The Quatuor Bozzini has a motto that is also a challenge: “New music was composed in the last 10 years. If it was composed more than 10 years ago, it is old music.” It was definitely a challenge to listen to the music they played at the 2 pm concert this day. First off was Nameless Garden (2003) by Thomas Stiegler (1956-), a German, Freiburg-trained colleague of the Bozzini first violin Clemens Merkel. This is a kind of ‘pictures at an exhibition’ piece, the pictures being by German painter Otto Piltz (1864 — 1910), the music moving in short sections as if from room to room. One’s first impression is of rhythmic scratchings, squeakings, silent bowings and an oddly erotic whining rising to an orgasmic climax.
The next two pieces were by Japanese minimalist composer Jo Kondo (1947-) whose works have been performed by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon. We heard two of his mathematically constructed pieces. Hypsotony published in 1989 — and so ‘old music’ — consists of a melodic line that is chopped up and distributed throughout the piece. The sounds are like two-stroke koto charnel-ground music. The ensemble makes much use of glissandos, crescendos and decrescendos, producing a strong effect. The second Kondo piece, Oneiric Prosody, a string quartet commissioned by the Bozzini, had its world premiere here this day. The predominant harmonies sounded like organ tones and brought to mind a kelp garden alive with sea-otters swaying beneath the play of tidal currents, relaxing, like breathing.
Next came Trip (2008) by Christopher Butterfield (1952), once a student of Rudolf Komorous and now on the Faculty of his alma mater, BC’s University of Victoria. Despite an opening section that sounded a lot like the string quartet tuning up, a rhythm began to assert itself and a nice bit of melody at the tempo of a scherzo that devolved into some scratchy spooky parts before concluding with a long, lazy, lovely passage. It occurs at this point to notice how often miminalist music has the almost generic quality of being able to produced tones that defy monotony and move the mind in the direction of a steady state of relaxation and hold it there, again in defiance of monotony, by the strength of the hypnotic power of repetition.
This afternoon’s concert concluded with two string quartets by Matteo Fargion (1961), an Italian who has made an international name for himself collaborating as composer and performer in works for theatre and dance. The Bozzini performed his String Quartet No 3 (1996 )— ’old music’ —, and String Quartet No 4 (2003). Fargion’s music is melodic, polyphonic, energetic mixing sounds of minimalism and pre-baroque. The overall flavour is of perpetual motion blended with hoe-down fiddle-contest music. Very pleasant.
One must congratulate the Quatuor Bozzini on their total commitment to exploring the world of new music on our behalf. It may be many years before concerts like these become less of a puzzle and more of a treat. So be it, and more power to the Bozzini.