Monday, 02 January 2017 10:00

Connections Across Centuries: Spektral Quartet Preview New Concert Series at the GRAM

Written by  Samara Napolitan
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Spektral Quartet Spektral Quartet COURTESY PHOTO

When the members of the Spektral Quartet say they have a broad appetite for different styles of music, they mean it. 

Take the ensemble’s most recent record, Serious Business, which has been nominated for the 2017 Grammy Awards’ Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category. It pairs what is arguably the corniest joke in the classical repertoire, Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 33 No. 2, with absurdist contemporary pieces that mimic the speech patterns of stand-up comedians and require singing while playing.

This approach is all in tune with Spektral’s mission to find playful connections between traditional and brand new works in order to create a highly-interactive, accessible and inquisitive concert experience. 

“The people who show up to our shows come from all walks of life and different experiences with classical music,” said Doyle Armbrust, violist of the ensemble. “It’s our job to make sure everyone feels welcome.” 

Spektral is bringing its unique concert framework to West Michigan audiences at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Jan. 22 as part of the Sunday Classical Concert series. The concert acts as a preview of a series called Finger on the Pulse, to be performed later at Fermilab, a particle collider in Chicago, and the University of Chicago where Spektral is the ensemble-in-residence. 

“The dynamic foursome always delivers an exceptional performance for our concertgoers, and we can’t wait to showcase this premier talent center-stage at the Museum,” said Elizabeth Payne, senior communications coordinator at the GRAM. 

The show, free with museum admission, is the group’s third pilgrimage to the GRAM from a Chicago home base. An established rapport with the GRAM concertgoers is expected to produce a high-energy and entertaining affair where any kind of response to the music is the right one, according to Armbrust.

“It’s all a part of enjoying live performance,” he said. “Part of the reason we do this is that anything can happen.” 

Finger on the Pulse’s concept is built on pizzicato — the technique of plucking a string instrument. 

Three pieces in the concert lineup use pizzicato in bold and distinct ways. The first is Ravel’s String Quartet in F major, the second movement of which is heard during the Cast of Characters sequence in The Royal Tenenbaums. Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 10, Op. 74 follows, in which the first movement’s abundance of pizzicato actually gives the piece its nickname of the “Harp.”

“Even though we play a lot of new music, playing Beethoven quartets is something that we always look forward to,” Armbrust said. “One of the reasons we play in a quartet at all is the opportunity to play pieces like this.”

The program closer, String Quartet No. 1 “Another Place, was written by Japanese-born composer Dai Fujikura. Spektral first performed the piece at Bowling Green State University’s 2016 New Music Festival. It begins with a virtuosic use of pizzicato among solo instruments and evolves into vivid counterpoint, a musical technique that interweaves multiple lines of notes simultaneously.

This show will also be one of Spektral’s first formal appearances with the quartet’s new violinist, Maeve Feinberg, which makes for a unique listening opportunity. Hailing from New York City, Feinberg has performed in a number of chamber music ensembles. She will take the place of Austin Wulliman, a founding member of Spektral now pursuing a career in contemporary music with the JACK Quartet. 

“When our violinist Clara Lyon came on board, the quartet changed in a really dynamic and positive way,” Armbrust said. “That’s what we’re anticipating with this transition and we’re excited to see how the group grows.” 


Spektral Quartet’s Finger on the Pulse
Grand Rapids Art Museum
101 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids
Jan. 22, 2 p.m., Free with museum admission, (616) 831-1000

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