The Ardittis have done it again. Miracle workers in the cause of contemporary music, master musicians unafraid,
the London-based Arditti Quartet came to town once again on Tuesday night,
drawing a large (but not capacity) crowd to USC’s Bovard Auditorium, taking on
a fearsome program and…
Well, let’s pause there. Even the Ardittis’ splendid performance fell short of
transforming the Fourth Quartet of Elliott Carter into a silk purse, because it
simply cannot be done. Faced with all that desiccated note-spinning, the dense
clusters of notes pushed around on page after page with no apparent reason or
destination, the Ardittis at least succeeded in turning the whole dreary
exercise into a stupendous study in pure momentum. That much, on its own, was
The Carter Quartet, and the Fifth Quartet of Bela Bartok, were the evening’s
“classics.” One of the Ardittis’ noble deeds, however, is to perform music by
local composers at many of their tour stops; they can apparently produce
handsome performances virtually at sight.
And so Tuesday’s program was pieced out with local works: Donald Crockett’s
1987 “Array” (which the Kronos Quartet also has played) and Stephen Cohn’s
“Eye of Chaos,” the latter in its world premiere. Both composers were born in
1951; Crockett is on the USC faculty, and Cohn is the vice-president of ICA
(the Independent Composers Association) which sponsored the program. Wheels
within wheels, you might say.
Neither score suggested itself as permanent repertory material for even the
most liberal-minded of performing groups, but the Crockett — 20 minutes or so
of carefully worked-out musical patterning with a fine academic hand at
dissonant counterpoint — was at least the work of a competent craftsman. Cohn,
a successful composer of film and TV scores, has pathetically overvalued his
own limited talents, producing music of the consistency of tepid mush, loaded
down with a sorry collection of worn-out cliches. Its position on the program,
after the Carter, should have saved it if anything could. Nothing could.
That left the grand, pulsating Bartok to bring about the evening’s one melding
of high performance and music worth the effort. What a work: sizzling, icy,
deeply mysterious in its nocturnal passages, hilarious in its tiny bit of nose-
tweaking at the end. And what a performance! Here, finally, the amazing
Ardittis rode to glory in a vehicle worthy of their efforts.