Catalyst Quartet — Uncovered, Vol. 3: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still & George Walker (Azica Records)
“At the end of the day, the Catalyst Quartet is important because we’re trying to do something that matters to people.”
Cellist Karlos Rodriguez is a founding member of the Catalyst Quartet, whose goal is to reimagine and redefine the classical music experience and the string quartet. One way its members do that is through their multivolume series of recordings called Uncovered.
“We thought the series' inception, which started in 2018, would be one album,” he says. “Then, luckily, we called the thing Uncovered, because more and more music started to be uncovered, and it turned into this multivolume recording project. And in the end, I think it will probably be four volumes.”
The third volume of Uncovered features works by George Walker, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and William Grant still. Why feature these three composers on the same recording?
“Their music is related wonderfully. One of the pieces is called the Lyric Quartet, which is by William Grant still. George Walker's quartet is referred to as the Lyric Quartet. … The middle movement has been published as the Lyric for Strings. [Another example is] William Grant, the dean of all great American music. There is a Jazz Age reference in that. [And] when you say American music, Perkinson has been inspired [and also] crossed the line into jazz-age harmony.
Walker’s Lyric Quartet was his first major composition. He finished it while he was still a student studying in France. What is it about this work that makes it so significant?
“As I spoke of earlier, the middle movement has been published as a standalone work called Lyric for Strings. It's beautiful. And so, many people play it that way, not even knowing that it's a whole string quartet, much like Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.
“We were in California playing a series of concerts. The Barber Quartet was on the program, and so was George Walker's Lyric for Strings. Now, we knew it was a whole string quartet. It's not that we didn't know that, but programmatically it was a good fit. So, we're driving from concert to concert on tour, and we get alerted to a tweet from George Walker, and he must have been well into his 80s at that point.
“And he said, ‘Why does nobody play my whole quartet? Everyone only plays this Lyric for Strings, the slow movement. Are they not up to the challenge of the outer two movements of my string quartet? It's a shame…’ — or something like that. And so, we thought, ‘Oh, wow, good for him for getting on Twitter at his age,’ but also that he knew that people weren't playing this entire work. And so, I wish that he were still with us. But, finally, this album comes out of us playing his entire string quartet.”
When Perkinson finished his String Quartet No. 2 (Calvary) in 1956, he was about the same age that Walker was when he finished his Lyric Quartet. Why is this work important to the ensemble?
“For us, the work is important because of our connection to Perkinson himself through one of our early mentors, Sanford Allen. Sanford Allen is the first African American member of the New York Philharmonic. He's a violinist, and Leonard Bernstein hired him. Sanford is directly responsible for commissioning most of the smaller chamber works and solo works for violin, which often came from Perkinson. He used to call him Perky.”
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Catalyst Quartet — Uncovered, Vol. 3: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still & George Walker (Amazon Music)
Catalyst Quartet — Uncovered, Vol. 3: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still & George Walker (Presto music)
Catalyst Quartet (Official Site)
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