Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
at217 Jürg Frey ‘String Trio’
Premiere recording of the revised version Jürg Frey’s superb String Trio (2017/2018/2022)
Played by Apartment House:
Mira Benjamin, violin
Bridget Carey, viola
Anton Lukoszevieze, cello
Interview with Jürg Frey
Can you tell us the history of your String Trio?
I wrote the piece on a commission from the Concertgebouw Brugge, and it was premiered by the Goeyvaerts Trio as part of the 2019 SLOW Festival. The trio played the piece again after the festival, but I always had the feeling that it hadn’t yet arrived at its final destination. So when the plan emerged to have Apartment House record the trio, I sat down again and worked some more on the piece.
It’s not the first time I’ve re-worked ‘finished’ pieces. This is mainly due to my basic way of working, which knows no compositional system, and the procedure is also unsystematic. This means that everything takes a long time. It’s a slow process of emergence, of omission, of developments. It feels like a slow but natural process which I can’t accelerate at will. And this process leads in the end to a clear, in itself calm architecture of the composition. A calmness that is not least connected with the fact that the compositional questions have now been clarified.
Like a lot of your music, the trio has a strong melancholic streak - especially the final minutes, which I find almost painfully sad. Are you particularly drawn to melancholy, or is the emotional effect of your music not something which you consider when you are composing and working out how a piece should develop?
I am always very much concerned with questions of material when I compose. And I think one of the reasons for my preoccupation with material is that it allows me to develop a kind of resistance to slipping too easily into a melancholic streak. I don’t resist it in an uptight way, but I try to look at the material as a neutral thing, and then under the surface it acquires those colours that characterise my music.
Does the trio have any tonal or modal centre? To my ears all the notes sound so ‘right’ that I can hardly believe that you’re not using some kind of system.
If ‘system’ means making systematic preparations and developing a system before composing that can serve as a guideline in the work, then no, there is no system. It’s more an empirical procedure. For example, I had the idea that the piece should begin with a repeated note in the cello over a period of time. But the fact that this low ‘E’ in the cello then sounds on and on for almost nine minutes was no system-related idea; it simply emerged from the work. Of course, I found it thrilling during this work when I realised that it became possible to leave the cello on the ‘E’ for so long.
And then arise questions of architecture, emotionality, energies, context and dimensions in a piece. All this makes the work process so exciting and lively. So at the end of the repetitions the cello descends two notes, and this motif then becomes the material for the continuation, and later comes this short motif with the fast notes. It’s hard to describe this as a system. But it would also be too easy for me to say ‘you just have to make the right decisions at the right place in the piece’. For me it’s mainly a matter of the ear, of listening, and a matter of feeling, to figure out how things go together. And here it’s obvious that this long ‘E’ in the cello, and later the ‘C#’ in the cello, become an influence on the tonal atmosphere through the whole piece.
For what it’s worth, I find the String Trio stunningly beautiful, and like it as much as anything you’ve written. Do you have favourite pieces of your own? Or is it impossible to think of your own creations in that sort of way?
The piece is also very special to me in that it’s the first time that I’ve listened to a piece again and again after finishing the editing. I should say that I’m used to listening to recordings of my own pieces, but never so often as with the String Trio. I don’t know why this happened, but one thing I hear in the piece: it’s a (maybe even perfect) balance between anonymity and personality. And that results in music that ultimately remains inexplicable even to me.