Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 8
Donnacha Dennehy: Broken Unison
Dan Trueman: Songs That Are Hard To Sing
After quite a few concerts that included a lot of tried and true classics, my concert of last Tuesday evening was resolutely focused on contemporary classical music with new compositions by Philip Glass, Donnacha Dennehy and Dan Trueman, who were all in attendance for the occasion, because there is simply no time like the present. Truth be told though, my main reason for being there, beside checking out the new piece by Philip Glass, was taking advantage of the two-for-the-price-of-one opportunity to hear the awesome local ensembles that are the JACK Quartet and So Percussion.
So I happily took my seat among the sold-out crowd in Carnegie Hall’s intimate Zankel Hall at the unusual time of 7 PM, which in fact turned out to be a serendipitous blessing as our second nor’easter in two weeks was slowly but surely approaching the city. And if it meant no time for a pit stop or proper nutrition after a hectic day in the office, so be it.
Although he celebrated his 80th birthday in a packed Stern Auditorium back in January 2017, Carnegie Hall's current Composer-in-Residence Philip Glass is clearly showing no signs of slowing down. What is even more amazing though, is that his recent output has been as fresh and inventive as his younger colleagues’, and at times has even left them in the dust. A case in point is his terrific String Quartet No. 8, which was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and had its US premiere on Tuesday. Naturally, having a crack ensemble like the JACK Quartet perform it made the whole experience even more outstanding.
Adroitly combining the quartet’s traditional fast-slow-fast structure with his own ground-breaking minimalist style, Glass has come up with a relatively short but oh so satisfying work that is tightly constructed and overflowing with a whole bunch of appealing ideas. The JACK Quartet effortlessly made it their own, superbly emphasizing the composition’s brilliance and warmth. The evening had decidedly started at the very top, and could logically only go down from there, which it to some degree did.
Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s Broken Unison, which was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and had its world premiere on Tuesday, had one major asset going for it, and that was the four technically accomplished and endlessly versatile musicians of So Percussion. Their extraordinary dexterity was indeed on full display as they seamlessly moved among marimbas, xylophones, vibraphones and the booming bass drum, and managed to bring the pleasant enough, but ultimately innocuous, 20-minute piece to a whole other level.
Stretching over 45 minutes, American composer and musician Dan Trueman’s Songs That Are Hard To Sing, which was having its New York premiere on Tuesday, was by far the longest piece of the program. Taking his inspiration from songs that he loves but finds hard to sing, Trueman wrote five resolutely deconstructed songs to be played by both ensembles combined. Each song had its own truly enjoyable moments, which resulted essentially from the impressive virtuosity of the eight musicians and the sheer uniqueness of some of the sounds they produced. I, however, could not help but lament that so much prodigious talent was not used for an overall more exciting score. Where was Philip Glass when you needed him?