Review: The Momenta Quartet Salutes Contemporary Composition in Amber Waves
New York Times
By James R. Oestreich
The Momenta Quartet, to judge not only from its performance style but also from its choice of repertory and the nature of the works written for it, seems to prize individuality at least as much as homogeneous blend. Its very name, using the plural of momentum, is meant, the group says in a program, to signify “four individuals in motion toward a common goal.”
So the structure of its first Momenta Festival (envisioned as an annual affair), which opened on Wednesday evening at the Tenri Cultural Institute, came as no surprise. Each of the four evenings is curated by a different member.
The first, “Americana,” was assembled by the second violinist, Adda Kridler, who joined the group in 2012. (The quartet was formed in 2004, with Stephanie Griffin as the founding violist; Emilie-Anne Gendron, the first violinist, and Michael Haas, the cellist, joined in 2009.)
Nicely balanced, the program included two works for solo violin, Morton Feldman’s terse “For Aaron Copland” (1981) and Christian Wolff’s garrulous variations set “Bread and Roses” (1976), deftly played by Ms. Kridler; two modern standards, Charles Ives’s String Quartet No. 2 (1913) and Philip Glass’s “Music in Similar Motion” (1969); and two recent works, Dan Visconti’s “Worn Surfaces” (2014) and D. J. Sparr’s “Avaloch,” written for Momenta.
In the episodically eventful “Avaloch,” named for a musicians’ retreat in New Hampshire, the players periodically activated smartphones and placed them in mixing bowls to buzz, ping or drone away.
“Worn Surfaces,” inspired by Roman frescoes and the like, bespeaks antiquity, one instrument after another scratchily rising from inaudibility. The work gradually makes its way to a powerful screeching climax, then quickly fades back into nothingness.
In Momenta’s version of “Music in Similar Motion,” for five strings, Gregory Fulkerson, a veteran of the contemporary-music scene and Ms. Kridler’s formative teacher, played first violin (actually the last to enter, in what almost seems an afterthought). The performance was taut and compelling, as was that of Ives’s brash and quirky quartet.
The festival coincides with the release of Momenta’s first CD, “Similar Motion” from Albany Records, which also includes the Glass piece (with a slightly less assertive Cyrus Beroukhim as first violinist), along with works by Debussy and Arthur Kampela. On the disc, as in the concert, the mesmerizing Glass piece, typically performed on instruments of different families, may be where the players’ vaunted individuality counted the most.