Lydian String Quartet premieres Brandeis professor’s latest piece

November 4, 2016

Of all art events that occur on campus throughout the year, few are as well-anticipated by students and members of neighboring communities alike as performances by Brandeis’ own Lydian String Quartet. This past Saturday, Slosberg Music Center saw its fair share of concert attendees, so many that overflow seats were needed on stage, allowing for a more immersive experience for those interested. Composed of cellist Joshua Gordon, violist Mark Berger, second violinist Judith Eissenberg and their newest member and first violinist Andrea Segar, the quartet surely makes up in sound for what they lack in numbers, oftentimes producing melodies more sonically indicative of an entire string section. As is typical of LSQ performances, there was a wide range in both musical stylings and the dates of the pieces performed, culminating in a truly transcendent auditory experience.

Typically composed of four pieces separated in half by an intermission, the night’s performance began with Mozart’s String Quartet in C major, K. 465, oftentimes nicknamed simply as “Dissonance” due to the ominously inharmonious introduction of the first movement. The last of six pieces composed by Mozart for fellow composer Haydn, “Dissonance” also features stark contrasts to Mozart’s typical style of composition in the third minuet and trio movement of the piece. Though nonetheless enjoyable, and perfectly executed by the LSQ musicians, this piece was not the most memorable of the night, though it served as a great opening number for many fans of classical music in the audience.

Like the previous piece, Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, Sz. 67 begins on a somber note, quite literally, before diving quite abruptly into an intensely animated and capricious second movement. Noted for his career as an ethnomusicologist and composer, Bartók incorporates many unique sounds and styles indicative of much of “modern” classical music, while still adding his own personal eerie twist. In fact, this piece in particular appears as though it could have been part of a score of many modern horror movies, although the piece itself is nearly 100 years old. With its grim opening and close, as well as the heartracing second movement, Bartók’s piece delightfully brought the multifaceted first half of the program to a close.

Perhaps the most anticipated moment of the night, and likely the whole reason for the show, was the world premier performance of Brandeis alumni and teacher, Yu-Hui Chang’s, piece, “Mind Like Water 若水.” In the program of the performance, Chang writes that “Water is often used in Eastern philosophy to describe the ideal state of a person’s mind or high moral quality … Zen Buddhism’s “mind like water” teaching has a more personal perspective—one is to empty the mind, not to become unfeeling, but to allow space for full awareness and to obtain true freedom.” It is without a doubt that these ideas are reflected in the piece. The individual parts are distinguishably separate, yet do not feel as though they are in competition with each other, instead merging together to flow into a unified sound that is truly water-like. However, Chang also writes, “The intention of this string quartet is not to ‘express these concepts, but rather, these concepts are ‘practiced’ in the composition. I wish the music in this piece to have the same state of mind (if music can have a mind of its own), where the musical movements are fluid and free, ready to embrace all possibilities, showing strength but do not overwhelm.” Contrasting, though not conflicting with the other more melodic pieces of the night, Chang’s “Mind Like Water” is sure to be a hit with other audience in its future performances.

The fourth and final piece of the night was Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F major, his first and only piece written for string quartet, and perhaps best known for the pizzicato passages of its scherzo second movement. Violist Berger writes in the program that Ravel’s piece “has more progressive tendencies including an increased focus on tone color, exotic instrumental techniques and unusual rhythms,” in addition to the traditional French aspects of the time period in which it was written, such as the cyclic recurrences among movements and the use of rich tonal harmonies. It was clear why the group chose this piece as the closer of the performance, as the fourth and final movement, Vif et agité, had such a strong buildup to the final note that reverberated throughout the hall, again as if it had come from somewhere close to ten musicians rather than four.

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