Catalyst Quartet Bach/Gould Project

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K-Bach’s Sterling Beeaff joins Violinist Karla Donehew-Perez and Cellist Karlos Rodriguez of The Catalyst Quartet to talk about their fresh new take on Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

SB: Congratulations, it’s a fantastic cd you've released with the Bach Goldberg Variations and the Glenn Gould Quartet, it’s really exciting.

KP & KR: Thank you, thank you.

SB: I'm one of those guys, I've been doing this a long time, classical radio, that when I see a new CD of the Goldbergs, and then I see it is a string quartet, part of me is excited, and the other part of me says, "Ok, here we go again", AND THEN, it was just a remarkable experience.

KP & KR: Wow, thanks.

SB: It almost sounds like all four of you are obviously capable musicians, what I saw from your bios, Jessie is really the one that is the composer/arranger, is that right, or are you all that way?

KP: Jessie is a composer. None of us really knew that we were arrangers until this project came about. It um, you know, I think in a way it was most difficult for Jessie, because as a composer you are trying to create your own voice. Being an arranger is a very different role. So, for all of us, I never thought I'd do something like this, but it turns out I can!

SB: Not to belabor it, but it almost sounds like arranging by committee. How did you do that? Did you come together and say here is what I was thinking we could try, or did you have different ways of doing it?

KR: So we, the process went somewhat like this: We each chose our favorite variations that we had always wanted to arrange, if we had any favorites. (I know I had a few favorites that I chose) After that, they were all equally divided randomly. And so the first step was that we all arranged a version of the aria separately, so there is four versions of the aria working, and we really wanted to make that a collection of our independent voices, so we sort of, in a Frankenstein fashion, put that aria together, so the way you hear it is a combination of four different arrangements. After that we each took our variations that we had been given and by ourselves the four of us separately set out to arrange those variations. We would bring our own arrangements into the quartet rehearsal and then they were further edited by all four of us. I play the cello, so I don't exactly know all the capabilities of the violin and how things would fit well on the instrument, and SO after that was edited by the four of us, that person would take that same arrangement back, and incorporate those additions or subtractions, and um, then we'd bring it in again, and little by little, it all got whittled down to what you hear.

SB: I've got to tell you, it sounds nothing like a Frankenstein arrangement, it’s just, I never would have guessed you did it that way. It’s just so seamless.

Music---excerpt, Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations

SB: Karlos you commented that you discovered that Glenn Gould had written a string quartet and got very excited. Did any of you know that there was this string quartet by the man that was famous for two recordings of the Goldberg variations?

KP: It was interesting to hear what was inside of his head, the fact that he, and to learn that he really wanted to compose, and spend the rest of his life composing, and yet he only published this one work, and it was written before he recorded his 1955 debut album. So, and it’s a string quartet, so it’s fascinating.

KR: I would say it was more challenging for me than the arrangement of the Goldberg Variations, because making sense of the density of that piece was a great challenge, he doesn't give many directions, he actually doesn't give any expressive markings in the piece. Most composers would write ANDANTE or ALLEGRO, these directives that we usually get that would inform which emotional direction to go and Glenn in his mathematical meticulous mind only marks things with metronome markings, a half note equals 44 and that's it, so you have to interpret and figure out what is going on in the music on your own, so that discovery process for us was very very labor intensive.

SB: That's fascinating because it’s a piece that, I'll just say it, it’s a great piece, but it can go all over the place, with no street signs, you are going from these very angular places to these almost romantic sections, so another sense of discovery.

Music excerpt from the Glenn Gould's String Quartet Op. 1

SB: Again thanks for a marvelous reading of the Goldberg, and an introduction to something by Glenn Gould.

KP & KR: Thank you.

-Produced by Jane Hilton