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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Concert Review: Allegations and Alligators

The Attacca Quartet plays John Adams.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Attacca Quartet and a former escalator rider.
Photo © AttaccaQuartet.com
The Attacca String Quartet are one of the bright lights of the chamber music scene in New York right now. On Tuesday night, the group celebrated the release of Fellow Traveler, their new CD featuring the chamber music of John Adams with a concert Le Poisson Rouge.  Mr. Adams was in attendance.

The Quartet opened with Rag the Bone, the first of the composer's ten Alleged Dances. These works were originally premiered by Kronos Quartet, and are designed to be played in any order, even repeated if thats what serves the performance.

John Adams took the stage, explaining the conception of the work and introducing the pieces. Some of them (as he explained) were accompanied by pre-constructed tape loops of prepared pianos, built and provided by the composer and triggered by one of the players with a foot pedal.

These included Dog Jam with country-style fiddling from violist Luke Wilson and second violin Keiko Tokunaga, and the wild invention of Alligator Escalator, (depicting one of these reptiles during a Macy's shopping excursion) with keening bowed phrases across the bridge of the instruments and an ever-increasing sense of perpetual motion. Pavane (She's So Fine) had gorgeous bowed phrases, with an unexpected lyricism that hinted at the classic recordings of Phil Spector.

Cellist Andrew Yee seemed to take a particular joy in blazing through the speed-metal rhythms of Toot Nipple and the tricky, electronically accompanied meter of Hammer and Chisel. The Habañera featured exotic prepared piano rhythms, plucked jazz notes and aphoristic phrases from the cello which contrasted with lyric lines from Amy Schroeder's first violin. The little set ended with Judah to Ocean with Mr. Adams' characteristic minimalist rhythms depicting the clicketa-clacketa of a San Francisco streetcar.

Following a long intermission, Mr. Adams returned to the stage to introduce his second formal String Quartet. The Attacca players bit into the complex first half of this two-movement work, delving into what was really three movements constructed as one. Ms. Tonugawa started the great engine of sound moving forward as the musical line veered and dipped like a long roller-coaster ride. Placid, even static sections alternated with more agitated rhythms, always guided by this composer's unique melodic sensibility.

The second movement is half as long, opening with the ostinato figure that is the backbone of much of Mr. Adams' music. All four quartet players took turns interjecting This figure eventually coalesced into unified chords, only to resume its momentum and speed towards the dramatic coda of the piece. The piece finished, Mr. Yee called out "TOOT NIPPLE!", treating the audience to one more quick run through that short Alleged Dance.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.