Archives for the month of: November, 2016

New on YouTube! Daniel Kopp (MM ’18) performs the “Intermezzo e danza finale” from the Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite for Solo Cello

Friction Quartet Bounds Through Electronic-Dance-Music-Inspired Quintet

by Joe Cadagin

Andy Akiho doesn’t look like a composer. A DJ, maybe. Or perhaps a hip-hop producer or even a member of a boy band — although he’s pushing 40, he looks an eternal 25. As he took the stage of Noe Valley Ministry church on Sunday to introduce the San Francisco premiere of his Piano Quintet, the Noe Valley Chamber Music audience couldn’t help but laugh and smile at his friendly, sprightly demeanor.

The composer’s youthful vigor surges through his music. And though Akiho may not be a pop musician, he draws heavily upon contemporary dance music, convincingly combining it with classical influences (notably Bartok), without having a computer involved at all.

Akiho’s quintet, titled Five Prospects of a Misplaced Year, was composed for the San Francisco-based Friction Quartet, joined by pianist Jenny Q. Chai. Over the course of four retreats, the musicians met with Akiho to plan the new work, tailoring the musical material to the players’ strengths and tastes — Akiho likened it to Duke Ellington composing for his band members. Each of the five movements is dedicated to a separate member of the ensemble, resulting in a highly personalized composition that musicalizes a close-knit friendship.

The tumultuous first movement gave way to a nocturnesque second movement, titled “Matchbook Aria” after cellist Doug Machiz (MM ’11). Chai introduced a slow, bare-bones riff consisting of a skeletal rattling noise and drip-like tones while the violinists and violist played ghostly harmonics on a theme reminiscent of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.” Out of this eerie nightscape emerged a plaintive lament from Machiz.

A younger generation of composers — notably Gabriel Prokofiev, Mason Bates, and Ted Hearne — have sought to fuse music of the concert hall with EDM. What sets Akiho’s hybrid experiments apart is that he evokes contemporary club music without actually utilizing electronics. The result is a more cohesive musical language, without the friction between electronic and acoustic elements that often plagues the music of his peers.

Some of the same fusion techniques made their way into the concert’s encore work, Akiho’s 2011 In/Exchange for string quartet and steelpan, which was played by the composer himself. It was shocking how ably Akiho integrated this percussion oddity into the sound world of the string quartet. At the beginning, the solo part emerged almost organically out of an intense high-register passage in the quartet. An instrument heard only in Caribbean music was transformed in this new context. Like the prepared piano, it called to mind electronically produced sounds, especially since Akiho is such a virtuoso, capable of producing lightning-quick runs that seem computer generated. He even bobbed up and down like a club DJ, only the track he mixed would likely terrify a seasoned raver. The piece is a relentless dance of death, a thrilling, orgiastic frenzy that doesn’t let up, until the stabbing, Morse-code figure that brought the piece to a close.

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