University of British Columbia Ubyssey, November 17, 2014

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Koerner Quartet mixes old and new musical styles

Gabriel Germaix

In October, they played Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms. Next time, it will be a musician from the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

The Koerner Quartet of the Vancouver Academy of Music (VAM) will play Elvis Costello's The Juliet Letters — a surprising piece in the pub-rock master's discography — at their next concert in February. Costello is not only known for his first pop albums at the end of the 1970s, but the British singer-songwriter is also known to have had a fruitful collaboration with the Brodsky quartet in 1993. The hour-long voice and string quartet partnership shows accents that one might compare to parts of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, and is assuredly different from the repertoire that the Koerner Quartet is used to playing.

"The quartet genre has been around for about 250 years. It was basically created by Haydn, the famous composer," said Joseph Elworthy, cellist in the ensemble and executive director of VAM. Their last concert "Nothing But The Classics" featured "three heavy-hitters and sort of very traditional classical" figures ofthe genre, accordingto Elworthy. The group settled on three modern anglo-saxon composers for their post-Valentine's Day concert, "Notes of Love & Protest." "All of the iconic composers not only wrote for quartets, but arguably their finest works were string quartets," said Elworthy, citing the example of Beethoven's early-, middle- and late-period productions. This extensive classical repertoire does not however discourage Elworthy and his three colleagues — Jason Ho, Emilie Grimes and Nicholas Wright — from performing modern composers. "Of course we would play the classics and stuff from composers who are dead, I guess," said Jason Ho. "But there is a lot of exciting new music being written, and we are passionate about promoting that and bringing that to audiences." Ho is a UBC alum and second violin both in the quartet and in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. He attended UBC as an undergraduate student before moving to Cleveland. "I was fortunate enough to move back to Vancouver and to work and live in the city that I love," he said. Vancouver is also the home of VAM's composer-in-residence Jocelyn Morlock. Morlock will work with the quartet on their next concert and will be able not only to interpret her original work, but also Costello's, as she is the Costello's touring orchestral music consultant. "She tours with [Costello] across the globe," said Elworthy. To have such an asset has proven decisive in the choice of the program. "We are really fortunate to work with the composer so we know exactly what she wants," said Ho. "You can't beat it." This is one of the many reasons why Koerner Quartet chose contemporary composers. Another one comes from Elworthy's personal history. "I remember when I was a university student at Yale, when Elvis Costello came up with this really ... far-reaching CD called The Juliet Letters," he said. "Elvis Costello, at that time, still had that kind of punk-rocker iconoclast thing working for him, and then here he is, coupled with a very well-established English string quartet." "We all have our kind of bucket list of things that we would love to play," said Elworthy, who will bring his acolytes back in his own youth memories, next February. Both Ho and Elworthy also want to bring the love of this very particular music to the next generation. "I just loved the fact that as a young person I could appreciate popular music and classical music in one listen," said Elworthy. "Hopefully we can reach some new audience members, because I am sure there are a lot of fans of his music out there," said Ho. The Koerner Quartet promises an intimate frame for its next performance, where the audience will be able to "hear [the performers] grunt," one that will allow it to hear Costello's music "straddle the pop genre and the classical genre in a very artistic kind of way," said Elworthy.


The Ubyssey, November 17, 2014

Elvis Costello is mentioned in Gabriel Germaix's profile of the Koerner Quartet.


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