Uptown World, Downtown Spirit
Artist Portrait of Tribeca New Music Festival's JACK Quartet
Friday, June 04, 2010 - 11:26 AM
For the first time after two sold out seasons, the Tribeca New Music Festival moves to uptown host Merkin Hall with a series of performances presented by the New York Art Ensemble. But the festival will keep its downtown feel, featuring the JACK Quartet performing an eclectic concert of six composers, New York Art Ensemble Monsters! performing a work by Phillip Glass, new media artist Luke Dubois collaborating with vocal quartet New York Polyphony, Pamela Z and Bora Yoon and a night of exciting composer/performer acts.
JACK Quartet's Kevin McFarland offers a high-res look at the genre-controversy over the music the group performs at the Tribeca New Music Festival.
JACK Quartet's Kevin McFarland
Among the most difficult questions for me to answer, whether asked by a colleague or a stranger in the subway (after joking about my cello case, i.e. “Is that a coffin?”), is “what kind of music do you play?” My response is usually along the lines of “contemporary classical” or “new composition” and the occasional “weird stuff.” The issue of genre has always been problematic for me, as I’m sure it is for all kinds of musicians. All too often, we develop expectations from stylistic labels that color our opinion of a piece of music before we hear it. The urge for some is to do away with labels entirely, but surely we can’t be good ambassadors for our work if we can’t describe it. For me, the key is to divorce value judgments from genre denotations. Though it may be a cliché, it works best to let music speak for itself.
When the JACK Quartet received its first mentions in print and online media, the write-ups were invariably peppered with adjectives like “thorny,” “avant-garde,” and “modernist.” While these conveyances of our predilections for the above are not altogether inaccurate, they pigeonhole our group as being only interested in music seemingly inaccessible to the general public. Though we still believe that even the edgiest programming can be made accessible to anyone, we also have leaned toward new minimalist- and rock-inspired music that we look forward to showcasing with our appearance Saturday night at Merkin Concert Hall as part of the Tribeca New Music Festival. Publications have been appending the post- prefix to denote influences (post-minimalism, post-rock), but these terms do a disservice by labeling music as of a certain category that is actually really diverse. Though five of the six composers we will present currently reside in New York, each piece is so different from the next that they represent a stylistic explosion, not an insular scene.
A label like post-minimal is far too vague to communicate the breadth of stylistic inspiration represented on this program. Saturday’s concert will feature diatonicism as well as atonality and microtonality, driving constant-pulse rhythms in addition to polyrhythmic stratification, repetition but also constant evolution and transformation. Lisa Bielawa, Mick Rossi, and David Crowell perform with the Philip Glass Ensemble, and though the influence is palpable, each of their pieces inhabits its own world and admits a personal voice. Jeff Myers’ dopamine has become an old standby of our repertoire using just-intonation inspired scordatura to shift the harmonic spectrum of the quartet toward greater complexity while relying on a simple pulse. Shawn Yaeger’s Thy Wondering Eyes draws upon the heterophonic choral tradition of Old Regular Baptists, and Chris Rogerson’s String Quartet also draws upon the idea of hymn as well as the twentieth century string quartet canon. Though the tendency is to resist classification, perhaps this stylistic plurality is what binds this program together under the heading of New American Music.
As an additional feature, here's the JACK Quartet performing David Crowell's The Open Road from the Clefworks Festival in Montgomery, Alabama (video shot by Stephen Poff). The JACK Quartet performs this piece during the Tribeca New Music Festival.