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Release Date: October 23, 2020
Catalog #: NV6315
Format: Digital & Physical

Playing on the Edge 2

Bruce Babcock composer
Dayton Kinney composer
Roger Fong composer
Daniel Burwasser composer
John Summers composer
Gregory J. Harris composer

Sirius Quartet

PLAYING ON THE EDGE 2 follows up Navona Records' first Gramophone-lauded album in this series for string quartet. Like the first installment, the award-winning Sirius Quartet plays the entire catalogue to perfection.

Bruce Babcock opens the album with Watcher of the Sky, a piece commissioned to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the birth of American astronomer George Ellery Hale. Four movements chronicle the astronomer's achievements throughout the course of his career: the listener follows the rise from humble beginnings to great discoveries, always enveloped in a sense of marvel at the infinity of outer space. The Canary Who Sang by Dayton Kinney is a politically-inspired piece drawing parallels between the historical canaries in coal mines and today's whistleblowers: a musical testament on how one voice can potentially disrupt a larger society.

Happiness, anger, sorrow and joy are the underlying emotions of Roger Fong's Variations on Emotions. Derived from a Chinese saying that it is these emotions that make up life, Fong examines the nature of these heterogeneous sentiments with great accuracy. Daniel Burwasser's Puck's Game is a cinematically illustrative characterization of Shakespeare's mischievous sprite Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Rhythmic and exciting, the work is somewhat reminiscent of Shostakovich, but more light-hearted and humorous.

The first movement of String Quartet by John Summers is a meditation on sound, with thick harmonic layers and long, luscious melodic lines. The eclectic Landscapes by Gregory J. Harris round off the album. Careful to give every note, every idea ample space, the three-movement work exploits the tension between grandeur and intimacy – and the string quartet setup is the perfect conjunction of both.

PLAYING ON THE EDGE 2 is a solid follow-up to the first installment; and since it skillfully continues the thematic arc of the first album, one might well be able to expect a third.

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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Watcher of the Sky: I. In 1903 Bruce Babcock Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 2:37
02 Watcher of the Sky: II. Night of First Light Bruce Babcock Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 2:49
03 Watcher of the Sky: III. 1938 Bruce Babcock Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 3:01
04 Watcher of the Sky: IV. Palomar Bruce Babcock Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 2:57
05 The Canary Who Sang Dayton Kinney Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 7:32
06 Variations on Emotions Roger Fong Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 4:17
07 Puck's Game Daniel Burwasser Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 5:11
08 String Quartet: I. John Summers Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 10:03
09 String Quartet No. 1 "Landscapes": I. Scenes from a Dark Wood Gregory J. Harris Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 4:48
10 String Quartet No. 1 "Landscapes": II. In the Moon's Wake Gregory J. Harris Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 5:48
11 String Quartet No. 1 "Landscapes": III. A Wild Wind Gregory J. Harris Sirius Quartet | Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Gregor Huebner, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello 4:53

All tracks recorded September 24-26 & October 8, 2019 at Futura Productions in Roslindale MA
Session Producer Brad Michel
Session Engineer John Weston
Assisstant Engineer Jacob Steingart

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Chris Robinson

VP, Audio Production Jeff LeRoy
Recording Sessions Director Levi Brown
Audio Director Lucas Paquette
Editing, Mixing, and Mastering Brad Michel

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Sara Warner

Artist Information

Bruce Babcock

Composer

Applauded by Aaron Copland, inspired by Desmond Tutu, and mentored by Hugo Friedhofer and Earle Hagen, Bruce Babcock has spent his working life composing music for the musicians of Los Angeles. Successful in both film and television, and the concert hall, he is known for vibrant, sonorous, expressive pieces that immerse audience and performers alike in an inclusive and exuberant celebration of the musical art.

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Dayton Kinney

Composer

Dayton Kinney creates music that has won and has been recognized in numerous national and international competitions. Inspired by Paul Hindemith’s A Composer’s World, Dayton’s music concentrates on the ambiguous idea of “transforming the circle… into a spiral.” Through this notion, Dayton explores and creates in order to discover the limits of ambiguity in thematic material, accessibility, harmony, and form with the goal of striking a balance between the certainty of a circle and the ambiguity of a spiral.

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Roger Fong

Composer

Since he first encountered a piano, Roger does not just play on it but branches out himself into different music activities.

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Daniel Burwasser

Composer

Daniel Burwasser, a composer, percussionist and teacher, was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Burwasser grew up in a musical family. He began piano lessons at age five, and at eleven, he turned his interests to percussion instruments, which he began studying both in school and privately.

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John Summers

Composer

John Summers took up the guitar at age 16, and a few years later, after graduating through playing clubs and other venues, joined a touring children’s theatre company as composer, musical director and performer, travelling extensively throughout the eastern states of Australia.

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Gregory J. Harris

Composer

For Gregory Harris, the process of becoming a composer was one of absorption. By opening himself to soak up an unbounded array of sounds, influences, and genres -- a process he began formally at age 6, with piano lessons at his grandfather’s bench -- he has lived a life of near-constant immersion in music.

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Sirius Quartet

Ensemble

Internationally acclaimed veterans of contemporary music, Sirius Quartet combines exhilarating repertoire with unequalled improvisational fire. These conservatory-trained performer-composers shine with precision, soul and a raw energy rarely witnessed on stage, championing a forward-thinking, genre-defying approach that makes labels like 'New Music' sound tame.

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Notes

People have been asking me (well, one person has), why have you been chosen to compose a piece in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the birth of astronomer George Ellery Hale? And who was Hale?

George Hale, born in 1868, founded Kenwood, Yerkes, Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar Observatories. He also built the largest telescope in the world four times – the 40-inch refractor at Yerkes, the 60-inch and 100-inch at Mount Wilson, and the 200-inch at Mount Palomar. Among many other achievements. (To learn more, check out the documentary film www.journeytopalomar.org by Todd and Robin Mason.) My family has been connected to George Hale and his legacy since 1893.

Kenwood Observatory, built by Hale's father for George, age 12

In 1893, at age eleven, my grandfather Harold Delos Babcock attended the Columbian Exposition of 1893, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. There he saw the then world's largest telescope, the 40-inch refractor, on display, built by Hale, then 25.

The Yerkes 40-inch refractor at the Chicago World's Fair

In 1909, Harold was hired by Hale to join the staff at Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, which was founded in 1904. Harold remained on the staff for 40 years. He then continued his observations of the sun at the Hale Solar Lab, Hale's private solar observatory in San Marino, for another 15 years. During World War One, Harold performed defense work for the National Research Council, for which Hale served as  chairman of the organizing committee and first chairman of the council itself.

My father, Horace Welcome Babcock, graduated from Caltech (founded by Hale) and earned his doctorate at UC Berkley. My parents met while Horace was working at Yerkes Observatory, the home of the 40-inch refractor Harold had first seen in 1893. Horace joined the staff of Mount Wilson in 1946. He became Director of the Carnegie Observatories in 1964 and remained so until his retirement in 1978.

Yerkes Observatory

As early as 1903 Hale had begun to anticipate the creation of a major observatory in the Southern hemisphere. Under my father's direction, the Carnegie Observatories established the Las Campanas Observatory in the southern Atacama Desert of Chile in 1969.

The 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson

The 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson

The 200-inch telescope at Mount Palomar

The Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas

In 2004, at the Caltech memorial event for Horace, I met Todd and Robin Mason, who were working on their documentary of the life of George Ellery Hale, "Journey to Palomar," eventually shown on PBS. Todd, in addition to being a documentary filmmaker and Juilliard-educated composer, has been creating digital images of what the GMT will look like when complete in a few more years. Harold gave me the Columbian half-dollar you see at the top of this post in 1961.

Bruce and Harold Babcock

— Bruce Babcock

Brought into the coal mines caged, canaries were used to warn the people around them that danger was imminent. The birds’ songs and chirps would sound in these dark, manmade echo chambers. Their silent deaths would bring a final warning to the coal miners that the suffocating danger was imminent, prompting the miners to run for their safety. Through their sacrifice, these birds saved many miners from deadly catastrophes. The Canary Who Sang is an allegorical comment on today’s political climate of how a single voice can disrupt, challenge, and change opposing and unrelenting forces of power to create a hopeful future for change.

Inspired by women’s voices and stories from the Me Too movement, I was drawn to composing a piece for the early whistle-blowers whose stories and reports are often not told or silenced. Through the choice of medium, references, sonorities, and its opening theme, The Canary Who Sang follows the narrative of a young girl coming forward as a force of power tries to stomp and stifle her voice. Through her bittersweet return of her canary-theme, a sense of hope is potentially on the horizon.

— Dayton Kinney

Through a so-called theme and four variations that follow, this little piece hopes to depict how four emotional states – happiness, anger, sorrow and joy – can be captured and displayed. The combination of the above states comes from a Chinese phrase, which simply means the different emotions that we have in our lives.

In the theme, two simple lines stem out from the violin and cello part. They are not that dissonant, but when the other two parts come it, the music starts to go tweaky and bumpy in terms of its smoothness.  Some tremolos at the end reveal tensions, showing palpitations before the music closes and proceeds into the 1st variation.

The 1st one is simple and direct, symbolizing happiness, perhaps some Classical style there. It is straight forward, casually sprinkled with interesting scales and vertical harmonies.  The G# interjections from second violin open up the anger part in the 2nd variation. Highly dissonant, the second violin (finally) gets its chance to do its “melodic” part but never too pleasant – irritating enough. Those angry tremolos come at the end and the music fades into the sorrow part, led by viola.

The melancholic 3rd variation is directly delivered from the viola, with sentimental phrases, accompanied with harmonies in 7th and 9th spaced distantly.  It looks to the distance and sighs.  Weighty grievances are sensed at the end of the variation, only with the cello picking up at the 4th variation that joy returns. Cello leads the 4th variation, not explicitly happy but with some subtlety that eventually turns into a pleasant smile.

The pizzicatos come out, eventually tutti from all part. Well, negative emotions always linger and ponder on us not far away as the final phrase remind us. But let us hope for the best and that is the end of some brief glimpses on our emotions.

— Roger Fong

Puck’s Game is inspired by the actions of Shakespeare’s mischievous sprite, Puck, the fairly-like jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music reflects Puck’s playful and restless nature through leaping gestures, frolicking motives and restless rhythmical figures. While there is a moment in the work when Puck exudes a more tender side, his truly impish nature quickly returns at the conclusion of the piece.

— Daniel Burwasser

The string quartet featured on Playing on the Edge 2 was completed in 2018, and is characterised by a first movement where melody and structure are shared equally by all the players; a second movement of stark contrast where the 1st violin solos over an ostinato figure shared by various combinations of the other instruments, and a third movement which talks constantly between the players.

For this piece, I wanted each movement to evoke an environment or setting into which the listener would be carried through several scenes, each characterized by a certain nerve or emotion, accompanied with a strong tactile quality to the imagery.

My intention was to take the listener on a journey where the physical and psychological terrain are wedded.

The string quartet model provided a perfect vehicle for the ideas expressed in this piece. The medium is ideal for its flexibility, as it can span across a wide spectrum of expressiveness. It can evoke an orchestral sense of power and timbral variation, while offering a rhythmical precision and subtlety (which is much harder to accomplish with an orchestra), as well as the most intimate and delicate qualities of a solo performer. A perfect balance of large and small.

Compositionally, it is constructed by exploiting the motifs introduced in the first couple of minutes. These melodic and rhythmic patterns expand, contract, invert and morph through many events of varying stylistic contexts (or backdrops), and are distributed throughout the 3 movements.

— Gregory Harris

Scores

Watcher of the Sky (excerpt)

Bruce Babcock

View Score

The Canary Who Sang (excerpt)

Dayton Kinney

View Score

Variations on Emotions

Roger Fong

View Score

Puck's Game (excerpt)

Daniel Burwasser

View Score