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Stefano Scodanibbio (1956-2012) was a musician active on many fronts. As an innovative virtuoso bassist and a pioneer of extended technique for his instrument he collaborated with composers including Luigi Nono, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Brian Ferneyhough and Terry Riley, inspiring each of them to new works. With Riley, with Markus Stockhausen and with others, he gave concerts of improvised music. He founded the Rassegna di Nuova Musica Festival in Macerata, his Italian hometown, and directed it for more than 30 years. He taught master classes from Darmstadt to Stanford. And as a composer his works for strings, for contrabass in particular were heard around the world: they were challenging pieces which – as Irvine Arditi wryly notes – avoided “traditional avant-garde trends”.

Arditti, a friend and associate of Scodanibbio, brought the present project to ECM’s attention. It documents a ‘dream project’ which fired Scodanibbio’s imagination in the last years of his life. The “Reinventions” comprise radical arrangements for string quartet of three Contrapunctus from Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” as well as string quartet settings of popular Mexican songs and Spanish guitar music. Scodanibbio, who loved Mexico, had gone there for extended periods to work on his compositions. Irvine Arditti: “The Mexican songs fascinated him, in particular ‘Bésame mucho’ by Consuelito Velásquez, which he considered the most beautiful song ever written. What is intriguing about these arrangements is that they are indeed ‘re-inventions’ as Stefano manages to impinge his own style of writing, in harmonics, so that they are unmistakably the work of his hand. He was also insisting on slow tempi so that every nuance of his arrangements could be understood.“

The Mexican songs are drawn together in “Canzoniere Messicano” (2004-2009) which embraces, in addition to the music of Velázquez, Scodanibbio’s recreations of pieces by José Alfredo Jiménez, José Lopez Alavéz, Germán Bilbao, and traditional music. The “Quattro Pezzi Spagnoli”, meanwhile, were shaped in 2009, and are based on Spanish compositions for guitar from the 18th and 19th centuries by Francisco Tárrega, Miguel Llobet, Dionisio Aguado, and Fernando Sor. Tárrega and Llobet, Paul Griffiths remarks, “came to prominence at a time of revival in Spanish music and of cultural renaissance in Barcelona, where Tárrega spent most of his life and Llobet was born. Fernando Sor, a Barcelonian of a century before, settled in Paris, where he befriended the visiting Dionisio Aguado in the 1820s and 30s. Scodanibbio, himself a touring virtuoso, may have felt he was in congenial company with all of them.”

“Reinventions” marks the first ECM appearance by Italy’s Quartetto Prometeo. Since its formation in the mid-1990s, the string quartet has emphasised both classical repertoire and the new musical expressions of our time. The group has had a close relationship with Salvatore Sciarrino who has dedicated works to them, including his “Esercizi di tre stili” and his Quartetto No. 8. They have recorded music of Sciarrino, Hugo Wolf, Schumann, Schubert Beethoven and more for labels including Kairos, Brilliant Classics, Amadeus and Limen Music. The group has won a number of awards including the Bärenreiter Prize of the ARD Munich Competition, and the City of Prague Prize as Best Quartet in the Prague Spring International Music Competition.

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