First published in the Guardian on 31 October, 2016
This concert wasn’t even supposed to happen, but the violinist of Red Note (Sound festival’s original Friday billing) cut her finger in a lemon-slicing incident and Montreal’s Bozzini Quartet stepped in last minute. It’s an impressive festival that has a group this good up its sleeve.
The new programme was brief and splendid: three works exploring the quietest possible sounds made with the fewest notes and a lot of silence in between. Alvin Lucier’s Disappearances is a study in dissipation and refocusing, all unison tones that darken and brighten until we hear the tiniest of gradations. As concert opener it was an exercise in what Murray Schafer calls ‘ear cleaning’ or Pauline Oliveros calls ‘deep listening’. Scelsi’s Third Quartet is a tetchier poke around the perimeters of quietness — movements with names like The Great Tenderness that throng in close intervals then dilate into surprising, glittering triads.
And while it might seem paradoxical to be good at playing the music of Jurg Frey — a Swiss ultra-slowist who claims that “characterisation would disturb […] the beauty hidden deep in the tones” — the Bozzinis have a wonderful way with his exquisite monochromes: expert at knowing when not to play, athletically calm while unfolding soft sounds at a pace as natural as breathing. I’ve heard them perform Frey’s Third Quartet in a church whose acoustic shrouded the drifting chords in ecstatic mystique; here at the Lemon Tree, dry as a stone, the impact was less blissed-out, more raspy and vulnerable. No sound escaped Frey’s silent architecture. A stomach rumbled. My pencil scratched thunderously in my notebook.