Thursday, September 19, 2019

Concert Program Notes for Alvin Singleton's premiere "Hallelujah Anyhow" Oct. 15

Alvin Singleton

Momenta Quartet

By Stephanie Griffin

Momenta is especially honored to present the world premiere of Alvin Singleton’s fourth string quartet, Hallelujah Anyhow, commissioned by Chamber Music America. We met Alvin through another tireless Momenta advocate, Thomas Buckner, who invited us to perform Alvin’s second and third quartets as part of his seventy-fifth birthday concert on the Interpretations series at Roulette. Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Alvin spent fourteen years living and working in Europe and returned to the United States in 1985 to become Composer-in-Residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He still divides his time between Atlanta and New York City, has won countless commissions and awards, and his music has been championed by major ensembles all over the world, including the symphony orchestras of Boston, Pittsburgh, Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Detroit, Oregon, Baltimore, Syracuse, Louisville, and Florida, the American Composers Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, l’Orchestre de Paris, das Guerzenich-Orchester Koelner Philharmoniker and also the Kronos Quartet, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Nash Ensemble of London, the Asko Ensemble of Amsterdam, Ensemble des 20. Jahrhunderts of Vienna, the London Sinfonietta, Trio Basso of Cologne and the Bremer Tanztheater. 

The famously elusive Alvin Singleton does not like to talk about his music and never explains his evocative and enigmatic titles. From my perspective, early in our rehearsal process for this piece, the most striking feature of Hallelujah Anyhow is the preponderance of unison textures. The quartet opens with a bold statement of the motive from which the whole piece is tightly woven: a half-step from E to F and back, followed by whole-step motion from F to G and back, in four octaves and with a distinctive syncopated rhythm. This motive is followed by flurries of jagged chromatic sixteenth notes, in pitch and rhythmic unison in all four instruments. The character is bright and celebratory, and evokes the sound world of a jazz big band. As in Alvin’s other quartets, he contrasts fiery, energetic material with calm chorales and moments of stasis. He goes further in this direction in Hallelujah Anyhow than in any of his previous quartets, with an almost Tchaikovsky-like use of dynamics, ranging from four pianos (pppp) to five fortes (fffff). (Tchaikovsky still out-does Alvin in his Symphonie Pathétique, but from what I have gathered Alvin is a much happier and better-adjusted man!) As for the title, I can only venture a guess. Perhaps Alvin is countering the fractured state of the world today with his uncompromising unisons, and making a conscious decision to rejoice in life as it is, despite the challenging circumstances that surround us.

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