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Miller, Cassandra / Quatuor Bozzini: Just So (Another Timbre)

A disc of extraordinary string works by Canadian composer Cassandra Miller, presenting four string quartets superbly played by the Quatuor Bozzini quartet of Clemens Merkel on violin, Alissa Cheung on violin, Stephanie Bozzini on viola, and Isabelle Bozzini on cello, including the large work "About Bach", awarded the Jules Leger Prize for New Chamber Music.

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product information:

Label: Another Timbre
Catalog ID: at129
Squidco Product Code: 26342

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2018
Country: UK
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Recorded at Oscar Peterson Hall, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, on January 19 and 22-24, 2018, by Stefan M. Schmidt.


Cassandra Miller-composer

Quatuor Bozzini-quartet

Clemens Merkel-violin

Alissa Cheung-violin

Stephanie Bozzini-viola

Isabelle Bozzini-cello

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Artist Biographies:

"Cassandra Miller (1976) is a Canadian composer living in London, and is Associate Head of Composition (Undergrad) at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her present work involves direct and personal collaboration with solo musicians, engaging in embodied research related to non-notated collaborative practices and the place of voice and body in creative processes. Her notated compositions for ensembles and orchestras explore the transcription of pre-existing music as a way to translate its musicality/vocality into another experience.

Teaching takes a central role in her artistic life, holding the faculty position at Guildhall since September 2018. Her teaching philosophy prioritizes inclusivity and diversity, and questions canonization. Previously, she taught composition modules at the University of Huddersfield (2014-16) and the University of Victoria (2008-09).

She twice received the Jules-Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, Canada's highest honour for composition, for Bel Canto in 2011 and About Bach in 2016. Her concerto written for the cellist Charles Curtis with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was hailed as an 'unexpected highlight of the festival' (TEMPO).

Her works are often written with specific performers in mind, involving their intimate participation in the creative process. Her closest collaborators in this fashion have included soprano Juliet Fraser, the Quatuor Bozzini, conductor Ilan Volkov, cellist Charles Curtis, pianist Philip Thomas, violinist Silvia Tarozzi and violinist Mira Benjamin. Pieces written expressly for them have been toured and performed across the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Norway, Uruguay, the United States and Canada.

Over the last 15 years she has received over 25 professional commissions from soloists, ensembles and orchestras both in Canada and across Europe. Notable performers include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, the London Sinfonietta, I Musici de Montréal, Ensemble Plus-Minus, the late great Ensemble Kore, Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, Continuum Contemporary Music, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Festivals and venues featuring her music have included Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), Tectonics Glasgow, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Only Connect Oslo, Ostrava Days, World Music Days (Ljubljana), Music we'd like to hear (London), Kammer Klang (Café OTO, London), Transit (Leuven), Music on Main (Vancouver), and Núcleo Música Nueva de Montevideo, among many others. In 2015, the AngelicA Festival of Bologna presented three concerts featuring her work.

After two decades working in the field, Cassandra returned to academic research in 2014. Her doctoral research at the University of Huddersfield (supervisor Dr Bryn Harrison, 2018) explored transcription and other translation methods as compositional processes, and compositional engagements with varied notions of voice and vocality.

In 2012, she studied privately with Michael Finnissy, whose impact continues to have a deep effect on her work. She holds a Master of Music from the Royal Conservatory of the Hague (2008, Richard Ayres, Yannis Kyriakides), where she explored narratology and narrative as tools for musical analysis. She holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Victoria (2005), where she studied with Christopher Butterfield, whose radical pedagogical inclusivity and Dada-inspired artistic insight remain crucial foundations for her work to date.

From 2010 to 2013, she held the post of Artistic and General Director of Innovations en concert, a not-for-profit presenter of experimental chamber music concerts and festivals in Montreal. Under her directorship, the organization championed unusual programming, commissioned major new works, and became known for its support of young freelancers, building international connections for many Quebec artists.

Cassandra has been invited to give lectures about her work in the US at Columbia University; in the UK at the Royal Academy of Music, Bath Spa University Centre for Musical Research, Birmingham Conservatoire, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Centre for Research in New Music in Huddersfield, and Brunel University; in Canada at McGill University, the Cluster New Music and Integrated Arts Festival, and the Open Space Gallery of Victoria. She has additionally taught masterclasses and workshops at the Orkest de Ereprijs Young Composers Meeting (NL), Brunel University, the University of Manitoba, and the Montreal Contemporary Music Lab.

A number of writings about her work have been published in recent years, notably, Along the grain: the music of Cassandra Miller (James Weeks, 2014, TEMPO, Vol 68, Issue 269), and Cassandra Miller's unclassifiable concert music (Richard Simas, 2012, Musicworks Magazine, Toronto, Issue 113). In Tim Rutherford-Johnson's book Music After The Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989 (2017, University of California Press), Chapter 4 includes an in-depth discussion of her piece Guide, through the lens of the tension between oral traditions and media technology. Her music also appears on the podcast Tentative Affinities (2014, Canada: the music of Generation X) by the late musicologist Bob Gilmore."

-Cassandra Miller Website (

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"Clemens Merkel's unconventional sound defines a new sensibility in contemporary music, through its intimate purity of tone, its settled understanding of microtonal or unconventional harmonic language, and its unhurried sensitivity. He is well known for innovative interpretations of Bach and John Cage, and is sought after by composers worldwide as an inspiration for new repertoire. His diverse collaborators range from the Wandelweiser collective to Montréal's Musique Actuelle community, and from emerging experimentalists to today's most revered composers.

For over a decade, Merkel's unusual sound has fused with that of the Quatuor Bozzini, considered one of the world's leading string quartets. Together they have mentored an entire generation of creators through the Composer's Kitchen; have released numerous critically acclaimed albums on their collection qb label; undertake multiple tours annually to be featured at festivals worldwide; and maintain a profound impact on the music scene across Canada and Europe in particular. They nourish Montréal audiences with unusual self-produced events that bridge worlds and cross boundaries of style, generation and culture.

Following an early career in Europe, where he contributed to the continent's leading ensembles, Merkel has made Montréal his home since 2000. He supports and advocates for new music in Québec and in Canada, and is regularly sought after as speaker, curator and adviser. His presence is felt in academia as well, through articles written for the Revue Circuit, and through his teaching at Concordia University. He's a passionate chef and lives in Montréal's Portuguese neighborhood together with his wife Isabelle Bozzini and children Félix and Béatrice."

-Quatuor Bozzini website (

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" "... classical music without pretence... " is Alissa Cheung's approach to her multi-faceted career. A native of Edmonton (Alberta) violinist and composer, Ms Alissa Cheung (BSc '07, BMus '09, MM '13), is a tenured member of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) since 2010 and will move to Montréal in January 2015 to join the Bozzini Quartet.

She has been involved with the Alberta Baroque Ensemble, and has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in Canada, USA, Europe and Japan. Career highlights include performances at Carnegie Hall and Suntory Hall, and solos with the ESO and the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Orchestra. Ms Cheung has been featured in Vue Weekly Magazine and Edmonton Sun, and was aired on CBC, CKUA, and WKPN Radio.

An adamant interpreter of new music, Alissa has performed numerous contemporary works and was an Artist in Residence at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival (2011), at the and at the Lucerne Festival Academy (2013).

As a composer, her works have been performed at the Tonus Vivus Festival of New Music (Edmonton), Jordan Hall (Boston), Morse Recital Hall (New Haven, CT), and the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. Upcoming projects include a commission by the Arx Duo and the Bass Line Road Ensemble. Ms Cheung studied composition with Hannah Lash (Yale) and Piotr Grella-Mozejko (Edmonton).

In addition to private teaching, Ms Cheung has been Sessional Instructor at King's University College and faculty member of the Alberta College Conservatory of Music. Educational outreach initiatives include being a Teaching Artist with ESO's Adopt-a-Player Program and with the National Arts Centre's Music Alive Program.

Ms Cheung's principal violin teachers were Marian Moody, Ranald Shean, Broderyck Olson (Edmonton), Thomas Williams (McGill), and Ani Kavafian (Yale). Other influential coaches include Malcolm Lowe, Mark Fewer, Rafael Rosenfeld, Kyoko Hashimoto, and members of the former Tokyo, Juilliard and Concord string quartets."

-Quatuor Bozzini Website (

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"Stéphanie Bozzini. Born Montréal, Québec, 1974. Performer (viola)

Stéphanie Bozzini is a founding member of the Bozzini Quartet, a new music string quartet which performs regularly in major festivals throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and South America. Her curiosity and interest in a number of musical styles, from historically informed period instrument playing to contemporary improvisation, have led her to become a remarkably versatile musician.

Solo performances include Huddersfield (UK), Ostrava Days Festival (Czech Rep), NY MUSIK (Sweden), and REDCAT CalArts (Los Angeles). She is principal viola with Arion, and plays regularly with other baroque music groups including Tafelmusik, Theatre of Early Music and SMCQ. Stéphanie has been a long-time collaborator with contemporary ensembles Bradyworks and Kore, as well as Ensemble Lunaire (Zürich). Major orchestral engagements include the Tonhalle of Zurich and the Winterthurer Stadtorchester, and chamber orchestras such as I Musici and Les Violons du Roy. Other chamber music projects have led to performances at The Banff Centre for the Arts, the Tonhalle Zurich, and the Festival des Îles du Bic. Stéphanie Bozzini teaches viola at the Music Department, Concordia University in Montréal."

-Quatuor Bozzini Website (

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"Isabelle Bozzini. Born Montréal, Québec, 1969. Performer (cello).

A passionate chamber player, cellist Isabelle Bozzini is dedicated to exploring two parallel worlds - new music of all kinds and music on period instruments. This endeavour continuously challenges her and nourishes her artistic aspirations.

She is a founding member of the Quatuor Bozzini which since its inception in 1999 has become one of Canada's leading string quartets on national and international scenes. Playing close to forty concerts per year, the Bozzinis produce their own concert series in Montréal including the Salon des compositeurs + Composer's Kitchen event. They tour several times per year in Europe, the US and Canada and have launched the label collection qb in the Fall of 2004 in collaboration with DAME. Isabelle Bozzini also works with Kore Ensemble, and various improvising artists such as Malcolm Goldstein, François Houle, Benoît Delbecq, Diane Labrosse and Jean Derome. Having collaborated for many years with Joël Thiffault and the Montréal Baroque Orchestra, Isabelle Bozzini now plays regularly with Ensemble Arion. She also plays with Idées Heureuses, Ensemble Caprice, the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal, and French harpsichordist and conductor Hervé Niquet."

-Quatuor Bozzini Website (

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track listing:

1. Just So 2:37

2. Warblework I. Swainson's Thrush 2:42

3. Warblework II. Hermit Thrush 3:46

4. Warblework Iii. Wood Thrush 3:45

5. Warblework Iv. Veery 5:18

6. About Bach 24:29

7. Leaving 5:46
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

"Interview with Cassandra Miller by Another Timbre

Extracts from the extended interview with Cassandra Miller in the booklet accompanying the Canadian Composers Series CDs.

[......]Who did you meet and work with in Holland?

The most important figure was Richard Ayres, who was a huge influence. And Yannis Kyriakides was a great teacher; I learned a lot from him. Also Den Haag was a strange place too; they really identify as outsiders - almost too much - but there was some lovely strange stuff happening. I was there for three years, 2005 to 2008, and there are works I wrote at that time which still feel very much like me, for example Orfeo and O Zomer! In fact there are even a few things from the period at the University of Victoria that I still feel fond of. There was one year there in particular where I just felt able to write a lot of weird stuff, some of which I like even now.

Ok, so if you're a composer and are not part of a school or tendency, so you don't have any kind of method that is given to you, and you're doing individual 'weird stuff', as you put it, with an infinity of possible paths, does that ever strike you as being difficult? Or are there always lots of ideas and different approaches for new pieces buzzing round in your head?

Yes 'method'....I don't know what that is! Isn't the fun of composing making up your own particular method for whatever piece you're writing? I mean, I understand that there is this perceived need for 'method', but I think it must come from a different cultural context. It must come from feeling that you've got a place in history, or feeling that you've got a responsibility to reveal something about human nature. We just never came across this thing where people keep saying that you need some order or structure, and actually I don't think there is any need for it. Later on when I went back to Canada I was running a concert series and, because there wasn't this feeling that art is reflecting something basic about human nature or something important about human culture, then with every concert we put on we felt we had to justify why we were doing it. Now that was quite interesting and things became quite political. But before that I had no sense that there needed to be an explicit connection with something bigger or beyond; music was just something to do.

What did you do after The Hague?

I came home when I was about 32 and taught at the University of Victoria for a year. I was teaching a second year class who were taking a composition course but weren't majoring in composition, and we had some fun. But at that time it was hard in Victoria to make a life for yourself as a composer, and I didn't really know what that meant. I didn't think of it as a career in the European sense, but I wanted to meet people and be active. I decided it'd be better to try in a place with greater population density, so I moved to Montreal. But I moved by way of the Ostrava Music Days, where I spent a month. In fact I had a piece played at Ostrava that year - A Large House, and it was quite a special year because the people I met there became really important to me. I met Michael Winter, G. Douglas Barrett, Joe Kudirka, Philip Thomas and Christian Wolff, and Taylan Susam was there. So that was great.

But then I showed up in Montréal without knowing the language, without a plan, without any money and without a job. So I spent four months on welfare and slowly started to put together a life. This fairly quickly involved the Bozzini Quartet, and I started working for them as an administrator, which was very generous of them because I was still learning French, so I wasn't properly qualified, but they gave me a chance. I did that for a couple of years, learned French, and then I got the job organising a concert series - Innovations en concert - still in Montréal. That was with the co-director Isak Goldschneider, who is a really interesting guy and is very political in how he thinks about art, and I learned a lot from him. But after a couple of years administratively it became too heavy. You know what it's like in arts administration; you work sixty hours and get paid for ten. I was trying to write music in the evenings but wasn't happy with what I was writing. When I'd first moved to Montréal there was a lot happening for me creatively. Bel Canto had just been commissioned and I wrote it in the first year I was there, and I also started working artistically with the Bozzinis and had done the Composer's Kitchen with them right before moving there. So when I was first in Montréal I was happy with the music I was writing, but I slowly got crushed under a huge pile of paper.

Which of your quartet pieces did you write while you were doing the Composer's Kitchen?

I wrote a short piece called Life, which I was happy with, and in fact I'm always talking with the Bozzinis about possibly going back to it and expanding it. Then I wrote Warblework after I'd been there for a year or so, which was one of those pieces where I felt I didn't have enough time to write it properly, but then they play it so brilliantly and have performed it all over the world, so it's an anomaly and in the end I'm very happy to have it represent me because of what they do to it.

While we're on the quartets, can you tell me about About Bach and how that happened?

This is much later. I wrote that here in Huddersfield. I'd been asked by the philanthropist Daniel Cooper, who lives in Toronto, to write a solo viola piece. He commissions a series of solos, matching up composers with soloists, and I asked if I could write a solo for Pemi Paull, who's a wonderful violist in Montréal. He's of Jewish descent and is a Buddhist - he calls it Jubu - and this somehow comes across in his playing. I tried to write with that in mind, but it wasn't really working. That was when I was still living in Montréal, and we'd meet and try things out, but unfortunately it wasn't going anywhere, and then I moved to England. So I was away from him, but I still wanted it to be about him, so I took a recording that I found on Youtube of him playing some Bach - the famous Chaconne - and it's beautiful and he's being very active in a florid, almost Jewish way, and then it comes to a chorale and he plays it in a very Zen way. He's an extraordinarily vocal performer; it sounds like singing. I'd been transcribing stuff in my own practice for a while, so I took that little snippet of the chorale because I knew it would transcribe well with the methods I was using. I imported it into Melodyne, which is one of my ways of breaking something up and transcribing it in a way that's sort of glitchy, and it sounded lovely. So I took that and based the viola piece on this strange, leaping around, almost jig-like material that came out of how my computer listened to his very vocal playing of this Bach chorale. I then put it through a process that slowly subtracts from itself, or slowly winds down, because that's what the material seemed to want, and then I sent it to him. He hasn't played it yet; it's forty minutes of basically one single line that just goes on and on, so you'd have to have a really specific performance situation in mind to play it, which hasn't happened yet. But then at some point I just thought, well this would be really good for string quartet. So I fairly quickly worked out how I'd like to harmonise it. I wanted it to be in these triads that just sort of leap around, and it became clear that it needed an ascending scale and that it should be in the highest register, and then I sent it to the Bozzinis. And they said 'That's too high', and I said 'I can do you a version that's lower but I'm sure when you hear it higher you'll like it.' So I sent them two versions and they got back to me and said 'Yes, surprisingly the higher one is better'.

It's a great piece. So going back to where we left off, what came after Montréal?

Well after I quit the concert series in Montréal I came here to Huddersfield to do my PhD. I used the PhD as a bit of a way out of the life I'd built for myself over there because I was drowning in admin. And it felt obvious to come to Huddersfield because I'd already been here a couple of times, working with Philip Thomas when I wrote a solo piano piece for him, and to the Festival when he premiered it. And Philip said 'There's this guy here called Bryn Harrison, I think you should meet'. So I went to a rehearsal of a vocal piece of his that EXAUDI were preparing, and I listened and thought 'Holy Moley, this is amazing. How come I've never met this guy; his music has all my topics, but is so beautifully done.' So I met him for coffee and we hit it off, and then later when I was back in Montréal and Philip was coming to tour the short version of Bryn's piece Vessels, I managed to get funding for Bryn to come over too. So he came and stayed at my place for a week and we had a fantastic time. So when I decided to do a PhD a little after that, it was obvious that I should come here and study with Bryn. And that's what I'm doing now.

So at what point in this history did you begin to acquire a reputation as a composer, as someone to be watched?

This is another thing where the terms mean different things in Canada. Because there's not that many composers there and we generally all know each other, and there's only a handful of ensembles and we're all just friends. So the idea of having a reputation that goes beyond that doesn't really exist, and even if you're just starting out people will know who you are. So the second piece I ever wrote, back when I was 19 as an undergraduate in Victoria, was a string quintet. And Vancouver Symphony Orchestra were doing a project reading student works, and Christopher Butterfield suggested that I submit it. I said 'But it's a string quintet' and he said 'Just change the cover page and say it's for string orchestra'. So I did, and it got accepted for the reading, and then Rodney Sharman - who was composer in residence with the orchestra at that time - convinced them to perform it at a season concert the next year. It was this crazy concert with Strauss's Four Last Songs, which sold out, and there I was just 21 going on stage in front of thousands of people to introduce my piece. So there was that, and then because on the West Coast especially there are so few of us that people get very excited when there's a new composer to get to know, on the back of that I had a piece at a festival called Sonic Boom. The piece was for three double basses, cello and two recorders, and was from that third year at UVic when I wrote quite a lot of odd stuff that I still like. So I guess it started right away, but then went underground when I quit for four years. But then when I went to Holland all the student opportunities there are professional, so for instance O Zomer! was performed by the Asko Ensemble. And then my first professional commission that I was actually paid for was right after I finished my Masters, and it was for Continuum Contemporary Music. That was for a piece called Goosefood, which was a lovely concert but I've since struck it from my oeuvre [laughs].

But actually I think the year that was really the start of my current phase was when I went back to Victoria (after my master's and before moving to Montréal), and there was A Large House (2009) followed quickly by the premiere of Bel Canto (2010), and then the Composer's Kitchen and the beginning of everything with the Bozzinis."

Related Categories of Interest:

Compositional Forms
Musique Actuelle
Stringed Instruments
Quartet Recordings
Canadian Composition & Improvisation
Musique Actuelle
New in Compositional Music

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