Thaw out with tunes

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2011

We need a release.

courtesy of the calder quartet
courtesy of the calder quartet

On these days when the air whips around at twice the speed of most cars on the highway, we crave relief.

In the mornings when glorious sun seen out the window brings a shiver and a flinch, we wish for deliverance.

When even the most seasoned outdoorspersons resort to burning their calories indoors on a machine, the desire for liberation is tough to parallel. Yes, these days are unwelcoming.

Luckily, great music creates warmth inside of the listener even in the most frigid of times. From time to time, some bowed note will create a resonance so sweet that it grabs my inner being at one of its deepest parts. The connection manifests physically — in chills, flusters, tears, smiles — and emotionally — with euphoria, sadness, love.

Science has found explanations for some of these reactions (see “This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession” by Daniel J. Levitin). Regardless, I still subscribe to the school of thought in which over analyzation can be dangerous to the creative process — both on the giving and receiving ends.

The Calder Quartet is one of those groups that, from what I’ve heard, create music on many ends of several spectrums. Some of the pieces they have recorded are so tense and turbulent that small children might be frightened; others are so soothing as to put the hardest bully into a sweet sleep — which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. I once had a music teacher say they would take sleeping audience members as a compliment; a dozer was greatly preferred over an angry listener.

The quartet consists of Benjamin Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook on violins, Jonathan Moerschel on viola and Eric Byers on cello. The four met while studying at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, the Colburn Conservatory of Music and at the Julliard School, to name a few. Their credentials are overwhelming, and it takes only a few seconds of listening to conclude that these guys know what they’re doing.

The group’s self-titled debut album features the works of Maurice Ravel, Thomas Ades and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in perfect form, and with soul. Never have 18th century Austrian, 19th century French and 20th century British compositions felt like such good friends.

But Calder doesn’t stop there; while they are clearly chamber experts, they also seem to enjoy mainstream rock. This has been evidenced by their work with Andrew “Party Hard” W.K. and indie rock sensations Vampire Weekend.

The group’s next album, “Transfiguration: Christopher Rouse,” was released in 2009 with a very different feel from the previous album — this one might push your buttons if you aren’t prepared for what it will deliver. Rouse’s compositions have been referred to as neo-romantic, or avante-garde modernist. Labels aside, this stuff is wild. While I thoroughly enjoy it, I wouldn’t argue with a listener who might say they walked away with a headache.

Now, given the diversity of tracks I’ve heard from this group, it’s hard to predict their program for next week’s concert in Juneau — that’s right, all you popsicles out there have an excuse to leave your dens for a few hours to thaw out in the presence of live music. The Calder Quartet will perform at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Thunder Mountain High School Auditorium.

For a group that can do it all from the classiest classical to the maddest modern, my best guess is that they’ll probably do a bit of both. There’s only one way to find out.

• Contact Libby Sterling at

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