Friday, February 01, 2008

Five Things about Elliott Carter String Quartets

I heard Carter's Five String Quartets Wednesday night in New York City.
1. I was very excited to hear all five quartets on one program, although I wondered how it would be to focus on one genre by one composer...I have twice heard all the Bartoks on a program - once with the Pro Arte Quartet that included a dinner and talk in between two concerts, and once with the Colorado Quartet back to back on a Saturday night/Sunday afternoon; so I was certainly open to hearing a composer's work on a single program. (Funny, the Carter Quartets remind me of how much the music can evolve from Bartok's time, and yet keep a hold in tradition.) Turns out, I was delighted by the program, with two well placed intermissions, that allowed discussion, and a chance to get water, bathroom, or an autograph (as you can see below.)

2. The Pacifica Quartet has several delightful recordings, which I knew, including their just released Carter Quartets #1 and #5, but this was my first chance to hear them live. It was magnificent. They are a group who bring new breath and humanity to Carter's masterpieces. While it is a cliche that they make it look easy, they were truly at ease with each other, the audience and the music.

3. Our seats (Dick Strawser my friend and coworker joined me) were on the mezzanine, center, which turns out was about five rows from where Elliott Carter was sitting. He came in while we were talking in the lobby with another friend, Dan Guss (pictured right with Dick in the lobby), who we had met for dinner at Ollie's just before the concert. As we had guessed Maestro Carter who be wisked in from backstage into the hall perhaps moments before the concert, it turns out, he arrived about 30 minutes before the show would start and was waiting as their tickets were delievered and he sat just feet from where we were conversing. A few folks noticed and talked to him before they went in, but we thought we'd honor his privacy and let him be.

4. During the first intermission, several wellwishers, friends and fans met Elliott, although we had heard beforehand from someone with the hall management that Carter would not be available to sign autographs afterwards, but that the quartet would after the concert (and they did!) The 2nd and 3rd quartets seemed to fly by and the 2nd intermission was upon us. I decided I would go down and introduce myself - I have been corresponding with Mr. Carter's assistant for over a year now, trying to get an interview for Composing Thoughts. So, I may have been the first down, and asked for an autograph, and said I hoped he would consider being on my radio show, and mentioned my name and show. Virgil was pleased to meet me and I believe (after the the completion of his new Flute Concerto) we'll be able to find a good time to sit down and talk. It was sweet to meet Elliott, who seemed concerned the audience was not going to stay for the 4th and 5th quartets. They did stay - it was just another break and a chance to stretch legs...

5. The concert was well received, with 3 or 4 curtain calls with a standing ovation for the quartet, the music and the composer. It was one of the events of my lifetime, and will be able to say I heard the quartets with the composer that night in January 2008. Not something easily forgotten and I believe a historic event, like being able to say you were at the Rite of Spring premiere or Ballet Mechanique.

Read Dr. Dick's account of the evening here.

1 comment:

mangofantasy said...

I attended the same programme by the Pacifica in London a couple of years back, and I'm slightly ashamed to say I didn't stay for the final part (though I did also hear the Four Lauds as a pre-starter). Since then I've listened to a lot more Carter, found my way beneath the notes and the technique, and become much more appreciative, so I do hope they come back soon so I can put my omission right.
It's wonderful to see a performing tradition developing for these pieces, bringing out a range of interpretative approaches. Listening to the Pacifica has really brought out the Bartok connection strongly for me, and I'd love to have a Bartok-Carter concert series. Ideally of course there would be a number 6 to round it off!