De mille feux
sees James Wright in collaboration with the Andara Quartet — Marie-Claire Vaillancourt (violin), Jeanne Côté (violin), Vincent Delorme (viola), and Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy (cello) — to realize four unique works. The first, written by Benjamin Britten at the age of 28, String Quartet No. 1, Op. 25 is undoubtedly the most luminous of his four string quartets. The Andante sostenuto begins with one of the most remarkable opening pages in English chamber music: the violins and viola are seemingly suspended—weightless, pianissimo and molto vibrato—at a stratospherically high pitch, like a trail of twinkling, distant stars. The remainder of the work takes us on a series of voyages between earth and the cosmos, between the rooted energy of the ground under our feet, the impalpable shimmering of the ether in which we seem to bathe, and the human aspirations that travel between the two.
In 1936, Samuel Barber completed the String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11 (his only string quartet), and he arranged its Adagio movement for string orchestra later the same year. The quartet was premiered by the Pro Arte Quartet on December 14, 1936, at the Villa Aurelia, at the end of Barber’s Prix de Rome residency there. In its arrangement for string orchestra, the Adagio for Strings ultimately became Barber’s best-known work. The power of its pathos and passion is such that the work has often been performed in the United States during times of national trauma. It was first heard in 1945 during the broadcast funeral services for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, just three weeks prior to Germany’s surrender at the end of the Second World War.
Dark Energy, from Kelly Marie-Murphy, was commissioned by the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the CBC as the required piece for the 2007 competition. In a single movement, the quartet opens softly and simply. It explores and displays a variety of string colours and techniques, and it continually gains momentum, eventually consuming itself with its own propulsion. The piece is virtuosic in every way, yet there are flexible moments in which each performance can yield a different interpretation.
The final piece is James K. Wright’s own String Quartet No. 1 (“Ellen at Scattergood”), a work commissioned by Carleton University professor David Cray as a gift for his wife, Ellen, in celebration of their life together at their cottage on Lac Scattergood, Quebec. Some of the descriptors that listeners have ascribed to the quartet’s four movements—including joyfulness, romance, playfulness, celebration, energy, vigor, drama, transcendence, nostalgia, serenity, peace, and tranquility—result from Wright's attempt to capture the many moods and textures of David and Ellen’s life at their cottage. American composer Dr. John Cornelius II writes: "Ellen at Scattergood
is a really decisive string quartet with attitude! The pacing of the movements really allows the listener to get inside the piece, and it takes traditional forms and genres (Tarantella, Waltz, Rondo) and turns them on their ear. This is a brilliantly sophisticated work that has nothing to prove, except its composer’s audacity.”
De mille feux
was released on November 4, 2022