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The Ecstatic and the Static

New York
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
05/03/2013 -  
Missy Mazzoli: You Know Me From Here (World Premiere)
Laurie Anderson: Flow (arr. Jacob Garchik)
Valentin Silvestrov: String Quartet No. 3 (NY Premiere)
Aleksandra Vrebalov: Babylon, Our Own (NY Premiere)

David Krakauer (Clarinet), Kronos Quartet: David Harrington, John Sherba (Violins), Hank Dutt (Viola), Jeffrey Zeigler (Cello)

J. Sherba, Jeffrey Zeigler, D. Harrington, H. Dutt (© Jay Blakesberg)

Each time I plan to write an homage to the Kronos Quartet, they louse up my fine words by playing such interesting music that I have no room to salute them. Briefly, those who don’t know the Kronos don’t know the first–and still most significant–string quartet which for forty years has not only introduced but exemplified music of the world, music of every conceivable genre and spirit.

Last night, their music was typically mystical, exhilarating, ecstatic and...well, at one point, static.

The static was one of the most intriguing modern Russian composers, Valentin Silvestrov. Specifically, he is my favorite in short doses. Doses of his brilliant songs to poems of Pushkin, Lermentov etc, and his short piano pieces, from the Bagatelles to his Kitsch-Music.

But his slow-moving, shadowy style–a close relative would be Morton Feldman–can be wearing, wearying, the torpor less Marlene Dietrich than Madeline Kahn parodying Dietrich in I’m Tired.

Silvestrov once explained, “Music should be born of silence. That’s the most important thing. The dimension of silence.” True enough, Beethoven’s Ninth is born from the silence before the first notes. But that silence is a silent organic Big Bang, evolving into music of the cosmos. Silvestrov’s silence with its piping tunes and palling phrases (albeit with a muted dance in one of the Interludes) was not so much organic as suppurating into its own mold.

I still listen with huge pleasure to his small treasures. Perhaps Kronos could arranged these wonderful songs. The large pieces, alas, I find mentally depressing.

A. Vrebalov (© Branko Stojanovic)

The one ecstatic work last night, this also from Eastern Europe, was a revelation in name and content. Aleksandra Vrebalov, born in Serbia, now a native of New York, has been associated with Kronos for several years. But so far-ranging is Kronos that one can’t keep up with all its discoveries. From YouTube this morning I discovered her other works, all vibrant, multi-tiered with voices and extra-musical sounds and the apotheosis of energy.

Babylon, Our Own was described as “simultaneously joining forces to declare that we are all equal.” And in that she wrote of invoking the voices accompanying the music of religious leaders (Dalai Lama, Pope, Orthodox Patriarch), as well as name, street sounds and her own grandmother intoning the prayers of her church.

That was all well and good, though I could recognize little under the sounds of Kronos Quartet whose voices produced rhapsodies of happiness, dances, bursts of joy.

D. Krakauer (© www.davidkrakauer.com)

The sounds were led by clarinetist David Krakauer, playing the long–but never tiring–measures in the highest registers, the notes blurring down klezmer (or more likely Serbian) style in a vigorous, dance. Was this imitative of Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, also with the Krakauer and the Kronos? That was inevitable. But Ms. Vrebalov has a voice and mind all of her own, and I want to hear more and more of her so vital music.

The opening was Missy Mazzoli’s You Know Me From Here, written for the 75th birthday of a friend. Like all of her music, this was contrapuntally dense (perhaps too dense, with little letup for breath), was adept and, I imagine on second hearing would be as interesting as her other works.

The shortest and by far quietest music was an arrangement of Laurie Anderson’s song Flow. So quiet, so short, that it could have been a prelude to Silvestrov’s Quartet. Still, very lovely, very calming, very much one of the Kronos infinite voices, infinite moods.

Harry Rolnick



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