Palomar Quartet brings a full evening of modern music to the Empty Bottle

Wed Feb 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

You know you’re living in a great city when you can experience a night of modern music for string quartet in a dive bar and then stop three doors down for a post-concert Piwo Okocim.

The Palomar Quartet, string contingent of Accessible Contemporary Music, made its evening of mostly new works even more accessible by performing at the Empty Bottle Tuesday night.

Blagomira Lipari

This was the quartet’s debut in the scruffy north side club and turnout was more than respectable. The young, hipster-ish crowd clearly drew on friends and colleagues, yet the significant walk-ins were clearly engaged by the music as well, listening to four works in a 75-minute intermission-less set.

Philip Glass wrote his String Quartet No. 4 in 1989 in tribute to Brian Buczak, and the work was premiered at a memorial service on the second anniversary of the young artist’s death.

Glass’s familiar pulsing figures and restless counterpoint are here in moderated form, and the Fourth Quartet is a more somber and introspective work. There is a clear elegiac element in this portrait of the artist—Buczak died of AIDS at age 33—most palpable in a central bittersweet slow movement, one of the composer’s most beautiful and deeply felt inspirations. The Palomar members—alternating violinists Elizabeth Choi and Blagomira Lipari, violist Doyle Armbrust and cellist Alyson Berger—brought out the valedictory expression, performing this music with sensitivity and incisive ensemble.

Elizabeth Choi

The group’s lean, astringent sonority suited the program well, particularly the music of Seth Boustead. ACM’s engaging executive director, Boustead introduced excerpts from his Quartet, a work he had to reconstruct when the original was devoured by his computer—the modern high-tech equivalent of 19th-century composers losing scores to fire.

In the first and fourth movements performed Tuesday, Bartok is the clear influence in the rhythmic angularity and driving insistence. Yet Broustead’s dynamic and compelling music has its own edgy voice too, with its rapid alternation of bowing and pizzicato and high wailing notes for violin, and it would be interesting to hear the entire re-completed work.

Doyle Armbrust

Like Philip Glass (to date), the Russian Yuri Falik wrote five string quartets and his Fourth Quartet was also heard Tuesday. A cellist and conductor as well as composer, Falik (1936-2009) crafted this work in a single 18-minute movement. It begins with the violist tapping his instrument, which then moves to the cello and violins, the music soon segueing into relentless ostinato figures. Even in the less hard-driving passages, there is an unsettled, even desolate atmosphere in this music, with the plaintive solo passages for all four players affording little relief. The Palomar members brought fierce intensity and commitment to this dark yet fascinating music.

Alyson Berger

The program ended with Alex Shapiro’s Five Squared, written for the 25th wedding anniversary of the composer’s half-sister. It’s less easy to discern an individual voice in this short work, with the looming shade of Philip Glass hovering over the main rhythmic impetus and the lyrical second theme coming a bit too close to Shapiro’s TV work. Still, its an attractive work and ended the evening on a lighter note, played with admirable energy by the Palomar musicians.

Accessible Contemporary Music will next present the Sound of Silent Film Festival with new scores composed for contemporary silent films. Performance time is 7:30 p.m. March 10 and 17 at the Chopin Theater 1543 W. Division.

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