Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

In the Dark and in the Light

Posted in Classical,Music by bourdaghs on the April 23rd, 2010

Mark Swed of the LA Times writes of an interesting recent experiment in classical music performance: a string quartet performed in a pitch black space. Composer Georg Friedrich Haas’ Third String Quartet instructs the performers to play in utter darkness, and the JACK Quartet did its best to comply this past Monday, mobilizing ushers with night-vision goggles and fire marshals for safety. They even required all audience members to sign a release form prior to the concert.

How did it go? Swed’s description:

I found that the quartet profoundly dismantled my sense of linear time. Time seemed so slow at points that I could space out without missing anything. When the JACK got a bit rambunctious – the score calls for players to invite each other to join in or reject certain musical strategies and there is even room for competition – a listener could feel part of the exciting action. Ultimately, though, each of us, in this pitch-black, was alone, in our personal experiences yet acutely conscious of neighbors. I heard no coughs and only minimal shuffling.

I neglected to mention it here previously, but a week ago I attended the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s final concert of the year at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall. The evening opened with a fierce rendition of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Thomas Zehemair on violin and conducting. One reviewer describes Zehemair’s performance as “audacious”; my companion thought it mostly annoying. I found it striking and dramatic: I’ve never seen a violinist perform a cadenza, for example, as a kind of funereal dialogue with the timpanist.

The second half of the program opened with Ernst Krenek’s Symphonic Elegy for Strings, op. 105, which Zehemair announced from the stage was created while the composer was temporarily on the faculty of Hamline University in St. Paul. The Krenek piece was written as an elegy for Anton Webern, whose Symphony, Op. 21, came next. The evening closed out with a rather perfunctory performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, not bad but lacking the passion that had fired up the Beethoven.

All in all, it was a good, if not spectacular, evening at the symphony. Perhaps they should have tried killing the lights.

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