PUBLIQUARTET: FREEDOM AND FAITH | New York, National Sawdust

PUBLIQuartet and National Sawdust share DNA in the way they approach music, performance and audience. They are both designed to break boldly into the new. On some occasions this means a big stage with audiences in the thousands, on others it means taking a chance on curious new works in front of a curious, smaller audience. Both are valuable and an important part of their mission, as Sunday afternoon’s concert proved.

Evidence of collaborative compatibility was on display before a note was played: a rectangular section of the hydraulic stage was elevated with a stool placed upon it meaning that when cellist Amanda Gookin took the stage she was close to eye-level with the other members of the quartet. A small detail, albeit one that speaks to a philosophy of mixing things up a bit, using modern tools to modulate the ensemble experience. Opening piece —’Voodoo Dolls’ by Jessie Montgomery— introduced the audio signature of the group that is giving them a recognisable sound on the new classical music scene. Cello and viola doubled in conversation, the bodies of instruments tapped to lay down a percussive drive, shredding violin solos courtesy of Curtis Stewart and reminiscent of the jam sessions that Nigel Kennedy rocks up to at Ronnie Scott’s. PUBLIQuartet are a group who are confident in their sound and confident that you’ll enjoy it.

Working with living composers shouldn’t be the novelty that it often is — with groups like PUBLIQuartet working in the way they are, maybe it will become more common. Even more special to have one of their featured composers in the room at National Sawdust where Shelley Washington not only introduced the motivations behind ‘Middleground’ (reflections on the tension between missing home while revelling in a new setting) then following this with an accompanying poem for the work. Spoken word ran through the majority of the pieces on the programme, whether the familiar singing in ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket’ or the eery spoken refrain at the end of the Nina Simone suite reminding us to ‘do it slow’. This use of speech to go with the percussion, stomping and varied string techniques made this a recital of many colours and characters, one that would surely entertain both the initiated and newcomer alike.

Navigating the medieval sound world summoned by Hildegard of Bingen, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, and Francesca Caccini in ‘Sancta Femina’ alongside more contemporary inspiration, it’s clear that PUBLIQuartet are happy to time travel around repertoire in a way that Doctor Who would be proud. They end with Jessica Meyer’s ‘Get Into the Now’ featuring this knowing introduction: ‘there’s a lot of jamming, there’s a lot of improv, there’s a lot of drumming’. It’s a fitting intro to the ultimate piece of the day, and if that description sounds good to you then there’s bound to be plenty more jamming, imporv and drumming to be found wherever PUBLIQuartet are playing next.

PUBLIQuartet’s next appearance at National Sawdust is PUBLIQ Access 4.0: Our Environment on 22 April. More info here.

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