Isabel Hagen: Viola
Issei Herr: Cello
Nikita Morozov: Violin
Isabel Ong: Violin
Ahmed Adnan Saygun: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 43
Suzanne Farrin: Undecim
Mark Grey: Sparrow's Echo
Back to real life, where after happily making it through the dry and clean summer heat of provençal mountains I have been unhappily putting up with the muggy and polluted summer heat of the Big Apple, last Sunday I grabbed a portion of my Sunday edition of The New York Times and plenty of fluids before going line up outside MoMA for close to an hour, and then wait for another hour in its beautiful sculpture garden, in order to be able to partake in the museum's beloved Summergarden Sunday evening concert series in the best conditions possible.
French vacation oblige, I had to miss the first performance offered by members or alumni of The New Juilliard Ensemble two weeks before (Life can be so hard!), so last Sunday I made a point of attending the second and last one, which was going to focus on "new music for string quartet". And I was definitely not the only one who had resolved to spending the last steamy hours of the week listening to chamber music premieres in the museum's little corner of heaven. By the time 8 p.m. came around, the whole place was packed with hordes of buzzing locals and visitors on the ground, and numerous chirping birds in the trees.
Coming all the way from Turkey for its US premiere, Ahmed Adnan Saygun's String Quartet No. 3 opened the concert with assertive confidence. Sweetly dedicated to his Hungarian wife and clearly influenced by Bartok, with whom the composer shared a keen interest in folk music, the substantial work unfolded with boundless energy, vibrant colors, a bit of expressionism here and a touch of Romanticism there, as well as some discreetly oriental sounds. As it was, it did give new music a very good name, with just enough complexity to satisfy the more adventurous spirits, but still enough traditionally attractive components for the whole audience to be easily taken in. Moreover, the four young string players on the stage threw themselves into the performance with commitment and gusto. There was really nothing not to love.
After a brief pause, we became acquainted with two shorter and more recent works by American composers, each of which was having its New York premiere on Sunday. Consisting of ten uninterrupted movements that tirelessly explored the various possibilities of string instruments as if they had memories, Suzanne Farrin's "Undecim" was intriguing and engaging, erupting with unexpected sounds, some more appealing that others, while still forming an impressively cohesive whole, the eleventh piece of the title.
The last number of the evening, on the other hand, was pure unadulterated fun. Inspired by Mary Doria Russell's apparently dense science-fiction novel The Sparrow, Mark Grey's "Sparrow's Echo" boldly opened with a highly virtuosic violin solo, which Nikita Morozov impeccably nailed, and generally offered a breathlessly bracing score for the enterprising musicians to play with, which they did with remarkable technique and communicative enthusiasm. The Northern Californian pony-tailed composer, who came onstage once the performance was over, looked about just as genuine and accessible as his music. It was decidedly a cool night in the hot city.