Bryce Dessner is widely recognized for the rich guitar sound he brings to The National, and almost as widely for the discreet but unmistakably cerebral sophistication of projects like that group and his other, somewhat quieter band, Clogs. And so it may come as little surprise to his listeners in the rock world that Dessner, in addition to his performing career, has also built up a reputation as an esteemed classical composer, culminating in this week’s CD release of his music for string quartet.
Aheym, recorded by the iconic Kronos Quartet and released on Anti-Records, is only the latest step in a classical music career that has also included collaborations with composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich, in addition to cross-genre projects like the recent Planetarium, a song cycle created with Sufjan Stevens and opera composer Nico Muhly.
Stevens and Muhly exert a certain influence on Aheym. It was Muhly who proposed the collaboration between Dessner, Kronos and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus that produced the movement Tour Eiffel, recorded here, and Stevens makes an appearance as one-man choir of overdubbed Tenebre, singing the Hebrew alphabet in a nod to Renaissance settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Along with the album’s two purely instrumental works, Little Blue Something and the title track, their warm harmonies and layered, vital rhythms herald the emergence of a serious new composer of classical music.