Jeremy Eichler, October 26, 2012
PACIFICA QUARTET MAKES CELEBRITY SERIES DEBUT
…..In the repertoire department, the Celebrity Series in recent years has not exactly been known for its interest in new music, so I was also happy to see on Wednesday’s program the premiere of “Return,” a new quartet by Keeril Makan, a local composer based at MIT whose music deserves to be heard more widely. Makan himself was on hand to introduce the piece from the stage, describing it as akin to a diary of the emotionally tumultuous period he experienced in his own private life while this work was being composed.
The music of “Return” is highly concentrated, unfolding as an interlocking sequence of brief ensemble episodes through which the same simple musical ideas are given wildly divergent treatment. There are delicately drawn harmonics and crushed, violent chords. Even in just one hearing, a distilled quality of thought emerges from this score, and an intensely honed sense of solitude. The musicians at one point are directed to play their parts “aware of being alone.” The Pacifica gave the new work a deeply committed and impressive first performance, one that showcased a wide yet precisely imagined range of tone colors. It was some of the finest playing of the night…. READ COMPLETE REVIEW
Boston Classsical Review by David Wright
October 25, 2012
….One might have expected the program to proceed directly to the new work, a one-movement piece lasting a quarter of an hour, with Beethoven’s massive quartet after the intermission, but the performers chose instead to take a break after the Mozart. Makan’s piece was thus paired with the Beethoven—appropriately, it turned out, since the two works share a mood of fierce concentration quite alien to Mozart’s amiable quintet.
Return is, in one sense, named for a musical term denoting the recurrence of a theme later in the piece, or (in tonal harmony) finding one’s way back to the home key. In this case, Makan told the audience before the performance, the title also relates to events in his life.
Listeners are usually cautioned not to hear music as autobiography—composers write happy pieces when they’re sad, and vice versa—but this time Makan embraced the idea. He composed Return last summer, he said, after returning to an arts festival near Perugia, Italy, that he’d attended six years previously.
“It’s about how to be in a place you’ve been before, at a different spot in your life,” Makan said. “Your expectations go this way, and what actually happens goes that way, so there’s a conflict.” He compared composing the piece to “keeping a journal,” and closed his remarks by promising the audience they’d hear “what I experienced this summer.”
Makan’s Perugian postcard—skillfully rendered by the Pacifica players in bold brushstrokes and primary colors—certainly did not translate as “Having a wonderful time.” Disjunct single notes and short gestures predominated, typically played in a harsh, bitten-off crescendo, and interspersed with tense pauses. The more relaxed interludes—a smooth chordal passage here, a bit of syncopated rhythm there, perhaps representing those summer-festival “expectations”—were few and brief.
The music did indeed return, almost obsessively at times, to a few germinal motives, and in the end it was that expert workmanship, and the integrity of Makan’s concept and the performance, that earned admiring applause for this prickly piece…. COMPLETE REVIEW