ACF and MakeMusic announce 2012 Finale Contest winner
Of all the combinations of instruments that make up standard classical ensembles, arguably it is the string quartet that is the most ubiquitous. Despite the apparent homogeny of its constituent instruments, the ensemble is capable of an incredible diversity of timbres and depth of expression. Perhaps for this reason the string quartet continues to be considered the best test of a composer’s mettle two hundred years after the death of Haydn.
In a concert this September, three emerging composers made their own remarkable contributions to the distinguished tradition of string quartet repertoire at the Finale National Composition Contest. Taylor Brook, Michelle Lou and Nathan Shields were finalists in the competition, chosen from a pool of more than two hundred and fifty entrants from around the country by the contest’s resident ensemble, the JACK quartet.
This, as one might imagine, was no easy task.
“We had many long conversations figuring how best to arrive at having three finalists,” said John Pickford Richards, the quartet’s violist, “and ultimately decided to individually choose ten finalists and then present them to each other and choose the final three together. That final meeting took about five hours. It was incredibly difficult to come to a consensus about the final three, but what it ultimately came down to was the conviction and imaginativeness of the work samples.”
Brook, Lou and Shields each composed a new work for string quartet specifically for JACK, a group acclaimed for their virtuosity, vitality and dedication to new-music. “I knew that I could propose almost anything and they would work with me on it,” said Michelle Lou. “I could write anything and they would be able to play it. That freedom is amazing for a composer.”
The night showcased the singular talents of the finalists, with each piece demonstrating its creators’ unique aesthetic: Brook’s Arrhythmia was a strikingly modern re-imagining of Mahler’s ninth symphony, lush and ethereal; Lou’s Porcupine was, as the title suggested, a prickly conglomeration of texture, timbre and sound objects; and Shields’ String Quartet No. 2 expertly drew the listener through a prolonged period of tension before releasing in a glorious climax. And despite both the brevity of the rehearsal period and the demanding nature of the works, JACK performed the program with sensitivity and effortless flair.
Ultimately, Michelle Lou was chosen by JACK as the winner of the competition, but the quartet was pleased to announce that the finalists’ works were of such high quality that they would program all three pieces in future concerts: three modern additions to more than two centuries of music history.
Photo (above, left to right): John Nuechterlein (President, ACF); Christopher Otto (Violin, JACK Quartet); Kevin McFarland (Cello, Jack Quartet); Taylor Brook (Composer); Michelle Lou (Composer); Nathan Shields (Composer); John Pickford Richards (Violist, JACK Quartet); Ari Streisfeld (Violin, JACK Quartet); Beth Sorensen (Vice President, Emerging Music Technology, MakeMusic). Photo by Tim Hansen.
Contributed by Timothy Hansen >>