Strong Sad

CURRENTly – composed by Mondegreen (Kurt Knecht, Jonah Sirota)
Remnant – composed by Valgeir Sigurðsson
Quodlibet – composed by Rodney Lister
When You Lose You Win – composed by Jonah Sirota
Here Come the Waterworks – composed by A.J. McCaffrey
Vento e Sole: Elegy for Jonah (un lamento fortepiano) – composed by Paola Prestini
Elegy for a Lost World – composed by Robert Sirota
Lean – composed by Nico Muhly

STRONG SAD, the debut solo album from Jonah Sirota, the Grammy-nominated former violist of the Chiara Quartet, features new elegies by eight composers. The elegy as a musical form has often found a home in the plaintive middle-register voice of the viola—it tugs, and makes us aware of our inner landscape. While some of these works may refer to lost friends and loved ones, STRONG SAD reaffirms that mourning is too important to save only for funerals, and that sadness, when given a chance to breathe, can be our best path to deep and lasting contentment and joy. Featuring new works by Jonah himself, Paola Prestini, Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Robert Sirota, A.J. McCaffrey, and Rodney Lister, as well as a new work from the improv duo Mondegreen (Jonah Sirota and Kurt Knecht).

About the music:

CURRENTly: This track was co-written by Jonah Sirota and Kurt Knecht (the duo Mondegreen), and was improvised and recorded on location at St. Marks on the Campus Episcopal Church in Lincoln, NE, using the Bedient Op. 11 tracker-action Italian-style organ.

Remnant: This piece takes its name from the compositional approach taken by Valgeir Sigurðsson, who created a musical “map,” a track of digitally-produced music over which Jonah improvised multiple takes. After that, Valgeir removed the original track and cut and pasted the other layers into the final piece, much like removing the balloon from a papier-mâché sculpture after it hardens.

Quodlibet: This piece was originally the third movement of Rodney Lister’s larger solo viola sonata Complicated Grief, and appears here in a multi-tracked arrangement made by the performer. It features three Southern hymn tunes interwoven into a single composition, an homage to the composer’s father.

When You Lose You Win: This is Jonah’s recorded compositional debut and his first foray into digital production (a collaboration with producer Philip Zach). The piece is about the strength gained in the recovery from loss. It is also meant as a counterbalance to Donald Trump’s bullying rhetoric, in which nothing could be seen as worse than being a “Loser.”

Here Come The Waterworks: A.J. McCaffrey wrote this piece for the STRONG SAD project, as a musical reflection of how we process trauma. According to the composer, “I ended up thinking of the viola as a character that was trying to ‘re-learn’ speech or song, and this came out (as somewhat of a surprise to me) as microtones – inflections of notes on the viola that lie almost in between the notes on the piano. These ‘in-between notes’ also emerge throughout as a kind of ‘keening’ or sighing figure. As with many of my pieces, the mood changes throughout, as the material occasionally becomes distracted, lashes out in grief, anger, or catharsis, or retreats into contemplation.”

Vento e sole: Elegy for Jonah (un lamento fortepiano): Paola Prestini wrote this as a solo piece accompanied by loop pedal, so that Jonah’s performances accompany themselves. The piece is about times in which one finds strength in solitude. According to the composer: “I spend a few weeks a year in Italy near the town I was born in. It is full of sun and wind, a place where my thoughts have room to breathe. I wanted [to create] a piece that has huge shifts of emotion, but also gives a lot of air and space for the viola.”

Elegy for a Lost World: This commission represents the fifth work that composer Robert Sirota has written with his son Jonah Sirota’s playing in mind. Robert says, “In our conversations about the creation of this work, he asked me for a piece evoking a sense of the innocence of youth. I have tried to create a vehicle that reflects Jonah’s broad expressive range as well as the remarkable generosity of spirit he displays in his performing.”

Lean: Jonah had wanted to commission Nico Muhly for a solo piece ever since Nico wrote a quartet for Jonah’s group, the Chiara Quartet. The resulting piece Lean is a duet for Jonah and his sister, the esteemed violist and long-time Muhly collaborator Nadia Sirota. This short work features a canonic interplay between the two violas played over a pre-recorded viola drone, and can be seen to represent the ways in which siblings support, challenge, and find inspiration from one another.

credits

released June 22, 2018

Jonah Sirota, viola
Kurt Knecht, organ
Molly Morkoski, piano
Nadia Sirota, viola

Produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson and Jonah Sirota
Mastered by Valgeir Sigurðsson

Lister, Mondegreen, and J. Sirota recorded May 23-24, 2016, The Grid Studios, Lincoln, NE
Produced, engineered, and mixed by Philip Zach

McCaffrey, Muhly, Prestini, Sigur∂sson, and R. Sirota recorded November 27-30, 2017, Greenhouse Studios, Reykjavik, Iceland
Produced and mixed by Valgeir Sigurðsson
Engineered by Francesco Fabris
Assistants: Barnaby Lynch and Christian Grothe

The commission, performances, and production on the album were made possible, in part, by support from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Endowment Fund, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Glenn Korff School of Music, and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Research Council, as well as by a generous gift from Linda and Stuart Nelson. Additional major support was provided by Nina Rodale Houghton, Jerry Gaul, and Berwyn Jones.

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