Eclipsed by Sound

Eclipse Quartet. At the Contemporary Arts Forum, Sunday,
February 25.

Reviewed by James Hanley Donelan

Eclipse_String_Quartet.jpgThe members of the Eclipse
Quartet — Sara Parkins and Sarah Thornblade, violins; Joanna Hood,
viola; and Maggie Parkins, cello — face inward for several good
reasons. They need to look in each others’ eyes as they play
because the shifting lines and unexpected turns of contemporary
music are difficult, and because they have to look inward, as films
play on a screen overhead. Their deep concentration led to an
intriguing evening of recent works for string quartet.

They began with “G Song” by Terry Riley, a 1980 work well
complemented by Susan Weber’s and Martin Garcia’s film. The musical
work explores a theme that at once develops and reverses itself,
asking us to consider which processes — musical or otherwise — can
be reversed, and which cannot. The film asks the same question,
with scenes of water flowing forward and backward along the ground,
and out of and into a drain pipe, as well as a number of other
images of natural and human-made progress and regress. The result,
while somewhat abstract, was nevertheless moving, and above all,
interesting. The pairing of the group’s own work, “4 e clips,” with
a film by avant-garde artist Ikue Mori likewise developed abstract
ideas of time and motion with great impact.

The first half ended with Philip Glass’s String Quartet No.
3, “Mishima,”
a five-movement exploration of the life of the
Japanese author and radical Hiraoka Kimitake, who renamed himself
“Mishima” and committed ritual suicide after an attempted coup. The
quartet captured the tension between Mishima’s discipline and
enormous passion by rendering Glass’s endlessly repeating motives
precisely, while allowing the swelling of crescendos underneath to
reveal the work’s enormous emotional weight.

Nature Ecstasy, another film and music collaboration,
followed with dancers David Ferguson and Jung-ah Chung of the
Suddenly Dance Theatre appearing in scenes shot in Canada, Ireland,
and New Mexico, all on the theme of their love of nature. The final
work on the program, however, Zeena Parkins’s Persuasion
Quartet No. 1
, showed the most ambition. It deliberately
echoed Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Opus 133, excerpting its
more radical moments and performing new variations on them with the
assistance of live music processing. The result called to mind one
of Beethoven’s most challenging works without seeming pale by
comparison, and connected this adventurous concert with the great
tradition of the string quartet repertoire. The Eclipse Quartet did
a great job expanding the horizons of the string quartet — let’s
hear more.


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