Sunday, 8 November 2009

Unusual string quartets

A couple of recommendations. On October 6th Lily (my employer) and I went to a performance by Methera, and it was outstanding. From the official website:
Methera unites the rich texture of the string quartet with the depth and integrity of traditional music from England and beyond. Four fine young musicians with individual traditional styles weave old and contemporary tunes into the tapestry of the string quartet, exploring the power and diversity of sound it has to offer
The crossover between folk and chamber music isn't new. The description reminded me of a detail I heard a long time back about Turlough O'Carolan, the great Irish blind harper, being influenced by Corelli; see these Albuquerque Baroque Players programme notes for interesting discussion of such fusion going on historically. But Methera brings a very fresh and very English spin on the concept.

Methera's lineup is standard - two violins, viola and cello - but, unusually, Methera play facing inward to tightly coordinate their playing. You can hear some of their pieces at, which give an example of the flavour of their music - even if the online samples don't do justice to the dynamic range and the marvellous atmosphere, intensity and intimacy of the live performance. If you get the chance to go to one - it'll have to be their 2010 tour now - both Lily and I highly recommend them.

And then there's the Finnish rock band Apocalyptica (see Wikipedia and their official site) whose core lineup is four classically trained cellists. They produce a remarkable fusion of metal and string quartet styles, much of their work comprising covers of songs by heavy metal bands such as Metallica (for instance, "One", embedded above, is Metallica's "...And Justice for All"; and another of my current favourites by them, "Fade to Black", comes from the Metallica song of the same name). Their collaborations are excellent too: check out "Helden", a German cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" with vocals by Rammstein's Till Lindemann, and their performance of Rammstein's "Seemann" with the scary Nina Hagen.

Addendum: November 9th 2009. "Helden", the German cover of "Heroes", is especially pertinent today, which marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The lyrics, Bowie said, were inspired by seeing a couple defying the system by making love on top of the Wall. Rammstein themselves, by the way, have East German / Berlin roots, as does Nina Hagen (I'm wondering if the strongly trilled R is a regionalism).

- Ray


  1. That Helden video is awesome. (Till Lindemann singing anything is great. Period. The end.)

    Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) sometimes uses a string quartet. You can just catch a glimpse of it (them) at the end of this video. The quartet plays a much more prominent role in other songs (I have a DVD), but I can't find video online.

    [Your Seemann link seems to be broken.]

  2. Oops! Mended.

    There have been quite a few. The Vitamin String Quartet have done some very nice work such as their cover of Muse's "Knights of Cydonia". I didn't mention Escala as I don't rate their act much (visual and choreographic gloss on pretty conventional music - plus Bond did much the same a decade ago). Of course, there's the Kronos Quartet, but I've always found them a bit cold: technically brilliant, but their music doesn't touch me at any level.

  3. Actually, i do quite like Bond's version of Karl Jenkins' "Allegretto".

  4. That Helden video is awesome.

    Apart from the vocals, the heavier rhythm and rewrite of the chord sequences is inspired: it darkens the whole song.

    (Geeky note: I never realised, until seeing the German "Delfine", that "dolphin" and "Delphinium" are etymologically related).

  5. " ... rewrite of the chord sequences is inspired ... "

    Well ... erm... of course ... the chord sequences (there are chord sequences?). That and Till, Till, TILL!

  6. The EDM-ish-ness of Bond reminds me a little bit of Heimatlaerde: see here and here and here (last video is pretty gross). No string quartet, but similarly bouncy music.

  7. Heimatlaerde
    I'm at work at this instant, but from a quick listen, I rather like them. I recommended Apocalyptica to ... looks furtively around ... to Lily, but she didn't like the metal edge ("I'm an acoustic girl").

    pretty gross
    Similarly from YouTube, a video using Helden as soundtrack for the trailer for Hellgate: London. It oddly works, and final shot is definitely one for connoisseurs of ruined Londons.

  8. Julie: Till, Till, TILL!

    You do know he just has a pipe running across the stage to his trousers?

  9. You think?

    I had read that they got in trouble for that bit while performing in Massachusetts but I had never seen exactly what they did. You can't accuse Rammstein of ever being subtle.