Mobtown Modern presents brilliant JACK Quartet in all-Xenakis program
The first cool thing about Wednesday night's season-opening presentation by Mobtown Modern was the size of the audience, easily the largest crowd yet for this intrepid organization devoted to cutting-edge music.
Quite unscientifically, I'd put the number at a couple hundred or so.
Before you dismiss that as no big deal, just consider the program -- the complete string quartets of Iannis Xenakis.
Is there a major Xenakis following in Baltimore? Or is it more that there's a sizable fan base for the featured group, the much-acclaimed JACK Quartet?
Either way, I was surprised by the turnout, impressed by the enthusiastic response of the crowd to each performance.
The second cool thing was ...
the venue, one being used for the first time by Mobtown Modern.
The 2640 Space, more typically associated with rock or jazz events, started life as a church. Its architectural appeal is considerable, even if the walls and arches look a bit on the weathered side (OK, very weathered). And the acoustics proved quite lively for the un-amplified concert.
Ultimately, the coolest thing, of course, was the music. Xenakis wrote exceptionally complex works; mathematical calculations played a part in many of them. The quartets, spanning the years 1962 to 1994 (the composer died in 2001), are rich in muscular dissonance and vivid sonic effects.
Each quartet is held together by its own firm structural integrity (Xenakis studied architecture early on), and the JACK ensemble dug into the scores with a keen understanding of the distinctive shapes and contours.
No technical challenge seemed to give the musicians the slightest pause. Just hearing such fearless, tight playing was a valuable experience. But these guys aren't just about showing off skills of articulation; they make music. And they found in the Xenakis quartets remarkable avenues for expressive impact.
The driving blocks of thick chords in "Tetora," for example, emerged with tremendous energy.
The oldest of the works, "ST-4/1, 080262," received a particularly brilliant performance, where the eerie slithering up and down strings and siren-like wails took on deeply poetic qualities; where a long, descending cello line produced a mesmerizing effect; and where silences, too, communicated strongly.
A great start for Mobtown Modern's new season of adventure.
PHOTO (by Caroline Savage) COURTESY OF JACKQUARTET.COM