Though crypts are usually reserved for cadavers that have breathed their last breath, tonight at the Crypt Sessions the room is full of rhythmic inhaling as the Attacca Quartet suck in the subterranean air and launch into Caroline Shaw’s Orange.
Opening the programme with Entr’acte showcases many of the features that make Attacca and Shaw such recognisable contemporary artists. It’s a meeting point of Caroline’s crate-diving curiosity for peculiar performance techniques and Attacca’s ability to seamlessly weave this into their playing. Whether it’s left hands plucking strings like an impatient clock or the ghost strokes taken as purely rhythmic gestures, these textures set the scene for a body of work that signals both the baroque and the found sounds of inquisitive artisans.
As Andrew Yee’s cello rises to the surface of the ensemble’s sound we hear one of the notable benefits of this singular acoustic. Under the Crypt’s arches the cello is a commanding, grounding presence in the fullest passages and a muse in the wistfully plucked chords. The foursome often practice repertoire by singing their parts to one another and this breath control is audible, intimate and moving in the space. As the wax patiently drips down the candles of this sparsely lit room, the focus of audience, artists and time are drawn together in harmonic meditation.
Of all these glimpses of what Shaw and Attacca have to offer, it is the five-part Plan & Elevation suite that displays most vividly what vistas they are capable of. Designed as small portraits of the sculpted gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, they build to The Beech Tree. It is surely a majestic depiction of nature as melodic lines sprout out as if branches among the pillars of this space, up and up, until only dense foliage can be seen. And there, resting on the canopy, is the Attacca Quartet, surveying the gardens through Caroline’s eyes. Orange is sweet, bright, fleshy, pipped, tart and juicy. It was a sacchariferous, segmented delight to hear Attacca up close in a dimly-lit crypt that made their colours even brighter by contrast.
Find out more about the Crypt Sessions here and get your self a copy of the album (out on New Amsterdam and Nonesuch) here.
Article image credit Steven Pisano