JACK Quartet at Rite of Summer Music Festival
By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER | August 5, 2012
Charles Ives represents the newer end of the compositional spectrum on many programs. But as the cellist Kevin McFarland said before the JACK Quartet’s performance of the second movement of Ives’s String Quartet No. 2 on Saturday afternoon, “It’s still kind of an early piece for us.”
Ives is almost conventional fare for this excellent ensemble, which often commissions new works and has worked with an impressive number of prominent composers, including Helmut Lachenmann, Matthias Pintscher, Georg Friedrich Haas and Wolfgang Rihm, as well as a bevy of younger ones.
The Ives piece, which Mr. McFarland called the “first example of musical mash-up,” still startles with its brash extremes. Snippets of familiar melodies from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and an eclectic range of other works are woven through it.
The other, genuinely early piece on the program, performed on Governors Island as part of the Rite of Summer Music Festival, was an arrangement (by Ari Streisfeld, a violinist in the group) of a harmonically striking, melancholy piece by the medieval composer Guillaume de Machaut. Along with contemporary music, Mr. Streisfeld said, the ensemble — whose other two members are the violinist Christopher Otto and the violist John Pickford Richards — likes to find experimental composers from much earlier periods.
Also harmonically vivid was Brian Baumbusch’s intense “Mantle Eruption,” with its simmering trancelike section. Mr. Baumbusch wrote the piece during a recent stay in Bali, where the ensemble performed it. The one-hour program on Governors Island included three other arresting works by living composers: moody, Minimalist-influenced music that lured the picnicking audience into attentive silence. The shaded grassy area at Colonels’ Row is an ideal setting for an outdoor classical concert, without the distracting traffic noises that inevitably interrupt many summer events. Amplification didn’t tarnish these works, as it might a Mozart symphony.
Steve Reich and Philip Glass seemed the dominant influences on all the featured living composers. David Crowell’s alluring, vibrant “Open Road” evoked expansive vistas. After a stately opening and sparse textures, the music morphed into an energetic canvas with a fast Minimalist pulse.
The eerie harmonics of Payton MacDonald’s quartet version of “Radha” were hypnotically beautiful, with a viola melody spun over a background of slides and otherworldly effects. The concert ended with the last movement from Ken Thomson‘s striking, wistful “Thaw.”
The final concert in the Rite of Summer Music Festival is Sept. 3 at Colonels’ Row, Governors Island; riteofsummer.com.