29 April 2017

Arditti Quartet and Jennifer Walshe

A few weeks ago, I procured a ticket to attend a concert that was part of the MaerzMusik concert series. This was a string quartet concert, and I made a point to see it, after all, not only were they playing a piece by Georg Friedrich Haas (who seems to be my favorite composer nowadays, after hearing a performance of his piece entitled Limited Approximations), but it also happens to be the case that the Arditti Quartet is playing (which is a group I have heard before as well). However, it is not a string quartet concert as we know it, after all, it's a concert that is part of a contemporary music concert series.

So the first piece was a composition by Peter Ablinger, entitled 2nd String Quartet. Peter Ablinger is an Austrian contemporary music composer, and his interests include electro-acoustics, sound installation, and white noise. This piece did not involve four live players performing in front of an audience. Rather, it is a video of four musicians, all female, in a desert, in Iran. They are all veiled, and for the next four minutes, they were there, frozen, not moving, in front of the camera, even though the background was moving (there was wind and the trees were moving). It is a neat way of violating the cultural and gender norms of the genre, as string quartets are traditionally the domain of male Western composers. Seeing this video was like a shock to the head, though again, given that I knew this was a contemporary music concert, I wasn't surprised.

The second piece was Georg Friedrich Haas' 10th String Quartet. It is a piece that was intended to be performed in complete darkness. So the Arditti Quartet came to the stage, and after sitting down, they all turned the lights off, including the row number lighting. Haas' music is micropolyphonic, microtonal, and spectral. He is a fan of breaking down tones into smaller intervals, creating a mathematically complex glissando of soundscapes. And this string quartet, since it was performed in absolute darkness, created the eeriest feeling, at least for me. I felt like I was a prisoner in my own head, and this dark encapsulation was getting smaller and smaller crushing me inside. Georg Friedrich Haas' music tend to be like that, evoking themes like suffering and pain. In any case, it was fantastic.

After the pause, the final piece to be performed was Everything is important by Jennifer Walshe, an Irish composer. This piece calls for string quartet, a female voice, and film. It is forty minutes long, and everything is synchronized with a timer that runs throughout. She sings, she vocalizes, she hums, she does everything with her voice, everything that can make a phonetic transcriber curse her to death. It is thought-provoking, and musically an explosive firework. A few people walked out. The woman in front of me started holding her head and putting her fingers into her ears and finally stood up and walked out. Then again, it is not a string quartet as we know it.

I have to say that this was the best concert I have attended, ever. I guess I am willing to say that. It was a concert that was highly intellectual, and pushed the traditional boundaries of music, from soundless images, to lightless sound, to a musical explosion of visual and auditory stimuli.

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