Chamber music ensembles tend to form because of a palpable chemistry felt between the individual players. But yMusic isn't quite like many of its contemporaries. The New York-based sextet -- clarinetist Hideaki Aomori , trumpeter/French horn player CJ Camerieri, cellist Clarice Jensen, violinist/guitarist Rob Moose, violist Nadia Sirota, and flutist Alex Sopp -- came together because it sensed an unnecessary musical disconnect between its individual members and wanted to correct it. During a concert at Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2008 for which indie rock sensation The National had hired violinist/guitarist Rob Moose, trumpeter/French horn player CJ Camerieri, and clarinetist Hideaki Aomori as backing musicians, Moose noticed a lack of musical intimacy.
yMusic, left to right: Hideaki Aomori, Clarice Jensen, CJ Camerieri, Rob Moose, Alex Sopp, Nadia Sirota; photo by Ilya Nikhamin.
I remember during one of the songs at The National show, seeing CJ standing like 60 feet from me across the room and not being able to hear him, and we're playing the same song but we're not even having a shared experience. [I] was just feeling like, You know, it's really great that bands are having more instrumentalists play with them, but the experience was feeling a little bit lacking in terms of actual interaction and arrangement-wise, things were starting to feel a little thrown together.... Since we view the music of these bands with the same amount of integrity that we would put into a chamber music performance, there should be a group that is able to do both things.
Similarly, Camerieri saw a need for a new ensemble:
Nadia was at the after-party, we were like, Why wasn't Nadia playing? This is insane. Hideaki was on different songs than me and Rob were on -- we were like, Why aren't people using all of us? And they we sort of realized it was because we hadn't made it obvious that they should be using all of us. So in a weird way, yMusic , the first time we thought conceptually about the group, it was just to make it obvious to other people who we wanted to play with when they hired us for gigs. If you hire me, you should know that I'm gonna want you tor hire Hideaki to play clarinet.
Three years and seven commissions later, yMusic's debut album Beautiful Mechanical was released on September 27 via New Amsterdam Records. The album features the works of six composers -- among them indie singer-songwriters Gabriel Kahane, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, all of whom yMusic had worked with extensively in the past. "In the end we realized that we have these two branches," says Moose. "We are a commissioning ensemble that performs independently and we're an auxiliary ensemble that performs with bands and can create arrangements for them and really help put that whole experience together."
As an ensemble, the musicians' cohesion transcends that of many professional ensembles entrenched in the classical tradition. Rather than interpreting the music as a group of instrumental layers that merely interact with one another, the players create a fully integrated fabric of sounds inextricable from one another. While many chamber ensembles attempt to sound as one voice, yMusic achieves it.
Beautiful Mechanical is singular in its execution: "contemporary classical" compositions packaged in a pop album context of seven tracks and a breezy 43 minutes. Each cut is a self-contained sound world all its own -- from the skittish propulsion of Ryan Lott's (Son Lux) title track to the cinematic undulations of "Daughter of the Waves" by Sarah Kirkland Snider to Judd Greenstein's pinpoint post-Minimalism on "Clearing, Dawn, Dance."
yMusic has created something stunning and uncanny -- a vital document of the indie-classical movement that simultaneously resists and transcends the connotations associated with the subgenre. Programmatically, there is an implicit narrative of collaboration at work. Four of the six composers were featured as part of the Greenstein-curated Ecstatic Music Festival earlier this year, and three of the seven compositions were premiered at Snider and Worden's March 16 Ecstatic concert.
Violist Nadia Sirota clarifies the unifying principle of yMusic:
I don't think we ever really set out to be like, Oh man, let's have this rock sensibility and apply it to chamber music or let's have a classical sensibility and apply it to rock music. I think part of the reason we gravitated towards each other is because all of us have very, very wide-ranging tastes, and we like to be involved in projects where we just perceive the music to be good, no matter in what side of the aisle it lies ... to be a successful player of orchestral instruments in the early part of the 21st century means finding a niche and doing some weird stuff there.
"We Added It Up" from the forthcoming My Brightest Diamond album All Things Will Unwind (Release date October 18).
In collaborating with the ensemble, composer Ryan Lott sees yMusic's virtuosity extending beyond technical ability in a way that distinguishes the group among its peers. "If you want to call them classical musicians, they're classical musicians for an iPod world, where Mozart and Mos Def are together on a playlist," says Lott. "They're the product of a world in which music is profoundly diverse, and they have the skill and the open-mindedness to embrace all of it."
Composer/singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane explains the group's singularity in this way:
I had taken for granted the rarity of their masterful hybrid musicianship as individuals, and as a group, by which I mean: nowhere else will you find a group of players who have both an innate sense of phrasing in the more 'legit' classical sense, and at the same time have exquisite sense for rhythm -- not the case among your average highly-trained classical musician -- and pop-oriented groove. It's a real glory when writing the kind of music that my peers and I do to have such intuitively resourceful musicians to interpret it.
For more information about yMusic's Beautiful Mechanical, visit New Amsterdam Records here.
An extended version of this article can be found here at the blog You're So Post-Post-Rock Right Now.
Note: The phrase "ready-made collaborators," referenced in the article's title, is attributed to Nadia Sirota.