Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I would have written a shorter review, but I didn't have time

I feel like I've been neglecting this blog. I've been to a few concerts and other arts events but I've been busy studying for exams and writing short "journal" responses for various classes, so I haven't had the spare time (usually spent on the ground floor of Bird Library) to write anything up. Plus I had to revise the previous review of the TV on the Radio album -- it's much better now; I might put it up.

And so on the same day that the revised 400-word review was due, I also had a 300-word review due. I felt like the premiere piece, with all of its backstory and the program notes that Waggoner wrote, deserved an expanded story, but it's a unique challenge trying to capture a single concert (or a single art exhibit, or any of the other things my classmates wrote about) in 300 words.

Degas Quartet gives weight to Waggoner's world premiere

The Degas Quartet is gaining a reputation as one of the best young string quartets in the United States, and the group’s list of tutors – the Takacs, Emerson and Julliard Quartets – is a "who’s who" of the best international chamber players.

Small wonder that composer Andrew Waggoner chose the Degas to premiere his new "My Penelope" (String Quartet No. 4). Waggoner wrote the piece to touch upon the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and homesickness of his native New Orleans’ displaced people. The formal premiere will take place in November in New Orleans, but the Degas revealed the piece’s profound anguish and tremulous grief at an impressive preview performance October 10th in Syracuse, N.Y.

"My Penelope" immediately jabs for the heart as all four players play with double-stops, grinding out and repeating dense, dissonant chords. This stark opening statement brushed away the memory of the concert’s opening treat, a breezy rundown of Stefan Freund’s "Dance on Hot Coals."

The Degas brought intensity to all of Waggoner’s gestural demands: jarring jete ricochet articulations, high harmonics, flurries of sixteenth notes. A recurring pizzicato figure played by cello and viola recalled a Greek lyre in a strong evocation of the piece’s roots in the story of Homer’s Odyssey. The piece’s ending was a subtle dissolving, a sigh after three movements of storm and stress.

The quartet was clearly drained after Waggoner’s piece, and the first two movements of Schubert’s Quintet in C Major suffered as a result. The group, joined by cellist Caroline Stinson, lacked energy during the opening allegro, playing with too much light and not enough heat. The quintet rebounded, though, and dug into the Scherzo with fervor. The Allegretto finale, with its rich chords enhanced by the two cellists, ended the performance with a perfectly soothing compliment to Waggoner’s seething premiere.

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