A January release of music for string quartet (with other instruments on some pieces) by Laura Elise Schwendinger played by the great JACK Quartet and guests (Albany Troy1704) is yet another reminder of what this medium means to so many composers. In the Creature Quartet: Hymn for Lost Creatures (2013), the composer laments mass extinctions with “character portraits” of “extinct, mythological, or endangered” species. It is a fine work, with the opening chords, lovely and mysterious, providing welcome entry in the work’s soundworld.
It is often the case that a work titled “String Quartet” is a very different beast from a piece written for string quartet. Schwendinger’s “String Quartet in three movements” (2001) is, to my ears, an example of this idea. It sounds like a strong statement from the composer that this is what a String Quartet is at the time of its composition. I think this is what the great string quartet cycles (Beethoven, Bartok, Shostakovich, Carter, Johnston, and many others) read like diaries or journals of their composers’ musical development. I hope to hear more entries from Ms Schwendinger, and that they get as good a reading as this piece does from the JACKs.
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I’d like to point you to a couple of really good resources for Modern and contemporary concert music.
Unsilence is a radio show hosted by composer Phil Kline, that airs on Monday evenings at 7 eastern, with replays throughout the week, at newsounds.org, which used to be known as Q2. Mr. Kline spins music from an array of styles on shows that are often organized around themes, such as recent episodes about Shakespeare and about the use of silence. Please check it out.
Score Follower is a website and group of YouTube channels devoted to presenting performances of contemporary concert music while displaying the score on the screen. It’s a fascinating and immensely valuable resource for those who like to read scores, as well as those of wondering “how did she write that down?” The channels, called Score Follower, Incipitsify, and Mediated Scores, include dozens of compositions, presented in a variety of formats. Again, please check it out.