American Quintettery

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For some American composers, the string quartet just isn't going to cut it. These composers need more; an extra voice, an extra texture, something to push it out of the standard quartet sphere and into the wild and wooly world of QUINTETS. Today the Brothers Balliett listen to two quintets, of different instrumentation, both by American composers.

John Harbison has managed to absorb the European tradition, reference the American tradition, and still forge his own unique, forward-looking voice. This awareness of history and eye for the future has made him a significant voice in the American landscape for several decades. Here he complements the string quartet with a piano, creating a little world where the two textures collide. I always try to find the jazz in Harbison's work, see if you can track it down in this quintet!

Finding the jazz in Edgar Meyer's Quintet is also a fun task. This work from the MacArthur Fellow winning artist is full of all the hallmarks that define Meyer's style: a healthy dose of bluegrass, brilliant counterpoint, and extreme virtuosity. The fifth instrument in this quintet? Why, the double bass of course, with the composer himself playing.

Forget American pottery and American lotteries. Today is all about American Quintettery.