Here's a piece that filters traditional sounds of a string quartet through a kaleidoscope of 21st-century textures. Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw's "Entr'acte" -- performed here by the Attacca Quartet in the CPR Performance Studio -- repeatedly flirts with an ornate melody that opens the piece.
The musicians quickly veer off toward less predictable sounds, then return to the opening section momentarily before abandoning it again. Shaw says she wrote the piece after feeling inspired by a Joseph Haydn quartet that "suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition."
The score asks the musicians to channel "granite" or "a little sigh" at different moments in their performance. One section calls for the players to draw their bow lightly across the muted strings of their instruments, resulting in a sound that's something like percussive whispers.
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Many composers like to end a piece with a bang. Shaw often wraps up her compositions toward a sense of serenity rather than bombast. She uses that approach here to gorgeous effect. Attacca cellist Andrew Yee plays long, plucked chords that suggest the sound of a Spanish guitar while the other musicians look on in silence. Like many sections of "Entr'acte," it's somehow both thrilling and understated.
Attacca played its recent CPR Performance Studio session during a trip to perform at the Strings Music Festival in Steamboat Springs. The group formed in 2003 at Juilliard and has recorded impressive discs exploring music by well-known composers like John Adams as well as younger artists like Michael Ippolito.
For a taste of what Attacca sounds like when they play something more traditional -- but equally stunning -- check out their take on a movement from Robert Schumann's String Quartet No. 3:
More exclusive music from the CPR Performance Studio: