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Juilliard String Quartet premieres USC professor’s work

Jesse Jones’ commissioned work getting worldwide performances

Jesse Jones, USC assistant professor of composition and theory, was commissioned by the Juilliard String Quartet to write a piece for their 2013-14 season, which recently premiered to acclaim. Jones' third string quartet, "Whereof man cannot speak...," received its world premiere in October at the Juilliard's season-opening performance at Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts in Indianapolis.

“I am thrilled and honored to compose a piece for the Juilliard String Quartet. The depth of their knowledge and devotion to music, old and new, as well as the intent, urgency, and authority with which they play it, has inspired me since my youth. Much of what I love in music I first discovered in JSQ recordings, and so I take this commission very seriously. — Jesse Jones

In its first New York appearance with new violist Roger Tapping on November 21 in Alice Tully Hall, the Juilliard String Quartet will again feature the New York premiere of the work by Jones. This season the Quartet will perform “Whereof man cannot speak…” some eighteen times across America and Europe.

Jay Harvey wrote in his Upstage blog, “The new work is a 30-minute episodic setting of the composer's grieving process after his mother's death. Jones individualizes the familiar stages of grief, and he also finds an individual way of casting in abstract musical terms emotions that don't easily find words. The piece opens with high-pitched chords, verging on microtonality, thus reflecting the "blurry" onset of bereavement. Every successive stage likewise finds a language of its own. The 35-year-old composer never lets his grief put on a maudlin display. His idiomatic use of the string quartet as a medium for portraying adjustment to personal loss gave the musicians a broad palette to work with, and they filled the canvas with deftly applied strokes. I loved the bold first-violin melody that seemed to embody late-blooming anger at the loss, and the way it then subsided into a soft chorale that ended the piece in a mood of hushed resignation.”

Composer Jesse Jones, also a conductor and a mandolinist, is an artist of wide-ranging tastes and influences. His work has been performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia, and he has been recognized with multiple awards and fellowships, most recently receiving the Elliott Carter Rome Prize in Composition from the American Academy of Rome.