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S & H Concert Review

Arditti String Quartet and Thomas Adès at the Queen Elizabeth Hall 24th April 2003 (JM)

The Arditti Quartet has been performing contemporary music for nearly 30 years all over the world and has attracted commissions from the most renowned international composers of new music. It has become a brand, an icon of contemporary string quartet music. So there was considerable excitement and anticipation in the large audience to hear the Arditti Quartet in a rare live performance at the QEH with a beautifully chosen programme.

The evening began with Berg’s ‘String Quartet op.3’, which he composed in 1910 when he was 25. It has an air of late bourgeois refinement, but also violent eruptions and anger. Irvine Arditti’s tone was unsensuous and thin, occasionally almost disappearing against the rich sounds of the other three players.

The highlight of the evening was the ‘3rd String Quartet’ by Helmut Lachenmann. For the German composer composing is an existential experience. He makes every effort to throw grit into the smooth cycle of production and consumption, where every (musical) thought has its well-defined market value. Lachenmann insists on composing authentic music - and he succeeds. After five minutes the music falls almost silent, the musicians producing hardly audible sounds. The audience held its breath and Lachenmann’s music transcended its material appearance. These moments of true musical experience are rare.

The rest of the half hour piece is more forceful and louder, as Arditti requested. This "musique concrète instrumental", as Lachemann calls it, is rustling, breathing and pressing. With unconventional playing techniques the musicians produce sounds which appear to be electronic like backward playing, filtering harmonics, scratching. Opposing glissandi in different instruments and sustained micro intervals mixed in beautifully with Irvine Arditti’s snorting breath.

The audience loved it. It showed powerfully that stick-in-the-muds demanding more "accessible" music are agents against emancipation trying to stifle imagination.

Henri Dutilleux’ piece "Ainsi la nuit", composed 1976-77, is finely crafted music, operating more on a technical, intellectual level, as if addressing predominantly the left of the brain.

The evening was concluded by Thomas Adès’ ‘Piano Quintet’ (2001) with the composer at the piano. Adès is a fine pianist who performed smoothly with the Arditti Quartet. His composition came across as well crafted and clever. It is playful music, demonstrating how references to music history - in this case Brahms - can be crafted into witty music. But the piece goes no further than that. I would like to hear more of Adès himself, not just how clever he is in plundering musical history.

The hype around him in recent years, with his publisher at the forefront, must have taken its toll and have probably silenced his true personality. It is flattering to be coveted - but also dangerous. When Adès walked on stage he looked nervous and tired. The performance had been fine. During the applause Adès looked serious, without a smile, anxiously gauging the reaction of the audience, which was very positive. Plants don’t grow well in stormy conditions.

Jean Martin






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