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And so the heavens turned
New music for shakuhachi, strings, electronic sound, video, and sculptureCreated By: Momenta Quartet
Momenta QuartetNew York, NY
Momenta: the plural of momentum – four individuals in motion towards a common goal. This is the idea behind the Momenta Quartet, whose eclectic vision encompasses contemporary music of all aesthetic backgrounds alongside great music from the recent and distant past. The New York City-based quartet has premiered over 100 works, collaborated with over 120 living composers and was praised by The New York Times for its “diligence, curiosity and excellence.” In the words of The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “few American players assume Haydn’s idiom with such ease.”
The quartet came into being in November 2004, when composer Matthew Greenbaum invited violist Stephanie Griffin to perform Mario Davidovsky’s String Trio for events celebrating Judaism and Culture at New York’s Symphony Space and Temple University in Philadelphia. A residency through the composition department at Temple University ensued, and the rehearsals and performances were so satisfying that the players decided to form a quartet. Through this residency, Momenta gave two annual concerts highlighting the talents of Temple University student composers alongside 20th-century masterworks and works from the classical canon, and repeated the programs at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. From the outset, Momenta treated all music equally, devoting as much time, care and commitment to the student works as to the imposing musical monuments.
Word of Momenta’s passionate advocacy for emerging composers spread quickly. Composers started inviting Momenta for similar concerts and residencies at other academic institutions, among them Cornell, Columbia and Yeshiva Universities; the Boston and Cincinnati Conservatories; and the Eastman School of Music. In 2008 the quartet won its first major commission grant from the Koussevitzky Foundation for Malaysian composer Kee Yong Chong, and since received a second Koussevitzky grant for Bolivian composer Agustín Fernández. In 2012 Momenta won a Jerome Foundation commission for the then emerging composer Eric Nathan, who has since gone on to great things and recently recorded his debut album, featuring Momenta on four tracks.
From the outset, the Momenta Quartet has been an invaluable asset to the New York new music community. In addition to the support it has provided to a wide range of composers, Momenta has worked closely with other new music ensembles, from groups such as Continuum and Cygnus, to representatives of the more experimental side of the spectrum such as Gamelan Son of Lion. Momenta is deeply committed to education, as well, often offering pre-concert talks, panel discussions and audience Q and A at our events, and giving children’s workshops on contemporary music themes at the Brooklyn Conservatory and the Time In Children’s Art Initiative. The quartet expresses its commitment to Time In through an annual benefit event and offering house concerts as part of the organization’s fundraising auction each year. Time In provides sophisticated contemporary arts education to hundreds of inner city children from Harlem each year. The Momenta Quartet believes that working with young audiences is a key component to serving the New York City new music community.
Momenta’s programming is so innovative and diverse that it can be difficult to market in the conventional sense of the term. In a recent blitz of publicity after the inaugural Momenta Festival the New York Times described the group as a “forward-thinking string quartet.” This is the term that best describes Momenta. What other new music ensembles are equally at home in the New Complexity of Arthur Kampela as with collaborations with jazz composers? A typical Momenta concert program displays not only great aesthetic diversity, but also a strong social conscience. Central to the quartet’s mission is equal representation of women composers and music by underserved ethnic minorities, especially Latin American, Asian American, and African American composers.
In addition to its contributions to the New York and American new music communities, Momenta sees itself as a key player in the global community. Deeply committed to the musical avant-garde of the developing world, Momenta has been an indispensable advocate for many international composers. In addition to world premieres by Chong and Fernández, Momenta has premiered and championed the works of Tony Prabowo (Indonesia), Cergio Prudencio (Bolivia) and Hana Ajiashvili (Georgia). Upcoming adventures include a project to perform and record all thirteen string quartets by Mexican microtonal maverick Julián Carrillo (1875-1965) over the next three years.
Momenta has appeared at such prestigious venues as the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery, Rubin Museum, Miller Theatre at Columbia University, and the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and looks forward to high-profile concerts at Chamber Music Cincinnati, Washington University and at the internationally renowned Cervantino Festival in Mexico. Momenta gave its Mexican debut at the National University (UNAM) last June and has performed in the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Singapore. Momenta has recorded for Centaur Records, Furious Artisans, PARMA, New World Records, and Albany Records; and has been broadcast on WQXR, Q2 Music, Austria’s Oe1, and Vermont Public Radio. The quartet’s debut album, Similar Motion, is available on Albany Records.
Eric Nathan: Four to One (2011)
Written for and dedicated to the Momenta Quartet, Four to One is inspired by the blazing colors and raw intensity of an autumnal sunset in upstate New York. The opening texture of the work reflects this image of the setting sun – an intense, fiery core illuminated by a halo of light. Recorded for Albany Records, 2015.
Wang Lu: Double Trance (2016)
Premiered at the Momenta Festival, September 29, 2016