I went to a classical concert last night about which you probably haven’t yet heard–though I expect you will.
The Elements String Quartet, a comparatively new ensemble (it was founded in 1999), recently commissioned 16 composers to write short pieces for string quartet inspired by evocative photographs of the composers’ own choosing–wedding photos, pictures of their parents, candid snapshots, vacation scenes, whatever. The Elements Quartet has been previewing these pieces throughout 2003, and on Tuesday the group played all 16 at Manhattan’s Merkin Concert Hall.
Here are some striking things about “Snapshots,” the title given by the quartet to this project, which was underwritten by a foundation called Premiere Commission, Inc.:
What about the music? Well, I liked eight pieces, disliked four, and didn’t feel strongly either way about the other four–a staggeringly high batting average for a new-music program. I was particularly impressed by Justine Chen’s “Ancient Airs and Dances,” John Corigliano’s “Circa 1909,” Daron Hagen’s “Snapshot: Gwen and Earl’s Wedding Day, December 20th, 1951,” Paul Moravec’s “Vince and Jan: 1945,” and Chen Yi’s “Burning” (the only 9/11-inspired work), all of which I want to hear again as soon as possible. Also noteworthy was Sebastian Currier’s “REM,” the shortest work on the program, a brilliantly effective little scherzo that will make a terrific encore piece.
Aside from the music, what struck me most forcibly about “Snapshots” was the extent to which it departed from prevailing norms of classical concertizing without degenerating into silliness or pandering. Unlike the Kronos Quartet in its heyday, the members of the Elements Quartet don’t wear outr