group’s traversal of all the Lachenmann quartets is
not to be missed.
Whenever possible, the quartet consults the
composers whose works they are preparing, in
the hope of moving past the notes on the page.
The players say, only partly tongue-in-cheek, that
this passion for the composer’s word has kept
relationships within the ensemble harmonious,
the theory being that by focusing on a composer’s
interpretive desires rather than their own, they avoid
the ego clashes that might arise if they were playing
works from the standard canon.
Not that they avoid old music entirely. When a
sponsor insisted on something familiar to audiences,
they played late Beethoven. And in recent years they
have made arrangements of works by Machaut,
Rodericus, Gesualdo, and Dowland—composers
who flourished before the harmonic language
established in the 18th century became Western
Europe’s musical lingua franca, and who, like today’s
composers, created music at a time when the “rules”
of composition were in flux.
JACK’s fascination with composers who are changing,
overthrowing, and replacing the rules is played out, night
after night, in the stylistically ecumenical approach that has
become one of the quartet’s strongest attractions.
“When you open yourself to the experience of playing
pieces,” Wulliman said in an interview with Ara Guze-
limian, the provost and dean of the Juilliard School, this
summer at the Ojai Music Festival, “you find that there are
artists who are exploring music in really amazing ways, in
every style that’s being worked with today.”
For JACK, that openness is an article of faith. Their
mission is to persuade listeners to embrace it as well. •
Allan Kozinn, for many years a music critic for the New York
Times, now lives in Portland, Maine, and writes about music
and musicians for The Wall Street Journal, Opera News, and
Composer Tyshawn Sorey (middle), flanked by the JACKs after their world
premiere of Sorey’s Everything Changes, Nothing Changes at Banff, July 27,
2018. The quartet will perform Sorey’s work often this season. Sorey was a
recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2017. Photo: Jaena Kim.
The JACK foursome during a performance of John Luther Adams’s Everything That Rises on top of Tunnel Mountain, near the Banff Centre for
Arts and Creativity, July 14, 2017. Photo: Claire Chase.
ENSEMBLE of the year