Drink the Wild Ayre is my second string quartet. I wrote my first over twenty years ago, while poring over recordings by the Emerson String Quartet. At that time, I was new to composition and bought every CD of theirs I could find, obsessively studying counterpoint and voice-leading via their recordings. Their performances became my benchmark for the masterpieces they recorded; their sounds became synonymous, in my mind, with the composer’s intent. For me, theirs was the definitive interpretation of all the great string quartets in history.
So, when the invitation to write this piece came in — the Emerson’s final commission, to be performed during this, their final season — I nearly fell off my chair. I am still awestruck and humbled to have written this piece for some of my earliest heroes.
The title is a playful nod to one of the most famous quotes by their transcendentalist namesake essayist/philosopher/poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, Drink the wild air's salubrity.” An ayre is a song-like, lyrical piece. The title seemed an apt reference not only to the lilting, asymmetrical rhythms of the music’s melodic narrative, but also to the questing spirit, sense of adventure, and full-hearted passion with which the Emerson has thrown itself into everything it has done for the past 47 years. Here’s to the singular magic of these artistic giants, and the new adventures that await them.