Classical 91.5

From Haydn To Flying Lotus, Attacca Quartet Embraces Music Non-Stop

Jul 10, 2021
Originally published on July 10, 2021 9:50 am

One of the most adventurous classical ensembles, the Grammy Award-winning Attacca Quartet, has made its reputation with an eclectic musical palette – they've explored the string quartets of Haydn and Beethoven and premiered new pieces by contemporary composers. But the latest album from the group – violinists Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni, violist Nathan Schram and cellist Andrew Yee – might be their most surprising: Real Life features adaptations of electronic dance music by Flying Lotus, Louis Cole and Daedelus, among others.

Sony Classical / YouTube

Having come together as Juilliard School students in 2003, the original members of the ensemble leafed through a music dictionary, trying to come up with a name for their group. Starting with the A's, they quickly found what not only turned out to be a perfect name, but also a definition of their aesthetic.

"Attacca means attached; to keep playing music and to not stop," says Yee, a founding member. "And I think that's been sort of what we've done over the past almost 20 years; is to do something, but always be sort of in motion, always be really intentional about moving on and then discovering new things and finding joy in different places."

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw collaborated with the group on the Grammy-winning album, Orange. "One of the things that I love about Attacca is that they approach everything with creativity and enthusiasm and a willingness to try something new," she says. "Whether it's, you know, with something that I've written in the last few years or it's Beethoven. Everything feels – not to overuse a word – but it feels very fresh.

NPR Music / YouTube

So, when Attacca puts together a concert program, they like mixing things up, says Schram. "What we've been doing in our repertoire for so many years, we've been playing Beethoven next to Flying Lotus next to Caroline Shaw."

That's right: Flying Lotus, the Los Angeles-based producer and DJ.

The members of the group listen to all kinds of music, including electronic dance music, so, it wasn't such a leap for them to record a full album of string quartet adaptations. "It seemed to make a lot of sense with what we do," says Schram, "because it's instrumental music, it's extremely dynamic, it's super intelligent and sophisticated. And it was such a perfect fruit to try to dig into."

The quartet's members made their own transcriptions and worked, via Zoom, with the album's producers, including Michael League of Snarky Puppy. "This whole record is sort of like poster child of pandemic production," Yee explains. "We had a laptop that had just Mike's face on it in the studio with us. We could see him jamming out five seconds behind, you know, on the computer."

Attacca used all sorts of technology on the recording: they overdubbed themselves, added electronic effects and even enlisted some EDM producers, like TOKiMONSTA, to work with them. Their collaboration – done entirely long-distance – was on a Flying Lotus tune, "Remind U."

"They had already recorded kind of like a demo, and it was just amazing," says TOKiMONSTA. "I changed some of the sequencing, but not too much. I added more rhythm and movement and that's what I did with the percussion."

Sony Classical / YouTube

The quartet is aware that the new album, Attacca's first on the Sony Classical label, might raise some eyebrows. "For us, this music isn't that different than Beethoven—like, in so many ways it is!" Schram says, laughing. "Ultimately for us, it's music we love playing. We're using our instruments in the same creative way we would if we were playing classical music. Obviously, the production techniques are very different. But for us, it still feels very much like we're playing string quartet music."

And already, Attacca Quartet is promising more instrumental mash-ups: Their next album, scheduled for fall release, will pair works by contemporary composers Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt with Renaissance polyphony.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Attacca Quartet has one of the most adventurous classical ensembles. It's known for an eclectic musical palette that's explored. The string quartets of Haydn and Beethoven and premiered new pieces by contemporary composers, although not yet by B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music. But their latest album might be their most surprising. "Real Life" features adaptations of electronic dance music. Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: In 2003, some students at Juilliard formed a string quartet and leafed through a music dictionary trying to come up with a name for their group. They started with The A's and quickly found what not only turned out to be a perfect name but a definition of their aesthetic, says founding member and cellist Andrew Yee.

ANDREW YEE: Attacca means attached, to keep playing music and, like, to not stop. And I think that's been sort of what we've done over the past almost 20 years is to do something but always be sort of in-motion always be really intentional about about moving on and discovering new things and finding joy in different places.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTACCA QUARTET'S PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "STRING QUARTET IN A MINOR, OP. 132")

CAROLINE SHAW: One of the things that I love about Attacca is that they approach everything with creativity and enthusiasm and a willingness to try something new.

LUNDEN: Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw collaborated with the group on the Grammy Award-winning album "Orange."

SHAW: Whether it's, you know, with something that I've written in the last few years or Beethoven, everything feels not - to overuse a word. But it feels very fresh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTACCA QUARTET AND CAROLINE SHAW'S "PLAN AND ELEVATION IV: THE ORANGERY")

LUNDEN: So when Attacca puts together a concert program, they like mixing things up, says violist Nathan Schram.

NATHAN SCHRAM: That's what we've been doing in our repertoire for so many years. We've been playing Beethoven next to Flying Lotus, next to Caroline Shaw.

LUNDEN: That's right, Flying Lotus.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING LOTUS' "PILGRIM SIDE EYE")

LUNDEN: The members of the group listen to all kinds of music, including electronic dance music, so it wasn't such a leap for them to record a full album of string quartet adaptations, says Schram.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING LOTUS' "PILGRIM SIDE EYE")

SCHRAM: That seemed to make a lot of sense with what we do, because it's instrumental music. It's extremely dynamic. It's super intelligent and sophisticated. And it was such a perfect fruit to try to dig into.

LUNDEN: The quartet's members made their own transcriptions and worked via Zoom with the album's producers, including Michael League of Snarky Puppy, says cellist Andrew Yee.

YEE: This whole record is a poster child of pandemic production. We had a laptop that had just Mike's face on it in the studio with us. And so we can see him jamming out 5 seconds behind on the computer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTACCA QUARTET'S "REAL LIFE")

LUNDEN: Attacca used all sorts of technology on the recording. They overdubbed themselves, added electronic effects and even enlisted some EDM producers like TOKiMONSTA to work with them. Their collaboration, done entirely long distance, was on a Flying Lotus tune, "Remind U."

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTACCA QUARTET'S "REMIND U" FEATURING TOKIMONSTA)

TOKIMONSTA: They had already recorded kind of like a demo. And it was just amazing. They're such amazing musicians. And I changed some of the sequencing but not too much. I added more rhythm and movement. And that's what I did with the percussion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTACCA QUARTET'S "REMIND U" FEATURING TOKIMONSTA)

LUNDEN: Violist Nathan Schram.

SCHRAM: For us, this music isn't that different than Beethoven. Like as - you know, in so many ways, it is. But ultimately, for us, it's, like, music we love playing. We're using our instruments in the same creative way we would if we were playing classical music. And, obviously, the production techniques are very different. But for us, it still feels very much like we're playing string quartet music.

LUNDEN: "Real Life" is their first release on Sony Classical. This fall, Attacca will release another genre mash-up music of composers Philip Glass and Arvo Part with Renaissance polyphony. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTACCA QUARTET'S "ELETRIC POW WOW DRUM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.