Caroline Shaw's 'Orange' Is A Love Letter To The String Quartet : Deceptive Cadence On Orange, an album devoted entirely to her work, the young, Pulitzer-winning composer salutes a centuries-old genre.
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Caroline Shaw's Love Letter To The String Quartet

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Caroline Shaw's Love Letter To The String Quartet

Review

Caroline Shaw's Love Letter To The String Quartet

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Caroline Shaw burst onto the music scene in 2013 when she became the youngest composer to win a Pulitzer Prize. Shaw is still in her 30s, and now for the first time, there's an album devoted entirely to her work.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "PUNCTUM")

CORNISH: The album is called "Orange," and it's filled with music for string quartet. In this review, NPR's Tom Huizenga says Shaw's music is a refreshing take on a centuries-old genre.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Caroline Shaw's new album is a love letter to the string quartet.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "RITORNELLO 2.SQ.2.J.A.")

HUIZENGA: It's also like a garden, Shaw says in the liner notes. The soil contains musical remnants of the old masters which nourish her own new compositions. In the piece called "The Cutting Garden," she grafts sprigs of Mozart, then Ravel onto her own new quartet.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "PLAN AND ELEVATION: II. THE CUTTING GARDEN")

HUIZENGA: The musicians playing Shaw's music - tending her garden, as she puts it - are members of the Attacca Quartet. It takes agility and precision to pull off this music, which tends to shift gears suddenly. The album's opening piece, "Entr'acte," is all about abrupt juxtapositions. Here the Attacca players negotiate a thicket of pizzicato, then pivot to a single viola bowing across all four strings.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "ENTR'ACTE")

HUIZENGA: This music grew out of an idea in a Haydn quartet. But it's more than just the classic composers who inspire Shaw. In a piece called "Limestone & Felt," she imagines herself in a Gothic cathedral, where shards of melody bounce off the walls and intertwine.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "LIMESTONE AND FELT")

HUIZENGA: And in another piece, "Valencia," she creates an ode to the noble orange, marveling at its architecture, its tiny sacks of juice, ready to explode.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "VALENCIA")

HUIZENGA: Caroline Shaw, a North Carolina native, doesn't like to be called a composer; she's more comfortable with just musician. And I guess that's appropriate. She does have a master's degree from Yale in violin. She's also an accomplished singer with a quirky a cappella group called Roomful of Teeth, and she's contributed vocal tracks to songs by Kanye West and Nas. Still, when you hear all the sounds on "Orange," you know you're listening to the voice of a strong composer.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "RITORNELLO 2.SQ.2.J.A.")

HUIZENGA: If you thought everything that could be said through the medium of the 250-year-old string quartet has already been said, the conversation just got a lot more interesting with Caroline Shaw's "Orange."

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "RITORNELLO 2.SQ.2.J.A.")

CORNISH: The album is called "Orange." The music is by Caroline Shaw. Our reviewer is NPR's Tom Huizenga.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAROLINE SHAW AND ATTACCA QUARTET'S "RITORNELLO 2.SQ.2.J.A.")

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