A Cosmology of Cries and Whispers
Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 East 52nd Street
Final concert: 2012 Moving Sounds Festival
Friedrich Haas: String Quartet No. 5
Clemens Gadenstätter: häuten: Paramyth (String Quartet No. 1) (World Premiere)
JACK Quartet: Christopher Otto, Ari Streisfeld (Violins), John Pickford Richards (Viola), Kevin McFarland (Cello)
C. Gadenstätter (© Coco T.Dawg)
“If I’m going to take 25 minutes of an audience time,” modestly declaimed the young Viennese composer, Clements Gadenstätter, “I have to make it worthwhile for them.”
That was an understatement. Mr. Gadenstätter’s First String Quartet, given its world premiere last night at the Austrian Cultural Forum, was a frenzy of fiddler colloquies, arguments, caresses, violent exclamations and (in Zen terms), the sounds of 40 fingers clapping, fluctuating, trilling and devising new aural aurae.
One listener told the composer that his piece was “mind-blowing”, a hardly cerebral comment. But Mr. Gadenstätter took as a huge compliment, since this First Quartet didn’t need the analytical treatment for success. It practically shrieked out its message, with a kind of glorious homage to sound itself.
Not that one anticipated the music, after reading the program. An ultimately cowardly lady sitting near me, reading Mr. Gadenstätter’s intensely prolix notes, fled the scene. The composer admitted later that he is unable to write “about” his music, that his descriptions are like an architect’s sketches for a real room.
But one could easily be put off by his words. “The way of treating the instrument is connected to a body-grounded perception to sound”...going onto “An illustration is wiped out through a construction of tactile qualities of sound; the ‘myths prescribe...” etc etc, is not going to attract the hoi polloi. (It gets much denser, much deeper after that.)
The JACK Quartet (© Coco T.Dawg)
But once the JACK Quartet began buzzing-trilling up the keyboard and launched into the Quartet as a whole, then those longiloquent writings became Hamlet’s “words, words, words.”
What Mr. Gadenstätter–not a string player himself–did not create was a thesaurus of every possible violin trick, sound and technique. Those were the tools. Instead, he enabled his four players to communicate in cries and whispers. Viola and fiddle made sweet glissandi to each other, while second fiddle and cello simultaneously argued with fierce pizzicati, and triple-bowing oaths. Here was a universe of unearthly sounds which bounced off the instruments into the audience.
Less a universe, though, Mr. Gadenstätter was working with a Black Hole in which the emotions of brutality, exquisite beauty, wrath and every possible combination of strings and wood were so densely created that they cracked the Black Hole confines into a startling, and (in Mr. Gadenstätter’s words) tactile effect upon us all.
It goes without saying that the JACK Quartet (an acronym of their first names, so let’s hope violist John isn’t replaced by Henry) played it not only with total confidence, but they extracted the humor–yes, the humor–of sounds twisting around each other. They were, like the Quartet itself, simply astonishing.
More so that the opening work, Georg Friedrich Haas’s Fifth Quartet. The last time I heard the JACK Quartet do Haas was in this same venue, but totally blacked out for the Third String Quartet. Mr. Haas enjoys dark works, but for his Fifth Quartet, the lights were on, though the JACK Quartet spread out: violin and cello on stage, second violin and viola respectively in the back of the auditorium and up in the balcony.
To me, the sounds, while interesting, were acrid and empty. Mr. Haas has his obsessions and his feelings and he is welcome to them. My own candid feeling was that he was trying to display the emotions one has when drinking paint-thinner, but I am as Philistine as the lady who walked out.
So mea culpa. Anyhow, I stayed for Mr. Gadenstätter’s marvelous cosmological resonances, which are still resonating in my mind hours after the concert.