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45th Parallel Universe chamber music new music string quartet

quartet x 2 x 3

Pyxis Quartet

Tonight the Pyxis Quartet will be doing a streamed concert which is unique in that it will be cloning itself to play pieces for two and three string quartets. The amuse bouche of this half-hour concert will be the gorgeous Andante movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s miraculous feat of youthful fecundity, his Octet, Op. 20. The main course of the concert is Steve Reich’s masterpiece Triple Quartet of 1999. You can find the stream links at the 45th Parallel Universe website.

This project has occupied the past couple weeks of my musical life, such as it is, and it’s led me to reflect on my state of mind and also the state of the music industry in general. The health of both: in short, not good. For this week’s stream concert, it’s been good to laugh with my friends as we figure out how to put this program together from our homes, in close consultation with our tech wizard Danny Rosenburg. And this music is incredible. I couldn’t be more blessed with the music and colleagues I have for this project. But it’s hard not being in the same room with everyone, and it’s made the process of putting together – especially the Reich with its need for absolute precision – the program much harder than I would have been otherwise.

The last time we did the Reich, it was as the Third Angle String Quartet, and we played live along with a recording of the Kronos Quartet playing the 2nd and 3rd quartets. This time, we recorded ourselves playing the other quartets, and then will play along with ourselves. That process has been revelatory, learning the other parts that underpin everything, and it has whetted my appetite to return to this piece again as soon as we can start doing live concerts with live audiences in the same room again.

But it’s not true chamber music in the purest sense if you’re not in the room as those people you’re playing with and for. It’s an approximation, but it falls short. Sometimes a little, sometimes by a country mile. And that is difficult. So much of musicians’ lives are happening in various levels of isolation. It’s taking its toll, not just on me, but all of my colleagues.

The state of the industry is even more precarious. In just the past week, the New York Philharmonic announced the cancellation of its entire 2020-2021 season, the Chicago Symphony canceled all concerts through March 2021, the Boston Symphony followed suit this morning, and the list is likely to grow as the weeks go by. Orchestras continue to negotiate drastic cuts in compensation as their inability to present concerts and generate revenue – difficult for some organizations in the best of times – are crippled. At the Oregon Symphony, the musicians remain on furlough, earning no salary but retaining health insurance benefits (for now). Unemployment benefits are available to us, but our calculations of how much longer our claims can stay in effect are uncertain.

In short, it sucks. We know that our supporters are suffering, too, and that also breaks our hearts. We miss you, seeing your familiar faces in the audience, and hearing from you backstage after the performances. Hang in there, and we’ll do the same.

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

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