Impromptu Classical Jam


By Harry Schroeder


The Impromptu Concert series opened its season, its 44th, with a performance by a brilliantly inventive quintet, the “Classical Jam.” The group consists of Marco Granados, flute; Chern Hwei Fung, violin; Katie Kresek, viola; Wendy Law, cello; and Justin Hines, percussion and piano. Their repertoire is based on an apparently unlimited variety of musical interests and influences, which gets even more various by what they do with it. The title of their last concert here, three years ago, was “Hybrids and Adaptations,” which could have served as well to describe the program on Sunday. They seem to have ranged across the entire world of music to see what combinations would work. The result was always something more than mere novelty: while one wouldn’t want to claim that they always improved upon their musical source, they did provide an interesting perspective on it. And sometimes what they came up with was a joy.

They start from great strength. All five are accomplished classical musicians, with appearances with orchestras like the New York Philharmonic and in venues like Carnegie Hall. Everything they played, they played very well. The flutist, Mr. Granados, had all the technique of the instrument under control: he could play accurately at top speed while making no compromise of tone. He got out of the horn all the sound that’s in it. The three strings played together in excellent time and tune. All of them have fine sounds individually, and they know how to blend them into something much larger. Mr. Hynes’ playing on percussion was accurate and with authority.

Their experience is not limited to classical music: in their credentials there is also mention of backgrounds in many other kinds of music, including such as jazz-rock fusion, Malay dance music, and Chinese pop. Their playing of two pieces by Bach illustrated their eclecticism. In one, from the “Art of the Fugue,” they played it straight, and beautifully, for a few moments before moving into a swing rhythm, where both the violinist and the violist played with a genuine jazz feel—a real rarity on those instruments—while the cellist supported them with a strong pizzicato bass line. In the other Bach piece, there was a nice union of two very disparate traditions: the flute played Bach’s melodic line while other four backed him up with a complex Latino rhythm on several percussion instruments. During the concert there was a good deal of emphasis on that tradition, which is always welcome in a culture not noted for rhythmic sophistication.

The skill of their playing enabled them to make unlikely choices. At one point in their first number, Payton McDonald’s “Devil Dance,” they played a four note phrase over and over, with greater and greater intensity; unlike with today’s pop music, which is often built on similarly restricted melodic resources, one never lost interest. Another very repetitive piece was an arrangement of Philip Glass’ “The Hours;” what they did with it was somewhat reminiscent of Pachelbel’s “Canon,” but they played it so well that one could forgive that.

One of the happiest aspects of the concert was the mood they generated in the hall. The best single detail which describes the relaxed atmosphere of the concert came when we were informed that Katie Kresek, the violist. had made a bet that she could quote, during her improvisation, a phrase from “Margaritaville.” She won. Throughout the afternoon they all seemed to have a healthy disregard for the musical sanctities. And they were clearly having a very good time. As were we.

[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]