The Beauty of Extremes

Saturday night, Riverside recital hall was hosting the JACK Quartet for the fifth time in last five years. It was an outstanding event that gathered new music lovers from different ages, to enjoy a wide range of music both technically and conceptually.

The concert started with an arrangement based on a two-part Latin ballade composed by Rodericus (ca. 1400), composer who was living in15th century. For Christopher Otto, the arranger of piece,  intention was discovering underlying rhythmic complexity by adding two new parts for violin II and cello, to the two original parts being heard in violin I and viola. The experience of hearing this piece performed by JACK helps to discover the beauty and subtle hidden relationship between this music and the music we now call contemporary.

The first short piece was followed by a two-movement piece called Holy Howl. A twenty-five minute performance started with a long tuning (almost five minutes), which was a part of the musical experience followed in the piece according to the composer Wolfgang von Schweinitz (b.1953). This precise tuning is a very significant part of the performance, and also a crucial part of performing the piece, because of the usage of non-tempered intervals between carefully tuned pitches. A Microtonal-chromatic scale as a cantus firmus line in the viola part, helped to form a smooth counterpointe motion in the most consistent way possible. But still, some of the chords constitute a dissonant timber. These dissonant moments are subtilized by careful usages of dynamics and timbre. Despite the lack of extreme changes in material and significant melodic motions in the surface, and a long duration, the piece is well composed and cleverly constructed dynamically and in timbre to keep the interest of audience.

After an intermission, the concert was continued by a thirteen-movement piece composed by John Zorn (b. 1953), called The Dead Man. According to a note in the program, the book inspired a piece with same name by George Bataille. This piece in an extremely opposite way of expression compared to the second piece. Holy Howl is trying to illustrate some miniature and complex texture, featuring the usage of extended techniques in the best way. According to one of the performers, in spite of making subtle ironic moments in the music, it is not the primary purpose of the piece, and the composer considers his music an extremely serious genre. By imitating real life elements, including TV, changing the channel on the radio could be heard in different movements, which strength the programmatic side of piece. Another important element in this piece was the subtle usage of repetition. The same underlying pattern in different movements, and repeating extremely complex and well-designed musical gestures in unexpected moments, helped the coherency of piece; but a really unique experience of listening, at the same time watching JACK play in an incredible way.

The last piece included another performer, who was also the composer of piece. Derek Bermel, (b. 1967)a Grammy-nominated composer and clarinetist composed this piece inspired by lectures, presented by the renowned physicist, Nima Arkani-Hamed about gravity. The piece, including a virtuosic part for clarinet, with an outstanding performance by the composer, featured three movements. Clever usage of glissandi to define the concept of gravity, could be seen in all of the movements. After introducing this technique in first movement, the composer designed the second movement, Heart of Space, using long note glissando passing between instruments. Having a classical jazz performance experience, Bermal performed the long glissando and big leaps perfectly. The piece finished with fast, dance like music with usage of multi-tonal techniques. Interrupting gestures in different tonality than the melodic, counterpointe textures being played in the string part, remind me of the piece called Unanswered Question, composed by American composer, Charles Ives.

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