On Oct. 18, audience members, including parents visiting for Family Weekend, were stunned by the performance of 21st-century pieces by PUBLIQuartet at Rosse Hall. This critically acclaimed string quartet has won several awards, including the 2013 Concert Artists Guild’s New Music/New Places Award and the Visionary Award from Chamber Music America in 2019. The musicians—Jannina Norpoth and Curits Stewart on violin, Nick Revel on viola and Hamilton Berry on cello—did not disappoint, beautifully performing modern pieces, creating melodies full of tension and excitement.
To celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Kenyon, the quartet played works by female composers as well as arrangements celebrating female artists. One piece they played featured excerpts of songs by Ella Fitzgerald and included a mix of instrumentation and spoken word. “I had never gone to a concert and listened to any sort of music like this,” Brooke Brown ’23 said of the concert’s use of spoken word. “Especially with string instruments, which you don’t view in this modern way.” Often the spoken word would occur at a climactic part of the piece, creating the effect of the speech being an outlet for the tension that was built up during the string sections.
Since the quartet played 21st-century pieces, they utilized modern and unconventional playing methods, such as col legno, when a player bounces the wood of the bow against the string of the instrument, and—much to the surprise of the audience members—tapping and knocking on their instruments to create percussion. “When they first started playing, the first thing they did was physically tap on the wood of the instrument,” Brown said. “I had never seen that before and it definitely stuck out to me.” By using every aspect of their instruments, the players created an immersive experience, drawing listeners into the emotional vibrancy of the pieces that they played.
Complete coordination between the members allowed for smooth transitions between different tempos, and the mood of a piece would change at the slightest of cues from one of the players.
An interesting characteristic of 21st-century music is the importance composers places on emotion, to the extent that the composer is willing to create new ways of playing instruments to produce their desired sound. This emotional energy was crucial to the central theme of the concert, which was “Freedom and Faith.” Throughout the performance, the quartet explored how these two facets of American culture are intertwined with one another. These ideas could be seen through the passion of the musicians as they stomped their feet and even smiled or talked to one another during and between pieces. These expressions were used to show how freedom and faith were not just present in the written music but also in the performance itself. “Their emotional responses and facial expressions would mirror the music; they would furrow their brow if it would get intense,” Brown said.
The concert was a riveting display of musical skill and passion that showcased to the audience members the players’ devotion to the music they were creating.