The Chiara String Quartet Revisit a Moment of Terror
One can only imagine the emotional challenge the Chiara String Quartet faced when they premiered Robert Sirota’s 9/11-themed Triptych on September 26, 2002 at New York’s Trinity Church. Sirota was in New York on 9/11, and the Quartet also belong to this city: to evoke such themes as this piece explores must have been nothing short of overwhelming, notwithstanding the year that passed between the tragedy and the premiere. As an evocation of terror and dread, the Triptych ranks with any other work in the classical or avant garde repertoire, including any of the Shostakovich symphonies or string quartets. Again at Trinity Church last night, the Quartet revisited the premiere with a riveting performance of that piece along with another 9/11 requiem of sorts, Richard Danielpour’s String Quartet No. 6, “Addio,” from 2009.
Both works combine narrative and more abstract themes, Danielpour’s being the more melodically accessible. The crash of the planes is alluded to, but the frantic activity in the wake of the impact gives way to a vividly cinematic chase scene of sorts, desperate footfalls across the bridges leading out of Manhattan, perhaps? It was a showcase for the entire quartet and particularly violist Jonah Sirota, whose biting, often fierce pizzicato lit up a surprisingly rock-influenced second movement, alongside cellist Gregory Beaver’s funereal, sometimes aghast, wounded inflections that made a stark contrast with violinists Rebecca Fischer and Julie Yoon’s eerily shimmering, often stratospherically high atmospherics. Several warm, gently contemplative passages gave way to foreboding and fear and eventually terror. As with Sirota’s piece, it closed with a quietly pleading ambience, reaching for solace but fully aware that for those who have lost loved ones, very often there is no consolation: the pain may recede, but it’s always there, always a millisecond away from returning with a paralyzing intensity.
Behind the Quartet, artist Deborah Patterson’s gray-tinted Triptych – which Sirota meant to interpret with this piece – stood in chilling relief against the back of the church. The first panel depicts one of the towers through a plume of smoke; the second, NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge – one of the first victims of the disaster – being attended to by members of his department; and the third sort of a black-and-white Turner painting, light beaming down eerily on the smoking hole at Ground Zero. Sirota unforgettably depicts all that via frenzied tritones, an evocation of a hellish choir of car alarms, several sirens and their doppler effects, and a bit later, a handful of trucks making their way through a silent desolation. That stricken stillness packed a quiet wallop in contrast to the incessant, rapidfire attack of jarring atonalities that prededed it. This is a cruelly difficult piece to play, but the Quartet rose to the challenge, all hands on deck, with a visceral intensity.
Sirota’s second movement offers brooding, morose, absolutely depleted ambience followed by more anxiously shifting, interwoven segments that were delivered delicately, receded and eventually rose to the most grief-stricken point of the night. As with Danielpour’s piece, Sirota’s concludes on a quietly anguished, prayerful note. As if on cue, the second the piece was over, a siren began to wail outside the church, making its way up Greenwich Street. Perhaps as stunned by this strange stroke of fate as by the music, the audience waited until the sound began to fade before breaking out into applause. Was this the best concert of 2011? Possibly: without a doubt, it was the most intense.
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