Alone Together

Alone Together

Conceiving bold creative ideas is one thing, putting them into practice is quite another. German Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, through tireless work and a helping hand from the pin-sharp technology of Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, has achieved both in Alone Together. His latest album breaks new ground for a classical title by harnessing the seemingly infinite possibilities of multi-track recording. It contains six specially commissioned compositions, as well as arrangements for eight individual cello parts of everything from Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and just about every cello sound and technique imaginable. Alone Together originated during the early months of the COVID pandemic. “The idea was, ‘How diverse an album can you make with just one person?’” Moser tells Apple Music. Three themes flowed together. The first stemmed from his desire to distill the tonal beauty of music for cello ensemble into his multi-track arrangements. He also wanted to couple new compositions with favorite cello pieces, among them John Popper’s “Requiem” and Pablo Casals’ arrangement of the traditional Catalan lullaby “Song of the Birds.” “The third thing we had in mind was Dolby Atmos and music’s spatial aspect,” he adds. Classical musicians, Moser observes, have always been early adopters of innovative technologies. He points to the Hammerklavier Sonata, Beethoven’s mighty response to advances in piano manufacturing. The brief for Moser’s Alone Together commissions was directly informed by Spatial Audio and the ability to record sound in three dimensions. “Now that we have [Spatial Audio] and the possibility for people to listen to what it can do in the leisure of their homes, of course composers should create music that lends itself to this kind of experience.” Johannes Moser is something of a rarity among the international cello community. In addition to playing with the world’s leading orchestras, he’s also a passionate advocate for contemporary music and for breaking down the barriers that all too often obstruct newcomers from entering classical music’s hallowed halls. He rejects the belief, once shared by Germany’s musical avant-garde, that contemporary music has no value unless it is, as he puts it, “alienating and somewhat offensive.” Yet his commissions are hardly from the easy-listening box, especially Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid’s “Somewhere There Is Something Else” and Ted Hearne’s “Lobby Music.” The latter blends hyperpop with unsettling sounds recorded in August 2020, in the midst of the civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during which 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot dead two unarmed protesters. Reid’s piece exploits the surround-sound complexity of Spatial Audio, while Grammy Award nominee Timo Andres’ “Ogee,” which Moser recorded at home, plays with the idea of eternal repetition with its sound loops for eight cello parts. Moser treats each track to top-drawer playing, whether on his Andrea Guarneri instrument—a 1694 treasure once owned by Julius Klengel, composer of the album’s final piece, “Hymnus”—or on one of two 21st-century electric cellos. And although the commissions set considerable technical challenges, Moser’s austere arrangement of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” proved toughest. It took 12 hours to capture the nine-minute track’s ideal take. “When we all had tired eyes, we felt its spirit take hold of us. That was quite amazing. At some point in any recording, you get exhausted, or complain, or use swear words that you shouldn’t. But with ‘Fratres,’ it was like, ‘Oh, it didn’t work. OK, I’m just going to do another take, and another one, and repeat the process until everything flows.’” None of the album would have been possible without Platoon, the label whose past credits include landmark projects with Billie Eilish and Jorja Smith. “It’s incredible to find a label and studio that’s willing to host that process and provide the engineers, the technology, and the space,” says Moser. “The Platoon team is totally dedicated and open, and they want to do things differently. I really think that’s the future.”

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