Waving a Wand: The Magic of John Zorn’s Quartets

01/08/2013

 Lincoln Center Festival, Zorn@60: JACK Quartet, Alchemy Quartet, Brooklyn Rider. Alice Tully Hall, New York City. 20.7.2013 (DS)

John Zorn: Necronomicon (2003);
The Dead Man (1990);
Cat O’Nine Tails (1988)
Memento Mori (1992);
The Alchemist, a true and faithful chronicling of the esoteric spiritual conferences and concomitant hermetic actions conducted by Her Majesty’s Alchemist Dr. John Dee and one Edward Kelley invoking the Nine Hierarchies of Angelic Orders to visible appearance, circa 1587 (2011);
Kol Nidre (1996)

John Zorn, now 60, has written six quartets throughout his career as an avant-garde composer. These dense layers of rich sonic material can come across as a schizophrenic challenge for many listeners used to grabbing onto a lyrical or oft-repeated memorable theme. But such compositions are an avenue of freedom for those who typically observe—with fervor—the ever-growing, ever-multiplying details of accelerated history, saturated society, exploded art, and violated emotion.

Cat O’Nine Tails, for instance, pounds and whimpers or laughs and cries. It snatches familiar quotations and pours them through a satirical funnel—like snippets from realms as diverse as Paganini and Tex Avery (though both can be filed under “popular culture” in their respective eras). We move along as if in a carnival of mirrors—hearing shards of classical music cross the highway of film scores, with every fatal crash thrown in. Zorn is a genius in deploying silence and tempo, using these to light a path along the way as the black cat slithers along a world of musical possibility. A lot can happen in nine lives encapsulated within twelve minutes.

The musicians who performed the quartets as part of Zorn@60 (part of the Lincoln Center Festival) included the JACK Quartet, Alchemy Quartet and Brooklyn Rider (who only made a brief appearance in the final heart-wrenching eight-minute chamber piece Kol Nidre, for twelve players). The JACK Quartet makes new music their daily breakfast, lunch and dinner. They embraced the power of these schizophrenic sound patchings and blew the roof off. The members of Alchemy Quartet, on the other hand, tried too hard to make the pieces fit together cleanly. Notably, though, their violist, David Fulmer, is also a composer. He encouraged (on occasion) the other three musicians to go past a streamlined Brahmsian interpretation into the dark passages of a “let-sound-be-sound-and-expression-be-messy” underground. Brooklyn Rider seemed thrilled to take part with Russian vibrato, accompanied by huge smiles.

Be it for listener or musician, it all came together in a powerful two-hour performance that demonstrated the way Zorn harnesses the world of magic to meet the world of art in something we know, simply, as life. In a 1998 interview, he said, “To make something out of nothing. That’s magic.” Beating their bows against the air like leather whips in The Dead Man (a 13-movement quartet inspired by surrealist Georges Bataille and the darker side of sexual intimacy known to us as S&M), JACK sliced up the nothingness of ether into pieces of airy sound pie. It’s from the crumbs we catch that we glean all that can be seen, heard, felt and desired.

Daniele Sahr

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers 29 April – 11 May 2019 in Leicester __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Carnegie Hall 2019-2020 Season Highlights __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera’s 2019 Performances of Stephen Storace’s Gli sposi malcontenti __________________________________
  • NEW! Nevill Holt Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR PIETARI INKINEN IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR MAXIM EMELYANYCHEV IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month