Bruce Hodges hears the group perform at the Tenri Cultural Institute on 27 September 2019
Traditional ideas of string virtuosity often rely on super-fast scales or death-defying leaps from the lower strings to the upper ones. But sometimes ‘dazzling’ speaks with a whisper, such as this breathtaking evening called Meditations, with members of the renowned Talea Ensemble.
Christopher Gross demonstrated extraordinary concentration in Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Glass Vases (1992) by Alvin Lucier, with the cellist in darkness for 40 minutes. Illuminated solely by candles on the floor, four vases (each with a volume of perhaps four litres) sat, containing microphones, as Gross (without a score) inched glacially, microtonally up the fingerboard. Sustained bow strokes, sometimes lasting five seconds or more, caused the vases to vibrate, and their resonances were transmitted via loudspeakers. The result was an uncanny illusion of the intimate Tenri gallery enlarged to cosmic proportions.
On her own, violist Hannah Levinson began Catherine Lamb’s Prisma Interius VI (2017) with equally mesmerising focus, drawing long bow strokes, separated by generous silences. As Levinson gracefully articulated Lamb’s delicate, slow-moving paragraphs, medieval chant came to mind. At about the 20-minute mark, violist Carrie Frey and Gross stealthily joined in, for gripping ascent into the beyond. In both this and the Lucier, David Adamcyk managed the immaculately calibrated electronic components.