Last year I produced a concert in which fantastic Denver pianist R. Andrew Lee performed November, a masterpiece of minimalist solo piano composed by Dennis Johnson. What made it such an event was exactly what made attending it so daunting: duration. Never mind the effort required to make structural sense of a piece of music that’s nearly five hours long; there are also more quotidian distractions—thirst, bathroom breaks, stretching. Those same concerns apply to the 1983 work String Quartet no. 2 by Morton Feldman, a meditative masterpiece of lapidary beauty, hypnotic repetition, and ghostly harmonies. Feldman was obsessed with the art of Turkish rugs, where subtle variations in color and shape creep into patterns, a quality that made its way into his compositions. The composer allowed performers of the epic to dictate the number of repetitions per pattern—thus, the 1999 premiere by Kronos Quartet clocked in at a mere four and a half hours, while the definitive 2003 recording by Flux Quartet lasts six hours and 15 minutes. Obviously, performing the piece places wild demands on the musicians, who aren’t afforded the luxury of zoning out or relaxing their muscles. The music is exquisitely quiet, so while string players don’t have to exert great pressure on their instruments, they hold their bows for what must feel like an eternity during long tones, which are only occasionally interrupted by pizzicato plucks. With recently enlisted violinist Maeve Feinberg joining Doyle Armbrust, Russell Rolen, and Clara Lyon, Chicago’s Spektral Quartet will provide the long overdue local premiere of the quartet in conjunction with the current Merce Cunningham exhibition “Common Time” (Feldman was one of many brilliant 20th-century composers who collaborated with the choreographer). They’ll play the work on the fourth floor of the MCA, just outside the exhibition. I’d suggest bringing a pillow and settling in.
- Peter Margasak