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Interview: Jeffrey Holmes on YMIR

This Friday night at 8, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet and Los Angeles Guitar Quartet are joining forces to premiere YMIR, a new work from Jeffrey Holmes, at the Laguna Beach Music Festival. Jeffrey had a moment to answer a few questions about the piece.

YMIR brings together the LAGQ and LAPQ. Where did the idea for the project originate?

The idea originated between Nick Terry of LAPQ and Bill Kanengiser of LAGQ.  They had the idea to collaborate at the Laguna Beach Music Festival, but since it is a unique ensemble (four guitars and four percussion players), repertoire for this instrumentation was non-existent.  Since I have worked with LAPQ several times in the past, and I have personally known all the members of LAGQ for literally decades, it seemed like the right fit for me to compose a new piece for this collaboration.  I’d also like to add that Brian Head, who will be conducting the premiere on Friday, mediated between everyone involved, and was instrumental in getting this whole project to happen.

What about the music? What is the piece about?

I wanted to write an ancient, savage, and primitive piece, and that inspiration, combined with the source of the project coming from the Laguna Beach Music Festival, led me to look towards the origin of the ocean.  YMIR is the primordial being in the indigenous Scandinavian religion…and from his blood, all of the seas were formed.  This programmatic idea manifests in the music is several ways…most notably in the instrumentation and the treatment of the instruments.  The guitar quartet is tuned in a complex microtonal scordatura, that enables multiple levels of overtone tunings to occur, thus through intonation imitates the timbre of an ancient lyre or plucked string instrument.  There are several types of percussion instruments used in the piece, all of which could be ancient primordial instruments, such as skinned drums, a cow horn, the clashing of simple stones that imitate the sounds that would be made as a warrior chisels away at a spear tip or arrow or knife, bull roarers, metal sticks and gongs, even a large sledge hammer…but there are almost no “modern” percussion instruments (such as a marimba or vibraphone or cymbals, etc.).  The music itself is divided into nine sections with a coda, each of which bear titles that depict a violent state of the ocean and imply a spiritual transcendence.  YMIR was inspired by the following quote from the Eddic poem Skáldskaparmál:

“Útan gnýr á eyri Ymis blóð fara góðra.”
[Out on the sea-bank of good vessels Ymir’s blood roars.]

Did you actively work on it with the performers, or deliver a score flat out?

No, after discussing the general duration and the microtonal tuning I was planning to use, I just wrote the piece that I had in my head, and delivered a finished score.  Though there has been much interesting and enjoyable discussion since, mainly about finding the right percussion sounds to create the effect that I envisioned.

I actually haven’t been down to Laguna for a concert. Are they receptive to new music there?

Being and LA native I know Laguna and the surrounding beach and mountain areas well, but in regards to new music I have no idea…we”ll see!  As with all my music YMIR is extreme and uncompromising, and does not attempt to please anyone who is not willing to listen to it on its terms.  So if there is any resistance of any kind to new music in Laguna, YMIR will challenge those audience members to their core.

What else are you working on?

I am currently composing a big piece (ca. 30-minutes in duration) for chamber orchestra for the TALEA Ensemble…to be premiered in New York and at festivals in Europe, including Wien Modern, Darmstadt, and others during the 2016 season.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Laguna Beach is a beautiful part of California, and is surrounded by protected nature reserves.  So come down for the concert as well as the beach and mountains!

Here’s another sample of Jeff’s music, in the form of his second string quartet:

For tickets and more information, visit More about Jeffrey Holmes is up at

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