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Bryce Dessner: Aheym

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iTunes Review

The Kronos Quartet have a long history of crossing multiple boundaries to collaborate with artists outside of their classical/avant-garde sphere. This time, they commissioned material from The National’s Bryce Dessner. The first three pieces here are minimalist in nature but have different points of inspiration. The terse title piece is centered around Dessner's family’s flight from Russia and Poland to America during WWII—the title “Aheym” is Yiddish for “homeward”—and he creates music that's often tense but never over the edge. “Little Blue Something” is a tip of the hat to the early Czech music, while “Tenebre” rotates through a series of highly textured ideas that concludes with vocals by Sufjan Stevens and multiple overdubs of the quartet. Based on the setting of a poem by Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro, the final piece features Kronos, a band led by Dessner, and The Brooklyn Youth; it builds using interlocking figures with different groups sending ideas back and forth. The National’s hardcore fans may find this interesting, but Aheym is truly a contemporary classical effort, and a good one at that.

Customer Reviews

This is the soundtrack of a decaying civilization

I am not a music critic, nor am I familiar with the work of Bryce Dessner, but listening to the Kronos Quartet’s performance of Aheym put such a vivid experience in my mind that I had to put it to words if only to get it out of my head. I have no idea if this was the intention, but here is what I heard:

Strict, overly complicated, stuttering notes- an attempt to impose control where it is not welcomed. A strong force of will that is as impressive as it is annoying. This refrain gives way to a driving emotive melody that introduces feeling to the robotic articulation, a resistance to the order. The harsh control subsides as the melody takes hold of the other players, who attempt but fail to subvert the emotive refrain. They pass it around and make it their own, the movement grows.
The melody falters, but stumbles forward, resisting control again and again. It succeeds, and grows from its successes, taking in aspects of what it once opposed. An new order can be felt building beneath the surface, it surges forward with new strength, and after a bitter fight for dominance with the old way, the movement ends as suddenly as it began. A victor is unclear, but everything has changed.

The second piece starts searchingly, unsure how to move forward, trying each variation on the movement to find which will be the strongest. It is a process of trail and error, but driven forward by an unyielding will determined to revive the movement. The process is difficult and long, but ultimately rewarding once all the players arrive at the renewed melody, driving it forward beyond trial and into action.

The third piece begins tenuously, the new movement is fragile and could give way. It must be protected while it grows and adapts to the new reality it helped create. It gets tested quickly, and must respond or be left behind. The movement reacts, timidly at first, but persists with increasing confidence. Until a new melody is introduced. A sly, almost cunning countermelody steals the spotlight. The movement becomes uncertain and falters.
Then out of nowhere, a choir emerge to encourage a progression from the stagnation of the unknown. They have their own dissonant beauty, an unease that climaxes and almost crashes, but a thin note remains to carry on. It is enough.

The final piece begins with a choir, and the almost angelic harmony resounds in the empty space left by the players. The musicians eventually rejoin the choir, providing a subtle structure for the soaring voices. I feel relief and joy. The journey to this point has been fraught with difficulties, but I understand now that these were integral parts to the sense of peace I feel. This peace is not saccharine sweet, but cathartic. A hard-fought battle won in a war without end. A glimpse of the golden years, always just over the horizon, but somehow closer then ever before.

This is the soundtrack of a decaying civilization, and also a movement that rebuilds something beautiful from the wreckage.

Arvo Lovers Unite!

So great to hear Bryce's compositions get these passionate and profound representations... Kronos are masters of haunting beauty... Ooh those ghostly harmonics!!! The National are an excellent band but check out Bryce's other group the Clogs if you are interested in more of these sounds and ideas... This is a standout release in a year of great music.

Believe it

Bryce is forreal. These pieces areperfectly performed by one of the world most perfect quartets. Bryce's works are mature, modern and sooooo very enjoyable!


Formed: 1973 in Seattle, WA

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Since their founding in 1973, Kronos Quartet have become the foremost ambassador of contemporary chamber music, determined and successful at breaking down barriers between musical genres and between musicians and audiences. David Harrington, the ensemble's founder and first violinist, was inspired to form the group after hearing George Crumb's Black Angels. By the end of the 1970s, Kronos settled into a tight collaboration between Harrington, violinist John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist...
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Bryce Dessner: Aheym, Kronos Quartet
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  • $9.99
  • Genres: Classical, Music, Modern Era
  • Released: Nov 01, 2013

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