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S & H International Concert Review

Direct from Germany: Works by German Composers, ModernWorks, Madeleine Shapiro (Dir), Museum of Arts & Design, New York City, March 25, 2004 (BH)

Peter Ruzicka: Salut for string quartet (2003) (U.S. premiere)
Violeta Dinescu: Wu-Li (1994) (U.S. premiere)
Jan Muller-Wieland: Seven Bagatelles (1993) (U.S. premiere)
Jan Feddersen: String Trio (2003) (U.S. premiere)
Wolfgang Rihm: String Quartet No. 8 (1988)

Madeleine Shapiro, Director/Cello
Airi Yoshioka, violin
Andrea Schultz, violin
Veronica Salas, viola
Eric Phinney, percussion

This was ModernWorks’ sixth appearance at this museum, which continues to be an effective venue for concerts, with the art on the walls making a contrapuntal contribution to director Madeleine Shapiro’s magical, often inspired programming. The current exhibit is Corporal Identity - Body Language, developed in cooperation with the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Arts) in Frankfurt and the Klingspor-Museum in Offenbach.

It was a tribute to ModernWorks’ magnetism that they were able to focus despite some extraneous "sound material" on the premises: a dinging elevator, some subway rumblings and a few faint employee voices heard from upstairs. In the past, Shapiro has exploited this spontaneity beautifully in her presentations of works by John Cage, but some of the works on this program need a fairly noiseless environment to be shown at their best.

But that was the only small quibble in this salute to quietude, in which Shapiro and her excellent players unearthed a sheaf of recent German chamber music, most of it making its first appearance in the United States. Peter Ruzicka’s delicate Salut was brief, maybe two minutes, and made a fine start to the evening – its subtle gestures as gentle as a leaf drifting onto snow. The performance could not have seemed better, with the delicate interplay between the musicians creating gossamer textures.

In notes by Violeta Dinescu, she explained that Wu-Li is one of a projected series of duos for strings. This one seemed to be almost romantic, as the violin and cello intertwined like ivy leaves curling up an ancient façade. Jan Muller-Wieland’s Seven Bagatelles had Ms. Shapiro teamed up with the excellent Eric Phinney on marimba, for a collection of miniatures that almost begged to be played again.

Composer Jan Feddersen was present to introduce his fine String Trio, constructed primarily of ascending pitches separated by silences, with a flurry of rapid runs at the end. Aside from its own musical interest, it also made a fine partner with the Rihm that ended the night.

Wolfgang Rihm’s Eighth String Quartet (1988) adds sounds of paper – rustling, crumpled and torn – to the mix with invigorating results, and near the end, using the tips of their bows, the musicians inscribe the words "con amore" on the surface of their printed parts. Meanwhile the composer’s language is alternately hushed and acidly vigorous, with contrasts between frenetic, buzzing animation, and more serene moments. The four expert performers clearly had spent a lot of time imagining the piece, so that it became much more than the sum of its unusual and precisely felt effects.

Bruce Hodges

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