October 30, 2012
COLIN JACOBSEN Three Miniatures for String Quartet “Manjun’s Moonshine”, “The Flowers of Esfahan”, “A Walking Fire”
BÉLA BARTÓK String Quartet No. 2, Sz. 67 “Moderato”, “Allegro molto cappricioso”, “Lento”
COLIN JACOBSEN “Atashgah”
PERSIAN TRADITIONAL “Kamancheh Solo”
KAYHAN KALHOR “Silent City” Arr. Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin
Three Miniatures for String Quartet
To be announced from the stage
String Quartet No. 2, Sz. 67 (1915-1917)
While many consider Stravinsky to be the towering musical genius of the 20th century, Béla Bartók, whose music was largely neglected in his own lifetime (a far cry from Stravinsky’s international notoriety), occupies an equal place in history. Certainly the six string quartets of Bartók have become some of the most deeply cherished works to come out of the last century.
Much has been said about Bartók and the case he made towards creating music with a nationalistic imprint. Bartók was undoubtedly one of the great musical explorers and delved heavily into the study of folk music of his homeland Hungary and its surrounding areas, Turkey, and North Africa. He is frequently referred to as the father of ethnomusicology. But it is important to point out that Bartók’s compositional art was not achieved through a literal transplantation of the folk music that he assiduously collected; Bartók’s particular genius comes in his gift of musical sublimation and assimilation. Retaining the flavor and feel of his environment, Bartók was to establish a deeply influential role model for composers to reflect their surroundings and to be a wholly authentic creator at once. Speaking of his experiences with his friend and fellow composer Zoltán Kodály, Bartók stated:
“In our case it was not a question of merely taking unique melodies and then incorporating them into our works. What we had to do was divine the spirit of this unknown music, and to make this spirit the basis of our works. According to the way I feel, a genuine peasant melody of our land is a musical example of a perfected art. I could consider it as much a masterpiece, for instance, as a Bach fugue or a Mozart sonata.”
The second string quartet of Bartók was written between 1915 and 1917, a period which saw the large-scale wartime upheaval of Europe. Kodály was to characterize the three movements of the second quartet as follows: 1. a Quiet Life – 2. Joy – 3. Sorrow. I might humbly suggest that the second movement captures a frenetic and feverish energy, with percussive ostinatos that suggest something more unsettled than the feeling of joy per se. The flavor of the movement is likely influenced by Arabic folk music Bartók heard while on a trip to Nigeria in 1913. The last movement’s falling note pattern evokes a traditional Hungarian lament.
– Nicholas Cords
Sometimes a person and place can affect you in ways that you wouldn’t have imagined at the time… When Nick Cords and I visited Kayhan Kalhor in Iran in the summer of 2004 on a cultural exchange grant made possible by the Silk Road Project, one of the things we saw was an ancient fire temple, or Atashgah, a little outside of the city of Esfahan. Originally built as a holy site for the Zoroastrian religion in the Sassanid period of Iran’s history (3rd-6th centuries AD), its flames have probably not been lit in centuries, but it still feels like a place of great power; a place where you become aware of layers of history. For me, the experience of listening to Kayhan play music is often like watching a fire in a fireplace; it is mesmerizing, hypnotic, and yet constantly changing. His music comes from a deep inner creative fire. When I returned from Iran that summer, I felt the need to do something with what I had heard and experienced. I’ve been attempting to write and arrange music ever since, hoping I caught at least a spark of that creative fire.
– Colin Jacobsen
When we performed Silent City a few years ago in Berkeley, California, we were deeply moved when a small group of audience members from New Orleans found us afterwards and, nearly in tears, told us that the piece had acted as a balm for their harrowing experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina. Though the piece was sparked by the destruction of Hallabjah in Kurdistan Iraq, it was always intended to serve as a universal testament to fallen cities and civilizations. But even more central to Silent City is the idea that life always returns, sprouting anew out of the empty landscape. Commissioned through the Silk Road Project in conjunction with a Harvard University course entitled “First Nights,” the piece allowed us to develop Kayhan’s ideas amongst ourselves and through the collective ear and life experience of the class itself. The variety of observations and personal anecdotes in response to our musical ideas was truly inspiring and allowed two things to happen: It gave us a greater awareness of the emotional content encoded in the music and it inspired our sense of the piece as an open dialogue between performers and audience members. The musical narrative itself unfolds in reverse-time. The opening scene is a whispered and sparse musical atmosphere, evoking a world in which a disaster has occurred, either through humanity’s own hands or by the destructive forces of nature. The echoes of distant voices return, slowly building in intensity toward an urgent climax and point of release. This substantial first portion of the piece is completely improvised, allowing us to collectively work within the mode to create a visceral sense of that barren world. We employ a variety of techniques including independent loops, call and response, echoes, and the intoning of open harmonies to reflect the slowly changing emotional landscape. A lamenting chant sings out afterwards on the kamancheh, employing a traditional melody from Turkey. This leads into a Kurdish melody that repeats itself above a densely shifting harmonic world, ultimately yielding to a joyful dance in 7/8 meter that vividly depicts life flowing back again.
– Nicholas Cords