Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mivos Quartet Residency

Mivos Quartet
Next week, New York's Mivos Quartet will be in residency at the Center. The group that the Chicago Reader has called “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” will bring their unique brand of musical ferocity to Buffalo for an evening of contemporary music, at which they'll perform works by Taylor Brook, David Felder, Martin Stauning, and Helmut Lachenmann.

Devoted to the performance of new works for string quartet, Mivos has worked with several international composers with a wide breadth of aesthetic perspectives.  The quartet has performed works by composers as diverse as Harrison Birtwistle, Philip Glass, Annie Gosfield, György Kurtág, Alex Mincek, Wolfgang Rihm, and UB's own David Felder and Tony Conrad.  Committed to the production of new works and the expanding of the string quartet repertoire, Mivos enjoys close collaboration with composers over extended periods.  Such collaborations have resulted in new works by composers such as Mark Barden, Dan Blake, Patrick Higgins, Scott Wollschleger, and Sam Pluta—whose Chain Reactions/Five Events for quartet and electronics can be heard below. As an ensemble dedicated to education, Mivos will begin their residency with a workshop for graduate composers in Baird Recital Hall (Nov. 19, 3:00pm).  The quartet will read pieces by UB composers Roberto Azaretto, Nathan Heidelberger, Su Lee, and Zane Merritt.

As a genre, the string quartet manages to combine the nimble agility of a chamber ensemble with the genteel historical respectability of the symphony orchestra.  Indeed, sometime during the twentieth century, the string quartet seemed to overtake the symphony as the key genre in which composers were most likely to articulate their musical manifestos, the pièces de résistance of their catalogs.  Think of Carter's third quartet and Crumb's Black Angels, or more recently, Thomas Adés Arcadiana and Haas's String Quartet No. 3 "In iij. Noct."—all of which, it's worth pointing out, are in Mivos's repertoire.  Since commissioning and premiering new music is a key part of the quartet's mission, Mivos is devoted to continuing this tradition, employing—in the words of the New York Classical Review's George Grella—"a physically, intellectually, and aesthetically energetic engagement with the high Modernist values of harmonic, gestural, and structural complexity."

Next week's concert will feature two works composed just last year:  Martin Stauning's delicate, gossamery Atmende Steine ("Breathing Stones") and Taylor Brook's just-intoned El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan.  The latter takes its title from the eponymous story by Borges, ("The Garden of Forking Paths"), which presents a conception of time in which all possible outcomes of any event simultaneously co-exist, evoking ideas of a hypertextual multiverse.  Brook's piece, winner of the quartet's 2014 Mivos/Kanter Prize, lives up to the ideas evoked by its title by drawing elements from a multiverse of traditions, including Japanese Gagaku, central African music, and free improvisation among others, endeavoring to create an "alternate history of music."

UB faculty composer David Felder will also be featured on the program.  Felder's first string quartet, Third Face, will finish out the first half.  Consisting mostly of aggressive, dramatic gestures separated by isolated islands of quiet, the piece was described by Andrew Porter in the New Yorker as "lucid, but with a controlled wildness in its making. Written for virtuosi, it challenges them by presenting its fierce, fertile ideas with almost reckless rhythmic and dynamic exuberance."  A brief excerpt can be heard below.

While the concert opens with Brook's imagined alternate musical history, Mivos will end the program with the third quartet by Helmut Lachenmann, a composer whose work has constantly commented on the historical traditions of European classical music, as well as the "aesthetic apparatus" of that music's social institutions and contingencies.  Certainly one of Lachenmann's most important works in the past 15 years, Grido ("cry") opens with gloriously strident sustained tones, before unfolding into a dense universe of complex harmonies, brilliantly vibrant tremolos, penetrating silence, and violent scratch tones.  The piece existentially scrutinizes the string quartet itself, as a genre, a medium, and a source of sonic material.

Mivos's program will thus cover all the extremes:  from the understated translucence of Stauning's piece to the  sinewy muscularity of Felder's.  And the concert will conclude with the strangely meta feat of a string quartet exploring the string quartet via a piece for string quartet, a musical Ouroboros of mind-bending composition and dazzling virtuosity not to be missed!

—Ethan Hayden

Mivos Quartet
Composer Workshop
November 19, 3:00pm
Baird Recital Hall
free admission

November 20, 7:30pm
Baird Recital Hall
$15 general, $10 seniors, free for all UB students