It’s been a big season for Chicago’s vivacious and much-admired Spektral Quartet… a Grammy award nomination for its latest recording, preparations for playing one of the most challenging works in the string quartet repertoire, and a National Sawdust debut coming up on April 21. We invited Doyle Armbrust, the quartet’s founding violist (and one of the earliest Log Journal contributors), to share his thoughts about the group’s current doings.
I can’t think of any more profound contradiction to the Grammys than Morton Feldman’s Quartet No. 2 (1983).
You may have heard that our album Serious Business (Sono Luminus) was nominated this year in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble category. Given that it featured music by three up-and-comers – Sky Macklay, David Reminick, and Chris Fisher-Lochhead (and some slouch named Joseph Haydn) – we were as surprised as anyone.
Our good buddies (and Chicago neighbors) in Third Coast Percussion took home the prize for their superlative Steve Reich album… and we took home some indelible memories of the circus that is the Grammy Award Ceremony. A few highlights:
> Hosting the Nerd Grammys (i.e. every category one doesn’t see on the live TV broadcast), was a fairly salty Margaret Cho, who perhaps started… celebrating… the festivities a bit early in the day.
> When one enters the grounds as a nominee, one is taken past a gauntlet of press – a press that will feign interest, or not – before passing in front of a diminutive bleachers of enthusiastic personae who will cheer at equal volume for whomever passes before them. It reminds one of the professional mourners in Greece, but/and is delightful nonetheless.
> Regardless of how I might feel about the merits of some of the music being awarded, I was in awe of the Cold War-level arms race that is pop music. To stand out in this oversaturated convocation of talent, a performer must commit to antics and visuals on a stupefying level. It really is impressive. Even during the most offensively pedestrian song of the night, a duet between Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood titled “The Fighter,” I found myself desirous of the seizure-inducing hi-def cube in which they galumphed. I am not of the persuasion that classical/new music is better than, or more rigorous than pop music. This experience cemented that stance.
> Beyoncé has more stage craft than any other performer working today.
> I’ve talked at least as much doo-doo as you, dear reader, about awards shows such as this, but I’d be lying if I said anything other than: It feels pretty great to be treated like a minor celebrity for a day. We make music in this niche of which a percentage of a percentage of the population cares about. A little affirmation goes a long way when it’s shined on a lifetime of underpaid and under-noticed work. It may still be meaningless, but it is incredibly fun.
> Favorite (and unexpectedly so) song of the night: Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley – “Chained to the Rhythm”
> Favorite moment of the night: Tribe Called Quest on stage with Busta Rhymes. Most artists and presenters were dispiritingly cagey in their acknowledgement of our current political situation. Tribe and Busta Bust made no bones about it, though, compelling the Staples Center crowd to get on its feet and chant, “Resist. Resist. Resist.”
What does any of this have to do with Spektral playing Feldman’s six-hour Quartet No. 2? Literally nothing. Well, other than spectacle, of course.