Del Sol String Quartet at the Freer Gallery
Monday, February 21, 2011 at 12:13PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post •  February 20, 2011

Worlds make interesting sounds when they collide; that may be the guiding principle behind the Freer Gallery's Meyer Concert Series, which has long been a showcase for some of the most adventurous, genre-smashing new music around. And on Saturday night, the Del Sol String Quartet, which specializes in smashing genres, teamed up with four traditional Chinese instrumentalists for an evening that tied together traditional Asian folk songs, avant-garde instrumental techniques, antique Persian modes and even a dash of Schubert. The results ranged from spectacular to irritating - but even the failures were worth hearing.

Kui DongThe program got off to a lyrical start with Zhou Long's "Song of the Ch'in," but the meditative glow was quickly dispelled by Hyo-shin Na's "Song of the Beggars," an earthy work marked by insistent, Beethoven-ish gestures, dense clusters of sound and an agreeably unhinged quality. Paul Yeon Lee's "Ari, Ari ... ari" stormed the heavens with sweeping melodic gestures, romantic yearning and not even a speck of postmodern irony, while the Iranian composer Reza Vali used microtones and natural tuning to flavorful effect in "Nayshaboorak (Calligraphy no. 6)." The unrelenting density, though, of the piece - you felt you could park a truck on it - ultimately undermined its power.  Koji Nakano's "Time Song III: Reincarnation 'The Birth of a Spirit' " was also a bit disappointing; while full of compelling ideas and imaginative instrumental writing, the yelps and grunts the players were required to emit just sounded awkward and affected.

The high point of the evening - by some margin - came at its end, with Kui Dong's "Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter Suite." It's a work of exceptional beauty and imagination, from its light-filled opening movement to the powerful and profound close, and Kui wove the sonorities of the quartet and the Chinese instruments together with a delicate, subtle touch. This is a composer to watch.

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