25 October 2010

Outreach: Sphinx Chamber Orchestra, Urioste and White, and Harlem String Quartet

 Sphinx Chamber Orchestra

T    he ensemble, conducted by Damon Gupton, opened its program with a shimmering, lovingly-shaped reading of Sibelius’s ‘Andante Festivo’. All the hallmarks of a first-rate string ensemble were in place: its tone was warm and varied, it moved with unity and fluidity, and its textures were appealingly transparent.”
  —  Allan Kozinn, New York Times, 06-OCT-2010.
T he inaugural program of the new Alliance between Friends of Chamber Music and the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance occurred yesterday afternoon—a concert by Sphinx Chamber Orchestra and the Harlem Quartet.

S phinx was founded in 1996 by Aaron Dworkin, a violinist, and is based in Detroit. It is dedicated to developing young black and Hispanic classical musicians and composers, providing instruments, scholarships, and support. The SCO is a 20-piece chamber orchestra, widely acclaimed for its precise and passionate playing, conducted by Damon Gupton (previously Assistant Conductor of Kansas City Symphony and winner of the 2007 Eduardo Mata International Conducting Competition, the Robert J. Harth Conducting Prize, and other awards). The Harlem Quartet is comprised of Sphinx alumni Ilmar Gavilán (violin), Melissa White (violin), Juan-Miguel Hernandez (viola), and Paul Wiancko (cello).
  • Jean Sibelius – Andante festivo (1922)
  • Sergei Prokofiev – Allegro con brio (from Sonata for 2 violins, Op. 56, 1932) [Elena Urioste and Melissa White]
  • Gabriela Lena Frank – Coquetos (2001) [from ‘Leyendas’]
  • George Walker – Lyric for Strings (1946)
  • Joaquin Turina – La oración del torero, Op. 34 (1925) [Harlem Quartet]
  • Frederick Tillis – ‘Wade in the Water’ (from Spiritual Fantasy No. 12, 1988) [Harlem Quartet]
  • Felix Mendelssohn – Sinfonia No. 7 in D minor (1822)
  • Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson – Allegro furioso (from Sinfonietta No. 1, 1953)
T he White Recital Hall at UMKC was nearly filled to capacity on this mild, sunny Sunday afternoon—more than 500 people attended. Such a crowd is evidence of the effectiveness that alliance between classical musical presenters and university-based conservatories can achieve, aided by appropriate pre-concert notice in the media. Masterclasses and educational sessions conducted by SCO in collaboration with the UMKC Conservatory Academy’s ‘Musical Bridges’ outreach program before and after the concert included programs at Eisenhower Middle School, Ruskin High School, Paseo Academy, and the Youth Symphony of Kansas City, with members of SCO coaching the students. In all, many hundreds of young music students participated.

P    rograms like this help to insure that the Arts are available, not just to a few, but to everyone.”
  —  Peter Witte, Dean, UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.
T he entire concert was exceptionally good and received an enthusiastic standing ovation at its conclusion. It’s not my habit in this blog to do ‘reviews’ per se, but I particularly loved the Prokofiev violin duo and can’t help but say a few words about that.

 Prokofiev Op. 56, Vn1T his fourth movement, the Allegro con brio, is a fast rondo with athletic, angular, in-your-face themes for the two violins. Urioste and White were a tour de force, spirited and incisive. I had previously heard Urioste perform in 2007 when she was completing her studies at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I’d previously heard White when she was at New England Conservatory in Boston. It was a delight to hear these two perform together; to recalibrate my recollections and impressions from several years ago; and to experience their pyrotechnical interactions with each other in this challenging, aggressive piece.

 Elena Urioste and Melissa White
P    rokofiev left his homeland for the West six months after the 1917 Russian Revolution and did not see it again until 1927, when he returned for a concert tour. A second tour followed in 1929, and a third, in 1932, marked the beginning of his gradual—and entirely voluntary—repatriation, which was completed by 1936. Just before that 1932 visit he composed his ‘Sonata for Two Violins’ during a holiday at Ste. Maxime (near St. Tropez) for performance in the concerts of the Paris chamber music group called Triton. The four brief movements, which Svyatoslav Prokofiev, the composer’s son, characterized as being ‘lyrical, playful, fantastical, and violent in turn,’ are filled with striking themes. The highly effective sequence apparently reflects the format of the old ‘sonata da chiesa’, and the content gives a fairly clear indication of the warmer style Prokofiev would adopt after his wanderings in the West, increasingly more ‘embracing’ rather than ‘biting’ or confrontational...”
  —  Richard Freed, Program Note, Kennedy Center, 2004.
I n this mid-term election season in the U.S. that is nothing if not biting or confrontational, Urioste and White provided a welcome antidote. Their playing embodied a politically active, assertive, insightful tone. Embracing, never bellicose or grizzly bear-like. Their playing conveyed a sense of optimism that fair compromise can be achieved, with shared resolve to forge that compromise right away. “Here is how we do it! Here! Listen!”

T heir performance was redemptive—enough to inspire hope for this country’s future, in dimensions far beyond Sphinx, far beyond serious music.

I n conclusion, congratulations to SCO and Harlem Quartet on their tour, and on their luminous performance in Kansas City yesterday. Heartfelt thanks to SCO and Harlem Quartet for their leadership, and for their generous outreach activities that help so many young students. Bravo!

 Harlem Quartet




24 October 2010

What can I do for Halloween that will be short but scary? I have a pretty good baritone/bass voice but not much time to prepare something.

 Pumpkin singing
Y ou might consider emulating “Fright Night” chamber performances, which have been part of Ottawa’s ChamberFest for the past several years, with bass Robert Pomakov performing Mussorgsky’s ‘Songs and Dances of Death’ [Песни и пляски смерти; Pesni i plyaski smerti] with pianist Valerie Dueck.

P omakov’s theatrical personality is perfect for this, and maybe yours is as well. He advises adopting a Rasputin-like alter-ego. In his own performances, he uses an extended range of dynamics, from softer pianissimos to louder-than-normal fortissimos, a dramatic technique that is effective for rendering scary realism in these lieder.

H ere are the songs:

  • Колыбельная (Last Lullaby in D-sharp minor; 4:26) - A mother cradles her sick baby with a tremendous fever, who through no one’s fault becomes septic, organ-failure sets in, and the baby then dies. The majestic cruelty of pointless annihilation.
  • Серенада (Serenade in D-sharp minor; 4:33) - Death lurks below the bedroom window of terminally ill woman, performing a pastiche of a serenade as though he were her lover. Unwelcome attentions, to say the least.
  • Трепак (Trepak in D minor; 4:03) - A drunk stumbles out of a tavern into the snowy night, takes off his coat and mittens, and freezes to death while hallucinating about fields filled with summer flowers. Mortal haplessness, decorated with depression and morbid chemical dependency.
  • Полководец (Field-Marshal in E-flat minor and D minor; 5:27) - Death is the commander of what’s left of grizzled dead and dying troops after an horrific battle, and he tells them how he will remember them all. Nice.
T his makes a fright-filled 20-minute program—or you can do just 2 or 3 of them if you like. The piano accompaniment is not terrifically hard.

Y ou might consider a black cape and possibly a black eye-patch. Scythes can be found at your local costume shop or, depending whether you live in a rural area or not, at your local garden store or feed/tack store.




Jasper String Quartet: Kernis’ String Quartet No. 2, Ousia, and What Grieving Teaches Us

 Jasper String Quartet, photo ©2010 Guoneng Zhong
T he Jasper String Quartet gave an outstanding performance this past Tuesday at Oberlin College. JSQ is J. Freivogel (violin), Sae Niwa (violin), Sam Quintal (viola), and Rachel Henderson Freivogel (cello). They won the silver medal at the 2009 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition and have recently served as graduate quartet-in-residence at the Yale School of Music. They are just now beginning a residency at Oberlin this Fall.

T heir accounts of Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C minor (D. 703) [the first movement of a 12th string quartet that was uncompleted before Schubert’s death] and the Beethoven “Razoumovsky” quartet (Op. 59, No. 3) were both strong and received enthusiastic applause from those who attended in the nearly sold-out, packed hall.

T he work that especially captivated me, though, was Aaron Jay Kernis’s String Quartet No. 2, which I’d never heard before. This was composed by Kernis in 1996-1997 and won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 when he was only 38 years old.


    [45-sec clip #1, Lark String Quartet, Aaron Jay Kernis, String Quartet No. 2, second movement (sarabande), 1998, 1.4MB MP3]


    [50-sec clip #2, Lark String Quartet, Aaron Jay Kernis, String Quartet No. 2, second movement (sarabande), 1998, 1.6MB MP3]

T he 17-minute-long sarabande progresses at a slow tempo at first, intense but with a smooth surface, not unlike Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings (second movement of String Quartet, Op. 11, which Barber composed at age 26). Later on there are faster passages that are often dense and dissonant, wailing. The result is a predominantly complex texture, relieved by intermittent solo passages. At around the 12-minute mark in Tuesday’s JSQ performance of the Kernis sarabande, a fff unison passage tugged at our heartstrings and ultimately broke them. After this the viola and cello solo resumed a more modest, contained, controlled grieving.

 Aaron Jay Kernis, photo ©2009  Greg Helgeson
L ike Barber’s Adagio, Kernis’s orchestration in this quartet has tense intertwined voice-leading in each part. Like Barber’s Adagio, after the violent bits, we are recovered by the low strings who bring us in for some sort of a [dramatic, wounded] landing.

A nd, like Barber’s Adagio, there is something ‘archaic’ about the rhetorical structure of Kernis’s sarabande—the relentless, rhapsodic, pneumatic phrasing rising to the climax, then fading into silence. This gradual build-up and slow release of tension—the classic “arch” form—we know this; we recognize what it is doing to us; we cannot resist the viceral, physiologic, primitive effects it has on us.

I f at first we didn’t understand what the quartet’s first movement means, this devastating second movement leaves no doubt, and it provides context for the third movement. The whole construction provides sonic symbolic proof of the permanence that’s within us, as contrasted with the violence and transience of the outer reality.

I    nstead of the long melody, our emotions get shortened to just four notes. Finally, the notes slow down, twice as slow. We can't emote any longer. Then we hear that final note for a split second, and then that chord is taken as the only possible resolution. We would have never dreamed that this is where acceptance lies. The whole piece has just been reduced to just those two chords. The simplicity of the logic makes you feel the universality of the journey: from the simple note, to the high emotional wailing, to release and to final acceptance, but never the place you thought it was going to lead you to.”
  —  Rob Kapilow, remarks on Barber’s Adagio, NPR, 09-MAR-2010.
K ernis prepared this work as a personal, individual elegy in 1997, but he has subsequently commented on the significance that this quartet and his later arrangement of it for string orchestra have for him in the light of the events of 9/11. The vehemence of the quartet might seem over-the-top for personal mourning of one individual—well, maybe not if the loss were a child or a spouse or belovèd parent. But it is definitely not excessively vehement for collective, public mourning. In that respect, too, this Kernis quartet sarabande movement resembles Barber’s Adagio.

E    legy’s peculiar characteristic is a tender and querulous idea... and so long as this is thoroughly sustained, admits of a variety of subjects; which by its manner of treating them it renders its own. It throws its melancholy stole over different objects, which, like dresses at a funeral procession, gives them all a kind of solemn and uniform appearance.”
  —  William Shenstone, 1768.
T here’s a moment in the midst of the sarabande when everything changes. Photographers experience this routinely—if you miss the moment, if you blink or don’t see it coming, or if you fail to press the shutter release during the fraction of a second before the change hits, it is gone forever. It feels like our calculus of the future was incomplete or faulty. We who are grieving evidently hadn’t previously appreciated adequately how transient each of us is. We had thought that, if we could just be heroic enough, we might save the person who is now gone. We feel that we have failed. Further, we who are grieving previously imagined that we were the authors of our own lives, and only just now dimly recognize that our selves have in fact been the project of the other person and many others. This profound lack of control shocks us. The evidence is incompatible with our previous beliefs.

I    t’s a strange relationship we have with objects that belonged to the dead—in the ‘knit’ of their atoms, their touch is left behind.”
  —  Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces.
W e painfully discover that we have been inscribed by the person every bit as much as her/his left-behind objects. We find that we are like ornately carved netsuke, with through-and-through holes in us that have been burrowed and whittled by years of relationship, and we are shocked to find that only just now do we realize this. How could we have been so blind and stupid!

T    he precursor to grief is always ‘connection’. We do not grieve that which we have merely appreciated or admired... Anticipatory grief is like being in a small sailboat in a storm at sea. The turbulence and unpredictability have to be dealt with, and they are not under your control... You will not be able to do everything you want to do to help your dying loved one. Give what you can, as creatively as you can, and then forgive yourself for not being able to do more. Your sense of helplessness does not mean you have failed.”
  —  Donna Davenport, Singing Mother Home, pp. 114, 119, 131.
W e naïvely imagined that we were in charge of something that has clearly escaped our mastery’s grasp. And the true nature of elegy seems to have escaped us as well. Elegy is supposed to be a way to arrive at some sort of solace or closure at times of loss. That’s its aim, its overt purpose, and, as a result, elegiac texts are ‘complicit’ in the effects of the ‘pageant’ that they also analyze. By design, elegies are transcendence portals. We had thought that we would have a choice; we thought that we would enter a portal of elegy under our own power, when we decided the time was right, deliberately. Here, time is compressed, and we find that the portal opens up and swallows us. We may not fight it; we may go along with it. But the involuntariness of being transported emotionally like this shocks us.

T    he very notion of time compressed requires something like elegiac machinery to decompress it.”
  —  David Rigbee, Styles of Ruin, p. 150.
W hen we hear elegiac music (or elegiac poetry, or other art forms) that leads us to realize this, it is natural to say that it was ‘moving’ or ‘dramatic’ or ‘powerful’. Understatement, to say the least. Life-changing? Maybe. Frankly, words simply fail. Which I suspect may have something to do with why this quartet won Kernis a Pulitzer.

S omehow, Kernis keeps this sarabande balanced—keeps the whole 3-movement work balanced. It is his lamentation; he, the composer, and his emotions are his own subject. It is devilishly difficult to build up a convincing account of grief and to sustain it authentically when you yourself are the subject. Over the centuries, there has been lots of bad elegiac poetry that fails because it couldn’t achieve or sustain balance. Yet Kernis delivered it, and the Jasper String Quartet delivered it as well in their beautiful performance.

T he piece is not merely beautiful to listen to or merely emotionally moving. On Tuesday night it became for me a miraculous elegy machine—one whose elegant mechanics are beautiful to hear and see and admire as they move. Through its transparent exterior, we see how this tugging at our heartstrings works. It struck me a bit like procedural [conscious] sedation, with digital video so we patients can see and hear most everything the doctor is doing while she/he operates on us. This ability even to experience the mechanics of what we are experiencing while we are experiencing it is radical, disorienting, uncanny, unsettling, very dramatic.

S ome structural/mechanical things that I noticed while listening... Widely-spaced blocks of short and long passages have the effect of distancing the mourner from the subject (death; the idea of death); they place the traumatic event far enough away to re-present and reevaluate it.

W    hat is the truth of the ninety-year old woman waiting for me at the house, who is changed beyond recognition and yet who is still my mother? ... It has taken me years to learn that reality is far more than meets the human eye, or ear, or mind... The Greeks have a word for this realness of things... ’ousia’ [οὐσία].”
  —  Madeleine L’Engle, 1984, p. 49.
O ut of sight, out of mind? Not really. The recollection-at-a-distance through these passages has instead the effect of maintaining the mind’s focus on the event, albeit at arms’ length. The phrases that hark back to earlier ones—the canon-type transferring of a phrase from one part to others—lend a backward-reaching intimacy to the experience of this Quartet. Since the thing recalled is always longing for yet another future recollection, the phrases that look backward look forward as well. Kernis throws an ‘arch’ forward, and the performers (and we) face our own future, with some species of hope, as we simultaneously reflect on the departed or the about-to-depart.

K ernis’s chain of phrases is like a chain of rhymes. Often the second or third one is slightly imperfect or impatient—humanly so, as if for reasons of human frailty. In some places, one of the four lines can’t wait and urgently adds what it must say, interjecting what it must—earlier than we might think it should, were it observing the civilities of normal quartet discourse. Or, say, in other cases one of the four lines is unexpectedly delayed. The imperfections are a poetical sign that things are far from ‘normal’; mourning in extremis. Shocking.

T he ‘chiasmus’, the marching along of melodically and rhythmically similar lines and similar bowing, go relentlessly toward some kind of apotheosis, which arrives in the third movement. The dramatic power of the second movement substantially derives from the emulation of controlled pausing and breathing, and stretches where grief causes the loss of control. The phrases are like lines in a poem, built up into stanzas. The mourner’s pain is compacted into the pneumatics of breathing, much as we feel in the elegies of Milton or Keats or Shelley.

T he ‘breathing’ of the quartet members’ bows involves drawing them and expending their length in multiple, pained, successive stresses. There are series of eighth-notes that suggest what would be ‘transitive’ participles if this quartet had lyrics: com-pell-ing, de-spair-ing. Other series’ accents suggest defiantly ‘intransitive’ participles: ach-ing, burst-ing. The latter—diffuse and not referring to anything done-to or done-by—evoke a persisting existential ‘melancholia’ more than an event-driven ‘melancholy’. Song without words!

A  Romantic-period elegist would have been a ‘confident’ visionary—would have served up a confident, strong mourner. Here in Kernis’s No. 2 quartet we have anguish and insurmountable tentativeness as well as unabashed outrage at the loss. In fact, the multidimensional mixture of pastoral, confessional, romantic, and modern underscores the visceralness and urgency of the quartet. This in turn reinforces how authentic we perceive this quartet’s expressions to be.

A t times, grieving for a loved one begins considerably before the end of life, premonition of the impact of high-velocity bullets. Each setback in the loved one’s health triggers an emotional reaction in us—one that feels like a shot from a gun, a cannon even: explosive anxiety; 2,800 foot-per-second ballistic sadness; projectile vulnerability. Each fleeting recovery reloads the chamber and cocks the trigger of the testamentary gun again. Kernis’s quartet does this repeatedly, this ‘anticipatory’ grieving.

W ith the impending loss of the loved one, a weird, horrific beauty unfolds—the unstoppable specifics of the events, the terribleness of the muzzle, the abjectness and universality of the ordeal and time. Stomachs in knots, we discover that we are owned by our relationship, by our caring. We comprehend as if for the first time the 'accidentalness' of who we each are—ourselves and the loved one. There is no conceivable relief from these realizations.

A ccording to modern convention in Western society, grieving is supposed to be orderly and not too long. ‘Acceptance’ is the goal; anything less is ‘incomplete’, a deficiency for which the griever is blameworthy. ‘Moving on’ and reinvesting emotional energy in new attachments are the evidence of healthy completion or closure of the grieving process.

T o many grievers, though, these social norms feel wrong, coercive, impossible to comply with. The norms threaten to deprive us of our right to grieve, at the very moment when we are losing (or have recently lost—) the loved one. The outrage in the ascending passages of the second movement of Kernis’s second quartet seems directed against this normative social violence against grievers...

D enial; bargaining; and what follows. Kübler-Ross was the first or one of the first to identify anger as a ‘stage’ in the process of preparing for death. I am reminded of this at the 12-minute mark in the Kernis quartet No. 2 sarabande. When we see a loved one hurting, it’s natural to feel waves of protective anger, protesting what is happening and the harm that is occurring. Guilt and regret are often mixed in—when the loved one’s condition keeps getting worse despite everything you are doing to prevent that, or when you have to override their objections and take away their car keys or place them in a nursing home.

J    ane and I] went back to the poets of grief and outrage, as far back as ‘Gilgamesh’... Poetry gives the griever not release from grief but companionship in grief. Poetry embodies the complexity of feelings at their most intense and entangled and therefore offers (over centuries, or over no time at all) the company of tears.”
  —  Donald Hall, The Best Day the Worst Day, 2006, p. 118.
T    hey wept and affirmed
their love for each other, witlessly,
over and over again.
When it snowed one morning Jane gazed
at the darkness blurred
with flakes. They pushed the I.V. pump
which she called Igor
slowly past the nurses' pods, as far
as the outside door
so that she could smell the snowy air.”
  —  Donald Hall, ‘Her Long Illness’, Without, 1999.
U ltimately, near the end, when you are with the loved one for long periods of time and when there is little change of facial expression and almost no communication, we feel alienation, not only from the loved one and the relationship we have shared, but also from ourselves. We lose our bearings and part of our own identity. The face of the other is no longer functioning as a ‘mirror’ of ourselves. Kernis and JSQ elegantly lead us to this simple but important insight. You may be interested to read Chapter 6 of W. David Shaw’s book. The chapter is entitled ‘Does Good Grief Therapy Make Good Art? The Paradox of Strong and Weak Mourners’ (link below).

F    or me, the basic source from which all my work flows is a belief in the inexhaustible number of things music can do—its ability to spring from the inexhaustibility of the thoughts and emotions of human beings.”
  —  Aaron Jay Kernis, interview with Joshua Kosman, Strings Magazine, JUL-1999.
I    t’s elegiac and mournful and pleading and screaming for so long, and then comes redemption. He builds you up and then creates a release that’s so moving, you don’t realize that the time has gone by. I recognized that from the audience reaction—you can feel that they’re not breathing [while you play], and that’s really good. People only realize afterward that it’s not a short piece—it’s 30 minutes long. But it has such incredible line, and the intensity doesn’t let up for a second. So you’re hanging on every note, waiting to see what happens. That element of suspense is a very unusual compositional technique.”
  —  Aaron Jay Kernis, interview with Joshua Kosman, Strings Magazine, JUL-1999.



18 October 2010

Borromeo String Quartet: eBach

 BSQ

T    his program is about the greatness and the ‘open-endedness’ of Bach’s music, and about letting Bach’s music meet a new set of tools... When Bach played the organ, he was known for making beautiful and unexpected combinations of stops (the sets of pipes that make a certain sound). With this electronically-processed string quartet arrangement, we are going to bring a new set of ‘stops’ into play.”
  —  Nicholas Kitchen, @TheGardner interview with Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum staff, OCT-2010.
T he Borromeo String Quartet’s [Mai Motobuchi, viola, Yeesun Kim, cello, and Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong, violins] performance tonight at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall included Bartók’s String Quartet No. 6 and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127.

B ut the sheer novelty of this program was embodied by ‘Bach’s Electric Chords’, Nicholas Kitchen’s string quartet arrangement of Bach’s ‘Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor’, BWV 582, with electronic processing. Warning: If novel reworking of Bach inherently offends you, then read no further.

T he passacaglia consists of twenty variations on a theme that Bach famously co-opted from André Raison’s Premier Livre d’orgue of 1688. Many have said that the double fugue in BWV 582 is really a twenty-first variation on that theme—a variation of prodigious, surreal length.

B ach plumbed the limits of the bass melody in BWV 582, to the point where he was able abandon the melody itself from time to time and yet the beautiful mechanism does not quit or fall apart. Emulating Bach’s exploratory spirit, Kitchen pushes the discursive, contrapuntal ‘envelope’ even further. This arrangement is like a string quartet conversation that ranges from one topic to others, to the point where the thread of the conversation matters less than than the flow itself—matters less than the continuation of the self-propelled cameraderie of the celebrants. The piece becomes an expansive meditation on the joy of playing together. There are moments when it is possible to believe in the abrogation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, energy for free, perpetual motion, and Eternal Return. The nature of bowing—as contrasted with keyboards and pedaling—also lends new dimensions to the piece, ones that likely would have pleased Bach himself.

F    enner Douglas groups French registrations into four texture-based categories: broad textures [plein jeu (principal chorus, upwards from 16'); grand jeu; fond d’orgue (all principals and flutes at 16', 8', and 4')]; contrapuntal textures [esp. reeds]; melodic textures [cornets; tierces; nazard; voix humane; etc.]; and composite textures... In the Fugue of BWV 582 easily the most interesting is the cross-beat slurring of the first countersubject [in m. 169]... If Bach had asked his [organ] pupils to phrase the countersubject across the beat, some indication of this would have been needed in the score, for it goes against the Baroque practice of placing ‘downbows’ on the ‘good’ notes.”
  — Peter Le Huray, p. 104.
 BWV 582, m. 169
T he organ offers a wide range of colors and textures, and so, of course, does the string quartet. The range can be substantially extended when mics and electronic processing are applied. To my taste, Kitchen’s orchestration makes good sense—it is empathetic, not ‘indulgent,’ and the electronic processing does not draw undue attention to itself.

T he chords themselves are intriguingly different when played by a string quartet instead of an organ. For example, the Neapolitan sixth near the conclusion of BWV 582 is not like a C-major chord transposed up a semitone but is instead a dramatic new color, in part because stringed instruments are not confined to equal temperament (12-TET). Unfretted instruments and singers are free to conform their tuning closer, say, to 18th-Century well-temperaments. Then, instead of congenial key-independent uniformity of sound as in ET, with well-temperaments each key has its own distinctive qualities, tensions, dissonances—tensions that would not be evident when playing this Passacaglia and Fugue on a modern organ.

T he tailpiece miking of each of the Borromeos’ instruments was excellent. Each quartet member’s Line6 POD® effects modeler output was routed to a powered QSC K-8® monitor positioned on the stage directly facing the audience. (In the future, I hope that a larger array of more speakers directed in a variety of directions may be possible for BSQ, or, better still, get a sound engineer and a mixing console and adjust the delays properly for the size of the hall.) The succession of effects patches in each part was switched via the foot stomp switches on the Line6 POD®s, in a pattern reminiscent of an organist changing ‘stops’. Each instrument’s soli passages involved switching to a brighter ‘reed’ patch and increasing the volume with the pedal on the right-hand side of the POD® modeler. Other organistic effects included divide-by-two and divide-by-four frequency-division patches that transformed the cello’s signal into 16' and 32' thundering contrabass pipe organ sounds. Light chorusing effects and, toward the end, increasing reverb were among other effects that Kitchen scored in this arrangement.

 BSQ
T he use of the 4 Macintosh laptops and Bili Inc. Footime® digital Page/Score Turners was interesting from another perspective as well. The profile of these is far smaller and lower than standard music stands filled with sheet music. As a result, the laptops on their stands do not present such a big acoustic obstruction between the performers and the audience members as conventional music stands. The cello and the viola are far clearer-sounding compared to normal string quartet configurations. Absolutely beautiful.

 BSQ
I n summary, we were thrilled by a superb performance and by an arrangement of BWV 582 that sheds exciting new light on an old subject.