Thursday, May 23, 2013

"John Adams Residency" at the Library of Congress now; Stunning concert by Attacca Quartet

The “free” concert given by the Attacca Quartet at the Library of Congress on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 was nothing less than monumental. 
First, as to the “free” part (as in the “” videos on YouTube), there is a caveat.  Tickets can be reserved for $8.75 service charge by Ticketmaster, but this concert was “sold out” a month in advance, largely because composer John Adams was present,  The Library is honoring the work of John Adams throughout the weekend (with a “John Adams Residency”).  So you have to get there at 6 PM  (you can eat dinner three blocks down 1st St SE at a Tortilla restaurant and sports bar, across from the South Capitol Metro). You go through security and get a “ticket stub number”, and then wait in a rehearsal room with Closed Circuit TV.  Normally, there are enough real tickets (handed out as they become available) at 7:30 PM.  I had no trouble getting in.

Mr. Adams has a website called "Earbox", link here.  The Attacca Quartet has a site here
And I did get a chance to meet and talk to the four members of the Attacca String Quartet:  Amy Schroeder amd Keiko Tokunaga, violins: Luke Fleming, viola; Andrew Yee, cello.  The Quartet is associated with the Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music, at Julliard in New York City.
The quartet has a large repertoire, of both classics (especially Haydn and early Beethoven), and contemporary (particularly John Adams, Bartok, Janacek, Schoenberg and Berg, and new composers).  What kind of commitment does it take 20-somethings to maintain a group like this.  (Remember the film. “The Last Quartet”?) 
Luke Fleming (“Harold in Italy”) seemed to be the “ringleader” and spoke for the group on stage.  The arrangement of the (Coolidge Auditorium) stage is interesting, as the proscenium doors (as from Shakespeare’s days) allow composers to transit between the stage and the audience.
The most sensational work on the program was the last – The String Quartet #4  (2008) by John Adams.  It is simply monumental, fully post-Mahler (perhaps a shade of Hevergal Brian, and a little bit of the flavor of the Profokiev Sixth), and will surely become a repertoire staple.  It is formally in two movements (“Op. 111 format”), but the “first movement” (21 minutes) is in four distinct sections. The second (or fifth, as you count) movement, 9 minutes, starts out as an exercise in “Morse code” but starts imposing self-control and works up to a triumphant close that had the audience spellbound. 

The other Adams work, before intermission, was a set of seven dances (out of ten) from “John’s Book of Alleged Dances”, some of which are played with pre-recorded audio and have a West Indies or African flavor.  The titles are a bit snarky (like Rag the Bone” and Toot Nipple” and “Pavane: She’s So Fine”).  The last dance, “Judah to Ocean”,  invokes the mood of biking and cruising the walks, canals and beaches of Venice, CA.  Would these dances work on a disco floor? I noticed that the cellist really was given to facial expressions in performing the Adams works.  
Adams spoke before the "disco dances".  I got to speak to him at Intermission, and mentioned his “Doctor Atomic” (Nov. 8, 2008 here), and mentioned the EMP (electromagnetic pulse) issue today as one that politicians were overlooking,
The second half of the program opened with a newly commissioned work from Timo Andres, String Quartet #2, “Early to Rise”, a ten-minute work in four sections, which starts out with some motion and settles in for the day’s work, and ends quietly.  Timo spoke, and said that he is more productive when he gets up early.  I had to do just that last Saturday (5:30 AM) to go to the mountains (Issues blog).  I do find that my best “rem sleep” tends to happen after about 6 AM, though then it is harder to get up (in “retirement”).
The program had opened with the String Quartet #2 in G Major, from Op. 18, by Beethoven.  G Major always sounds like the "green" key to me.  The work opens with some rather impish motives and quickly proves Beethoven’s new path for motivic development. The first movement teases the listener in the way it starts the recapitulation, oddly in the dominant key of D.  (Mozart had started a recapitulation in the subdominant key of F in his famous C Major sonata, to make it a mirror copy of the exposition, but that’s not so interesting.)   The quartet has a Largo movement (in complex triple time) that anticipates the mature Beethoven with slow movements, with a curious fast middle section.  
There was a little bit of a problem with pitch in one of the violins in the slow movement. 

As an encore, the Quartet performed the finale from the Haydn Quartet in F Op 77 #2, a presto in triple time. 

The printed  program notes from the Quartet were as detailed as ever. 

The Quartet used sheet music (and had one brief mixup before the last work).  When will everybody start using iPads for scores? 

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