Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1
Christopher Theofanidis: Visions and Miracles
Kerrith Livengood: This is my Scary Robot
Garth Knox: Satellites
After a big time musical journey with the NY Phil and Kaija Saariaho in the Park Avenue Armory on Friday evening, I was back in a more traditional setting on Sunday afternoon in Park Slope’s Brooklyn Public Library for a chamber music concert by the Argus Quartet as part of Carnegie Hall’s long tradition of Neighborhood Concerts.
It would be traditional with a twist though, because the young and feisty ensemble has proven over and over again that it is definitely not afraid of getting its feet wet with challenging contemporary music, and is well-known for regularly bringing them to all kinds of audiences. Definitely my kind of musicians, which is why I sacrificed part of a very pleasant fall afternoon and put up with a moderately unpleasant subway schedule situation to be there.
In an unmistakable nod to tradition, Haydn's String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1 opened the concert in a brilliant example of classical chamber music at its most glowing and memorable. The majestic composition readily oozed commanding elegance and irresistible wit and sounded as fresh as if it had been written nowadays. The musicians expertly maneuvered around the daunting complexity of the piece while keeping the mood light-hearted, and instantly accounted for their virtuoso credentials.
We stayed in a happy mood with Christopher Theofanidis’ immediately attractive Visions and Miracles, which celebrated life by joyfully exploding with infectious rhythms, vibrant colors, lush lyricism, and plenty of imagination. The two uplifting fast movements solidly bookended the beautifully eerie slow one while smartly highlighting the vivid contrasts between them. The quartet was all youthful vigor and mature talent, and went on to deliver a dynamite performance.
After this musical feast, we were in for darker times with Kerrith Livengood’s This is my Scary Robot, which describes her phobia of public speaking. And sure enough, the entire work contains a constant tension that reached literally unbearable levels in the furiously dissonant moments of highest distress.
The musicians did not hesitate to dwell deep into the composer’s terrified state of mind and created some seriously gritty sounds that I frankly would not care to hear again, but were totally justified in context.
The last, but not least, treat of the afternoon, Garth Knox’s Satellites, went even further into exploring extended string techniques for a result even more peculiar, which started with a wide range of pizzicatos and moved on to more otherworldly sounds that were generally produced by the musicians slapping their violin, using the wooden park of the bow on the strings, and forcefully whipping the air with the bow, among other unusual possibilities. Far from being off-putting though, all those weird noises added a playful dimension to the experience, and ended the concert on a totally forward-minded note.