It’s not unusual for young, conservatory-trained musicians to bond while in school and form chamber ensembles. Nor is it rare for the more artistically successful of such groups to last years, deepening a collective identity while exploring old and new repertoire.
The birth of New York-based chamber sextet yMusic, by contrast, took place on the stage of a concert by popular indie rock band the National.
“The idea for yMusic came because C.J. [Camerieri] and I were performing with them,” says violinist-guitarist Rob Moose. “We were both playing on the same song, about 60 feet apart on stage, and realized that when you get hired to play these gigs, you’re auxiliary instrumentalists. There’s not necessarily a ton of thought put into how your music gets voiced. We thought it would be great to form a group that specialized in all types of musical environments.”
That was 2008. In the years since, yMusic — making its local debut on Sunday, March 30, at the Kirkland Performance Center — has distinguished itself as an unorthodox chamber ensemble through unusual instrumentation; through a genre-bending, customized repertoire; and as recording artists whose bracing first album, “Beautiful Mechanical,” was named Time Out New York’s No. 1 Classical Record of 2011.
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In fact, all the future members of yMusic were once conservatory students: Moose at the Manhattan School of Music and Camerieri and the others at the Juilliard School. But all were already heavy hitters in the overlapping worlds of classical, pop, folk and avant-garde music, and so ubiquitous as team players that the very notion of collaboration was essential to yMusic’s DNA.
Moose, for example, is a member of the Grammy-winning band Bon Iver, and is an in-demand player, arranger, conductor and producer who has worked closely with Gabriel Kahane, Arcade Fire and Dr. Dre.
Camerieri, multi-instrumentalist and yMusic’s trumpet player, is also a member of Bon Iver and has toured and recorded with Yoko Ono and David Byrne. He is currently in the touring band for Paul Simon and Sting.
Cellist Clarice Jensen is a traveling soloist and has performed with Yo Yo Ma. Flutist Alex Sopp performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic. Clarinetist Hideaki Aomori has played with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Sean Lennon and Ron Carter. And violist Nadia Sirota’s solo debut album, “First Things First,” was a New York Times record of the year.
The point of connection for them all?
Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens.
“We all met working with Sufjan on his various concerts and orchestral projects,” says Moose. “He’s been a glue for us from early on, so we got him to write a little piece of chamber music for us for our upcoming second album.”
Stevens is one of a number of people who have taken up the challenge of writing for yMusic’s string trio, trumpet and woodwinds. Others include Kahane, the National’s Bryce Dressner, and rising composers Nico Muhly and Timothy Andres.
So far, ymusic has exclusively recorded and performed music it has commissioned.
“When we first started playing together, we realized we had a unique sound and there were a lot of possibilities,” says Moose. “So we started asking friends to write pieces for us, and basically recorded the first seven that were written. It was an interesting cross-section of songwriters, composers and people in-between. We’ve evolved from being specialists in collaboration to really enjoying performing together. We’re having a whole season of doing exactly that.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org