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Attacca Quartet / Caroline Shaw, 'First Essay (Nimrod)'

Have you ever fallen through a musical trap door? This piece contains a few of them, along with other compositional entanglements, according to its composer, the Pulitzer-winning Caroline Shaw. Part of her inspiration, she says in the notes to her forthcoming album of string quartet music, is the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, where God scattered the peoples and confused their languages.

Here, Shaw's musical language begins with a sprightly tune, but soon splits off into "tumbling fragments and unexpected repetitive tunnels." No matter. While this eight-minute funhouse might be tricky to play for the cunning Attacca Quartet (this is the band's second Shaw album), it's easy on the ears. As you move through the maze, look out for lyrical solos, feverous cresting waves, moments of shimmering repose and perhaps a nod to Beethoven. At the end, we find a raw, slippery chord that slides through one more trap door.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.