Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Judith Lang Zaimont: 'The Harlem Quartet is wonderful! -- an ensemble of four artistic, yet spirited musicians.'

[Judith Lang Zaimont (Photo from http://www.jzaimont.com/]

Judith Lang Zaimont (b. 1945) is an American composer of 100 works whose composition The Figure is being performed in Cincinnati today by the Harlem Quartet, although not for the first time as we posted on Dec. 7: Cincinnati.com: Harlem Quartet to “premiere 'The Figure' by American composer Judith Lang Zaimont.” We asked Judith Lang Zaimont to comment on the music which is being performed by the Harlem Quartet, and which will be recorded by them and pianist Awadagin Pratt. The composer has graciously replied with an overview of her String Quartet, The Figure, and her other compositions on the CD to be released in the Spring:

Dear Mr. Zick:
Thank you for your message. Please understand my answer is pretty brief, as I'm getting ready to fly to Cincinnati tomorrow (before we all go on to NY to record next week.)

The Harlem Quartet is wonderful! -- an ensemble of four artistic, yet spirited musicians. They actually played the very first performances of my String Quartet "The Figure" in autumn '07 in NY, and since then I've wanted to have them be the group to 'capture' the piece on disc. That's now happening - and the new Parma/Navona CD of my chamber music for strings and piano will be issued next April.

In designing the disc, I intended that each member of the group also be featured prominently as an individual player. So the rep. includes my 30-minute second piano trio, ZONES (Ilmar and Paul with Awadagin), the Serenade (3 instr) (Melissa, Paul, Awadagin), and the solo viola ASTRAL ... a mirror life on the astral plain ... (Miguel). Because my piano writing is full-fledged, a pianist of major interpretive ability -- and plenty of his own ideas about the music -- was needed. Only one name came to me, and it was definitely Awadagin; he heard my music - liked the String Quartet - and joined us.

My music is, like my nature, complex, bold, and thoughtful. It plugs in to the long lineage of art music, and not colloquial music (except for jazz - which is its own kind of art music). The String Quartet (16:30) has 2 movements: "In Shadow" and "In Bright Light". Since the word "figure" means something in literature (figure of speech), and in the visual arts (both the visage and the complete body), I play with the abiguity in how the term defines itself as the piece progresses.

The music centers on a 3-part musical figure which is played with, extremely varied, broken apart like motive, and yet returns in its original form throughout the piece. In the first movement it broods dramatically - to cap the very fast mid-section, the players stamp their feet in unison several times, to make low forceful accent when the the tessitura is really high. In the second movement (which begins harshly), it gradually turns warmer and warmer, and part of the 'figure' becomes a tune; this however goes away, and the uncertainty of the first movement returns, with the piece ending on a high harmonic chord.
Thanks again for asking.
Judith L. Zaimont
(Born in Memphis, grew up in Queens, NY)

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