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String Octet

Instrumentation: 4 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos

Duration: 12 minutes

Composed: 2019

Commissioned by: Tuesday Musical

Premiere: October 30, 2019 by the Dover String Quartet and the Escher String Quartet at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall at the University of Akron, Ohio


I’ve been thinking recently about the joining of two entities into a single union. As I write this, I’m excitedly awaiting my wedding. I’m in love with my fiancée’s individuality, her deep breadth of experience, her wisdom and thoughtfulness and talent and grace, which she brings to everything she does and everyone around her. She is one of the great wonders of my world. Sharing our individual perspectives with each new experience has made my life so much richer.

As in the most rewarding relationships, the individual voices of a chamber music ensemble don’t get lost - they interact with each other; they stimulate and enhance each other; they blend, and coalesce into a single expressive force. The gentle and respectful joining of the individual voices has the potential to create something truly magical.

This composition for string octet isn’t a programmatic piece - meaning that it doesn’t convey a specific narrative. Rather, I wanted to explore, musically, the merging of the two phenomenal ensembles who will premiere this piece at Tuesday Musical in October: the Dover Quartet and the Escher Quartet! It’s especially fitting that these extraordinary groups are joining forces for this piece, since violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt (Dover) and cellist Brook Speltz (Escher) are married.

As she does with so many things, my fiancée has opened my eyes to the beauty of a fascinating creature: the octopus. After reading (mostly aloud to me) the book, “The Soul of an Octopus,” we visited a Giant Pacific Octopus at the Seattle Aquarium and watched it sprint through the water, extend and furl its eight arms (not tentacles!), and interact with a diver when it was snack time. Its every arm operates independently, lined with hundreds of suckers through which it tastes the food it rolls up to its beak. (Yeah, octopuses have beaks. Crazy.) A fully grown Giant Pacific Octopus can compress its ninety-pound body to squeeze through a hole the size of a lemon. (!) They can change color to express mood, comfort level and intentions; they can also change texture to mimic their surroundings. Graceful and intelligent; playful; sensitive; and adaptable.

A string octet is the octopus of chamber music: eight musicians breathing and playing together as a single entity, sublimating individual experience into combined expressive purpose. That’s what I wanted to explore in this composition for octet. I hope it resonates.

I dedicate this string octet to the two people whose union has been the foundation and source of all of my happiness: my parents. Loving, thoughtful, respectful, warm, and wise, my parents are the best of people. No music can encapsulate or convey the joy and beauty that they bring to me and to this world; but music seems a fitting way to, in some small way, express my love and respect and admiration for them as individuals and as a couple; as parents and as citizens. I’m grateful to them for so much - for everything, really. My parents approach their fiftieth wedding anniversary as I begin my own marriage. Two individuals, one union. Two ensembles, one composition. Together. Complete.

© Gregg Kallor, August 2019