Daily Bow: The Spektral Quartet Goes to War

Daily Bow LogoLovers of contemporary music and social awareness, fasten your seatbelts.

Chicago’s rising Spektral Quartet has announced its next project, one that ambitiously tackles a seminal work for string quartet and a larger, looming social issue with the sensitive issue of post-war alienation at its heart. The quartet, while relative newcomers to the scene after their 2010 debut, has displayed a strong commitment to contemporary programming as a means of highlighting selected social issues, presenting concerts in non-conventional settings and formats. The quartet itself–composed of violinists Austin Wulliman and Aurelien Fort Penderzoli, violist Doyle Armbrust, and cellist Russell Rolen–follows the rarely-adopted mold of the Emerson String Quartet, switching the role of first violinist between the two violinists, with Wulliman specializing in contemporary music and Penderzoli taking over more standard repertoire.

A highlight from their debut season entitled “Epistolary” illustrates the Spektral aesthetic and modus operandi: the concert involved not only the music performed but an exploration of live program notes as delivered in the form of an embedded multimedia component featuring recorded snippets of interviews with legendary violinist Arnold Steinhardt and members of the Pro Arte Quartet as well as performances of letters of Beethoven and Bartok by Chicago-area actors. Add the non-standard, beer-friendly venue into the mix, and the Spektral concept comes into clearer focus.

The quartet’s current project, entitled “Theatre of War,” is perhaps even more ambitious. Conceived as a response to the growing incidence of alienation in soldiers returning home from war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the project

creates an artistic space in which the two converge. With an increasing number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the disconnect between those living amidst violence and those back home is brought into even greater contrast. Through the perspectives of multiple artistic disciplines, the project seeks to engage at a human level a subject so often discussed in broad, political terms.

The program, which begins two days after the NATO summit concludes in Chicago, is centered around George Crumb’s Black Angels, his Vietnam-era masterpiece of electric instruments, bowed glass goblets, and amplified and extended techniques. True to Spektral form, the performances will also feature a multimedia component, this time in the form of filmmaker/photographer Richard Mosse’s works Gaza Pastoral, KillCam and Theatre of War. Additionally, the sense of social disconnection upon returning home from war is the subject of Virginia Konchan’s short story Blackbird, the stage adaptation of which will be featured in the performance. The quartet will be joined by eighth blackbird pianist Lisa Kaplan for a solo performance of Drew Baker’s Stress Position, which highlights the uncomfortable, controversial, and heated topic of “enhanced interrogation.”

“Theatre of War,” with its goal of personalizing the increasingly impersonal arena of warfare and its aftermath, is slated to play on May 23rd and 24th at Chicago’s Chopin Theatre, and proceeds from the project’s ticket sales will benefit the local veterans organization The Vet Art Project.

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