surprising Morty, delighting John


It's a six-hour-long string quartet in one movement, but Morton Feldman's second is both greater and less than the sum of its parts. Greater because it's ultimately much much more than a succession of minimalist pings and rrrr's, and less because hearing it live doesn't seem at all like being kept after school until nine o'clock at night. Even with my own abreviated experience with the work, I now completely understand Jan La Barbara's program note:

For the performers, to play a work like this is to live for a time inside the mind of the composer, to share, for an instant, that artistic sensibility. To listen to such a work is to come close to that experience, the sense of immersion in another’s mind.
As part of a series of concert events in New York this weekend called "When Morty Met John...", curated by La Barbara, which describes the extraordinary legacy of the work of Morton Feldman and John Cage and of their personal and musical friendship, the magnificent young Flux Quartet braved Morton Feldman's (yeah, "seminal") 1983 Second Quartet. The performance took place in beautiful new Zankel Hall, which has been blasted out of the bedrock below the much larger Carnegie Hall itself.

OK, Barry and I did actually leave before the piece had run its course, but that was for reasons totally unrelated to its merits. I think I can say that if anyone other than the performers themselves bore any kind of burden tonight it was the working Carnegie Hall staff, which had to hang around until past midnight, and which kept the bar open throughout the evening.

Zankel seems to be having some success in its announced intention of appealing to youth. The crowd this evening looked nothing like that you'd normally find around Lincoln Center, and in fact might have made even the youthful crowds which flock to Columbia University's Miller Theater these days look a little mature - or at least dowdily academic.

The members of Flux rivalled their rapt audience for cuteness, but there was no competition in the honors for heroism. No stops, no stretching, no snacks and above all no bathroom breaks for the four stalwart artists who generously shared their platform with shoeless and barefoot youths, cheeks of tan and pale (and a few of their elders), reclining around them on a couple of kilims and the bare boards themselves.

I haven't seen anything like it since Pandit Pran Nath performed in the sanctuary of the Cathedral of St. John's on acres of oriental carpet over a decade ago. This is my religion.

When everything comes to a halt, about a half hour from now, I would not be surprised if their enthusiastic audience seizes the players and carries them out of the auditorium on their shoulders in triumph. Laurels would be nice.

Morty would be very surprised, and John would be delighted.

Oh yes, there's a CD set, and even a DVD, of the Flux doing this piece. It's available through Mode Records.

More events on Sunday, October 26:

Feldman's "Triadic Memories" at Columbia's Miller Theatre 2:30
Cage's "Music for Carillon" [on Fifth Ave., and free!] at St. Thomas Church 5:15
An evening of Cage at Zankel Hall 7:30

[image from Preview/Musicview]

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Published on October 25, 2003 11:53 PM.

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