Cassatt Quartet Will Premiere ‘i-Quadrifoglio’ By Mari Kiumura

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“I-Quadrifoglio” by Mari Kimura, a prayer for global unity and strength, is a new composition dealing with the effects of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown following this year’s massive earthquake and tsunami.

Mari Kimura is the viruoso composer/violinist that All Music Guide dubbed “a plugged-in Paganini for the digital age.” The Cassatt String Quartet will perform the world premiere of the work October 13, 2011 in a concert at Symphony Space’s Thalia Theater. The work is a plea not only for the Japanese, but also for the future of our global planet.

Composed for string quartet and interactive computer, “I-Quadrifoglio” was commissioned by Cassatt String Quartet with a 2010 Fromm Foundation commission award. The work is in four short movements, entitled “faith, love, hope, luck.” These are said to symbolize the four-leaf clover (quadrifoglio in Italian).

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Mari Kimura and her violin case. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Japan is the home country for both Mari Kimura and the Cassatt Quartet’s First Violinist, Muneko Otani. They were deeply touched, as were all Japanese expatriates, when the country was shaken by its horrific natural and man-made disaster. Although half a year has passed, the Fukushima radiation leak is still not completely controlled. Kimura writes, “although the attention of the international media has drifted to other immediate concerns, the Fukushima accident–the first of its kind in our human history–could still become a lot worse than Chernobyl. We don’t know its true extent and people live under an invisible cloud of fear and uncertainty. Yet they have no choice but to pick up and go about their lives.” This prompted her to compose “I-Quadrifoglio” not only as a prayer for the Japanese, but also for the environment and our children here, since air and water are connected globally. “This is not only a Japanese problem,” she admonishes.

The composition is part of a three-part evening for the Cassatt Quartet titled “iStrings,” featuring digital projects and live electronics. The sound of the quartet and the flow of electronics will be controlled by Max-MSP running on a MacBook Pro. The evening also includes the world premiere of “Respecting the First,” a work for amplified quartet and electronics by Judith Shatin, which was also written for the Cassatt String Quartet; and “Next Atlantis,” a work by Sebastian Currier for quartet, electronics and DVD.

Mari Kimura writes, “Technically, the computer part of ‘I-Quadrifoglio’ is designed to be self-sufficient, and the piece doesn’t require any triggering, foot pedal, or an assistant off-stage to click along on the computer during the performance. I wanted the quartet to not worry about electronics or be a “slave” to a pre-recorded tape part in terms of timing. No pre-recorded materials or sound sources are the string quartet in real time. The computer analyzes the sound coming from the four string players in real time, including the pitch and dynamics, and controls the processing of the sound, which I programmed in the interactive computer music software MaxMSP.”

As a musician, she was trained in the classical repertoire at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Japan and continued her studied at Boston University, where she was the only performer in her electronic music class (and the only woman–the class was populated with male composers and communication majors). Her impulse to compose smoldered during this period and finally broke loose at the prompting of Meyer Minsky, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Media Lab at MIT, who was her neighbor. She credits Prof. Minsky encouraging her to start composing, and the freedom of American culture with giving her the courage to pursue this “parallel track.” In a published interview, she explained, “In countries such as Japan or France, if you are good at something, at an early age what you get on the escalator and ride your way to the top; your career path is somewhat carved out for you. You are not encouraged to deviate from your speciality. Here, you are free to explore areas which you aren’t the ‘specialist’ or don’t have a degree with, and yet you can be a professional at both.”

Following Boston University, she earned a doctorate in performance at Juilliard. While there, she had two formative experiences toward her composing career: a class in Acoustics in Architecture with Cyril Harris and the mentoring of Mario Davidovsky at Columbia (Juilliard had an exchange program there), who has been her only real composition mentor. Later, at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, she discovered computer music for the first time, using the NeXT computer (a predecessor to the Mac).

Kimura was chosen as a Composer-in-Residence at the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco and was commissioned by American Composers Forum to write her first orchestral work, a Violin Concerto premiered at the Callejon de Ruido Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico in 1999. She also won a commission from the International Computer Music Association, resulting in her Cuban-inspired “Descarga Interactiva,” which premiered in Goteborg, Sweden. Further commissions followed from the AMDaT dance company, baritone Thomas Buckner, Harvestworks, Music from Japan, and others. She won a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition and spent the summer 2010 in Paris as a Composer-in-Residence at IRCAM. As one of her Guggenheim Fellowship projects, her latest projects include a violin/cello “Duet x2” with interactive computer. Her latest CD, “The World Below G and Beyond” (Fall 2010 on Mutable Music), is devoted entirely to her own compositions. It focuses on works using Subharmonics and interactive computer works.

Her best known composition is “GuitarBotana” for violin and GuitarBot, a musical robot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNzL75a_dD8). She has written using the interactive computer program MaxMSP since 2007. She also uses a bowing motion sensor technology developed at IRCAM in France.

The Manhattan-based Cassatt String Quartet (www.cassattquartet.com), now 25 years old, has appeared at Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Tanglewood Music Theater, the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress in Washington, DC; the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris and Maeda Hall in Tokyo. Its radio appearances include NPR’s “Performance Today,” Boston’s WGBH, New York’s WQXR and WNYC, Canada’s CBC Radio and Radio France. The Quartet is named after American impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. Equally adept at classical masterpieces and contemporary music, it has collaborated with a remarkable array of artists/composers including pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, soprano Susan Narucki, flutist Ransom Wilson, jazz pianist Fred Hersch, didgeridoo player Simon 7, the Trisha Brown Dance Company, distinguished members of the Cleveland and Vermeer Quartets and composers Louis Andriessen and John Harbison. The Quartet has recorded for the Koch, Naxos, New World, Point, CRI, Tzadik and Albany labels. Its discography includes quartets by Steven Stucky and Tina Davidson, Daniel S. Godfrey and Sebastian Currier. It has been named three times in The New Yorker ‘s “Best Of…” CD Selection. Its performers are Muneko Otani, violin; Jennifer Leshnower, violin; Michiko Oshima, viola and Nicole Johnson, cello.

The Cassatt Quartet will perform “I-Quadrifoglio” by Mari Kimura as part of its concert, “iStrings,” to be presented by Symphony Space in its Thalia Theater, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 7:30 PM (one night only). Tickets are $30; members $25; under 30 $15. To buy tickets, call the Symphony Space box office at (212) 864-5400 or visit www.SymphonySpace.org. The composers will be present to engage in a pre-concert Underscore conversation with Symphony Space Artistic Director Laura Kaminsky at 6:45 pm in Bar Thalia, located on the lower level of Symphony Space.