The 90th season of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society opened Tuesday night with a young string quartet, a young composer and a couple of works by older composers that were receiving their first performance in the BCMS concert series. To top it off, if you weren’t in the audience at Kleinhans Music Hall to witness the concert in person, WNED-FM was broadcasting it “live” on the radio.
Amy Schroeder, first violinist of the Attacca Quartet, has roots in Western New York, as does Chris Rogerson, whose String Quartet No. 2 was commissioned by the BCMS and received its world premiere by the Attacca Quartet. By meshing those facts and those folks into one concert, the evening became draped with all the emotional trappings of a homecoming, as Schroeder and Rogerson paid tribute to their mentors and the early musical experiences in the area that helped shape them into the artists they’ve become. It was a love fest, and the music heard was worthy of it all.
First on the program was Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D major (op. 71, no. 2), which received a beautifully judged performance, especially in the second movement adagio and the infectious minuet that followed. There was a brief break between Papa Haydn’s opus and the four selections from John Adams’ “John’s Book of Alleged Dances,” where Schroeder paid homage to Buffalo and humorously described the quartet’s first meeting with Adams and how they came to record the score they would be playing.
Adams, who is often lumped in with minimalist forefathers Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, created 10 “dances” (for which there were no steps) for string quartet that were to be accompanied by a recorder percussion track made of prepared piano sounds. The Attacca played the four that were written sans recording – “Toot Nipple,” Pavane: She’s So Fine,” “Stubble Crotchet” and “Alligator Escalator.” These were rendered as short, intense flurries of sound and led into the Finale from Adam’s lone string quartet.
In many ways, Rogerson’s work was the centerpiece of the night. After the composer came onto the stage and said a few words, the piece began the second half of the concert. There were a lot of ideas packed into the score. On one hand you could talk about its density, how tightly woven (or closely knit, your choice) the first movement was and dwell on the piquant rhythms, acerbic textures, and oddly danceable momentum driven by those factors, but the bottom line goes directly to how consistently interesting it was. For fans of late 20th century music it was not a difficult piece to listen to; in fact, there was much that was beguiling. It would be interesting to hear it a second time.
Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E flat major closed out the concert, driving the listener’s ears back to the pre-20th century environs with a taut and emotional piece that rarely gets a hearing in today’s concert hall.
Standing ovations followed the first half, the Rogerson quartet and the ending of Mendelssohn’s piece – as much for the music as for the performance. The Attacca members came back onstage with a brief encore, the second of Benjamin Britten’s Divertimenti for String Quartet.