Minty Fresh Quartets

A primo benefit to being a quartet that plays loads of new music is that we get first-looks at minty fresh scores. Our UChicago New Music Ensemble concert this Saturday is exactly that, and we are all impressed by the imagination and polish of the music featured by their talented composition students.

Phil Taylor's Spandrels is alternate doses of tranquility and eruption, draped across an architecture that keeps the listener satisfyingly rooted in the present. Jae-Goo Lee's Cold and Sharp pulls the camera in tight, examining a shivering and delicate world through microscopic-seeming string techniques. Andrew McManus has proven himself to be a major talent at writing for strings, and his The Sacred and the Profane moves through shades of prismatic harmonics, jazz-like jaunts and vital rhythmic counterpoint before disappearing altogether.

Esteemed Northwestern University faculty composer Hans Thomalla's Albumblatt has quickly become a cornerstone of our repertoire, and we are thrilled to be bringing this perspective-warping piece to Hyde Park to round out the program. Imagine glissandi originating from separate corners within the quartet, converging at microtonally-constructed major chords for just an instant. It makes us throw our hands up and shout, "It's SO GOOD!" every time we rehearse it.

Saturday, Feb. 16 at 8 PM.  FREE!

University of Chicago - Fulton Recital Hall (map)

1010 E. 59th Street, Goodspeed Hall, 4th floor

Austin wrote about Hans' piece previously on the blog, and you can see us playing it live at Northwestern University here:

Return to the land of Goshen

This Friday at 7:30 marks the fourth concert we've given in Goshen, Indiana in this quartet's short life.  This is no coincidence, as I was born and raised in Goshen and my parents still live there as an active part of the Mennonite community surrounding Goshen College.  We've already played Haydn's "Seven Last Words" in the College Church, as well as music by Brahms, Ades and more in the acoustically wonderful Reith Recital Hall in Goshen College's Music Center.  You can take a trip back in time to last year's trip in a blog post about our snowy drive, or read about this year's concert on their website.

Goshen College Music Center

We return with a program of music by vocally inspired composers: Verdi, Mozart, Wolf and James Blake (as re-imagined by Chris Fisher-Lochhead).  All these composers have an amazing imagination for musical characters: sneaky villains, beautiful heroines and comic fools will all show their face as the musical drama unfolds.

For a little taste of what you'll see at the show, you can see us in a very intimate live performance at Comfort Music this summer:


Old Man and the C-arter

This week, Spektral gives its first-ever performance of Elliott Carter's String Quartet No. 2 at the National Pastime Theater. I've now had two separate incidents of someone asking me if we decided to play this monumental work after learning of Carter's death. I only wish I traveled with the score, so as to quickly (and passive-aggressively) answer their query. Unpacking this piece, with all it's hocket-ed composite rhythms and wickedly-challenging passagework, has been an experience equally frustrating and gratifying for us. This is Carter, though. That's what HE DOES.

The title of the show is a quote from the man himself, that reads: "An auditory scenario for the players to act out with their instruments." It is not specifically tied to Quartet No. 2, but it closely parallels the individuality of each part, or character, around which Carter wrote this score. Aurelien's imaginative synopsis of the "plot" will be included in the program, and each of us will offer descriptions from the stage of who we feel our character is. 

I thought I'd preempt Wednesday's show by giving you my (unauthorized by my quartet-mates) film analogies to these personalities. The concert is BYOB, so with enough rye in your flask, these will make perfect sense…







Tickets are $5 cheaper in advance. See you on Wednesday!

Maiden Voyage to Milwaukee

This weekend marked out first trip to Milwaukee for a concert at the Unruly Music Festival. We had a fantastic day, beginning with a workshop with students and ending with a concert at the Marcus Center's Vogel Hall.

Friday, the day before the trip.  We rehearsed from nine in the morning 'til four in the afternoon, and just before we left we discussed the last details of our travels the next day.

Saturday morning, after reading sketches by University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (our hosts) for works they'll complete for the spring edition of the festival.

Alterra Coffee for lunch! We got a little excited.

Arrival in the Marcus Center.

Diving into the ritual of setting up for tech rehearsal of Black Angels.

It's almost showtime...

We're outta here!  What's Aurelien looking at?

It's a reveler too drunk to stay on his bike! Luckily the police are here to help him.

Launching the Logan Center

We're incredibly excited, thrilled, pumped up and stoked to be playing one of the first concerts in the amazing new Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.  If you're reading this blog, you probably know that we were recently named Ensemble in Residence at U. of C., so it feels particularly fitting to be launching our brand-spanking-new residency with a performance in a brand new venue.  There's an entire festival of events this weekend, and we hope we'll see you in the Performance Hall for our show on Friday.

But, this building is way more than just a new concert hall.  This is a ten story building with a unique "Performance Loft" on the 9th floor with this view (clicking photos makes 'em get big!):

It's an architectural wonder with many amazing corridors and open spaces:

It asserts itself in the Hyde Park landscape boldly:

And, it has space for a full range of artistic activities.  But, that's not why you're here.  We're so excited about the new concert hall in this building.  We had the chance to try it out last spring (before it was fully completed) when the team from Kirkegaard Associates was in town to see how their work was sounding.  Here we are, getting used to a stage we hope to take many times:



Repeating the Performance

Walking on stage at Ripon College's Demmer Recital Hall at 3 PM last Friday, Doyle and I were in good spirits. We had just spent the car ride past Milwaukee and Fond du Lac listening to some wild segments of the Walking the Room podcast and a little Buena Vista Social Club.

Having come in a separate car, Russ and Aurelien arrived a bit later and we got down to the business of getting comfortable in the space. While we bring our own stands to our concerts, the chairs were a little unusual.  So, we all sat on big wooden piano benches. (A decision I would later regret when my tailbones were nearly bruised by the end of the show.) I love halls with acoustical curtains, and we were afforded that luxury here, being able to pull them at will.

Once we settled into a sound we liked, sampling large sections of Brahms' A minor Quartet, we covered all the standard spots we like to have in mind for Thomas Ades' Arcadiana and Haydn's Op. 77 No. 2. We know these spots because we've played this program several times before. While this is nothing remarkable to ensembles with more mileage than us, having a run of performances on a major and unchanging program has been a revelation for the comfort level it provides.

In fact, we were so ready for that night that we rehearsed for our following evening's show. We still had some sounds to unify in Marcos Balter's intricate Chambers, so while we had a stage to utilize we figured out our articulations in a rhythmic canon and our bow speeds in an infamous section.

I have to say, that night may not have been the most electricity we've ever had coming from an audience, but it's the most limitless I've found myself to be in performance. We took risks that I would've thought ridiculous just weeks before and didn't fall on our faces. We were able to express the big picture in Brahms while reveling in the details and play whisper-quiet in the Ades.

And the next day we played a wonderfully revised and contrapuntally rich piece in front of a most generous Chicago audience without fear. For us (and the audience members I talked to), Chambers is a work that feels 10 minutes long, but lasts 16. There are few greater compliments for a piece than that. The moving parts all fit into place so snugly and the sounds are so vividly colorful that the ear simply follows along without concern for the passage of time.

But, I'm clearly interested in the passing of time. Things are changing in the way I look at performing with each concert the quartet gives. I'm becoming more aware of the constant learning process that I'm a part of and finding new ways to free my mind to be a part of this ensemble we're building to present on stage.

Plus, what better way to learn how to live the performer's life than keeping yourself awake with the killer dubstep of Skrillex while flying down I-94 to get home from rural Wisconsin?