How Zosha Di Castri Composed BISQC 2016's Canadian Commission

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Composer Zosha Di Castri's notebook full of thoughts about her original commission for BISQC 2016, Quartet No. 1.

Composer Zosha Di Castri's new work will be performed on Friday, September 2 during the Canadian Commission round of the Banff International String Quartet Competition. Purchase tickets for that round and others here. 

Early on in Zosha Di Castri’s process of writing the Canadian Commission for the 2016 Banff International String Quartet Competition, she wrote down a note in her sketchbook: “Is it possible to write a piece where if it’s heard 10 times back to back by 10 different groups you hear something new and unique each time?”

Her piece, Quartet No. 1, is a response to that question. And BISQC audiences can expect the musicians to answer with vigour. Di Castri herself is excited to see what they come up with.

“I think that this is a really unique experience as a composer to not only hear the premiere of your work, but hear so many different interpretations back to back.”

A co-commission between Banff Centre, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Americas Society, Quartet No. 1 is a new, contemporary work sure to keep the quartets on their toes. With pages of performance instructions and many extended techniques, the piece can be dizzying to look at on paper, but Di Castri knows that competitors at this high level are up to the task.

“The Canadian Commission round is a way to distinguish between the groups. It is important that it be a challenge,” she says. “This piece demands that the musicians bring their own creativity to their interpretation.”

Zosha Di Castri

Composer Zosha Di Castri

That invitation to interpretation is a bold thread though the more abstract work, which Di Castri explains doesn’t have a traditional narrative. There might still be, however, a trace of the Alberta native in between the bars of the fast-paced piece.

“If anything, maybe the very fast, shifting nature somehow subconsciously reflects my current lifestyle here in New York trying to juggle writing, teaching at Columbia University, and entertaining a one-year-old,” she laughs. 

“Maybe there is a little bit of me that has been translated into the music.”

But it isn’t all bursts of energy. Audience members will go on a journey through the piece, experiencing a full range of emotions. Di Castri describes the composition as “mercurial” in nature—electrically charged one moment, calm and serene the next. That’s just part of the fun of this fresh new work. 

“I hope that even if the music is abstract that listeners will follow the expressive arc of the music and that it communicates with people in a more individual, less scripted way,” says Di Castri.

“That will be really interesting to see.”

Zosha Di Castri first came to Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity to study with John Adams in 2010 for the Composer Residency. Banff Centre then commissioned her a new work, La Forma dello spazio, for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. It was premiered during that residency.