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In performance: JACK quartet

Web-only review:

JACK Quartet offers new music and dynamic variety
by Tom Huizenga

The JACK Quartet, whose name is an acronym of its members' names, brought its new-music repertory to DC.

The string quartet might be a 250-year-old contraption, but with a clutch of young, enthusiastic groups like the JACK Quartet, the form seems to be experiencing a boom.

The JACK musicians, looking about age 30 or less, perform and commission new music. They’re comfortable appearing in trendy nightclubs or fancy concert halls, like the Library of Congress, where Friday night they played three new pieces, and one avant-garde holdover, for a regrettably small audience.
(read more after the jump)

Two audience members were actually the composers Jeff Myers, whose microtonal and vaguely minimalist “Dopamine” began the concert, and Caleb Burhans, whose “Contritus” received its world premiere.

A Library commission for the JACK Quartet, “Contritus” contained more melody than the other pieces combined. Even so, it was sparse. Its forlorn, rocking notes and spacious harmonies evoked a satisfying Arvo Pärt-like timelessness. But when an earnest tune surged high in the violin, the piece veered uncomfortably close to film music.

The young German composer Matthias Pintscher’s Study IV for “Treatise on the Veil” must be about the quietest music composed for string quartet. Equally fascinating and bewildering, Pintscher’s drastically muted (“veiled”) techniques made the music sound like it was being played inside a glass jar. Wisps of barely audible tones fluttered by like puffs of air.

Conversely, “Tetras” by Iannis Xenakis (from 1983), is about as loud as a string quartet gets. It’s hard not to be in awe of this electric guitar-like shred-fest for strings. It’s jagged, raw and violent, pivoting instantly from one startling sound to the next, and yet not without humor, with its quacks, grunts, barks and slithering sirens.

The JACK Quartet, in terrific performances, proved that the quaint old string quartet, stretched to its limits, remains vital and entertaining.

--Tom Huizenga

By Anne Midgette  |  May 3, 2010; 5:45 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , local reviews  
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German composer Matthias Pintscher, whose Hérodiade-Fragmente (with soprano Marisol Montalvo) will be paired with Beethoven’s Choral Symphony #9 in Christoph Eschenbach’s first regular concert of the NSO 2010-2011 season, was inspired to compose his Study IV for “Treatise on the Veil” by a very large and major minimalist painting by Virginia-born American painter Cy Twombly (b. 1928), who is represented in national art museums around the world including the National Gallery of Art (however, not in the very large Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, recently given to the National Gallery and which closed yesterday, which focused on a limited number of artists from the same period as Cy Twombly).

The cycle of huge paintings were themselves inspired by a major work of mid 20th c. music – Pierre Henry’s 1951-53 French musique concrète composition, The Veil of Orpheus.

Here is a link to an image of Twombly’s second version of Treatise on the Veil (Rome) from the Menil Collection in Houston. (The late, dark paintings by Mark Rothko now on display in the National Gallery’s Tower Gallery accompanied by an expertly installed recording of music by Morton Feldman are similar to the late, dark paintings in the ecumenical Menil Chapel in Houston next to the Menil Museum).

(Composer Pierre Henry’s name is confused with that of a French painter in the link.)

I wonder if Cy Twombly – who divides his time between Rome and Virginia -- was in the Library of Congress audience on Friday evening.

Posted by: snaketime1 | May 3, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

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