JACK Performs Works by University of Iowa Composers

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.



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2 responses to “JACK Performs Works by University of Iowa Composers

  1. I could feel the excitement in the air at this concert, heightened by the fact that I was sitting in front of a row of composers. The JACK quartet fully committed to each piece, they were obviously very concerned with executing the piece as the composer intended. All of this led me to be very open and receptive to the new compositions. I really appreciated that each composer had written about his work, providing different interpretations, or the means of composition, or a text or experience that the piece was inspired by. This information gave me a frame for listening and made each piece more accessible. After reading the poem by Lisinski, that “Raw” was written alongside, I was a bit nervous for what I would hear, the poem being very visceral and dark. The intensity of sound for this piece mirrored the poem well, and I was glad that intermission followed, because I needed a moment to sit with that. I especially liked Hamidi’s “String Quartet No.5,” the Iranian influences are very interesting to hear and Hamidi has a unique voice. As I was listening to so many different compositions, and reading about how each person composes, I wondered what the general concern is for this generation of composers? Is there an overarching preoccupation that each one addresses from a different angle? Is this how audiences in the 20th century felt, with some composers doing total serialism, some using twelve-tone rows, some using indeterminacy, and some doing electronic music? How does this compare to audiences during the classical or romantic period? I am glad to hear so many different styles of writing, and I thank all of the composers for writing string quartets, I can’t wait for next year’s concert!

    • The JACK Quartet has such an amazing ability to capture the audience in their performances. Just watching and listening to them play is such a treat! I think that the program itself was very strong, all of the music was enjoyable to listen to. As one of the composers, I can say that it was an amazing experience to work with the JACK on my piece Raw (String Quartet No. 2), and hear each musical phrase come to life with their powerful and evocative skills in performing. One of the highlights of the evening, and a strong example of this, was Alexandros Spyrou’s “Esotera III.” The most powerful moment in the entire concert was during this piece when the Kevin McFarland executed an outrageously vicious cello solo. Another highlight of the evening was Nima Hamidi’s “String Quartet No. 5,” which fused elements of traditional Iranian music with western art music.

      I would like to attempt to answer a question posed by “keplatt” in the previous reply concerning the “general concerns” of each composer. In terms of aesthetics, the beauty of the 21st Century is the freedom in which composers have to write whatever they want. We have no restrictions as to aesthetics such as tonality, serialism, minimalism, or any other “-ism.” Although some of us choose to write in these aesthetics, most often it is purely that: a choice. We write what we feel and are simply glad to hear it come to life and to be able to share it with the rest of the world; whether they enjoyed it or not. With such an intense and amazing ensemble as the JACK Quartet, I find it difficult to dislike anything they perform. So I would then ask “how much does performance factor in on our response and reception of music?” The answer inevitably is “a lot.”

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