The Kernis Project: Debussy

The Kernis Project: Debussy


Artist: Jasper String Quartet

Composers: Aaron Jay Kernis, Claude Debussy

Format: 1 CD


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J Freivogel

Sae Chonabayashi

Sam Quintal

Rachel Henderson Freivogel

This album marks the culmination of our decade-long journey with Aaron Jay Kernis’ music for string quartet. From the moment we put bow to string for Aaron’s Second Quartet, we realized his special voice and our connection to his music’s ability to capture both the complexity of the world and the simplicity of a moment. This depth fascinated us, inspired our playing and prompted us to dream of commissioning Aaron’s 3rd Quartet.

Six years later, after performing and recording his first two Quartets and organizing the commission, we received the first movement of his Third Quartet “River”. As the movements accumulated in our inbox, so did our sense of excitement and dread. It was clear that this piece surpassed its two preceding quartets in complexity and difficulty. The route forward was clear enough, but still daunting. Practice, rehearse, repeat. Through the spring and into the summer the piece started to take shape. Coalescing first a little at a time—glimmers of cleverness, brilliance, atmosphere amid the musical and technical challenges. As those moments grew to sections and then movements that began to make sense, we started to build them into the larger arc.

The quartet is subtitled “River”, an analogy for the constancy of change in our lives. The music too is constantly evolving, from moment to moment never predictable, never repeating itself. The flow of ideas isn’t one but four-dimensional, swirling constantly backward and forward in time and space. Yet there is a calculation of purpose, a consideration of form and care to structure that keeps the music grounded and allows a story to build out of the organic chaos.

The parallels between this music and Debussy’s iconic quartet are both coincidental and foreseeable. Programmed together before we knew anything of what Kernis’ quartet would be, the Debussy was nevertheless a perfect fit. Perhaps any quartet so carefully crafted and so imaginative would have illuminated parallels with Aaron’s new piece, yet it seems the two works share a specific ethos in their style and execution—both sharply bold and thoughtfully humble.

—Sam Quintal

Kernis notes on “River”

My 3rd string quartet (“River”) is a significant departure from my earlier two quartets, which looked to the distant past for form and inspiration. Instead, this new work dispenses with classical structure and influences almost completely, touching continually on processes of change and flux.

Far more at issue here are literary influences which helped shape and color the emotional tone of its five movements and prompted countless reflections on compositional process at this time in my life.

This new quartet looks at change, flow and flux of musical materials and information rather than the constancy of harmony, rhythmic and formal structures that my earlier quartets embrace.

String Quartet #3 (“River”) is dedicated in loving memory of singer and Astral Foundation artistic director Julian Rodescu, who touched countless lives with his artistry, generosity and friendship, and who laid the cornerstone for this collaboration with the Jasper Quartet. It was written for and is dedicated to the members of the Jasper Quartet who give its first recording here, and was generously commissioned by Caramoor, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Classic Chamber Concerts (Naples, FL), Chamber Music Monterey Bay (CA), Chamber Music Northwest (OR) and Chamber Music America’s Classical Commissioning program funded by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

— Aaron Jay Kernis

For more information on Jasper String Quartet visit

Track List

Aaron Jay Kernis
String Quartet #3 (“River”)
1. Source 8:29
2. Flow/Surge 4:06
3. Mirrored Surface – Flux – Reflections 10:55
4. Cavatina 4:39
5. Mouth/Estuary 9:11

Claude Debussy
String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10
1. Animé et très décidé 6:40
2. Assez vif et bien rythmé 3:57
3. Andantino, doucement expressif 7:11
4. Très modéré – En animant peu à peu – Très mouvementé et avec passion 7:25

Total time: 62:33
Release date: June 14, 2019
UPC: 053479223326

Quotes & Reviews

…vividly imagined and intense writing in the outer movements and moments of real delicacy between. The powerful image of the river that runs through the whole work (from source to estuary, indeed) derives from Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe, though Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiography proved even ‘more vitally influential’ for the work’s musical processes. The Jasper Quartet’s account is compelling.

…Jasper’s performances of both are flawless in ensemble and intonation, expressively assured and beautifully balanced. The sound quality is first-rate.

Guy Rickards, Gramophone

[of String Quartet #3 (“River”)] …there is plenty of lyricism, but also a sense of grit in the oyster resulting in some striking moments and one of the most compelling pieces to date.

[of String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10] …This is a strong performance, the Jaspers being vibrantly sonorous in the second movement’s pizzicatos and wonderfully controlled in the slow movement. An intriguing series…

Christopher Dingle, BBC Music Magazine

The passion and conviction the Jasper String Quartet brings to both pieces is remarkable. Certainly it would be hard to imagine any other quartet bettering its performance of Kernis's, so attuned is the quartet to the composer's vision, and the reading of the Debussy quartet is as fine a match as could be imagined.

Ron Schepper, Textura

...the Jaspers bring a contemporary touch, emphasizing Debussy's forward-looking colors and tensions rather than softer impressionist elements. The clarity and sharpness of their approach (matched by the lucid recording) is bracing. Listen to the startling sizzle and snap of the fast movement! The slow movement, where the Jaspers rethink every color, is also very special.

Jack Sullivan, American Record Guide

The [Jasper String Quartet] displayed joie de vivre and athleticism—and perhaps most tellingly, grins all around.
— The Strad

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