It has been an exciting and productive year for Momenta! 2013 saw more concerts, more world premieres, and more Momenta than ever before! With the holidays coming up, we decided to share with you our own personal reflections on our favorite Momenta moments from 2013. Enjoy, and see you in the new year!
To me, the most enjoyable projects sometimes happen unexpectedly during transitional times of the “concert year”: late summer into early fall, post-holiday winter, or my favorite, late spring into early summer. Some times of the year just more easily give us the perspective to look backward as well as forward. Even if we’re all a bit tired, there’s a general sense of relief at having accomplished a great deal already; and since everyone’s looking at a change in scene or pace, there’s potential for a renewed spark of creativity. From a programming perspective, this is something that Momenta loves to do, as does the Chelsea Music Festival! Our repeat engagement with them this past June was a perfect opportunity for us to harness that excitement. The festival takes place yearly in various venues around NYC, particularly in the art-rich Chelsea neighborhood. This year’s theme celebrated England, Italy, and the creative resonances between them. In the course of this exploration we met many new friends in addition to reuniting with old ones. (As far as the latter goes, CMF co-artistic director Ken-David Masur and I go as far back as our college days with the Columbia Bach Society!) Momenta appeared alongside other CMF roster artists in concerts exploring creative integrations of the British-Italian chamber repertoire. Like Momenta, the Chelsea Festival actively contributes to new music with significant commissions and premieres. Quartet members collaborated for the first time with wonderful Boston-based oboist Amanda Hardy in the New York premiere of composer-in-residence Eric Nathan’s “Quartet for Oboe and Strings” (2012), presented on the festival’s sold-out opening night at the SVA Gallery and praised by Zachary Woolfe of the New York Times as “artful in its transitions of mood and given a strong performance.”
Speaking of old friends, Eric Nathan is one of our most dedicated composer-collaborators. (Useless ancient history factoid #2: Eric and I attended the Juilliard Pre-College together around, well, the turn of the century…) Eric is the most recent recipient of the Rome Prize, one of the highest honors to be bestowed on a living composer. We first met Eric as a quartet in 2010 through our residency with the Cornell composition department, where he was then a doctoral student. We immediately clicked with him and with the individuality, effectiveness, and sincerity of his compositional voice. The piece Eric wrote for us then, “Four to One,” has become a cornerstone of Momenta’s unique personal repertoire. What’s more, it was part of one of our most successful and highly publicized (and cleverly named?) programs of last season, our very first concert of 2013: “American Idyll,” alongside works by John Cage, Elliott Carter, Stefan Wolpe, and Christian Wolff. It earned us our first full New York Times review in which Steve Smith praised “Four to One” as “handsomely wrought” and proclaimed, “To judge from the mash of bodies at the Stone. . .word of the Momenta Quartet’s diligence, curiosity and excellence is definitely out.” On June 16, CMF presented Momenta in the world premiere of Eric Nathan’s second quartet work, “Multitude, Solitude” at the Dillon Gallery. This work (made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation) was inspired by a vivid memory of seagulls circling on Aldeburgh Beach in England, and it received an enthusiastic standing ovation. All in all, it was truly an honor for us to be involved with a festival that is emerging as a significant and cosmopolitan presence on the New York contemporary performing arts scene, and which shares so many goals common to our own mission. Here’s to friendship!
My 2013 retrospective is rather a blur (I’ve never had good memory, as my family can tell you). We learned countless new pieces as well as some old ones (and I learned that Beethoven gets harder with each subsequent performance). One of my favorite performances was early in the year, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t get all the details… “Tradition Reimagined”, our children’s program of Kampela and Haydn, was the first program I produced start to finish. We received a generous grant from The Manhattan Cultural Arts Fund grant provided by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and presented the program at the TimeIn Gallery at HiArt!, a children’s art gallery in Chelsea. Momenta has a longstanding relationship with HiArt! – in fact, our January HiArt! concert was featured in a New Yorker column by Alex Ross, highlighting our combination of music with original video art. (My dad, upon hearing that we were in the New Yorker: “It can’t be that New Yorker. She must have the wrong one…”) (Also, the photographer the NYer sent for our shoot was Adrien Brody’s mother, Sylvia Plachy – I spent the whole time tongue-tied due to my longstanding crush on AB.)
Anyway, back to the kids’ concert: we chose Kampela and Haydn to emphasize the innovative ways in which composers use the individual voices of the String Quartet. Both Haydn and Arthur Kampela developed new ways using the different instruments, Haydn through a new level of autonomy among the voices, and Kampela through the creation of new ways of sound production. I knew that the kids would enjoy the fantastic energy and bizarre musical world of Kampela, but their rapt attention during the Haydn was surprising and rewarding! (I may have done my worst British accent for most of the show…) The kids lingered long after, with many questions about how we made the Kampela sounds, and what they looked like in the music, and whether we could make sounds like “this” or like “this” (Stephanie is the master of new viola sounds); until their parents had to shoo them out the door. It happens too often in traditional concerts that performers and audience come in and out without interacting with each other. One of the great joys in performing is realizing the effect you’ve had on an audience, and I’d like to thank my quartet for providing me the opportunity to realize that with every performance. Cheers!
One of my favorite Momenta experiences of 2013 was our annual trip to Mount Gretna. We’ve performed on the Music at Gretna series for the past five summers and have managed to develop a pocket of Momenta fans in central PA. It’s always wonderful to be greeted by the warm audiences and the chorus of birds and insects that can be heard from the stage of Gretna’s open-air playhouse. This year, we preceded our concerts in Mount Gretna with our first trip to the Kimberton Village chamber music series, just an hour east of Gretna. This series takes place in the beautiful and historic Kimberton Inn and is run by Dr. Richard Fried, who in a strange coincidence happens to be the nephew of Momenta mega-fan Dina Paisner. We couldn’t believe it when we found out, as Dina has been attending Momenta concerts in NYC since it’s founding and is even credited with coming up with the quartet’s name! (It’s a funny story you’ll have to hear from Stephanie in person, say, at an upcoming concert!)
Our two concerts in Mount Gretna were centered around collaborations: first with two faculty members from Temple University, pianist Charles Abramovic and composer/guitarist Allen Krantz. Charlie and Momenta premiered Allen’s Piano Quartet two years earlier during a power outage as hurricane Irene was tearing up the east coast. Some die-hard Momenta fans attended and heard the piece in the dark, but it was great to give the piece a second chance at its premiere, this time with power! The program also feature a charming guitar quintet by Boccherini and Elgar’s Piano Quintet, surprisingly enough the first performance of the piece for both us and Charlie!
Continuing the theme of collaboration, our second concert featured Enescu’s Octet for Strings. Momenta joined forces with the fantastic Daedalus Quartet for this sprawling 40 minute work, the last movement of which Emilie aptly described as a “joyride.” I had been dying to play this piece ever since hearing it performed at Music from Angel Fire in 2005 (performed by an all-star group including my former teachers Ida Kavafian, Steve Tenenbom, and Peter Wiley!) and the performance was just as exciting as I had imagined. I suggested that we play the Enescu in Mount Gretna every summer but for some reason haven’t heard back yet…
One of the highlights of 2013 was Momenta’s residency in the Berkshires this past November. We had the privilege of returning to Williams College to perform and record faculty composer Ileana Perez Velazquez’ Alma de guije, written for Momenta in 2012. We programmed it alongside string quartets by Yusef Lateef and Adam Rudolph and the world premiere of our Koussevitzky commission by Bolivian composer Agustín Fernández. There was no specific theme behind this program, but as we were rehearsing, a clear through-line emerged. All four pieces touched on a non-Western musical vernacular – Yusef and Adam’s on world music and jazz, and Ileana and Agustín on rhythms from Cuba and Bolivia, respectively. It was an honor to have the 93 -year old Yusef Lateef in attendance and participating in the discussion at intermission.
For me, one of the joys of working at Williams College is staying at the home of Alice and Larry Spatz. Alice is a composer and double bassist, and she and Larry make up two-thirds of the folk music trio Wintergreen, soon to release a new album. I met them about three years ago at a reception after a performance with choreographer Yin Mei at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. We immediately hit it off, and I told them that my whole quartet was coming to the Berkshires to perform at Williams College in a few months, to which they replied that they lived right near there and offered to host some of us in their home. Amazing! So, this November was my second stay chez Spatz – a gorgeous country home with a wood-burning stove, 20-something year old cat, not to mention homemade bread, yogurt, dried apples, mint tea….and great company!
After our first visit, Alice introduced me by email to her friend Larry Wallach who teaches at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington. (From Jacob’s Pillow to Simon’s Rock….especially apt, since the original Jacob’s “pillow” refers to a Biblical stone.) Larry invited us to perform on his series at Simon’s Rock, and we were thrilled that he was up for a musical adventure: our first try at a program concept “Radical Romantics” juxtaposing the avant-garde music of Arthur Kampela with Johannes Brahms. The program works! It more than just works – the students gave us a standing ovation after each piece, and it was fascinating to hear what they had to say about it after the concert. Emilie and Michael had the privilege of staying at the home of Larry and his wife, the viola da gamba player Anne Le Gene – another idyllic Berkshires setting in which they also each got to try their hands at the gamba. (I wish I had been there to hear it!)
In the continued spirit of synchronicity, it turns out that Larry wrote his doctoral thesis at Columbia University on Charles Ives. Momenta is about to embark on an Ives project, exploring his second string quartet and its connections with Transcendentalism and the culture of New England – exactly Larry’s area of expertise! We will coach the piece with Gil Kalish at Yellow Barn this May, and will build a number of concerts and residencies around it next season. We are excited about collaborating with Larry on this, and hope he can lecture at some of our concerts. A further coincidence: we will be performing Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera this season with pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen, who also knows Larry and has a connection to Simon’s Rock. So, here’s a plan: after doing “Radical Romantics” there this season, we will embark on the unlikely combination of Charles Ives and Tan Dun in 2015/16!