For this short, intimate concert, the Solem Quartet joined forces with singer and cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson, commissioning her to write a new piece to perform with them.

The result, Witter-Johnson’s Island Suite, connects ten short movements with spoken word narration about Witter-Johnson’s heritage and belonging in Jamaica, Ghana and England. Witter-Johnson is a star, with an airy, jazzy voice, effortlessly counterpointing with her precise, muscular cello. The Solem Quartet are more than up to the challenge of the piece’s jazz inflections and technical effects.

This is the fourth of the Solem Quartet’s “Beethoven Bartók Now” concerts, featuring a piece from Beethoven, a piece from Bartók, and a piece from now. In order to provide some continuity between these two other composers, Witter-Johnson also introduced both Bartók’s Quartet No. 3 and Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue with some spoken word narration from the composers.

The Solem Quartet (Amy Tress, William Newell, Stephen Upshaw, Stephanie Tress) are all very young, with their debut album only a year old, but they breathe as one, and make a strong, at times earthy sound. Despite the challenges of performing in a non-ventilated venue in the middle of a heatwave, this is a quartet with a fresh, gripping sound.

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