Why did the Attacca Quartet‘s performance of an all-Caroline Shaw program at Lincoln Center last night seem so much more vibrant, and ablaze with color, compared to a meticulous concert of much of the same material at National Sawdust back in 2016? This time out, the group seemed to size up the sonics and decided to go for broke – the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street is much more of a “live room” than the Williamsburg venue.
The fact that they’ve had so many months in between to get the music in their fingers was obviously a factor. And the composer was out in front of the ensemble, singing, channeling a jubilant rapport together that comes from years of collaborating.
Introducing the group, Lincoln Center impresario Jordana Leigh entreated the audience to stay off their screens and get lost in the music. And this was a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd; it’s as if the hordes of people who come out for the monthly salsa dance concerts here had come out for this one too. Anybody who thinks that classical music is dead wasn’t here.
The quartet opened with Valencia, a shout-out to a particularly juicy orange, an increasingly intricate interweave of subtly morphing, circular phrases contrasting with warmly emphatic riffage, a lot of spiky pizzicato handoffs between group members – violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nathan Schram and cellist Andrew Yee,
Shaw then joined them for a couple of art-songs: Stars in My Crown, where they pushed the boundaries of a calmly wistful Appalachian ballad further and further toward the edge, and Cant Voi L’aube, a stately, increasingly complex reinvention of a medieval French minstrel tune with a “forget me not” theme. Shaw has sung here before, as part of energetic indie classical choir Roomful of Teeth, and she was electrifying then. But getting to see her singing lead out in front of the quartet was a revelation. What a powerful, expressive, nuanced voice, completely in command as the harmonies grew more adventurous and the volume rose and fell. She was good when she used to play with Robin Aigner‘s oldtimey Americana band at Barbes back in the zeros; she’s a force of nature now.
She hinted that the seven-part suite Plan & Elevation – a guided tour of Washington’s Dunbarton Oaks garden – would be a thrill ride: “It gets pretty attacca,” she deadpanned. It’s a modern-day DC counterpart to Respighi’s Fountains of Rome: wild and crazy things seem to happen there, as Shaw seems to see it, juxtaposed with moments of hushed, verdant rapture.
She returned to the mic for a plaintive reinvention of the old hymn I’ll Fly Away: the poignancy in her delivery as she sang, “Take these shackles from my feet” was shattering. The song after that sliced and diced riffs from a couple of unfamliar top 40 songs beneath a familiar, rosy Gertrude Stein quote, a friend of Shaw’s joining the ensemble and playing daunting counterrhythms on a bowl of water tuned just a hair off, enhancing the persistent unease.
The quartet danced through the joyous anticipation and technical challenges of Entr’Acte, with plucks and harmonics and the occasional devious glissando. They closed the concert on a counterintuitive note with And So, fading down to an extended hush.
The Attacca Quartet are playing the album release show for Schram’s new electroacoustic record at the second-floor space at 1 Rivington St. on Nov 23 at 8 PM; cover is $20/$10 stud/srs. The next concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space is tonight, Nov 15 at 7:30 PM with percussionist Edwin Bonilla and his oldschool salsa band. Get there early if you want to get in and dance.