It was inevitable that the events of Sept. 11 would trigger a stream of musical reaction. And we heard a particularly thoughtful one Sunday at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium from USC's Stephen Hartke, who wrote a piano quartet for the touring group of chamber music all-stars Opus One.
Based on themes from Thomas Tallis' "Lamentations of Jeremiah," the 13-minute work bears the haunting title "Beyond Words." There is also a subtitle, the musical term ricercar--which means "a seeking out""--and you do get the feeling that this lonely threnody is searching aimlessly and fruitlessly for some shred of meaning in these events, with dissonant strings often interrupted by the gleaming, disembodied solo piano.
There is no angst, no patriotic defiance, just desolation reminiscent of the last chamber works of Shostakovich in mood. And it stays with you long after its conclusion.
Opus One consists of pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinist Ida Kavafian, violist Steven Tenenbom and cellist Peter Wiley. Kavafian's fiercely assertive tone quality was often the dominant voice among the strings, while McDermott cut the most diverse profile, sometimes playful, sometimes coaxing.
Though they were not at their most polished form in Dvorak's Opus 87 Piano Quartet, their impetuosity brought fire to many passages, and McDermott, Kavafian and Wiley sailed unruffled through Haydn's "Gypsy Rondo" Piano Trio.