Lucid Culture


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.


September 9, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chiara String Quartet Scheme for the Future

It’s hard to imagine a more ambitious advocate for new music than the Chiara String Quartet. They may have made a name for themselves playing Brahms and Beethoven – last time we caught them, they played a brilliantly insightful survey of Beethoven quartets from early to late – but they have their sights set on blazing trails for newer composers. They call their latest project Creator/Curator: the concept is to commission a work and have its composer pick the accompanying pieces on the program, debut it in a small venue and then move it to “more traditional classical venues” next season around. You can see the wheels turning: tonight le Poisson Rouge, tomorrow Lincoln Center. If Sunday night’s performance at LPR is any indication, they have their fingers on an important vein.

This particular program was chosen by Gabriela Lena Frank, an important and eclectic voice who, for what it’s worth, won a latin Grammy last year. The first piece on the bill was Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20, which the Quartet tackled with equal parts passion and rigor. Cellist Gregory Beaver propelled the fiery staccato of its “allegro violento e agitato” first movement with relish. Violinist Rebecca Fischer’s gentle, fluidly meticulous glissandos lit up its more ambient, delicate second movement. Artfully playing off the open notes in standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E), the third movement was delivered with a steely suspense behind Beaver’s incisive pizzicato work and Jonah Sirota’s plaintive viola lines. They wound up the “allegramente rustico” final movement spiritedly with the flavor of a Nordic hardanger dance.

Chou Wen-chung, composer of the following work, Clouds, was present. But rather than establishing a nebulous atmosphere, these clouds take specific shapes. How they morph into other configurations is what makes the piece compelling, from the understated, Asian-inflected drama of the pizzicato opening and closing motifs, to its constantly shapeshifting series of rondo-lets, simple and memorable circular themes bouncing off each other nimbly and playfully to a surprisingly intense, brooding conclusion.

Sirota explained that Frank’s eight-part suite, Milagritos (making its New York premiere) was an exposition of mestizaje, a recurrent theme which for her means celebrating an individual identity drawing from diverse sources – which makes perfect sense in light of her Peruvian-Jewish heritage. Her program notes explained the pieces as illustrations of Peruvian cultural iconography that might seem mundane to others but to her, they’re small miracles. Shrines to accident victims along serpentine mountain roads were portrayed by Julie Yoon’s surprisingly blithe violin against fluttery disquiet, while a stroll alongside Lake Titicaca became a delightfully macabre Bernard Herrmann-esque stalker tableau. Eerie cello cadenzas punctuated stillness in a depiction of pre-Inca panpipe ceremonies; likewise, the jungles were portrayed as impenetrable but with considerable activity lurking just out of range. The suite concluded on a richly haunting, practically stygian note, another roadside shrine scene, Fischer’s long, surgically precise solo passage a vivid contrast with the murky tritone ending. The standing-room-only crowd roared their approval boisterously: if this bill is any indication, the Chiaras’ upcoming concerts in this series will be a treat for the lucky crowds who catch them the first time around in cozy, comfortable confines like these.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Chiara String Quartet Play Beethoven in NYC 2/5/10

The Chiara String Quartet are winding up their Beethoven cycle this year. Maybe it’s all the practice, or that they play a lot of concerts in more sonically challenging places like bars and rock clubs, but either way their mastery of the material is such that they can command the subtlest dynamics, some of which when even gently applied make an enormous difference in the music. Not only was their show Friday night a clinic in how to locate the gems tucked away in the corners of a piece and then shine them up so everybody knows they’re there, it was just as much an emotionally charged overview of Beethoven’s career. In the spacious confines of Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church (tucked into the back of the Lincoln Center complex, home to the Jupiter Symphony players), the Chiara Quartet took the audience along for a vivid ride from Beethoven’s first string quartet through one of his last.

The String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3, actually the first that Beethoven ever wrote, dates from the end of the 1700s and really needed all those dynamics. It must be a lot more fun to play than it actually is to listen to: all those endless volleys of call-and-response get tedious after a couple of minutes. How to draw in a 21st century audience far more sophisticated (and probably far larger) than the small circle of courtesans who heard it first? Accentuate its occasional astringencies, its atonalities and proto-modernisms, because there are a bunch of them (Brahms’ more stodgy chamber works are the same way). Perhaps Beethoven craftily wove them in to see how closely everybody was paying attention.

He wrote the String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 in 1808: what a difference ten years made. From the first few tricky syncopations of the opening movement, it was clear that the paradigm had been shifted, and as a result the quartet could ease back and let the piece speak more for itself. The second movement was a feast of little pleasures – a neat pianissimo climb to Vivaldiesque insistence; a clever, artfully orchestrated series of riffs making the rounds, violinist Rebecca Fischer passing off to her counterpart Julie Yoon, to violist Jonah Sirota and cellist Gregory Beaver, who would soon afterward deliver several snappy, intense pizzicato passages including a potently plucked bass solo to end it.

The piece de resistance was the A Minor, Op. 132, one of the late quartets from just two years before Beethoven’s death. It has reputation for transcendence and was precisely that. Yoon held wary and unwavering early on while the other voices conversed around her; Sirota led them into wintry terrain, viola and cello adding a gravitas mostly absent from the rest of the program. The highlight was the third movement, written after the composer had recovered from what he’d thought was the illness that would finally kill him, and in this ensemble’s hands it took on the raptly hymnal, plaintive tone of a giant, haunting accordion chord and successive permutations – minimalism, 1825 style.

The Chiara String Quartet are here tomorrow, 2/7 playing the same program at 4 PM at Union Church of Bay Ridge, 8101 Ridge Blvd. and 80th St. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; they’re back on 4/26 at Symphony Space for the Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments