The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: “Creature Quartet” by UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger will be premiered by the JACK Quartet this Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. | May 5, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), a prize-winning professor of composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (You can hear a sample of her chamber work “High Wire Act” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Creature Quartet,” composed by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), will be premiered by The JACK Quartet on this Friday, May 8, at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Laura Schwendinger 2

For more information, including ticket prices and reservations as well as other works on the program and the JACK’s concert to be played in the dark on this Thursday, go to:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season14-15/jack-quartet-creaturequartet.html

Schwendinger, a Guggenheim winner and the first composer recipient of the Berlin Prize, wrote the Creature Quartet, a one-movement work for string quartet, with “portraits in music” of extinct, mythological or endangered creatures.

The quartet will be accompanied by an evocative animation by the gifted French artist, Pauline Gagniarre. The animation depicts the creatures in the quartet, and was commissioned by Memorial Union Concerts for this premiere

Each of the quartet’s movements feature different creatures such as extinct birds, like the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Passenger Pigeon (the last surviving Passenger Pigeon died 100 years ago this year), the marvelously funny looking Dodo Bird, as depicted in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as mythological creatures like the Yeti, Chupacabra, and the famous “sea monster” Nessy.

Here are more details from program notes:

The Creature Quartet is a one-movement work for string quartet, played without break, comprised of 12 short movements, each a paean or character portrait in music to an extinct, mythological, or endangered creature. It is my personal response to the current mass extinction that we are facing.

The work starts with a “hymn for lost creatures,” which comes back in various forms between the sections or movements devoted to each animal.

Musical relationships exist as well, between the various movements, for instance, the repeated pattern of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (below) in Movement I, played in pizzicato (plucked string) then col legno (or with wood of the bow) comes back in the movement VII. the Javan Rhinocerous, but in a triple-forte fff (very loud) and much more aggressive, grumpy manner, and then again in movement XI. The Thalycine (or Tasmanian Tiger), but this time a little more active and agile yet still fearsome.

ivory-billed woodpecker

The music heard in movement II. Passenger Pigeon (below), is characterized by tremolando figures (trembling string with shifting bow), which represents the evocative yet mysterious flight of the large flocks of birds that were known to fill the skies. This music is also hinted at, through chromatic transformation, and string tremolando, in movement IV. Yeti, where it is introduced now pianisissmo (very, very soft), but when the Yeti is finally seen, turns and growls ffff (very, very loud). This tremolando music is referenced and developed in the longest of the movements VIII. Mustang, when the tremolando moves with the energy of running horses.

passenger pigeon stuffed

Movement III — the sad and poignant music of the Dodo Bird (below), expressed in the solo viola, with awkward pizzicato accompaniment and reflecting the funny image we have of this charming large, flightless bird — is referenced again in inversion (upside down) in movement X. Lowland Gorilla, this time with the solo cello moving from the instrument’s majestic lower register through a higher singing line, and again with a combination of awkward pizzicatos and more aggressive tremelandos, all leading to a final fff (very loud tremelando) as the Gorilla beats his chest.

Dodo bird

Movement V. Chupacabra, has its own distinctive creepy, yet harried character, captured in trills, the piercing red of the animal’s eyes in the night heightened with harmonic notes that jump out of the frenzied texture. This chilling character is amplified for movement IX. Tasmanian Devil, when the strings play frenzied lines in sul ponticello (over the bridge for a sharp and piercing string sound), and finally just loud growling sounds, made by the bows being played behind the bridge, literally sounding like the voice of the Taz Devil.

The music of Movement VI. Nessy (below), is captured in a rolling string figure that reflects the undulating motion of the waves of the deep and mysterious lake waters of Loch Ness, the melody itself dark and mysterious. This music returns, yet brighter and more open sounding, for movement XII. the Northern Right Whale.

Loch Ness Nessie

These relationships give the work a sense of symmetry and balance. The animals are part of a musical “ecosystem” as it were, and organically lead from one to another, with only the hymn in between to remind us of their sad fate.

The hymn too, starts to reflect the character of the animal that precedes or follows, as the tremelandos of the Thalycine and Mustang and Gorrilla,for instance, sit somewhere in the quartet, not yet freed from its setting and sometimes in the cello, as a grumpy echo of the animal that still lingers.

Nessy is featured in the trailer by Pauline Gagniarre’s for the Creature Quartet. https://vimeo.com/118388679.

Also depicted is the adorable yet irascible Tasmanian Devil (below), famously portrayed in the Looney Tunes cartoons, and the Tasmanian Tiger, a fearsome yet elegant animal, the last of which died in captivity in 1936.

tasmanian devil

Pauline Gagniarre has created fantastic animated video that introduces the audience to each creature as each movement of music starts, in order to help the listener visualize each animal.

The JACK Quartet (below) is arguably one of the finest string quartets performing today, and one of the best interpreters of new music.

Jack Quartet 2015

As winners of numerous awards for adventurous programming, JACK has performed premieres to critical acclaim internationally at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall in London, The Venice Biennale, the Lucerne Festival, the Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia) and the Cologne Philharmonic.

Jack Quartet

The quartet has commissioned and premiered new works with such composers as John Luther Adams, Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough, Beat Furrer, Georg Friedrich Haas, György Kurtág, Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Mackey, Steve Reich, Wolfgang Rihm, Salvatore Sciarrino and John Zorn.

 

 

 

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