Review: J. Pavone String Ensemble – Brick And Mortar

Photo by Yuan Liu


We open on the ocean. The entire sensory field is richly smacked by rippling blue. Just as the mood of the water can be reinterpreted if the observer simply adjusts the point of focus – locking upon the menace of a rolling wave, then shifting to the placidity of tiny undulations – Jessica Pavone’s ensemble (two violins, two violas) is immediately set rippling with a multitude of contradictory time-speeds and rhythmic collisions, dancing between ballroom waltzes and spritely 4/4s, stretching single chords into majestic crescents of drones, always harbouring cross-rhythms as one violin/viola pair engage in their own private dialogue, passing notes under the desk, twirling in treacherous mis-step with the primary agenda.

Whether giddy with the somersaults of opening “Hurtle And Hurdle” or woven into the thick quilt of the title track, these players are constantly exploring unity and its deliberate undoing. They converge upon a single note to form a thin vertical line. They mimic eachother like birds in dialogue, with flurrying motifs summoning their own uncanny echo. They wander away from one another until the picture starts to smear, the definition gradually undermined, as they slide into a dazzling scramble of polyrhythmic interplay, still radiant in kinetic telepathy, each player never once breaking crystalline awareness of the exact placement and posture of the other three.

All the while, I’m imagining this performance to take place in a gigantic concert hall, cradled in the aroma of unsettled dust and sweet wood varnish. The echo splays and mingles above their head, pressing the strings even closer together, dissolving the boundary between individual instruments and performers, like the hovering nimbus depiction of the quartet’s immaculately assimilated hive mind. I don’t picture an audience – just rows of folded velvet seats wafting the sound back at them – but would the players break their spell of insular concentration and even notice? Doubtful. A luxurious, endlessly intricate piece of work.