Read my interview below to learn a little more about Quince and what they do!
Photo by Karjaka Studios
How was Quince originally formed, and what brought the four of you together?
Kayleigh Butcher: Amanda and I met at a Neko Case concert in Bowling Green, OH. We had an instant connection. Eventually, we were keen on starting an all-female group. I’m not sure it was originally discussed what *kind* of repertoire we would perform, but we gravitated toward new music in some way. We tried a lot of different kinds of rep at various times while still in school, but none of them really clicked until we realized working with composers is what we wanted to focus on.
Let me also say that we were actually originally 5 women. You can even see some of the VERY early promo photos on Facebook. Life happens though and eventually we were down to 4, and then Carrie came along when Quince did a gig with Ensemble Dal Niente in Chicago. We just had to have her :)
Liz Pearse: BGSU! Amanda and Kayleigh asked if I would join their small-ensemble. As I had just started my doctorate in what was a new field for me (contemporary music), it seemed like a good idea. I liked them, and having a team of vocalists around me while beginning my journey into new music was both comforting and challenging.
Your website describes Quince as an ensemble of “dedicated advocates of new music” and your albums (“Realign the Time” and 2017’s “Hushers”) definitely demonstrate that advocacy. With such a rich history of vocal repertoire throughout the Western music canon, what prompted you to focus so strongly on new music?
KB: There’s just something about being able to communicate to composers how to write for us specifically that is such an amazing experience. I see so many singers complain about things that aren’t intuitive in a score and we have a direct hand in making things work better for voices. It’s an empowering feeling. On top of that, we’ve been able to work with a lot of insanely talented composers to make their ideas a reality. It’s nice to know and trust your collaborators in such an intimate way. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Plus I like doing the weird things. I can’t stand going to concerts and knowing exactly what to expect. I want to show people what’s really possible for the voice.
LP: Though there is a lot of repertoire out there, there is not a lot of treble-voice-unaccompanied chamber music post-Renaissance. Neither ADB/KB/nor I were very interested in becoming early-music experts at the time, and there are plenty such ensembles around anyway. It was then, as is now, more fulfilling to work with living composers to create a body of work for our instrumentation, and build a repertoire (in the hopes of fostering a resurgence of interest in treble voice chamber music – why should Cantus/Chanticleer have all the fun?)
Carrie Henneman Shaw: It’s funny you should put the question quite that way. In the Western canon, there is astoundingly little repertoire for unaccompanied women’s voices. There are conspicuous exceptions - convent music, some early American music, to name a couple. Outside of that, most women’s ensemble music includes some sort of lower register accompaniment or is geared towards youth ensembles. This repertoire needs advocates who help expand not only what’s out there but also push it in a direction that broadens the kinds of skills, sophistication of expressivity and decision-making, and the content that’s associated with work for treble voices. Furthermore, I think each of us feels compelled as artists to make work that is entangled with our lives right here and now, and even if we did have a body of repertoire like that of the 19th-century string quartet, I don’t think it would be long before we’d be looking for something that is more specifically the product of our place and time.
On a related note, Quince’s repertoire also has a very strong focus on music by living composers, and you have commissioned numerous new works by young emerging composers. Championing music of living composers seems to be a very important aspect of what you do. Can you talk a little bit about that and what it means to you individually and as an ensemble?
KB: I think we all have our individual ideas about how to write for the voice, whether it is a solo or for Quince. In our personal experiences, academic environments don’t always embrace their student composers writing for voices. I have no idea why. We’d love to see that change though. That’s why we focus so much on doing residencies and student readings.
Also, contrary to what people think, there’s not a lot of existing rep for 4 female voices (SSSA). There are choral works, but they aren’t all that experimental, and there are some renaissance and medieval things, but they weren’t actually written for women so not all of them are actually possible for a female group to perform. Working with student composers and commissioning new repertoire from living composers is basically the only way for us to have new rep. It works out perfectly for us :)
Amanda DeBoer Bartlett: For me, feeling like I have influence and “voice” as an artist has become exceedingly important, and working with living composers presents an opportunity to have creative input as an artist. I want to help bring art into the world that challenges preconceived norms, empowers individuals to use their imagination, and reinforces narratives of individual empowerment for people who need it most. When I’m hired to sing an opera, for example, I usually don’t have any control over the role I’m singing and how I’m portrayed as a woman. With Quince, we’re in charge of our own narrative, and we work with composers that we feel bring those values into their work.
LP: Working with living composers allows us to influence vocal music in our own small way. We have spent much time talking with composers about the human voice – its possibilities, its limitations, and its quirks (both in general and for our specific instruments). The ability to have this direct interaction has created a variety of timbres/sounds/techniques in our repertoire that arguably has not previously existed in treble voice chamber music. In addition, discussing what we do as chamber music (as distinguished from “choral music”) has been enlightening. One-per-part music for SSAA is uncommon, but allows for a greater virtuosity and flexibility than choral singing affords. We hope other treble vocalists will consider such an ensemble as a meaningful musical outlet.
CHS: Amanda perfectly voices a lot of what I feel. If I were to add anything, looking at problem of vocal quartet repertoire from another angle, we feel pretty motivated to ask for new pieces from composers whose works we admire, because once they’re gone, it’s too late, and it’s become part of our role in the artistic world to ensure that future generations of women’s vocal quartets actually has a body of work to drawn from.
The four of you are spread out around the country geographically (Kansas City, Omaha, St. Paul, New York), and perform individually and with other ensembles, but as a group you still maintain a very active performance schedule and always produce highly polished performances. Do you meet often to rehearse together, or do you often prepare your parts individually and put them together prior to performances?
KB: We never do anything without rehearsals. We plan months, sometimes years in advance depending on the project or piece. We make a point to meet every month and also plan residencies where we only focus on the upcoming repertoire. We will always make sure to have a concentrated amount of time before every performance to rehearse. We all definitely learn the repertoire individually first. I can’t imagine sightreading some of the repertoire we do with my other Quince ladies. Dear lord. We absolutely need that prep time so that tuning and metronome work is easier later when we all come together.
ADB: We have several systems for dealing with our long-distance situation. For most of our shows, we meet 3-4 days in advance and have an intensive rehearsal period before the show. We’ve also received multiple artist residencies at Avaloch Farm Music Institute (New Hampshire) and High Concept Labs (Chicago) which we have used to develop new repertoire. Our Avaloch Farms residences, in particular, have been instrumental in preparing for our seasons. The repertoire for our programs is typically decided well in advance, so over the summer at Avaloch we have been meeting before the season begins to work on all of our music for the year. It’s enormously helpful!
EP: Depending on the performance/schedule/timing, we generally try to plan many months in advance, taking advantage of summer residencies like Avaloch Farm Music Institute to put in intense-learning sessions. We must prepare individually (and the way we each learn music is unique, so it is often better to have individual time first!). We then will spend several more intense days together prior to performances/tours, working out final ensemble issues. (For us, video-rehearsals have not yet proven a viable option!)
In addition to being amazingly talented singers, you also employ the use of other instruments, as well as technology and multimedia in some pieces/performances (Fjola Evans’ Whirlpools, Levy Lorenzo’s Intimate Voices, Molly Herron’s Stellar Atmospheres).
Was this always a goal of the ensemble or is it something that evolved over time? And what amount of collaboration with the composers goes into preparing these works?
KB: You know, it never really was the goal. Our goal is always to do interesting and innovative things with the voice and it always manages to manifest in something really cool with electronics. There are just so many cool things happening every day. It’s unbelievable. And to be able to create new works that incorporate new technology AND the voice. It’s living a dream, for sure!
EP: Aww, thanks! I’m not sure it was ever stated as a goal…with all three above pieces, it was the composer’s suggestion/request that we work with instruments they had previously invented (Fjola’s piece existed before we performed it, and Molly’s “Dervishes” has been used in other works. Levy had been working on the iLophone prior to our collaboration, but it was a grant that supported the collaboration between him and Quince!) We met with Fjola and Molly in NYC prior to the SONIC fest performance learning how to use the sensor instruments, and coordinating with the Dervishes. With Levy, we had a few skype calls to talk about nuance and phrasing in Inside Voice. We have since produced an all EA/voice(s) tour in Chicago and Connecticut, as part of a collaboration with Connecticut College. Working with both fixed and live-interaction works, we are able to expand our tonal palette in more ways than we had previously been able.
Earlier this year you were part of the KODY festival as part of a collaboration with David Lang and Beth Morrison Productions. Could you talk a little more about that collaboration, how it was started and what the KODY festival experience was like?
KB: This came about in many steps. Liz was actually the one that realized that a) Anonymous 4 was retiring and b) love fail (the piece that was written for and premiered by A4) was going to be out of exclusivity shortly after. We all absolutely love David Lang and the piece. We made a goal of reaching out to David and Beth Morrison to see if we could continue touring their amazing production. We met David and Beth at various times in NYC and found a date for the Poland Codes Festival.
The festival itself was such a life-changing experience for us. Not only was it our first international gig, but it was our first full-length program with staging and with all 4 of us. (Our only other full-length program is Three Voices, which obviously only has 3 voices!) And working closely with David and Beth was absolutely inspiring. They care about this piece and it shows in the production.
EP: KODY was amazing. Though not a country generally flush with cash, Poland (and Lublin especially) place a HIGH value on the arts, and it was clear a lot of love, money, and care was spent on this festival. We performed in a beautiful, brand new performing arts center run by the city of Lublin (not attached to a specific school). The festival was extraordinarily professionally run – we were pampered for the days we were there. As an ensemble that mostly self-produces, it felt luxurious to be there.
In addition, it was amazing working with David Lang, who was extremely open about his motivations for writing love fail, his wishes for the piece, and his philosophy on what music can be for a varied audience. Being able to prepare the work with him in the room was so, so valuable.
Quince’s second album titled “Hushers,” featuring works by Giacinto Scelsi, Kaija Saariaho, Warren Enström, and Kate Soper will be coming out in February of 2017. Could you talk a little bit about what listeners can expect from this album?
Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations, both as an ensemble
KB: I think this next album is a total 180 from our first album. Firstly, there’s only one QUince commission on the album (Warren Enstrom’s hushers); the other pieces already existed. We also go in an almost exclusively microtonal direction and most of the pieces don’t have any understandable text. The whole point of this 180 is to show what voices can really do - we can sing tonally, atonally, aleatorically, microtonally, the list goes on. I hope people enjoy listening to it as much as we liked recording it.
ADB: This album dives deep into some spaced-out sounds, but it still has a visceral character. The title, “HUSHERS,” which is also the title of one of the tracks written by Warren Enström, refers to particular phonetic sounds in the Russian Language (SH). As a group, we’ve noticed a tendency to want to use female voices in “ethereal” ways that remove the physical, bodily experience of the singer. On this album, with speech phonemes and earthy microtones and poetry about the body as our inspiration, we created tracks that place the singer and the body in the forefront of the experience.
EP: Listeners can expect representations of a wide variety of sub-“genres” within contemporary vocal repertoire. The Saariaho places beautiful and angular Sylvia Plath texts at the forefront with her signature beauty of line and breath. Kate Soper’s Songs for Nobody is a charming, sinuous setting of Merton poetry. The rest of the album is text-less (over half!). Expect an onslaught of Scelsi’s microtonal timbral-exploration in the full Sauh “liturgie”, with immediacy of ever-changing rhythms and sonic interaction among voices. The title track, Warren Enstrom’s “Hushers”, combines a percussive use of the voice with a timbral chorale reminiscent of Sauh. We loved performing the piece at UW-Milwaukee, where Warren’s piece was premiered, and we are so happy to present it on this album!
CHS: Expect awesomeness.
Do you have any current or upcoming projects and/or collaborations in the works?
KB: Oh, man, so many projects! We’re going on tour with love fail (the concert version, no the staged version) in February and March. We’re recording our 3rd album, which will revolve around politics and feminism. We’re performing Curtis Rumrill’s The Passion of the Wilt-Mold Mothers in December 2016 in Pittsburgh. We’re heading to SUNY Fredonia for a residency.We’ll be performing Music for 18 Musicians with Eighth Blackbird and Third Coast Percussion in Ann Arbor. And the last thing of our season is Berio’s Laborintus II with Alia Musica. As for next season, we’ll be premiering LJ White’s new piece (we got the CMA Commissioning Grant for LJ to write this for us!) plus David Reminick’s new piece, and a few other big projects that we can’t announce yet, but needless to say, we’re excited about what’s on the horizon….
ADB: Of course! There are too many to mention here, but we won a Chamber Music America grant to commission a new song cycle for voices and electronics by LJ White, we’re touring the Midwest and Rust Belt with David Lang’s “love fail” this Spring, we’re part of a three-concert series with Alia Music in Pittsburgh which includes Berio’s iconic “Laborintus II,” and we’re recording our 3rd album in 2017. We’re certainly keeping busy!
EP: Yes of course! Frequency Fest 2017 will see KB/ADB/me performing as a trio, necessitating some new commissioned works for the performance (we have some, but not a full set, of trio rep). We just spent time in the studio recording sounds for Luis Amaya’s commission for that festival. In addition, we’re participating in a performance of Berio’s Laborintus II in May, after a spring love fail tour. Later in May, we’ll record Jenn Jolley’s Prisoner of Conscience, an oratorio using texts from the trial of Pussy Riot…it’s never seemed more current. Next year…we have many irons in the fire, and we’ll see soon which are ready for forgin’!
For more information about Quince, check out their website:http://www.quince-ensemble.com/
Below are some videos of Quince performing selections from their repertoire.
"Three Madrigals on Poems by Wallace Stevens" by Max Grafe
"Whirlpool" by Fjola Evans
"Prospect and Refuge" by Eliza Brown
"Three Voices" (excerpt) by Morton Feldman