February 11, 2010
Modern Contemporary music by an up-and-coming group of young Latin American composers known as Altavoz was presented at this highly intriguing evening at Americas Society on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Performed by the Jack Quartet (Christopher Otto, Ari Streisfeld, John Pickford Richards and Kevin McFarland), the selection included material that was like listening to the soundtrack to the chaos of modern life, with all its nuances and confusion.
The set opened with Jose-Luis Hurtado's "L'Ardito e quasi stridente gestro," a number that kicked off with a flurry of dissonant notes that sounded like the white noise we hear every day in big cities around the world set to music. There were a lot of quick slaps on the instruments, fast pizzicato notes that climaxed with a long period of silence, that lasted until the musicians put down their instruments.
On Mauricio Pauly's "Every new volition a mercurial swerve" began with a series of distorted sounds that seemed like falling bombslow and high notes played dramatically, followed by an eerie quasi-silence broken by the cello, which emulated a high-flying propeller airplane. After a brief break, the group returned with Jorge Villavicencio Grossman's more melodic "String Quartet No. 3: Musica funebre y nocturna," a Debussy-like tune written around a series of interchanging loops, finger-picked solos and finally a fierce crescendo.
The quartet closed with Felipe Lara's highly complex "Corde VocaleString Quartet # 1," a number that featured twisting notes, lots of string-plucking and screeching notes. This was clearly the hardest number to follow, as it seemed to represent some sort of controlled chaos (Lara hails from the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world) that exists within the composer's mind.
Jack Quartet is formed by a group of highly accomplished musicians, and taking this kind of project proves that they are up to the challenge. One of the group's members admitted that this was not easy to play, but that he felt that going through the challenge was a very positive experience. The same can be said about the audience, which was both surprised and satisfied by what they heard, judging from the enthusiastic applause both players and composers received at the program's end.