Saturday, July 8, 2017

String Quartet premiere – Locrian Chamber Players, June 2, 2017

I've posted the recording below on Facebook and Twitter already, but I'm putting it here as well. This is the June 2 premiere of my second String Quartet, completed in 2016 and performed by the Locrian Chamber Players at Riverside Church in NYC. (The group's photo, above, is borrowed from its Facebook page. You can also follow @LocrianPlayers on Twitter.)

The Locrian performs only music of the last 10 years and the group has been around for over 20 years. Since pretty much everything they do is new, they've developed an unusual sensitivity to the interpretation of never-before-performed works. Like mine. I am deeply grateful to the players for their insightful, skilled and disciplined approach:
Conrad Harris, violin
Calvin Wiersma, violin
Daniel Panner, viola
Greg Hesselink, cello
The four movements are in a single soundfile, with brief silences in between, recorded live.
1. Circle Dance
2. Fantasy
3. Churchyard
4. Drum

All four movements play with materials from folk music, pentatonic scales in particular. The Locrian hand out program notes only after the concert – a practice I fully support. The note on this quartet from the concert:

The four movements are intended as songs of a sort – simple structures, direct language, concise material. Like a dance suite, they are rooted in physical movement. The titles were added long after the quartet was complete. In hindsight, I would say the music reflects an awareness of the way communities express themselves in individual lives, and the way individuals act together. The circle dance could be at a wedding. The fantasy is like a county fair, with doses of joy, sorrow, confusion and weirdness. The churchyard is a stroll among the headstones, the lives lost beneath the grass. The last movement is inspired by a Native American drum team at a pow-wow: the team sits around a large drum, each member has a beater and they keep time together as they sing.
The rest of the program featured similarly wonderful performances. I have to shy away from a proper review, since it would be impossible for me to be impartial. I love everything on the program. But as a composer, with my own work on the same program, there were two pieces that stood out as my favorites. The first was "The Gates of Sleep"  – a gemstone setting of short text by Virgil by Locrian co-founder David Macdonald, which opened the evening. Unpretentious, meditative, concise and powerful – I heard it once and I wanted to hear it again immediately. I just loved it.

The other was the 2007 string quartet "Blossoming" by Toshio Hosokawa. It's a dramatic, far-sighted piece that develops materials less from the traditions of classical music and more from the sounds of the natural world, exploiting a tendency that has been present in Japanese traditional music for centuries. Glissando-ing trills that enter gently, like the whispers of birds in flight over and around the listener, are one hallmark – a stunning performance of an important piece. I need to get the score.

Michael Gordon also had a really interesting string quartet on the program, "Clouded Yellow" (2010). Guitarist Stanley Alexandrowicz (who had a recital in Ewing, NJ, recently which I wrote about in my previous blog post) opened the second half with Brian Fennelly's "Prelude and Maverick Tango" (2014); and mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek and pianist Jonathan Faiman played George Crumb's "The Yellow Moon of Andalusia" (2012). The performance of the Crumb had all the dizzying colors, dissolving-into-silence drama and serious whimsy that you expect from him; the score is reminiscent of, but perhaps not equal to, "Ancient Voices of Children." In addition to having a great voice, Jacqueline's acting skills stitched the invisible threads of Crumb's music into a fine carpet.

Here's the complete program.

Love the Locrian Chamber Players – next concert, 8 p.m. August 25, featuring work by Steve Reich, John Luther Adams, Adrienne Albert, Aaron Alter and others.

July 9, 2017

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