Aleksandr Lasoń: String Quartet No 4, "Of Tarnowskie Góry"
Elinor Armer: String Quartet 11
Alessandro Annunziata: String Quartet No 1, "Griko"
Elizabeth Derham: Violin
Paul Dwyer: Cello
Maria Im: Violin
Kim Mai Nguyen: Viola
Right between the end of the official season in June and the Mostly Mozart Festival in August, July is always the toughest month for music lovers in New York City. Free outdoor performances are fundamentally a neat idea, but I've learnt the hard way that it is apparently pointless to expect the audience, sometimes the weather, to cooperate. Out-of-town music festivals are, well, out of town.
Early July, a little trip to the beautiful St Bart's Episcopal Church on the Upper East Side for an advertised "sacred music festival" had me stuck in a full religious service that included a couple of unsteady musical interludes. I eventually managed to flee after one very long hour and went straight up to the Met's "Chaos to Punk" exhibit. As I was happily ogling the elaborate and fun displays, The Sex Pistols and Co thoroughly cleared my ear drums of any forgettable yet lingering choral singing.
For all those reasons, I was overjoyed to come across MoMA's Summergarden concert series with its appealing programming of international contemporary chamber music, the sure value of Juilliard-trained musicians, an easily accessible location, the cool environment of the museum's famed sculpture garden, no charge, and even a back-up plan in case of inclement weather. To top it all off, my friend Marlena decided to join me, and our one and a half hour wait was rewarded with the perfect prime seats for such an all-around exciting summer evening.
The first piece was coming straight from Poland to have its Western hemisphere premiere in New York City. Dedicated to the lovers of the picturesque region around the ancient town of Tarnowskie Góry, the quartet by the same name had the austere sounds traditionally associated with Eastern European music, but also featured some lovely lyrical lines and zesty sporadic sparks. Although it took me a while to get used to the instinctively cringe-inducing amplification of the string instruments, the superior skills of the orchestra, the attentiveness of the packed audience and the deliciousness of the light breeze, not to mention the occasional chirping of the birds, all made for a promising beginning.
Next, we got to enjoy the New York premiere of Elinor Armer's String Quartet 2011. Part fleeting schizophrenia, part road trip, this irrepressible work also perked up our spirits with tentative harmonies and bits of humor. There was no doubt a lot going on, and this gave the superb musicians plenty of opportunities to show off their individual talents and flawless team spirit, easily winning the approval of the beaming composer herself in the process.
The other creative force in attendance was Alessandro Annunziata, who was among us for the US premiere of his "Griko" quartet, a vibrant tribute to the popular music and folk culture of southern Italy. Opening with playful pizzicatos and sensual melodies, the immediately attractive first movement was a totally fitting introduction to the eventful journey that was to follow. In due course this colorful feast concluded the concert on a particularly upbeat note, which is always an appreciated plus on a Sunday night.