Category: Shanghai Quartet/Penderecki (2)
The hubbub in Kasser Theater before the Shanghai Quartet’s recital this past Saturday was clearly a layering of individual voices. That’s a very good sign when chamber music is about to be played. It’s no given that an auditorium will accurately weigh and project the conversation of a powerful string quartet. Kasser does it, and how.
Chamber music, made for the company—and the skills—of friends, is best met with eager anticipation. In residency at Montclair State University, the Shanghai Quartet is in effect the local band. With Peak Performances being the lead commissioner of Krzysztof Penderecki’s String Quartet no. 3 (Leaves from an Unwritten Diary), the Kasser house was about to be the second audience to hear the piece, which Shanghai premiered in November at a Warsaw festival for the composer’s 75th birthday.
Mozart’s Quartet in D minor opened, burnished with Shanghai’s refined, darkened edge, generating a cumulative giddiness, with “giddy” as energizing, not frivolous. Back on stage, the quartet leapt into the Penderecki. Honggang Li’s viola carried an opening theme, gloved by Nicholas Tzavaras on cello, with violins accompanying—in effect, a reversal of string quartet protocols.
Within minutes, the vivace passage in G minor put things at a hurtling pace (thank heavens for the Mozart warm-up). Subsequent musical materials—of stasis, of melodies firmly stated then acutely dissipating—bore the underriding urgency of the recurring vivace, like a ravishing life warning from a master: pay close mind, while there’s time, because whatever your state of mind, there’s never enough time left.
By May, Shanghai will have played String Quartet no. 3 ten more times and are in discussions for recording it. Asked about Maestro Penderecki’s Sextet (on a March 7 program at Cooper Union in New York, by Ensemble Pi), Honggang Li and his brother, first violinist Weigang, smilingly used the same word: “hard.” They want to play it, having heard it at the Warsaw festival. There, Maestro Penderecki had them play the new quartet a second time, as an encore to their recital. Would that the enthusiastic Kasser house had had that added good fortune.
Alan Lockwood lives and writes in Brooklyn. His pieces on classical music have appeared in Time Out New York, Musical America, the New York Sun, and other publications.
In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, the great sociologist Emile Durkheim distinguishes between two versions of the sacred: he terms angelic, ordering, and pure concepts the “right” sacred; the “left” sacred comprises all that is demonic, chaotic, and transgressive.
Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki captures these religious polarities more vividly than perhaps any other living composer, and he has a particular talent for the “left,” the creeping and hair-raising. As one scholar remarks, “above all, there is [in Penderecki’s music] the splendid, enrapturing, nonpareil category of the high-energy ‘demonic scherzo.’” Indeed, many directors have used his works to help conjure cinematic demons—his compositions have been adapted for soundtracks to The Shining, The Exorcist, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, and Inland Empire, among others.
It therefore is not entirely a surprise that his newest work, String Quartet no. 3 (Leaves from an Unwritten Diary), opens with what cellist Nicholas Tzavaras describes in a program note as “an almost grave introduction with a dark and screaming melody by the viola.” The Shanghai Quartet, of which Tzavaras is a member, will give the American premiere of Leaves at the Kasser Theater on February 21st. Peak Performances and the Modlin Center for the Arts in Richmond co-commissioned the work in honor of Penderecki’s 75th birthday. He wrote the work especially for the Shanghai Quartet, which also celebrates a major milestone this year—their 25th anniversary—and gave Leaves its world premiere performance in Warsaw in November 2008. Read more »