Music For String Quartet at Summergarden

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I don’t know if you can get a sense of this from the iPhone panorama shot above, but last Sunday’s Summergarden concert in the outdoor sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art was attended by a crowd much larger than that associated with a typical new music concert – I was told that probably about 900 people were in attendance.

Barnett Newman

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and Alexander Calder

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were also there.

The crowd was there to hear the Cavatina String Quartet (Randall Goosby and Mariella Haubs, violins; Jameel Martin, viola; and guest artist Jia Kim, cello) perform works by Akira Mishimura, Justyna Kowalska-Lason, and my own String Quartet Nr. 3. I was delighted by the performance of my piece, full of character and passion. Much of the work comes from a dark expressive region – not the easiest thing to pull off on a hot summer night. But the players projected both the shadowed and the more playful moods of the piece brilliantly.

Summergarden is not your typical venue for a string quartet concert – outdoors, with amplification, in the middle of Manhattan with its birds, thrumming traffic and air conditioners, and hundreds of people playing Pokémon Go right outside the museum. But the crowd was remarkably quiet and attentive, the wind and heat didn’t keep the quartet from playing superbly, and it just felt right for new music to be at MOMA – for a moment, music and the visual arts were on at least somewhat equal terms as cultural players. The physical environment of the space was also unique. The stage was set up in front of a glass wall that reflected the surrounding architecture, including a famous Philip Johnson building with its broken pediment in this shot:

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The flower at the left is a sculpture by Isa Genzken:

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Here I am with the quartet after the show, standing in front of a Sol LeWitt (L to R: Jia Kim, Randall Goosby, Mariella Haub, the composer, Jameel Martin.)

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Thanks to Melanie Monios of MOMA for taking the picture, for her great work on producing the concert, and for her kind hospitality. And thanks to Joel Sachs, curator of these concerts, for letting me be a part of a wonderful event.

Ab Ex at MOMA

When I was in New York for the SongFusion debut concert recently, I spent the afternoon at the MOMA, looking at the Ab Ex show, Ab Ex as in Abstract Expressionist. It is a wonderful show, with some very famous paintings (“Vir Heroicus Sublimis” of Barnett Newman, and De Kooning’s “Woman” are just two examples) plus a number of pieces that were new to me. In the latter category, I liked the rich, vivid color and dynamic forms of a Grace Hartigan piece, and was impressed by the photographs in the show, not a medium usually associated with abstract expressionism. Two things struck me forcibly: one was how the paintings, which I used to think of as “my” contemporary art (even though much of it was painted before I was born, and partly because of my disinterest in the pop and minimalist work that came just afterward), now looks, well, not dated, but historical. It looks strong and fresh as any good art, but it looks like something from an earlier period. I guess I am from an earlier period, as well. The other thing that startled me was how many visitors to the show experienced it through the viewfinders of their pocket cameras. Perhaps this is a recent trend reflecting the contemporary tendency to whip out one’s camera at the least provocation, perhaps it was just noticeable because the show permitted photography and most museum shows do not. Between the cameras and the people holding audio guide handsets (looking like huge ancient cell phones), a large percentage of attendees experienced a show of paintings mediated by technology. What is the comparison with concerts? Being on the lawn listening to amplified sound at Tanglewood?

I liked the quote from Joan Mitchell on a wall placard near her painting, a comment on the need for structure in her work: “I don’t just close my eyes and hope for the best.”

Check out the slide show about the exhibit at Slate.