Composer Spotlight: Mihkel Kerem, Expression Suite
Written as a series of six short movements, Mihkel Kerem's Expression Suite is a tribute to the brief period of Expressionist music developed in the early 20th century by composers Arnold Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, promoters of the Second Viennese School. As we began to play this piece, we were struck by the exquisite craftsmanship Mihkel demonstrated in his string quartet writing. He creates a work which combines the four instruments into a well-oiled machine. Expression Suite almost serves as an intensified study of string quartet mechanics, all the while containing hallmarks of expressionist music, including an abrupt and angular musical language, fragmented and episodic motifs that jump out, and an intense emotional energy.
Mihkel has been composer-in-residence at the Schleswig Holstein Festival in Germany and the Aurora Chamber Music Festival in Sweden. His chamber and orchestral works have been performed by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Camerata Nordica, and the Chilingirian String Quartet. He lives in London, UK.
Where are you from?
I'm from Estonia and live in London.
What got you interested in composition?
At an early age I tried to set some notes down and after a while they started to make sense. It was then I was sent to composition lessons and the rest is history.
Who have been your biggest musical influences?
My biggest influences have been Shostakovich, Mahler, Ravel and perhaps also Stravinsky.
What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?
String quartet in my mind is the perfect ensemble to write for. It is the most compact ensemble possible with natural balance. The only real challenge in writing for string quartet is the avalanche of masterpieces already written for it over the last 250 years and competing with them feels somewhat unfair at times when presenting new music to ensembles.
Anything else you wish to say about your piece, Expression Suite?
Expressionism in music lasted for only very short period of time in history and I find more music could be written in this style; especially for string quartet. I wanted to write a series of miniatures that could be played in any number as a suite, or separately as encores or fillers in concert programs. The order of movements in the score is the order I wrote them but not necessarily the order they should be performed as a suite.
The Villiers Quartet perform Movement I of Mihkel Kerem's Expression Suite for the VQ New Works Competition online Semifinal Round. View the video at www.villiersquartet.com/competition2014
Mihkel Kerem's website: http://mihkelkerem.com