The Kepler Quartet ensemble formed in 2002 for the special purpose of recording all 10 of my string quartets. Composed in a range of styles—atonal to folk song to neoclassical—these chamber music works present unusual technical challenges for the performers. The way I have used pitch and rhythm, especially pitch, extends beyond the boundaries of Western music. Learning hundreds of pitches and how they fit together within the natural harmonic series in each of these pieces requires many hours of rehearsal preparation.
The goal is to be able to perform accurately, yes, but more importantly to convey character and emotional meaning. This model points the way to a rich, new sound world, as Kepler Quartet’s first two CDs, released in 2006 and 2011, have demonstrated to very positive critical response. (The album “Ben Johnston: String Quartets Nos. 1, 5, 10” was nominated for BBC Magazine’s Chamber Music Disc of the Year.)
The third and final disc of the cycle is currently being produced by the Kepler group. CD3 will consist of String Quartets Nos. 6, 7, 8—and it presents even greater challenges for the performers. CD3 will also mark the recording premieres of String Quartets Nos. 7 and 8.
The four musicians of Kepler Quartet continue to consult with me at every stage of this process, and our collaborative efforts are yielding the greatest understanding of what I intended when I wrote these pieces and what I hope the listener will gain by hearing them.
It is our collective hope that other musicians interested in my work will find the undertaking less difficult than we did when we began exploring this recording project. Also, the positive, worldwide reception of the first two string quartet discs has brought attention to my collected works, which without Kepler Quartet’s efforts would not have happened. I am thankful that at this late stage of my career, collaboration with various musicians and instrumental combinations for which I have composed is proving so fruitful.
Ben Johnston – January 30, 2013