pianist Hanna Sarvala, in 2006. But as each of the works here shows, Kaila’s vision is intensely personal, as is his musical language and style. Much of his work is shaped by extra-musical stimulus: his grief for a lost friend; visual and aural images celebrating the natural world; a love of the (sometimes multilingual) punning title. He has a strong awareness of music from outside the Western classical canon; he creates striking harmonic effects from within the diatonic system, and he has a keen ear for subtle gradations of sound, especially those made possible by the string family.
The opening passage of The Bells Bow Down, for instance, is for strings (Hanna Sarvala’s instrument, the piano, is pointedly absent at first), playing with little vibrato, thus reminiscent of the sound of viols. When the piano enters, it is with figurations that evoke bells in a spacious environment: a slow-moving theme in widely-spaced octaves frames pealing two-part chords; a mainly homophonic string texture becomes more expressive, as a cello melody gradually unfolds, moving upwards through the ensemble. The texture becomes increasingly urgent: spiky interlocking motifs generate tension only partly relieved by an appassionato cadenza for piano, which is itself interrupted by forceful surging music that collapses as if in a paroxysm of grief. Then, as Emily Dickinson famously noted, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”. The music, marked Calmo, grave is suddenly spare and simple. After a brief reprise of the spiky motifs and tolling bell sounds, the piano has the final word.
Cameo, from 2015, is a much more abstract piece whose title has several possible connotations: a rounded jewel featuring a portrait in profile, a short descriptive sketch, or—as in the case of the flute in the context of this program—a brief appearance by a single character. In ternary form, Cameo begins with a terse flute motif slightly lengthened on each repetition, usually avoiding the downbeat. It is soon joined by the piano, whose motifs are likewise short and stress off-beat notes, and viola with a new ostinato based on open fifths. As the intricate web (secco e preciso) created by these ostinatos is woven, the viola adumbrates more lyrical material in a couple of motifs. This technique is partly informed by Kaila’s interest in the Carnatic music of southern India, where the individual raga or scale produces a restricted pattern of pitches that gives certain notes structural importance, and where the tala or rhythmic cycle accounts for recurring metrical motifs. Kaila’s other acknowledged influence in this piece is 1970s British prog rock, which produced bands like Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and Cardiacs. Such bands were notable for exploring more complex rhythms than most of their contemporaries, and we might hear echoes of that in the delicate three-voice canon, over a widely-spaced harmony, that marks the new section of this piece. This material, diatonic in sound though based on a symmetrical scape of whole-tone tetrachords, in turn winds down to an isolated flute motif and a dramatic irruption of piano figurations and aggressive glissando figures from the viola. The central section—the profile portrait, perhaps?—begins with a series of common triads, often not closely related, on the piano over a gently pulsing pedal note of middle C. Through this technique of accretion—faster subdivisions, increasing dynamics and emphatic accents—Kaila gradually introduces considerable force and then, in a passage suddenly marked delicatissimo, offers a brief reminiscence of the opening material.
Hum and Drum, for cello and piano, is defiantly not humdrum, being a kind of extended rondo full of dramatically contrasting episodes. As the title suggests, the music in this 2017 work pits rhythmically driven, percussive material against freer lyricism.
Liquid ostinatos outline harmonies dominated by the interval of the fourth, and a gentle, stepwise melodic pattern. Kaila often interrupts regular ostinato passages with measures shorter than the prevailing meter to underpin significant moments, such as the entry of the cello here. Very high, the cello’s lyrical line is full of wide leaps and dying falls, and is characterized, as many of Kaila’s themes are, by the use of triplets over one, two, or four beats to create tension with the more regular pulse of the accompaniment. Cello pizzicatos signal more urgency as sextuplet figures begin to roil the texture, producing an emphatic passage in C major. After a bridging passage, a modified version of the opening material is stated, with the cello now playing in two-part counterpoint, at first in pizzicato and then bowed, in a minor-mode version of the opening theme. That theme is passed to the piano’s right hand over tremolos and rapid sinuous figures on the cello. Heavy on-the-beat double stops, low on the cello, appear against accented offbeat figures in the piano before another version of the opening material, now with scurrying tremolos.
Piano figuration becomes more ornate (triplets replaced by groups of four or five) and the pizzicato bridge now leads to overtly percussive music, with crisp triplet patterns plucked on the cello and sounded in the very depths of the piano. Much of this material is then reprised in modified and developed forms.
Dating from 2003, Wisteria, for string quartet, is an early work, though its sound and processes look forward to Kaila’s more recent music. The Lento opening, for instance, begins also with unaccompanied monody; the violin’s simple initial theme, which makes careful use of the resonance of open strings, is soon treated contrapuntally, ramifying like the climbing plant of the title. Once this texture is worked through, a new melody, characterized by an initial offbeat quarter note and a rapid decorative triplet, gives rise to more impassioned music and an inflected version of the opening.
The monody that opens the second movement (played attacca) is a wide-spanned theme for cello, its perfect fifths recalling the open strings of the first movement’s first theme. It too is treated contrapuntally, with the viola entering in imitation, but the second violin in long notes with the theme inverted. Kaila develops the material in increasingly ecstatic rhetoric, and there are two episodes: one that recalls the opening movement literally, and one where the thematic material emerges from and disappears into a hushed bed of trills.
The title of Kaila’s 2016 suite for piano Taonta shows the composer’s love of puns. “Taonta”, he explains, “is Finnish for ‘hammering’ or ‘forging’ and describes the percussive martellando music of the fourth, central movement.” But, he goes on, as a suite of character pieces “it can also be read as a pun on the ambiguous old Greek phrase ta onta, translated variously as ‘beings’, ‘objects’ or ‘truths’.”
The opening “Sarabande” begins with a cadenza-like flourish before establishing a more conventional dance rhythm—though not the simple 3/2 of the Baroque form—and a highly inflected diatonic homophony. Two of the movements play explicitly with the idea of beginnings and endings. In his biography of Beethoven, Anton Schindler uses two terms—“cobbler’s patches” and rosalia—to describe short motifs, repeated in ascending or descending sequence, that classical composers used as musical packing peanuts. Schindler thought rosalia referred to the beads of a rosary, each counted as one says the repeated cycle of prayers. He was wrong. There is something to the analogy, though, especially in Kaila’s “Rosary” (which began life as a standalone prelude) where the regular arpeggiated material (recalling, say, Bach’s C major Prelude from Book I of the “Forty-eight”) maintains a constant flow while advancing and receding in volume and harmonic tension. A similar notion of circularity also applies to “Xianwei”, named, as Kaila explains, “after a technique in classical Chinese music whereby each melodic phrase begins on the final note of the previous phrase; or, literally, each fish bites the tail of the next one.” This is expressed here through the use of ornate, seemingly improvised flourishes of melody over static, dense five-note chords; each phrase begins on the note of the previous one’s final, and each pair is punctuated by a gesture that builds resonance out of slow-moving lines which reflect each other like images on the surface of a pond.
It is a precious metal that is being forged in the fourth movement, “Taonta”: as its discrete three-note motifs are extended, the subtle displacement of accents becomes more sophisticated and the underlying harmony becomes more explicit, it is hard not to think of the forging and pealing of bells. The piece begins and ends in monody, here even more radically as pitch itself is removed from the equation in its final moments. “The Caudal Fin” puns on the musical “coda” (derived from the Latin for tail), the French “fin” and perhaps Kaila’s native nationality. It brings together the ornate monody of Cameo, in a haze of resonance from silently depressed keys held on the sostenuto pedal, with the Bachian style brisé arpeggiations of “Rosary”, and the increasing urgency of faster subdivisions over a clear harmonic framework.
Jouhet, for string quartet, was commissioned in 2017 by Finlandia Foundation National, USA, and the Aizuri Quartet, to mark the centenary of modern Finland, so naturally its folk traditions come into play. Kaila explains that “the piece gets its title from an ancient folk instrument, the jouhikko, a lyre with strings and bow of horsehairs (“jouhet” in Finnish), and from the dance of the hairs on modern bows as the string quartet charges through passages of rapid, galloping music.” The viola invites us into the world of this piece with series of two-voice motifs, anchored to the implied drone of the open G string but with a telescoping pattern of ever shorter measures. This releases an ostinato accompaniment from the violins, as the viola develops its modally inflected and increasingly ornamented melody; a second stanza has the violins and cello providing a soft, shimmering accompaniment in a different tempo from the viola’s song. The work offers stark contrasts between iterations of this, and of the “galloping” music that ensues, with passages of lyrical calm and swirling scalar textures.
© Gordon Kerry 2019
Praised by The Washington Post for “captivating” performances that draw from its notable “meld of intellect, technique and emotions,” the Aizuri Quartet was awarded the Grand Prize and the CAG Management Prize at the 2018 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition, along with top prizes at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan, and the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in London. Their debut album Blueprinting, featuring new works written for the quartet by five American composers, was released by New Amsterdam Records and nominated for a 2019 GRAMMY Award. Through its engaging and thought-provoking programs, branded by The New York Times as “genuinely exciting” and “imaginative”, the quartet has garnered critical acclaim for bringing “a technical bravado and emotional power” to bold new commissions, and for its “flawless” (San Diego Union-Tribune) performances of the great masterpieces of the past.
Based in New York City, the Aizuri Quartet was the 2017–2018 MetLiveArts String Quartet-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presenting five unique programs throughout the season. Previous residency engagements include the 2015–2016 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts; resident ensemble of the 2014 Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute; and, from 2014 to 2016, the String Quartet-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The quartet has performed extensively throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Japan, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, and Abu Dhabi, and has commissioned and premiered new works by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw, Lembit Beecher, Paul Wiancko, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Gabriella Smith, Rene Orth, Ilari Kaila, and Alyssa Weinberg.
The quartet consists of Ariana Kim and Miho Saegusa, violins; Ayane Kozasa, viola; and Karen Ouzounian, cello. Formed in 2012 and combining four distinctive musical personalities into a unique collective, the Aizuri Quartet draws its name from aizuri-e, a style of predominantly blue Japanese woodblock printing that is noted for its vibrancy and richness of detail.
Pianist Adrienne Kim has appeared as a soloist with the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico, the Portland Chamber Orchestra, and the Richmond Orchestra, and performed in New York’s Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center, Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Center, Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall, and Bargemusic, as well as Boston’s Symphony Hall and Washington D.C.’s Phillips Gallery.
She is the pianist of the Alcott Trio and a founding member of the creative performance collaborative, the New York Chamber Music Co-Op. Kim has been a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s two-year residency program for emerging young artists, Chamber Music Society Two, and performed with the New York Chamber Ensemble, Garden City Chamber Music Society, Lighthouse Chamber Players, Salt Bay Chamberfest, Carnegie Chamber Players, Bronx Arts Ensemble, the Sherman Chamber Ensemble, the Society for New Music, the Skaneateles Festival, Ravinia’s Rising Stars series in Chicago, and was the resident pianist of the Seal Bay Festival for American Chamber Music in Maine.
Kim has recorded the violin and piano sonatas of Charles Ives with Lisa Tipton
on Capstone Records, the sonatas of Granados, Turina, and Rodrigo with
violinist Jorge Avila, and the sonatas of Niels Gade with violinist Katie
Wolfe, both on the Centaur label, and the works of Daniel S. Godfrey with the
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on the Koch label. Between 2002–2012, Kim and Tipton
also presented the “Made in America” series at Carnegie Hall.
Based in New York City, Kim is on the faculty of Mannes College of Music, The New School. During the summers, she serves on the faculty of the Kinhaven Music School in Vermont.
Flutist Isabel Gleicher is a soloist, chamber musician, and educator. Enjoying an international career, Gleicher has performed throughout Europe, China, Japan, Canada, and the United States. The New York Times has called her “excellent” and John Zorn writes, “Isabel’s display of virtuosity and her beautiful attitude and stunning musicality inspired me.” She is a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the new music sinfonietta Ensemble Echappé and the Annapolis Chamber Music Festival, and performs regularly with groups such as Talea Ensemble, Argento New Music Project, Contemporaneous, Friends of MATA Ensemble, and Ensemble X at Cornell University.
Ilari Kaila (b. 1978) is a Finnish-American composer who has written chamber, orchestral, vocal, and stage music. He received his PhD in Music Composition in 2011 from Stony Brook University, New York, having previously studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Between 2011 and 2014, he taught at Columbia University and as a teaching artist with the New York Philharmonic, before moving to Hong Kong where he currently works as Composer-in-Residence on the faculty of the School of Humanities at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Kaila’s music has been described as “haunting”, “intriguing”, “engaging ... soulful” (The New York Times), “powerfully resonating” (Helsingin Sanomat), and “melodically euphoric” (Rondo Classic). Most recently, he has been presented in a MATA composer portrait concert in New York City with the Aizuri Quartet; as the Composer-in-Residence of the 2015 Chelsea Music Festival in New York and Taipei; and as a Composer Fellow at the Intimacy of Creativity 2014 festival in Hong Kong. His works have been performed at the 2014 Metropolis Festival in Australia by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Olli Mustonen; the 2014 Banff Centre Summer Arts Festival in Canada; the 2014 Music at the Anthology (MATA) Festival in New York City; the New York International Fringe Festival 2014; and on the Avanti Chamber Orchestra’s tour of Japan. Other artists and ensembles Kaila has worked with include the Escher String Quartet, Tanglewood New Fromm Players, Kamus Quartet, Uusinta Ensemble, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, Albany Symphony Orchestra, Kuopio Symphony Orchestra, Joensuu Symphony Orchestra, Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra, and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’s chamber ensembles. He is currently working on a children’s opera with Tuomas Kaila.
Recorded and mastered by Silas Brown / Legacy Sound.
Produced by Silas Brown and Ilari Kaila.
Recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, December 18–21, 2018.
Innova Director: Philip Blackburn
Operations Director: Chris Campbell
Publicist: Tim Igel
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Cover art: Cypress in a Landscape (2002) by Inari Krohn.
Graphic design: Jennifer Boyd
Finnish painter, print artist, and illustrator Inari Krohn’s signature technique combines copper etching with Japanese watercolor woodblock printing. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki, and has been deeply influenced by her lifelong study of traditional Japanese art.
Our warm thanks to Inari Krohn, Todd Tarantino, Music at the Anthology (MATA), and Columbia University’s Department of Music. innova® is the label of the American Composers Forum. © Ilari Kaila, 2020. All rights reserved.