Western Front presented Long Gradus, a long-form composition by composer, performer and researcher Sarah Davachi. The work was commissioned in 2020 by the Montréal-based string quartet Quatuor Bozzini as part of their Composer’s Kitchen Residency in Gaudeamus, Utrecht. This performance marked the world premiere of all four movements of this work.
Lit in the centre of the Grand Luxe Hall, the quartet, composed of Isabelle Bozzini on cello, Stéphanie Bozzini on viola, and Alissa Cheung and Clemens Merkel on violins, sat facing each other in a circle, as the audience surrounded them in the round.
Developed as an iteration of Davachi’s ongoing preoccupation with chords, cadences, and sustained sound, Long Gradus’s horizontal shifts in pitch and texture occur on a very gradual scale, allowing the listener’s perceptions to settle on the spatial experience of harmony. A system of septimal just intonation, as well as a Baroque scordatura, emphasizes the sympathetic resonance of strings tuned in both pure fifths and unisons. Long Gradus uses a formalized articulation of time-bracket notation alongside unfixed indications of pitch, texture, and voicing that allow the players some discretion in determining the shape of the piece. A sense of pacing that is markedly different from that of mensural notation emerges, while the open structure of the composition results in each performance having a unique configuration.
As the term “gradus” is a sort of handbook meant to aid in learning a difficult practice, Long Gradus is designed to considerably slow the cognitive movements of both listener and player, and to focus their attention on the relationships between moments.
Following the performance, Quatuor Bozzini and Sarah Davachi were joined by Western Front assistant curator Nathaniel Marchand for a question and answer session.