Jessie Montgomery searches for juncture of different genres in ‘Strum’

Jessie Montgomery says that the title of"Strum" refers to the guitar-like plucking of strings that plays many roles.

Jiyang Chen

Strum, declares composer Jessie Montgomery, salutes "American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement.” The work's title refers to the guitar-like plucking of the strings that plays many roles: floating hum, earthy groove, rapturous thrum.

"Strum is the culminating result of several versions of a string quintet I wrote in 2006," she said in a program note. Originally composed for the Providence String Quartet and guests of Community MusicWorks Players, Strum was then arranged for string quartet in 2008 with several small revisions.

In 2012, the piece underwent its final revisions with a rewrite of both the introduction and the ending for the Catalyst Quartet in a performance celebrating the 15th annual Sphinx Competition. (When it is performed in a CSO Sessions concert premiering March 11 on CSOtv, it will be heard in a string-quintet arrangement.)

"The voicing is often spread wide over the ensemble, giving the music an expansive quality of sound," she said. "Within Strum, I used texture motives, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinati that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. The strumming pizzicato serves as a texture motive and the primary driving rhythmic underpinning of the piece."

The piece begins with what Montgomery calls "fleeting nostalgia." Melodies weave in, over and between layers of strumming. Several minutes in, the music shifts, “transforming into ecstatic celebration.”

With its emphasis on American folk idioms and dance/movement, "the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with a sense of nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration," she said. “I’ve always been interested in trying to find the intersection between different types of music. I imagine that music is a meeting place at which all people can converse about their unique differences and common stories.”