by Robert Leeper
Ancient and innovative can easily coexist. In music especially, composers and performers throughout history have looked back for guidence and inspiration as they move forward. Steve Reich has openly written about the debt his music owes to the 13th-century French composer Pérotin, and one of Felix Mendelssohn’s greatest achievements was his rediscovery of J.S Bach’s music with his mounting of the St. Matthew Passion.
On Sunday night, the JACK Quartet and guest cellist Joshua Roman continued this tradition of finding inspiration in history and programmed their findings alongside the rule-breakers of today, presenting three madrigals by the intensely expressive renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo (arranged for sting quintet by JACK violinist Ari Streisfeld), as well as works by Joshua Roman, Brian Ferneyhough, and a new piece—premiered by the quintet just three weeks ago in Seattle—by Jefferson Friedman.
Gesualdo, perhaps as well known for the murder of his wife and her lover in 1590 as for his music, continues to bewitch, mystify, and captivate modern audiences. Streisfeld’s arrangements captured the chromatic wandering of the sophisticated vocal polyphony while adding a new twist by including effects available to the modern string player. The group truly excelled during slower portions of the madrigals, with each strange and beautiful part clearly heard as the group breathed exciting new life into these short pieces.