Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Earlier this week, the Momenta String Quartet ushered in another year of Swarthmore’s Midday Monday Concert Series. The four instrumentalists, Miranda Cuckson and Annaliesa Place on violins, Stephanie Griffin on viola and Joanne Lin ’98 in cello, exposed the audience to both classical and modernist music.
Based out of Temple University, the Momenta String Quartet has earned itself a grand reputation in the classical music world since its debut concert in November, 2004. In addition to having previously performed in places as diverse as Swarthmore and Jakarta, the group had premiered the work of both established and up-and-coming composers fifteen times.
The four women began the program with Louis Janacek’s “String Quartet No. 1.” Inspired by a Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata,” a not-so-cheery novella on a man murdering his wife, Janacek composed a piece filled with a sense of somberness and tension. The quartet would switch rapidly from playing dark, legato notes, to making short, scratchy bowings.
Next, Momenta performed “Structures for String Quartet,” a modernist piece composed by Morton Feldman. A signature example of Feldman’s abstract style, “Structures” emphasized the playing of individual, spaced notes. The violinists, cellist and violist would pluck out notes, creating for this reporter what sounded like musical rain falling over an ascending scale. “Structures,” was atypical for Feldman in its brevity, with a total running time of about five minutes, a far cry from the five-and-a-half hours it takes to perform Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2.
The program concluded with Robert Schumann’s “String Quartet in F. major, Op. 41, No. 2.” A brilliant, manic-depressive, Schumann composed four movements that reveal the calm and turmoil of the inner mind. The Momenta String Quartet created a real sense of tension, from the peaceful sections of the opening Allegro vivace to the more intense Scherzo: Presto. Most impressively, none of the instrumentalists lost focus as a water bottle rolled from the audience across the stage during the final movement.
The Momenta concert showcased the technical prowess of its members as well as the group’s ability to create very emotional music.