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What do Dmitri Shostakovich, John Zorn, and fur accessories have in common?

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Photo by Jeremy Li, courtesy the Afiara Quartet.
The Afiara String Quartet. Photo by Jeremy Li, courtesy the Afiara Quartet.

Thanks to Tomas Hernandez, Senior Music Producer in the Music Division, for assistance with this post.

Next Friday, April 16th,  the Coolidge Auditorium hosts the Alexander String Quartet and the Afiara String Quartet in a program that practically defines eclecticism.  Free tickets for this must-see event are still available, with a nominal service charge,  from Ticketmaster.

Fans of avant-garde jazz legend John Zorn may be surprised to find his name on the program for a stage that has hosted the premiere of “Appalachian Spring” and a long residency by the Juilliard String  Quartet. But Zorn is no stranger to the Library of Congress. The composer brought his Masada String Trio to the Coolidge Auditorium during the 1998-1999 season – and quite a season that was, as pianist Cecil Taylor took that stage just a few months earlier. The Afiara String Quartet will be performing Zorn’s “Cat o’nine tails.” Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, the piece emerged from the game theory compositions that Zorn developed in the 1980’s. These involved discrete musical “moments” written on file cards whenever inspiration struck. By sorting the cards in a specific order, he created a frenetic music that has been compared, between-station static and all, to the sound of a car radio being changed rapidly, or obsessive channel-surfing on television – the musical equivalent of the jump-cut edits favored by Jean-Luc Godard (one of a number of cinematic figures to whom Zorn has paid homage) and other art film makers of the 1960’s.

The Alexander String Quartet. Photo by Rory Earnshaw.
The Alexander String Quartet. Photo by Rory Earnshaw.

When I first read the title “Mink Stole” in the context of the other compositions on the program, I first thought of the actress Mink Stole, who starred in sundry films by Baltimore film maker John Waters. Perhaps composer Julia Wolfe, co-found of New York’s Bang on a Can festival,  tapped from the same well. She says of this piece,  “I was thinking about the fact that a mink stole was the ultimate symbol of glamour for a woman in the 1950s (movie stars, etc.). And I  thought about how a piece of music might serve the same function, a  kind of replacement for the mink stole—a glamorous virtuosic fun  piece to wrap around you; one that luxuriated in rapid passages and  expressive tunes.” “Mink Stole” was commissioned by the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress and premiered in 1997. The piece will be performed at the Coolidge by violinist Zakarias Grafilo of the Alexander String Quartet, and pianist Lori Lack.

The program will be rounded out with compositions by Lou Harrison, Saleksandra Vrebalov, Bohuslav Martinů, and Dmitri Shostakovich.

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