To the best of our knowledge, vocalist Nina Guo and I are the only two graduates from our small all-girls high school to ever go into the field of experimental music. We were in the same class and I even have a photo of us very earnestly performing together at graduation. Nina makes up for one half of Departure Duo, your new favorite double bass and soprano new music duo, with bassist Edward Kass. They recently released their debut album, Immensity Of (New Focus Recordings), which features works by Katherine Balch, John Aylward, Emily Praetorius, and György Kurtág. I’ve had this album on repeat for the past few weeks as their phenomenal musicianship, humor, and the works on the record continue to engage my ears and surprise me. It’s a pleasure to speak with the duo about Immensity Of and I encourage you to take a listen!
Anna Heflin: Can you share a little bit about the commissions on the album and what each piece means to you as a duo?
Nina Guo: The three commissioned pieces, Phrases, Tiergarten, and Immensity Of, are very special to us. Katherine Balch and John Aylward, the composers of Phrases and Tiergarten, respectively, are both dear friends of ours who we’ve known for years, and both of their pieces were surprise gifts! Katie wrote our first ever commission (Vidi l’angelo nel marmo), and then a few years later, told us that she had written a second piece for the combination, Phrases. John Aylward and I were getting a coffee when he took out the handwritten score for Der Panther and put it on the table. “Nina, this is for you and Eddie! I know how much you like Rilke and animals, so here is a Rilke setting… about an animal! The swan and the unicorn are on their way!” Apart from the pure delight of having new pieces to play (and who doesn’t enjoy a surprise present?), we love having these beautiful meeting grounds for us to make music with our friends, with whom we’ve grown up so much.
Immensity Of was part of a group of commissions from 2019. The composer, Emily Praetorius, requests that the audience should be as close as possible to the performers, and we wanted to extend that invitation as the closing gesture in the album. Both in concert and through the recording, we are happy for listeners to get even closer into soprano+double bass.
Edward Kass: Part of why we love commissioning is because it helps open our ears. Each of these pieces had textures and sounds we hadn’t explored yet in our other repertoire at that point, so these gave us a chance to expand our color palette. We love that there are still fresh ways to use our combination and sounds that still surprise us.
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