Quartet No. 2 in Chicago

I just found out about this performance: Access Contemporary Music has included my String Quartet No. 2 on a program at the Davis Theater in Chicago on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 7:30 pm. More information here.

The quartet was written for the Cavani Quartet (based at the Cleveland Institute of Music) on a commission from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Here’s a program note on the piece:

String Quartet No. 2 (After Zurbarán)

 The concerts and exhibits of the Cleveland Museum of Art were an important formative influence for me during my student days.  So when the invitation came to create a new work celebrating this institution on its seventy-fifth anniversary, I was not only happy to accept, but knew immediately that I wanted to write a piece that would somehow relate specifically to the museum.  I decided to make the work a reflection on a painting in the museum’s collection: Zurbarán’s The Holy House of Nazareth.  My quartet is not program music in a narrative sense, but rather a kind of meditation that takes its tone from this painting’s remarkable integration of intense affect, mysterious repose and secret geometry.

Besides Zurbarán’s painting, the piece is occupied with a purely musical object of contemplation: the hymn tune “Picardy”, best known with the text Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.  This tune permeates the harmonic and melodic life of the quartet, sometimes appearing in a very simple, straightforward fashion, but often hidden amidst more complex structures.  I was attracted to the melody for its musical qualities, but later realized that the hymn’s text also resonates with the mood of the painting; the words speak of a reverent awe, of “cherubim with sleepless eye”, and of the mystery of the Incarnate Word who must suffer: “King of kings, yet born of Mary…”

And here is the Zurbarán painting:

The Cavani made a splendid recording of the piece for a New World Records cd.