It was an unlikely pairing.
Elvis Costello from the pop world, the Brodsky Quartet from classical environs. But a few hours at a London wine bar dispelled any doubts about their personal chemistry. And the resultant affinity led to their new album, The Juliet Letters, a 20-song, 63-minute opus that has been greeted by polarized reviews and fan reaction.
It's certainly one of the most challenging pieces in Costello's already varied oeuvre. And its sound — a hushed brand of chamber pop — marks a stark change from the driving, angry young man stance of Costello's best-known works.
A couple of reviews "have attacked me for daring to do something other than they imagined what I should do," Costello, 37, says. "They can't accept this. I'm `Mr. Angry.' I can't do this. It's too wimpy. They feel like the angry Costello is better served by throbbing drums."
Regardless of public response — and producer Hal Wilner's review in Spin magazine did praise it as "beautiful and moving" — Costello and violinist Paul Cassidy are most outspoken about the joy the musicians derived from working on the project. For Costello — who has dabbled in a variety of pop styles, country and R&B — it was a chance to work in yet another genre and to learn formal music-writing skills.
The Brodskys, meanwhile, explored the realm of composition, unfamiliar terrain for most of the group. "Michael (Thomas) was a very experienced composer," says Cassidy, 33, "but the rest of us (violinist Ian Belton and cellist Jacqueline Thomas) had never composed anything. I'd never written down a note in my life."
Costello and the Brodskys have scheduled a brief world tour, beginning this week and ending March 18 — with U.S. stops in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles — before the Brodskys return to their classical repertoire and Costello gets back to rock 'n' roll.
Adds Costello, "I don't want people to think this is a novelty album or a crossover album. ... I've always had this feeling musicians — whether they're years or miles apart in experience or doing different music — have some connection. I hear the same lonesome quality in Hank Williams that I heard in Billie Holiday. So in doing this we were trying to forget the elaborate intellectual theories; we were trying to get together as humans and really share something."