On Saturday night in Portland between washes of rain, The National performed a magnificent outdoor concert. It was easily one of my favorite shows of the year. All of the musicians in the group are phenomenal players and exhibit a deep, intense relationship with the music they make. They are into it. That's why it didn't entirely surprise me when I learned some time ago that guitarist Bryce Dessner is also a well-respected, Yale-trained composer in the realm of avant-garde contemporary classical music. His influences (and collaborators) include my favorite 1960s minimalist composers, from Steve Reich and LaMonte Young to Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and John Cale. In recent years, Bryce, who curates Cincinnati's MusicNOW Festival of contemporary classical artists, has worked closely with pioneering string ensemble Kronos Quartet.
The latest embodiment of their work together is Aheym, an LP of four of Dessner's compositions performed by Kronos Quartet. I've heard the album, to be released November 5 on the Anti- label, and it's stunning. Each piece is unique, complex, deeply immersive, and very listenable.
I recently interviewed Bryce and Kronos founder David Harrington and we're planning a special something for Boing Boing around that in the near future. Meanwhile, please enjoy the video above for the title track, Aheym, from the new LP. The video is directed by painter and installation artist Matthew Ritchie. Here is what Bryce says about the composition:
David Harrington asked me to write a piece for Kronos Quartet for a performance in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I live just two blocks from the park and spend many mornings running around it. The park for me symbolizes much of what I love about New York, especially the stunning diversity of Brooklyn with its myriad cultures and communities. My father's family, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, also lived near the park for many years in the 1940s and '50s before moving to Queens. In discussing the new piece, David proposed to perform the work in Brooklyn, and then to retrace the journey of my grandparents and perform it in Lodz, Poland, a city where my great-grandparents lived and through which my grandmother passed on her voyage to America.
'Aheym' means 'homeward' in Yiddish, and this piece is written as musical evocation of the idea of flight and passage. As little boys, my brother and I used to spend hours with my grandmother, asking her about the details of how she came to America. She could only give us a smattering of details, but they all found their way into our collective imagination, eventually becoming a part of our own cultural identity and connection to the past. In her poem "Di rayze aheym," the American-Yiddish poet Irena Klepfisz, a professor at Barnard in New York and one of the few child survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto, writes: "Among strangers is her home. Here right here she must live. Her memories will become monuments."