Minimalist Masters with the SPCO

I saw the February 7th concert, which was played again on the 9th. This was the first Engine 408 series concert I have seen this year. The Engine 408 series is about newer music and is played in the SPCO Center (or Huss Music Room) in the Hamm Building.

If you read my review of the Cinema music with the Minnesota Orchestra, you would learn that I like minimalist music. This concert had three pieces, and I liked Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 2 the best. The John Adams’ Road Movies was alright, it kept the pianist, Susan Grace, working hard. For both of these pieces before the intermission, Scott Yoo was playing violin, 2nd violin in the quartet, and the only other instrument beside the piano in the Adams piece. It was nice to see Scott Yoo’s very able skills as a violinist, to supplement my high opinion of his more frequent conducting role with the SPCO.

After intermission we heard a long three movement piece by Steve Reich, Different Trains, for string quartet and pre-recorded sound. This piece focused on trains, first on train travel within the US cross country, then switching to Europe during World War II and their use in transporting Jews to concentration camps, and then returning back to trains in the US after the War. The recorded sound included voice, train whistles, and string quartet.

The live and amplified performers, Dale Barltrop and Nina Tso-Ning Fan on violin, Evelina Chao on viola, and Joshua Koestenbaum on cello, had a very challenging task and they delivered it. There were no true movement breaks for this very long piece. With the accompanying pre-recorded sound, they had to have their timing perfect. During the third movement this was very clear from watching Joshua Koestenbaum mouth his count (with head bobs) as he nailed the timing to accompany the train whistle.

I chatted with Dale Barltrop after the concert and then again at Kincaid’s on Saturday after their second performance. I said that looked really hard, and he agreed, he said one of the hard parts was working with the recorded sound and how the recorded string quartet would sometimes be too soft to hear. He also said that the break in performing and practicing until Saturday night might make the performance not as strong as Thursday, and on Saturday night he thought it was a bit weaker. On Saturday I had mentioned watching Joshua on the count, and Dale said they never looked at each other, they would have lost their spot in the music.

Overall I liked the Glass string quartet the best, and have ordered it on CD performed by the Kronos Quartet at Amazon. I found the Adams and Reich piece to be interesting, but not anything I would need to see again. Both of those pieces seemed very demanding of the performers and the performers seemed to deliver. You can read another review of this concert in the Strib.

-Josh

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