Updated at 10:45 a.m. June 3, 2021
Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
This week on New Classical Tracks, in celebration of Black Music Appreciation Month we revisit violist Paul Laraia of Catalyst Quartet discussing the joys and privileges of honoring composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in the ensemble's first recording in a series commemorating Black composers.
Catalyst Quartet — Uncovered, Vol. 1: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Azica)
"I think one of the most unique burdens, but also privileges, was to be among the first to lay down what could be the foundation of tradition," violist Paul Laraia said about the Catalyst Quartet's latest project. "And there's a lot of responsibility in that, but there's also a lot of freedom."
Uncovered is Volume 1 in a series of recordings celebrating historic Black composers who wrote original works for string quartet. The first recording highlights the works of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, with pianist Stuart Goodyear.
What was Goodyear's reaction when you asked him to be part of this project?
"From the second that we asked him, he was fully on board. To the point that when we arrived for our first rehearsal, he had this huge list of corrections from the score. Finding the correct notes for a lot of these works is really difficult. Some of these works don't have proper scores. Some of them have no scores. Some of them only exist as a manuscript. Words can't express how much his dedication added to the mission of the project."
What about the recording makes the music feel familiar but different?
"You can't really put it into words, but if I had to approximate how I feel, I find his music to be particularly soulful and full of many characters. It's really interesting to hear. All the different influences that come from being such a unique cultural figure, like being an Afro-British composer. I think you can hear many different elements of his mixed culture."
Anthony McGill is the featured clarinetist on the Quintet in F-sharp minor and the principal clarinet with the New York Philharmonic. Why did he want to be part of this project?
"When we sat down to read the quintet, the first time he said something to the effect of, 'Wow, I feel like I'm home.' It sort of struck him viscerally right away that he had this connection to the language and to that soulful quality, which I think is at its peak in the clarinet quintet. It is definitely the most soulful work on the record."
What made it fun for you to perform the opening movement of that quintet?
"The clarinet is sort of like the secret twin of the viola. We take up the husky middle grounds of the sound quality. We share a lot of roles, for instance, in the beginning of the first movement of the clarinet quintet, we have a lot of stuff in octaves and in unison, and it makes this sort of haunting sound. So I would say that combination is always a joy in a clarinet quintet, but especially in this one."
What are you hoping people will discover when listen to this recording?
"Beauty. It has many different definitions, and it means different things to different people. So I would just hope that the purity of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's voice can come through and also the dedication we put into making the works sing the best in the most authentic way we could."
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Correction: In a previous version, this article incorrectly quoted a question from Julie Amacher. It has since been corrected.