Above: Romie de Guise-Langlois, photo by Claude-Simon Langlois
~ Author: Scoresby
Thursday November 9th, 2017 – This performance was the first of the four new music programs that Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will be offering in its Rose Studio this season. While I have listened to the broadcasts of these performances before, this was my first time being present for one, opting for the later (9:00 pm as opposed to 6:30 pm) performance. The program was evenly interspersed with two pieces for string quartet alone and two pieces for clarinet and string quartet. The exemplary performers included the Daedalus Quartet and clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois – neither of whom I heard before. Before launching into the program and discussing the particular pieces, it should be said that it would difficult to find more dedicated performers than these musicians. It must be a pleasure as a composer to work with musicians who spend so much time carefully learning the music and play it with such enthusiasm
The first piece on the program was a revised work for string quartet titled The Space Between by Anna Weesner. I had actually heard this piece before a few years ago played by the Cassatt Quartet, but it was interesting to hear it with fresh ears and with the perspective from Ms. Weesner in her opening remarks. She mentioned the idea that she had wanted to in a way bring out the complexity of a simple tune – she does this brilliantly in the piece. The music begins with a large unison between the instruments and then launches into a softer section where each instrument plays a seemingly individual line. As the music continues to oscillate between these two modes, the music begins to shift and bend into itself. Ms. Weesner's quartet writing is brilliant – particularly in the second section of this piece where what could be a folk tune seems to appear and disappear into the quartet’s lines. The Daedalus did a marvelous job both making the unisons resonant as well as making sure each line was clear in the more complex individualistic sections.
The second piece on the program was the world premiere of Vivian Fung’s Clarinet Quintet: Frenetic Memories for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello which is some of the most engaging new music I’ve heard. Ms. Fung described how she was inspired by the local musicians she heard during her travels in Southwest China. She draws from some of these experiences through the piece and uses them to build her own musical voice. The piece feels more like a virtuosic clarinet concerto than quintet. The piece begins with the softest dynamic possible on the clarinet in the lower part of the instrument. Then, a large glissandi is sounded that also signals the end of the piece when played in reverse later. Textually the clarinet is put the wringer; one heard everything from whistling multi-phonics to growls to sounds reminiscent of a rainmaker. Ms. De Guise-Langlois was more than up for the challenge, delivering all of these effects with verve.
The piece itself evolves through different episodes that seem to be guided by the clarinet. The string quartet has plenty to do, but the clarinet seems to be the driving force of the piece. The music seems to juxtapose various dynamics, harmonies, and timbres together – sometimes easily distinguishable and sometimes more cacophonic. There is humor, darkness, and tranquility all found blended together. One of the most haunting moments of the piece is near the end when a recording of the song Wei Mountain County Yi Folk Song sung by Zuo Limei is played over speakers. This happens after one of quietest moments of the quintet and sonically blends in with textures. It is the perfect homage to the music Ms. Fung was influenced by, at once both pushing her piece forward to its climax and at the same time letting this listener hear how Ms. Fung derived her earthy/ethereal music. With such a compelling piece and such dedicated performers, it begs to be heard on a more traditional program (or perhaps paired with a Bartok quartet?).
Above: the Daedalus Quartet, photographed by Cherylynn Tsushima on the evening under review
The third piece on the program was a Quartet for Queen Mab for Strings by Missy Mazzoli. I had the chance to hear this work a few years ago played by the Ethel Quartet in National Sawdust and it was interesting hearing it here in such a different space without the use of speakers. The first time I had heard the piece, I didn’t think the textures worked as well as they did here – in part because of the electronics. Hearing it acoustically though, all of Ms. Mazzoli’s coloristic writing becomes much clearer. The music is based around the very start of the piece – and then is transformed many times through the rest of the work. This performance captured the dreamy quality of the music well – it had a lot more space and rumination than I had remembered.
The program closed with a relatively recent work titled Stream for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello by the veteran composer on the program, Shulamit Ran. This piece felt quite idiomatic of Ms. Ran’s more recent sound world: ethereal texturing with a rigid structural underpinning. The clarinet is more integrated in this work, weaving in and out as a texture rather than as a dominant force. While certainly an enjoyable piece it felt like it would have been better served at the start of the program. While not mentioned much in this review, it is difficult to overstate how wonderful the musicians on this program were – it is rare to hear such dedicated performances of classical music.