Intimate Letters with the Lyris Quartet

New works inspired by Janacek’s 2nd String Quartet

The Lyris Quartet returns to T@MS to celebrate the release of their first CD, Intimate Letters. The concert will feature new works from the CD composed in response to Janacek’s dynamic and emotionally charged Second String Quartet. Featuring the music of Billy Childs, Peter Knell, Bruce Broughton, and Kurt Rohde.


Leos Janacek: String Quartet No. 2 "Intimate letters"
Kurt Rohde: Inside Voice
Billy Childs: Unrequited
Peter Knell: Intimate Voices
Bruce Broughton: Fancies

T@MS Interviews The Lyris Quartet:

Leos Janacek’s second string quartet Intimate Letters, which is the foundation of your newly released album, is an incredibly powerful and moving piece of music. How has its meaning changed for you over time? What about the Janacek made you want to work so closely and expansively with the piece? Janacek's "Intimate Letters" has been one of the most amazing musical journeys the Lyris Quartet has taken.  From the first day we learned it, over 8 years ago, to the recording of this piece for our "Intimate Letters" album, the piece has change and evolved.  Like Bach, this composition has the amazing quality of everlasting wonder; one could study for a lifetime and feel differently about it in every stage of life.  In general, a composition's musical notes don't change, but tempi, dynamics, musical phrasing can all be left up to the performer's discretion.  In the case of "Intimate Letters," there is no one definitive edition, therefore certain notes that lend to the color of various chords, are interpreted differently from edition to edition and therefore from ensemble to ensemble.  That's what makes this composition so special and ever changing.  Every generation believes they have found the "key" or the "correct" interpretation of what Janacek was really trying to say.
-Timothy Loo


Your album Intimate Letters features new works by composers Childs, Broughton, Knell, and Rohde, inspired by Janacek’s original piece. Have the composers’ musical responses changed the way you view the original work? What inspired the particular variety of composers commissioned for the album? Beyond our personal connections to each of the composers who wrote new works for this album, each one represent different facets of the diverse musical community here in California.  Bruce Broughton is a legendary, award winning film composer who has spent much of the last decade writing not only music for film but concert works as well.  Billy Childs, who is a monster jazz pianist and who we've been lucky enough to perform with as part of his jazz ensemble, has also in recent years written more and more for string quartet and has always counted the "Intimate Letters" quartet as one of his favorite pieces of music.  We got to know Peter Knell after performing another piece of his on the Hear Now Music Festival, which focuses on composers living and working in Los Angeles.  And Kurt Rohde, is a fixture on the new music scene in San Francisco who is always pushing the boundaries of the sonic world of string instruments.  These four seemed to perfectly complement each other, and so do their pieces!  Each one of the new works brought out a totally different side of the Janacek, not only musically, but emotionally as well.  This only serves to heighten all the incredibly dramatic moods of the"Intimate Lettters" quartet.
-Shalini Vijayan


Did recording an album together as a quartet present any unique challenges or opportunities? The quartet flew to Germany to record this album for ARS. It was a real challenge to be at our best for four consecutive days, recording all of this music in an unfamiliar space in a different country! We were very fortunate to be in the hands of an excellent recording engineer who really helped to make those days as productive as they were. We are all quite pleased with the final product!We are so happy that we had the opportunity to work with four outstanding composers who graciously made the time to write for the Intimate Letters project. It was great to spend time with them in preparing these pieces for performance and for the recording. It was fascinating to see how each approached the idea of responding to the Janacek. Each work is very effective on its own, but the sequence of all four new pieces has a great arc to it when played as a set
-Luke Maurer


The quartet just opened for Kraftwerk in the Hollywood Bowl recently. What are the biggest differences between playing a huge show like that and putting on a recital at Monk Space? What do you hope to communicate to the audience with Intimate Letters? In some ways, the challenge is the same.  We are hoping to connect with our audiences no matter what the size. At the Hollywood Bowl, although we miss the intimacy and physical closeness, playing to such a huge crowd and having our music permeate such a huge space is awesome. At Monk Space, we will have the advantage of being really close to our audience. They will see and hear us breathe together as an ensemble. We will have a connection to each other and the audience in a way that only a small intimate space like Monk Space allows.With this concert, we are presenting the Janacek as well as four new works that have been inspired by the Janacek. With any music, what we hope most to communicate with our audience is the intention of their works.  All of the composers have a unique voice and their works are stunning.
- Alyssa Park

Program Notes

The Second String Quartet of Leoš Janáček— Intimate Letters— holds a special place in the repertoire of the Los Angeles-based Lyris Quartet; having been the first work that the group performed publicly. Considering the influence that this dynamic and emotionally charged work played in the formation of the Lyris Quartet it comes as no surprise that they have chosen to include it here, on their debut album— a true testament to the connective power of chamber music.

Champions of new music the Lyris Quartet actively cultivates relationships with many living composers, and this album brings together four of them: Bruce Broughton, Billy Childs, Peter Knell, and Kurt Rohde; each asked to write a work in response to Janáček’s incautious and fervid quartet Intimate Letters. The resultant works, as one would expect from such a diverse assemblage of composers, comprise a passionate compendium to the Janáček original— each new quartet brimming with a compelling balance of emotional response and musical homage. Paradoxically, it was just this type of reciprocal interconnectedness that Janáček so desperately sought, describing Intimate Letters to his muse and seemingly unrequited love interest Kamila Stösslová in 1828, he writes:

“...I’ve begun to write something nice. Our life will be in it...I think that it will sound delightful. There have been so many of those dear adventures of ours, haven’t there? They’ll be little fires in my soul and they’ll set it ablaze with the most beautiful melodies.”

Bruce Broughton Fancies

The title Fancies expresses two primary ideas: the first is an allusion to Janáček’s infatuation with Kamila Stösslová, as in “he fancied her.” The second element, however, has more to do with the music itself and means to describe the piece as an accumulation of fancies, i.e. inclinations, impulses and whimsies. There is additionally one other related meaning suggested by the term “Fancy,” which is a type of early English music, a freely invented instrumental piece, which was also known as a “fantasia.” Much of Janáček’s music has always seemed to me quite splintered and non-linear, and the sense of “I can and will do whatever I want,” a feeling which to me is embedded in much of his music and was perhaps a motivating factor in his imaginary love life, as well, was a strong influence in the overall shape and development of this piece. Fancies is essentially a rhapsody/fantasia built upon the opening figures, the most obvious being a motor rhythm that reappears throughout the piece. Motivic fragments are gathered and tossed about. A theme eventually appears, but even that becomes fragmented throughout the piece. Therefore, Fancies: a combination of infatuations, impulses and improvisatory inspirations.

Billy Childs Unrequited

When the Lyris Quartet approached me to compose a piece for this project, I thought that it was a remarkable idea— to compose a sort of commentary on the story of Janáček’s Intimate Letters. The first thing — the only thing, really — that popped into my mind was the tragedy of unrequited love (hence the title, Unrequited). The first time I heard Janáček’s Intimate Letters performed live, the emotion of the piece jumped out at me: the wild shifts of tempo, the beautiful and plaintive melodies, the stark dynamic contrasts. I wanted to illustrate my perspective on this strange relationship between Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, by telling the story of a man who goes through different phases of emotion, before finally coming to terms with the fact that his love for her is one-sided— it will never be returned the way he would like. I sought to compose Unrequited so that it moves, like the five stages of grief, through a variety of emotions - from romantic, pure love, through paranoid, obsessive, neurotic possessiveness, arriving finally at despondent acceptance.

Peter Knell Intimate Voices

When the Lyris Quartet asked me to write a string quartet based on Janáček’s Intimate Letters, I began to think about the work and how I could respond to it. I decided my work would explore my own notion of intimacy. I exploit the gentle side of the string quartet— muted sonorities, quiet dynamics, delicate gestures — with ideas unfolding gradually and organically in a single formal arc. Although the mood of Intimate Voices contrasts strongly with that of the Janáček, its materials all owe their genesis to two themes from Intimate Letters. The passionate opening theme of the first movement appears transformed into a searching melody that first appears nearly halfway through the work and becomes the principal melodic idea for Intimate Voices. But the core of the work comes from the eerie melody introduced by the viola about ten seconds into the first movement of Intimate Letters. This fragment is repeated by the cello, but then is not explored further in Janáček’s work. In contrast, the first four notes – G-C-F#-D – become the harmonic and melodic palette from which my entire work evolves.

Kurt Rohde inside voice

Numbering at over 700, Janáček’s love letters to Kamila Stösslová document an obsessive manifesto between the elder composer and his younger muse. I read these letters as part of my preparation for playing both of Janáček’s string quartets a few years back, and was struck with their intensity and surprising flexibility of tone, all while remaining remarkably focused on being...intimate. As a primary source, letters are one of the few documents that offer insight on an exchange at a most private interaction between people. Letters can be silly, painful, boring, embarrassing, revelatory, sad; What is of interest to me are the variety of approaches one can take when writing something that feels important at the time for the writer and the need to write it down and send it to that special someone. A letter can be, in a manner of speaking, a frozen feeling of urgency or need. The tone and mood in a letter can go anywhere, and it is the energy behind the words that the reader can ascertain the impulse of the writer. The letter writer wants to make sure that their intended reader gets the message; just as someone who is speaking in an emotionally charged situation wants to be heard, the letter writer wants to be read.

My response piece, inside voice, attempts to capture the energy I am trying to transmit to the listener in my music. The work is in many ways a reflection of the type of person I am; it has a clear focus at the onset, and is intent on a specific course only to become distracted, which ultimately come into focus and develop a new interest in their own right. The conversation I have inside my head while composing is not unlike the way I would sit down and write a letter (something that I actually still do!). My “letter” here is the music being played, and it is a letter that is meant to be heard.


Bruce Broughton is best known for his many film scores such as Silverado, Tombstone, The Rescuers Down Under, The Presidio, Miracle on 34th Street, the Homeward Bound adventures and Harry and the Hendersons, his television themes
to JAG, Dinosaurs and Steven Spielberg’s Tiny Toon Adventures, TV mini-series (Texas Rising, The Blue and Gray), TV movies (Warm Springs, O Pioneers!), as well as countless episodes of TV series such as Dallas, Quincy, First Monday and Hawaii Five-O. He has been nominated for an Oscar and a Grammy and has won the

Emmy a record ten times. His music has accompanied many of the Disney theme park attractions throughout the world.

Broughton’s concert music includes numerous works for orchestra and chamber groups performed by ensembles such as the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He is a board member of

ASCAP and a past president of The Society of Composers and Lyricists. He is an adjunct professor in Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television for the Thornton School of Music at USC, and a lecturer in music composition at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

Billy Childs was born in Los Angeles on March 8th, 1957. In 1975, he entered USC as a composition major, graduating four years later with a bachelor of music in composition under the tutelage of Robert Linn.

Since then Mr. Childs has received a number of orchestral and chamber commissions from, among others: Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, The Kronos Quartet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the American Brass Quintet, the Ying Quartet, Anne Akiko Meyers, and Rachel Barton Pine.

Mr. Childs has garnered thirteen Grammy nominations and four Grammy awards: two for best instrumental and two for best arrangement accompanying a vocalist. In 2006, Childs was awarded a Chamber Music America composer’s grant, and in 2009 was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2013 he was awarded the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Most recently, he has been awarded a composers award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

After apprenticing with Freddie Hubbard and J.J. Johnson in the late seventies and early eighties, Childs’ solo jazz recording career began in 1988, when he released Take For Example, This... the first of four critically acclaimed albums on the Windham Hill Jazz label. Mr. Childs has also recorded two volumes of “jazz/chamber music” both recordings have collectively been nominated for five Grammy awards (winning twice). Most recently, Childs has recorded a collection of reimagined Laura Nyro compositions for Sony Masterworks, released in September 2014. Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro, was produced by Larry Klein and features as guest artists, among others: Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Wayne Shorter, Alison Kraus, Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Esperanza Spalding, Lisa Fischer and Becca Stevens.

As a pianist Childs has recently performed with, among others, Yo-Yo Ma, Sting, Renee Fleming, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony, Chick Corea, the Kronos Quartet, Wynton Marsalis, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, the Ying Quartet, the American Brass Quintet, and Chris Botti.

Violist and composer Kurt Rohde is a recipient of the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lydian String Quartet Commission Prize, and commission awards from the Barlow, Fromm, Hanson, and Koussevitzky Foundations. He has received the Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. Kurt is a Professor of Music Composition at UC Davis, and plays viola with the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble where he serves as Artistic Advisor. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Peabody Institute of Music and SUNY Stony Brook, he enjoys triple IPAs, long distance running, Philip K. Dick, and pretty much any new movie that has just been released. For information about his work, visit

Peter Knell has received awards in numerous national and international competitions, including First Prizes in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's International Composers Competition, the Indiana State University Louisville Orchestra Prize, and the Omaha Symphony International Competition, and Second Prizes in the Fourth International Witold Lutoslawski Competition, the First International Competition "In Memoriam Zoltán Kodály", and the Cincinnati Symphony’s Young Composers Competition. He has also received a Fulbright Fellowship, a BMI Student Composer Award, two ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composers Awards, and commissions from the Fromm Music Foundation, Ying Quartet, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, and Dale Warland Singers, among others.

His music has been performed by the Hungarian Radio Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, Filharmonia de Stat “Transilvania”, Winnipeg, Omaha, Richmond, Memphis, and Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestras, and by soloists including James Dunham, Martin Chalifour, and the German alto Ingeborg Danz. It has been broadcast nationally in Russia, Canada, Hungary and Finland, and in several US cities. His Seven Last Words, based on paintings of Rolf Stein, is available in a book/CD format from Valve-Hearts, Cologne. Other works are available on the Sono Luminus, Hungaroton, and OehmsClassics labels.

Dr. Knell holds degrees from Princeton University (BA), the Juilliard School (MM), and the University of Texas at Austin (DMA). He was a Fulbright Fellow at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. He is currently a freelance composer based in Los Angeles.

Described as "radiant...excellent... and powerfully engaged" by Mark Swed of the LA Times, the Lyris Quartet was founded in 2008. Members of the quartet have won top prizes at the Tchaikovsky International Competition and Aspen Music Festival and have collaborated with renowned artists Natalia Gutman, David Geringas, Martha Argerich, Alban Gerhardt, Boris Pergamenschikov, Guillame Sutre, Myung-Whun Chung, and Richard Stoltzman.

Lyris has collaborated closely with composers Krystof Penderecki, Andrew Norman, Oliver Knussen, Steven Mackey, John Adams, Bruce Broughton, Peter Knell, Kurt Rohde, Paquito D'Rivera, Wadada Leo Smith, and Gerard Schurmann. They appeared alongside composer/pianist Billy Childs as part of the LA Phil’s Jazz and World music series at Disney Hall and with Steve Reich at LACMA’s Bing Hall.

The quartet has appeared throughout North America, Europe, and Asia in a diverse range of ensembles including Grammy nominated groups Absolute Ensemble and Southwest Chamber Music, and Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa as well as solo and chamber appearances in various festivals such as Ravinia, Brahms Festival in Madrid, Music Academy of the West, Banff Centre for the Arts, Czech SommerFest, and Oregon Festival of American Music among others.

This season, Lyris was invited by the LA Philharmonic to perform on their Green Umbrella series and on their tribute concert to composer Steven Stucky. New projects included innovative multimedia concerts with artists Andrew Burke and Ana Prvacki. They have performed the west coast premiere of David Lang's "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field" with Long Beach Opera. Other performances have included the South Bay Chamber Music Series, Los Angeles Music Guild, Annenberg Beach House Series, and Chamber Music Palisades. This year will mark their fifth season as the resident ensemble for the critically acclaimed series Jacaranda: Music at the Edge.

The Lyris Quartet is the founding resident ensemble of the Hear Now Music Festival which focuses on the music of living Los Angeles composers. As part of this series, they have collaborated with and premiered works by Stephen Hartke, Don Davis, Arturo Cardelus, and Veronika Krausas, among others.

The Lyris Quartet has recorded for Toccata Classics, ARS and Naxos.