On October 6th, the JACK Quartet presented a concert in Riverside Recital Hall comprised entirely of works written by University of Iowa student composers. This evening provided a very unique listening experience for those in attendance. When attending a string quartet concert, one usually expects to hear the works of three or four different composers. On this particular night, the audience heard the sounds of eight different compositional voices. This created a collage of styles that was at times overwhelming, but always enjoyable and engaging.
To begin the program, Jason Palamara’s never bowing down provided a meditation on different questions relating to the nature of the human soul. Following this was Jonah Elrod’s molto agitato, a work that used algorithmic techniques to generate musical content. This work featured striking and abrupt changes of textures and rhythmic feels. Next was Alexandros Spyrou’s Esotera III. This work contained many experimental and extended techniques that stretched the limits of string instrument sounds. The highlight of this piece and one of the highlights of the night was the incredible energy buildup in a cello cadenza performed by Kevin McFarland that utilized tremelo, over pressure, and playing on the opposite side of the bridge. Closing the first half was Barry Sharp’s RAW (String Quartet No. 2). This piece at times reached incredible levels of volume and violence for just four string instruments. After intermission was Joseph Z. Adams’ Space Jumping, attempting to programmatically depict the act of space jumping as well the idea of the soul reaching it’s final resting place after death. Nima Hamidi’s String Quartet No. 2 (XonyaGar) offered a unique combination of Eastern and Iranian folk music sounds with contemporary string quartet writing techniques. After this, the audience experienced the melancholy moods of Jonathan Wilson’s The Laughing Crane’s Lament. Closing out the program was Joshua Marquez’s Pagtindig, a work taking rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic inspiration from Filipino folk music.
String quartets have been written for over two hundred years by hundreds of composers. According to the JACK’s website, their group alone has performed works by over 200 different composers. With so much music existing in this genre, it is a testament to the Iowa student composers that this concert of eight new string quartets was completely captivating from beginning to end. The JACK quartet certainly deserves the highest praise possible for this experience. They operate as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the performance, commissioning, and spread of new string quartet music. They are successful with this mission because of their world class skill and attitude. Both of these traits were on display during this performance. The JACK’s humility and willingness to commit themselves completely to whatever work they are playing in a given moment is incredibly inspiring to witness. They give every sound their utmost artistry and their musical intent and direction was clear at every instant even though they had been working with these pieces for only a few days. The JACK’s musical intensity provided an inspiring evening for everyone in attendance.