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Lydian String Quartet premiers pioneering work

Published: April 12, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.


The Lydian String Quartet paid homage to the late Mary Ruth Ray (MUS) at their concert held in Slosberg Auditorium last Saturday night. Ray passed away this winter from an on-going battle with cancer, but will forever leave behind a rich legacy as an influential faculty member, acclaimed violist and an original founding member of the Lydian String Quartet. To celebrate her life and accomplishments, the Lydian String Quartet honored Ray in the way they know best: with music.

Since its establishment in 1980, the Lydian String Quartet has gained critical recognition both nationally and overseas with awards such as the Naumburg Award for Chamber Music and Aaron Copland Fund for Music. The majority of the renowned musicians are also currently faculty members of the Brandeis Music Department, with Daniel Stepner (MUS) and Judith Eissenberg (MUS) on first and second violin, respectively, and Joshua Gordon (MUS) on cello. Mark Berger performed as guest violist. Together, the four musicians delighted the audience in the packed auditorium with their artistry, musical flare and masterful playing from beginning to end.

The Lydian String Quartet opened the concert with the world premier of Kurt Rhode’s “Treatises for an Unrecovered Past.” Rhode was the grand prizewinner of the first Lydian String Quartet Commission Prize. The contest saw more than 400 applicants who submitted their original compositions, which was narrowed down to 30 pieces and ultimately to a single winner—Rhode. The quartet beautifully premiered the result of the Composition Commission Award in producing Rhode’s “Treatises for an Uncovered Past.” The piece is divided into seven movements, each with its own unique character and ideas. One movement titled “Striding Rituals: Striding for Mass Wooing” uses sharp, articulated bowing to characterize a hazy effect in the sound. In another, titled “NODE: Tuning Knot,” Rhode used the “long tuning ritual tradition for string player” as a clever venturing point to build harmonies, sometimes even dissonant, on the way string players tune to each other.

In his pre-lecture talk to the audience, Rhode described his process of writing music. He said his inspiration often comes from “musical concedes that are musically exciting to me, I may bring some or all of it to a musical piece.” Musical concedes such as cacophony, quartertones, open strings and overtone series were all interlaced throughout “Treatises for an Uncovered Past.” It becomes clear from this that Rhode’s bold use of various musical motifs and techniques truly attests to the composer’s ability to make the music hauntingly eerie and exhilarating.

The final movement of the piece is dedicated to Ray herself, titled “NODE: Ex nihilo … In nihil [-for Mary Ruth-].” The last movement was intensely meditative and reflective, as if the storm and energy of the previous movements were finally coming into resolution. All four musicians brought a high degree of expression to the piece with their delicate phrasing of each melodic line to help the piece take on a life of its own. Rhode’s incorporation of the harmonica and small gong added even more color and tonal depth to “Treatises for an Uncovered Past” that left listeners on their feet for a standing ovation at its close.

After an intermission, the quartet tapped into traditional classical repertoire by playing Beethoven’s “Quartet in B Flat Major, Op. 130.” It was a refreshing contrast to the more modern style of Rhode’s piece. The quartet, without a doubt, showed the audience its wonderful ability to not only play music, but also transform it into a deeper expression. That night, the expression was one of celebration for both Ray’s memories as well as the powerful experience of sharing a new work of music with the world.