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Spektral Quartet 6-pack Sampler

Prost! The Spektral Quartet is back at the Empty Bottle with its annual Sampler Pack show, re-stocked with both choice vintages and new-release vanguards. This single-movement/short piece format has packed the Ukrainian Village bar for its previous incarnations, and with three world-premiers on the bill, promises to be a red-blooded launch to the Spektral 2012/2013 Season.

With its mission of programming new works alongside the traditional repertoire, the quartet has chosen composer Hans Thomalla's dimension-warping "Albumblatt" as one of the concert's anchors. In it, glissandi propel out from each of the four corners of the quartet, meeting briefly at consonant, microtonally-built chords like tiny epiphanies of harmony. The blithe-then-mysterious "Menuetto" from Haydn's Quartet Op.76 No.3 ("Kaiser") and the opening movement of Mozart's convivial Quartet in D Major (K.575) move proceedings back to the early days of chamber music before Spektral gives its first-ever performance from Verdi's lone string quartet. The second movement "Andantino" from this operatic work inspires listeners to visualize a melodrama of their own, as all of the passion, and none of the (hypothetical) text, are present.

Three Chicago-based composers comprise the world-premiere portion of Sampler Pack, with Daniel R. Dehaan's provocatively-titled "Sterile Contaminant" shifting the evening to the micro. Infinitesimal shifts in pitch around the quartet, latticed around a slow-moving harmonic architecture, are speckled with flits and flicks of the bows, like a fluid brain wave hiccuped at a synapse. The body plays a leading role in Jenna Lyle's "Inkblot," in which the amplified heartbeat of Spektral violinist Austin Wulliman sets the pacing of the piece, live. Set to excerpted text by poet Virginia Konchan, whose writing was featured on last season's Theatre of War production, Lyle will perform with the quartet as vocalist in this exploration of a player's sense of self within the creative process. Spektral fans are familiar with the name Chris Fisher-Lochhead, as the composer's "Dig Absolutely" was a favorite of the 2011/2012 season. For the third commission of the evening, Fisher-Lochhead reconfigures singer/producer James Blake's "I Never Learnt to Share." Blake's idiosyncratic voice and haunting beats are re-imagined here for perhaps the first time in the string quartet idiom.

This year, Sampler Pack smashes the champagne bottle across the prow of the Unfamiliar Music Series as the first group to perform on this Empty Bottle collection of new music concerts. Grab a brew, throw a jacket over a stool and join the Spektral Quartet for one of Chicago's most audience-friendly new music shows.


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