About the Album
Leoš Janáček’s Second String Quartet, Intimate Letters, inspires four complementary new works by Billy Childs, Bruce Broughton, Peter Knell and Kurt Rohde in an inventive new recording by the “radiant” (Los Angeles Times) Los Angeles-based ensemble. On September 30, ARS will release The Lyris Quartet’s Intimate Letters, an inspired new project anchored by the Second String Quartet of Leoš Janáček, “Intimate Letters”. Janáček’s Intimate Letters holds a special place in the repertoire of the Los Angeles-based Lyris Quartet; having been the first work that the group performed publicly and one they return to most often. So it is fitting that the piece serve as catalyst for the ensemble’s first recording. Often referred to as the composer’s “manifesto on love”, Intimate Letters was inspired by Janáček’s near obsessive devotion to his longtime muse Kamila Stösslová (a married woman 38 years his junior) to whom he wrote more than 700 love letters over 11 years.
The Lyris Quartet – Alyssa Park (violin), Shalini Vijayan (violin), Luke Maurer (Viola) and Timothy Loo (cello) – are known as faithful champions of new music and are the resident ensemble of the celebrated new-music series Jacaranda in Santa Monica. The Quartet chose to present Janáček’s storied quartet together with four new works inspired by the piece and commissioned for the Lyris by distinguished Los Angeles composers Bruce Broughton, Billy Childs, Peter Knell, and Kurt Rohde.
To ensure the recording breathes original life into Janáček’s masterpiece the Lyris brought this cross-genre and and multi-media roster of composers - together, asking each to write a work in response to the original Intimate Letters. The result is a dazzling homage to Janáček’s most ardent quartet.
Reflects violinist Alyssa Park: “It is the desire of the Lyris Quartet to present works from the standard repertoire that have great meaning to us while also participating in the creation of new music for string quartet. The idea of asking four composers to create works that would be inspired by either Janáček's string quartet or the actual book of compiled letters resulted in the birth of Intimate Letters as a concept album that perfectly encapsulates that mission." The new works on Intimate Letters make up a rich collection of string quartets, each with vastly varying voices. Yet fittingly, the heated emotional through line of each one seems to tie back to the feeling of Janáček’s own unrequited love for Stösslová.
“…I’ve begun to write something nice. Our life will be in it…I think that it will sound delightful. There have been so many of those dear adventures of ours, haven’t there? They’ll be little fires in my soul and they’ll set it ablaze with the most beautiful melodies.” Leoš Janáček
One of the foremost American composers and pianists of his era and equally celebrated across the jazz, classical and pop music worlds, four time Grammy award-winner Billy Childs brings to the album, “Unrequited”. He reflects: “When the Lyris Quartet approached me to compose a piece for this project, I thought that it was a remarkable idea—to compose a sort of commentary on the story of Janáček’s Intimate Letters. The first time I heard the quartet performed live, the emotion of the piece jumped out at me: the wild shifts of tempo, the beautiful and plaintive melodies, the stark dynamic contrasts. I sought to compose Unrequited so that it moves, like the five stages of grief, through a variety of emotions - from romantic, pure love, through paranoid, obsessive, neurotic possessiveness, arriving finally at despondent acceptance.”
Best known for his film scores, Emmy Award-winning and Oscar and Grammy-nominated Bruce Broughton’s piece Fancies is essentially a rhapsody or fantasia built upon the opening figures of Janáček’s quartet,” Broughton says, “the most obvious being a motor rhythm that reappears throughout the piece. Motivic fragments are gathered and tossed about. A theme eventually appears, but even that becomes fragmented throughout the piece. Therefore, Fancies: a combination of infatuations, impulses and improvisatory inspirations.
Recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and two ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composers Awards, Peter Knell explores “my own notion of intimacy” in his work Intimate Voices. “I exploit the gentle side of the string quartet,” writes the composer — “muted sonorities, quiet dynamics, delicate gestures — with ideas unfolding gradually and organically in a single formal arc.”
Finally, violist and composer Kurt Rohde paid extra attention to Janáček’s actual letters while writing Inside Voice and was “struck with their intensity and surprising flexibility of tone, all while remaining remarkably focused on being…intimate.” The piece, he explains, “attempts to capture the energy I am trying to transmit to the listener in my music. My ‘letter’ here is the music being played, and it is a letter that is meant to be heard.”