Tuesday night, the school hosted the JACK Quartet, a group of internationally-known artists who seek to broaden and diversify the potential audience for new music while working with a variety of composers. A complete bio for the JACK Quartet can be foundhere. The group began the show with Georg Friedrich Haas’s 5th String Quartet, a surprise antiphonal work with each performer in a different corner of the room. Immediately from the first pitch, the difficulties of such a setup were understood but not audibly, as the balance of the group was so well done that it immediately became an experience, not just a piece of music. We, the listeners, were inside a perfectly molded sound, whether that sound be overtone chords or series of beat patterns/composite rhythms. According to the composer, the work came out of “the attempt to combine individual events with one another so densely that they blended into a unified totality, in which the individual contribution of each single instrument was dissolved.” The fact that Haas then places each musician in a different corner of the room makes the process much more difficult, but the effect paid off.
“Tier,” by German composer Enno Poppe, was yet another work that truly showcased the JACK Quartet’s ability to create an experience immediately from the first sound. It is a work with extreme difficulty, both rhythmically and technique-wise. Beginning with a loud slapped string, the music becomes a swirl of ornamentations and cuttingly-precise rhythms. JACK’s ability to create perfectly molded harmonic effects and nuanced sounds within their extended technique was breathtaking, in the least. They had the clarity of the finest performances of Mozart, but were playing music infinitely more difficult and complex.
The group’s third piece, String Quartet No. 7 by Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino (currently in residency at BU), was a piece characterized by it’s opening inscriptions: “with penetrating simplicity” and “widely summoning.” The start of the piece consisted of two downward glissandi, which get augmented in length and dynamic until an entire transformation of timbre. The glissandi, almost organically, turn into harmonic glissandi, tremolos beneath the bridge of the instrument, sul pont, and other intricacies of extended technique string playing. Sciarrino created a surge of intensity by combining all of these elements to create a thick mass of intricate rhythms & pitches. The climax of the piece was towards the end and was brooding with both inner and external force, causing more than half of the audience to be on the edge of their seats for the final pitches.
The show ended with a multi-movement work by Roger Reynolds, whose compositional style seems to have gone from electronic to more consonant(but not necessarily tonal), acoustical mediums. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s not forgotten (2007-2010) is a collection of memories and perceptions that remain in his mind. Of these memories are the music of Xenakis, Takemitsu, and Elliott Carter; Zen gardens of Kyoto; and Giverny, France. Each movement had a unique compositional element that the JACK Quartet capitalized on and shifted to/from in attacca style. One movement comes to mind in which each musician used the wood of their instrument for repetitive percussive effects, creating a somewhat minimalist rhythmic soundscape.
By the end of the performance, the audience had no choice but to reward these four men with extended applause. Among music lovers, there are many who are antagonists towards modern music. Even if these people attended the JACK Quartet’s performance, they had no choice but to recognize good messengers of art. For those of us who wholeheartedly appreciate modern music… we had been wanting to reward the group since the very gesture of their first note. I would highly recommend seeing this group if you get the chance.