Respiri (breathing) is Juri Seo’s second album with innova after Mostly Piano (#968, 2017). Focusing on string writing (the Argus Quartet and cello solo) the works explore themes of life, death, memory, and change. Seo represents a rare breed of contemporary classical music that lives at the edge of old and new. Seo freely navigates through colorful sonorities of string instruments that merge in and out of kaleidoscopic harmonies.Her intricate melodies blend in dense counterpoint. Argus’ extraordinary versatility shines in every track. They effortlessly move between warmtones and noisy harmonics; they dissolve a tight canon into a hazy texture in a heart beat. Listeners will experience the full range of human emo- tions and feelings, from agony to bliss.
The album begins with the titular track Respiri, an homage to the late British composer Jonathan Harvey, a practising Buddhist. Seo takes Harvey’s signature musical gesture – an evocation of breathing – and expands it to a long arch. The breaths simply stop at the end, symbolizing a peaceful death.
The second piece, Suite for Cello, performed with spirit by Joann Whang, deals with ideas of memory and identity. Despite the familiar Bach-likesurface, there is a lingering sense of displacement — a result of its clashing tones and split harmonic center. Its five “dance” movements are atonce familiar and foreign.
If Respiri ends with a peaceful death, String Quartet - Infinite Season commences an unending cycle of births and rebirths through a journey that traces the sounds of nature as they change throughout a yearly cycle. Each movement corresponds to one season’s transformation into the next.The first, Winter-Spring, captures the turbulent changes of weather at the end of winter. The main musical motive comes from a call of Black- Capped Chickadees—a simple two-note fee-bee. Spring-Summer is a series of canons with bird songs. A faint hum of cicadas appear at the end of the movement. Their buzzing chorus and death become the next movement, Summer-Fall. The finale, Fall-Winter, begins with melodic fragments demarcated by silence. At the end, the snow buntings’ chew-ki-tik ki-ki echoes in the depth of winter. String Quartet - Infinite Season tells the storyof a year unfolding, sound by sound. The constant flux of the sounds of nature is a bright stillness, shining through the violence of external change.
Juri Seo, a Guggenheim fellow and a Koussevitsky Commission recipient, is a composer and pianist based in New Jersey. She teaches music at Princeton University.
The Argus Quartet is a first prize winner at the Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition, as well as the 2017 M-Prize Chamber Arts Compe- tition, and has served as the Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Juilliard School and the Fellowship Quartet in Residence at the Yale Schoolof Music.