The Mystical Life: Soprano Elissa Johnston and the Lyris Quartet

Soprano Elissa Johnston joins the Lyris Quartet for an evening of shimmering strings and luminous sonorities.


Arvo PärtWallfahrtslied (Pilgrim’s Song)

Pin Hsin LinThe Rose in the Deeps of His Heart

John TavenerAkhmatova Songs

David Hertzberg -Méditation Boréale

Evan Beigel - Oscillatore

T@MS Interviews The Lyris Quartet:

The program contains a set of lyrical, moving, and experimental works from a variety of composers, including Arvo Pärt, Pin Hsin Lin, John Tavener, David Hertzberg, and Evan Beigel. From a programming perspective, how do the pieces relate to each other, and/or how do they contrast?

Perhaps the unity of the concept for this program lies in the reflective and complex writings of each composer. Each of these pieces have their own unique meditative quality which is not to say that they lack power. On the contrary, because of the subtleties and contrasts within each piece, it creates a haunting beauty. We hope this selection of composers and their pieces will help the listener look inward and be able to escape all the chaos around us…to be in the moment and just feel. (Alyssa)

How often do you perform with vocalists? What has the process of collaborating with soprano Elissa Johnston been like?

We’ve had the opportunity to work with vocalists in a number of different settings. As the featured string quartet on Long Beach Opera’s production of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field several seasons ago, we had the rare chance to support an entire cast of vocalists. That said, when we get the chance to work with a singer in an intimate setting such as this, it is always a special treat. The beauty of the voice is the ideal to which all instrumentalists aspire, in phrasing, tone and timbre. Elissa is always such a joy to work with because she can grasp such a wide array of styles with her captivating voice. Not to mention, that she is a fabulous person and really fun to be around! (Shalini)

Both you and Elissa Johnston are known for performing a wide variety of works, both from the classical canon as well as living composers. Has this repertoire informed your playing in any ways you’d be interested in sharing?

We do have a great foundation of having played many of the celebrated works for quartet together, and it’s always great to revisit pieces from past eras after working on those from this century. We are fortunate to often have the chance to work directly with composers on new music for quartet. Indeed, three of the pieces on Tuesday’s program are by composers right here in Los Angeles! Years of collaboration with many composers definitely has expanded our own individual instrumental technique, and it has built up our ability as a group to listen and react to each other. (Luke)

Lyris Quartet

The LYRIS QUARTET described as "radiant…exquisite... and powerfully engaged" by Mark Swed of the LA Times 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, 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 include innovative multimedia concerts with artists Andrew Burke and Ana Prvacki as well as opening for Kraftwerk and Ben Harper. They also gave the west coast premiere of David Lang's "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field". 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 Cardélus, and Veronika Krausas, among others. The Lyris Quartet has recorded for Toccata Classics, ARS and Naxos.

Elissa Johnston

Recently cited by the Chicago Tribune for the “exquisite beauty, sensitivity and precision” of her singing, soprano Elissa Johnston enjoys performing repertoire ranging from Bach, Handel and Mozart to Messiaen, Carter, Unsuk Chin and Lachenmann. Last season Elissa sang Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 with Quator Diotima at Jacaranda Music, Mozart’s Requiem with the Long Beach Symphony, Stravinsky’s Les Noces with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs at Le Salon de musiques. Elissa has appeared as guest soloist with the Pacific Chorale under conductor John Alexander in Brahms’ Requiem, with the Long Beach Symphony under conductor Gemma New in Mahler’s 4th Symphony and Samuel Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915, and with the San Luis Obispo Symphony in Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. In April 2018, Elissa will appear with Pacific Symphony under Carl St. Clair in Philip Glass’ The Passion of Ramakrishna at Carnegie Hall, as part of Carnegie’s yearlong celebration of Philip Glass’ 80th birthday.

Her recent performances include Handel’s Messiah in Tokyo and Osaka with the Telemann Chamber Orchestra, Poulenc’s Gloria with Pacific Chorale, and David Lang’s the little match girl passion at the Ravinia Festival. With Southwest Chamber Music, Elissa has sung the west coast premiere of Elliott Carter’s What Are Years, and world premieres of both Ann LeBaron’s Some Things Do Not Move, and Chinary Ung’s Aura. Elissa has sung many subsequent performances of Aura, on tour in Cambodia and Vietnam with Southwest Chamber Music, with the New York New Music Ensemble at Le Poisson Rouge, as well as with Jacaranda Music and at UC San Diego. Elissa has sung Messiaen’s epic song cycle Harawi with pianist Vicki Ray at both Jacaranda Music and Pianospheres. Particularly drawn to the music of J.S. Bach, she has recently performed Bach Cantatas 54 and 84 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Cantatas 51 and 82 with the Long Beach Symphony, the Mass in B Minor and St Matthew Passion with the L.A. Master Chorale, and has appeared with Los Angeles based Bach’s Circle at the Oregon Bach Festival. Her orchestral engagements include appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, St Paul Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony and the San Francisco Contemporary Players.