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Alan Cooper Reviews: Bozzini Quartet

CLEMENS MERKEL and ALISSA CHEUNG: Violins
STÉPHANIE BOZZINI: Viola
ISABELLE BOZZINI: Cello

Friday, 28 October 2016

The concert featuring the Bozzini Quartet in the Lemon Tree was their second concert on Friday. They were generously replacing the Red Note Ensemble at very short notice. Their afternoon programme gave us a taster performance of a selection of adventurous new string quartet styles from the beginning of the 20th Century up to the present day. Their evening concert presented three of the most exploratory compositions from 1963 up to 2012, all of them radically different.

The first piece was Disappearances (1994) by the American composer Alvin Lucier born in 1931. He is known for his experimental music and sound installations that explore acoustic phenomena and auditory perception. Disappearances does exactly that. In this piece the science of acoustics shakes hands with the artistry of music.

The leader of the Quartet, Clemens Merkel, explained that the programme note which the audience had in its hands was exactly what the music score of this piece consisted of. It was a set of instructions for the players and part of it at least will also do nicely for the explanatory section of this review. “In Disappearances four string players make minute adjustments in intonation, causing overtones to appear and disappear. Starting at unison, the players sustain a long unison tone. As they do so, they become aware of the higher partials produced by each other’s reinforcement of the unison tone. At any time any player decides to imperceptibly raise or lower her pitch causing audible beats to appear”.

That is precisely what happened. Throbbing beats began to be heard coming and going, a kind of “wawawawa” that came and went as the changes in intonation became far more than just imperceptible. As Clemens Merkel said before the performance, this was very much a “deep listening” exercise for the audience. Here live music showed a close affinity with the world of electro acoustic music.

Quartetto n. 3 (1963) was the work of the Italian composer Count Giacinto Scelsi (1905 – 1988). The piece is in five movements with interesting titles e.g. 3. The Soul Awakens… (con transparenza) 4. … and Falls Once More Into Pathos, But Now With a Sense of Imminent Release (con tristezza). Scelsi also wrote surrealist poetry in French. There is surely a hint of that in these titles? The music itself contained a vast range of highly colourful string effects, some of them like pizzicato or harmonics, not that unusual but there were all sorts of different string textures derived from changes in bowing and microtones were used throughout the Quartetto. Sometimes the different instruments in the quartet would seem to be calling out to one another and answering like strange species of exotic birds. It was an amazingly colourful work in this performance.

Jürg Frey is a Swiss clarinettist and composer and a member of the Wandelweiser Group of international composers and performers. John Cage is a figure of central importance to the Wandelweiser Group. Their music is often referred to as “silent music”, taking as its starting point Cage’s famous work 4’33” which really is silence.

Frey’s Streichquartett 3 is, he says, silent music but not absent music. “Its quiet presence includes everything: colours, sentiments (sensations, emotions, feelings), shadows, durations”.

It came across as a long series of gently played consonant chords which progressed at an amazingly slow pace. Use of mutes often gave the music a sensation of coming from a great distance – dreamlike and not really a part of the real world. What was astonishing though was the way in which the piece as a whole did have a plan and a shape but to appreciate that it was necessary to slow your mind down and go along with Frey at his own pace.

Actually all three pieces asked you to expand your mind and go along with the composers and performers. The first piece was the easiest to follow. Its scientific principals were concrete and easy to understand. With the other two pieces it was necessary to surrender to the composers’ imaginings and try to go along with them and here for me at least I was very much in unexplored territory – sound landscapes that were really new. That of course is what the soundfestival is all about so thank-you soundfestival and thank-you Bozzini Quartet.

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