Music for Writers: JACK Quartet + Four áltaVoz Composers

Image - iStockphoto: xyno
Image – iStockphoto: xyno

‘The Ride Of Our Repertoire’

“What was that term you used? ‘Screechy?’”

John Pickford Richards is laughing at me as he takes a question about how reachy — “not at all screechy, John,” I assure him — some of the music on the JACK Quartet’s new album may be for these artists.

As personable a conversationalist as you’ll find anywhere in the business, Richards is the J in the JACK, the guy the New York Times has described as the ensemble’s “wholesome-faced” violist, a former founding member of Alarm Will Sound.

He and his three colleagues — violinists Ari Streisfeld andChristopher Otto, and cellist Kevin McFarland — are known for being unknown, in a way: they take a certain delight in their ability to create influential recordings and highly significant performances — 70 or so a year — in a wide variety of styles, periods, tone, and range of material.

John Pickford Richards

“We don’t latch on to any one style,” Richards says. “We draw from all sorts of pools of music, which is something I really enjoy about the quartet.”

Like authors who can jump, writerly chameleons, from one genre to another, the JACK can keep even the most devoted of its fans guessing with what Richards calls “the ride of our repertoire.”

An energetic illustration of this is on display in their new album, JACK Quartet Plays áltaVoz Composers.

You can hear the album free from New Focus Recordings in this week’s Album of the Week offering from Q2 Music, the 24-hour free stream of contemporary composition, an international service of New York Public Radio’s WQXR.

The áltaVoz Composers‘ consortium is made up of contemporary Latin American composers who were schooled in the States. By bringing together the work of four of them on this CD, the JACK creates a kind of chamber-tight demonstration of the rich divergence of voice and vocabulary their work manifests.

By the end of the album, for example, they’re wringing a pensive, deeply reflective sadness out of Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann’s 3rd String Quartet,musica fúnebre y nocturna. 

Schoenberg, himself, would have been proud to evoke a night so transfigured by the gentle but trenchant motif that resolves the strings’ lovely distress in the third movement, Passacaglia spezzata. It means a “broken” passacaglia. And it sounds heartbroken. This music sobs itself into a wistful silence too soon, you want much more of it.

As violist Doyle Ambrust writes at Q2 Music, the Grossmann “finds its voice in the midpoint of the last century,” giving it what Ambrust identifies as an “historical” sound.

That’s not unwelcome, either, quite the contrary. While even the most staid traditionalist might find good comfort in the darkening sighs of the Grossmann, the gorgeously named Every new volition a mercurial swerve from Maricio Pauly actually means more business with that title more than you might think.

Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

Writing on the Ether: Music for Writers: The JACK Quartet’s ‘Ride’

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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