F is for Frey

One of the most interesting composers alive today is Jürg Frey. Frey lives in Aarau, Switzerland. He is a member of Wandelweiser. I was first introduced to his music when I began trying to discover and listen to the Wandelweiser composers. I bought 10 CDs during their summer sale, one of which was his 24 Wörter for piano, violin and voice. It’s an amazing composition. It’s an incredibly fragile piece which, is characteristic of most of his works. Frey’s music has a somewhat wandering quality. It travels down a path but, when approaching a fork in the road the music decides it will find a way to explore both options, perhaps by taking neither available path or taking one and returning to another.

In January, I was able to participate a week long class taught by Michael Pisaro and Andrew McIntosh on the music of Jürg Frey. The culmination of the class was two performances, one of his chamber works including his new pieces Ephemeral Constructions and Circular Music No. 7 and the other a concert featuring his Second and Third string quartets. It was a beautiful set of concerts. I had heard the recording of the second and third string quartets but, They are completely different live. As with most of the music of Wandelweiser composers I found myself being captivated and leaning as far forward in my seat as I could to hear the delicate sounds being produce by the Strings. In the Second String Quartet there is a fantastic effect in which the string players touch the string at the major second above the note they are playing, as if to produce a nonexistent harmonic. The result is an incredibly airy sound that allows the instruments sound much more like they could be part of the wind instrument family.

Jürg Frey’s Music has so much emphasis on timbre and color that sometimes (especially when listening to recordings) the music could almost seem entirely electronic due to the way the instruments are blended together. Even a trained musician can at some point start hearing things that might not be there (for example at this very moment I am listening to a recording of Canones Inherit and I cannot tell if there is voice in the music or if I am just hearing that timbre as the result of many instrumental timbres being infused into a new color). I think for myself, there is a lot to be learned from Frey’s music and while that is true of each of the composers in this project it seems particularly relevant with Frey.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Ephemeral Constructions

Circular Music No. 7

String Quartet No. 1

String Quartet No. 2

24 Wörter

More or Less Normal 

Canones Inherit

60 Pieces of Sound




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