Wall of Sound

belcea quartet @ kilbourn hall, 22 october 2023.

Belcea Quartet.

Listening to the Belcea Quartet perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor, Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, and Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, the sonorities of the stringed instruments turned hushed, padded with sonic baffles, but they were most exciting when the musicians pulled at their instruments, as if trying to rip the strings themselves off the necks in order to develop a whole different world of sounds. Edifices emerged aurally, almost like walls made of something more solid than wood beams or steel girders: violins and cello as jackhammers producing a new, hearable architecture.

Indeed, one might say that the sound of the string quartet offered a built environment for the ear to navigate: positive and negative spaces, walls and windows, corridors and doorways, roofs and plazas, gardens and sidewalks, alleyways and main thoroughfares, shafts and spires. But where was this sonic architecture taking us?

The strings assemble things. Maybe they present a purgatory zone, a liminal city, an intermediate terrain between the living and the dead. Maybe music as a whole is ultimately this effort to create a bridge, a skyway, an underpass, a mine, a hollow by which we might, for a moment, speak to ghosts, and hear, on vibrating strings, a faint response.

The string quartet presents this architectural fabrication as if it were created around a town square, but the piazza is abandoned. It is an empty space we move through, in which we might reach out for the departed for a moment. They are shadowy impressions, here but out of view, around corners, behind us, discernible only as a dim presence. If we turn around to chase, it is only as Orpheus did. Then they are transported to other realms, on invisible paths, contactless, vanished into nothingness. We find them gone.

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