Wednesday, October 16, 2013

concert review: St. Lawrence String Quartet

After having assigned me to review last Sunday's concert, the editors of my primary reviewing venue decided to cancel it, a couple days beforehand, because of publication space problems (on the Web? yes, the issues were how long it would remain listed on the front page, which can only be so long, and sparing the copy-editors overwork). So I peddled the proposal to my alternative venue instead. They were interested, the Stanford publicity folks had no objection, so on I went.

This publication is a small free daily newspaper, and usually holds my reviews for their weekly arts columns on Friday. I submitted the review on Monday afternoon, and was surprised when they ran it as a regular news article on Tuesday. I guess they had a convenient hole in their layout.

The news value of this concert was the near-premiere of a first quartet by a young composer who's been getting a lot of (virtual) ink lately: Sam Adams, son of John of Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic fame. Being a composer who's the son of a more-famous composer is a potentially treacherous fate: you could be a son of Bach and do pretty well for yourself, or the son of Mozart and have a miserable time in your father's shadow. (For that matter, Mozart himself was the son of a then-famous composer, and found that pretty hard going too.)

This quartet had been first played at a festival in South Carolina in June, and hadn't been heard since. The only review of the S.C. premiere I could find online was written on an iphone. So, along with the composer's stunningly unhelpful program note, that was all I had to go on for preparation.

Instead of comparing young Sam-I-Am with his father, the St. Lawrence did him the even bigger challenge of pairing him with Haydn and Beethoven, and when you have to go up against the old masters as delivered by folks who really know how to play the old masters, uh-oh and watch out. For some reason, I feel more comfortable being frank about new music for this publication than my usual one, and I said what I really thought. I don't think I was unduly harsh, and I did allow for the possibility of revised judgment, but if some 22nd-century Nicholas Slonimsky wants to put me in his lexicon of musical invective, I'll wear the badge proudly.

*By the way, if you want to hear this concert's Haydn by another ensemble that really knows what it's doing, this is an amazing performance.

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