Peter Vukmirovic Stevens

Composerʼs Notes

The title, Panacea, was given to String Quartet No. 1, but it is a fitting title for this album of three string quartets. These works are written, and revised, in the light of monumental events, both terrorist and political during 2015 and ʻ16 in France and the U.S. These works tell a story. They represent strife and discord, resolve and progress. In this music we can see ourselves—as individuals, and as part of our shared human experience.

"Music and art reinforce us within a time of dissonance."

We turn to art and music for the solid ground missing from our daily lives. Many of us feel ungrounded—jobs without joy, rooms without beauty, friendships without warmth. Art and music are a panacea, antidote to the shifting ground beneath our feet. The interaction with music and art offers us a place to experience the most genuine of interactions—interactions with ideas, and views across time that sometimes lead back right to ourselves.

Many artists will say that art is made in the spirit of love; that it is the collaboration between the artist, the work and the viewer. The music on this album reaches for those connections. It is about the struggle, the hard-won victories, the get-back-upon-the-horse experiences that we all undergo each day in a world that doesnʼt provide what art and love can offer—a place to stand.

Artist’s Statement

My music is often created using musical narratives and stories. These narratives are composed of a palette of psychological states made to pull and push the senses of the listener. I seek to capture the essence of the consonances and dissonances in our lives—and of the times we are living in.

I write music, using extended tonality, to speak to people not only from the concert music world, but to creators and audiences across disciplines.

Titles can serve as a departure point for a new work. I may be drawn to a word, or words, for its meaning, rhythm or potential to ignite the imagination of the listener.

Traveling in remote places in the world has informed my music and art as much as my formal studies. My experiences have been fundamental in forming my understanding of the universal human heart.

These three works use the inherent strengths of the string quartet to portray my musical narratives.

For me, the string quartet can be approached as four distinct individuals:

Choleric—ambitious and leader-like

Sanguine—impulsive and pleasure-seeking

Phlegmatic—relaxed and quiet

Melancholic—introverted & thoughtful

These voices, or temperaments, interact with each other to create new characteristics, emotions and colors.

String Quartet No. 1. - Panacea

This three-movement quartet opens with a tremolo that builds and fades like an arc. This motif features prominently throughout the work. The opening impassioned and searching themes establish the visceral ground for the three movements.

The second movement begins with an ostinato in the cello, creating a steady momentum which underpins the overall structure. The other instruments respond with spacious, expressive melodies. At times, the cello and viola break off to create captivating duets. The ostinato returns towards the end to merge with the third movement.

The third movement starts with a rhythmic jolt. Unison arcs are introduced in the violins. The rhythmic drive presses on until the cello takes the lead with a stirring passage. Then, the climactic section begins with expanding and contracting arcs until the energy gives way to the final section. The quartet concludes with a wide-open landscape, a plain, that stretches out as far as the eye can see.

String Quartet No. 2 - Stateless

The opening section portrays an upheaval, and the wide-awake feeling that change is at hand. The music begins with a series of slowly shifting glissandi and timbres. The familiar is disintegrating—we are in the midst of uncertainty. Suddenly, the first violin breaks through the surface like a flame in the dark. The four voices reorganize in an orchestral manner. The music is tumultuous and driving. The instruments are maximizing their sound as they rush forward—only to conclude with a quiet and unresolved aura.

The second movement establishes a new sense of calm and solace. The first violin leads with rich melodies, while the cello marks time with steady pizzicati. As the music progresses, a quiet feeling of anticipation builds in the background. We are in a place of transit towards an unknown destination.

The third movement recasts the fervent atmosphere of the first

movement into a new and serene light. The previous upheavals are a memory. We feel the excitement of new surroundings. The music ascends towards a climax of buoyant energy and confident melodies before arriving at a succinct conclusion. The music ends, but the story continues on in the imagination.

String Quartet No. 3 - Inter Nos

Inter Nos, latin for “between us”, begins with a theme in minor in the first violin. After a few iterations of the theme, the first violin unexpectedly leaves the group to develop into a virtuosic cadenza. When the opening theme is reintroduced, it is quiet and etherial. The movement ends with a deceptive gesture.

The second movement, in rondo form, starts with a soft, lyrical cascading sequence. This development section is understated; the instruments shine gently using spare chromatic themes. In the recapitulation, the opening cascading sequences are restated in a varied form. As the cascades dissolve, a solo violin emerges gently restating a previous theme.

The third movement starts with wild rhythmic sequences before shifting into a series of powerful chords and harmonic progressions. The quartet sound is maximized to create a vigorous wall of sound. We are in the throes of creative energy and performance. The music concludes with a resolute restatement of the first movement’s closing gesture.

Inter Nos is dedicated to one of my most influential composition teachers at Cornish College, Bern Herbolsheimer. Bern was always at the ready with his great knowledge of music, art, and history. He demonstrated not only supreme compositional technique, but also how an artist draws from a wealth of ideas and allegories when composing. His passing in 2016 was, for me, like losing a parent. Inter Nos is composed in his spirit, and in the spirit of sharing—sharing between teacher and student, composer and performer, musical ideas between instruments—and all of this combined, to bring that energy to the listener.

Peter Vukmirovic Stevens

Mikhail Shmidt
Mikhail Shmidt, violin, was born in Moscow, Russia. At fourteen he became the winner of the International Chamber Music Competition. He graduated cum laude from Gnessin Institute of Music in 1987. His teachers included Halida Akhtiamova and Valentin Berlinsky of the celebrated Borodin Quartet. While still at college, Mikhail performed with the highly successful Gnessin String Quartet, winning several national competitions. He also performed in the State Symphony Orchestra, Moscow Radio String Quartet and was concertmaster of Camerata Boccherini Baroque Orchestra. Since immigrating to the United States in 1989, Mikhail Shmidt has established himself as a leading chamber musician. He was a founding member of the Bridge Ensemble which recorded and toured widely in the U.S. and Europe. He is guest violinist with the Moscow Piano Quartet and tours Europe annually. Mikhail is a member of Seattle Chamber Players, a leading contemporary music group in the Pacific Northwest.

His has collaborated with diverse and distinguished composers and musicians, including Alfred Schnittke, Steve Reich, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Giya Kancheli, Paul Schoenfield, Dmitri Sitkovetsky, Vadim Repin. Shmidt has recorded on Melodia, Delos, Naxos, ECM, Tzadik, Dux, Six Degrees and Innova labels.

Blayne Barnes
Violinist Blayne Barnes performs with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Oregon Symphony, as well as in the Oregon Bach Festival orchestra. Previously, he was a regular performer with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Phoenix Symphony. Barnes has recorded with the Oregon Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, and on the soundtracks of numerous motion pictures and video games. He received degrees from Arizona State University and the University of Oregon.

Mara Gearman
By the age of nine violist Mara Gearman had decided to pursue a career in music. Her training includes studies with Roberto Diaz, Pinchas Zukerman and Karen Tuttle at the Curtis Institute of Music. She has received awards from the Tertis International and Primrose Viola competitions. Gearman performs solo and chamber music throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Currently Third Chair with the Seattle Symphony, Gearman has also been Principal Viola with the Kansas City Symphony and Los Angeles Opera. She is violist in the Barston Quartet, comprising members of Seattle Symphony Orchestra. She has performed at the Olympic Music Festival, Methow Music Festival, and as a member of the All-Stars Orchestra. Gearman has taught at Central Washington University, Cornish College of the Arts, and the Eastern Music Festival.

Paige Stockley,
Cellistt Paige Stockley, faculty at Cornish College of the Arts, is known for championing the music of living composers from the Pacific Northwest. She is the founder of the St. Helens String Quartet. The quartet released its first CD of new works, American Dreams, in 2015. Stockley has received two 4Culture grants for commissioning new works, as well as a Jack Straw Artist Support Award. She performs widely around the U.S. and Europe. Her early training was at the University of Washington, where she studied with cellist Toby Saks while earning a double major in Political Science and English. Stockley holds a masterʼs degree from the Manhattan School of Music. She has performed in orchestras in Connecticut, Spain, Mexico City, Prague and Krakow where she spent a year at the European Mozart Academy with conductor Sandor Vegh, and studying with Steven Isserlis. Her main teachers have included Ardyth Alton, Michael Haber and Valentin Hirsu. She served as the cellist on a west coast tour with singer Rickie Lee Jones and was principal cellist on the European Mozart Academy tour of Mozart's "Zaide" arranged by Luciano Berio.

Stockleyʼs solo CD, August Ruins, a five-movement suite for cello by Peter Vukmirovic Stevens is a top seller on Amazon, was submitted for a Grammy nomination in 2014.

Peter Vukmirovic Stevens is a composer, pianist and visual artist. Stevenʼs music is heard widely in concert halls across the U.S., Europe, the Caucuses and Japan. He performs as a contemporary solo and chamber pianist in the U.S. and Europe. His artworks have shown in Seattle, Los Angeles and Paris and was featured in Studio Visit Magazine.

Stevens studied composition with Bern Herbolsheimer at Cornish College of the Arts where he graduated magna cum laude. After graduation, he went on for further orchestration studies with Samuel Jones, professor emeritus at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. He also studied composition and piano performance with Bodhan Bubak in Prague, and Indian vocal music and composition in Varanasi, India. He co-founded the Seattle Pianist Collective, an innovative performance ensemble, and served as the Artistic Director from 2006 to 2012. He has been awarded grants from the Allied Arts Foundation, and has twice received the Jack Straw Artist Support Award. Stevens has been awarded artist residencies at the Haytayan House in Armenia, Visby International Center for Composers in Sweden, and at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Stevens continues to reside in Paris.

Recorded at Jack Straw Productions, Seattle -
Recording Engineer - Doug Haire -
Mastered at RFI, Seattle -
Mastering Engineer - Rick Fisher
Cover art - Peter Vukmirovic Stevens
Producer - Peter Vukmirovic Stevens
Special thanks to Fredric Richard Radford for his generous support which made this recording possible.
This album was made possible in part by a Jack Straw Artist Support Award and by direct support from Michelle Anthony, Debra Boyer PhD, Aigul Chichian, Julie Devine, Jeff Fair, Jean Gearman, Leslie Hannay, Myron Helfgott, Richard B. Johnson, Samuel Jay Keyser, Michelle Kim, Dorothy Lemoult, Adela Lorincz, Perry Maybrown, Keith McCoy, Roger Nelson, André Laurent O'Neil, Beatrice Palesi, David Rhodes, Angelo Rondello, Forrest Schofield, Halcyon Snow, Paige Stockley, Erin Taylor, Dominique Tellenbach, Nicholas Utzinger, Corey Waggoner, Marcia R. Weaver and Noël & Victor Witschi