Monday, November 7, 2011

JACK comes to town

1. Belonging to the same period of time (a fact is documented by two contemporary sources)
2. Of or about the same age (Brahms and Wagner were contemporaries)
3. Current or modern (art work that is contemporary with our own times and sensibilities)

It’s the third definition we’re using to describe the music the JACK Quartet will be performing this Saturday at 8pm for Market Square Concerts, a program that will be held at the Temple Ohev Sholom in uptown Harrisburg at Front below Seneca Street.

There is a pre-concert talk beginning at 7:15 presented by Dick Strawser (that would be me) and I’ll try not to duplicate everything verbatim I will post here on the blog.

There are additional posts about the music on the program: Part 2 introduces the Machaut, Caleb Burhans' Contritus, and Philip Glass's 5th String Quartet. Part 3 is an introduction to Iannis Xenakis' Tetras.

Opening the season with the Juilliard Quartet brought one of the Great Quartets of All Time to Harrisburg, a group that has been performing (in one personnel configuration or another) for sixty years.

This month, Market Square Concerts offers listeners one of the newer, cutting-edge ensembles that’s only been around six years, officially forming into a quartet after they’d all graduated from the Eastman School of Music (when I was a student there in the Trying to be Wild & Crazy ‘70s, there was much talk of trying to get out from under what we called “Eastman Gothic”…).

They call themselves the JACK Quartet and the name comes from the first letters of their first names:

J = John Pickford Richards, violist
A = Ari Streisfeld, violinist
C = Christopher Otto, violinist
K = Kevin McFarland, cellist (who, incidentally, is from Lancaster PA)

(In this photograph, I guess that would be JCKA but in the photo at top, it's CAKJ though since the violinists share 'who's on first,' so to speak, it could sometimes be ACKJ.)

Tickets are available on-line through Whitaker Center, by calling (717) 214-ARTS, in person at The Box on the 2nd level of Whitaker Center or at the door prior to the concert.

Student Tickets: We also offer $5 tickets for college and university students.

School-age students are free.

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Going to concerts presents a multiplicity of possibilities. As far as the composers go, consider familiar works by familiar names – Beethoven’s 3rd Razumovsky Quartet or Brahms Piano Quintet – things you’ve heard before and perhaps enjoy meeting whenever they come around. Or maybe it’s an unfamiliar work by a familiar name: let’s say it’s Dvorak but it’s not his “American” Quartet – knowing you like the familiar one, chances are good you might like another of his works.

Even if you’ve never heard a piano trio by Anton Arensky (whom you may not be familiar with), you might realize liking some of his European contemporaries or other Russian composers from the late-19th Century might mean this could be a pleasant discovery.

Of course, speaking of Russian composers, just because Cesar Cui is one-fifth of ‘The Mighty Handful’ doesn’t mean you’ll find him up there in the same league as his colleagues Borodin or Rimsky-Korsakoff.

Then, of course, there are programs where one of the names, unfamiliar or not, inspires fear. For some people, it could be Brahms. More listeners tend to suffer from contemporariphobia, anything (usually unfamiliar) which strikes them as New Music even if it’s older than their grandparents – for instance, did you know 2012 is the Centennial of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire?

I have been told that Ives and Cage are four-letter words (then, too, so is Bach).

One of my favorite composers is Elliott Carter (who incidentally turns 103 in a month and is still composing). For some, Carter is an acquired taste, but he must be doing something right to be regarded as one of the great composers of the 20th Century.

The problems some listeners have in dealing with “new music” come not so much from their lack of familiarity with it but from listening to it the same way they’d listen to Beethoven and Mozart. You would tell a Vivaldi-fan who can’t stand Wagner that you can’t judge Wagner because he’s not Vivaldi but we do it all the time with most “contemporary” music, dismissing it because it’s not Beethoven.

Listening to unfamiliar music will be one of the topics I’ll be getting into at the pre-concert talk I’m offering before the JACK Quartet’s performance on Saturday. So if you’re cautious about what’s on the program and debating whether you should go or not, I would say, yes you should go and yes you should go with an open mind as well as ear and, of course, yes you should come to my pre-concert talk ;-)

Their program opens with something not terribly contemporary – the music of Guillaume Machaut who died in 1377. Yes, the 14th Century! When you consider most concert music we hear these days rarely pre-dates 1700, this would seem a bit of a stretch, contemporaneously speaking.

Keeping in mind that Steve Reich (a leading composer in today’s so-called “minimalist” school) once said his music had more in common with Hildegard of Bingen (12th Century) than with Haydn (18th), it’s important to realize that music, first of all, is music, whatever era it comes from, and in many cases has many of the same attributes, though they may be realized differently.

There might be phrases and elements of tension and release that create cadences and form which might be easier to hear in more familiar works like Beethoven and Mozart, but you can still hear a composer like Iannis Xenakis who can create lines and forms and textures and tensions in many different, sometimes similar ways yet sound completely different from anything you’ve ever heard before.

Now, if you’ll pardon one more analogy, you’ve never had Thai food before, you know it’s spicy and you walk into the first Thai restaurant you find. You look at the menu and stab your finger at, say, a Chicken Panang Curry. After you realize you can no longer feel your lips and the roof of your mouth is melting, do you say “I don’t like this; it’s not a cheeseburger”?

Stay tuned. More posts on the way.

Dick Strawser

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