String theories

Last night the first of three concerts at Lutheran Redeemer Church in the West End Micro Music Festival took place.  It was an exploration of the boundaries and possibilities of the string quartet and proved most interesting in that regard.  The use of extended technique has long been part of the string quartet repertoire but in the first part of last night’s programme two works by Nicole Lizée explored much further than that using additional “instruments”; whirly/whizzy things, strange blue/purple contraptions that made their own sounds and were also used as bows and sheets of paper rustled in front of fans.  Norma Beecroft’s Amplified Quartet with Tape augmented the four instruments with recorded electronicsWhether this was all pre-recorded or processed as the performance proceeded (or both) I couldn’t say. One has to admire the versatility of the interro quartet (Steve Sang Koh and Eric Kim-Fujita – vilolins, Maxime Despax -viola and Sebastian Ostertag – cello) in handling all the requirements.  It also really made me glad to be back listening “live”.  This kind of music demands a kind of distraction free attention that’s really hard to conjure up in one’s own living room.


The second half of the programme saw Brad Cherwin join the quartet for Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A K581.  It’s a completely different way of “extending” a string quartet of course and one that probably feels more familiar to most concert goers (though I’m not at all sure that was true of last night’s audience).  It was very well played but that’s not really the point.  It’s more interesting that the contrast of the two halves has one asking questions about why, familiarity aside, one way of “extending” a quartet seems more or less valid or natural than the other?  It certainly made me really want to see how the two remaining concerts of the festival further interrogate the intersection of the classical, the neo-classical and the avant-garde.

Photo credit: Brad Cherwin

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