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January 9, 2015

Spektral Quartet to warm listeners with upcoming winter performance


Courtesy of Drew Deynolds

The same unapologetically lively group that presented a series of commissioned  ringtones last year, the Spektral Quartet—an ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago—will be performing its upcoming winter concert, the playfully named Snowpocalypse Antidote. Given the current wintery weather and its exciting lineup, it seems only fitting.

Very rarely would a quartet agree to sing while it plays, but this group doesn’t seem to be afraid of a challenge. This Saturday’s concert will be the world premiere of a five-movement work Spektral commissioned from a Chicago-based composer, David Reminick, called Ancestral Mousetrap that implements unique musical techniques, including singing.

Viola player Doyle Armbrust, laughed about it, saying, “I played the viola so I didn’t have to sing.” But all jokes aside, he explained it’s not so much the singing that’s difficult as the technical aspect of doing what he compared to rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. Another strange technique to look out for has members holding a second string instrument between their legs which they alternate playing, but with only a bow—no fingers—creating unique percussive noises.

“We spend a lot of time putting together programs a year in advance or more, but it’s really only once we start running the program that we get a true sense of it…. It’s a really high-octane show. It’s a lot of really fast, virtuosic, exciting playing,” Doyle explained. Spektral Quartet only came onto the Chicago music scene in 2010, but it quickly partnered with the University and made a name for itself. It is known for its “sampler pack” concerts, which cover a large breadth of different genres and eras of music, typically with only a movement or two from larger pieces. The result is accessible and interesting concerts that keep even an audience with a short attention span leaning forward in their seats. This winter’s sampler pack includes well-loved movements from Dvořák, Haydn, and Beethoven as well as a newly arranged tango, a piece by Chris Fisher-Lochhead, and a piece that was composer Stephen Gorbos’s reaction to encountering Chicago and all its noises and sights for the first time.

Doyle said, “We want to do it all. Our concerts—this concert is a great example; it’s really jumping through the ages in a way that we find really inspiring. This concert is just really emblematic of us as a quartet in that regard, and also because Dave [Reminick] is a Chicago-based composer. That’s also a big part of our mission: really giving voice to composers here in our city because there’s so many great ones—a lot of them are even from the University of Chicago.”

They really do “do it all.” As an ensemble-in-residence, outside of their own rehearsals, they run chamber music programs, lead orchestra sectionals, set up performance opportunities for groups, lead workshops, and host open rehearsals. Looking forward, Spektral is continuing to stay busy. In May it’ll be performing Steve Reich’s Different Trains Every Time, a lengthy and striking work interspersed with recordings of the composer’s family members describing trains before, during, and after World War II that has become a touchstone in modern composition. This summer it will be recording its third album, which will include Reminick’s work. But until that warmer weather arrives, go warm up with its fast-paced and unique antidote to the blustery weather.

January 10, Logan Center for the Arts, Performance Penthouse, 8 p.m., free with UCID

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