The Ninth Street Quartet notes: “Tonight’s program highlights music’s power to move us. Whether we respond to the rhythmic call of music through dance, or we turn inward, connecting with the intimate spaces of our hearts and minds, human beings seem to be hardwired with the desire to participate in musical experience.”
Participate one did, on Friday, Feb. 18, at St. George's Church, where the 9SQ (Ninth Street Quartet) laid out a banquet of new sounds, rhythms, and juxtapositions of old and new, delighting those in the audience open to the experience of “noteless” bowing, cello pizzicato, and dissonance melting into harmony.
The first piece was a reimagining of a simple minuet from Bach by Elena Kats-Chernin, fun and fast-paced. And then came “Summa,” by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Initially written in 1977 as a choral work, it was later scored by Pärt for instruments. It was performed by the Kronos Quartet in 1992. This piece was an emotional one of blended cello, violin, and viola, with plenty of low notes combining for strong emotion. It almost sounded like one instrument answering another in a conversation we were lucky enough to overhear. It was, as Matthew Richardson, co-director of the 9SQ, noted, “melancholy but hopeful.”
Next on the program was Caroline Shaw’s “Entr’acte,” a minuet and trio. Shaw is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer. For those in the audience not familiar with Shaw, it was good to have the warning provided by Richardson: “She writes stuff that makes us sound like we’re falling apart.”
But Entr’acate is mesmerizing. It evokes big open spaces and images of prairies and storms, and then the use of extended bowing techniques (tentative whispers from the bows) answered by full-on bowing provokes quite the opposite sense, an intimate give and take that builds suspense and emotion. Shaw plays with us, puts us up in midair and then gives us a parachute, leads us into darkness, then out into the open. She’s going on the playlist.
After intermission, the quartet played Charles Singleton’s “Testimony.” Testimony was commissioned by the Kronos Performing Arts Association’s “Fifty for Fifty'' and Singleton’s work begins beautifully but very emotionally, setting us up to feel sadness and joy before we even know the score. The composer’s creative use of knee slapping and stomping, and the echoes of a Southern spiritual, tell us what we need to know and it’s why some people have cried listening to it. It’s a history lesson in less than 6 minutes.
The last piece, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Quarteto Popular” rounded out the program and got an enthusiastic response.
9SCM followed up this concert the following week with a free concert, also at St. Georges, on Feb. 23, featuring 28 young musicians from the area playing more traditional quartet pieces.
See their website for future concerts: https://www.9thstreetchambermusic.com/9th-street-quartet