One of the great pleasures of this stay in New York is that I keep getting introduced to terrific string quartets I didn’t know before. The St. Lawrence, Brooklyn Rider, Sweet Plantain, and, tonight (Sunday, March 27), the JACK Quartet, in performance at LPR.
First non-amplified event I’ve been to there. Acoustics could be worse; not much resonance, but I could hear just fine. Despite the food and drink, people were as silent, maybe even more silent, than at most classical concerts in more traditional venues.
I hadn’t had lunch or dinner. Before the concert, I ordered a salad and edamame, which, unfortunately, came just as the music started. I ate in between pieces and movements, especially since, by total chance, my son and I were sitting with the group’s manager. Really didn’t want to be in a “sorry, your group is great but I need to focus on my food” mode.
Besides, when you’re listening to (mentally) hard-to-chew music by Steve Lehman, György Ligeti, and Horaţiu Rădulescu, you don’t want to be distracted by popping edamame beans into your mouth. (At least I didn’t.) Music such as Rădulescu’s Fifth Quartet “Before the Universe was Born” (given its New York premiere tonight), by a composer who described his compositional approach like this:
[Sectral technique] comprises variable distribution of the spectral energy, synthesis of the global sound sources, micro- and macro-form as sound-process, four simultaneous layers of perception and of speed, and spectral scordaturae, i.e. rows of unequal intervals corresponding to harmonic scales
is not really music to eat by. (The quote is from the linked-to Wikipedia article.)
The program definitely was on the non-tonal, special-effects end of the new-music spectrum. No indie-rock/classical easy-accessibility here. As my son (22) and I walked to meet his sister in Little Italy after the performance, he asked if the highly intricate work the JACK players had done could be considered virtuosic.
Absolutely. Highly virtuosic. Excellent young players who did an amazing job with complex, fascinating music. They are making quite a career–look at their list of performances. And it’s a career based in new music. Just one Beethoven quartet and no Haydn or Mozart (or Brahms or Schubert or Schumann) in their repertoire list.
Who would have though a string quartet could make a living without Haydn and Mozart? But that’s the interesting thing. If they were focusing on the core Viennese repertoire, maybe they wouldn’t have as much of a career. There are countless groups playing that stuff well.
JACK? 68 premieres, if I counted correctly.
They are men on a mission. They are building their own virtually proprietary repertoire. Their own niche, as marketers say. They offer something unique. Excellent role models for young musicians.
LPR was full, with a $20 cover charge. JACK obviously has a following here. (So does LPR.)
The JACK Quartet plays some Xenakis: