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Music Fans, Do You Know JACK?

Music Fans, Do You Know JACK?

Chamber music is alive and well thanks to groups like the JACK Quartet, an ensemble that focuses almost entirely on new and recent works. The quartet begins August in France and ends it in Switzerland, but, in between, they will be performing and teaching a guest artist master class at the ASTA/NJ Chamber Music Institute at Rutgers University on August 6 in New Brunswick, NJ. It’s a rare opportunity to see one of the most exciting ensembles of the day. JACK is an acronym comprised of the initials of the band members’ first names. The ensemble includes violist John Pickford Richards, violinists Ari Streisfeld and Christopher Otto, and cellist Kevin McFarland. The four met while studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY and began performing together in 2005.

What makes the JACK Quartet so unique is the group’s passion for new music and their desire to showcase chamber music as an art form. They are on a mission to show that there is a vibrant community of composers creating new works that deserve to be heard. They are widely acclaimed for their astounding technique, fearless performances, fresh and dynamic programming and the ability to bring clarity and musicality to the most complex of works. Their répertoire covers neo-romanticism, electronic, world, experimental, avant garde, and more.

In an interview conducted at the Eastman School of Music, alumnus Ari Streisfeld said, “We’re always going out and finding new composers that have a brand new approach… and that’s something we live for.”

Photo credit Justin Bernhaut

Photo credit Justin Bernhaut

The ensemble has worked closely with some of the finest composers of the day, including John Luther Adams, Derek Bermel, Chaya Czernowin, James Dillon, Brian Ferneyhough, Beat Furrer, Georg Friedrich Haas, Vijay Iyer, György Kurtág, Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Mackey, Matthias Pintscher, Steve Reich, Roger Reynolds, Wolfgang Rihm, Salvatore Sciarrino, and John Zorn. Upcoming and recent premieres include works by Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Toby Twining, Georg Friedrich Haas, Simon Holt, Kevin Ernste, and Simon Bainbridge.

Over the years, the JACK Quartet has earned rave reviews around the world, performing in legendary venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Elbe Philharmonie in Hamburg, the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Suntory Hall in Japan, Salle Pleyel in France, and London’s Wigmore Hall to name a few.

A review in the Baltimore City Paper said, “The freshness of JACK's approach welcomes new listeners and educated fans alike. Their interpretations bristle, sparkle, and ache.” The New York Times described them as "a tour de force of intensity and color”, while The Los Angeles Times simply stated, “mind-blowingly good."

Photo credit Stephen Poff

Photo credit Stephen Poff

The JACK Quartet operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called JACK Music Inc. This allows them to apply for grants to help present, promote, and educate the public about new music, as well as collaborate with composers on the interpretation of existing works and the commissioning of new works. In the past few months, the JACK Quartet has released a disc devoted to the iconoclastic European composer, Helmut Lachenmann (http://www.moderecords.com/catalog/267-lachenmann.html) and performed Ha-Yang Kim’s new composition for string quartet on her recording entitled “Threadsuns” (http://www.tzadik.com/index.php?catalog=9008).

In April, they were the recipient of the 2014 Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center. This follows last year’s Trailblazer Award from NewMusicUSA and grants by The Mandel Foundation, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Chamber Music America, New Music USA, Meet the Composer's Cary New Music Performance Fund, and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Photo credit Caroline Savage

Photo credit Caroline Savage

“Once they called me their ‘“father…” said Helmut Lachemann, an early champion for the ensemble, in the liner notes of his new release. “But when with them I feel fifty years younger, and they are my admired brothers. Each work — not only mine — when performed by the JACK, be it Beethoven or Feldman, becomes an incredible adventure of perception, a festival of intensity, touching our emotions and touching our intellect, making us remember that as human creatures we are full of possibilities and able to open our horizons infinitely. They are pure artists in that their humanity and virtuosity are one and the same: maybe they don’t know or aren’t aware of it, but that’s what they do: create happiness in the deepest sense.”

The JACK Quartet will perform on August 6 at the Nicholas Music Center at Rutgers University (85 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ). Admission is free. For more information, visit  the event description page on JerseyArts.com or Rutgers' website.

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