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Finding Home in the Sound of Four Strings

April 26, 2024

By Nicky Swett

Composer Kevin Puts on his latest string quartet

Nicky Swett: This quartet is the third piece you have written for the Miró Quartet. How has your collaboration with the group developed?

Kevin Puts: I have gotten to know them over the years, both personally and musically. As with any performer I write for, I have both an aural and visual idea of what to expect as I compose, so I imagined the Miró Quartet playing this piece from the very first bar to the end. They have a wonderful, robust warmth to their sound and they take pride in it, so the opening section of Home was written with that sound in mind. There is also an amazing nimbleness combined with great control that I associate with the Mirós and I wanted this to find its way into the piece as well.

NS: You arranged the first section of the piece for quartet and chorus. What motivated you to add voices to the texture for this part of the work? Why not set the entire piece?

KP: It was a very specific request from Craig Hella Johnson, who is director of the excellent chorus Conspirare, to arrange the first section of Home for chorus with string quartet. It was very rewarding to reimagine this music with a choral texture added to it. The rest of the piece is very virtuosic and full of idiomatic (but challenging!) string writing. The fastest section of the quartet is played at breakneck speed. It requires rapid fingerwork and features intricate exchanges between players in the more contrapuntal moments. All parts play in their instruments’ very highest registers and have large, virtuosic leaps akin to (but perhaps more extreme than) those in Romantic concertos. I am not sure anyone would want to hear it arranged for singers!

NS: Can you tell me more about how you structured these different sections of the piece?

KP: My aim with Home was to begin in one place and, in musical terms, gradually move as far away from it as I realistically could. The piece opens in C major, with a very simple chorale texture. A couple of phrases loop with regularity and slight variation. And then, in a way which hopefully feels natural and organic, the music leaves home and finds itself in a very different environment over the course of a few minutes.

NS: In your program note, you mention that you write without having a fixed structure in mind and without knowing exactly where the composition will go. How did you make your way back to the opening chorale when writing Home?

KP: I love the exploration, the sense of finding my way through the unknown, that composing a piece represents. I don’t want to know exactly where I am going or how I will get there. In short, I just have faith I will get where I need to go! I had it in my mind that I would return to the opening material but that it would feel very different when I returned to it. That’s all I knew, and that was enough for me.

Cellist, writer, and music researcher Nicky Swett is a program annotator and editorial contributor at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.