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In search of various roots and modern compositions:Balanescu Quartet

Blog
In search of various roots and modern compositions:Balanescu Quartet

05.12.2017

Text: Cem Kayıran

Alexander Bălănescu, born in Bucharest and based in London, formed Balanescu Quartet in 1987. This has been a unique quartet that connects different musical traditions together without being bound by certain instruments or sounds. Initially, Balanescu Quartet, led by Bălănescu and his old time collaborator Clare Connors, played classics by names like Robert Moran and John Cage. And their first album, released in 1992, made their name known worldwide.

“There have been violins for two hundred years, and we’re trying to bring them into harmony with modern compositions.”

The first Balanescu Quartet album, named Possessed and released by Mute Records, consisted of three complex string adaptations from one of Germany’s leading bands in electronic music scene, Kraftwerk, as well as three original compositions. 

Their second album, Luminitza, came out in 1994. The new themes and sound layers in the album hinted the wide extend of the quartet’s musical vision. Reflecting Alexander Bălănescu’s mood after leaving Romania, Luminitza also expanded the quartet’s sound scale by adding samples and rhythm programming onto the existing string instruments.

Next year, Balanescu Quartet released the film music for Philip Haas’ 1995 drama Angels & Insects. 90’s also saw the quartet being a part of various albums from different bands and musicians, such as Spiritualized, Kevin Volans and Geoff Smith. These collaborations continued into 2000’s.

In 1997, Balanescu Quartet released East Meets East, an album with six string adaptations from one of Japan’s major bands, Yellow Magic Orchestra. 

In 2000, Balanescu Quartet composed music for Guido Chiesa’s film adaptation of the novel, Johnny The Partisan. During 2000’s, Balanescu Quartet’s collaborations with musicians from various disciplines such as Optimo, Rabih Abou-Khalil and Michael Torke, showcased their command over different musical genres.

Next album from the quartet was another tribute to a legendary name from a different culture. Focusing on the musical traditions of his birthplace, Alexander Bălănescu composed new arrangements on Maria Tanase’s songs, a musician who lived in Romania during 40’s and 50’s. The album, Maria T., featured Steve Arguelles on the percussion and samples from Tanase’s own sound recordings. Austrian video artist Klaus Obermaier created a special stage show for the live performances of this album.

Alexander Bălănescu took part in countless projects during his career and aside from his quartet, he also worked with names like John Lurie, Ornette Coleman, Pet Shop Boys, Teho Teardo and many others.

The quartet, which currently consists of  Alexander Bălănescu, James Shenton, Katie Wilkinson and Nick Holland, released a compilation from Mute Records in 2011, named This Is The Balanescu Quartet. At their performance at 9th May for Akbank Sanat 25th Year Concerts, the quartet performed their The Many Colors of Romanian Music show, which also included some of their Kraftwerk adaptations.


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