Though they’re based in LA, Constellation Quartet is comprised of members from around the globe, including San Diego, Ohio, and Taiwan. The group consists of Emily Moore (violin), Jayla Tang (violin), Jennifer Wu (viola), and Max Mueller (cellist, arranger), and was formed in 2020 when a local business was seeking musicians to perform in their socially distanced concert series. With goals of collaboration and revitalization of classical music in mind, the group has released an EP titled The Venice Sessions, a collection of five modern tracks arranged and performed in their timeless and distinctive style.
HERE’S WHAT WE DUG MOST…
Opening with Annie Lennox’s Walking on Broken Glass, right away it becomes apparent that not only is the level of musicianship on this EP extraordinarily high, but Mueller is keenly aware of the kind of pop song that suits his style of arrangement. In their rendition, the energy and emotion are still as present as they are in the original, but in this configuration, the track takes on more nuance. The warm and steady repetition of the hook from the viola, the bright and soaring highlight of the melody from the violin, the richness and depth brought in by the cello – each of these instruments holds tight to its particular role, yet they all blend seamlessly together. It is an expert level of both arranging and performing.
And to our extreme excitement, this is the case across the entire EP. The James Taylor classic Fire and Rain offers us a softer approach, bringing regality and stateliness to a track that never seemed to require it, but receives it as though it was intended to be performed this way. While the lyricism in the original is often considered the high point, here, with the words removed, the melody absolutely shines in a way it perhaps never has before. The dynamics are tremendous, leading us through a gentle intro into a powerful, tense apex, before dropping us swiftly into the softest, most delicate reprise of the chorus. The cello is almost mournful in its spotlight moment, before merging effortlessly back into the luscious, harmony-rich outro.
Little Talks is a track not new to being reimagined in this classical way, but Constellation Quartet’s take on it is a rendition that highlights many of the song’s original components that often feel overlooked in other versions. This arrangement is movement-focused, the cello creating texture and energy with its quick pace, and the duality of the track is on full display, a wonderfully juxtaposed back-and-forth between the cello and violin bringing the song’s story to life through sound.
It’s a welcome surprise to find a Smashing Pumpkins song towards the end of this EP. While much of their work could be difficult to convert into this style of composition, again Mueller has picked a stellar track for inclusion on this project. This arrangement of Luna is saccharine and vulnerable, as the group collectively weaves a tapestry of harmonies that sound far bigger than what four instruments can produce. When the violin jumps up the octave at 1:45 it is arguably impossible not to get chills.
OUR FAVORITE TRACK…
Finding a track featuring a brilliant vocalist at the conclusion of the EP is the cherry on top of an absolutely stellar project. The inclusion of the work of Cliff Beach in Applause is a show-stopper. While it is indisputable that Constellation Quartet has a master handle on creating and exploring emotion through instrumentation alone, the inclusion of powerful vocals like Beach’s absolutely changes the way the music is consumed – and in this particular track, we’d argue that it’s the highlight. This arrangement is perhaps the biggest diversion from the original sound, replacing the pounding synthesizers with intricate violin runs and deep percussive cello tones, but the quick tempo and intricate vocals keep the energy at a level that creates that high-octane effect that this track is known for.
This is the kind of music that allows those who might be more removed from classical stylings to reconnect with the beauty and simplicity of a string quartet. The undeniable skill and passion that has gone into each of these pieces, both in the arrangement and in the performances, is on absolutely stunning display at nearly every measure. Constellation Quartet has created something that is both beautiful and inspiring with The Venice Sessions. If you have (or would like to have) an appreciation for music in one of its most classic forms, this EP is worth a listen ten times over. Truly brilliant work.
BELOW: Listen to Constellation Quartet and connect with their website and social media platforms, check out their live show/tour schedule, and find their booking & contact information. Please support Constellation Quartet by visiting them online, and playing, downloading, and/or purchasing their music, or attending a live show! And, as always, thank you for supporting real music!
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