Saturday, December 17, 2016

Music Mondays - JACK Quartet and Ekmeles - Music of the North - 12/12/16

JACK Quartet 
John Luther Adams: I. Sky with Four Suns from Canticles of the Sky 
Jean Sibelius: The North from Songs for Voice and Piano, Op. 90 
Jean Sibelius: The Bird Catcher from Songs for Voice and Piano, Op. 90 
John Luther Adams: II. Sky with Four Moons from Canticles of the Sky 
Karin Rehnqvist: Davids Nimm 
Marc Sabat: Jean-Philippe Rameau 
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Hvolf 
John Luther Adams: III. Sky with Nameless Colors from Canticles of the Sky 
Kaija Saariaho: I. II. III. IV. I. from the Grammar of Dreams 
John Luther Adams: IV. Sky with Endless Stars from Canticles of the Sky

 Just as the temperatures were reaching seasonal lows, Music Mondays decided to add their own personal touch to fast approaching winter with some intriguing music from Northern countries such as Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Canada as well as... Alaska. Of course, the fact that those compositions would be performed by the highly regarded JACK Quartet and the exciting newcomer Ekmeles only made the offer even more appealing.
In another commendable decision, the four movements of John Luther Adams’ Canticles of the Sky and Marc Sabat’s Jean-Philippe Rameau, which constituted the instrumental portion of the concert, would be interspersed with the more esoteric vocal pieces by the non-American composers in a continuous one-hour loop that was not to be interrupted by any applause, but enjoyed as an extended winter-celebrating piece.
Last, but not least, despite all the cold weather that has fallen upon us, there is actually no doubt that global temperatures are rising around the world, and Music Mondays pledged to donate one third of all door donations to the National Resources Defense Council, whose increasingly taxing but more necessary than ever task is to fight global warming.
It is hard to go wrong with some good music and a good cause, especially on a dark and cold mid-December Monday evening, so my newly arrived and endlessly curious Parisian colleague Vy An spontaneously decided to join me and a substantial crowd at the Upper West Side's Advent Lutheran Church for a worthy introduction to some of the best that the New York music scene has to offer.

The JACK Quartet has an impeccable track record in adventurous and brilliant playing due to their imperturbable focus on new and challenging works, so it was not surprising to find their name on yet another unusual program. Their spellbinding take on John Luther Adams’ minimalist Canticles of the Sky was subtle and powerful, dexterously emphasizing the stark beauty and ethereal atmosphere of the Alaskan landscape the composer drew inspiration from.
Native Canadian, and current Berlin resident - How about that for cold climate credentials? - Marc Sabat wrote a likewise inconspicuously intense piece about Baroque French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, which the quartet executed with the same commitment and expertise.
Boldly following the JACK Quartet's steps in the voice-centric world, the new vocal ensemble Ekmeles, whose laudable mission is to bring new and rarely heard works to a wider audience, was represented by three young ladies who were totally unfazed by the often esoteric endeavors they were finding themselves involved in.
The two songs by Sibelius turned out to be the most accessible ones of the evening, "The North" beautifully evoking the rugged landscapes of his native Finland, "The Bird Catcher" bringing to my mind, for better or worse, a slightly less perky Papageno. Then things got trickier and more abstruse with Karin Rehnqvist and her "Davids Nimm", which consisted in a Swedish text that was sung backwards by three fearless singers in an exercise whose novelty wore out fairly quickly.
Iceland was in the house through Anna Thorvaldsdottir and her "Hvolf", a deceptively austere and quietly radiant song for soprano and piano that was short, hypnotic and memorable. The second Finn on the program, the ubiquitous Kaija Saariaho, showed her more experimental side with I. II. III. IV. I. from The Grammar of Dreams, in which texts from Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar and poem "Paralytic" were continuously intermingled by the two voices in a most dreamlike way.
The busy hour went quickly, and we eventually came back to the real world, and the real cold.

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