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Chimera: New work for five-string baroque cello by Ken Ueno

Commission of a 10 minute work for five-string baroque cello linking modern performance to historical theories and practices.

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Chimera had its premiere!

Posted on December 7, 2017 by Elinor Frey

Chimera, Ken Ueno’s new work for 5-string Baroque cello, was officially premiered by cellist Elinor Frey on November 18, 2017 at the Recital Hall of the University of Texas – Austin in Austin, Texas.  Ken was present at the premiere and participated in a Question and Answer session along with Elinor Frey, hosted by UT professor Guido Olivieri.

Thanks to a long and fascinating process of collaboration, parts of Chimera received preview performances. Four out of the five movements were performed Nov. 12 at the Anfiteatro Simón Bolívar in Mexico City, Mexico and two movements were performed in July 2017 in Cazenovia, New York, hosted by the Society for New Music.

Future performances are planned for 2018: February 4th at the Oratoire St. Joseph in Montréal, Québec, October 1 at CMC Toronto, October 7 at Maybeck Studios in Berkeley, CA, and October 9 at Music on Main in Vancouver, BC. More performances in New York and elsewhere are being planned. Hopefully even more will come!

Thank you again to New Music USA for the support!

Here are Ken’s program notes:

Chimera (2017)

Commissioned by Elinor Frey.

The composition of this piece was supported by a New Music USA Project Grant 2016.

Movement titles:

  1. “Night opening its black flower”
  2. “in the shadow of my sorrow”
  3. “we are resurrected”
  4. “the sky will be lavender”
  5. “an ocean bell sounding”

“Instruments are not instruments. Instruments are people. My compositional praxis is based on this fundamental principle that the musical potential of any instrument depends on who is playing it. As a composer, I depend upon fully engaged performers who enable me to take risks. New music requires trust and commitment. Elinor Frey is just that kind of player, who inspires me and who I trust. The opportunity to write for her and her five-string baroque cello was a chance to imagine a counterfactual history of the five-string baroque cello. My piece is a kind of meta-suite in five movements, one that traverses time. Starting with a contemporary recasting of a prelude (“Night opening its black flower”), the following movements gradually approach a ghost of the baroque. The ghost appears clearest in the middle movement (“we are resurrected”) distorted by microtones, then fades away. In the last movement (“an ocean bell sounding”), bell-like incantations of chords of the open strings, harmonies based on just intonation, linger insistently in a gesture-less field, until, they begin to exert their own validity, or, perhaps we begin to accept them for what they are, an assessment no longer appurtenant to standards of the past.”

— Ken Ueno


I have long admired Ken’s music and also his work as a performing artist and throat singer. As a performer, Ken is contributing significantly to our understanding of a non-standard instrument, something that I also hope to do with my work on the five-string Baroque cello. Ken’s unique perspective, his long-term interest in chamber music and his attention to historical knowledge make him the ideal partner for this commission.

 Ken Ueno will write a 10-minute work for the five-string Baroque cello, an instrument that is the centrepiece of my recent research. The work, tentatively titled “Chimera: counterfactual histories of the five-string baroque cello in five movements,” links modern performance to historical theories and practices through the reimagining of “affects”, or the “passions”. Each movement will also explore a historical musical parameter including tuning, melody, and timbre. The composition will also reflect the historical use of the 5-string cello with a non-standard tuning. The new work will be composed in the winter of 2016 and will be premiered in May 2016 in Berkeley, California as part of the guest artist concerts at the Berkeley Center for New Music and Audio Technologies.

 My approach to concert programming prizes both research and research-creation. Through these two objectives I hope expand our understanding of what the cello is and was, from its emergence in the seventeenth century to our continually changing use of the instrument today. Ken’s work will take part in a program dedicated to the solo five-string cello, a program that I will perform widely, both in North America and Europe. The program also features J.S. Bach’s sixth cello suite (BWV 1012), transcriptions from short works by J.P. Telemann and Franz Benda, and recent compositions by Scott Edward Godin, Isaiah Ceccarelli, and Linda Catlin Smith. In addition to the scheduled premiere in 2016 in Berkeley, California, I will perform the program with Ken’s work throughout the 2016-2017 season. The commissioned work will also be recorded in a forthcoming CD of new works for Baroque cello, scheduled for 2017.

 Since I began to devote a great deal of time to historical performance practice and to understanding the origins of cello music, I have wanted to engage two genres, historical and contemporary, through the use of the Baroque cello. The 5-string cello’s unique colours, registration, and technical qualities also provide fertile ground for new music. I greatly look forward to working with Ken and to helping to bring about a work that seeks to engage the cello’s history, especially its typical responses to articulations, phrasings, techniques, and bow strokes, and to creating this opportunity to present the instrument–and its music–both as a treasury of memory and a tool of original expression.

Project Media

Guided By Voices
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Features: Elinor Frey

This is a clip from “Guided By Voices” by Scott Edward Godin for 5-string Baroque cello from the premiere performance given by Elinor Frey at Le Gesù, Montréal in April 2015.
Commissioned by Elinor Frey and Innovations en concert.

Hapax Legomenon
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Features: Ken Ueno

Frances-Mairie Uitti, two-bow cello; Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose, conductor
Hapax Legomenon (2013)- note by Robert Kirzinger, Concerto for two-bow cello for Frances-Maire Uitti. Commissioned by the Harvard Musical Association and composed at Civitella Rainieri.

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Features: Ken Ueno

Zetsu (2015) by Ken Ueno is also for a string instrument – featuring copious extended techniques and scordatura.

Start and End Dates



Berkeley, California

1 update
Last update on December 7, 2017

Project Created By

Montreal, CANADA
Fascinated with the cello’s origins and the creative process of new music, American cellist Elinor Frey plays both period and modern instruments. Frey’s honors include a US-Italy Fulbright Fellowship where she studied baroque cello with Paolo Beschi, the SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship, and American Musicological Society and Canada Council for the Arts grants facilitating her work…

In Collaboration With

Berkeley, California


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